Monday, November 27, 2006

Experience and the Revealed Word of God

Blog Post #14. A continuing dialogue between Pastor Dave Glesne (author of Understanding Homosexuality) andPastor Lars Clausen (author of Straight Into Gay America.) Today it's Lars's turn.

Hi Dave,

Thanksgiving Blessings. I keep thinking of what a blessing it is to have this conversation. While some are emailing frustration for not receiving sufficient answers to the scientific data challenges they’ve given to Understanding Homosexuality, I’m thankful that we’re hanging in with this conversation. I too would like to hear more about how you reconcile the challenges to Narth and others, but I’m also glad because we’re moving on to the area of theology, an area where I have many questions and much to learn.

True Nature?
I have three issues to bring up on this writing. The first is simply to put a question mark on your discussion that finishes, “our true identity is heterosexual, for this is the way God created us.” My question is this…Why we can’t be open to understanding that the true nature of a numerical minority segment of our population actually is lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender? Why does the heterosexual majority need to describe the minority as sinful and against the will of God?

Which brings me to my second point of discussion.

Objective Reality?
In your last blog post you refer to Scripture and Theology as an “objective reality.” In your book you share the vivid example of crossing the Rocky Mountains on I-80 and the great high plateau that separates the waters and the oceans to which they flow. If I understand correctly, you’re using this analogy to distinguish between two worldviews.

A subjective view of reality (experience based) that understands scripture as a kind of congealed human wisdom, a conglomeration of experience.

An objective view of reality (revelation based) that understands scripture as revealed from God.

I understand you advocating for an objective view of scripture, for the Word of God revealed in Scripture, and for a literal but not literalistic interpretation of the biblical texts. (Chapter 5 of Understanding Homosexuality, Pages 60-66)

I lean more to the subjective worldview, placing the 2,000-year-old Christ story in the broader context of the Hebrew story in the broader context of a 10,000-12,000 year old agricultural worldview, in the broader context of hundreds of thousands of years of hunting gathering worldviews that preceeded the time of crop cultivation and writing. (Straight Into Gay America: 136-143, and 223-229.)

One of my abiding questions is this:

What makes some of us adopt an "experience-based, subjective view of reality?"


What makes others of us adopt a "revelation-based objective view of reality?"

You and I are both educated in the same Lutheran tradition. Yet we take differing starting points for our views of reality. And the difference between the two of us is exemplified throughout our ELCA Lutheran Christian tradition as well as across many other denominations. This is why it seems good to me for us to be having this discussion.

You write (pg. 66)
“We need to comprehend that the authority of Scripture is the Continental Divide
in the homosexual debate. We are either dealing with a view of biblical
authority that sees the human interpretation of the text as the final word—and
with the setting up of this alternative authority the Scriptures can be made
finally to say something quite different than their normal and simple meaning—or
with a view that sees Scripture as God’s revelation to us whose authority rests
within itself because it is given by God. Either there is or there is not
a revelation from God.”
Not too many years ago, I might have taken these up as fighting words and tried to strike back. And these would be the reasons why.
  1. To say that human interpretation of the text sets itself up as the “final word,” has a harsh edge to it. I’d much rather see human interpretation as a humble view of seeking to do the best we can with our context and tradition.
  2. To say that human interpretation can take us away from the normal and simple meaning of the text seems justifiable, but I’d like to consider that this can happen whether the worldview is based on experience or revelation. Who gets to decide what is normal and simple? If I were to believe in an objective view of reality and revelation, would I suddenly be equipped to understand the scriptures better? If Jesus, Peter, and Paul had been dealing with normal and simple interpretation, I don’t believe we’d have a Bible to read today. There wouldn’t be any tension in it, any grist for shaping our constantly evolving world. Those three gentlemen were dealing with hard-edged issues of how compassion, grace, politics, and power fit together, and they were coming up with very unconventional answers. Jesus gets booted from the synagogues because his interpretations aren’t the normal and simple ones of the synagogue leaders who held to the standard revelations of their day. In the book of Acts, Peter is faced with whether non-Jews could be part of the emerging Christian Community. In Paul’s letters he deals with an unending stream of issues for how the new Christian understanding would fit into the existing structures of religion and politics.
  3. To say “the authority of scripture rests in itself, because it is given by God” still leaves us with the subjective job of deciding what to say about the meaning of these scriptures, whether we’re advocating for human interpretation or God’s revelation.
  4. “Either there is or is not a revelation from God.” This may or may not be so: The reality may be less dualistic than this. Still, whatever the case, humility and truth seem to beg us to admit that asserting a Revelation from God cannot be an objective truth - it is a subjective statement of faith.

