Churches and Homosexuality: An Overview of Recent Official Church Statements on Sexual Orientation

By Lienemann, Wolfgang | The Ecumenical Review, January 1998 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Churches and Homosexuality: An Overview of Recent Official Church Statements on Sexual Orientation

Lienemann, Wolfgang, The Ecumenical Review

During the last several years many churches around the oikoumene have had renewed, intense and controversial discussions of questions of sexual ethics, sexual orientation and especially homosexuality.(1) Since Alan A. Brash published his overview of the state of the discussion in 1995, the debates have continued.(2) A number of churches have elaborated studies, declarations, statements and pastoral guidelines since then. The process of forming a judgment in these texts is anything but uniform or convergent; many times the dividing line between opposing positions runs straight through a given church. The difficulties facing any ecumenical dialogue on questions of forming ethical judgments and the problem of nevertheless finding a common position are not new,(3) but in questions of sexual ethics they are especially pressing.

This essay will offer a brief overview of the controversial state of opinion-formation on these issues in the churches. This will consist primarily of (1) assessing the contemporary context of the debates in the churches, (2) working out the most important problems of forming judgments within a church, as well as (3) characterizing the points of inter-church controversy, and on that basis finally (4) outlining several practical suggestions. The documents coming from the churches, to which I shall refer in the notes, are extremely diverse. To be sure, many churches have officially said nothing at all on the question of homosexuality; and often the only material for examination consists of comments from individuals. Finally, and not surprisingly, the best known of these statements come from churches in North America and (Western) Europe.

The contemporary context

1. The human rights principle of non-discrimination

In all peoples, societies, strata of society and professional groups there have been and are people who prefer partnership and sexual relations with persons of the same sex. In the past these persons have always been discriminated against more or less strongly. While there have been exceptions to this, especially in ancient Greece,(4) it is only in the 20th century that legal prohibitions of discrimination have gradually come to be applied to the sexual orientation of persons. After the second world war, several states either lightened, set aside or limited to cases involving risk or injury to sexual self-determination (especially to minors or dependent persons) criminal injunctions regarding (homo)sexual behaviour.(5) However, in most countries in the world homosexual persons are still being discriminated against, even persecuted to the point of threats against life and limb. Genuine liberalization has so far taken place only in democratic states based on the rule of law.

2. Homosexual persons in the history of the churches

Within the Christian churches homosexually oriented people have been excluded, marginalized and persecuted in the great majority of cases. The relatively few exceptions which are known are seldom taken into account. John Boswell, from whom the most important studies in this area have come, has found examples of liturgical forms for the union of same-sex partners from the churches of Asia Minor.(6) Nevertheless, it must be said in general that in societies which have morally proscribed homosexual relations, treated them as taboo or legally forbidden them, the sexual ethic upheld by the churches has not represented a divergent position.

3. New orientations in the churches

New reflection by the churches in this area began only under the influence of a shift in social attitudes towards sexuality. The processes of modernization and secularization were accompanied by a removal of sexuality from the realm of taboo and a new respect for the private sphere. Furthermore, since the end of the 19th century modern sexual research has brought new insights into how the sexual identity of persons is formed.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Churches and Homosexuality: An Overview of Recent Official Church Statements on Sexual Orientation


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?