Sexuality and the Church: The Liberal Litmus Test

In my last post (see here) I argued that the Bible really is rather clear that same-sex sexual acts, consensual or otherwise, are sinful because the act itself is contrary to nature, God’s intent in creation.  That this is the teaching of scripture in the Old and New Testaments is attested by the thoroughly informed opinions of top conservative and liberal scholars.  It is simply not true that writers of scripture such as Paul were only aware of exploitative forms of same-sex relations.  The fact that Paul condemns lesbian relationships (Rom 1) that were not known to be exploitative but rather quite consensual in antiquity is a pretty good indicator that even consensual same-sex sexual relations were prohibited.  Thus, the argument that the Bible is not clear about whether consensual homosexual relationships are also wrong is quite dubious.  Some prominent liberal scholars though acknowledge that the Bible does indeed condemn any expression of homosexual behavior; they simply believe that the Bible is just wrong.  For these scholars the modern scientific understanding of sexuality and the witness of their own experience is so overwhelming that the Biblical witness against same-sex relations must be set aside as antiquated.  I remembering speaking with a Methodist pastor several years ago who insisted that this was actually the case; that the Biblical teaching regarding sex is simply antiquated and should be dismissed.  So what is the scientific consensus regarding homosexuality?

“There is no consensus among scientists about the exact reasons that an individual develops a heterosexual, bisexual, gay or lesbian orientation. Although much research has examined the possible genetic, hormonal, developmental, social and cultural influences on sexual orientation, no findings have emerged that permit scientists to conclude that sexual orientation is determined by any particular factor or factors. Many think that nature and nurture both play complex roles; most people experience little or no sense of choice about their sexual orientation.”  (American Psychological Association:  http://www.apa.org/topics/lgbt/orientation.aspx)

For the most part it is either explicitly stated and strongly implied by the analogies used that sexual orientation is absolutely predetermined and immutable like skin color or eye color.  Opponents of gay marriage are often compared to racist who opposed interracial marriage in the past.  While I was watching the last summer Olympics there was a commercial promoting Gay Marriage wherein it was explicitly stated that being homosexual was akin to race or eye color.  These kinds of comparisons are used relentlessly in spite of the fact that they are simply not true.  Just read the APA statement above again.

There is no consensus among scientists as to how sexual orientations develop; although why the vast majority of people develop heterosexual attractions shouldn’t really be such a mystery.  Nonetheless, while it is acknowledged that “most people experience little or no sense of choice about their sexual orientation,” that is a far cry from being just like skin color, eye color, or, as I recently heard, height.  The comparisons to race or other completely heritable and immutable traits such as eye color are false comparisons.  As an article that I recently came across written by an avid supporter of the LGBTQ agenda said gay marriage laws could not have been passed without these comparisons.  As a matter of fact if the Supreme Court decides to force gay marriage on the whole country they will more than likely do so based on arguments from the 14th amendment that was written to secure civil rights with regards to race, specifically recently freed slaves.  Yet the truth is we really know that a persons sexual attractions and desires are NOT like race, eye color, or height.  While scientific studies that have attempted to find a genetic link to homosexuality have been inconclusive in that regard, what they have shown, specifically the studies involving identical twins, is that whatever the possible genetic link it is certainly not the absolute and only possible factor as the current APA statement reflects.  If it were absolute like eye color then every identical twin who is same-sex attracted would have a sibling who is as well, which is certainly not the case.  Even if there is a genetic factor it does not follow that the attractions are necessarily simply because of that are good and to be encouraged as there are many psychological dispositions, including clearly negative ones such as pedophilia, for which a genetic component is considered.

Thus, this is not to say that it is a simple matter of choice.  Nonetheless, to say that if it is not a matter of choice then it must be like those physical traits is a false dichotomy.  We all experience desires that we do not choose, and if we’re honest, we all know that there are some desires that we may experience little to no sense of choice over that we should not act on.  From wherever certain desires arise, we also know that some desires should not be encouraged.

