Exactly seven months after the publication of Charles Darwin’s book On The Origin of Species, a famous debate occurred at Oxford University. A number of people were involved but the two main protagonists were Bishop Samuel Wilberforce, a descendant of William Wilberforce, who led the fight against slavery, and Thomas Henry Huxley.
Wilberforce did not handle the debate very well, trying to ridicule Huxley for believing monkeys were his ancestors. Sadly, this was typical of churches at the time, who dismissed fossils as being planted by Satan.
Religious belief has been in decline ever since.
I fear conservative churches are about to make a similar mistake in the next few years over the issue of same sex attraction, or homosexuality.
“America Reframed” is a PBS World television series that highlights significant changes taking place in the United States. Last week’s program focused on Norman, Oklahoma, which soon found itself deeply divided following the suicide of a 19-year-old man who took his life after a Council meeting. The episode, “Broken Heart Land,” profiled teen Zack Harrington, a young gay man with HIV/AIDS. The Council meeting discussed a request to commemorate LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual and Transgendered) History Month. The attitudes shown by people he had known all his life upset Zack and led directly to his taking his own life.
Zack’s parents were conservative Republicans who were suddenly faced with the worst crisis in their lives.
Another significant player was a local pastor running for election.
Without realizing it, the documentary got to the crux of the matter.
Homosexual acts are always a choice and always a sin . . . as are heterosexual acts outside of a marriage between a man and a woman. But are homosexual feelings always a choice? A great deal hangs on this question and its answer.
And this is where churches are in danger.
In my ministry, I helped a number of people struggling with homosexual feelings. Every single one of them told me they knew they were different as young as 3. They did not choose to be attracted to the same sex. Some felt they were born with SSA (Same Sex Attraction); others that it was caused in the first three years of life, within the family dynamic. Either way, the feelings were not their fault. However, they had to learn how to live with them.
As Christian adults, they wanted to obey God but found themselves struggling with their sexual feelings. They struggled with “Desires in Conflict,” the title of a book by Joe Dallas. This conflict was not easy to resolve. What was particularly hard to accept was the attitude of other Christians, who blamed them for having the problem in the first place. They soon learned to hide, to keep it all to themselves. For many, it was a very lonely existence.
A couple of weeks ago, The Economist cover was titled “The Gay Divide,” showing how divided the world is over this issue. Roughly half the world is accepting while the other half is condemning. It’s a dialogue of the deaf.
It was clear from the documentary on Norman, Oklahoma, that most Christians are convinced people choose to be homosexual. This is the root of the great divide.
It’s not so much that churches will be persecuted for taking a hard line stance; what seems more likely is that churches will be ridiculed for holding to the position that it’s a choice. Again, sexual acts are a choice but should be treated equally with illicit heterosexual acts, something the civil law already does. The Apostle Paul did the same in I Corinthians 6:9-11, listing adultery and fornication in the same passage with homosexual acts. “ Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.”
When churches accept that same sex attraction, in most cases, is not a choice, it will at least lead to Christian compassion and love, qualities that were seriously lacking in Norman, Oklahoma. It may also help the churches avoid becoming like the fossils they ridiculed 150 years ago.