Encyclopedia of Religion
and Society

William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor

Table of Contents | Cover Page  |  Editors  |  Contributors  |  Introduction  |  Web Version

Sexuality, as Kinsey stated more than 50 years ago, is a spectrum of human experience, not an either-or proposition. Homosexuality and bisexuality therefore are points along the continuum at varying distances from heterosexuality. Homosexuality attracts much controversy, much of it grounded in religious objection. Moderate, mainstream Christian and Jewish groups tend to create policy and practice informed by the work of social scientists and historians who argue that Western religions have not always condemned homosexuals. The moderate-to-liberal religious stance is to recognize homo/bisexuals, gay men and lesbians, as persons of worth like any other, needing God's grace and the congregation's care. Bisexuality, involving one person in both homosexual and heterosexual emotional and erotic relationships (not necessarily simultaneously), is even less understood by religious bodies and teachings.

Many religious organizations struggle with admitting homo/bisexuals to the ordained ministry. Despite the care for souls this position putatively encourages, the essence of homosexuality is understood as a flawed (perhaps even sinful) expression of human sexual nature by most laity belonging to mainstream religious groups. Questions surrounding civil rights and protections for homo/bisexuals are, however, troublesome for those who maintain a "hate the sin and love the sinner" dichotomy in dealing with the vexing questions surrounding homosexuality.

More liberal and even radical religious teachings would affirm the homosexual's right to be fully human and fully homosexual. Openly gay and lesbian pastors may lead congregations who embrace this ideology. Unions of same sex people may be blessed in appropriate ceremonies. Gay/lesbian/bisexual activism is promoted in these congregations.

By contrast, the growing number of religious conservatives reject homosexuality and homo/bisexuals. God's creation of man and woman means homosexuals have no existence except as sinful and sick individuals who will be saved and cured by God if the desire is present. Scientific evidence suggesting biological, genetic, and social psychological explanations for homosexuality has no meaning in this worldview. Antihomosexual political campaigns are usually rooted in this type of fundamentalist religiosity.

See also Sexuality and Fertility

Barbara J. Denison


J. Boswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980)

G. D. Comstock, Gay Theology Without Apology (Cleveland: Pilgrim, 1993)

D. Greenberg, The Construction of Homosexuality (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988)

R. Hasbany (ed.), Homosexuality and Religion (New York: Harrington, 1989)

R. R. Troiden, Gay and Lesbian Identity (Dix Hills, N.Y.: General Hall, 1988).

return to Encyclopedia Table of Contents

Hartford Institute for Religion Research   hirr@hartsem.edu
Hartford Seminary, 77 Sherman Street, Hartford, CT 06105  860-509-9500