More and more, though, I’m simply interested in what makes us hold to our different worldviews.

How is it that we have come to be who we are?

This leads to my third point of discussion in this blog post.

I’d be content to leave our conversation at this level of philosophical pondering except that claiming God has revealed homosexuality as sin has had such devastating consequences for LGBT people, their friends, their families, and their faith communities.

When you say in your blog, “homosexuality is a behavior, and not an identity.”

When you write “homosexuality is a pseudo-identity.”

When you write in your book, “the only alternative to heterosexual marriage is sexual abstinence.” (168) and “Ought the church bless same-sex unions? No.” (173.)

And when you write in your book. “Even if 90% of the population were exclusively homosexual, that would prove nothing about whether it is right or morally neutral.”

Then, in the light of these statements, I question the interpretations about homosexuality as sin that are ascribed as revelation from God.

Yes, if 90% of people are involved in some evil such as murder, then its still an evil. But as you’ve agreed to with me, many homosexual people are simply looking for the peace and freedom to live a loving caring live with a person of the same gender. Many are faithful members of churches, and caring members of society. If we don’t listen to those stories, then, if there is a revelation from God about homosexuality, I’m afraid we’re missing it. Jesus, if anything, seems to me to have been a good listener.

A close listening would also seem to raise questions about the desire to make our churches stand against the celebration of love and the blessing of that love.

A close listening would hear homosexuality as more than simply an act, a behavior, and a pseudo-identity.

My own statement of faith is that the foundation of Scripture, the foundation of my Jesus understanding and my God understanding, the foundation of my world-understanding, the foundation of my people relationship is centered in one word - compassion. And compassion includes the openness to changing one’s views based on the experience at hand. Compassion without the possibility of being changed seems dangerously close to coercion.

This is my interpretive dynamic, and because of this dynamic, I find it easy to listen to the stories of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. I sense I’m finding authenticity rather than pseudo-identity in these stories. Since I believe these stories to be authentic, it follows easily for me to advocate for equal rights so these people can live with the same rights, privileges and responsibilities as Anne and I and our children have.

So, I’ve added three issues to our little conversational campfire.

  1. Understanding that the heterosexual emphasis in Scripture can just as easily be open to INCLUDING lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender identity. In fact, the Old Testament major emphasis on hospitality to strangers might be a good way of acknowledging the heterosexual numerical majority as well as the need for welcoming and full participation of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender numerical minority.
  2. My ongoing question of what makes us take up and keep the worldviews we hold?
  3. My distrust of ascribing to any “revelation from God,” that is not woven inextricably into the web of the world’s experience. In the case of homosexuality, my distrust of calling homosexuality a revealed sin.

As I’ve said a number of times, there are scientific and data questions in your book that still haven’t been answered as deeply as I’d wish. And now we’re moving to Scripture and God. I’m excited, but I’m also a little scared, as always, when discussing faith, scripture, and theology. Personally, I hesitate to use the word God anymore. So often the term seems to bring up more questions than it answers and to cause more division than communication. It will be good to have as many comments as people feel inclined to make. Hopefully they will help keep us grounded as we move forward.



Anonymous said...

