Friday, December 22, 2006

Looking at the APA

Post #21: A continuing conversation between Pastor/Author Dave Glesne (Understanding Homosexuality) and Pastor/Author Lars Clausen (Straight Into Gay America)
Dear Dave,

End of the year blessings. I took some days away from the office, including taking our kids downhill skiing for the first time. But I have kept thinking about our conversation. Though I'm no longer in the pulpit, this rules vs. relationship conversation we're having was at the heart of my ministry, and the implications continue to fascinate me.

Pausing to address our comments?
There are so many ways to proceed in our conversation, but with the commenters asking for greater resolution. it seems best for me to put this next post on pause and give opportunity for you to address the comments that are accumulating. I'm reading frustrations that you're brushing off the scientific critiques too quickly and that you're not appreciating the experience of LGBT people.

I want us to have as clear a table as possible when we resume with this conversation about the function of God's law, and where our moral compass comes from. You've raised questions that feel fruiful to me

  • "do we live in a moral universe?"
  • "what is the basis of morality?"
  • "When one person says something is good and another says it is evil, how do you live together in society?"
  • "Have you not in fact put yourself in the place of God and become the moral arbiter of the universe?"
  • "at the end of the road of the subjective, will one encounter fullness of life or a loss of humanness?"
  • How do we interpret Law? - "The Law causes me huge damage and that’s not an insignificant by-product of its work. That is its main purpose and work on me."

Your recommended reading to me: "Psychology Needs Reform."
In your last post, you invited me to read the Presentation by Nicholas Cummings, the past president of the American Psychology Association. So I did, hoping Cummings article might help me understand more about your position.

Not being an expert on psychology or the APA or its history, I found Cummings article fascinating, including his contention that “psychology seems to have lost touch with the American people.” Cummings paper was presented at the 2006 APA convention as part of a panel, “Psychology Needs Reform…”

Cummings notes a principle established in 1973,

“that when we speak as psychologists we speak from research evidence and clinical experience and expertise. Without that, every psychologist is free to speak their opinion as a citizen through a myriad of advocacy organizations, but when we spoke as psychologists the evidence had to be there. To violate this rule the APA would risk loss of credibility, making it just another ideological voice clamoring to be heard in the sea of opinions.”

Of the list of examples he gives of being out of touch, he notes that the APA’s official endorsement of gay marriage cites “the flimsiest of research evidence.” He also writes,

“the APA has not hesitated to attack therapists practicing reparative therapy…on the other hand, therapy to help patients “come out” is highly encouraged, making sexual preference a one-way street.”*

*Note: Even William Throckmorton (well known in the field of helping individuals try to change their sexual orientation and a past presenter for NARTH) has written a paper explaining the shortcomings of reparative therapy, and its potential detriment to patients. Cummings comment seems to invite further exploration.

Cummings might be thought to have an ideological agenda, but he has earlier qualified his personal positions.

"I have always been an activist for social justice, including gay marriage, and appointed psychology's first Committee on Ethnic Minority Affairs and the first Task Force on Gay and Lesbian Issues during my APA presidency.

And then he continues with this statement

But I also believe in patient choice of therapeutic goals and respect and treat both my liberal and conservative patients accordingly."*

*Note: I sense a conflict here. Cummings advocates for patient choice in therapeutic goals. He also advocates for "research evidence and clinical experience and expertise. If Reparative Therapy doesn't meet these standards, then perhaps APA member are right in "attacking" it as a therapy type?

In Throckmortons article, he also espouses a belief in patient choice:

"I believe therapy should focus on helping people clarify how they want to live based on a chosen set of values. Often that does involve a reflection on religion, history, upbringing, traumatization, culture, school influences, religious beliefs and the gamut of experiences that may be tied to current attractions to the same sex. My approach is to ask clients to explain the problem as they see it, clarify their objectives and then pursue those objectives by whatever means we agree are consistent with their values."

And yet, Throckmorton does not use the method of Reparative Therapy because he questions, to use Cummings words quoted above, the "research evidence and clinical experience and expertise." Further exploration seems in order.

At dozens of colleges and universities in this country, students can still be dismissed if it is discovered they are gay. As an example, at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University, students who are discovered to be gay have one alternative to dismissal - entering into reparative therapy. While I respect Cummings desire to treat "both (his) liberal and conservative patients accordingly," some conservative centers are providing no choice to students/members/patients. It would seem irresponsible for the APA to ignore these cultural realities. Perhaps APA members are providing a service in both discouraging the use of Reparative Therapy and still respecting patient goals?

Questions from Cummings Presentation:

  1. What data is used by the APA and what data is in question? As you've said, we seek better. As Nadine says in her comment, BAD DATA IS NOT WORTH USING.
  2. What does it mean that Cummings unabashedly describes himself as an activist for social justice, inlcuding gay marriage?

I assume that while Cummings finds the data insufficient for an ironclad statement from the APA, he finds it entirely sufficient for informing his own view and pushing him toward activism. I have to assume the data he does have to work with is consistent with his positions, or he'd take different positions.

I think it's fair to read Cummings paper as a cry for careful official pronouncements, and also as a declaration that for one Nicholas Cummings, for whom objectivity seems so important, the data can be interpreted to give credence for gay rights and gay marriage.

Reading On:
I decided to explore further, including "the gay takeover" theory of how the American Psychological Association was "forced" to remove homosexuality from its list of disorders. This is prominently displayed on the NARTH homepage in an article by Jeffrey Satinover. I found Dr. Jack Drescher's website, a recent candidate for the presidency of the APA and active in LGBT issues in the APA. I emailed him and he wrote me back quickly:

the definitive chronicle of those events (to date) is Ronald Bayer's "Homosexuality and American Psychiatry: The Politics of Diagnosis." The book is still out in paperback (1987, Basic Books) and available on line. Bayer interviewed most everyone involved and it is an even-handed presentation of those events. For the record, APA was not taken over by gay activists. Gay activists disrupted APA meetings which got the attention of the APA, initiating a process within the organization that led to a scientific review of the issues. That process started in 1970 (with protests) and culminated in 1973 (with the removal of the diagnosis) and 1974 (when objection to APA's Board of Trustees removing the diagnosis was defeated in a referendum of APA members who voted to uphold the decision of the Board).

So now I have Ronald Bayer's book to read, too, maybe it will help me understand activism better. I know activists often get a bad rap. But...what changes without activism? Our plates are so full with the status quo that unless someone finds a way to add something to our plates it rarely gets considered. Activism serves this function often in history, including in the formation of our nation, and in the formation of the protestant traditions, rightly called, "The Protestant Reformation." Our guy Luther ended up being one of those activists.

More on the "Gay Takeover."
Gerald Schoenwolf also writes about the "gay takeover." Schoenwolf is the one who wrote that now-infamous paper that was on the NARTH website, the one that was cited as saying African Americans, "in many instances," were better off as slaves than they had been in Africa. "Schoenwolf also likened the Civil Rights Movement to Marxism and wrote:

Civil rights leaders insist there is only one meaning and one way to react. The Marxist view is superimposed on the race issue: Only an absolute and simplistic view of the issue is allowed--one which divides people into good guys and bad guys--either you're with us or you're against us.

Has Schoenwolf ever heard of Martin Luther King Jr? I have never once thought of MLK Jr as absolute or simplistic. Schoenwolfs writes of the "gay takeover of the APA"

Another example of the way the Gay Rights Movement utilized Marxist tactics was how it forced the American Psychiatric Association to normalize homosexuality. Dr. Charles Socarides reports in Homosexuality: A Freedom Too Far (1995) how the Gay Rights Movement, through a series of political maneuvers, intimidated the APA in to taking homosexuality off the DSM category of sexual disorders. Here again were the usual elements of political correctness: The American Psychiatric Association was now the evil oppressor and gays were the innocent victims who needed to take arms against this modern evil and conquer it.

Schoenwolf decries the polarization caused by activists, but I find his own article wearying in its absolutism and simplism.

