It has been a joy and privilege to participate in this blog and converse with talented authors and scholars, if only by reading their insightful posts. I have sensed that we are fellow sojourners, each seeking encouragement from being united with Christ, comfort from his love, being like-minded, praying that our love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment. The previous post by David Myers, my conversation partner, reveals that this is his heart as well.
What I Affirm About David’s Position
There is much to affirm about David’s blog post Most Are Straight, Some are Gay, and Why it is That Way. He is an engaging writer, an esteemed author, and a great compiler of psychological science.
He begins with Gallup poll results that illustrate the astonishing transformation of public opinion that we have witnessed in the last few decades on the issue of same-sex marriage. He seeks for Christians to agree that our teaching of sexual ethics should not simply follow cultural trends, but instead we must turn to biblical scholars as we reengage pertinent biblical wisdom, as well as continue to do good science.
In regards to sexual orientation as a natural predisposition, David covers many of the same studies that I also cite, including those that suggest gay-straight differences, the maternal immune-system reaction hypothesis and a twin study of 409 pairs of gay brothers that show modest orientation links.
I love his statement that “those who aim to worship God with their minds will surely wish to attend both to natural revelation (as we explore God’s “fearfully and wonderfully made” human nature) and to biblical revelation.”
He notes the need to examine Scripture with a spirit of humility, open to the Spirit’s leading, as we seek wisdom on how it ought to be.
David then points to additional Gallup poll data that paints a sobering view of Americans’ emerging take on traditional marriage (it is in disarray to say the least), even though much evidence exists concerning its high value for children, communities, and our overall happiness.
Finally, he asks us to consider what would Jesus do, versus what the Pharisees did, when it comes to healthy relationships.
I am encouraged that David seeks to present a more winsome and biblically authentic spirit that attracts the next generation. He laments the “counter-evangelism effect” that an anti-gay stance has on the irreligious “nones,” the lost and the un-churched. How sad for Christianity to be described as “anti-homosexual” above any other descriptor by those aged 16 to 29. Even worse is how we are described by anti-religious academics—ugly and mean and hateful—and these are just the start.
He ends his blog by appealing to God’s mercy and kindness. Indeed and amen.
What insights did I glean from David’s post as to ways he is seeking to be faithful to his particular understanding of commitment to the Christian faith?
I can glean from David’s post the strength of his commitment to the Christian faith, and that he clearly worries for the Church and how we are viewed by the wider world. His faith is an inclusive faith, seeking to extend God’s love to all. His heart is with the 3.4% who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, and the (approximately) 3% of the population who experience exclusively same-sex attraction.
He recognizes that in fighting a cultural war, the Church is losing. In quoting another author, he says we must:
Put aside a culture war that has alienated large parts of three generations from any consideration of religion or belief. Put aside an effort that has been a communications disaster, reducing a rich, complex and beautiful faith into a public obsession with sex. Put aside a culture war that, at least over the near term, you are destined to lose.
I gather that David has been strongly impacted by this war and the “astonishing transformation of public opinion,” the massive “momentum of gay support,” the equally striking “enormous generation gap.”
David notes that “our sexual ethics should not simply follow cultural trends, but we must turn to Scripture.” He stated that we must step back to understand what science is revealing (e.g., what we were asked to blog about) and to reengage biblical wisdom (what Mark Strauss and James Brownson were tasked with—see here)
Concerns and Questions about David’s position
In my first post I used up much space covering what I feel are relevant academic findings, as I tried not to veer too far from the leading question, “What is my understanding of the best findings from the academic disciplines of biology, anthropology, psychology and sociology relative to same-sex attraction, sexual orientation, and sexual behavior for human beings?”
In so doing I avoided delving into biblical and theological issues, leaving such matters to the other conversationalists tasked with such questions.
I have many thoughts on the topic, however, and perhaps in a future blog will outline them further, responding to some of the questions David raised along these lines—matters that we disagree about biblically and theologically.
I will however venture into one such issue that requires clarification. David posits the following:
A newer Reformed-evangelical perspective argues that the church has, once again, misread the Bible, which actually supports a consistent sexual ethic for gay and straight people.
David goes on to say:
For those who embrace a “Reformed and ever-reforming” faith tradition—one that esteems a spirit of humility and is open to the continuing work of the Spirit—this fresh look at Scripture is how it should be. And so it has been across time, as people of faith have changed their minds... In each case, our religious ancestors found proof texts to support their cultural assumptions, and later biblical scholarship led us to read and respect Scripture in a fresh way.
