Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Coming Out of the Closet

Very few people seem to choose their own sexual preference.

I sure didn’t.

Thoughtful Christians are caught in a tough bind.

The Bible seems to teach that homosexual practice is a sin.

The science indicates that sexual preference is mostly beyond the control of individuals.

The current evangelical line splits the difference.

We’re told that being homosexual is ok as long as you don’t think like a homosexual or act like a homosexual and repent of the general results of The Fall in your own life.

I understand and appreciate the biblical passages that seem to teach against homosexual practice and I get the science too.

I’m not posting to rant one way or the other.

But when I talk to a lot of honest and thoughtful Christian people—especially young Christian people—more than a few of them seem to want to avoid the issue because they don’t appear to have confidence in the old time take.

But they can’t speak or write openly about it because of the current fundamentalist climate. If they even raise the question in a serious way they risk getting booted out of the ‘fellowship’ and if they have positions of responsibility they risk losing financial support.

Maybe some folks need to come out of the closet :^)

Christians have supported a lot of dumb stuff in the past based on old-timey and eventually repudiated takes on the Bible.

Hard to know what to make of all this without a more honest discussion.

Is honest discussion in the current climate possible?

Please hold all your biblical arguments about gays. I'm pretty familiar with most of 'em.

I'm really wondering out loud why evangelical Christians can't seem to talk about this outside the seminary setting.


Anonymous Jon said...

Honestly, there are circles where not much is up for debate anymore. I have mixed feelings on this. On one hand, I don't think theology should be decided by popular opinion. On the other hand, the church has become so splintered and the presence of Godly authority has become so unclear that it's rather hard to see where to look to instead.

As far as choice, I agree that most people don't appear to choose. I don't believe that I chose either, although I did know one friend and IV leader who did distinctly choose during college. (He chose to be heterosexual, and wrote about the decision in a campus queer publication. It was not an easy choice.) But I think that a subconcious "choice" can be a bigger factor than we realize. An interesting article I read about the issue was this: http://www.leaderu.com/orgs/narth/1995papers/satinover.html

1:32 AM  
Anonymous Jon said...

p.s. - I would also add that the sexual preferences of most young men (meaning they would prefer to have it often and with many women), heterosexual or homosexual, seems at least partially natural and beyond their control. Yet acting on those preferences, or even fantasizing about it, would certainly be sinful. So I don't believe that this problem is as unique to gay men as it may seem.

1:37 AM  
Blogger 3wishes said...

And now for some humour:http://www.unconfirmedsources.com/?itemid=1371

10:42 AM  
Anonymous Greg said...

I think a lot of my frustration with the topic is that I sense a double standard in the way people discuss homosexuality versus heterosexuality. "Homosexual practice" is understood as having same-gendered sexual experience (apart from any commited relationship). Is this the same understanding as "heterosexual practice"? Or do we associate heterosexual practice with commitment and love (i.e. marriage) in a way that is almost never associated with homosexuality.

It seems to me that there are separate issues to talk about. One is that of irresponsible sexual practice, whether gay or straight. I am opposed to people engaging in either, and I don't think there needs to be a dicotomy.

The other is that of commited relationships, where I think the same standards of sexual purity and respect should apply to both same- and opposite-sex relationships. In the way I would expect a straight couple to commit to love each other for the rest of their lives, I would expect the same of a gay couple.

12:23 PM  
Blogger Wordcat said...

Encouraging responses.

Don't think we'd be having this convo at Pasadena Covenant (a church I respect a lot).

I feel sad that more young evangelicals aren't willing to go on the record out loud. Can't quite figure out why people are so tweaked by this. It doesn't make sense to me.

I'm not sure what to think.

That's a respectable position.

10:33 PM  
Anonymous vonstroh said...

Good call for open discussion. I applaud that. I would be interested to hear more about the science. Personally, I am inclined to think that the "science" is just "science" and not science. Of course, I haven't read too much on the science or "science" of sexual orientation.

The reason why I'm skeptical is that:
1) Its fairly obvious that choices in life lead to ingrained habits. 2)That it is way too common in our culture today to abdicate responsibility for self-discipline by claiming some external pressure makes us the way we are.