In your and my tradition, Luther called the Pope the Anti-Christ, also an absolute and simplistic accusation. Activism struggles for voice and probably doesn't always say exactly the right thing at the right time. It's longing is for a place at the table to speak with dignity and respect and value. Over time, this was achieved for LGBT rights within the APA. Here's a list of actions that I found, and which I'm grateful that professionals stood up for and wrote into practice.

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) labeled discrimination in employment based on sexual orientation as irrational in 1988. It opposed exclusion and dismissal from the armed forces on the basis of sexual orientation in 1990. In 1991, the APA added immigration and naturalization decisions to areas in which it opposes discrimination against homosexuals. It supported the right to privacy in adult consensual relations conducted in private, also in 1991. In 1992, the APA encouraged its members to help prevent and respond actively to bias-related incidents related to sexual orientation. An APA position statement in 1998 opposed any psychiatric treatment based on the assumption that homosexuality is a medical disorder or that patients should change their sexual orientation, including "reparative" or "conversion therapies." This was extended in 2000 to a recommendation that ethical practitioners refrain from attempts to change sexual orientation in the absence of research substantiating "reparative" therapies. Also in 2000, the APA approved a position statement supporting the legal recognition of same-sex unions. It endorsed initiative allowing adoption and co-parenting of children by same-sex couples in 2002.

In discovering information about the APA, and NARTH and Schoenwolf's article, I discovered how Dr Warren Throckmorton and others protested Schoenwolf's article. Which led me to Throckmorton's website,

In addition to the already mentioned article, "I Am Not a Reparative Therapist." I also came across an interview Throckmorton did with Dr. Spitzer, the researcher who studied whether there is evidence of any homosexuals changing orientation I read this article because you quoted Spitzer's work about homosexuals who have experienced a change in orientation. After you wrote, one of our commenters telephoned Spitzer and wrote this comment for all of us.

In Blog #8, Dr Glesne quoted Dr. Robert Spitzer. Spitzer explains that he sought to determine whether people changed their orientation at all, not how often this occurred. "But since it was so difficult to find 200 people who had changed for the study, the likelihood of altering sexual orientation is probably rare, he says. "It's hard to change anything that's basic to a person's personality." He further says, "The Christian right never mentions my conclusion that in the general population, such change is rare, and I find their whole agenda obnoxious. They want to humiliate gays and deprive them of civil rights."

Here’s a direct quote from Dr. Spitzer from a personal telephone conversation I had with him today: November 14, 2006:"It took 2 years to try to find 200 subjects in my study, despite many attempts by Exodus International and NARTH to (find?) them to participate in the study.

This tells me that, although I believe my study shows that change is possible in some, it is almost certainly very rare. Unfortunately, when the Christian Right referred to my study, they never mentioned my noting the likely rarity of change of sexual orientation."

Then I read the article on the NARTH website, titled "Spitzer Study Critiqued In the Journal of Gay and Lesbian Psychotherapy" Exactly as Spitzer said, the article made no note of the likely rarity of change. As author A. Dean Byrd wrote in the article:

Spitzer's conclusions are simply this: based on his study, there is evidence to suggest that some gay men and lesbians are not only able to change self-identity, but are able to modify core features of sexual orientation, including fantasies.

Most of the article is used to lambast the gay activists who protested Spitzer's research. But it's no wonder that gay activists are concerned about the misuse of Spitzer's data. In the way that you reported Spitzer's data, and the way Byrd and others have, the data can quickly turn to advocating or pressuring for sexual identity change. Many gay activists can share memories that include endless prayers to not be homosexual, decades of therapy, and electro-shock treatment. Gay activists seem justifiably wary about data being misused and resulting in harm.

When I wrote my concern that your viewpoint causes damage to LGBT people, you wrote back about the Law and how it convicts us all. You also wrote, "There are social dynamics peculiar to LGBT persons in our day, that is true, but when it comes to standing as sinners before the cross we all stand in exactly the same place."

I think my argument has been that we do not all stand in the same place. I believe the work of gay activists like APA former president and gay marriage supporter Nicholas Cummings is the work of leveling the playing field so we can do as you suggest and all stand in exactly the same place.

Thank you for recommending Cummings article for my reading. I hope I have given it a responsible degree of attention. I invite your similar attention to the concerns raised by our blog commenters.

New Year Blessings,


Tuesday, December 19, 2006

More Tent Talk

Post #21: Understanding Homosexuality by pastor and author David Glesne dialogues with Straight Into Gay America by pastor and author Lars Clausen

Dear Lars,

I especially appreciated your most recent post because I think it brought greater clarity for me as to your perspective and how you have come to pattern your life. It is a good thing when a dialogue can result in greater understanding and clarity. Thanks for sharing your story so openly and honestly.

I think what I will do here is follow your most recent post and make comments and/or ask questions as they arise in my mind as I read. I’m not so concerned then with a seamless response as with just responding to thoughts that come to mind as I read.

Different Sides of the River
The subjective and objective views of reality come into sharper contrast with this imagery. The objective view of reality side of the river flows from God being there and speaking to human beings (revelation). God reveals that He is a holy God with a moral character and a God of love. In other words we live not in an amoral universe but in a moral universe in that morality is rooted in an ultimate personal reality. There are some things that are congruent with God’s character (right or good) and some things that are against His character (wrong or evil). We can call these moral absolutes. God’s moral law (centered in the 10 commandments and in Jesus’ two great laws of love) then flows from His moral character, which are not arbitrarily rights and wrongs but firmly rooted in His character.

In this objective view, then, love and holiness can never be separated for they are both equally rooted in God’s character and being. God's love is always informed by holiness. Love shows me how to do something, it doesn’t tell me what to do. So in God’s love, the internal moral compass is holiness. We see this lived out in the life and teaching of Jesus when he says, “If you love me, you will obey my commandments.” Here true love is defined by holiness, the commandments that tell us what it means to love God and to love one’s neighbor. Love is not just a contentless emotion or feeling defined by a particular situation, but has a definite content as it is rooted in God’s holiness.

If I understand the subjective world view on your side of the river properly, it is a view that holds to no moral absolutes but “lives from an irrational faith in the absolute centrality of compassion, making all things subject to its critique.” I would venture saying, then, that while you would deny absolutes, you nevertheless hold to one absolute – compassion. It seems to be the one thing upon which everything in your subjective view hangs. But it is an absolute that is relative. So perhaps we need to rephrase it and say that relativity is absolute. So, yes, from the subjective side of the river, everything -not only on your side of the river but on my side of the river - is viewed through the lens of the relative and is viewed as subjective. When one starts with the subjective and works consistently outward from that starting point, one is never able to break out of the tent of subjectivity to anything objective.

Here are some questions that come to mind: From your side of the river, do we live in a moral universe? If so, what is the basis of morality and that moral universe? On what basis can you say something is right or something is wrong, something is good or evil? In what is that right or wrong, that good or evil rooted? What happens on your side of the river if one person’s compassion says an action is right while another person’s compassion says that very same action is wrong? When one person says something is good and another says it is evil? How do you live together in society? How does society function when “everyone does what is right in their own eyes?”

Fullness of life
You acknowledge that your tent is a low one, Lars, not knowing answers to the most basis metaphysical question of why something is here rather than not being here (origins), or the question of how we can know anything for certain (epistemology), or the question of knowing right and wrong (morality). I hope I am representing your thoughts fairly here – and tell me if I am wrong. Rather, you “seek only after the fullness of life in the context of love.”

From the objective view side of the river come these questions: Have you not in fact put yourself in the place of God and become the moral arbiter of the universe? I can’t help but think of a couple long ago who were tempted to become like God - knowing good and evil, who were temped to grasp something of God. Their hope was that through this grasping they would have a fuller life and know more of what it is to be a human being – to know more of the fullness of life. But instead of laying hold of a fuller life, they laid hold of death as God had said they would. My question is, at the end of the road of the subjective, will one encounter fullness of life or a loss of humanness? I think of the sequence of Van Gogh's self-portraits as under the low ceiling, he pictures himself becoming increasingly less and less human.

