Monday, October 26, 2009

Reflictions On The Homosexuality Conference

Before apokalupto moves on to fresh topics, there's still time for me to jot down a few final thoughts on the Marriage, Homosexuality, and the Church Conference I attended last week at Andrews University. It's also time for me to share my position on the debate over whether homosexual sex is sinful, since that will inform the comments that follow. My theology on this issue is informed by presuppositions I have found to be well articulated here.

I believe that from Genesis 12 onward, the Bible tells the story of how God is leading his people on a journey, which includes moral progress, toward Heaven. So I believe the descriptions of Heaven in Scripture (primarily found in Genesis 1-2 and Revelation 21-22) are an ethical compass for God's people, pointing us toward the ideal to which he is taking us. According to this ideal, marriage is a union of one man and one woman (Gen 1:21-28, Gen 2:18-25, Rev 21:2)

Now the problem is, given all the aberrations from this ideal that human beings desire, how do we get there from here. In the scripture we can trace God making allowances for our less than ideal situations while moving his people closer to Heaven (cf. Ex 21:10, 1 Tim 3:12). Some might argue that based on this we can make an allowance for homosexual marriage as a step closer to Heaven.

The problem with this is that God has never indicated in Scripture that such an allowance should be made. Even if you believe that the biblical injunctions against homosexual sex apply to only exploitative or non-mutually fulfilling homosexual sex, it remains the case that God never revealed homosexual marriage as the solution to this problem. In fact, given those injunctions, it seems very unlikely that God would make such an allowance.

Therefore, I believe homosexual marriage is not the way forward for God's people on their journey to Heaven. But if that is a difficult conclusion to arrive it, it leads to the even more difficult question of how the church should then respond to homosexuals. So I offer these reflections on the Andrews homosexuality conference in light of this conclusion and in partial answer to the question that comes from it.

As was the diagnosis another time Adventism and psychology converged, I suggest that the symptoms of multiple personality disorder may have been present in the conference; it spoke with two voices. Those from the counseling and pastoral care disciplines said we need to love homosexuals, and those from the public policy and religious liberty disciplines said we need to fight homosexuals. Now that's a generalization and oversimplification, but the popular perception of this conference will be generalized and oversimplified and the message of the conference will, I believe, end up sounding schizo.

Now if you're schizo, you're mad; and when you're mad, people, in this case homosexuals, don't feel the love. My point being that if you want to do some tough love, you've got to earn the right. Now the public policy guys at the conference said Adventists already have that legitimacy because of ADRA, etc., but I don't buy it.

Adventists earned the right to advocate against slavery by helping with the underground railroad, we earned the right to advocate against alcohol and tobacco by helping people kick their habits, and we earned the right to advocate for religious liberty, by sticking up for other religions, too. What have we done for homosexuals? Since the Colin Cook debacle, officially we've done whole lot of nothing.

I believe our level of public policy advocacy on homosexual marriage, regardless of the position we take, must be correlated with our level of direct ministry to homosexuals or we will end up preaching to the choir and loose our public witness. Right now we've got and a handful of Wayne Blakelys and Ron Woolseys, so that means we can probably send our lawyers to court. I don't think we should start mobilizing our church members to vote until they can identify at least one homosexual person in their congregation. And if Adventists get something like an AIDS hospice going in San Francisco, I think we'd be ready to start talking to homosexuals about homosexual marriage.

Along the lines of ministering to homosexuals, I think Mark Yarhouse's three-tier distinction is an excellent starting point. I think it has implications beyond homosexuality and could be a good tool for discussing sexuality with heterosexual youth. It opened my eyes to how I have constructed my sexual identity, and, as I've said elsewhere, I think it will be remembered as the ideological core of the conference.

One thing that disappointed me at the conference was conservatives playing the victim card. I believe we need to act out of faith that God is protecting us, not fear of being marginalized.

It also seems to me that conservative Adventist Bible scholars need to take special care to speak the truth in love (Eph 4:15), and this is not something that's impossible to do. When discussing the possibility that a whole class of people may be required by God to forfeit sexual and romantic companionship, we're going to have to do better than, "Life isn't fair." That may or may not be the truth, but it is certainly not the truth in love. Scholars would do well to heed Miroslav Kis' advice that we never discuss this issue from an impersonal, abstract perspective.

Finally, I believe this conference is the start of a new and more healthy direction in how the Adventist Church relates to homosexuals. The general assumption of the presenters was that homosexually attracted persons could, like persons attracted to other sins, be regular members of the Adventist Church. If this assumption is adopted by the church as a whole (and I believe it gradually will be), it will remove a fair bit of the prejudice that Adventists have against homosexuals.

Progressives are of course miffed that the basic question of homosexual practice was not up for debate and will likely claim the conference results are just the same dish reheated and served as leftovers. But why not? Sometimes it takes a little time in the fridge for the flavors to sort themselves out into the right combination. And maybe if we work on it a little more we could one day have a potluck.

Blogging the Homosexuality Conference (other posts)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Interview: Nicholas Miller

Nicholas Miller, Esq. was the Chairman for the Steering Committee of the Marriage, Homosexuality, and the Church Conference that met at Andrews University last week. During the conference, he agreed to an interview with apokalupto to address criticisms of the conference.

a: How did this conference germinate? What was the seed from which it sprung?

NM: At the opening of the conference I talked about the controversy over Proposition 8, which necessarily involved religious liberty leaders because gay marriage would have legal implications for [Adventist] Church institutions. During our advocacy it became clear that some thought leaders in the Church had a different view on gay marriage and underlying question of the morality of homosexual practice. And it became apparent that the Church needed to have a conversation, both about the public policy position of the church on gay marriage and about revisionist arguments that were being made against the Church’s position on homosexual practice.

a: Why, then, was it decided to exclude voices from the Conference who held a contrary view of the underlying question of the morality of homosexual practice?

NM: On your blog you talked in terms of this being a professional conference and not so much a scholarly conference. I disagree with that slightly, because it was a conference with scholarship. But if you were to define a professional conference as a conference on how to implement or use an existing or underlying philosophy, there is indeed some truth to that. And I would analogize it to a conference on the meaning and practice of the Sabbath, which our church considers a biblical institution. It’s generally considered that to have a successful conference, you wouldn’t have to bring in speakers who insist on Sunday worship. And to work out the implications of the Sabbath, you don’t have to debate the underlying question of whether the Sabbath has a biblical basis.

a: But if I could take on your analogy, we don’t have any thought leaders in our Church, who remain in the Church, who believe we should worship on Sunday. But, as you said, we do have thought leaders in our church who do have a different answer to the question of homosexual practice.