I was thinking about your question about why we stick to our worldviews so strongly. I work with a researcher who used Terror Management Theory (TMT) is his work. According to the theory, humans fear mortality. Death, alone, is an end for us where we turn to dust and are forgotten. This meaninglessness produces anxiety for people. Evolution has developed defenses against this extensional fear of death. When people are made to be mortality salient, or aware of their death, there are two phases of this knowing. The first is the proximal state, where the awareness of mortality is conscious. After about five minutes or so, the awareness of mortality is pushed under the conscious surface during what is called the distal state. While we might not be consciously aware that mortality is still salient, it is under the surface and there are several defense mechanisms that kick in during the distal state.

One way to buffer yourself from the fear of death is to bolster your cultural worldview. Being a part of a strong culture guarantees a sense of legacy; your values are carried along by other generations and you are a part of something that is bigger than yourself. In studies done in a western culture, people put in a distal condition are more likely to suntan or purchase stuff (perform behaviors that reaffirm their worldview).

Another way to protect ourselves is to denigrate OTHERS. If it is important that our cultural world view remain intact, the existence of other points of view challenges the rightness of our point of view. The existence of others suggests that maybe we do not own the One Truth. This was largely seen right after 9/11, with the “us” versus “them” rhetoric.

A third way to deal with this anxiety is to boost one’s self-esteem. Studies show that when self-esteem is increased, the anxiety caused by mortality salience is reduced.

I think that we live in an uncertain time where we are constantly reminded that death gets all of us eventually. To deal with this, we cling to our cultural worldviews tightly and band together against people who are different from us. Unfortunately, some of the people doing this have a cultural worldview which claims that God is against gay people. And gay people can be an easy group to denigrate in “us” versus “them” language. I do not know what the solution is to this, but I like theory when it can explain our world. Maybe awareness of this evolutionary process can help us check ourselves when we unconsciously affirm our worldview at the expense of others.

Leslie Deatrick

Joe Norquist said...

When you pastors start using theologese in your discussion it may lead to confusion to us readers in other fields. In Medicine, subjective is something that we feel, experience and “know” but it feels right to us. Objective is something that is shown, proven, expeieinced for surety of understanding. My experience of a headache is the sensation of pain I feel. That is subjective. If the pain can be seen and proven as a physical entity, as on an elecronic wave-form device, an objective measurement can be made on it.
When I learn that the universe is some 13.7 billion years old, I have an objective knowledge from scientists that can be proven in time. There is no subjective feeling about it unless I feel the joy of learnign new knowledge or the discomfort of conflict that this is contrary to what I have always believed in Creation. Subjectively, I may feel that this new scientific information cannot be true and I will have strong feelings that motivate me to disprove that theory of the universe.
In childhood, I was told that drinking is wrong. Subjectively and experientially i felt very uncomfortable when others drank around me. When I decided in early adulthood that some drinking in moderation may be a good thing, I objectively decided that controlled drinking in moderation was not a conflict to my moral values.
In your way of talking, there is both objective and subjective reality to both of your arguments. When I as an adult declare my conviction that I am a baptized, born-again Christian, I subjectively feel that this is right; I know “in whom I have believed”. I have the peace of mind that my beliefs are right. I have the joy in my heart, the convition in my mind. And I have also objectively studied other possibilities and believing in Christ seems to make mroe sense than any other philosophy or religion.
Most of all of us were raised with prejucice--racial, antisemetic, and homophobic. I do not remember as a child thinking that the Negroes’ (the word we used) walking to the back of the street car was wrong. Society is sometimes blind, even today, that prejudice is a factor in joblessness, poverty and attitudes. Even gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people were raised with the teachigns that these are sinful and bad a queer. Those thoughts become our subjective experience. Later we learn that such teachings were wrong and we objectively decided that things should change. Attitudes should change. But deep inside we still have some conflicts. These are subjective.
Dr. Nikolosi (NARTH) is definitely wrong when he teaches that all people are heterosexual. The objective and scientific findings overwhelmingly point to sexual orientation, etiher homo- or hetero-, is a natural phonomenon. But this is so subjectively bothersome to some people trying to prove that homosexuality is wrong, that they try to bend the truth to show that maybe we can prove objectively that we are right and then come up with all sorts of arguments seen in NARTH and Focus on the Family literature which is objectively false and creates much subjective discomfort in many poeple. Unfortunately, Dr. Glesne, you have taken the subjective, less scientific view that is expounded by the conservatived groups. It does not take into account all the evidence (uncomfortable as it is for Christians who have always thought that any homosexual behavior was a sin) and found “other data; other studies” unobjective as they are and made them see equally true as those generally accepted in the professional world. If we do not see that there is soem truth and value in both sides of this issue, we will go nowhere. We, too, of the more accepting side, must admit that Genesis and Nature have given the world male and female as a wonderful way fo progagating human beings(and animal) We have to admit that some people in either hetero camp or hom camp do some acts which to many may seem bizarre, wierd, and sometimes unsafe. We have to admit that two gays meeting and feeling attracted to each other might seek sex sooner than a man and a woman who meet and feel that atteractiion. (They’ll wait until the second date.). And none of these admissions will have much relevance in our present discussions. Both sides have to admit that every person comes to the realization, some time in late childhood or early adolescence or adulthood, that they are attracted to people of the opposite sex or the same sex and this is not necessarily accompanied by behavior. Lastly, it seems incompassionate to tell a sexually-disabled person, a eunoch, a divorced person, a person who has lost their genitalia through surgery or accident, or certain widows or widowers, or an impotent person, or a person who chooses to never have children, that they must be celebate. Dr. Joe Norquist