Re: 1) let me elaborate: Its true that most young men have overheated sexual passions (like jon said, want it often and with many women) and we could chalk this up to nature and evolutionary necessity and say its beyond our control. This is what's accepted as normal in most places in our culture today. To graduate from high school as a virgin is probably seen as strange in most places in America, including many church youth groups. So it could be extrapolated that the "natural" passions of "homosexuals" are beyond their control, just as it is for heterosexuals. But lets look at how choices ingrain habits. If heterosexual thoughts enter a young man's mind, he may indulge them either in lust, porn, masturbation, sexual interactions with women, etc. The more he indulges in these things though, the more he feels addicted to them and the less freedom he feels to choose to indulge or not to indulge those thoughts. But if the young man resists indulging those thoughts in sinful ways, he experiences less attachment every time he chooses not to indulge and experiences greater freedom. This struggle between heterosexual purity and heterosexual impurity is a struggle for every heterosexual man that depends on the man's choices. Now, if a young man (or old man) can choose to remain free on the righteous path of sexual purity - as it pertains to heterosexual thoughts - why is it any different for him to choose to remain free or not on the righteous path of sexual purity - as it pertains to homosexual thoughts? I'm confident enough in my heterosexuality to say that I've had homosexual thoughts enter my head before. I think if we're honest, we all probably have had such thoughts enter our head. Does that mean we're gay? No. It just means we've had thoughts enter our head. If, as people influenced by biblical fellowship or popular culture to be inclined toward heterosexuality, we don't like those homosexual thoughts, we shove them out of our head. Just as we might shove out of our head some other thought of heterosexual deviancy. And we're not bothered by those thoughts. But if we are influenced to believe that this reflects our genetic identity, we might dwell on this and think that this is who we are. Just as a young man with overheated sexual passions might be influenced by popular culture to think that it is his natural response and identity to entertain those heterosexual thoughts that enter his head and suggest to him lust, porn, masturbation, and illicit heterosexual encounters. The more that heterosexual man or that homosexual man engages those thoughts and dwells on them and indulges them, the more ingrained those habits of thought and then of action will be. And he will think his identity is caught up in the sexual deviancy, whether it be hetero or homo-sexual. But it all started out with choices of what to do with those thoughts that entered his head and those choices are informed by the fellowship and culture we have around us. Can genetics play a part in some primal inclinations? I suppose so. But just like someone with family history of alcholism (which is also said to be a genetically related inclination), he can choose to be slave or free to that inclination.

2) On abdicating our responsibility for our choices: I'd like to make a comparison of the sexuality debate to the phenomena of of ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) these days. Why is it that so many kids today are being diagnosed (and genuinely showing symptoms) ADD as opposed to when I was in elementary school in the '80s and we had never heard of ADD or seen much of the symptoms that we now see? I think its not because so many more kids today have inherent (i.e. genetic) chemical imbalances which need Ridalin and so on as much as it is the result of so many kids being raised on video games that breed short attention spans rather than spending quality time outdoors or in deeper activities with their family that breed longer attention spans. Short attention spans (perhaps just like homosexual orientations) are bred by a series of choices (in this case hours daily of hyper video games, in the other case by indulging homosexual thoughts), not by inherent genetic differences. (I'm not up on the ADD discussion either, so my apologies if no one is saying that chemical imbalances are related to genetics. My point is about the effect of choices and ingrained habits though.)

A further thought about sexuality as it relates to parenting and the situation in Thailand: I've heard that there is an empirically proven link between the presence of a father in the home and the eventual sexual orientation of the child. I'm influenced to believe this link through a number of 20/20 and 60 Minutes segments that have highlighted people who have been "cured" of homosexuality through experiencing significant father/mentor relationships as adults that they lacked as children. If we look at Thailand, where there is a HUGE incidence of transvestitism/transgenderism and also a significant homosexual population, its pretty common that thse folks come from broken homes without fathers. I haven't read any scientific study of this connection, but its a general observation. This brings us back to choice: Where people are lacking love, they will choose into lifestyles that bring them into contact with people who will love them (whether actual accepting unconditional love or cheap "love"). Its just like the gang phenomena in so many 'hoods in the States - young men will choose gangs to find the love and belonging that they don't find at home.

I'm just thinking/theorizing out loud, I look forward to hearing other's thoughts and hope such discussion as this continues.

12:59 AM  
Anonymous alex said...

I think we beg the question when we speak of either homosexual or heterosexual "deviancy" - to equate porn, lust, and masturbation with homosexual identity resolves the issue without debate.

And I'm not so sure alcoholics are so free to choose whether or not to be "slaves" to their addiction. They may in fact be powerless in the face of it.

7:24 AM  
Anonymous Jon said...

Whether or not the person is powerless, I certainly don't believe that God is powerless. Many many alcoholics and other addicts can tell you amazing stories of what God has done in their lives to break them from indulgence in their addiction. I think that it would be a terriblely limited view of God to believe that sexual practice is something that He couldn't help a person deal with or fight.

9:32 AM  
Anonymous alex said...

granted, but what if we're talking about identity rather than practice - not to mention the fact that the equation of homosexuality with alcoholism is to my mind disingenuous.

11:51 AM  
Anonymous Jon said...

yes - I certainly agree that it becomes different when talking about identity rather than practice.

But why is comparing homosexuality with alcoholism disingenuous? I sort of have a scientifically-directed mind, and from all the science I've seen about it, they could contain quite similar psychological roots. Did you read the paper I posted in the first comment?

1:37 PM  
Anonymous alex said...