NM: I might dispute that initial statement. I think we have some thought leaders in our church who think that that maybe whether it’s Sabbath or Sunday doesn’t matter, but who are willing to stay in the church. But I will accept that there are probably a few more thought leaders who disagree on the question of homosexual practice. And because there are a handful of thought leaders who disagree on this question, perhaps there needs to be a gathering where there is a debate on that issue. But that wasn’t this conference. The leaders of this conference didn’t view that as a significantly live question to justify the resources we put into it. Our purpose was to explore and affirm the biblical basis of the Church’s existing position, but more importantly to move forward in ministry based on that position. And if we came to debate the Church’s existing position, we wouldn’t have been able to meet the goal of formulating an effective public advocacy and strengthening the church’s counseling ability. And those two flow from an underlying agreement on what the biblical position on homosexual practice is.

But that's the first answer. The second answer is that this conference didn't take place in a vacuum. The revisionist position had a complete hearing in a conference a year or two ago, which resulted in a powerful book. And all but one of the articles in that book is a revisionist argument. So those arguments are out there, and that conference was essentially univocal. So to have a dialogue, we thought this conference could respond to that book. If we had made our response a kind of an internal argument within itself, it wouldn’t have been so much of a response. But we didn't do that, and I think we now have a better basis for dialogue, where two positions have been clearly outlined. As we’ve said all along, this conference is a beginning, not the end.

a: Can you tell me about those who were invited to this conference but decided not to come?

NM: Yeah, there were several. Dr. Richard Rice was invited to give a paper about the underlying questions about homosexual practice and the Bible, but chose not to come. David Larson and Julius Nam were invited, and both initially accepted. We invited them to speak to the Church’s response to Proposition 8. But Julius Nam declined for scheduling reasons, as he’s into law school. And David Larson declined—I think that he wanted a broader topic to discuss was part of that—but he also declined the invitation for personal reasons.

a: A cynical person would ask why such a panelist would want to come and be used as a fall guy to legitimate a predetermined outcome. Why would someone want to come this conference and be on a panel where they are outnumbered?

NM: Well, they weren’t invited to be on a three to one panel. We were originally going to have an evenly divided panel. And I don’t know if there are predetermined outcomes for how the church should have responded to Proposition 8. I think there’s a lot valid points that could be made on both sides. And for the panel discussing Proposition 8 we ended up inviting two from both sides. But the formal gay marriage panel ended up being three to one, because Mitch Tyner wanted to be on the breakout session discussion panel instead of presenting a paper. [a: And I did not report on that breakout session, because I went to the pastoral/counseling session instead.}

a: It's not hard to notice that over three quarters of the presenters were white, middle-aged and almost all straight men. Why is that?

NM: You’ve got to play with the deck of cards that you’re dealt. And for whatever reasons, and probably for bad reasons including chauvinism and euro-centrism, the scholars in the Church generally have those characteristics. We were looking for those with expertise within a fairly narrow field. And we sought for some women presenters, scholars, and counselors; and for various reasons they were unable or unwilling to attend. So we had what we had.

a: Why is it that we heard so few voices in the question and answer periods challenging the traditional Christian position on homosexuality?

NM: We didn’t hand pick the questions, David. I went to the hands that I saw raised in as fair a way as I could and took the questions as they came. I think it had to do with the spirit that was prevailing at the conference. Many people had been praying about this conference, and we didn’t want to have a divisive debate over technical, arcane, or revisionist biblical issues. We wanted to have a conference that in the end would provide the church with a stronger ministry to the homosexual community. And I believe the spirit prevailed that accomplished that goal. In the final session I read a letter from a lesbian individual who said she was deeply appreciative of the love and compassion and the spirit that prevailed at the conference.

To be honest, I was going to do hand written questions for all the panels. But during that first session we had presenters who were experienced handling questions publicly and we had the time, so I thought I’d try with a live mic. And it went so well, that we decided to continue. I did in the very final panel do hand written questions, because the panel was so large and the audience was so large that we couldn’t pass the mic around.

a: I have heard an allegation that you put questions challenging the traditional position on homosexual practice to the bottom of the stack during that final panel.

NM: During that time I read a number of questions challenging the position of the Church and I also read a number of questions that were entirely supportive of the position of the Church. But we ran out of time and there were questions both from the right and from the left that went unanswered.

a: Given the above, what do you think were the strengths of the conference, and how do you think we should move forward with future events to address this issue?

NM: The strength of the conference was that it enhanced the Church’s capacity for ministry and proclamation. Theological discussion is important for the Church, but it is not an end in itself. We do not exist as a church to have a series of ongoing, continuous discussions and debates for our own purposes. And we ended up with a conference where a lot of people felt they could go out and proclaim the Church’s position more effectively and minister and counsel more effectively in light of that position. I don’t think we could have accomplished that if we’d had a debate about the underlying biblical issue of whether homosexual practice is sinful.

Moving forward, we can now explore in greater depth the three areas—religious liberty and public policy, biblical theology and ethics, and counseling and pastoral care—that the conference focused on. I could see more room for dialogue among those with differing biblical views, but that’s not something I’m particularly interested in organizing. I’m a religious liberty and church history guy, not a biblical theologian, so I’ll leave that to those in that area.

a: Thank you for your time.

NM: Thank you for your interest.

Blogging the Homosexuality Conference (other posts)

Monday, October 19, 2009

Top Five: Things I Learned At The Homosexuality Conference

As I prepare a more complete reflection on the Marriage, Homosexuality, and the Church Conference, here's a quick list of things I picked up there.
  1. Progressives can be just as closed minded as conservatives. And by closed minded I mean resistant to contrary evidence. Now don't all my conservative friends come asking me why it took a homosexuality conference to teach me this.
  2. A retired school teacher can be the most effective minister in a room full of PhDs, DMins, PsyDs, and ordained pastors. That's what's so awesome about the Body of Christ.
  3. Context is everything. Words that are helpful to one person are harmful to another, and when taken out of context, can create biased impressions. Also, it's cool to show gay porn in church when it's from the ancient Greco-Roman world and helps you make an exegetical point.
  4. I need to base my sexual identity on my Lord and Savior. My attraction to the opposite sex can lead me into sin just as easily as someone else's attraction to the same sex can lead them into sin. My same sex attracted brothers in Christ have much to teach me about how have a Christ centered sexual identity.
  5. Ex-gays have nice suits, fashionable eyeglasses, and great haircuts. So does Dwight Nelson. (And just today two people complemented me on my fabulous frames...)

Blogging the Homosexuality Conference (other posts)

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Blogging the Homosexuality Conference

From October 15-17 I attended the Marriage, Homosexuality, and the Church Conference at Andrews University. It was a multidisciplinary conference, bringing together presenters from the fields of (1) religious liberty and public policy, (2) biblical theology and Christian ethics, and (3) psychology and spiritual care. The conference was a professional, not a scholarly conference, focusing on how to move forward based on common belief. Therefore, no formal respondents challenged the presenters' fundamental principles because the organizers only invited speakers who shared "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."

