The Rhetoric of Homosexual Practice

A Critique of the Identity/Act Distinction in Protestant Ordination Policies


  • John J. Anderson

John J. Anderson, 17 Morgan Dr., #103, Natick MA 01760,


Many Protestant denominations have or recently had policies that prohibit “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” from being ordained. By only prohibiting “practicing” homosexuals, proponents of these policies claim that they do not discriminate against homosexuals as a group since, technically, a homosexual can still be ordained as long as she is “non-practicing.” In other words, a condemnation of homosexual practice is not the same as a condemnation of homosexual persons. I argue that this is not the case; the rhetoric of homosexual practice does, in fact, amount to a condemnation of gays and lesbians. It does so by conflating the two things it claims to keep separate—homosexual conduct and homosexual identity. I demonstrate this conflation by analyzing the history of this rhetoric and how it has been adjudicated in church court decisions from the United Methodist Church and the Presbyterian Church (USA).