Some people, for instance experience the desire for variety in their sexual partners even though they are married.  If they have a willing partner with similar desires they may engage in what could be called “consensual adultery” or as it is popularly called, “swinging.”  One could argue that this is all harmless because it is consensual, and some would even say “natural”; yet it should go without saying that this should not be considered appropriate behavior among Christians, although even this is becoming quite murky in our hyper-sexualized society.  I think virtually everyone would agree, I hope, that Christians certainly shouldn’t be forced by the government to participate in any way in the promotion and celebration of such practices.  So the question is not whether certain desires are chosen or not, but whether or not we believe those desires are desirable for human flourishing and for the good of society.  Another question is whether or not it is appropriate for the power of government to be used to force the explicit or tacit approval of particular views regarding what is appropriate expression of certain sexual desires.  While people may not experience a sense of choice when it comes to sexual desires, it is undeniable that there is some element of choice that is exercised when it comes to behavior.  And that is what we are talking about here: sexual desires expressed through particular behavioral choices.  In some cases it may be a person who can only remember always being sexually attracted to members of the same sex, but it also may be someone like the young woman who came to me and said she decided to accept the sexual advances of another woman because she knew she couldn’t get pregnant that way.  The abundant testimonies of former homosexuals should also put the lie to these false comparisons, but of course they are more often than not maligned and dismissed by mainstream academia and media.  At any rate, homosexuality and bisexuality are more appropriately compared to other forms of sexual desire and behavior rather than physical traits and characteristics.

The LGBTQ agenda, nevertheless, has advanced largely based on the idea that one’s sexual desires are akin to completely heritable and immutable physical traits and on a false dichotomy between unchosen desires and deliberate actions.  There are other very questionable ideas that have been advanced along with these as well.  Many people, not all, but many insist that there is absolutely no biological basis for gender differences; but, again contrary to the actual evidence, that there is an absolute biological basis for sexual orientation.  That is, that gender differences are simply social constructs, but sexual orientation is a purely biological reality.  In the one case it is absolutely acceptable to try to change one’s body to match one’s feelings because, as a transgender I just recently heard said, “what you feel on the inside is reality.”  On the other hand, many of the same people are insisting that sexual orientation is so absolute that one should never seek to change it.  Some states like California have banned therapy for minors that would seek to change sexual orientation; but actively encourage children who experience gender confusion to seek out hormonal and physical change, even though over 80 percent of children who experience gender identity confusion spontaneously revert back to accepting the gender that corresponds to their physical bodies .  So in other words, feelings reign supreme either way, and it is perfectly acceptable to try to change one’s body to match one’s feelings, but anathema to try to change one’s feelings to match one’s body to many of those who are pushing the LGBTQ agenda.

Dr. Paul McHugh, the former head of psychiatry at John’s Hopkins, suggests that we might want to reconsider this approach.  As unpopular as it might be with regards to LGBTQ issues, we might want to consider the possibility that a person’s feelings and self-perception may need to be the focus of change, or at least responsible management.  Dr. McHugh encouraged John’s Hopkins stop gender reassignment surgery after a longitudinal followup study indicated that there was no difference in terms of depression and suicidal thoughts among those who had gone through the surgery compared to those who had not.  Dr. McHugh came to believe that to push for gender reassignment surgery “is in reality to collaborate with and promote a mental disorder” (see article here).  Instead of focusing on trying to change someone from a man into a woman or vice versa, which Dr. McHugh says is a biological impossibility, we may want to consider focusing on helping people to cope with and adjust to their biological reality.  As Christians I think it very unwise for us to go along with a prevailing sentiment that considers one’s embodied reality to be completely irrelevant compared to one’s feelings and desires.  Our bodies are not irrelevant to who we are.  Why wouldn’t we even consider the possibility that a persons feelings may be mixed up rather than their body?  Former head of the APA, Dr. Nicholas Cummings, has also expressed serious concerns about political bias and distortion in the APA and psychological research regarding sexuality (see here).

Is it really time to throw out thousands of years of Judeo-Christian wisdom regarding sexual practices based on these incredibly dubious assertions?  Is it on this basis that we are ready to create a society where Christians who hold to a traditional sexual ethic based on the teachings of Jesus and the Bible are under constant threat to their livelihoods such as the Atlanta Fire Chief who was fired for expressing his opinions in a book or the florist in Washington state who will be put out of business and possibly lose her home because she declined to participate in an event, a gay wedding, that promotes an idea that she finds morally objectionable?  Do we really want all the Christian military chaplains who hold traditional beliefs about sex to be discharged or banned from service? (i.e. see here).  Are we ready to overturn the teachings of the Church based on the dubious assertions that the Bible is just not clear enough but the scientific findings and people’s personal experiences are?  And if these ideas are so obviously right then why all the threats, intimidation, and manipulative tactics?  Why the push to silence any opposing views?