During the conference I posted precis of the presentations:

Day 1 - Address: Causes of homosexuality and possibility of change - Testimony: Ex-gay, Seventh-day Adventist Pastor Ron Woolsey

Day 2, Panel 1 - Should the church involve itself in the political debate over homosexual marriage?

Day 2, Panel 2 - What position should Seventh-day Adventists take in the debate over homosexual marriage?

Day 2, Breakout Session - "Effective Counseling and Ministry Practices"

Day 2, Main Address - "Distinction Between Same-Sex Attraction, a Homosexual Orientation, and a Gay Identity." [I believe this presentation will be remembered as the ideological core of the conference.]

Day 2, Interview - Wayne Blakely, recently re-baptized after 37 years in the gay community.

Day 2, Panel 3 - "Counseling/Pastoral Issues

Day 2, Vespers - Biblical rationale for the traditional Christian view of homosexual activity

Day 3, Interview - Inge Anderson, facilitator of the GLADventist website and online ministry

Day 3, Panel 1 - "Biblical and Theological Perspectives"

Day 3, Sermon - "Sex in the Temple: What's So Gay about That?"

Day 3, Main Presentation - "Homosexuality and the Bible: What Is at Stake in the Current Debate"

Day 3, Panel 2 - "Where Do We Go From Here?"

Other apokalupto conference posts:

Top Five: Things I Learned At The Homosexuality Conference

Interview: Nicholas Miller - Regarding weaknesses of the conference

Reflections On The Homosexuality Conference

Other conference coverage:

Spectrum Blog: Andrews Vs. Homosexuality - Part One, Andrews Vs. Homosexuality - Part Two, "Hate Homosexuality, Love the Homosexual" - Critique of Andrews Homosexuality Conference, Sabbath Sermon: Dwight Nelson on Homosexuality, A Letter to Dwight Nelson

Dr. Mark Yarhouse, a conference presenter, posted a report from the conference here.

Dave Larson reviewed Mark Yarhouse and Stanton Jones' book, Ex-gays?, for his Spectrum web column.

Carol Grady posted her reaction to the conference, At Least We're Talking, on the Spectrum blog.

Dave Ferguson wrote a report on the conference for Adventist Today's website.

Harold Weiss wrote a column, It's A Sin, for Spectrum.

Adventist Review wrote this Special Report.

Jared Wright Twittered the conference for Spectrum (Update 1, Update 2), and proposed three questions he wanted to see answered.

Kelly Youngberg also Twittered the conference.

Filmmakers working on a documentary, Seventh-Gay Adventists, who attended the conference were interviewed by Adventist Today.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Blogging the Homosexualty Conference: Day 3, Panel 2

The final panel featured participants from the various institutions that supported this conference. Each were given an opportunity to offer an answer to the question, Where do we go from here? What does the church have to do to more effectively address this issue?

Barry Bussy spoke from his experience in Canada. He believes that we are reaching a tipping point in Western democracies where a particular norm is replacing another norm. In this context, be believes that the dissonance between church and society will get louder and we will have pressure put on us by society to conform. He said that the important thing in this context is to deal with the mistakes of our past, continue living our faith, and accept whatever legal and societal pressures may come. He maintains that people will be watching how we react to these issues.

Ron Woolsey spoke next of his experience upon reentering the church. He said that he read one thing in the Bible and heard another thing in church. He read in Ellen White that one of Satan's greatest sophistries is convincing people that they cannot over come sin, and then he would come into the church and get shot down for reading that. He says we need to be very consistent with our message, because what he needed was something rock solid to hold on to. He asked us not to ask the homosexual to overcome and give other sins a pass.

Trevor Frasier was concerned about the weight we have placed on demonstrating our biblical stance. He thinks we have done a good job of that, but his concern is pastoral with regards to where we go from here. He feels that the question of how we care for homosexuals is a burden that needs to be put on us all. He proposes a whole conference on how to deal with these issues.

Bill Knott
shared that he has been thinking about how to report on this conference in the Review and has come up with two salient points: (1) The clarity of our biblical stance, and (2) how far we have fallen short of a gospel ethic in our treatment of homosexuals. He believes the implication of this for church leadership is not just to make statements on public policy but the need to teach a people not well trained in compassion how to relate to homosexuals.

Edward Woods III told us a few things that stood out to him. He appreciated Dr. Yarhouse's statement [Yarhouse disputed making this statement here.] that when you're dealing with these issues you can separate the sin from the person. Love the sinner hate the sin doesn't work with homosexuals [because they perceive hatred of the sin as hatred of the sinner]. Woods also referenced Bill Knott, who said that when we were a movement, we spoke out against social problems. He has friends who have left the church because it isn't doing this. Woods thinks the church ought to be a love laboratory where we help all kinds of people who come to us. He is very concerned as more and more of his friends leave the church over its failure to do this.

Wayne Blakley said he's been very blessed by this conference. Today was the first day that he began to feel bruising. He suggested tongue-in-cheek that we have a conference soon to discuss heterosexual sin by way of helping us empathize with how the morning panel affected him. He advised us not to forget to love people to Christ. He suggested that we don't have to take extra effort to point out a homosexual's sin, because they are only coming to you because they're already aware of it.

Inge Anderson stated that we have nothing to offer the homosexual community unless we have a strong relationship with Jesus Christ. She asked if we had talked to Jesus before we came to the conference today? She believes that is what someone needs to do to overcome sexual compulsion, and that is what she needs to overcome sin in her life. She firmly declared that if you're surfing the internet for pornography, you've got nothing to offer homosexuals. She believes that if Jesus were here he would be spending time in the homosexual community, and they would flock to him because he exuded love. She believes people need to see love with skin on it before they will trust Jesus enough to give their sexuality to God.

Greg Hamilton addressed the issue of what the church should do in the realm of public policy. He said Alan Reinach was left dangling in the wind without much guidance on what to say or do about Prop 8. He worries that by the time the church comes up with a public policy statement, the legal and political battle over homosexual marriage will be over. He believes we must not dither, and argues for a public policy statement based on the GC statement on homosexuality.

Lincoln Steed
asserted that same sex marriage is not a religious liberty issue. But he said that the church would be lax and corrupt if it did not speak to it, much like the church's stand on the temperance movement. He views himself as fighting a rear guard action with people in our church who believe that we should not oppose homosexual marriage. He believes, based on Ellen White, that the greatest threat to the Adventist Church is from within. He cited the Ford movement and, though not by name, Alden Thompson's Inspiration as examples of this eschatological threat. He believes that we must defend sola scriptura as a strong source of authority against secularism in order to counter the Catholic Church's strong claims of authority. He doesn't believe that right now the church would have the backbone to close Andrews University if the government gave it the choice to accept a practicing homosexual professor or shut down.