Ken said...

David Satcher, MD, former US Surgeon General and now head of the Center of Excellence for Sexual Health, Morehouse School of Medicine, Atlanta, GA. He is quoted in Dec 5, 2006, issue of The Advocate saying: "There is no evidence abstinence-only programs work, but there is evidence to support that when parents don't affirm the sexual orientation of their children, they end up feeling like they're not appreciated or made to feel that something is wrong with them, and that increases the risk of their engaging in risky sexual behaviors."

Tim Fisher said...

November 28, 2006

Dear all,

It's hard to know sometimes where to post comments: Should they logged within the particular post to which they refer? Or in the most recent post? If I comment it in the original post box, then there is a good chance that many readers will not end up scrolling waaaaay down there to read them. I apologize if I am doing the wrong thing here.

To respond to Dave's question:

>>Tim, I am really have a difficult time trying to follow your line of reasoning. The center piece of the Orlando Assembly was the questions of whether to bless same-sex unions and ordain practicing same-sex persons. My book gives what I believe is an historical, biblical and theological response to those questions. Obviously, I wanted the voting members to consider carefully the biblical material, the historical and revisionist interpretations of that material, and the moral question.>>

Let me try to reconnect this thread, if I can.

Dave, my point is this. You keep trying to claim that you are not talking about ALL homosexuals, only some who are involved in the "gay lifestyle." But this claim (that you are not talking about "all") seems very disingenuous because you are obviously meaning to speak about sexually active homosexual people as a category. You keep saying, and I paraphrase, "I never said ALL are promiscuous or sexually addicted" but you make it perfectly clear that you intend your readers to believe that the exceptions are--and here I quote--"very, very few" (p. 43 from the book).

So then your claim that you are "primarily talking about what is happening in the wider society, and that not so much in the general gay population as such, as in that sub-segment" is extremely misleading. As you have rendered it, that "sub-culture" encompasses virtually all sexually active homosexual persons--except perhaps for, as you say, "very, very few."

Then you go on to say that:

"I am NOT ascribing all these male sexual behaviors to the overall gay population, MUCH LESS to our brothers and sisters in the church"

but obviously, Dave, you fully intend that the church to associate the behaviors you describe (e.g. promiscuity, pedophilia, fisting, eating feces, engaged in by various percentages) to the very people who were in question in Orlando, such as Anita Hill, Mary Albing, Jay Wiesner, Jeff Johnson, Ruth Frost (daughter of Gerhard Frost, by the way), Phyllis Zillhart, etc . . . . The church doesn't ordain homosexuals or heterosexuals as much as it ordained individuals ministers. If it were not these particular people who were most concretely in mind when we talked and voted in Orlando, then we must have mis-spoke and mis-voted, the whole thousand of us.