It has become quite obvious that same-sex marriage has become the tool for the forced indoctrination of children into a sexual ethic that is at odds with the traditional teachings of the Christian Church.  It has also become a tool to suppress the expression of traditional Christian belief in society and to demonize and marginalize those who hold those views.  Its design seems to be to undermine the foundations of our society rooted in a Judeo-Christian worldview and to impose a new sexual ethic rooted in a more pagan worldview (see my further thoughts on this here).  There are LGBT activists on record saying that when they say that they want gay marriage they are lying because they don’t believe such an institution should exist in the first place (see here).  While some really do see this as a basic issue of human rights, again mostly based on the dubious comparisons to race, for others there is clearly a much larger agenda that might be called “the fundamental transformation of society.”

The threats, intimidation, and silencing of people with traditional Christian beliefs regarding sex are clearly part of the agenda; and these tactics obviously benefit those on the political left.  Suppression of traditional Christian beliefs is part of the program.  The intimidation and indoctrination that abounds on college campuses, is becoming more common place in other public venues such as government institutions, the military, big business and sports, in television media, and even in many churches.

While I was in Divinity School at Duke, a student pastor mentor invited my peer group to come to a dialogue about homosexuality.  When I asked who would be representing the conservative side, she looked at me as if I had lost my mind.  After an awkward silence she admitted that there was not going to be a conservative viewpoint.  That seemed to be typical for my time there.  Shortly after I graduated there was a huge uproar when the Dean of the Divinity School just mentioned that there were a diversity of theological beliefs at Duke that included some who might hold to the official teaching of the United Methodist Church that all persons are of sacred worth but the practice of homosexuality is not compatible with Christian teaching (see article here).  Apparently we have gotten to the point where it is not even acceptable to mention the conservative position, even in a United Methodist seminary.  Indeed, recent discussions among members of the United Methodist Connectional Table revealed that some even consider the mere expression of conservative opinions to be an act of violence against the LGBTQ community.

When I was going through the commissioning process in the Western NC Conference I was asked in a one-on-one interview that I had to do how I handled conflict in the church.  I thought I would share about the time that I lead a discussion on homosexuality at the church where I was a student pastor.  It was during the time when the state of NC was considering a marriage amendment that would limit the definition of marriage to one man and one woman.  I had people on both sides of the issue asking me what I thought.  I decided to lead a Bible study and group discussion about the issue and present the issues at hand to the best of my ability.  We discussed the issue of sexuality in more general terms for the most part.  I made it clear that I stood on the conservative side of the issue and presented my own case from that point of view; but I also discussed many of the liberal perspectives, which I had become quite familiar with by that time.  We had about 20 people in the group.  Most identified with the conservative position, there were a few who took the liberal view, and some who just really weren’t sure.  We meet for a few weeks and discussed the issue quite thoroughly.  I have a particular view and I don’t think this is an indifferent matter so I did clearly share my views from that perspective.  But I also think I did a good job of discussing the liberal perspectives and the liberals among us felt quite comfortable and free to share their perspectives.  There were times when people became quite passionate, but never a time when anyone was disrespected.  Over the several weeks no one dropped out of the group.  A couple of people who weren’t so sure came to accept the traditional view; the one staunch liberal maintained her view.  Throughout it was a respectful and thorough conversation and everyone was grateful for the discussion.

For sharing this, especially the fact that I hold to the conservative view, the person interviewing me decided that I wasn’t diverse enough in my theology.  I have no doubt that what he meant was that I wasn’t liberal enough for his tastes.  The interviewer specifically stated that he personally believed that all religions are really pointing to the same ultimate reality and was obviously concerned about what he considered to be my narrow views.  Nonetheless, through this came the recommendation from the Board of Ordained Ministry that I read a couple of different books that would help with what was clearly deemed to be my problem.  One was a book on different ways of being religious called “Six Ways of Being Religious” (actually a pretty good book to get into some of the cognitive dimensions common across different religions and not one advocating that all religions are the same).  The other was a book by Harvard theologian, Harvey Cox, called “The Future of Faith.”