Greg King shared how he did not have resources he needed when working with a homosexual and feels this conference is a step forward in that regard. He pointed to Jesus final words to the woman caught in adultery as a paradigm in our dealings with homosexuals. Jesus forgave her past and provided moral clarity for the future. He believes that speaking the truth in love is also a key to our relationships.

Esther Knott said she felt as if she was at a revival meeting. She feels that this conference has been a call to holiness in the lives of homosexuals and in the rest of us as we respond to them. With regards to moving forward, she feels that we need to be very careful in the way we address singleness. On the way home from one of the meetings, her daughter told her she had a friend who is gay. She said that before listening to Dr. Yarhouse, she wouldn't have known what to say to her daughter, but because of this conference she was equipped. She believes that we need to undertake an equipping of all pastors and members of the Body of Christ on this issue.

Nicholas Miller fears for our church if we don't handle this question properly. He believes that if we are to have credibility on issues of church and state in regards to a future Sunday law, than we cannot be seen to have abandoned the field on a prior issue of public morality. He believes that we need to clearly articulate the difference between legislation that relates to the first and second table of the law and act on that difference in order to be taken seriously in the public square.

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.

Blogging the Homosexuality Conference (other posts)

Blogging the Homosexualty Conference: Day 3, Main Presentation

Richard Davidson had the main presentation of the conference, and for it he gave his paper, "Homosexuality and the Bible: What Is at Stake in the Current Debate." He believes that the fundamental issue in the debate is the authority of scripture. Citing Is 8:20, he asserted that the authority of scripture rests on the principle of sola scriptura, which Davidson takes to mean that all other ways of knowing should be submitted to scripture.

Davidson believes that the prohibition of homosexuality is inextricably connected to the key doctrines of the Bible. But on the other hand he sees science saying that homosexuality is an inborn condition the practice of which should not be prohibited. (On this point he concedes Yarhouse's study may shed new light but argues the point academically regardless.) Davidson believes that when science and the Bible contradict, the Bible should have the final word.

Davidson pointed to the personal experiences of the ex-gays at the conference as evidence for the idea that the Bible is a more reliable source than science. But he cautioned that we should not make personal experience our rule, which he believes is what Eve did at the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. He then spoke of his own personal experience with higher criticism at seminary during which he lost his trust in scripture as the final authority. He told how a conference in biblical hermeneutics restored his trust in scripture, and stated that he feels like a brand plucked from the burning.

Davidson also mentioned the principle of tota scriptura, according to which we must take the whole witness of scripture on a given issue. He said that those who wish to support homosexual relationships by appeal to Scripture are creating a canon within a canon--taking some texts and ignoring others. He argues that because scripture is the Word of God it is internally coherent and harmoniously consistent. He sees certain proponents of homosexuality saying that scripture does not agree with itself on that issue, which is problematic according to this understanding of scripture.

Davidson maintains that what is at stake on this issue is the power of God's word to change the lives of those involved in the gay lifestyle and also its ability to change the lives of those who are not tempted to homosexual actions--including those who are tempted to hate the homosexual.

Davidson said that this conference has been a catharsis for himself, because he has had to think through his own treatment of homosexuals, whom he ridiculed as queers in high school. Later in college, he and his room mate generally mocked steeiotypical homosexual mannerisms. He and his theology major friends used to call their homiletics class "homoletics" because the professor had some effeminate mannerisms. He says that his reconsideration of these activities shows the power of God's word to convict of wrongdoing. He believes that this power is what is at stake hermeneutically.

He speculated that one could make a case that each one of our doctrines is at stake on the issue of homosexulaity. For example, God made us male and female, so Davidson asks whether are we truly representing the doctrine of God if we condone homosexual relationships? He believes the doctrine of creation is also at stake, because if God created through evolution, he did not literally create male and female.

Smiling uncomfortably, he spoke once more of his past, noting that one of the theology majors who was laughing along with his jokes was disguising the fact that he was a homosexual, and only later did he learn how much he had wounded him. He said it is hard to face such a past.

Davidson then continued in his paper, stating that at the fall Adam and Eve's natures were turned towards themselves and became depraved. Everyone has been affected by this, and therefore when a man lusts after another woman or man who is not his wife it is natural, but that does not make it right. He believes that the Old Testament condemns homosexual practice and the harboring of homosexual thoughts or lusts, but he sees no culpability for the person who has homosexual temptation.

Davidson then stated that he would only listen to those who believe homosexuals must change their orientation if they themselves could honestly say they no longer experience heterosexual temptation. He also believes that although homosexuality is one of the worst sins; pride, adultery, dishonest scales, and other sins that heterosexuals commonly practice are also called abominations.

Davidson also thinks that what is at stake is the doctrine of grace, that is, "Where sin abounded grace abounded all the more." He believes that only when homosexuality is taken seriously as a high level sin is it possible for homosexuals to respond to God's grace. But, he states, the other side is that God's grace is always there. He points to the 400 years God worked with the Canaanites to get them to repent. And according to Ez 18, Judah had done worse in regard to all the sins of Sodom, including homosexuality, but God offered bring them out of exile.

Davidson believes that we must respond to homosexuals in the context of our own sexual failing and need of grace, and acknowledge the heterosexual sin of hatred against homosexuals. He challenged the church to show the face of God as infinitely knowing, caring, and loving through a welcoming attitude and deeds such as ministering to AIDS patients. In this context, Davidson says that at stake also is the Great Controversy, in other words, our world view as opposed to the secular-humanist world view. At stake is how we will represent the character of God to homosexual, hurting people.

Davidson concluded with the rest of the story of his friend whom he didn't know was a homosexual. This friend had painted a picture in college with scantily clad women in an attempt to project a heterosexual identity. Davidson says the memory of how he wrote him a letter rebuking him for giving into his passions is painful.

Davidson had the opportunity to meet this friend and hear his testimony this summer, a testimony that was included in our conference materials. His friend wrote about how God had freed him from the Devil's counterfeit sexuality and how returning to God's plan had not been easy, but was worth it. Davidson concluded by stating that what's at stake in the current debate is guys like his friend.

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.

Blogging the Homosexuality Conference (other posts)

Blogging the Homosexualty Conference: Day 3, Sermon

After the panel we went over to Pioneer Memorial Church for a sermon Dwight Nelson gave on homosexuality (and sexuality in general) entitled, "Sex in the Temple: What's So Gay about That?". I was busy preparing the last post during his sermon and knew the sermon would be podcast, so I didn't take notes. He essentially called us to set aside homosexual and heterosexual identities and accept holiness as our sexual identity by inviting Jesus to make our bodies his temples. You can download audio (mp3) of the sermon and a study guide (pdf) at PMC's New Perceptions Television site.

Blogging the Homosexuality Conference (other posts)

Blogging the Homosexualty Conference: Day 3, Panel 1

The first panel of the day addressed homosexuality from the perspectives of biblical theology and ethics.

