on a mission to embody grace and compassion in all relationships

Part II — Is Homosexuality a Sin?

This is the second in a series on “One Christian Minister’s Response to Homosexuality.”

Just a little over 15 years ago, I sat in a conference room with a half dozen persons as they asked me questions to determine if I would be their choice to be the first full-time chaplain at The 1917 Clinic at UAB (HIV Outpatient Clinic). They represented the community I would be relating to in my ministry including a couple of patients at the clinic, a staff member, the medical director and founder of the clinic, a local businessman, a local pastor, and a couple of other persons.

I don’t remember all of their questions, though some were expected. I tried to answer them directly and truthfully. But there was one question that stood out. The local pastor in the group leaned forward and asked the last question of the day, “Malcolm, I have been listening to your answers carefully today, and I still have one question for you.” “Sure, what is it?” I asked.

He caught my eye and said, “What I want to know is do you believe homosexuality is a sin?

It was a clear, unambiguous, critical question for the grandson and son of Southern Baptist ministers. It was a fair question for this ordained Southern Baptist minister, and a minister who also had dual standing in the United Church of Christ (UCC) and Baptist denominations to answer. After all, if I was going to be the clergyman to persons who were gay or homosexual as the majority members of my parish at the time, I needed to know the answer to this question.

I leaned forward and said, “Well Joe, that depends. Let me ask you a question. Is heterosexuality a sin?” I asked rhetorically.

I continued with my answer. “I believe that our sexuality is a gift from God. I have to apply the same standards to persons who are homosexual to persons like myself who are heterosexual. If we are talking about a mutual, caring, respectful, loving, committed relationship, I would answer your question, ‘No,’ I do not believe homosexuality is a sin any more than heterosexuality is. If you are referring to a promiscuous, non-committed relationship, I would answer the same for both a same sex or opposite sex relationship, ‘Yes,’ it can be sinful. I also believe in God’s grace and forgiveness because we all fall short in this area.”

This was not a question I answered hastily. The answer for me had been years in development after studying the Bible as part of my former church’s journey to become a welcoming congregation in CT to all persons regardless of sexual orientation (see more about the UCC process of Open and Affirming here); walking with and listening to the struggles and stories of persons who were trying to do the right thing as they understood God in their lives. (I will deal with “the scriptures” in another post on this blog.)

And since that interview in 1994, I have walked with hundreds of individuals, parents, partners, and families down this road and have confirmed this belief in my heart. Gay and straight, we all struggle in this area. We all sin, or fall short. There are no exceptions.

Since that interview, I have also been humbled by my own divorce of a 16 year marriage, and had eight years of being single again and dating before I remarried in 2004. Believe me, I made lots of mistakes as a single heterosexual man during that time as I tried to find love in my life.

One thing I know is that many of the clergy who have been the most critical of persons who are gay have not had the gift of the hundreds of friendships I have had with persons in this setting. I understand, and I don’t blame them because I was just like them 20 years ago.

I was the minister in a large suburban church where I was not comfortable talking about sex openly, whether it was lesbian or gay or straight or bi-sexual, or anything else so intimate except in generalities, platitudes, or one way conversations.

My parishioners at the clinic have taught me how to have open discussion around this subject for which I am grateful. I have held the hands, heard the stories, married and performed the unions and funerals, dried their tears and visited them when they were sick and dying. And I have been changed because of my relationship with them. Still am.

And for this I am forever grateful and thankful.

The answer to this question from my 30 years of ministry is, it depends on how we use this gift we have been given.


  1. Anonymous

    I asked the same question (“do you believe homosexuality is a sin”) to a pastor in Birmingham when I was first coming out and looking for a church. I’ll never forget the answer. The pastor said, “You know, I don’t have it all figured out yet. But I commit to love you as your pastor and to fight for you.”

    To this day, I think it’s the most honest answer I’ve ever received. To me, that answer is the gold standard, the way that Christians should handle topics that they don’t understand and may disagree on.

  2. Anonymous

    Theologically and otherwise, I agree that “mutual, caring, respectful, loving, committed relationship[s]” are not sinful – whether they be homosexual or heterosexual. Sadly, I have not found a lot of these types of relationships in the gay community – especially among men. Perhaps it is just my experience having lived in the “Bible Belt” all of my life. Thankfully, I am one of the fortunate ones – I am in my 17th year of a committed relationship. Prior to meeting my life-partner, I felt I could only meet other guys on a furtive basis – ducking in and out of gay bars, sneaking around public parks, etc. Usually, the guy I met was not “out” either so we were afraid to spend much time – quality or quantity – with each other. I did not condone in myself the types of behavior these environments seemed to engender but neither do I condone the deception perpetrated on the women I dated for years at a time only to realize – even after sincere efforts with an ex-gay ministry and private counseling – I was most sexually attracted to other men. It was only after I finally realized that God – the Creator and owner of all things – loved me that my life began to change. As long as I can remember to say to myself “God loves me” I am confident I can – if need be – endure the stares and condemnation of almost all of the less enlightened. Having said this I must say I can only say this anonymously because there are a few whose friendship I still cherish and would dread losing if they knew me for who I really am. Pray for me that I will one day be able to open up to everyone without exception. Finally, Malcolm, I want to thank you for (1) providing a forum for me to express my inmost feelings and (2) being someone who proclaims to be a child of God but who also accepts me as “wondrously and marvelously created” by God.

