Christianity and homosexuality

In the third of our series on faith and homosexuality, we take a look at how Christians continue to

It is never a simple thing to write about faith and homosexuality from a Christian perspective because there is no one Christian perspective. The acceptance or otherwise of homosexuality as a valid expression of human sexuality differs according to the view of the different denominations and even within those denominations, groups and individuals may hold opposing beliefs. Even when people share a belief on homosexuality, how individuals should be treated and what the response of the Church should be to those claiming a homosexual orientation may not be shared.

Many denominations now accept that homosexuality is not simply a lifestyle choice and therefore advocate acceptance and pastoral care towards gay men and lesbians. However, this is usually only as long as they don’t ‘practice’ their homosexuality. In other words, it’s okay to be a homosexual but not to express your love physically or sexually with the person you love. This is quite ironic when most Christian denominations believe that celibacy is a higher state that not many are called to and yet they expect all gay men and lesbians to live their lives in this way.

At the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement we believe that all sexuality is a gift from God and therefore the expression of our sexuality in loving, mutual same gender relationships is just as honourable and blessed by God as are loving, mutual heterosexual relationships.

The Biblical debate rests on 6 verses, 3 in the Old Testament and 3 in the New Testament, but many scholars have shown clearly that these texts are not referring to the type of relationship we label as homosexual today. In fact, some of the verses aren’t even referring to sexual relationships at all but concern the Jewish laws of hospitality.

The fact is that the debate on homosexuality will never be resolved by reference to Scripture alone as both sides of the argument can use Scripture to support their particular viewpoint in the same way as it can and has been done on many other issues over the years, such as, the treatment and acceptance of women, children, and ethnic minorities.

We are told that to be a Christian all we need to do is accept Jesus as God’s son and proclaim him with our lips. Naturally, when a person does this then they try to follow Christ’s teachings. As Christ never said anything about homosexuality we have to look at how he treated people and how he expected us to treat each other. Christ welcomed people from the margins, people who had been excluded and rejected by mainstream society. However, when he called these people he didn’t then say they had to start behaving like the Pharisees and Sadducees. All he asked for was that we treat each other with love as he loved us. Confirmation of his acceptance of loving relationships regardless of the gender of those involved is the story of the healing of the Centurions servant. Christ had no hesitation in healing the male servant even though the Centurion referred to him as his beloved. The servant certainly must have been greatly loved for a Roman soldier to beg a Jewish teacher for help, especially as servants were generally valued no more than any other possession.

I have had a personal relationship with Christ ever since I can remember. When I realised my sexual orientation, the love I felt both for and from God didn’t change. God is concerned about the quality of my relationships, not the gender of who they’re with. Unfortunately, a lot of lesbians and gay men encounter so much homophobia and discrimination within their Church that they start believing that God can’t love them as they are.

It’s no good telling someone that you ‘hate the sin but love the sinner’ when the sin you’re referring to is integral to who they are. It’s like telling someone that you understand that they can’t help being born with blue eyes so it’s okay as long they don’t look out of them!

What is even more distressing is that the religious view on homosexuality often informs the implementation of laws. Consequently there are still far too many countries where homosexuality is not just considered a sin but is also illegal and punishable with life imprisonment and even the death penalty. This treatment is often justified by religious beliefs. The Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement continues to campaign against such laws and against any form of homophobia within faith.

Rev Sharon Ferguson is the Chief Executive of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement that will be holding their second conference on Faith, Homophobia, Transphobia, and Human Rights on Saturday 16th May, to raise awareness around these issues. For more information and booking form go to Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

In focusing on the famous few, we risk doing a disservice to all victims of child sexual abuse

There is a danger that we make it harder, not easier, for victims to come forward in future. 

Back in the 1970s when relations between journalists and police were somewhat different to today a simple ritual would be carried out around the country at various times throughout the week.

Reporters, eager for information for their regional newspaper, would take a trip to the local station and there would be met by a desk sergeant who would helpfully skim through details in the crime Incident Book.

Among the entries about petty thefts, burglaries and road accidents there would occasionally be a reference to an allegation of incest. And at this point the sergeant and journalist might well screw-up their faces, shake their heads and swiftly move on to the next log. The subject was basically taboo, seen as something ‘a bit mucky,’ not what was wanted in a family newspaper.