Here is my concern, and the phrase I cannot seem to shake: I keep stumbling over the two words, “once again.”
(Actually, four words if I include “proof texts.” Given space limitations, however, I must save my thoughts on that for later, again seeking not to veer from the leading question.)
In the spirit of this respectful conversation it seems as if the "once again" comment could be interpreted in several ways.
One way to interpret it is by simply ignoring the clause “once again” and reading the statement as “A newer Reformed-evangelical perspective argues that the church is misreading the Bible.” Then we would commence to a discussion around what we believe based on our hermeneutic, God’s consistent and unequivocal paradigm for marriage, sex and oneness in marriage, etc., as Strauss and Brownson have done.
Another interpretation could be this: Those who hold the position that the Bible does not condone same-sex behavior—that the seven passages cited are neither proof texts nor unambiguous in their meaning that homosexual behavior is not part of God’s design or intended purpose—are “once again” wrong.
My next question would then be: “Once again” as in when?
Are those in the “newer Reformed-evangelical perspective” implying that this is akin to when our religious ancestors pulled out of context passages to justify their racist and sexist views?
Such an interpretation would imply that anyone who believes differently is not just simply holding a counter belief, but they are, once again, committing egregious errors that in due time, after Scripture has been reexamined in fresh new ways, will be exposed as bigoted and homophobic, like the racist and sexist ancestors of the past.
Or am I reading too much into these two little words?
Regardless of what derisive opinions many in the culture may have, we can hold thoughtful, respected, counter beliefs that are philosophically valid, morally acceptable and biblically sound. This entire Respectful Conversations is based on the very premise.
Even the Supreme Court justices who voted with the majority (see here) on the recent (June 2015) same-sex marriage ruling noted that:
Many who deem same-sex marriage to be wrong reach that conclusion based on decent and honorable religious or philosophical premises, and neither they nor their beliefs are disparaged here.
It is with certainty that they will be disparaged elsewhere, however, and especially if such beliefs are sought to be exercised and lived out in public life or acted on in schools, academe, businesses or other institutions.
Chief Justice John Roberts of the U.S. Supreme Court wrote for the minority opinion:
It is one thing for the majority to conclude that the Constitution protects a right to same-sex marriage; it is something else to portray everyone who does not share the majority’s “better informed understanding” as bigoted.
Justice Alito wrote:
In the course of its opinion, the majority compares traditional marriage laws to laws that denied equal treatment for African-Americans and women. The implications of this analogy will be exploited by those who are determined to stamp out every vestige of dissent.
While we may disagree on the issue of same-sex behavior, I was grateful that David labeled as “derisive” the anti-religious academics who blame young Americans’ declining religiosity on what I assume is meant as a jab by them at traditionalists (e.g., the homophobic, GOP voting, fundamental/evangelicals). Such are scorned for being “extreme, ugly, mean, anti-science, intolerant, anti-abortion, homophobic, racist, sexually repressed and woman-hating, and hating anyone different from them.”
Thankfully I do not recognize anyone I know who personifies the attributes on this list—save the labels “evangelical,” “anti-abortion” and “GOP.”
I am humbly challenged to responded in kind, that is, to call out as “derisive” any who would portray non-traditionalists with hateful words that have no place in respectful conversations, knowing that if unchecked, the ensuing climate will be anything but respectful or conversational.
Areas that were not addressed
In the areas of sexual orientation and sexual orientation change efforts I am interested in scientifically valid findings that both support and run counter to the (now) widely held APA position.
And while not dismissing the importance of anecdotal evidence of ex-gay ministry leaders recanting past beliefs, there are many good articles in respected journals that elaborate different and valid perspectives.
For example, much research (see here) is being done on sexual identity issues, which is not the same as sexual orientation or attractions. Sexual identity is about how we label ourselves—straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual—and may include our attractions, behaviors, values and beliefs. Someone with same-sex attraction may identify as gay and Christian, but could also identify as being a believer in Christ who has same-sex attraction, and not identify as gay. As one researcher notes
For one person the feelings of same-sex attraction may be weighed more heavily. For another person, religious beliefs might play a larger role. For yet another, it all comes down to the actions they have taken. How you identify yourself is a decision based on any number of factors working in numerous and complicated ways.
