A Christian Response to Homosexuality. By National Council of Churches of Singapore: Armour Publishing. 2004. 129pp. S$12.00.

 Review by Dr Ng Peh Cheng

The book addresses a pertinent concern of the Christian community in Singapore on the issue of homosexuality.  The issue has emerged as a topic for public discussion, thus, pastors and church leaders are urged to reflect seriously and in depth on the "implications if the gay lifestyle becomes accepted or is promoted in Singapore" (p. vi). The reflection is very necessary because members of their congregations will be looking to them for answers and guidance.   Secondly, in response to the outcome of the reflection from Christian perspective, the church must determine her role in ministering to homosexuals, proclaiming to them the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ to transform lives.

Believers of the Christian faith have much for which to thank a study group formed in 1997 that conducted research on the issue and their findings were presented at a public symposium in 1998. Their anticipation that the topic would eventually break into public discussion as in many Western societies came true (p. vi & vii). The book is the labour of seven contributors who examine homosexuality from various perspectives to present a Christian response.

The reflection begins with the authority of the Scripture and its authoritative interpretation on homosexuality (chapter 1).  It is an important starting point to answer those who label the biblical interpretations on homosexuality as "traditional" and seek "alternative" interpretations to suit the modern view.  Dr Tan examines Bible passages related to the homosexuality debate to affirm the authority of the Scripture and its relevance that remains unshakable in the "modern scientific culture, which has allegedly made such remarkable advances in understanding human sexuality" (p. x).  Evidences against homosexuality lifestyle are gathered from studying the heterosexual relations in a marriage context (Genesis 1:27,28), the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19, the Holiness Code of Israel  (Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13) and other passages in the Old Testament (pp.  3-12). These texts conclude unequivocally on the prohibition and condemnation of homosexual practices (p. 102).  An exegesis of key passages in the New Testament (pp. 17-24) declare "homosexuality and lesbianism" as unnatural (p. 103) because

the Bible maintains that homosexual practices are wrong just as fornication, adultery and bestiality are wrong, because they all defile the one man-one woman marital relationship that God has ordained. The Bible also teaches that homosexual practices are wrong just as murder, envy, pride, and slander are wrong because in their own ways they pervert human relationships (p. 104).

Research studies and data to answer the question on the causes of homosexuality from the medical perspective are reported in chapter two.  This gives a helpful historical reference on how the issue was once classified as an illness but has now been declassified in the context of a socio-political move to depathologise homosexuality" (p. 31) by the American Psychiatric Association (APA).  In summary, scientific research that attempts to attribute homosexual orientation to genetic make-up, brain structure and hormones has yielded inconclusive results. The validity and reliability of the research findings have been called to question when "many of the brains used in [the] studies came from homosexuals" (p. 34) or researcher who himself is a gay (p. 110). In this chapter, the authors conclude, "For a moral assessment of homosexuality, science is a limited contributor; the major contributor is Scripture. Where the scientific studies are not helpful is in helping us to better understand the complex interplay of multiple factors in homosexuality. This, in turn, may lead to a more hopeful and effective ministry with individuals struggling with homosexuality in the world and in the church" (p. 41).

A sociological perspective is discussed in chapter three. The advice given to church is "in condemning homosexuality, the church should be clear where the condemnation is directed at . . ." and not avoiding the issue but confronting it to find answers to this difficult problem (p. 59). >From the perspective of theology, both authors explain in details the creation account of God who created man, male and female and this biblical account "cannot support homosexual lifestyles which cannot be said to honour the creation of human life in the differentiation of male and female" (p. 79). 

The book takes the position that homosexuals can be changed.  Therefore, the condemnation of homosexuality as sin must be balanced by a perspective of pastoral care to homosexual "people in the church or those who wish to join the church" (p. 83). The act of pastoral care is defined as the "biblical image of shepherd" that "refers to the solicitous concern expressed within the religious community for persons in trouble or distress” (p. 83). Those who are interested to provide pastoral care to homosexuals will benefit from Dr Solomon's description focused on helping these individuals to go through the processes of healing, reconciliation, sustaining and guiding (pp. 85-97).   

The Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) on homosexuality provided in the book are a good concise but adequate source to help Christians to confront and understand the issue based on biblically sound information (pp. 99-126).  The suggestion to have this section published as a booklet for wider distribution is a good idea. It will be useful in engaging various groups in the church to reflect and discuss the issue addressed in the book. In addition, it may be necessary to include in the booklet, the concept of "ecclesiology" from biblical perspective to answer a question on the existence of a "gay church."  

Having examined the issue from different angles, the book concludes with a Statement on homosexuality issued by the National Council of Churches of Singapore (NCCS) to "clarify the position of the churches both to our members, the general public, and the authorities" (pp. vii, 127-129). The content of the book is written for the Christian community in Singapore. However, churches elsewhere who are struggling with the same issue will find the book "ready-made"  for them to begin their reflection.  

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