Causing damage
You make the statement that my tent is causing damage to many LGBT people, that there is damage caused that need not be. Let me broaden this a bit. From the objective view side of the river, after human beings broke relationship with God by rebelling against God and falling into sin, we are now all born in sin and are held captive by its compulsive impulses. And I like my condition. It is very comfortable. It feels very natural. I like my sin. I’m very content in it. I’d rather not be disturbed.

But God’s holiness and Law is proclaimed to me and it tells me I am a sinner, I am separated from God by true moral guilt, I am out of relationship with God, I am living at odds with the character of God himself, I need a Savior to rid me of my guilt and restore my relationship with God. The Law is unrelenting. It condemns me. It kills me. But I don’t like being killed. It hurts bad. I don’t like dying. It doesn’t feel good. In fact, I’m offended by God and His Law. The Law causes me huge damage and that’s not an insignificant by-product of its work. That is its main purpose and work on me. So the Law not only causes damage to a small minority who identify themselves as LGBT people, it causes damage to me, and to every other sinner on this planet.

So why does a loving God kill me with the holiness of His Law? Why does a loving God cause me so much damage? God kills me with His law so that He may give me LIFE through His Son, so that I might see my need for a Savior and turn to Christ who pays the ransom and restores my relationship with Him! The cross of Christ has always been an offense to people. It always will be an offense. Yet the cross is our only hope. In our feel good, therapeutic culture, where people are offended so easily, the offense of the cross is especially intense it seems to me. So even the Law does damage and kills me, the Law is good, because it drives me to Christ who reconciles me to God and gives me his righteousness and holiness as a gift. There are social dynamics peculiar to LGBT persons in our day, that is true, but when it comes to standing as sinners before the cross we all stand in exactly the same place.

Reflection from inside the big tent
You ask me to look again at the scientific data that I use. Looking at scientific data carefully is always wise counsel. This conversation has reminded me of the importance of that. As a friend of mine tells me, that is especially the case when one thinks of the distinctions between the “hard sciences” and “soft sciences”. He tells me that hard sciences like physics and chemistry have more broadly-agreed basic concepts, and relationships between those concepts, that together largely provide coherent understanding of their field that gives greatly increased control and predictive capabilities in their field. But there are no hard sciences with respect to human behavior and human society. There are lots of theories, and some amount of statistical data, but no stable generally-agreed body of knowledge that support prediction and control. As one of our readers has commented, statistical data is hard to come by.

In our discussion, it has been very easy to discredit sources and data and studies. It has been extraordinarily more difficult to provide data and research of one’s own. Lest one settle too quickly into putting uncritical confidence in certain scientific associations and researchers of the day, it may profit one to read an article such as “The APA and Psychology Need Reform” by Nicholas Cummings, a past president of the APA, who chides the APA for giving into the temptation to sell out its science and profession to political ideology and political correctness. (

You ask me to look again at my claim that the Bible is unambiguous in its judgment on homosexual behavior. In Part II of my book Understanding Homosexuality I spend a significant amount of time addressing the revisionist interpretations of the last 60 years. I have dealt with the major revisionist arguments. I have done this to see if the revisionist arguments held together. I am fully aware of the frequent attempts made by revisionist scholars to neutralize the historical teaching of Scripture on this subject. My conclusion has been that the revisionists have failed to make a good and convincing case from Scripture.

You ask me to look again at how culture changes the interpretation of the Bible over time. Again, I have addressed in my book the two issues you mention – slavery and women – and given reasons why I believe these are in reality bad analogies to use in the homosexuality debate in the church. Here again, I think, the two world views come into play. From the subjective viewpoint, each individual context tends to give the meaning. From the objective viewpoint, each individual context has a context, the bigger context of God being there and speaking into the smaller context giving it His meaning.

Parents and children
I would remind you of page 163 of my book where I describe three basic ways parents react when sons and daughters inform them that they are gay or lesbian: a) defend their child’s sexual behavior – all grace and no judgment and no reconciliation needed; b) disavow their homosexual children – all judgment and no grace and no reconciliation possible; c) neither reject their child nor accept the behavior of their homosexual children – acceptance but not approval – judgment, grace, and a genuine yearning for reconciliation that informs and directs the relationship.

It is a gift that we can have this respectful conversation. It is a good thing when iron sharpens iron. I wish you and your family and our readers a most blessed Christmas Season!

With gratitude,

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Big Tent

Post #20 Understanding Homosexuality (author and pastor David Glesne) meets Straight Into Gay America (author and pastor Lars Clausen).

In this post Lars considers again how we look differently at the world. Lots of words, but as Dave and I agree, these are core issues for how we live.

Hi Dave,

I have been absorbing and thinking about your writing for these last few days. It feels good, like being back in the parish and wondering how we all figure out how to live together. I agree that we’re at the crux of some important life questions. And I fear I’ll fall short in communicating as well as I want to.

A Story with a River:
Most on my mind these past days has been an ancient Eastern story of a man who wandered through a forest for years and years, until finally he came to a river. He camped there for years and years until finally he crossed that river. And then everything looked different. Everything made sense differently. And there was no going back.

Just last week retired Pastor Paul Frerking added a personal story to this blog that has similarities to the Eastern story.

The beginning of my "journey" to live in the freedom of the Gospel began in a course I was taking in Seminary, The Pentateuch. We were required to translate a number of verses, one of which was based on the question of who wrote the Pentateuch. I was rabidly in the "Moses wrote it"and would "stand guard" daring anyone to challenge Mosaic authorship (a reflection of my Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod background and parents' teaching). I came to Genesis 36:31 and my world fell apart! "These are the kings who reigned in the land of Edom, before any king reigned over the Israelites."Just plain logic (your "experience?") told me this verse was written AFTER kings ruled in Israel; this eliminated Moses! My Hebrew prof, Holland Jones, asked me when I scheduled an appointment with him, "Does your faith rest on Moses writing the Pentateuch, or on Jesus Christ?" This was the beginning of my "awakening." I was very much afraid because my anchor had fallen; I saw the beginning of all the warnings I had been "primed" to believe, start crashing to the ground; the tiny "hole in the dike" had burst and the water was drowning me. Life would never be the same for me; but I also found the freedom to breathe and think. It was almost a "life after life" experience.

Which Side of the River?
At this point the conversation often turns to which position is better. Is it the one who upholds the sanctity of rules and a fixed revelation? Or is it the one who has gone across the river and no longer rests in absolute rules, but lives from an irrational faith in the absolute centrality of compassion, making all things subject to its critique?

From your side of the river you write “love and compassion have no internal moral compasses of their own, and because we self-centered sinners repeatedly find ourselves distorting genuine love in the name of ‘love,’ love always needs law to guide it.

From my side of the river, love and compassion is the only compass we have. But it’s more than personal. Love and compassion are relative to as much of the human, natural, global, cosmic experience as we can gather for helping us to discern life. In fact, love and compassion are religious, claiming the spirit of the faith, rather than the rules. From my side of the river, your objective view of the world appears as subjective as my own.

On the Size of our Tents:
Paul Frerking says he found the freedom to breathe and think by going beyond the absoluteness of Scriptural revelation and rules. You write that Revelation makes your tent huge, “encompassing all of reality,” and you fear I’m stuck in a leaky pup tent.

Yes, I agree my tent is a low one. It doesn’t claim to know the origin of creation, or absolute revelation, or fixed law, it only seeks after the fullness of life in the context of love. And yes, it can be a very scary place to be, without certainty…except the only thing more scary is to hang on to a fixed perspective once I crossed the river, once I saw that my prior absolutes could only be seen as subjective.

I don’t think there’s much point in arguing who has the better view property from where we each stand. I think I’ve lived on your property in earlier times in my life and seen the view from your perspective, (I was once a Navigator evangelical in college, and every question that couldn’t be answered by us, the Bible instructor told us simply, “God wrote it, its true.”) I don’t hear that you’ve lived on my property yet, or maybe you have and decided it wasn’t the best side of the river for you.