In “The Future of Faith” Cox basically argues in favor of a semi-Gnostic and supposedly more diverse and more original version of Christianity.  He insists that true faith doesn’t insist on specific beliefs as those expressed in orthodox creeds.  Yet Cox himself, as he bashes orthodoxy at every turn (including John Wesley, whom he considers to be an awful proto-fundamentalist), lays out another specific set of beliefs that naturally exclude other beliefs, especially and quite obviously orthodox ones.  I took this to be a clear case of, at least some on the Board of Ordained Ministry, trying to suppress orthodox belief in a candidate for ministry in the United Methodist Church under the guise of diversity.  This seems to me to be a form of indoctrination and creating an atmosphere of intimidation for those with a traditional sexual ethic; and this in a denomination whose official position is that homosexual practice is incompatible with Christian teaching.

If the comparisons with racists is not bad enough, as my blog partner Rev. Chad Holtz shared, some United Methodist Conferences are resorting to associating traditional Christian beliefs about sex with the suicidal tendencies of those in the LGBT community (see here).  Depression and suicidal tendencies in the LGBT community can’t simply be boiled down to lack of acceptance among Christians.  It’s a much more complicated picture than that; and it is quite manipulative and downright sinister to try to pin the blame solely on the conservative Christian community.  I remember watching the propaganda film called, “Prayers for Bobby” a few years ago.  The film clearly was designed to place blame on the traditional Christian sexual ethic for the suicide of Bobby, the homosexual son of a conservative Christian family.  Undoubtedly, conservative Christian parents should never disown their children if they live a homosexual lifestyle any  more than they should disown their children for engaging in any other type of sexual activity outside of marriage.  Christian parents should be able to express love and acceptance of their children without condoning everything that they choose to do as well, however.  Nonetheless, there are some important lessons to learn here: one is that homosexual attractions should not be treated as an unforgivable sin with absolute shunning the only possible reaction.  Nevertheless, the film clearly attempts to place the blame for Bobby’s suicide on the lack of acceptance among the Christian community and his Christian parents even though the film shows that Bobby committed suicide after he saw his lover going into a bar showing affection for another man.  Why not ask what other factors might be at play, especially in light of studies that show that there is still a disproportionately higher rate of depression and suicidal thoughts and tendencies even in places where homosexuality is ardently celebrated and traditional Christian sexual ethics shunned?  The obvious reason is because it doesn’t further the agenda.  It is more politically advantageous for the left to continue to make these dubious comparisons and associations in order to demonize the opposition.  Even in the church so much of the “dialogue” is anything but in reality a pretty lopsided monologue.

I have listened very carefully to as many views on this issue that I can.  Not long ago I listened to a talk given by a prominent progressive pastor in a large church nearby on video.  The pastor discussed the issue, but also had a guest speaker present via video to the live audience that had assembled at his church.  The pastor himself presented the issue as being unclear in scripture and as a matter of simply welcoming and accepting all people as did his guest for the most part.  Again the implied comparison here is welcoming people of differing sexual orientations and gender identities as you would welcome people of different races.  It’s not that conservative United Methodists don’t want to welcome all people; it’s that we don’t think it wise and scripturally prudent to condone sexual activity outside of marriage traditionally understood.  For this particular pastor even the word “condone” connoted some type of violence toward the LGBTQ community.  He insisted that the words “do not condone” were unacceptably violent in tone; yet he did not hesitate to label the preaching of one of our African brothers at our last Annual Conference “despicable.”  What did he find so despicable? –  A call to repent of sexual immorality traditionally understood, to put faith in Jesus for forgiveness and new birth, to take up our cross, deny ourselves and follow him, and as a result to be saved from hell.

Another reason why some want to throw out the traditional sexual ethic is because of the nice homosexual or bisexual people that they know.  It is even oft suggested that if only conservatives would get to know some homosexual people then we wouldn’t object so much, as if the problem is really that we just don’t know any gay people.  That is quite simply not the case and it is really beside the point.  “Niceness” as defined by progressives is not the standard by which we will be judged; scriptural holiness is!  There are plenty of people from all walks of life who are “nice”, meaning generally kind and polite.  I have known swingers, heterosexual and homosexual , who would fit that category.  One was a former coworker who had left his wife and children to move in with another man, with whom he had an open relationship.  I got to know him quite well and always found him to be fair and considerate in the work place, although he enjoyed talking about his open relationship from time to time.  He had a grandson born the same week my first son was born.

