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.