I’ll simply offer some feedback from outside the big tent. And I’ll just take my time with this writing. If readers are tired, that’s fine. We’re talking about the stuff that informs how I’ve come to pattern my life. This is for me, if for no one else.

You say it’s a big enough tent. For you. And I’m glad. But it’s a tent that’s causing damage to many LGBT people. And you’ll reply, “but them’s the rules,” and I’ll reply with my side of the equation. We’ve done that before.

If there were no damage caused, I’d ask for nothing from your tent. But there is damage caused that need not be, which is why I rode my unicycle, and why I read your book, and why I asked if we could talk together. And you agreed, and it’s a gift. I thank you.

I ask of you this reflection from inside of your big tent.

  1. A relooking at the scientific data you continue to quote. If you’re really enjoying a huge view of reality, would it not be possible to expand your sources beyond NARTH and the others that are overwhelmingly rejected by the scientific associations and researchers of the day. If your tent has such great scope, it seems that continued credibility demands scientific integrity. Our blog commenters have given us plenty of leads to follow up.
    A relooking at the language you use to describe homosexuals. I can’t understand a huge tent perspective needing to insist that homosexuality is a pseudo-identity, or that it’s necessarily harmful, or that it’s sufficiently described by listing behaviors. If the tent is really huge, it needs to take seriously the experience of the many who understand their sexual reality as an identity, not just a behavior.
  2. A relooking at the Bible that you’re using to judge homosexuality. You’ve said repeatedly the Bible is unambiguous in its stance on homosexuality. This is difficult to accept from a fellow Lutheran pastor. In the huge tent, there’s more than ambiguity, there is much that can honor homosexual relationships. If you agree that there’s context and history involved in the writing of the Bible, then one must bring in issues (to name but a few) of temple prostitution (Paul’s references), customs about hospitality (Sodom) and understandings of sexual reproduction from that time (Leviticus). In addition, in the six or seven verses used to condemn homosexuality, one must consider that none of them address the current culture of long-term same-sex relationships. If one looks for positive examples in the Bible, one can read the story of King David and his lover Jonathan, and their love that surpasses the love with women. If one looks for positive examples in todays culture, one can find thousands of faithful Christian pastors living in same-sex relationships of love, care, and fidelity.
  3. A relooking at how culture changes the interpretation of the Bible over time. You’ve written the issue of women and slavery is different than the acceptance of homosexuality. Women were once absolutely considered as property. It’s even part of the Ten Commandments, where women are included with other property such as houses and donkeys in a list of things not to be coveted by men. In our society, women today are no longer considered property. Compassion, understanding, and a good deal of activism changed the rules. Homosexuality deserves the same consideration.

Your Daughter:
I don’t know what your big tent will look like upon considering these issues, but let me bring this back to daughters, and what you’d tell your daughter – as you said

If a child of mine (and I have four) told me he or she was gay, the first and foremost thing I would do is love them as always. I would assure them of my love and that nothing they could do would ever sever my love for them. Within my love for them I would gently show them what Scripture says about homosexual behavior.

If it were my son I would also share with him information about gay men having a higher rate of STD’s than married/straight men and some of the other health consequences of same-sex behavior. If it were my daughter I would share information regarding a higher rate of mental illness in lesbian women than in straight women. Why would I share this information with them? Because I love them and want what is best for them. I would also share with them, then, information from science and also philosophical reason. So when I come to such a point of existential crises, my objective world view allows me to hold to both relationship (love for my child) and law (sharing God’s law regarding homosexual behavior) simultaneously. I do not need to choose one over the other. Indeed, I must not do so for autonomous love simply has no basis in Scripture, in the God of Scripture, or in His Son Jesus Christ. I hold to the relationship and to God’s law at the same time. In loving my child I share God’s law and gospel with him/her so that they might have life!

Another Daughter:
This Rebecca who keeps writing you, and trying to get through to you, she is a friend of mine. I “officiated” her wedding., although it was unofficial in every regard except love. The state of Georgia did not recognize the wedding. My bishop said I couldn’t use the Lutheran wedding vows or call the service a marriage. Becky and Michelle had written their own beautiful vows so the wedding vows prohibition was no problem. After they did their pre-marriage counseling and scored compatibility evaluations higher than any other couple I’d ever counseled I wrote the bishop and explained that I would be using the word marriage.

Not one person from Becky’s family came to the wedding. Not one person.

Michelle’s family was there to a person, including Michelle’s grandmother. Michelle had come out early, at the age of 14, and all during the remaining time she lived in her home, she was never allowed to be alone with her brother. Michelle’s mother had heard that homosexual people were child predators. She didn’t even trust her own daughter to be in the presence of her son. I learned this story at the wedding, when Michelle could confide to me how fearful I’d made her at one of our first meetings.

I was getting ready for Sunday Morning worship, holding my two-year-old son in my arms. Michelle was standing nearby so I simply handed Kai off to her while I made preparations. I didn’t give her much choice since everybody loved holding our babies. It was at the wedding she told me how afraid she’d been, that when I discovered she was lesbian, I’d remember back to her holding Kai, and I’d be angry with her for holding my child. Scars.

Two weeks after the wedding, I received a card from Michelle’s mother, and a long letter, the sum of it being that the wedding, with a pastor, and an official service, allowed her to finally see her daughter as fully whole, just as she was, a woman who was giving her life to another woman. That was a beautiful moment, receiving that card, knowing I had played a small part in the healing of deep scars.

Four years later Becky and Michelle divorced, although that too is unofficial since there’s no legal arrangement either for dissolving relationships. Great, wonderful people, continuing good friends of our family, living the blessings and challenges of life like most of our other friends.

Except that Becky’s parents have not communicated with her for over five years. Not once. Her brother recently wrote to try and reclaim a relationship – his purpose was to coax Becky into an ex-gay program. Perhaps they still love her with the unconditional love you would give to your daughter. But perhaps they feel like you do, that Becky’s self-affirming homosexual identity, behavior, and relationship put her in jeopardy of losing the kingdom. And perhaps the strongest thing they know how to do is to have nothing to do with that sin. Perhaps it is great love in a tent stifled by unambiguous rules.

Becky, when she writes to you, appears vicariously to be trying to reach her own parents, the judging parents she sees in what you are writing.

I’m not sure I sense you being all the way out on the existential plank in your description of what you’d do with an announcement by your son or daughter that they are gay. Becky’s been there, where the rules no longer hold up. Hundreds and thousands of others have, too. You’ve written that you’d warn a self-affirming active homosexual they might be in danger of losing the kingdom. What if that was your child, a person with as strong a commitment to their partner as you have to your wife, and insisting on recognition of the partner in the household, just like your other children’s married spouses? What if your child was a person getting married in a Massachusetts Lutheran Church, and a gay activist? What if she insisted that her life, this life, was an act of faith? I’m wondering if your declarations of unconditional love would be enough for your daughter or son, or if the unflagging judgment of their behavior and denial of her identity would drive them away, as happened with Becky, outside the large tent of absolute revelation and absolute rules?

Thank you for the blessing of this conversation. These do indeed seem like core conversations, and I am grateful we can have them. I look forward to continuing our dialogue.


P.S. You asked me three specific questions:

1. What is it within compassion that gives it direction?
I think I've answered this above.

2. What is it within love itself that tells me the loving thing to do with regard to my neighbor?
I think I've addressed this above, but as you have faith in rules, I have faith in love and compassion, and using the accumulated wisdom of the faith traditions about love, and whatever experience can be gathered from history about living well together, and whatever experience can be gathered from a current situation to try and develop a compassionate response. This may not be simple and unambiguous. Answers in one setting may or may not apply in other settings. Compassion is the vision by which love seeks to act concretely.

3. What do I mean by sin?
In my first year of teaching confirmation as a seminary student, the Lutheran test we were using described sin this way.

"Sin is not about broken rules. Sin is about broken

That's been enough for me ever since. If rules enhance relationship, they are good rules. If rules damage relationships (slavery, etc) then the rules need to be reevaluated and changed.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Have Both Rules AND Relationships - Glesne

Post #19. Understanding Homosexuality meets Straight Into Gay America. A continuing conversation between author/pastor Dave Glesen and author/pastor Lars Clausen.