That is why I find your statements in this thread so unacceptable. You are indeed ascribing these behaviors to our brothers and sisters in the church. You give your readers no reason whatsoever that these people should not be seen as part of the context for Part 1 of your book. By your definition, to be sexually active homosexually is to be part of the "gay lifestyle"--except perhaps for "very, very few"--and thus all of these brothers and sisters in the church are intended to be reflected in your (dubious) statistics discussed in Part 1.

It's one thing if you want to back off from previous statements (in your book, on this blog). But it is quite another to keep pretending that you haven't said what you said--that all but "very, very few" gay and lesbian couples are deficient in their relationships and causing harm to themselves and others.

Let me ask you this direct, two-part question: Do you believe that my relationship with my wife Christine is mature, monogamous, healthy, loving, and chaste? Do you believe that Anita Hill's relationship with her partner is mature, monogamous, healthy, loving, and chaste?

Tim Fisher
Minneapolis, MN

Tim Fisher said...

November 28, 2006

Dear all,

Picking up from Lars' current post, where he discusses the following statement of Dave's (p. 65):

"We need to comprehend that the authority of Scripture is the Continental Divide in the homosexual debate. We are either dealing with a view of biblical authority that sees the human interpretation of the text as the final word--and with the setting up of this alternative authority the Scriptures can be made finally to say something quite different than their normal and simple meaning--or with a view that sees Scripture as God’s revelation to us whose authority rests
within itself because it is given by God. Either there is or there is not a revelation from God."

Dave then goes on to explain that in receiving Scripture,

"one has to interpret (understand) a revelation. . . . [O]ne has to think through the application of divine revelation in new cultural and historical settings. These require the full mustering of the best of our cognitive powers." (65)

Yes, I agree. Dave continues: "As such, interpretations of an uncertain text may legitimately differ." (65)

Okay. But now, wait a minute. If "interpretations may legitimately differ," then why should we locate the divide between 1) "human interpretation as the final word" and 2) "Scripture as God’s revelation to us whose authority rests within itself"? By Dave's own acknowledgement, we ALL interpret; we can do nothing else. The very act of reading is interpretive. There is no way one can read any text, including Scripture, without employing the mind, inclusive of all the mind's brilliancies, foibles, sins, and secrets. There is no way one can read any text, including Scripture, without employing the heart, inclusive of all its loves, hatreds, compassions, and hard edges. And of course there is no way of understanding the true meaning of Scripture without the help of the Spirit, and none of us can claim to be helped any better than somebody else.

In the end, the best we can do is rest with an all too human interpretation, trusting in the Spirit to guide us, knowing that we will falter along the way, living in God's forgiveness, bearing the cross of those we've hurt with our interpretations and those who've hurt us with theirs.

In my experience talking with scores of people (perhaps hundreds) about homosexuality and the church, people from all sides of the debate, I have yet to be convinced that Scripture, our approach to it, is the biggest divide among us. Obviously it plays a part; I have no doubt about that. But I find myself in close agreement with Terry Fretheim. Fretheim is professor of Old Testament at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, MN and a member of the ELCA Task Force on Sexuality. He writes:

"As a member of the [task force], I interacted with many individuals and congregations regarding issues of biblical authority. I was surprised at how common it was--indeed almost universal--that those who held widely diverse perspectives on the interpretation of biblical texts regarding sexuality were in basic agreement regarding the authority of the Bible. (The initial rhetoric in a conversation did not always bend this way, but upon closer examination this proved to be the case again and again.) From another angle, a shared high view of the authority of the Bible did not issue in commonality regarding the way in which biblical texts regarding sexuality were (to be) interpreted. (This experience confirmed several statements by Darrell Jodock . . . 'Scriptural authority is not foundational . . . . Disagreements about the Bible are as much the symptoms as they are the causes of disunity.')" ["The Authority of the Bible and Churchly Debates Regarding Sexuality." Word and World, Fall 2006, p. 366.]