Robert Gagnon opened the panel and began with a rebuttal of the gentile inclusion analogy. According to the analogy, gentiles were included in the church apart from having to observe the ceremonial laws because of the evidence of the Holy Spirit in their lives. So by analogy, if we see homosexuals evidencing the fruit of the spirit, why not include them in the church despite their nonobservance of the letter of the law.

Gagnon pointed out that a principle of analogical reasoning is that the analogy, which has more significant corresponding points is the better analogy. Gagnon observes that the Bible does not ground circumcision in creation. He holds that circumcision affects the people of God only as a superficial act, but that the prohibition on homosexuality is part of what the Jews considered the Noahide law which the Jews considered binding on all, not just Jews. Therefore, he believes that homosexuality is better compared to other, more lasting, ordinances which the Gentile Christians were supposed to observe.

Next, Gagnon took on the question, What precisely is the problem with homosexual practice? He enumerated several: (1) Conceiving of a sexual same as a sexual other which is tantamount to sexual self-deception. It is (2) treating one's maleness or femaleness as only half-intact, which is sexual self-dishonor. According to Gagnon, the logic of homosex is that two halves of the same sex make a sexual whole, which is in opposition to the logic of heterosex: a whole male and whole female form a single sexual whole. For Gagnon (3) experiencing arousal at the distinctive features of the same gender is sexual narcissism. And he claims that (4) failing to moderate the extremes of a given gender (by filling in the gap with the opposite sex) results in sexual harm in the homosexual relationship. He points to perceived unbalance in homosexuals' relationships resulting in abuse as evidence of this point.

Gagnon does not believe all sins are equal. Jesus spoke of weightier matters of the law, and in the Old Testament God punished sins in proportion to their severity. He pointed out that some of God's severest judgment came for sexual sin, and so views homosexuality as a severe form of sin. Gagnon concluded by asserting that the command to not judge each other includes not acquitting people of behavior that God has not acquitted them of.

Richard Davidson said he would lead us in a Bible study for "Sabbath School time." He started with Gen 1:16-18, pointing out that being sexual is part of being human and that homosexuality cannot fulfill the command to be fruitful and multiply. He sees the "let us" as referring to a deliberation within the I-Thou relationship of the godhead which results in creation. And the results of this creation is that human beings have a polarized rationality and procreativity through our sexuality.

In Gen 2, Davidson says that God puts Adam to sleep so that he won't think he had anything to do with the creation of Eve. He sees Gen 2:24-25 as the divine mandate for marriage. The words ish and isha (Hebrew: man and woman) make explicit within the text that God's paradigm for marriage is heterosexual. He sees that the rest of Scripture builds on these passages when addressing the topic of sex, including Leviticus.

Citing Gagnon, Davidson says that the Levitical code on homosexuality is unique in the Ancient Near East in that both parties are penalized, not just the one in the dominant role. This implies consensual intercourse, not just rape. There is no specific mention in Leviticus of lesbianism, but the masculine language in the Torah is gender inclusive.

Davidson also sees three hints in the text that the prohibition of homosexual activity goes beyond Israel's context: (1) the word "abomination," which is specifically attached to homosexual intercourse; (2) the other nations were to be judged for doing these activities (Lev 18:24-25); and (3) foreigners in their land were to keep these laws (Lev 18:26). Regarding the applicability of this law to Christians, Davidson finds that the Jerusalem Council took their list of requirements for gentile Christians from the laws Leviticus 17-18 that were applicable to foreigners in the land of Israel.

Miroslav Kis - Those who have had Kis as a professor will not be surprised that be began by informing everyone that he used to be a watchmaker. He then presented a paper which outlined three concepts that he believes pertain to homosexuality: (1) innocence, as in the nakedness of Adam and Eve; (2) guilt, both objective moral guilt and subjective feelings of guilt that both convict and punish the one who has lost innocence; and (3) shame, which arises from the failure to live up to the internal conception of the self, the gap between what 'is' and what 'ought'. According to Kis, guilt and shame warn us of danger in our ways of being and doing. Kis believes that the solution to guilt and shame is receiving forgiveness through confession to God.

Next Kis introduced the concept of shamelessness--a brazen and impudent attitude--in the context of Rom 1:26-27. Kis understands that, for Paul, homosexual acts are shameless because they are idolatrous. This means that when God is put aside there is no difference between truth and lie, right and wrong. They are also shameless because they are unnatural. And finally, Kis believes that they are shameless because of an almost universal experience of private shame before homosexual attitudes come out in the open.

Kis believes that society has failed homosexuals because in a democratic society, yesterday's 'is' becomes today's 'ought.' So when society then moves from 'ought' to 'is', the 'ought' is so strongly influenced by the 'is' of homosexuality, that the enterprise of forming standards becomes confused. On the other hand, the church has had a tendency to emphasize the biblical 'ought' in a way that implies that the 'is' of homosexuality is hopeless.

Kis concluded by asserting that God's love is the cure for homosexual sins through confession and forgiveness. But he also says that homosexuality is a condition that may never be eliminated from human lives. He also believes that the church and society can cooperate in helping those with homosexuality while not interfering with one another's domains.

Roy Gane, the panel chair, gave the final paper, "Some Attempted Alternatives to Timeless Condemnation of Homosexual Acts," which is essentially a rebuttal he wrote for arguments in the book, Christianity and Homosexuality. To the argument that not all biblical laws have modern applications, he admits this is true but believes we should use biblical principles, not political correctness, to discover which laws have modern application. He also notes that biblical laws other than the 10 commandments are presented as eternal ordinances.

To the argument that homosexual acts only caused ceremonial defilement, he cites scholars to the effect that there is a difference in Leviticus between ritual/ceremonial impurity and irremediable moral imperatives covered in the Holiness code of Lev 17-27. To the argument Christians do not observe the code regarding menstruation in Lev 18, where the homosexual prohibition is found, Gane agrees but says that inconsistency of God's people in following his ordinances does not negate their applicability.

To the argument that Paul only condemns homosexuality of a self-indulgent, lustful, and exploitative sort, Gane claims that the Pauline allusions to Leviticus show that Paul is referring to their ongoing applicability to all homosexual relationships. To the argument that Paul only condemns pre-Christian homosexuality, Gane notes that if this were true it would undermine Paul's argument in the first chapters of Romans that for these reasons the Gentiles also need Christ.

To the argument that the Bible does not condemn homosexual relationships of persons born with homosexual orientation, because the ancient Israelites did not understand that concept, and therefore, the prohibitions of the bible only apply to those without a homosexual orientation who engage in homosexual acts; Gane asserts that because God knows everything known to modern science it would be wrong to think that the Bible was not written with those considerations in mind. He acknowledged that it could be further argued that it is not fair that homosexuals cannot find fulfillment in this life, but who is to say, he argues, that life in a sinful world is fair?