We all know people who are generally quite nice, who experience desires and engage in behavior that is incompatible with the holiness to which we are called as Christians, including someone we see in the mirror everyday.  Nonetheless, it is not the etiquette of Emily Post by which we will be judged, but the word of the Living God!

There are many other problems with this push to abandon the traditional Christian wisdom regarding sexual behavior, not least the apparent bait and switch tactic of framing it as push to simply accept monogamous same-sex unions, what one progressive pastor colleague called a holy from of same-sex sex .  The acronym LGBTQ itself obviously implies the possibility of much more than simple monogamous unions.  What about the B’s who might want to insist on their right to marry a person of both sexes?  What about those those who insist that monogamy is simply unrealistic and not natural like LGBTQ activist and sex columnist, Dan Savage? (see video of Savage explaining here  – be warned of the explicit nature).  If we are just talking about strictly monogamous unions then why is it that the unofficial progressive caucus in the United Methodist Church, Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN) is not willing to take a clear stand for only monogamous unions?  What about those in our denomination who are also pushing to remove the language about celibacy in singleness and fidelity in marriage from our Book of Discipline?  There really doesn’t seem to be much of a difference between the secular LGBTQ activists and the activists within the church, both of whom obviously work together.

Around the time of All Saints RMN posted a picture of various same-sex couplings from the Bible and Church history that included Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Mary Magdalene in a lesbian embrace (To their credit at least a couple of their supporters thought this might be a bit much).  The picture also included Harvey Milk as the “saint” par excellence.  Harvey Milk was the gay San Francisco politician who was known to have sexual relationships with teenage boys, one of whom committed suicide after Harvey broke up with him.

Nonetheless, there is no reason to see the framing of this argument as advocating for monogamous relationships as any thing but a deceitful bait and switch tactic by those who are hellbent on following the culture, including people like Dan Savage who are now advocating for open marriages.  Mainline progressive Christian in Chief, President Obama, certainly had no qualms about lying about his true views on same-sex marriage until well after he got elected and subversively pushed through policies that undermined support for traditional marriage (see here).  And if we are just talking about accepting monogamous unions why was a young clergy group that I am a part of taken to a conference to listen to an ELCA pastor, Nadia Bolz-Weber, who brags about using the baptismal covenant to bless the transitioning of a transgender woman into a man, a conversion which she compared to the conversion of the Apostle Paul and Martin Luther?

Litmus test

Based on all these dubious assertions are we really ready to bless same-sex unions with Christian marriage and the transitioning of transgenders with the baptismal covenant?  Are there really any limitations as to how far all of this will go?  And why should we move the boundaries in the first place when there really is plenty of Biblical clarity and lots of confusion, uncertainty, and distortion with the science and personal experience?

The progressives have a liberal litmus test that they have set up in church and society.  For those who don’t pass they are demonized and marginalized as the equivalent of racists and irrational, hateful bigots who must be punished into submission or silenced.  They are creating an atmosphere of intimidation and undoubtedly many are afraid and therefore silent, even many conservative preachers in the church.  But the truth is the liberal litmus test doesn’t even pass a basic smell test for honesty, integrity, and decency.  Preachers, don’t be afraid to preach the truth in genuine love because the only test that really matters in the end is the one that will take place at the judgment seat of God!

 

2 Thessalonians 2:7-12 (ESV)

For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming. The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, 10 and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, 12 in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.

13 But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. 14 To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 15 So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.

16 Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, 17 comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.

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7 thoughts on “Sexuality and the Church: The Liberal Litmus Test

  1. A view from the pew: What I find ironic in this argument is the pro contingent acting like their lives will be all roses and sunshine if only the church will accept them as they are. As I have experienced, the local church has many ways to disenfranchise its members.

  2. I have greatly enjoyed both articles. Thank you for your hard work shown in these two “blogs” (too intellectual and true to be just a blog!). May our Father bless and protect you and yours!

  3. Excellent article! Your posts should be part of a required reading package before anyone in the denomination is allowed to participate in “Holy Conferencing” on this issue.

  4. Pingback: Ministry to ALL Sexual Sinners | umc holiness

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