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US Evangelicals Debate Homosexuality in the Bible

More than 30 American states now recognize marriages between two people of the same sex. An increasing number of mainline Christian groups are also accepting same-sex unions. But most evangelical Christians say the Bible condemns sexual relations among people of the same sex. They note writings found in the Bible’s Book of Leviticus and the Book of Romans. Evangelicals firmly believe that Christianity’s holy book is free from mistake. Now, a well-known student of evangelicalism is saying that the traditional reading of the Bible is wrong.

The religious service looked like one at any evangelical church, except that same-sex couples were sitting in pews. A man rested his head on the shoulder of another man, and a woman had her arm around her female partner. They were among the several hundred people who recently gathered at the National City Christian Church in Washington, D.C. The attendees were a mix of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Christians. They were there for a meeting of The Reformation Project.

The idea for the project came from a new way of thinking about the Bible. Matthew Vines formed the group after a testimonial he posted two years ago on YouTube became popular. The young man spoke in the video about being Christian and gay. Matthew Vines said that he did not choose to have an interest in men.

“I am gay. I didn’t choose to be gay.”

He said the aim of the project is to show that “there is a path to affirming the full authority of the Bible and affirming same-sex relationships.”

In the Christian Bible, Jesus’ follower Paul condemns sexual acts between men. But Mr. Vines says loving gay relationships were nearly all unknown 2,000 years ago.

“The heart of the scripture’s teaching is that marriage is about commitment -- that is about keeping one’s covenant with one’s spouse in the same way that God keeps his covenant with us. And that’s something that same-sex couples can do just as well as opposite sex couples can.”

He argues that a teaching that has failed and causes much suffering cannot be correct.

But critics say he is just reading the Bible his own way to show that being gay is acceptable. One such critic is British evangelical clergyman Sam Allberry. He recently spoke to the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. The group met in Nashville, Tennessee. Mr. Allberry said it is wrong to interpret the Bible to make it seem to accept same-sex relationships.

“What you have to do to the Bible to make it approve of same-sex relationships is profoundly un-evangelical.”

Evangelical Christians accept many Biblical scriptures literally. In other words, they believe most words of the Bible represent exact, precise truth.

Southern Baptist leaders at that meeting softened some of their earlier statements about gay people. But they did not change beliefs that are central to their faith. Their actions led some people to compare the softened statements to Pope Francis’ efforts to reach out to gays while not amending Roman Catholic ideology.

David Gushee is an evangelical ethicist – someone who studies what is morally right and wrong. He noted that the Bible has 31,273 verses.

“The number of verses that can be called on to support the traditional position is essentially, well, it’s six passages, maybe 15 verses at the most.”

David Gushee teaches at Mercer University, a Baptist religious school in Atlanta, Georgia. He recently published a book called “Changing Our Mind.” It caused a lot of discussion among evangelical Christians. He said his change of heart came partly from meeting gay people and from learning that his sister had declared herself to be a lesbian.

I’m Jonathan Evans.

This report was based on a story from VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky. Jeri Watson adapted the story for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.


Words in This Story

couple - n., two people who are married or who have a romantic or sexual relationship

pews n., one of the benches that are placed in rows in a church

mainlineadj., belonging to an established or accepted group or system

evangelical - adj., of or relating to a Christian sect or group that stresses the authority of the Bible, the importance of believing that Jesus Christ saved you personally from sin or hell, and the preaching of these beliefs to other people

gay - n., sexually attracted to someone who is the same sex

lesbian – n., a woman who is sexually attracted to other women

bisexual – n., sexually attracted to both men and women

transgender – n., of or relating to people who have a sexual identity that is not clearly male or female

commitment – n., a promise to do or give something

covenant - n., a formal and serious agreement or promise

testimonial - n., a written or spoken statement that praises someone’s work, skill, character, etc.

literally – adj., used to stress that a statement or description is true and accurate even though it may be surprising

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