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.

Blogging the Homosexuality Conference (other posts)

Blogging the Homosexualty Conference: Day 3, Interview

The Sabbath morning program opened with music from a local Christian folk group. Before the panel, conference organizer Nick Miller interviewed Inge Anderson, a retired school teacher.

She got involved in ministry to gays in the classroom, where one of her students was persecuted for being gay. But she became involved in ministry to Adventist homosexuals in the late 90s after conversing with some and listening to their stories on SDAnet. After two gay friends came out to her, she felt called to minister to homosexuals. Her first website was called GLOW--God's Love Our Witness--now known as GLADventist.

Inge says that GLADventist's Yahoo group is where the real work goes on. It functions on the principles of body theology, where the members bear one another's burdens. Her philosophy of support comes from her involvement with the SDA Kinship mailing list, where she learned how to express a welcoming and caring attitude towards homosexuals. She defends SDA Kinship as a good organization that has saved a lot of people from committing suicide, but she believes they haven't gone far enough in teaching the people the freedom they can have in Christ.

Inge shared several stories of lesbian and transsexual women who were helped through her ministry. She says that she is definitely not running a change ministry. Her focus is on helping people improve their relationship with Christ, and she regards any changes in orientation that might come as a side benefit.

Inge's message to the conference is that we should accept and love people where they are. She also believes that it is important for the church to distinguish between the sinful nature and sin itself. She elaborated that a homosexual orientation is part of the sinful nature, and should not be understood as sexual sin.

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.

Blogging the Homosexuality Conference (other posts)

Friday, October 16, 2009

Blogging the Homosexualty Conference: Day 2, Vespers

I was not able to take my laptop to the vespers presentation by Robert Gagnon, so this synopsis will be based mainly on memory. Gagnon is the author of The Bible and Homosexuality which thoroughly, if his presentation was any indication of his thoroughness, argues the case for the traditional understanding of scripture on that topic. Gagnon shortened what we were told is a four hour lecture into three points.

His first point was based on 2 Cor 4:7-10 to the effect that death to self is necessary for life in Christ. Gagnon believes that satisfaction in our spiritual life can come as a result of not acting on our natural impulses. He views the issue of homosexuality through that lens.

Gagnon's other two points were essentially rebuttals of some arguments put forth to assert that the Bible does not address the issue of homosexuality as we know it today. One such argument is that Jesus did not have anything to say about homosexual relationshiops. However, Gagnon finds Jesus indirectly addressing the issue in Mark 10:1-12.

Gagnon holds that Jesus argument in this passage assumes that for him the only acceptable form of marriage was between one man and one woman. He argues that the twoness of the partners in marriage according to Genesis, which excludes polygamy, is based on the two different genders, which are to become one. Gagnon believes that marriage is the re-union of the two halves of humanity, and that homosexual relationships violate the otherness which the male and female are supposed to bring to marriage. On this level, he compares consensual homosexual sex to consensual incest, arguing that incest is wrong because the two partners are not different enough to bring the requisite otherness to their sexual relationship.

Gagnon's second text was Rom 1:18-27, concerning which he proceeded to rebut claims that Paul was not addressing a situation comparable to modern homosexuality. He proceeded to show from classical studies that consensual homosexual sex for mutual enjoyment and even quasi-homosexual marriages were known the the world in which Paul lived. Gagnon cited one classicist who wrote a book on homosexuality in the ancient world and concluded ancient homosexuals may have even had notions similar to the modern understanding of homosexual identity. His classical references on PowerPoint slides were illustrated with ancient artifacts depicting homosexual activity, and I'm fairly certain that was the first time sex scenes have ever been publicly displayed in Pioneer Memorial Chapel.

The evening ended with a lengthy Q&A in which the panelists basically reiterated points they had previously made.

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.

Blogging the Homosexuality Conference (other posts)

Blogging the Homosexualty Conference: Day 2, Panel 3

The afternoon panelists addressed pastoral and counseling issues related to same sex attraction.

Carlos Fayard presented a case study, "The Psychological and Spiritual Care of a Gay Man Who Chose Celibacy." Joe (name changed) is a 62 year old clergyman who was recognized by a parishioner at a gay bath-house or book store. He acknowledged sexual addiction but did not express inclination to change. He began homosexual activity the week of his ordination, and he reported that he had never experienced God. He was identified as having HIV after hospitilization. Psychological issues included sexual compulsiveness, attachment problems, and incongruence between his spiritual beliefs and behavior.

Fayard took a wholistic approach to the therapy, incorporating spiritual with psychological methods. He sees spirituality in neuroscience according to the categories of the seeking system, attachment system, and attribution system. Fayard structured his therapy around these categories. Under the seeking system he addressed Joe's search for love in other men. Under the attachment he addressed the problem of relating to God "on demand" in an emotionally distant way, just as Joe did with his father. Finally, to reconcile his beliefs about God, people, and other attribution issues, Joe wrote a letter of confession.

The therapy lasted for 14 months. The sexual acting out ceased during his hospitalization, but Joe was still restless and not restored. The pivotal moment in the therapy came when he sensed the presence of God during his first moment of sincere prayer. Joe was able to return the parish ministry, and passed away shortly thereafter. The day before he died Joe assured Fayard that he felt secure in Christ.

Peter Swanson read a paper about pastoral care of homosexuals. He recognizes that pastors are generally unequipped to deal with homosexuals in their church. The challenge also includes unsanctified attitudes of church members towards homosexuals, which need to be confronted and changed. He suggested that unfamiliarity breeds contempt of those shunned.

Swanson finds to two common attitudes pastors have towards homosexuals: (1) the pastors job is to find sin and root it out from the community, and (2) the church is to practice hospitality in rescuing sinners by welcoming them. Swanson believes pastors have a duty to be both just and merciful, and therefore should not choose one attitude to the exclusion of the other.

Regarding the debate over whether the Bible condemns homosexual sex, Swanson believes that more important than the opinions of pastors or theologians is the still small voice that says, "This is the way, walk ye in it." He holds that while pastors have an obligation to love audaciously, they also have an obligation to call sin by its right name. He asserted that in as much as we turn people with same sex attraction away from the church, we dismiss the Savior from our midst. He pointed to Jacob as a Bible character to tried on different identities, but after wrestling with God, received a God given identity.

Mark Yarhouse
presented on the question of how the Christian community responds to besetting conditions. Besetting conditions are things like same sex attractions and HIV, which, in spite of spiritual intervention, do not go away. He believes that churches are hypocritical if they blame people who have same sex attractions for not trying hard enough to get rid of them while providing those who have other besetting conditions, such as cancer, with comfort and support.

