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On civil rights for homosexuals, the churches are split. In the past few years, the National Federation of Priests' Councils, the National Council of Churches, and scattered church jurisdictions have passed various resolutions condemning discrimination in law, employment, housing, etc. But several Roman Catholic bishops have come out against "gay rights" bills in their cities. With the tacit backing of Terence Cardinal Cooke, Catholics played a heavy role last year in defeating a New York City antidiscrimination bill that had been expected to pass. In California, an ad hoc Coalition of Concerned Christians recently tried—but failed—to put to a referendum the state's new law legalizing all sexual acts between consenting adults.
The church's opposition to homosexuality stems from five biblical condemnations of homosexual acts.* But by attempting to distinguish between what is divinely inspired and what is an expression of the cultural assumptions of the biblical era, a few theologians are challenging old interpretations of these texts. For example, the mysterious sins of Sodom and Gomorrah, which have been assumed to be sodomy, are now thought by some scholars to be pride and inhospitality to strangers.
In the New Testament, Paul's views on sexuality were colored by his shock at the Greco-Roman world at the time. The homosexuality of Paul's era, says Norman Pittenger of England's Cambridge University Faculty of Divinity, "was often just licentious, not in any way a noble and moral affair as it had been among many of the Greeks of, say, Plato's time." Some argue that today's homosexuals, if not noble, are often truly loving. The British Society of Friends in its book Toward a Quaker View on Sex maintains that "it is the nature and quality of a relationship which matters. Homosexual affection can be as selfless as heterosexual affection and therefore we cannot see that it is in some way morally worse."
While most scholars manage to resist the notion that Paul might have applauded selfless homosexual relationships, it seems that neither the Old Testament writers nor Paul had any conception that homosexuality might be a permanent psychic condition in an individual. The Dutch Catechism, a product of liberal Roman Catholicism with the imprimatur of Holland's Primate, says that "the very sharp strictures of Scripture must be read in their context" as a denunciation of a fashion that was spreading to many who were "quite capable of normal sexual sentiments." The catechism suggests that a homosexual not capable of "normal" sexual sentiments may not fall under the same censure.
The basic Christian case against homosexuality is also founded on the concept of a natural order. Says German Theologian Helmut Thielicke: Homosexuality is in every case not in accord with the order of creation. Many theologians still