Women, Homosexuality, and the Bible

The Rev. Canon Alison L. Barfoot, D.Min.
Co-Rector, Christ Church, Overland Park, KS

A common argument in favor of the ordination and blessing of sexually active gay men and lesbians goes something like this: Over the past several centuries the church has realized that it was wrong in its biblical interpretation about slavery, racial discrimination, and women's equality. Accordingly, the church changed its teaching. Now it is time to realize that the church was wrong in its teaching about the blessing of committed same-sex relationships and the ordination of gay men and lesbians who are in committed same-sex relationships.

This argument has been presented as recently as September 28, 2003, in an article in the British newspaper The Telegraph. Bishop Richard Harries of Oxford is quoted as saying, "The Church has got it wrong in the past - there's no doubt about it..I think you can take the view that, just as the Church eventually abolished slavery, so they ended up in favor of votes for women, so they voted for the ordination of women, and this is just one more issue where the Church has got it wrong."

I call this the "logical extension" argument. The "logical extension" of the abolition of slavery was the ordination of women. And, the "logical extension" of the ordination of women is the blessing of same-sex unions and the ordination of individuals in same-sex relationships.

Often this "logical extension" argument is rooted in a social justice approach to moral reasoning. The ordination and blessing of people in sexually active same-sex relationships is regarded as a matter of liberating gays and lesbians from oppressive social and ecclesiastical structures, just as the civil rights movement and the women's ordination movement were focused on liberating those oppressed by ethnically and gender prejudiced structures.

As a woman who has been ordained to the priesthood since 1986, I have heard this argument for many years and now feel compelled to present an opposing view to this "logical extension" claim.

As for my understanding of the difference between the two issues, the bottom line is this: The Bible has a diversity of passages on the role of women in society, at home, and in the church - many affirming, and some seemingly not affirming. As one who upholds the authority of Scripture, the challenge is to reconcile the passages, for I do not believe that Scripture will ultimately contradict itself. So, if it appears contradictory, I am not at liberty to dismiss a passage simply because I don't like it. Rather, it is incumbent upon me to dig deeper to understand how they can be reconciled. Having done this difficult exegetical work for myself and written about it elsewhere (Men and Women in Relationship at Home and in the Church, Alison L. Barfoot, 1995, and Letter to the Editor, Christianity Today, March 1991) I have come to support women's ordination not as a matter of social justice, but as a matter of biblical conviction.

Homosexual behavior, however, is uniformly condemned in the Bible. Nowhere in Scripture is it spoken of in a positive way. There are no apparent contradictions in the Bible about this topic. Although our culture presents the approval of homosexual behavior as a social justice issue, Scripture and the more than 4,000-year-old community of faith have regarded it as a moral issue, i.e., as sin, and thus a matter of faith. In Scripture, social justice is understood to be counteracting injustices and their consequences that flow from the sin of disobedience to God's Word, especially immorality and idolatry. It cannot, therefore, be claimed that reversing what the Bible considers immoral, e.g., homosexual behavior, is an act of social justice.

The ordination and consecration of a man in a sexually active homosexual relationship is a moral issue. The ordination of women, however, is not a moral issue; it is a matter of church order. To equate the two or to put them on the same continuum of logic is to engage in a category mistake. Succinctly put, it is not a sin to be a woman, but the Bible (which knows nothing of sexual orientation) does consider homosexual behavior (regardless of orientation) to be sinful.

For these and other reasons, I and many others in the church can approve of the ordination of women, but be opposed to the ordination and blessing of people involved in sexually active same-sex relationships

(Thank you, Kendall Harmon, for distributing this article.)

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