An Episcopalian priest who openly accepts the homosexual community in his congregation shocked millions of Oprah Winfrey Show viewers, this month, when he proclaimed "being gay is a gift from God."
Rev. Edwin Bacon Jr. made the statement while responding to a gay man on the show who said he'd struggled most of his life with being accepted. Bacon was a guest Jan. 7 during Winfrey's "Soul Series."
"Being gay is a gift from God, but our culture doesn't understand that," Bacon responded. "And consequently the culture sends messages that you ought to isolate."
Watch video of Bacon on the Oprah Winfrey show here.
Minister Michael Bernard Beckwith, leader of the "trans-denominational" Agape International Spiritual Center, agreed with him.
"He is the image and likeness of God just as he is," Beckwith said. He was also a guest on show.
Adding Fuel to the Fire
Bacon's comments sparked a heated debate on Winfrey's Web site and within the Christian community.
Mark Yarhouse, director of the Institute for the Study of Sexual Identity, said Bacon's claims were seen as beneficial to some, but that for many he is "confusing what we experience with what is good, and short-changing a biblical view" on human experience.
"There is an assumption that what people experience is directly a result of God's creational intent," he told CBN News.
Though the priest provided "an opportunity for Christians to reflect on what it is they believe," Yarhouse added that his comments only further complicate the debate over homosexuality.
"In some ways it is easier for Christians to frame the debate on homosexuality as between Christians and non-Christians, and to assume that Christians speak with one voice on the matter," Yarhouse said. "But when a church leader departs from historic Christian teaching, it can be both confusing to those who adhere to a Christian sexual ethic and a relief to those who reject that teaching."
In a forum on Winfrey's Web site, many expressed concern that Bacon went against Christian ideals.
"I, too, do my best not to judge another, but I have never read in the Holy Bible where it says being gay is a gift from God," one visitor wrote.
"God did not create anyone to be born gay.Now, if people choose to live a gay lifestyle, we are to love them regardless," the viewer added.
Bacon's Second Visit
Hoping to clear things up, Winfrey invited Bacon back to ask him what he "meant" by the comment.
"I meant exactly what I said," Bacon charged. He added that homosexuals are "clearly outcasts" and must understand "that when God made them, God said 'you are good.'"
Bacon said he received backlash for his statements, but that most of the responses were supportive.
"It simply unleashed a flood of healing throughout the country," Bacon said. "It was amazing that people were talking about their hearts being healed and their hearts leaping."
Harming the Christian Message?
Psychology professor Warren Throckmorton says Bacon's comments are harmful to the serious debate surrounding sexuality and the church.
"Traditional Christianity teaches that all people are valued by God as bearers of His image," he told The Christian Post. "However, moral questions surrounding sexual behavior are matters of great dispute among Christians."
"Rev. Bacon is less than helpful when he condemns those who disagree with him," Throckmorton added.
Yarhouse says it's important for Christians to be consistent when addressing homosexuality, and to hold other sins to the same standard.
"(Those struggling with sexuality) want to be challenged to live their lives faithfully before God, but they also expect heterosexuals to do the same," he said. "They are most concerned when they hear discussions of sin limited to homosexuality. They see that as hypocritical."
Bacon leads the All Saints Church in Pasadena, Calif. The church claims to welcome everyone, "whoever you are and wherever you find yourself on your journey of faith."
Sources: CBN News, The Christian Post, Oprah.com