Judeo-Christian Attitudes Toward Homosexuality
According to the Judeo-Christian tradition that predominates in our own American culture, homosexuality has been viewed negatively. Many religious scholars believe that the condemnation of homosexuality increased during a Jewish reform movement beginning in the 7th century BCE, through which Jewish religious leaders wanted to develop a distinct closed community. Homosexual activities were a part of the religious practices of many peoples in that era, and rejecting such practices was one way of keeping the Jewish religion unique (Fone, 2000; Kosnik et al., 1977). The Old Testament included strong prohibitive statements: "You shall not lie with a man as one lies with a female; it is an abomination" (Lev. 18:22; Leviticus also deems the eating of shellfish [Lev. 11:10] and the cutting of men’s hair [Lev. 19:27] abominations). Today Jewish people are divided over their religious stance toward homosexuality. In Israel in 2002 the first openly gay man was appointed to the Knesset, or parliament, drawing dissent from Orthodox Jews (Landsberg, 2002). Reform Judaism sanctioned same-sex marriages in 2000, and conservative Jewish leaders are reexamining their ban on same-sex marriages and the ordination of openly gay and lesbian clergy (Friess, 2003).
Laws against homosexual behaviors, which stem from biblical injunctions against same-sex contact, have historically been exceedingly punitive. People with homosexual orientations have been tortured and put to death throughout Western history. In the American colonies homosexual people were condemned to death by drowning and burning. In the late 1770s, Thomas Jefferson was among the political leaders who suggested reducing the punishment from death to castration for men who committed homosexual acts (Fone, 2000; Katz, 1976).
Current Christian theological positions toward homosexuality express a great range of convictions. Different denominations, and different groups within the same denomination, have taken different stances. In many mainstream denominations, groups such as Affirmation (United Methodist Church), Dignity USA (Catholic Church), and Integrity (Episcopal Church) are working to open their congregations to gay and lesbian parishioners and clergy, while fundamentalists in the same denominations oppose such inclusion. Conflicts between these two positions are likely to increase as denominations attempt to establish clear positions and policies about homosexuality, particularly as younger church members become more accepting of homosexuality. For example, one poll found that 44% of young (ages 18-29), White evangelicals support gay marriage, compared to around 20% of evangelicals ages 65 and over (Nolan, 2011).
The Unitarian Universalist Association, the United Church of Christ, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America are the only Christian denominations that officially
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sanction the blessing of gay and lesbian unions. Although many churches’ official policies do not allow church bonding ceremonies for gays and lesbians, some clergy support and perform these ceremonies for homosexual couples.
In 2003 the Right Reverend V. Gene Robinson was consecrated as a bishop in the Episcopal Church, becoming the first openly gay bishop in any mainstream denomination. Many members left the Episcopal Church to form the Anglican Church of North America in a protest against Robinson’s position as bishop (Martin, 2009). In 2010 Mary Glasspool became the Episcopal Church’s first openly lesbian bishop, resulting in further controversy within the church (Harmon, 2010). In 2011 the Presbyterian Church (U. S.A.) approved ordination of gay people in same-sex relationships as ministers, elders, and deacons (Goodstein, 2011).