Dear Lars,

One of the joys of this conversation is to be in dialogue with someone who I sense is genuine, honest, and transparent. You let others see who you really are and we appreciate you for it! Thank you for your words in “About Church and Not Knowing Much” and for the gift of genuineness.

I will respond here to comments and thoughts in your last post. – and questions of my own.

Questions concerning compassion and love:
In order for me to respond meaningfully, I need first to listen to some clarifications so that I know what you are meaning. You talk about what it means to live out of compassion, to embrace all that seeks the direction of compassion. It would be helpful for me to know your meaning of compassion and so I look forward to your clarification in responding to the following questions: “What is it within compassion itself that gives it direction?” Or maybe it could be stated better: “Within the context of compassionate relationships, is there a right or wrong thing to do? If there is a right thing to do, on what basis is it right?”

A second question is similar. With regard to the two great commandments (i.e. loving God and loving neighbor), you say that “law hangs on love”. If this be the case, what is it within love itself that tells me the loving thing to do with regard to my neighbor? On what basis do you know it’s the loving thing to do?”

While I’m asking questions, let me ask a third so that we know meanings and don’t talk past each other by meaning different things when using the same word. You acknowledge (as we all ought) that you need to face your sin and change. I think I know what I mean when I use the word “sin” but it would be helpful for me to hear what you mean by the word when using it.

Relationships vs. Rules, Subjective vs. Objective, Experience vs. Revelation – the positing of false antithesis?
As I read your last post I kept asking myself, “Why does Lars feel as thought he has to choose between either relationships or rules, either the subjective or objective, either experience or revelation? Is this choosing a free choice or is it a necessity?” We are talking about objective and subjective worldviews and starting points. Speaking for myself, within the objective world view I do not need to choose between relationships or law (better for me than ‘rules’) for I can affirm both equally and simultaneously. Within the objective worldview there is affirmation of both the objective and the subjective being equally important. Within this worldview there also is affirmation of both revelation and experience at the same time with the life-giving benefit of revelation from a loving God interpreting and helping make sense of my experiences. It is a huge tent encompassing all of reality.

Might it be the case that in the subjective world view one ends up living under a low ceiling within a small reality wherein one is shut up to only relationships, the subjective, and experience? If this be the case, within this small world of reality, there are mores perhaps, but are there true morals in relationships? Do not true morals require an absolute that cannot be found under the low ceiling? Within this small world, I am thinking that one cannot gather enough particulars to form an objective universal which in turn can give meaning to the particulars and so one is a slave to the world of the subjective and a crisis of meaning. Within this small world, I am thinking that experience is all one is left with and it is experience that can never be self-defining, self-authenticating, or self-interpreting. It just is. Where am I wrong in my thinking?

My question is: “If one is consistent with one’s subjective world view, is the positing of these antithesis and the choosing of the one over the other inevitable?”

The point of existential crises:
If I understand you correctly, Lars, your best sense is that revelation and rules might hold under normal living conditions but when the crises hits, when one is on the end of the plank, one has to choose between rules or relationships. You see me living on the basis of rules but wonder, for example, if I would choose relationship if told by my child that he or she were gay. This is a good example.

If a child of mine (and I have four) told me he or she was gay, the first and foremost thing I would do is love them as always. I would assure them of my love and that nothing they could do would ever sever my love for them. Within my love for them I would gently show them what Scripture says about homosexual behavior. If it were my son I would also share with him information about gay men having a higher rate of STD’s than married/straight men and some of the other health consequences of same-sex behavior. If it were my daughter I would share information regarding a higher rate of mental illness in lesbian women than in straight women. Why would I share this information with them? Because I love them and want what is best for them. I would also share with them, then, information from science and also philosophical reason.

So when I come to such a point of existential crises, my objective world view allows me to hold to both relationship (love for my child) and law (sharing God’s law regarding homosexual behavior) simultaneously. I do not need to choose one over the other. Indeed, I must not do so for autonomous love simply has no basis in Scripture, in the God of Scripture, or in His Son Jesus Christ. I hold to the relationship and to God’s law at the same time. In loving my child I share God’s law and gospel with him/her so that they might have life!

May I expand just a bit on this because I believe it lies at the heart of our discussion? I understand God gave us His Law not as a way to God. God rescued the Hebrews from their bondage in Egypt through the Red Sea. Jesus rescued us from our bondage to sin through the waters of baptism. Both rescues were purely by grace without works of the law. But then God led the Hebrews to Mt. Sinai and gave them the 10 Commandments. Jesus gives his followers the two great laws of love, “love God and love neighbor”. Why? I think because God wants His children to remain free! He doesn’t want them to return to slavery. In my understanding this is what the Commandments and the two laws of love are for in the Christian’s life, that by living in obedience to that law, we might remain free, have LIFE, and not return to slavery to sin. Disobedience to God’s Law returns us to bondage and slavery, and eventual death. Obedience to His Law brings us freedom! No wonder Paul could say, “I delight in the law of the Lord.” It is the law of freedom! That is why within this community of grace called the church I share with people both the gospel and the law.

Relationship vs. rules? Within the objective world view, one can hold relationship and law together for love and compassion have no internal moral compasses of their own, and because we self-centered sinners repeatedly find ourselves distorting genuine love in the name of ‘love’, love always needs law to guide it. Within the objective world view, one does not need to post a false antithesis and choose between relationship or law, indeed, one must not do so.

Subjective vs. objective; Experience vs. revelation: Within the subjective world view, if consistently followed through from its starting point, maybe I am wrong here but I don’t see how there is even a choice to be made. If one starts with the subjective or experience, one ends with the subjective and experience, for within the small world of subjective reality there is no objective or revelation to choose. The only escape from out under the low ceiling, it seems to me, is an irrational leap of faith into a realm above the ceiling that gives one a sense of meaning and purpose – for one cannot live long without some meaning.

Within the objective world view, on the other hand, the objective and subjective are both realities in which the subjective finds meaning and definition in the objective. God being there objectively and speaking truth into the subjective realm of my life gives me what I need to know about Him, myself, history, and the universe. If God has spoken truth in an understandable way (which Scripture says is the case), then you and I can know that truth, not exhaustively - for He is God and no one will ever be able to plummet to the depths of His Truth - but truly. And so in all humility I bow before Him and receive with utmost gratitude the revelation that He gives.

There is plenty of uncertainty in this life. More than I would like. I experience it as you do. There are many things I don’t understand for now indeed we do not see all things clearly – and perhaps never will in this life. That is why I am so thankful for the truth and understanding that God has communicated to us which He means for us to know and understand. It is not exhaustive, but it is enough. So far I am finding that knowing and understanding what He has communicated is sufficient for me to live in hope in the midst of the uncertainties.

Continuing appreciation for this conversation,


Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Rules vs. Relationships - Lars

Post #18 Understanding Homosexuality meets Straight Into Gay America. A dialogue with author, pastor David Glesne and author, pastor Lars Clausen. Today Lars continues the discussion on theology, revelation, and faith with thoughts on living by Rules or Relationships.

Dear Dave,

About Church and Not Knowing Much:
As we continue this discussion of what we can know that we know, I want to start by admitting that I know very little. I’m running on faith, best guesses, accumulated attempts at life, whatever someone wants to call it. I’m doing this because it seems the most realistic and faithful response to the world – admitting that I don’t have a bulletproof revelation about ultimate things – realizing that I must take responsibility for my own tentative words – and shaping those words, as best as I can in the context of present culture, the accumulated testimonies of history, philosophy, and science, and with an awareness of our 10,000 year old agricultural worldview, and the hundreds of thousands of years of hunting gathering wisdom that preceded agriculture.

One of the reasons I’ve left serving a parish and preaching every Sunday is because I’ve grown more and more concerned that we’re claiming to know too much. I’ve grown scared of saying the word God. Such a twistable term.

The second of the major reasons that I no longer serve a parish is a sense of urgency for justice combined with my doubts that church is going to be the forefront of creating the conditions necessary for human survival in an overpopulated, overwarmed and undercompassionate world.

