The increasingly stark polarization of religious groups about homosexuality is seen in new alliances that favor and oppose amending the U.S. Constitution to bar same-sex marriage.
The pro-amendment Religious Coalition for Marriage unites leaders from the Roman Catholic Church, Southern Baptist Convention, evangelical Protestantism (including blacks and Hispanics, Episcopal conservatives, Charles Colson, James Dobson, Rick Warren), Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, Eastern Orthodoxy, Mormonism and Orthodox Judaism.
The anti-amendment Clergy for Fairness draws support from the Episcopal Church majority, United Church of Christ, Unitarian Universalist Association, liberal Judaism and the largely gay Metropolitan Community Churches, among others.
Joining neither alliance: Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), United Methodist Church, black Baptist and Methodist denominations, and Muslim groups.
Meanwhile, June showdown meetings of the Episcopal Church and Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) will confront severe splits caused by internal gay policies.
The biblical debate is crucial. Lutheran Frederick Gaiser wrote in the Christian Century magazine that Old Testament prophets shifted to embrace non-Jews and the New Testament abrogated purity laws, therefore, likewise with homosexuality, Christianity should consider calling previous words of God into question.
In response, Southern Baptist R. Albert Mohler Jr. said liberals now say the church must grow beyond Scripture because their claims that the Bible was misunderstood for 20 centuries lack credibility.
Recent liberal writings include:
What God Has Joined Together?: A Christian Case for Gay Marriage (HarperSanFrancisco) by David Myers and Letha Scanzoni.
Jesus, the Bible and Homosexuality (Westminster John Knox) by theologian Jack Rogers, aimed at Presbyterians.
To Set Our Hope on Christ, the Episcopal Churchs case for tolerant policies.
The conservatives blockbuster remains The Bible and Homosexual Practice (Abingdon, 2001) by Presbyterian Bible scholar Robert Gagnon, whose Web page regularly updates matters.
Heres a summary of some liberal biblical arguments and Gagnons conservative rejoinders:
Liberals: The Old Testament prohibitions (Leviticus 18:22, 20:13) were part of now-obsolete ritual purity codes.
Conservatives: Leviticus links homosexuality with other sexual teachings that Christians follow (against incest, adultery, pederasty, bestiality) and the New Testament explicitly retains the gay ban (Romans 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, 1 Timothy 1:9-10).
Liberals: The gay ban is akin to kosher and circumcision laws the New Testament abolished.
Conservatives: Though diet and circumcision became negotiable, the New Testament treats sexual morals as serious and non-negotiable.
Liberals: The church changed on slavery; why not on gays?
Conservatives: The Bible never teaches unequivocally for or against slavery but is absolute in barring same-sex relationships.
Liberals: Jesus never addressed homosexuality, so flexibility is possible.
Conservatives: Jesus always cites man-woman couples and theres no evidence he, or any other Jew of that era, accepted same-sex behavior.
Liberals: The New Testament opposed only relations that were exploitative (man-boy, master-slave, prostitutes).
Conservatives: Old and New Testament prohibitions contain no such limitations.
Liberals: The Bible doesnt address people with inborn, natural homosexual attraction.
Conservatives: The Bible opposes many sins involving innate inclinations.
Liberals: Paul didnt know about fixed homosexual orientation and loving gay partnerships between consenting adults.
Conservatives: Both points were known in that era and didnt change Jewish and Christian opposition.
Liberals: The gay ban accompanied womens subordination.
Conservatives: Biblical peoples who opposed same-sex behavior compared favorably with other ancients on gender equality.
Liberals: The Bible changed on the morality of polygamy.
Conservatives: The closer analogies are prohibitions against incest, pedophilia and polyamory (multiple partners).
On the Net:
Clergy for Fairness: www.clergyforfairness.org
Religious Coalition: www.religiouscoalitionformarriage.org
Episcopal Hope text at http://www.anglicanlistening.org
Gagnon page: www.robgagnon.net