Thus, for those who seek to identify first as being “in Christ,” they may chose not to make same-sex attraction the defining element of their identity. For those interested, here is some excellent research to explore, including an entire research institute focused on identity issues. (see here; also Yarhouse 2004; Yarhouse & Tan's Sexual Indentity Synthesis: Attributions, Meaning-making, and the Search for Congruence, 2004; Throckmorton; Lisa Diamond 2005; and Micelle Wolkomier's Be Not Deceived: The Sacred and Sexual Struggles of Gay and Ex-gay Christian Men, 2006)
Concerning sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE), APA’s current position is clear—there is “insufficient evidence” to support the claims of SOCE. They note that (see here) SOCE has been controversial due to tensions between faith-based organizations and the values held by lesbian, gay and bisexual rights organizations and professional organizations. APA further summarizes that “there are no studies of adequate scientific rigor to conclude whether or not recent SOCE do or do not work to change a person’s sexual orientation.”
Sexual Identity Therapy (SIT), however, does provide a place for clients to examine ways to live and form an identity in light of their beliefs and values (see here). The psychologists who pioneer this approach help clients find congruence "so that their behavior and sexual identity line up with their beliefs and values."
For readers interested in exploring this area further, scholars who have been engaged in this field for many years present cogent and valid scientific evidence on this topic. For example, a longitudinal study conducted by Jones and Yarhouse meets empirical standards for valid research and uses large sample sizes. Such research was completed with persons seeking to change their sexual orientation by exploring therapy that included religious perspectives. One of these researchers (Mark Yarhouse) serves as an ad hoc reviewer with the Journal of Homosexuality, and chairs the task force on LGBT issues for Division 36 (Psychology of Religion and Spirituality) of the APA. His textbooks on family therapy, psychopathology, and sexuality/sex therapy and several books on sexual identity (see Understanding Gender Dysphoria: Navigating Transgender Issues in a Changing Culture) may be of value.
These researchers note that change is rarely complete or categorical, but it can occur along a continuum, and it does not appear to be intrinsically harmful. Yarhouse summarizes it this way:
- Although some people do experience a change in sexual orientation, most experience modest gains, and many share that they continue to have same-sex attractions at times.
- It does not appear to be intrinsically harmful to try to change sexual orientation, especially if a person has realistic expectations.
- Where people may struggle the most is with unrealistic expectations or messages that they are not trying hard enough or do not have enough faith.
Other research by respected scholars can be found in journals like Psychotherapy and Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, as well as integration journals, such as Journal of Psychology and Christianity and Journal of Psychology and Theology. Many have made insightful, scholarly presentations at the APA and APS annual conferences.
Nicholas A. Cummings, former president of APA believes that the role of psychotherapy in sexual orientation change efforts has been politicized beyond repair. For context, in 1975 Cummings sponsored (as an APA council of representatives) the resolution that stated that homosexuality is not a mental disorder and, in 1976, the resolution that gays and lesbians should not be discriminated against in the workplace. He says:
Contending that all same-sex attraction is immutable is a distortion of reality. Attempting to characterize all sexual reorientation therapy as "unethical" violates patient choice and gives an outside party a veto over patients' goals for their own treatment. A political agenda shouldn't prevent gays and lesbians who desire to change from making their own decisions.
What, if anything, did you find out about David that surprised you or caused you to change your view of him?
There really was nothing David wrote that caused me to change my view of him. I continue to respect his views, even where we disagree biblically and theologically. He too is grieved that Christianity is becoming increasingly irrelevant, alienating and repelling to those outside the Church.
Clearly some in the Church have not modeled love and kindness while holding to the Truth. And while we may disagree about the morality of same-sex behavior and hold views contrary to popular opinion, we must give no cause to being viewed, fairly or unfairly, as hateful or unkind.
The Church is at a crossroads, and our future actions must carefully and prayerfully reflect God’s hope for us—to be united with Christ, like-minded, that our love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment.
We have a long way to go. I take heart in one working relationship that I have recently started that gives me hope. A faculty colleague from another institution was initially wary of my connection to a conservative Christian university and the impending judgmental attitudes she expected of me. She and her wife had recently adopted a young toddler, and she beamed as she showed me pictures. Her fears and concerns were soon alleviated as we worked and laughed together throughout the week. I was relieved and grateful that she did not disparage my sincere convictions that a biblical marriage is one that is between one man and one woman. She did not challenge me, nor seek to change my views, and neither of us experienced the other as hateful, bigoted, intolerant or mean.
We must not forget that respected scholars disagree, and can hold decent and honorable yet differing perspectives.