These are the reasons that I treasure this conversation with you, because we have core differences, and I can learn from you. I’ll stick for now with our conversation of what we can know that we know.

Relationships vs. Rules:
Another way I wonder about how we come to hold our “subjective” or “objective” worldviews is with the word “relationship,” and the word “rules.”

I’m sure there are shades of grey on this spectrum, but I have a sense that if you push a woman or a man to the precarious end of the plank, to the very precipice of life, we ultimately choose to cling to the world being ordered by rules, or else by relationships. For many people, the end of the plank is when their child announces to them that they are LGBT. Some parents stick to their rules and denounce their child’s proclamation of their identity. Others stick to their relationships and learn that their child can live out compassionate LGBT relationships.

Here seems to be one of the beauties of our dialogue. At the precipice, I choose relationships – experience. I hear you saying strongly that you choose rules – revelation. When you write to me about Jesus I read you writing of a man-god who came to earth to use compassion to bring people back to a right and rules based relationship with Father-god. I hear you noting compassion and forgiveness in God, but for the purpose of bringing us back to the revealed rules. I surmise this is part of why it’s relevant for you to quote Gagnon about the unambiguity of the sinfulness of homosexual sexual action and to write in your own words of “serial, unrepentant sin which can sever us from God.”

As I wrote in Straight Into Gay America, I use a different way to interpret Jesus – the consummate outsider who comes to convincingly expose this rules-based way of looking at reality that you espouse. Of the examples you give about Jesus who calls sinners to repentance, one can alternatively understand Jesus as boldly moving BEYOND the rules to engage the conversation about what it could mean in this PARTICULAR instance to be compassionate, loving, and caring. What does it mean to live out of this compassion. A truly compassionate encounter seems to me to require an openness to the rules changing--otherwise there can't be a real communication, only a one-sided diretive. I believe Jesus chose this kind of two-way open compassion, even at the cost of crucifixion? What does it mean to hang on the cross and say to the oppressors, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do?” What does it mean to envision new creation in these particular lived experiences, throwing out all that doesn’t point toward compassion, and embracing all that seeks the direction of compassion? And maybe coming up with something new?

For you, for some reason, it appears to make sense to interpret Jesus as a pathway back to living the right rules, and therefore being in a better position to receive the blessing of God.
For me, for some reason it makes sense to interpret Jesus as the outsider to the system who came to say precisely that reliance on rules is sin, because it risks the destruction of compassionate relationship. This, I’d argue, is what Jesus great commandment is about, “to love the Lord with all your heart, soul, and mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself.”

“All the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments.” Law and prophets hang on love. It seems a betrayal of Jesus to say this backwards, that love hangs on the law. That’s my take on things.

Note: I accept the importance of rules. No need to ask me what would happen if we didn’t have order in our society. Yes, we’d have chaos. I accept the importance of rules, but rules, for me, are always subject to the critique of compassion. And when rules lack compassion, rules must change, even in the face of what some are currently calling authoritative revelation. Depending on the magnitude of the rule (women can’t be priests) it can take a long time for rules to give way before compassion (thousands of years). Even today, the Catholic church and some other denominations still claim that the revealed word of God forbids women priests.

Again, I’m thankful for this dialogue, because I can read your statements and see consistency in them… as long as…

1) One assumes that Revelation really can be received with absolute surety, and that one’s personal absolute is more sure than another person’s absolute. I remember standing at the rim of the Grand Canyon and looking down at the millions of years of geological layers, and the layers of human culture, and losing the last vestiges of surety in revelation. The loss of my reliance in revelation was the beginning of my deepening faith in compassion.

…and as long as…

2) One’s absolute sense of revelation is more important than what one experiences in life. I can see revelation and rules holding up until the point of existential crisis: a self-realization that one is gay, or the news that a child or a spouse is gay. Here, on the end of the plank, will one choose rules or relationships? Would you choose the same or differently if Mona told she’s lesbian or your children told they are gay? These are the stories that I’ve listened to over and over again.

Some people choose rules, even at the cost of family relationships. Others, out on the plank, choose relationships as did Joan when her transgender son revealed his identity as female and started her transition to becoming Sara (Straight Into Gay America: 251-256) Joan’s advice to other parents, “Don’t lose your relationship with your child. That’s the most important thing. Do everything you need to do to learn and understand your child.”

This question about whether we choose rules or relationships, subjective or objective realities, experience or revelation… this is life and death for me.

You write about the Corinthian;
“Paul rebukes the Corinthian Christians and urges the excommunication of the
incestuous man not to be punitive, but in the hope that once outside the church,
this man would get roughed up by Satan and wake up to the serious consequences
of his sin, and would return and be restored to the kingdom.”

I agree with you that there are times when I need to face my sin and change, and there are times when others need to help me see sin and change my ways. No question. I disagree strongly with you when you put all homosexual relationship and sexual activity in this category.

This kind of rules-based interpretation reminds me of a story my seminary professor told when I was in seminary. It was during the time of the AIDS crisis. A faithful Lutheran family from the Midwest came to San Francisco to visit their dying son. After the visit with the son, the doctor met with them and the mother told the doctor, “Don’t give him too much pain medication. He needs to know that he has sinned.”

I believe we’d both feel saddened by this response. I’m further saddened that a rules-based approach can so easily lead to this loss of compassion, replaced by a dismissal of the human person in favor of keeping the kingdom pure. I feel the same sadness when you write that the only faithful response for a homosexual person who "chooses" or feels compelled to remain homosexual is -- celibacy.

I hear you arguing that your adherence to the rules is more compassionate than my adherence to experience. My sense of life is that your rules-based approach to living works as long as you’re willing to keep out existential doubt and to keep out the real experience of outsiders (e.g. persisting in calling homosexuality a pseudo-identity).

And maybe you’re right.

I’ve had a few run-ins with despair and existential doubt. Not fun.
  • As a student at the Air Force Academy I questioned my purpose in life.
  • As a student in seminary, kicked out for living “in sin” with Anne, I questioned those professors who claimed the gospel and were yet willing to kick me out for the sake of rules but never talk to me about the WHY of Anne’s and my living together.
  • As a pastor in Nome, at the confluence of hunting gathering and agricultural traditions, I watched the invading agricultural reality in the process of wiping out 12,000 years of hunting gathering culture – my friends.

From these experiences I can imagine brushing off the context and retreating further into rules, objective reality, and the security of revelation. But for some reason I didn’t do that. Despite the temptation, I somehow knew that would have meant a smaller sense of reality for me, and either denying myself or denying someone else to maintain my preexisting sense of world order. Some people choose that route. Some people don’t. I’m not sure why I chose to stick with relationships, with accepting subjectivity, with giving up an insistence on objectivity.

Living with this uncertainty mostly feels realistic, and mostly I’m fine with it…but sometimes…it’s scary as hell. I remember the old Lutheran scientist at Michigan State who came to my pastor’s office. At the age of 70, he’d finally reached this plank point. He was crying, sobbing at the big wide-open world he was seeing anew for the first time. In Luther’s terms, freedom and responsibility were no longer theological advice; they were existential realities. He was fully free to plumb the depths of doubt and fully responsible for what shape, if any, he wanted to try and give to the world. And he realized that there was no absolute shape he could claim, he could only make a statement of faith. I remember sitting quietly, listening carefully to his words, and wondering, in the back of my mind…why now? Why open his world to the uncertainties of faith at this point. Why not just stick with his certainties and assumptions after all these years. Why change your go-to position when you reach the end of the plank after all those years of professorial prestige?

Any thoughts?


Monday, December 04, 2006

Theology, Worldview, Bible, Compassion - Glesne

Post #17, Understanding Homosexuality meets Straight Into Gay America, a continuing conversation between Pastor David Glesne and Pastor Lars Clausen

Dear Lars,

Thanks for your post of November 27 which moves several central issues onto the table. I too see us turning a corner in our discussion and entering more into the arenas of philosophy and theology. (After writing what follows, I just noticed your most recent post as well.) I agree about moving on – although I do so a bit grudgingly because there are some assertions made that will go unchallenged and not clarified. But because we and our readers are starting to cover the same ground over again and repeating ourselves, I - as you - am willing to let this peripheral discussion of science and behavior rest and move to the more core issues.

