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Christianity FAQ

Living Spiritually in an Arguing World

What if I strongly disagree with the views of someone else who professes to be a Christian?



  What Do Our Neighbors Believe?  

CHRISTIANITY Islam | Judaism
What issues are the most hotly debated by members of the religion?

by Kendra Hotz

There are many hotly debated issues among Christians, including the morality of abortion, environmentalism, the ordination of women, and the relationship between faith and culture. Here we shall cover just two of the most holy contested issues: the moral status of homosexuality and styles of worship.

The moral status of homosexuality is among the most hotly debated questions among Christians today. The Bible says very little about homosexuality and nothing at all about the moral status of lifelong, monogamous same-sex partnerships. Christians disagree about what the Bible means when it does speak of homosexuality and about what theology of human sexuality is most faithful to the biblical witness. Christians also disagree about what contributions natural and social sciences might make to our understanding of this moral question.

There are five biblical texts that mention sexual relations between two men, and one additional text that includes a reference to lesbianism. What these texts mean and how they bear on the question of same-sex covenants remains under debate. The first text, Genesis 19:5, recalls an incident in which the residents of Sodom demanded that Lot send his houseguests out into the crowd so that they might be raped. Lot refuses and sends his daughters instead. Although this account becomes the basis for the term “sodomy,” most Christians acknowledge that what is condemned in Sodom is not homosexual sex, but rather rape and inhospitality.

The second and third texts come from the book of Leviticus (18:22 and 20:13) and state that it is an “abomination” punishable by death for a man to have sexual relations with another man as he would with a woman. The meaning of these texts is unclear for two reasons. First, they may refer to fertility rites associated with the cult of Ba’al, and the primary sin condemned is idolatry rather than homosexual acts. Second, these texts are surrounded by laws prohibiting acts that Christians no longer regard as sinful such as wearing clothing made from blended fabric.

The remaining three texts come from the New Testament. Romans 1:26-27 argues that homosexual acts, including lesbianism, violate nature and proceed from sinful lust. The meaning of this scripture is also debated. Did Paul refer only to those who were naturally heterosexual, but who abandoned their “nature” in favor of same-sex encounters? Or does Paul categorize all homosexual sex as a violation of nature? I Corinthians 6:9 and I Timothy 1:9-10 are vice lists that include the condemnation of homosexual sex along with other sins such as murder, lying, and drunkenness. What is disputed in these texts is whether the terms translated as “homosexual” referred to all same-sex acts or not. The two terms employed may have referred to male temple prostitutes and their customers.

Disputes about the meaning of these biblical texts along with information gleaned from natural and social sciences and from experience have led Christians to a variety of conclusions about homosexuality. Here we briefly cover just three. Many Christians have concluded that the Bible clearly teaches that heterosexuality is the natural state for human beings, and that homosexuality is a tragic deviation from God’s intentions. Though the biblical texts may sometimes be ambiguous, every text that refers to homosexuality condemns it. The only models for human sexual activity affirmed in the Bible are marriage and celibacy. On this view, the church should welcome and minister to homosexual persons, expecting them to live celibate lives.

A second view holds that the Bible does provide a normative, heterosexual vision for human sexuality, but that it does not condemn lifelong, same-sex covenants because it does not address this question at all. The Bible condemns idolatry, prostitution, and rape, but has nothing to say about gay marriage. On this second view, ideal human sexuality is ordered in a heterosexual way, but God graciously accommodates those who find themselves with a homosexual orientation. These individuals may fulfill the goods of marriage (see chapter 8) in lifelong same-sex relationships modeled on Christian marriage.

A third view of the moral status of homosexuality finds that it is simply a natural variation within with human sexuality. Gay men and lesbians may marry one another, living in relationships that are true Christian marriages, rather than in less-than-ideal relationships that represent a divine accommodation for the tragedy of the fall.

A second issue that is hotly debated among Christians concerns worship practices. Most Christians, including Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestants, worship in a manner structured according to an ancient pattern called the ordo. The ordo revolves around practices of gathering, proclamation, the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, and rituals of sending. Within this structure there are forms of prayer for confessing sin, praising and thanking God, and bringing petitions before God. Likewise, there are traditional forms for declaring that sin has been forgiven, for exchanging signs of peace with one another, and for receiving blessings. These ancient patterns have sustained the church for centuries, and many Christians find that joining with the church throughout the ages in this form of worship helps them to become aware of God in their midst and shapes them for Christian life.

But other Christian congregations have found these traditional forms to be rigid and staid; they find traditional worship does not make them aware of the presence of God in their midst and feels alienating for those new to Christianity. These congregations often employ a more contemporary form of worship that might include performances by a band with electric guitars and drum sets and congregationally-sung praise songs as well as sermons and prayers. Such services would typically not include the recitation of an ancient creed, the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, or other traditional elements of worship. This debate among Christians about what is the best way to worship has sometimes been described as “the worship wars.”


Copyright ©2006 Kendra Hotz


Kendra G. Hotz serves as Adjunct Professor of Theology at Memphis Theological Seminary. She formerly taught at Calvin College. Hotz is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and coauthor (with Matthew T. Mathews) of Shaping the Christian Life: Worship and the Religious Affections (2006) and coauthor of Transforming Care: A Christian Vision of Nursing Practice (2005).

Excerpts from What Do Our Neighbors Believe?: Questions and Answers on Judaism, Christianity and Islam by Howard Greenstein, Kendra Hotz, and John Kaltner are used by permission from Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky. The book will be available for purchase in December 2006.


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