Rev. Dr. Kathlyn James, First United Methodist Church, SeattleThis sermon was delivered by Rev. James to Lake Washington United Methodist Church in 1997, and is reprinted here with permission.
Last August, we had a special Sunday in church called "Burning Questions," in which I responded, on an impromptu basis, to written questions from the congregation. At that time, I also promised to preach a series of sermons later in the year that would specifically address the top three, or most-asked questions submitted on that day. I have to admit, I could not have predicted the 'top three' questions that would come my way! They were: (1) Is homosexuality a sin? (2) Is there a hell? And (3) How can we forgive? This morning we begin by looking at the first of these: Is homosexuality a sin?
As your pastor, I know very well that homosexuality is a tender subject among us. It is an issues on which, as Christian people, we have diverse opinions and often very complex feelings. But I also know that this is a real question among us; it is not just a theoretical one. That's why you raised it. There are parents sitting here this morning who are wondering why their child is gay, if it means they've done something wrong, if anyone else has ever struggled with this. There are gay and lesbian Christians who are active members of the church, but who live in the closet because they don't want to lose their jobs, their homes, or your friendship and respect.
There are teenagers here who have contemplated suicide because they suspect they might be gay. Each of us here has our own background, confusion, and experience with this issue. It is time we talked about it.
In fact, I had never met a homosexual person, as far as I knew, even into my twenties. This combination of influences meant that my attitude was pretty much "live-and-let-live." I didn't see how it hurt anyone, or how it threatened me, if two people of the same sex wanted to love each other and live together. What was the big deal?
Neither does the passage in Deuteronomy 23, which refers to Canaanite fertility rites that have infiltrated Jewish worship. Passages in I Corinthians and I Timothy refer to male prostitution. Two often-quoted passages prohibiting male homosexual behavior are found in the book of Leviticus. Leviticus also stipulates that any man who touches a woman during her menstrual period is to be stoned to death, that adulterers are to be executed, that interracial marriage is sinful, that two types of cloth are not to be worn together, and certain foods must never be eaten.
As a result, when you ask me, "Is homosexuality a sin?" My answer today is: "No." I may be wrong, and I ask God's forgiveness if I am. But I don't believe that sexual orientation has anything to do with morality, any more than being blond or tall or left-handed does. Homosexuals as well as heterosexuals can be involved in sexual sin, including promiscuity, infidelity, and abuse. And homosexuals as well as heterosexuals can love one another with faithfulness, tenderness, and integrity. The same standards of moral behavior should apply to Christians, straight and gay. That is what my life experience as a pastor has led me to believe.
When a homosexual couple comes to meet with me in my office, then, and asks, "Will we be accepted in this church?" I can answer, "I will accept you." But I can only speak for myself. What shall I say on behalf of our whole congregation?
Rev. Dr. Kathlyn James is the Senior Pastor of First United Methodist Church, Seattle, Washington.