Yarhouse believes that the answer to besetting conditions is the faith that God will provide. However, God's provision does not come in the same way to every person. He believes that we must interpret our response to homosexuality through the answer Jesus gave to the question of why the man was born blind (John 9:1-3). Therefore, we do not need to know how a besetting condition was caused in order to respond to it. He believes that there is a theodicy of sexual identity to be discovered, because God's purpose is to bring glory to his name.

He concluded by answering the question of what would it mean to be stewards of our sexuality. He believes good sexual stewardship (1) Avoids placing to great an emphasis on change as categorical and uncomplicated; (2) values both the married state and the single state; (3) has compelling alternative scripts for same sex attraction, (4) equips all believers in the broader understanding of stewardship, so we do not focus on only one group; and (5) leads by example.

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.

Blogging the Homosexuality Conference (other posts)

Blogging the Homosexualty Conference: Day 2, Interview

The afternoon session included an interview with Wayne Blakely, whose story recently appeared on the Adventist Today website (linked through his name). I'm attempting not to include information here that is already given in the Adventist Today feature.

Blakely views the problems that the church has with homosexuals like Israel's time in the wilderness, and it has taken some time to get things sorted out. He believes the love of God to homosexuals will begin to manifest itself in the church because of this conference. His message to us is that homosexuals need to know that we don't consider their sin to be any different than our sin and that we're all in this together.

Blakely always knew that homosexuality was wrong and rejected Kinship as having a biased reading of scripture. In his most difficult times he remembered his father saying that he knew God had a special plan for Wayne when he adopted him. He was feeling alone, because many of his friends had passed on during his 37 years in the gay community. He did a search for gay Adventists and found GLADventist. He was impressed because the site was conservative and loving. He found that the author, Inge Anderson, had a view of the Adventist church in which homosexuals were welcome.

The key to Blakely's spiritual life is not just having devotions in the morning and evening devotions but being with Christ throughout the day. Every day he comes across men he finds attractive, but Christ gives him to power to deal with it. When he is tempted by same-sex attraction, he rededicates his life to God, and if the thoughts come back, he rededicates himself again.

Blackely believes God could change him to a heterosexual if God wanted to, but concludes that must not be God's plan, and asks if God changed him, who's to say he wouldn't start chasing women right away? He concludes that the opposite of homosexuality is not heterosexuality; it's holiness.

Asked what boundaries we need to draw if we are dealing with someone who is same sex attracted and is the same sex as us, Blackely replied that this is the most tenuous aspect of dealing with a homosexual who is going to be transparent with you. When his pastor began taking the precautions that he would use in counseling a woman, Wayne felt rejected. Later his pastor told him, "We're used to watching pedophiles, but we not sure how to watch you," and he felt even more rejected in being compared to a pedophile. Blackely said while it wasn't the most welcoming feeling, he appreciated that the church was trying. He views himself as an education to his church, and their uneducated state is an education to him. He also admits that his reaction to their reaction was probably not helpful on his part.

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.

Blogging the Homosexuality Conference (other posts)

Blogging the Homosexualty Conference: Day 2, Main Address

Dr. Mark Yarhouse gave the main address of the day, entitled "The Pastoral Applications of a Three-Tier Distinction Between Same-Sex Attraction, a Homosexual Orientation, and a Gay Identity." He started by defining the end point, sexual identity as an act of self-labeling, that is, how you identify your sexual preferences to yourself (private sexual identity) and to others (public sexual identity). Yarhouse finds that many things contribute to a decision to choose one sexual identity label over another--the gender one is born with, how masculine or feminine you feel, your sexual attractions, what you intend to do sexually, what you actually do sexually, and your beliefs and values about sexual identity. Common labels include gay, straight, bi, bi-curious, queer, questioning, curious, and he notes that many young people choose not to categorize themselves.

On the question of how identity is related to orientation, Yarhouse finds it helpful to make a distinction between attraction, orientation, and identity. Regarding the distinction between attraction and orientation, Yarhouse cites studies which show that 6.2% of men and 4.4% of women reported same sex attraction but only 2.0% of men and 0.9% of women reported homosexual orientation. Yarhouse suggests that the difference between attraction and orientation is the intensity of the attraction.

Yarhouse cites historians who maintain that homosexual identity is a new thing in history. Same-sex attraction and orientation have always been with humanity, but a homosexual identity needed sex to be separated from procreation and other modern historical contingencies in order to develop.

Yarhouse notices that in our culture we collapse attraction, orientation, and identity into a single thing. We quickly move from a descriptive label, homosexual attraction, to a prescriptive label, homosexual identity.

Yarhouse's method of working with Christian homosexuals is to focus on identity rather than orientation, because that is where people make a choice to take a label. Self-labeling is happening at a younger age than it did 40 years ago, and currently about 75% of homosexual teenagers feel good about their identity. The process of moving from awareness of same sex attraction (usually around age 10) to same sex behavior to questioning to labeling takes, on average, 3-4 years for females and 5-6 years for males. Making an identity out of same sex attraction can take as long as 15 years in some studies.

This happens at a time when young people are trying to discover their identity and trying out different identities at different places. For a sexual minority who is struggling with this, culture has a clear answer: If you experience same sex attraction, you are gay. But what about people who have same-sex attractions but form their identity around something else, such as a relationship with Christ? According to Yarhouse psychologists view them as having stunted development, but he does not see evidence of that.

Yarhouse studied Christians at Christian colleges who identified as sexual minorities. Significant differences between them and the average population were that awareness came at age 13 and only 14% chose to identify as homosexuals and be involved in homosexual relationships.

He also studied two Christian ministries to homosexuals. One was gay affirming and identified with the gay framework of sexual identity, and the other was committed to helping Christians with same sex attractions not become homosexuals. The first group achieved congruence by attributing their gay identity to God's plan. The second group achieved congruence by identifying with Christ and attributing their same sex attractions to some aspect of sin. Both groups agreed that this was a fair description of their approach

So Yarhouse sees two competing scripts for the life of someone who has same sex attractions. The first he calls the gay script. According to this script same sex attractions signal a naturally occurring distinction between homosexuality, heterosexuality and bisexuality. They signal who you really are, so the answer is to self-actualize based on the attractions. According to Yarhouse, this script collapses attraction, orientation, and identity in a process of so-called self-discovery.

Yarhouse says that the church is not really offering an alternative script, but proposes another script. In his script same sex attraction signals, not a categorical distinction among types of persons, but one of many human experiences that are 'not the way its supposed to be'. According to this script same sex attractions are a part of one's experience but not the defining element of one's identity. He teaches that one can integrate same sex attractions into another identity based on Jesus Christ. In other words, the fact that you experience same sex attractions doesn't mean you don't have decisions to make about what you will do with them.