  3. Smokin' Deist

    Regarding religion and homosexuality, I have some opinions that I hope will not offend. There has been a push by the LGBT community to change some of the religions to be more accepting of thier orientation. I wholeheartly agree that we need develop more tolerance for those people who are different, but I respectfully disagree that changing some of the religions who have prohibitions against homosexuality is the right track. If you follow a religion and their holy book says what you’re doing is “wrong”, then by changing that rule, you set a prescident. If one thing is wrong in the text, then what else in the book is wrong?

    I believe that if your current system of belief attacks you for what you believe or the way you are, you would be better suited in finding another system that fits your personal beliefs and lifestyle.

    Belief is a very personal thing but we tend to be “programmed” as kids to favor one religion–or no religion–over another. The society around us also has a big impact on what we think we’re supposed to believe. Sometimes we are not aware of all the choices we have available.

    One choice that I am very familiar with is Deism, which says absolutly nothing about homosexualty. Deism is not concerned with your sexual orientation as we don’t believe that the Creator is too worried about who or what you’re having sex with, as long as its consensual.

    I know as a Christian minister you do have a certain amount Christian bias. I think,it would be interesting to see your comments on what the Bible does and does not say on the subject. I also feel that more Christians could take a page out of your book and be a little more compassionate to those who are different or have different beliefs.

  4. Malcolm

    Thank you for your respectful tone and dialogue which I appreciate here. My goal is not to get everyone to think or believe the same way, but to listen, be open, and learn from one another.

    You are right, many Christians do believe that the Bible is an all or nothing guide to faith. They might say for instance, that the book of Leviticus is as important as Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John. They would possibly argue that every verse in the Bible is equally true as any other. I personally do not believe every verse in the Bible is equal in weight and importance and I have some guidelines on this blog that I’ll share in the future.

    Yes, you are right about my “Christian bias” but most would say it’s not a mainstream one. I will write about the Bible verses you alluded to in upcoming weeks. Thanks for your suggestions.

  5. Barry Vaughn

    This may be more theology than you want, but here goes… There three basic ethical models: rules, situations, and modified rules. (There are fancy theological names for each, but I’m restraining myself.) Rules are obvious: The Ten Commandments, etc. Many conservative religious people claim to follow this and seem to believe there’s a rule for every situation. In fact, no one really follows this system. Then there is situational ethics: (See the classic – “Situation ethics” by Joseph Fletcher.) He sums up this system as “Do the loving thing in every situation.” The problem with that is (to use biblical language) we’re all sinners. Translated into secular language: “We’re all compromised by greed, bias, and alienation, and we are likely to do what is in our best interest rather than the best interest of the other.” (Cf. Darwin, Marx, and Freud)

    The third model is the best one. There are rules but sometimes they have to be modified by situations. The classic example is this: The place is Amsterdam and the year is 1943 and you are hiding Jews in the attic when the Gestapo bang on the door and ask, “Are you hiding Jews in the attic?” If you say, “No,” then you’ve lied. If you say, “Yes,” then you’ve just killed the Jews in the attic (and probably yourself, too). Therefore, you lie, because saving life is more important than telling the truth.

    What does this have to do with homosexuality and religion? Ask yourself: What is the overall message of scripture (and I think this applies to both Jews and Christians)? Answer: Love God and love your neighbor as yourself. Does following Leviticus 18.22 hinder or help you to live a life that embodies that message? I think the answer is that it hinders such a life. In other words, what matters to God is THAT you love not WHOM you love. As Rabbi Hillel said, “Everything else is commentary.”

  6. Malcolm

    Thank you Barry for your clarity on the three basic ethical models. Very well said!

  7. Barry Vaughn

    Ask a theologian a simple question; get a dissertation…

  8. Smokin' Deist

    As to how I feel about this, I quote Thomas Paine from The Age of Reason “I believe the equality of man, and I believe that religious duties consist in doing justice, loving mercy, and endeavoring to make our fellow creatures happy.” Pretty much what you have said. Right now the LGBT community is not very happy with their treatment under the law. This is something that needs to be changed, because I do believe in the equality of all to have the same chances and rights as everyone else.

    I have not stepped out and done a lot, but I feel that I’m gaining the abilities I need in order to do SOMETHING, whatever that may be. College–even at this late time in my life–is opening up my mind and I feel like I’m being empowered to do something.

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