Sexual Orientation and Religious Freedom

The Rev. Geoffrey Butcher, Priest-in-Charge - Trinity Episcopal Church, Russellville

Conversation regarding sexual orientation and religious freedom has increased since the Supreme Court’s decision to allow the marriage of same-sex couples throughout the United States. For many Christians the issue of acceptance or rejection of this decision revolves around the issue of behavior and identity. Is sexual orientation a matter of one’s choice and behavior, or is everyone born with a given sexual identity? Is heterosexual identity the only God given identity, or are some born with a homosexual identity?

For many conservative evangelical Christians a gay sexual orientation is a matter of choice expressed by their behavior. These Christians interpret scripture to mean that acting on homosexual physical expression is a sin. Acceptance of people with a gay or lesbian sexual orientation thus becomes a matter of accepting behavior for which they do not approve. Thus, refusing gay couples marriage licenses, or refusing to bake a cake for their wedding, is

permissible. They feel that their religious freedom provided by the Constitution is being infringed upon when it becomes a requirement to serve gay people.

By contrast, many understand that one’s sexuality is primarily given at birth. “God made me this way,” many say. One’s sexuality is understood to be a given as is the color of one’s skin. They note that having a sexual orientation other than heterosexuality was not understood by the writers of the Bible. Jesus himself said nothing about homosexuality, although he did about divorce. For these Christians it is important to accept the sexuality of gay persons and to encourage them to live their lives in positive ways. This includes the joys and responsibilities of loving, committed relationships in marriage.

These different approaches are not going to find resolution any time soon. Some Christians will continue to resent the ruling that they must provide services to homosexual people, believing that their religious freedom is being abused; while homosexual people will feel they are being discriminated against if they are not given the same rights and privileges of heterosexual people. For conservative Christians homosexuality is a matter of bad behavior. For more liberal Christians the behavior issue is one of loving

others, including one’s spouse. Sexual expression is understood to be a gift from God to be shared in ways that are appropriate for one’s sexual identity.

It behooves all of us to be respectful of one another whether or not we agree with someone else’s life style. For Episcopalians a baptismal vow states how we are meant to relate to one another. The candidate, or sponsors of the candidate, are asked, “Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?” The response is, “I will, with God’s help.” May we, with God’s help, respect the dignity of every human being.

The Rev. Geoffrey Butcher, Priest-in-Charge

Trinity Episcopal Church, Russellville

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