As we do, let me just say that as a result of this discussion with you and especially our readers, I am sure that I didn’t realize then the full implications of what I wrote at the beginning of chapter 5 in my book when I said that when the discussion turns to the data gathered from science and experience we can quickly move into a low-land fog in which one interpretation can always look as good as another. This scientific study is more valid than that scientific study. This person’s experience counters that person’s experience. “We sink into the quicksand of opinion and interpretation that loses sight of the particularity of the claims at issue which cannot cope with the passion and tenacity with which these opinions and interpretations are argued and held.” It can become a stalemate that ends up trivializing the debate. I have learned much through the discussion for which I am grateful. Thanks for you important lead, Lars, and for your level-headed approach to our discussion. But lest we trivialize…lets move on.

What I will do here is interact with the three central issues you bring forth in your November 27 post.

True Nature? You ask, Lars, why I can’t be open to understanding that the true nature of a numerical minority segment of our population is LGBT? Why does the heterosexual majority need to describe the minority as sinful and against the will of God?

I love your compassion for people, Lars. Your warm heart comes through for LGBT people again here so clearly. Your question, however, moves us into the realm of the understanding of the nature of human beings which I believe moves us beyond the minority – majority social distinction. I could accept that self-described LGBT persons’ true identity is LGBT if it were not for the following: 1) God’s revelation concerning the creation of male and female in his image and their identity as male and female rooted in the very nature and being of God himself, 2) the reality of the Fall of human beings into sin with the result that we as fallen creatures cannot know our true nature from merely observing or experiencing current realities because human experiences are never self-interpreting and self-validating, and 3) God’s condemnation consistently and without exception in His Word of all homosexual behavior (and indeed all sexual behavior outside of the man – woman marriage relationship).

I understand God’s revelation to us in the Scriptures to teach us that sexual behavior in the lives of both heterosexual and self-described LGBT persons which is outside the will of God is against the very character of God and therefore equally condemned by God. That is why I am eternally grateful for God’s radical love which sent Jesus so that my sins (and the sins of all others) can be forgiven and by the work of the Holy Spirit I can be restored in Christ to my original creation – not perfectly in this fallen world but substantially - restored into the image of this One who is most truly human – Christ. My openness to understanding is limited only by the form of God’s Truth as revealed in Scripture.

Objective Reality? You ask a most important fundamental philosophical question when you ask what makes us take up and keep the worldviews we hold. You then helpfully spell out the differences of two worldviews – a subjective view of reality (experience based) and an objective view of reality (revelation based). Let me attempt at least some preliminary personal reflections on worldview and why I hold the worldview that I do.

I am thinking that “religion” or “worldview” is that which binds together and makes sense of reality, much as a ligament, for example, binds muscles and bones together into a working whole. A religion or worldview, then, is made up of beliefs and practices which give meaning to, make sense of, and bind a community together. Most basically a worldview provides understanding of origins (where the world came from), of moral order (the meaning of existence), of who I am as a person (personhood), and of how I know what I know (epistemology). In short, a worldview or religion is to make a cohesive sense of reality.

I believe it was Francis Schaeffer who said something to the effect that wise people choose their presuppositions but most people catch them like measles. What I believe he was saying is that everyone has a starting point and some people choose them carefully and wisely and others just sort of inherit them from their environment. In seeking to understand the reality that surrounds me and answer the questions I have of myself, history, and the cosmos, I can choose either to start with my own existence and work outward from there in search for the meaning of the world, human existence, my own existence and how I can know anything, or I can start with the existence of God. Since everyone must start somewhere, God is just as legitimate a starting point as my own existence and experience.

What I have found is that God being there, creating the cosmos, then speaking into human history truth about Himself, myself, history, and the cosmos makes the most sense and corresponds best to what I know about myself and the world around me. For example, God existing as a unity and diversity within Himself (Trinity) explains the existence of unity and diversity of this world. God being a Personal God who thinks, feels, and acts explains that personal portion of reality called human beings made in His image who think, feel, and act. Since God has created human beings to communicate with human beings through language, I am not surprise to read in Scripture that God has in like manner spoken in human language to human beings. God being there explains 1) where the world comes from (God spoke and it came into being), 2) the reason for my existence (God created human beings to love and to enjoy community with Him), 3) the human dilemma (why human beings are the most noble of creatures and yet the most flawed - because of sin), and 4) how I can know something for sure, because God has communicated truth to human beings. God has not told us everything but He has communicated what we need to know to live and find meaning in this world.

Having chosen God as my starting point, I have found that as I bring the questions regarding being, morals, and epistemology to Him and His Word, my questions are adequately answered. Because I find what He says to be true in the areas where I can verify them, I have confidence that what He says in areas where I cannot verify to also be true. And so I have humbled myself before Him trusting Him not only for salvation but for living. I am trusting God’s explanation of reality to be the true explanation. I enjoy the full range of human experience and can even face fallen reality in all its twistedness and depravity because of the hope that is in Christ both for my future and the future of the world. My human experience shapes and molds me to a great degree. But I never see human experience as self-defining, self-explanatory, or self-validating.

With regard to the specific matter of homosexuality, different starting points again, I think, let us see where we can end up on the different sides of the Continental divide. Robert Gagnon has written a helpful paper entitled “Why The Disagreement Over the Biblical Witness on Homosexual Practice? which was written in response to Myers and Scanzoni’s What God Has Joined Together. He acknowledges that we have reached a seeming impasse in our discussions in the church.

Gagnon speaks of inverted hermeneutical scales. He sees one side served best when it formulates the following arguments, in this order of significance: 1) Scripture, 2) philosophic reason (a nature argument), 3) scientific reason, and 4) experience. The other side of the debate formulates the following arguments, in this order of significance: 1) experience, 2) scientific reason, 3) philosophic reason, and 4) Scripture. He points out, then, that not only do we have different starting points – Scripture for one and experience for the other – but that “each side adopts a range of arguments in inverse order of significance to the other side”.

I find his description helpful. I would also agree with him, however, that although we come at the issue from different angles, what is not at issue here is that the Scriptures and its hermeneutical (i.e. interpretative) application are ambiguous. I will let Gagnon speak for himself: “There really are no substantive exegetical and hermeneutical arguments for claiming that Scripture does not give us a decisive witness against homosexual practice per se.”

I hope I am speaking to your second point here and that this gives you at least a glimpse into seeing why I hold the worldview that I do.

Consequences: In this section, Lars, you question the interpretations about homosexual behavior as sinful that are ascribed as revelation from God. If I hear you correctly, I hear you saying that as we listen closely to the stories of our homosexual friends, we hear homosexuality as more than an act, a behavior, a pseudo-identity, and that compassion should therefore move us not only to accept these neighbors as persons but to approve of their behavior. And so if I understand you correctly, the foundation of your worldview is that compassion moves you to affirm and approve to same-sex persons and their behavior.

Lars, as I state in my book, I too believe it important to listen to the stories of LGBT people. That is one reason why I enjoyed reading Straight into Gay America. These are friends, neighbors, family members, church members, real people, with real experiences, with the full range of human emotions and feelings, with real joys and hurts. Listening to their stories honors them as fellow human beings. Christ calls us to follow his example, to listen and show compassion and love to these neighbors as well as all others.

But the question must be asked, “What constitutes true compassion and love for our homosexual neighbors? Do we humans get to define compassion and love? Or does God define compassion and love?” My concern is with what I believe to be your premise that compassion and love does not include calling for correction and for restoring a person to God’s kingdom. Let me explain.