And that’s really the way things stayed until 1986 when ChildLine was set up by Dame Esther Rantzen in the wake of a BBC programme about child abuse. For the first time children felt able to speak out about being sexually assaulted by the very adults whose role in life was to protect them.

And for the first time the picture became clear about what incest really meant in many cases. It wasn’t simply a low level crime to be swept under the carpet in case it scratched people’s sensitivities. It frequently involved children being abused by members of their close family, repeatedly, over many years.

Slowly but surely as the years rolled on the NSPCC continued to press the message about the prevalence of child sexual abuse, while encouraging victims to come forward. During this time the corrosive effects of this most insidious crime have been painfully detailed by many of those whose lives have been derailed by it. And of course the details of the hundreds of opportunistic sexual assaults committed by Jimmy Savile have been indelibly branded onto the nation’s consciousness.

It’s been a long road - particularly for those who were raped or otherwise abused as children and are now well into their later years - to bring society around to accepting that this is not to be treated as a dark secret that we really don’t want to expose to daylight. Many of those who called our helpline during the early days of the Savile investigation had never told anyone about the traumatic events of their childhoods despite the fact they had reached retirement age.

So, having buried the taboo, we seem to be in danger of giving it the kiss of life with the way some cases of alleged abuse are now being perceived.

It’s quite right that all claims of sexual assault should be investigated, tested and, where there is a case, pursued through the judicial system. No one is above the law, whether a ‘celebrity’ or a lord.

But we seem to have lost a sense of perspective when it comes to these crimes with vast resources being allocated to a handful of cases while many thousands of reported incidents are virtually on hold.

The police should never have to apologise for investigating crimes and following leads. However, if allegations are false or cannot be substantiated they should say so. This would be a strength not a weakness.

It is, of course, difficult that in many of the high-profile cases of recent times the identities of those under investigation have not been officially released by the police but have come to light through other means. Yet we have to deal with the world as it is not as we wish it would be and once names are common knowledge the results of the investigations centring on them should be made public.

When it emerges that someone in the public eye is being investigated for historical child abuse it obviously stirs the interest of the media whose appetite can be insatiable. This puts pressure on the police who don’t want to repeat the mistakes of the past by allowing offenders to slip through their hands.  And so there is a danger, as has been seen in recent cases, that officers lack confidence in declaring there is a lack of evidence or the allegations are not true. 

The disproportionate weight of media attention given to say, Sir Edward Heath, as opposed to the Bradford grooming gang sentenced this week, shows there is a danger the pendulum is swinging too far the other way. This threatens the painstaking work invested in ensuring the public and our institutions recognise child abuse as a very real danger. 

Whilst high profile cases have helped the cause there is now a real risk that the all-encompassing focus on them does both victims of abuse and those advocating on their behalf a fundamental disservice.

As the public watches high -profile cases collapsing amidst a media fanfare genuine convictions made across the country week in week out go virtually unannounced. If this trend continues they may start to believe that child sexual abuse isn’t the prolific problem we know it to be.

So, while detectives peer into the mists of time, searching for long lost clues, we have to face the unpalatable possibility that offences being committed today will in turn become historical investigations because there is not the manpower to deal with them right now.

Operation Midland, which was set-up to check claims that boys were abused in the 1970s and 80s by a high-level group of paedophiles including politicians, military figures and members of law enforcement agencies, has had up to 40 detectives assigned to it and a similar investigation. Admittedly some of these were murder and major crimes officers but that’s still a large contingent.

In fact if such squads were formed for every historical case the Metropolitan Police would be overwhelmed as last year alone it received reports from nearly 1100 adults – many of them well past retirement age –that they were sexually assaulted when children.

So, now the Goddard Inquiry is in full swing, taking evidence about allegations of child sex crimes involving ‘well known people’ as well as institutional abuse, how do we ensure we don’t fail today’s victims?

If they start to think their stories are going to be diminished by the continuing furore over how some senior public figures have been treated by the police they will stay silent. Therefore we have to continue to encourage them to come forward, to give them the confidence of knowing they will be listened to.

If we don’t we will find ourselves back in those incestuous days where people conspired to say and do nothing to prevent child abuse.

Peter Wanless is Chief Executive of the NSPCC.