Too often, I've had the sense that, whenever somebody tries to locate the divide in "Biblical authority," pitting "God's revelation" against "human interpretation" in a strict either-or fashion (see Dave again on p. 65), what is really being communicated is something quite a bit more prosaic. What is really going on is that he or she simply doesn't agree with my interpretation, favoring his or her own interpretation. All of which are equally human.

In the same issue of Word and World as the Fretheim quote noted above, Kathryn Kleinhans nicely describes this dynamic. She says that too often the person touting "the-Bible-is-God's Revelation"

"began from the premise that anyone who didn't share his particular interpretation of the Bible necessarily rejected biblical authority as such. Ultimately, this is a position that has become all too common even within mainline denominations, where language about "biblical authority" can be used to transform honest disagreements about interpretation into challenges to the fidelity of others." [The Word Made Words: A Lutheran Perspective on the Authority and Use of the Scriptures," Word and World, Fall 2006, p. 409.]

Again, in my experience, issues of biblical authority are not really the main divide. From my discussions with people, my sense is that the larger divide between views comes from prior beliefs about what GLBT people are like, about what their personal and sexual relationships are like. That is, the larger divide is in regards to the sort of stuff Dave discusses in Part 1 of his book (supposed pedophilia, promiscuity, etc…). Below, allow me to insert a piece that I wrote for another discussion group. I believe it pertains.

Grace and peace,

Tim Fisher
Minneapolis, MN


On the Findings of Science

In my own study of homosexuality and the church, I've seen an unhealthy dynamic develop when science is brought into the debate. I am often struck by the difficulties created by writers (theologians, parish pastors, youth ministry researchers) when they use science to prop up theological assertions about sexuality. The writer says, "See! Look how the Bible says homosexuality is not part of God's intention. It's immoral!" Then he turns to the sciences to demonstrate the supposedly inevitable, bad consequences of the immoral behavior while ignoring the strong notes of limitation and tentativeness heard across the breadth of the scientific literature itself. Invariably, the science remains much more cautious about its own implications. As Peter Gomes writes:

"My colleagues in the humanities and the social sciences are much more the victims of hubris than the scientists I know. It is often the humanists and the social scientists who wrap up their scholarly insecurities in what they believe to be the impregnable armor of science, and impose the sovereignty of facts upon their all too elusive disciplines. In professional life these are equaled in immodesty only by doctors." (p. 321, The Good Book)

Regardless of how faithfully the writer may support his theological assertions, when the "findings of science" are dropped into the story, these results are too often presented without sufficient breadth, depth, or care. Indeed, when dealing with the extremely complicated and largely mysterious topic of "the science of human sexuality," a great amount of breadth, depth, and care is necessary. Without this, the charts and statistics tend to assert themselves rather promiscuously. For instance, by joining the categories of "homosexual" (a descriptive term) and "predatory" (a moral judgment) without sufficient evidence--as if they were of one flesh--it becomes far too easy for us to be frightened into the plainly illogical conclusion that an individual's intimate relationship with another can be judged on the basis of group statistics.

The statistics, loosely presented as they are, quickly credit themselves as God's reasons for condemning all homosexual relationships. The sciences are re-oriented, transformed into the inflammatory and ideological. Often, readers respond with fear. In such an environment, a peculiar sort of unreasonable science displaces the proclaimed Word as the rule and norm of the church. This we must resist.

Grace and peace,

Tim Fisher
Minneapolis, MN

Ted Brown said...

I'm finding it hard to follow all the streams of thought through these long posts, so I'll be as brief as possible:

Isn't the dividing issue here the interpretation of what is "sin?"

There seems to be one "camp" that says, "Yes, the sexual acts between homosexual people are considered sin." The other "camp" seems to say, "No, these sexual acts are not sin IF CONTAINED within monogamous, committed, loving relationships."

I would think this gets to the root of the theological discussion - how would both sides support their "subjective" interpretation (according to a previous post) scripturally...


Keeping it brief... TED