From this Yarhouse has developed a framework for counseling and pastoral care. The goal of this framework is to protect the person from assumptions and labels and help them to consider a sexual identity pastoral framework. This is accomplished by (1) introducing the three tier distinction, which creates space for the person to maneuver. Next the individual will (2) weight how important the various aspects that compose a sexual identity are to them. The message of this step is that you are more than the sum total of your arousal pattern. The individual will then (3) decide to what they will attribute their identity by working through how to make sense of the attractions that they have and deciding whether a homosexual attraction signals a homosexual identity. Finally they will work towards a (4) state of congruence where their behavior and identity is consistent with their beliefs and values.

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.

Blogging the Homosexuality Conference (other posts)

Blogging the Homosexualty Conference: Breakout Session

The breakout session I attended at lunchtime was on the topic of "Effective Counseling and Ministry Practices." Peter Swanson was the moderator, and Ron Woolsey, Carlos Fayard, and Inge Anderson were the panelists. The panelists and moderator gave general advice on how to help homosexual Christians live chaste lives, given the presuppositions of the conference, and how to make the church a more welcoming place for homosexuals. It was pointed out that the church is often not welcoming for people who deviate from its norm in general, but that special education of church members is needed to help them become welcoming to homosexuals. The importance of both pastoral and psychological care in a team setting was emphasized. Acceptance, listening, and befriending homosexuals was promoted over and against immediately turning to the confrontational texts of scripture.

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.

Blogging the Homosexuality Conference (other posts)

Blogging the Homosexualty Conference: Day 2, Panel 2

The second panel of the morning, "Gay Marriage, Civil Rights, and Public Policy," addressed the question of what position Seventh-day Adventists should take in the debate over homosexual marriage.

Scot Zentner opened by analyzing the underlying morality that founds society and argued that in the United States this does not rest on a specific religious tradition. He argued that the fundamental view of morality that the founding fathers incorporated into this country was to maximize freedom except for those behaviors that are harmful to others. Because marriage is the core of the natural family, in which children are raised to be moral individuals, we are not at liberty to redefine it. For Zenter, disgust, popular jokes, and the pejorative nature of the word "gay" are evidence of the inherent difference of the sexes and immorality of homosexuality. He argues that homosexual marriage is predicated on the notion that there is no essential difference between the sexes.

Gary Wood began by asserting that it is impossible to separate politics and morality, because at its core politics is about justice. So the question for religious liberty is Can unassisted human reason apart from revelation provide a moral foundation for society? He argues that this can be found in the philosophy of natural rights (i.e. rights grounded in the nature of human being) and that these rights come along with natural duties as well as pointing us to natural ends. And because reason can't point us all the way to our purpose, we have a natural right to religious liberty. He proceeded to argue that homosexuality is not a natural right, because it does not follow from the natural end of sex--procreation. He implied that a government that could restrict homosexual sex would be too powerful to control, yet he argued that such a practical consideration would not justify legalizing homosexual marriage.

Jason Hines outlined and rebutted three major categories of argument against homosexual marriage. The first is the religious argument, which is not only inappropriate on the basis of the establishment clause, but also for Christians on the basis of belief in God given freedom. The second is the sociological argument that homosexual marriages are not the optimal environment for raising children. However the fact that children in homosexual families have more problems than those in heterosexual families may be due to the stigma society places on their family and not due to the composition of their family itself. Also, there are studies showing that children raised in homosexual families have no more problems than children in heterosexual families. Hines thinks that the best arguments against homosexual marriage are the natural law arguments, such as those outlined by the previous two presenters. But Hines points out that the civil institution of marriage encompasses more than natural law is able to explain, that is, people get married for reasons other than having kids. He also points out the previous use of natural law in America to justify slavery and oppose women's suffrage, which are now considered unjust on the basis of natural law. Perhaps, he says, natural law can also be used to justify homosexual marriage.

Nicholas Miller, the panel chair, concluded the discussion. He asserted that we act both as citizens and Christians, and that the arguments used in one arena may not be used in the other. However, when the conclusions of the arguments in both arenas overlap, the church is justified in speaking out in the civil arena. The religious argument Miller proposes against homosexual marriage is the eschatological significance of marriage, which along with the Sabbath, is one of the two creation institutions that will be under attack in the end times. He argued that while the Sabbath along with the first four commandments should not be legislated, the last six commandments, which focus on our relationship with each other, have and can justifiably be the subject of civil legislation. Therefore, Miller believes that Adventists have a duty to argue against homosexual marriage in the civil arena on the basis of natural law and sociological studies. Against Hines' rebuttal he noted that tobacco legislation was introduced on the basis of correlation alone at a time when the causal mechanisms were not understood.

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.

Blogging the Homosexuality Conference (other posts)

Blogging the Homosexualty Conference: Day 2, Panel 1

The first morning panel, "Gay Marriage, Religious Liberty, and the Church," revolved around the question of whether the church should involve itself in the political debate over homosexual marriage.

Barry Bussy, the panel chair, opened with a summary of the potential threats the homosexual movement poses to the religious liberty of those who condemn homosexual activity on religious grounds. His remarks were largely based on his experiences advocating for the Adventist Church in Canada. These concerns were based on trends in Canadian legal journals towards limiting the ability of religions to teach their members and educate their children not to celebrate and embrace homosexuality.

Gerald Chippeur shared a summary of homosexuality and religious liberty cases in Canada where homosexual marriage was recently adopted. One Christian university in Alberta was sued for firing a professor who advocated against their doctrinal position on homosexuality. The Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the university had the right to employ only those who uphold their religious norms. In another case, the Adventist church joined in advocating for a Christian university that was denied education program accreditation in British Columbia because of their beliefs on homosexuality. That denial of accreditation was also overturned. In Saskatchewan, there is a case before the courts attempting to remove marriage licenses from minsters who refuse to perform same sex marriages.

Alan Reinach opened by stating that it is impossible to overestimate the risks for religious liberty in homosexual marriage. He thinks that Adventists are not by nature partisans in the culture wars but believes that our ability to operate our institutions and live according to our consciences is under threat because homosexual activists are no longer willing to live and let live. He held up California as a legal bellwether, and claimed that the California Supreme Court has in the last 15 years consistently upheld homosexual rights and waffled on free exercise of religion. Reinach believes the fundamental problem is the belief that equality trumps liberty.

Bill Knott addressed the question of whether Adventists should be in politics directly, arguing that religions by default become involved in politics, unless they are purely cultic and awaiting immediate translation. His thesis is that early Adventists became involved in selected issues, such as abolition and prohibition, that they believed had special moral significance. He pointed to the early Review as a place where abolitionist invective against the American government was much stronger than what we would tolerate today (think Jeremiah Wright), and shared his discovery that Ellen and James White lived 500 yards from Fredrick Douglass, whose magazine, The North Star, had editorials strikingly similar to those of the Review. He also pointed to the church's later failures to act on the issues such as the 60s civil rights movement and the internment of Japanese Americans as undermining our religious liberty position at that time.

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.

Blogging the Homosexuality Conference (other posts)

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.