Although there are those who would argue otherwise, I would argue that proponents of homosexual practice have not made their case from Scripture. Rather, Scripture is uniform throughout, unambiguous, and straightforward in every respect that homosexual behavior is contrary to the revealed will of God. It follows that Jesus himself, who never called for the abolition of the moral Law of God, but rather summarized the Law’s fulfillment in the two great commandments of loving God and one’s neighbor, would have found any self-affirming and unrepentant homosexual activity to be egregious, putting the person at risk of not inheriting the very kingdom of God he proclaimed and embodied. He would have looked at an incestuous man or a polyamorous man in the same way. He would have compassion and love for the homosexual person, the incestuous man, and the polyamorous man but he would not have condoned the behavior. Rather, he would have offered them a way out of their sin.

Jesus had compassion and love for the Samaritan woman (John 4). In that love and compassion he never condoned her multiple marriages, he accepted her without approving of her behavior. Jesus had compassion and love for the woman caught in adultery (John 8). In his compassion and love for her he called the adulterous woman out of sin, lest something worse should happen to her. In I Corinthians 5, the early church faced the situation of an incestuous relationship between a member of their community and his stepmother. I put the question before us. “Who was more loving – Paul or the Corinthian believers?” The Corinthian believers were affirming of the incestuous relationship. Paul rebukes the Corinthian Christians and urges the excommunication of the incestuous man not to be punitive, but in the hope that once outside the church, this man would get roughed up by Satan and wake up to the serious consequences of his sin, and would return and be restored to the kingdom. Paul then goes on in chapter 6 and warns the Corinthian believers not to be adulterers, warns men who have sex with men, warns men who have sex with prostitutes, lest they risk not inheriting the kingdom of God. I am betting that in God’s eyes Paul is the more compassionate and loving.

Every one of us is a sinner and continually in need of daily repentance and God’s grace and forgiveness and cleansing. But there is a big difference between this and participating in serial, unrepentant sin which can sever us from God. I believe the church is called to be compassionate and loving to all sinners which involves calling for repentance and correction of life lest something worse should happen to us.

I think we are touching on central issues here as we focus on compassion and love for our neighbor and I’m thankful for how open and honest we can be with each other.



Friday, December 01, 2006

Closing out the Science Discussion? Lars

Hi Dave,

Thanks for your concluding section addressing science and data. I’ll try and summarize my concerns and then look forward to moving on to theology and Bible. My sense is that where you finally rest, anyway, is in theology and scriptural interpretation.

  1. DATA: I still wish you would take a hard look at the data you're using and the objections that have been raised to these sources by scientific sources. Doctors and scientists, Hedlund and Peterson evaluate the sources that you are citing as "pseudo-science." Because of this dialogue, I have looked carefully at the NARTH website and read some of the articles posted there. I have followed up on the sources that commentators have offered during this blog conversation. I have done online research on my own and I have carefully read your book and others.
  2. EXTRAPOLATION: With your last post I finally understand the missing link that I couldn't find in Understanding Homosexuality. In your book, with as careful a reading as possible, I understood you to be talking to people in the pews about understanding homosexuality in general, and the picture painted was one of depraved sexual promiscuity. I never found any distinctions that would help the reader to know your data were referring to what you have labeled "the gay subculture." In these blog postings I’ve heard your intention to make that a clearer distinction.

    Finally, in this post, I see what I think is your reasoning -- a.) begin with a study of gay subculture. (your Tree in the Forest) b) extrapolate this to the general gay population. (your Look at the Forest) Although you qualify this look as speculative, I find it revealing and disturbing.

    Why do you start with what you consider reprehensible and then extrapolate to the general population by way of speculation? Is this pastoral?

    Why do you not make this process crystal clear in your book? This is a very important interpretive dynamic you're choosing to follow, and by not naming it, I fear you've mislead many well-meaning readers. It seems akin to studying sexual behavior of some select group (drug addicts, prostitutes, nudist colonies, or whatever) and then projecting that behavior onto the general population. Yes, that truly is speculative, and I believe it’s a stretch to call this science...especially when your book hasn't been clear about this extrapolated interpretation that you're using...and specifically when you're calling this data scientific when the broader scientific community is not accepting these studies as representative. If the studies were once accurate, they no longer are. (These studies are mostly from the 70's, a time when most LGBT were living closeted lives. These studies cannot have come close to being representative of the general population. These studies were done before the AIDS crisis in this country, an event of such magnitude that "gay culture" underwent dramatic change) Science is a progressing field. We no longer use flat earth theory to study our planet or to launch our satellites. NARTH data and processes have been rejected by group after group of health, social, medical, and scientific groups.
  3. STUDIES: At this point I don't want to go and research the various studies that you've cited in your latest post. I and other commenters have done that extensively in your earlier posts. The critiques of your cited studies seem to warrant a careful consideration, something more than a call for better data to replace what you’ve used. I am still interested in your response to those critiques. There are better studies out there, as our commentators have made clear.

    Let me know if you want to go backwards into the data again. For myself, I'm willing if you are, but if you're not, then it seems better to move forward. . I feel I've said my piece about science and data, you've said your piece, and we can let our words stand for themselves.

    It seems to me, anyway, that the data is important for you mostly as a backup and confirmation of what you believe the Bible to say about homosexuality -- that homosexual activity is sinful and against God's intended order of creation, and that homosexual people should be celibate.
  4. BEHAVIOR. In your last and other posts I've been surprised at how large the issue of homosexual behavior has been in our conversation. I've written more about gay sex in these blogs ever before in my life. Maybe it says something naive about me, but in the extensive conversations I've had with LGBT people we've never talked about "rimming," "golden showers," or, in fact any other "sex acts." Your book is the first time that I ever read the words "rimming" and "golden showers," and I've read many other books and studies. On the other hand, in terms of naiveté, I guess I haven’t had conversations with heterosexual friends about the quantity, and characteristics of their sexual acts.

    In your first paragraph you open by addressing "kind of gay behavior," and "frequency of gay behavior."

It's difficult to go down this track, because it seems to lead to stereotypes. I know so many excellent contributors to our society (gay and straight alike). Of these people, let me say this.

  1. I don't judge them by the type of sex act they are engaging in, unless I discover they are harming others. The cases I know of where sexual and emotional and physcial harm have been done has happened overwhelmingly in heterosexual relationships.
  2. More significantly, I don't judge the sexual behavior of an individual by the statistics of the broader society. In Understanding Homosexuality, you've led readers to believe, that "with very few exceptions," homosexual people are exceedingly promiscuous and sexually repulsive. You've been more clear in this last post about your extrapolative technique, but you're still tilting toward the same place, and this still strikes me as stereotyping. It is not reflective of my personal experience with LGBT people, nor does it seem representative of the studies of those works that have been accepted by the wider scientific and social community. For example, go to the site and you can find reputable studies showing that same sex parents do as good a job, and in some cases a better job of parenting than do male-female couples. As a pastor, these are far more interesting to me than studies about rimming.

If I understand right, LGBT people are not asking for special rights to forward the "gay agenda" that was so frighteningly presented in your book. I understand that the journey for equal rights is to enjoy the legal protections that others enjoy with regards to housing, jobs, protection from hate crimes, and access to the rights and responsibilities of committing one's life to another person by the laws of civil marriage.

I dont' understand how these protections in any way depend upon the percentage of people who engage in rimming or other specific sexual acts.

As in my last post, I asked in all seriousness, what makes us start with differing worldviews? Now I need to ask, what, if anything, would let you release your focus on sexual acts in this discussion of equal rights and biblical acceptance of homosexuality?

If you focusing on sexual acts really is important for us, then I need to ask whether we should change access to marriage for all heterosexuals because of high societal rates of the acts of infidelity, divorce, rape, child abuse, and incest?

The best way I can understand you accepting heterosexual marriage in light of these statistics, and forbidding homosexual marriage because of their statistics is because of a prior interpretation that the Bible blesses heterosexual married relationships and calls homosexuality a sin.

If that is the case, then it seems fitting that we let this peripheral discussion of science rest, and move to the core issues of why we choose to affirm heterosexual relationships and sex, and why we label homosexual sex as sin and we forbid the formal and legal blessing of these relationships.

Blessings, Dave, and thanks for continuing to do this work together.