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.


Debra Haffner said...

The Sin is NOT Homosexuality
I've read a lot of the news reports on Rev. Barnes' resignation from his megachurch after he "confessed" his homosexuality. They all quoted a religious leader on the right who declared homosexuality a sin, and several stated their belief that homosexuality was a choice.

None directly quoted a religious leader who flatly countered these positions. Let me do that here.

There is no sin in being homosexual or in engaging in same sex eroticism in a loving, just relationship. The sin is homophobia, the denigration of our neighbors because they are physically and emotionally attracted to people of the same sex. The sin is heterosexism, the presumption that heterosexuality is normative for all people and morally superior. The sin is forcing people to deny their God-given gift of their sexuality and to suffer to try to live their lives in a way that is antithetical to who they really are. The sin is violence and discrimination against GLBT persons and denial of their civil rights. The sin is when any of us, whether heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual, violate our commitments to our partner and hurt our families. The sin is making sexual decisions that hurt us and hurt others.

Reverends Haggard and Barnes are primary evidence against the myth that people choose their sexual orientation. Both confess that they have struggled with their same sex attractions their whole lives. They tried to pray it away; they tried to marry it away; they tried to make it go away by having sex with women they loved; they tried counseling to make it go away. From the news reports, it certainly seems that they did everything they could to "change."

But, they couldn't. No more than I could change my sexual orientation...or you change your's.

It's time for the churches that condemn homosexuality to learn that lesson. It's time for the congregants to think through what it means to "love your neighbor as yourself." I am reminded of this line from I believe Meister Eckart, "When will grown men and women stop believing in a God that makes them sad? It is a lie, any talk of God that does not comfort you."
Rev. Debra Haffner

Dr. Bob said...

A recommended website:

After reading your conversations, it appears that Glesne has a closed mind and too willingly believes the lies , distortions and misinformation coming from the likes of LeHaye, Perkins, Dobson, and theiry phony reserachers. These wingnuts need to be vigorously exposed, because they are doing immeasurable harm and damage, to decent God Loving people. As mentioned repeatedly , these immoral moralists break the 9th commandement (bearing false witness) with impunity. They feel that if it's necessary to lie to brainwash willing followers, than "so be it". Dr. Bob

Nancy said...

God is Love. Nevada Barr

There are many Christian teachings I might argue with, but the tritest of them all rings true: God is Love.

Just that: the ability to experience love, to feel it, to know it, to share it.
The sensation moving through us is the only measurable touch of the godly that most of us will ever get. Taste, touch, hearing, sight, sense of smell are the things of the world that we can experience through the nerves of our body. Love is the thing of heaven that we can only experience through the means of our soul.

I like this definition,because it puts heaven and earth together, even as it seems to separate body and spirit. Experince is expanded into soul as another receptor. My husband Max used to say of homophobia that it put too much energy and concern into sexual activity, refusing to see loving relationships as multi-dimensional.

Nevada Barr is the author of a series of mysteries set in National parks, and an Episcopalian by conversion. Her sherlock is Anna Pigeon, a tough and often philosophical park ranger.
This quote comes from her book of short essays, SEEKING ENLIGHTENMENT... HAT BY HAT: A Skeptic's Path to Religion.

Anonymous said...

Lars, Tghe most recent example of the pseudoscientific reporting of NARTH/Dobson tyhpes, is Dobson;'s inclu=sion in a current TIME magazine. He says, the nuclear family is "supported by more than 5,000 years of human exsperience" and "the foundation on which the well-being of future generations depends", neither of which statements is historically accurate. The researcher whose name he mentions, Dr. Carol Gilligan, replies, that hsi reporting is "a complete distortion of my work" and that there is nothing in her research "that would support Dobsons stated c onclusions." When he says "children do best on every measure of well-being when raised by their married mother and father", it is not just uninformed or inacurate, it is untrue and simply lying. Research findings overwhelmingly testify to the success of gay families as nurturing environments for children's growth and development. Dr. Nanette Gaertrell, Prof. of Psychology, U of CA, SF, "in social and psychologicaal development, the children of lesbian parents were comparable to children raised in heterosexual families." Professor Charlotte Patterson, U of VA, "there is no evidence that the development of children with lesbian or gay parents is comprom- ised in any significant respect relative to that among children of heterosexual parents in otherwise comparable circumstances." The Am. Acad. of Pediatrics, TJe APA, and NASocial Workers have all issued statements supporting same-sex parenting. "Not a single study has found children to be disadvantaged in any significant respect relative to heterosexual parents..Indeed, the evidencde to date suggests that home environments provided by gay and lesbian parents are as likely as those provided by heterosexual parents to suport and enable children's psycho-social growth. Fay and lesbian parents are as likely as heterosexual paretns to provide healthy anbd supportive environments for their children." (APA) If Dobson really is concerned "for the welfare of children", while simultaneously attacking those very children's parents and family structures, his insincerity becomes evident; and it would be well if he would "join others to ensure that all loving families are recpognized, respected, protected and celebrated." Jennifer Çhrisler, mother of twin boys.
When will it all, end? It will end when more Christians accept the Bible along with science, experience, logic, good sense, love, modern exegesis, and the Golden Rule and then change and warm their own hearts.
Dr. Joe Norquist

Joyce Arnold said...

