Homosexuality and the Episcopal Church

This is a partial transcript from The O'Reilly Factor, November 4, 2003.

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BILL O'REILLY, HOST:  In the "Unresolved Problems" segment tonight, as you may know, the ordination of Episcopal Bishop V. Gene Robinson (search), an openly gay cleric, threatens to split that church.  But the larger question is how would Jesus, the leader of all Christian churches, handle the homosexual issue?

Joining us now from Boston is Episcopal Bishop Steven Charleston and from Colorado Springs the Reverend Donald Armstrong, an Episcopal priest for 26 years.

Reverend Armstrong, we'll begin with you.  How do you think Jesus would view this?

REV. DONALD ARMSTRONG, GRACE EPISCOPAL CHURCH:  Well, I think Jesus would view homosexuality with great sorrow, with compassion, with love, but with a clear call to repentance.  Homosexuality is not what God intended for us, and creation -- clearly, from the Genesis story, from Noah and the Ark to Jesus' own statement about a man shall leave his mother and father and cleave to his wife and the two shall become one.

I think Jesus would want one to embrace his way for us and to live a life that leads to fullness and happiness and joy and not into this other sort of secular, inviting, seducing kind of lifestyle.

O'REILLY:  All right.  What, though, if it is proven down the road that homosexuality is genetic, that there's a biological reason for it, and it's not acquired behavior.  Would you change your opinion, Reverend?

ARMSTRONG:  No.  No, I wouldn't because even our genetic makeup is just -- illustrates the fall, fallenness of humanity, and the call to repent and to return to or be more in line with the way God originally created us, and so we're always called to repentance in amendment of life, no matter...

O'REILLY:  Yes, but, you know, if are born a certain way through no fault of your own, I would think that you would think, Reverend, that it's God's plan for you.

ARMSTRONG:  Well, actually, probably like most people, as a fallen person, I have lots of things about my personality that I have to restrain, have self-control about, to try to amend, and homosexuality would be no different than intrusive thoughts or hyperactivity or any number of other issue.

O'REILLY:  All right.  How do you see it, Bishop?

STEVEN CHARLESTON, EPISCOPAL BISHOP:  Well, Bill, I think it's a great question because we sure have a lot of people on the question of homosexuality talking about what Jesus thought, and, of course, though, to be honest with you, the truth is we don't actually know because, in the gospels, Jesus never said a single word about homosexuality.

So all we can go on is looking at the whole picture of his ministry, and there are three things that seem really clear.

First, he would have gone against those who are trying to say they have the only way to read the bible.  He was well known for challenging the spiritual or religious authorities of his time.

The second thing that I think we know about Jesus is that he was always welcoming people to come to him who were considered outcasts in their own society -- tax collectors and prostitutes and lepers -- and I'm quite sure there were quite a lot of gay and lesbian people who were his followers because they were on the edges and fringes of society at this time.

And I think the third thing that we can see definitively about Jesus is that he told us judge not.  Basically, he said don't go around judging other people.  Leave that to Jesus.  I'll take care of the judging, he said.  I want you to take care of the loving...

O'REILLY:  OK.  Fair enough, but Jesus...

CHARLESTON:  ... and...

O'REILLY:  Bishop, Jesus was an absolutist in the way that he defined morality and the way that he laid out how he thought people should live.  Love your neighbor as yourself.  Help the poor.  Very absolute.  It wasn't like wishy washy.  It wasn't like -- Jesus wouldn't be a unitarian, I mean, with all due respect.


O'REILLY:  I mean he wouldn't be, well, whatever you feel like doing on Tuesday is OK.

So I'm wondering, though, whether he would have taken the reverend's point of view and had compassion for gays and -- because, even today, with 6 percent of the population, you're a minority, you're in a very difficult position as far as society is concerned, unfortunately.

And I -- believe he would have had compassion for them, and I don't think he would have condemned anyone, but I wonder if he would have been accepting of the lifestyle, which is the key question for Reverend Robinson and everybody else.

CHARLESTON:  I think you've got some good theology, Bill, because you're right, Jesus would have been accepting and compassionate.  He was a man who was willing to take people for who they were.

And, remember, in the gospels, we hear over and over again that there were men and women who were deeply troubled in their own lives because they were oppressed, because they were marginalized, because they were hated and despised by others, and Jesus...

O'REILLY:  But he would say -- he would say...

CHARLESTON:  ... brought them in and accepted them.

O'REILLY:  Bishop, he would say go and sin no more, and the reverend is saying that, inherently, homosexuality is sinful, and there...

CHARLESTON:  Well, you see...

O'REILLY:  There's the problem, whether Jesus would believe that or not.

CHARLESTON:  I know.  Isn't it -- it's a terrible problem because -- and it's one that we have to understand if we're going to be adult people of faith that men and women, both of good conscience, whether they're liberal or conservative on this question, whether they're debating abortion or whether just war or whether they're debating homosexuality, are just going to be divided on this issue, and we're going to have to understand that to come to reconciliation on it, we have to accept that people will have differences of opinion on this and not call each other names or...

O'REILLY:  OK.  Now...

CHARLESTON:  ... say you're not a Christian or you're sinful.

O'REILLY:  ... Reverend Armstrong, are you willing to accept a homosexual who says, look, not my fault, I was born this way, I can have relations with the opposite sex, it would be unfair for me to marry them or partner up with them because I couldn't fulfill my responsibilities to them physically, and this is the only avenue left to me other than celibacy?  So what do you say to those people, you have to be celibate?

ARMSTRONG:  Well, see, Bill, it's not about what I think or individual conscience.  That's the secular way of looking at things.  It's about what the church is taught and what scripture says, and Jesus was clear in the scriptures that he came not to abolish the law and the prophets but to fulfill them.

When he called people to him, he always healed them.  And so I think what Jesus would do would be to call this person to him, he would bless them and heal them and show them a way to walk more closely in his way, which...

O'REILLY:  But we don't have that today, Reverend, unfortunately.  I wish we did have Jesus who could heal all of us and the world because we badly need it.  But what we have here are millions of people the world over who want to be good Christians and feel that they can't be.

ARMSTRONG:  Well, the -- we do have the church that's Jesus' way of being present now.  His body, the church.  And the church has clearly said, particularly in the Anglican communion, that homosexuality is contrary to the will of God as revealed in scripture.

Lambeth Conference -- two Primates meetings in the last six months have been very clear about this.  But what we have confronting then -- confronting the traditional religion of Christianity is a new secular orthodoxy that jumps right from creation to redemption as a faith of affirmation rather than repentance, and it doesn't lead to new life.

O'REILLY:  All right.

ARMSTRONG:  It doesn't lead to dying to yourself and being born again.

O'REILLY:  Very interesting debate, and we appreciate you gentlemen coming on and talking about it so frankly.  Thank you very much.

ARMSTRONG:  Thank you.

CHARLESTON:  You're welcome.

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