I did read the article, I'm not a huge fan of Satinover, either in that article or elsewhere, and to this scientifically-directed mind to equate the tremendous destruction alcohol visits on both the alcoholic and those around him to homosexuality, which harms no one, is the apex of disingenuousness.

8:39 PM  
Anonymous alex said...

I can't stand it - one more thing about "choice" vs. genetics re: satinover. It's a truism that environment plus genetics equals who we are and how we behave, whether it be in regard to homosexuality, alcoholism or anything else. But the feeling I'm getting reading many of the above posts is that if "choice" or "environment" were to play some role in homosexual identity or practice then we could do something about it.

Perhaps we could, but that doesn't mean we should. The whole argument turns on homosexuality being deviant, being a perversion and significantly damaging lives - where's the evidence for that except in the tortured minds of closeted gays who feel the need to target House pages. Oh that's right - I forgot. You can also find evidence against homosexuality in various iron age religious texts that advocate some variation of "take him outside the camp and stone him." Even if to some degree or another we "choose" to be gay, we should be allowed do so - just as we're allowed to live, work, and worship as we choose.

I think we'll eventually look back on the struggle for gay and lesbian rights as an extension of the 20th century black civil rights struggle - and churches that find themselves on the wrong side of this issue risk irrelevance and increasing ridicule. To paraphrase a fairly well-known iron age religious text of the type I was mocking above, "There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female, there is no longer gay and straight; for all of you are one in christ jesus."

9:21 PM  
Anonymous Jon said...

I don't think I've said anything about how "destructive" homosexuality is. I haven't quoted anything in the Bible against it, and I haven't said that we should do anything to people who practice it. I haven't called it deviant, a perversion, or said that it destroys people's lives. All I've offered is that if someone wanted to stop practicing it, then it would be possible with God's help. I did not once compare the effects of homosexual practice to the effects of alcoholism, but merely compared the causes because they appear likely to be caused by a similar genetic/environmental/choice integrated mechanism, and because alcoholism can still be successfully not practiced with God's help despite its strong addictive nature.

I also have had a problem with other things that Satinover has written, but that has nothing to do with that paper. Do you have any evidence against the plausibility of the model he proposed, and do you have any evidence for any other model?

11:22 PM  
Blogger Scott said...

The tense back-and-forth of this post - if that elephant can be ID'd - is a big reason that my generation, even & especially in ministry, avoid touching "this topic" even with a ten foot pole.

The risk in entering in is the risk of being polarized between two extremes - instead of being allowed to live in the awkward tension between two (which is life.) The two extremes are relational convictions (ie. principles about the value of people) and theological convictions (ie. principles about God and the created world.)

I don't know "Jon" or "Alex" personally, so I don't mean to comment about them, but I would venture to say that folks in my generation avoid the complex discussion on "this topic" primarily to avoid the awkward & sometime inappropriate barbs, quips & edgi-ness that can be seen from this discussion. Unfortunately, the discussion usually jumps quickly into debate, where the main goal is to convince or to chide, not to understand.

I think that is an answer to the original question on the post.

9:37 AM  
Anonymous Jon said...

Thanks for that. I agree (even though I did contribute to the back-and-forth) and I believe that it does answer the question...almost. Considering how discussion started out, I think it is possible for someone to have a reasonable discussion about it. Alex and I just started going back-and-forth and ruined it.

Question - how does one avoid that in these loaded topics? Is my position just too extreme, or was there a specific point at which I said something that shouldn't have been said?

5:53 PM  
Blogger Wordcat said...

Thanks to everybody for the comments. Unfortunately this is where the whole thing is. Elephant in the middle of the living room indeed!

9:19 PM  
Anonymous alex said...

I haven't referred back to this thread in a few days, but I really didn't find it to be that tense - compared to much other online discourse it appears positively civil.

But look, the elephant in the room is that the texts christianity, judaism and islam hold to be sacred are unequivocal in their condemnation of homosexuality, despite the myriad hermeneutical backflips liberal exegetes attempt to perform. And yet our conscience, reason and experience argue that homosexuality hurts no one. In this case, I think the text are just plain wrong - but of course to come to this conclusion rocks the foundational beleifs of many christians. For once you allow the texts to err, much of what many believe begins to crumble away.

And I don't think, Scott, that you can have it both ways, to somehow "live in the awkward tension." If the texts are culturally limited that has serious consequences for contemporary faith and practice. And to simply not talk about it is to align yourself with those who would attempt to impose their regressive vision of society on the rest of us. It would be akin to being a member of the Presbyterian church in the 1850s and saying "I'm not going to take a stand on this whole slavery issue - those of us in the north and the south would get along better if we just stopped talking about it."

8:19 AM  
Blogger Wordcat said...

Yeah, I thought it was more civil than most convos about this too. Great points Alex.

11:15 PM  

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