Thursday, October 15, 2009

Blogging the Homosexualty Conference: Day 1

From now until Saturday night, I'll be attending the Marriage, Homosexuality and the Church Conference at Andrews University. It is a multidisciplinary conference that is more professional than scholarly in nature. There are no respondents who bring the opposite view of the presenters because, "The conference organizers have chosen speakers who have a biblically-faithful view on homosexual practice, as measured by a consensus within the Christian church for the last two millennia, as well as the virtually unanimous view of the worldwide Adventist Church."

Though the schedule is quite full, I hope to post a brief synopsis of the sessions on this blog. My goal is to connect you to resources for further study, and give you a sense of where the Adventist Church is moving on these related issues.

The opening address was given by Mark Yarhouse, Psy.D., who, along with James Stanton, recently published the results of a longitudinal study on homosexual Christians involved in a change ministry in their recent book, Ex-gays? Stanton was supposed to present, but was unable to come due to his father's failing health.

Yarhouse began by assessing the weaknesses of the proposed causes of homosexuality. He concluded that homosexuality is likely caused by a combination of hereditary and environmental factors. He proposed that just as there are multiple ways that one can become a homosexualt there are multiple homosexualities. He suggested that the feminist critique has taught us it is wrong to take a certain type of male homosexuality as a prototype and talk about all homosexuality within that category.

Along those lines he summarized the philosophical debate about what sexual orientation is. The essentialists claim that homosexuality is the same throughout cultures and throughout history. The social constructionists counter that homosexuality is a category fashioned by society as a way to describe preferences. It would appear that Yarhouse favors the later view.

Finally, Yarhouse took up the question of change. He called one type of change "natural fluidity," and cited Lisa Diamond's documentation of women who more often than males experienced change from homo- to heterosexual attraction.

The other type of change is consciously attempted, which is the kind Stanton and Yarhouse studied. A quick and dirty summary of their findings is that by the end of the five year study, one third of the homosexuals studied were chaste or heterosexual, one third were continuing to change but not chaste or hetero-, and another third continued as or were more homosexual. But Yarhouse says these results, while significant, are not conclusive because 60% of the original group dropped out half-way through the study and were not counted.

Among the more surprising results of their study was that men who placed on the truly homosexual side of the hetro-/homosexual continuum (as measured on 5 different scales) experienced more change toward the heterosexual than the group average. They also measured distress with a standard test and found that people were not more psychologically distressed for having gone through the ministry and, if anything, they were less distressed.

Yarhouse concluded from the comments of those involved in the study that the ministry was not as successful at changing orientation as it was at helping the people along a process of sanctification, and thus helping them to become good stewards of their sexuality. He advised that we offer homosexuals realistic biblical hope. My impression is that this would involve helping homosexuals cope with temptation to homosexual activity and perhaps move toward heterosexual attraction, but not promising them that they will become heterosexuals if they will only try harder, pray more, etc. Yarhouse views the later as destructive.

Yarhouse's presentation was followed by an interview with Pastor Ron Woolsey, an Adventist minister in Arkansas. Woolsey was sexually abused by a man at the age of four, and since that time was sexually attracted to men. He studied theology and pre-med at Southern Missionary College, and while there married a woman he liked but didn't love thinking that marriage would be the solution to his homosexual desires.

While Woolsey's wife was on a trip he had a sexual encounter with a man which caused his marriage to break up. He also left the church when a pastor told him he could never change and told his wife to divorce him. After a series of casual and longer term partners he found a man with whom he thought he could live forever.

But, in Woolsey's words, "his relationship with Jesus ended up eclipsing the relationship" he had with that man. He started studying the Bible, and decided that he was dealing with a sin issue and that if the Bible calls homosexuality a sin, it is because it has the solution. By a process of memorizing and claiming Bible promises his life was changed. He is now identifies as an ex-gay and is married to a woman.

Disclaimer: I have summarized the views of the presenters to the best of my ability, however my summary should not be conflated with their actual views. For this reason, any attempt to debate the presenters views in the comments section will be deleted. Comments that seek clarification are welcome.


  1. I find the use of the feminist critique to be very intriguing. I had a similar thought, actually, several years ago in a Women's Studies class when doing a report on transexuals. I'd be interested in hearing if this is a popular line of reasoning or if people are generally reluctant to use feminism as a tool of criticism.

  2. Ron Woolsey was in a one-hour doco (part of a series) the Beeb puts out called "The Making of Me" in which British/American actor John Barrowman (Doctor Who/Torchwood) went on an odyssey to discover what, if anything made him gay - was it nature? nurture? A choice? Barrowman insists he knew he was gay from when he was a small boy. Anyways - the doco is fascinating, and in it as part of his research, Barrowman interviews Woolsey about being "ex-Gay". He also went through a battery of tests with fascinating results.

  3. Thanks for this Dave. Sounds interesting.

  4. Interesting choice to present only one point of view at a professional conference. I look forward to reading your updates.

  5. Kristi: Thanks for the tip. The show is on YouTube here (Woolsey at 3:50). They definitely cut the interview at a moment that shows their bias. For clarification, the one who went through the tests was Barrowman.

    Trudy: Looking at the presenters I see more than one point of view. For example, I know at least one presenter, Jason Hines, who will argue for homosexual marriage. But they do share a common doctrinal/philosophical starting point, which in my experience defines a professional conference. I wouldn't expect a church growth conference to feature respondents who believe church growth is irrelevant. But I would expect such a conference to have presenters with different ideas on how to grow the church.

  6. It does seem sad that the conference is so heavily biased towards one perspective. Some intelligent debate might do a lot of good. We'll see what happenes.

    Kessia: The turn of the feminist critique is nothing extraordinary. Judith Butler is a key scholarly writer on homosexuality and she consistently argues that there is no single prototype of a homosexual--just as there is no singular ideal for "heterosexual." A large part of her work is about opening the field to multiple sexualities, to difference, to individual self-stylization.

  7. David,

    One of the conference organizers just informed me that individuals from the other perspective were originally invited but turned it down. I have some more questions about this, but haven't had the time to ask them yet.

  8. David, Thanks. I'd love to hear more about that. I wonder how much has to do with the nature and content of the conference itself. I think I would have significant issues with the conference, simply for language.

    "Natural" and "essential" are both considered anachronistic and dangerous within this debate--with good reason, I would argue (some of which have been touched upon). Thus there would seem to be a fundamental disparity of worldviews at issue... but those are just my thoughts.

  9. Hey David and David,

    Hamstra (just for clarity's sake), we seem to have a contradiction. When I spoke to one of the organizers 2 months ago about balance at the conference I was told, "As far as "balance" on the other panels, we are planning this conference as representing a Biblically faithful view as understood by the world Adventist church. Thus, panels on Biblical and theological teaching will be balanced among disciplines, OT,
    NT, Theology, Biblical ethics, etc., but will present a view supportive of a faithful reading of the Biblical text. The revisionists had their conference, and their book entitled "Christianity and Homosexuality: Some Adventist Perspectives, and our conference will in many ways be in dialogue with that conference and book." While this does not definitively state that they did not invite people of other perspectives, it at least strongly implies that they made no attempt to do so. If they had, I would see no reason why this organizer would not have just said that to me.

  10. Jason: That was my impression, too, so I will be following up on exactly what that organizer meant.