I've followed this conversation from the beginning, and I'll add my appreciation once again to both Lars and Dave for taking the time to do it, and to those who have contributed comments along the way. I'll apologize now for the length of this contribution, a reflection on the last several blog exchanges. I won't do it this way again. (Skipping or skimming are good options.)

Somewhere in my early 20s (I turned 57 last month) I came to the "truth shall set me free" glimpse of how much I didn't know, and that it wasn't only okay, it was imperative that I acknowledge that freeing reality. The older I get, the more I'm aware that I don't even know how much I don't know. It's one reason that, years ago, my doctoral dissertation was epistemological in focus, and "A Knowing Way of Caring, and a Caring Way of Knowing" is still a fairly good description of how I understand the interrelationship of intellect and affect, all within a relational context.

To start from the position which, if I understand correctly is that of Rev. Glesne, the claims that science and scripture (and so God) unquestionably support his position regarding homosexuality, is to diagnose and judge me, a lesbian, as sick and sinful. Or rather, it's to label one aspect of my personhood, sexual behavior, as sick and sinful. Like many LGBTQ people, I've asked the question: is my sexual orientation, and my resulting relational (including but not limited to sexual) experiences a "sin" in God's sight? Thank God, I eventually got through the hell of knowing who I was while fearing that one essential part of the "who" (a person, not to be reduced to a behavior) was condemned by God. No one can ask these questions better than those whose very lives depend on it, whatever conclusion each reaches.

I, like every other human being, am more than my behavior. More fundamentally yet, I do not exist as a pseudo-identified person. To insist to the contrary and base that on claims of unambiguous science and theology, as Rev. Glesne does, is to dismiss me from the conversation before it ever begins. He writes: "I would also agree with him (Gagnon) ... 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.'"

Of course the hermeneutical conclusions and applications are at "issue." In large part, that's what this entire conversation is about. One must accept Gagnon and Glesne's premise in order to accept their conclusion as unquestionable. (For background, the cited Gagnon will participate in a February 2007 conference, "Homosexuality and the Church: Educating and Equipping Believers to Minister Healing," organized by OneByOne, in which all other speakers are from either "exgay" Exodus International or Love Won Out, a ministry of Focus on the Family which is, according to its own description, "promoting the truth that change is possible for those who experience same-sex attractions.")

Rev. Glesne's statement includes: "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." Although doing so does not "prove" this conclusion is wrong, it is helpful to remember other "issues" about which people were / are just as sincere and just as certain they had or have the "revealed will of God," through their understanding of scripture: Native Americans, slavery, interracial marriage, segregation, women, etc. -- a list of the "other," the "different."

The statement continues: "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." It "follows" only if you accept the premise that you know the revealed will of God in some "unambiguous" and final way.

There is a great deal I don't know, and even more I don't know that I don't know. I can learn from you, Rev. Glesne. But I can't have a conversation with you, because you begin by defining and judging me out of that possibility. You insist on a most fundamental level that the person I am doesn't actually exist, thereby allowing you to reduce me to a sexual behavior, a "practice," that you then judge. I hear arguments based on discounted science (and it's important to acknowledge the significance of the majority of professionals who discount the research you cite); I hear hermeneutical conclusions that require rejecting one part of my identity so as to be able to reduce the claim of no ambiguity to the "practice" of homosexuality.

I don't think or believe Rev. Glesne will be kicked out of the realm of God's love because of his beliefs and thoughts about homosexuality. I don't think or believe that I will be, either.

Joyce Arnold

Ted Brown said...

Might I suggest that you all quit with the quoting? Everytime someone quotes something (either side of "river") the only counter-argument is to destroy the credibility of the research (or lack there of)


Tim Fisher said...

Dear Ted,

Your comment might seem to suggest that one source is as good as another, which of course is not true. Just because someone may defend, say, the "research" of Paul Cameron, and someone else may criticize that research by reference to other sources, doesn't mean we should all throw our hands up in the air and declare impasse. There is science, there is reason, and there is Scripture. Much can be said--and much IS said--about all of these things, one contradicting the other, but I for one am not going to give up on discussing them. I'm not sure that is what you were suggesting, but it is where your comment led me. If I misread you, I apologize.

If only we could let go of what is clearly specious and hurtful--e.g. much of the "scientific" research that Dave Glesne has brought to the table--then we (and the church) can better get down to the task at hand.

Right now, though, I agree that some aspects of our discussion can sure get tiresome. I'm glad to see the new ELCA study guide (part III) on sexuality that came out, which is based on Galatians. "Free in Christ to Serve the Neighbor," it's called. A bold title.

Tim Fisher
Minneapolis, MN