Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Answering "LGBTQ Ordination Resource"

We received the document below in reply to the pro-inclusion resource we produced. We intend to give a full response, but in the interest of fairness we first present this document unedited and without comment that you may evaluate it on its own merits. We thank Rev. Tom Hobson for engaging with us in a substantive way and welcome further discussion from him or any other interested parties.


Here is Rev. Hobson on what he would emphasize from his response, as communicated to Doug via email:

"The two elements of mine I would lift up above all the others are: the thrice-repeated "the two [man and woman] shall become one flesh" as the central Biblical teaching on sexuality; and my insistence that both OT & NT forbid all sexual behavior outside this context, regardless of whether or not it is loving and mutual.  Loving, mutual same-sex  relations are well-documented in Paul's world (see my Outlook blog "A Progressive Myth", 10/4/10), and the burden of proof is on those who deny that they existed (and are forbidden) in the Bronze Age world of the Hebrews.  A lot of this material is in a book I have recently finished for which I am currently seeking a publisher: What's On God's Sin List For Today?, including discussions of OT law, sexuality, alcohol and drugs (including marijuana and opium in the Biblical world), and gambling (which was well-known in the NT world, but not condemned until after 200 AD)."

By Rev. Tom Hobson, Ph.D., Biblical Exegesis

Here are brief point-by-point answers to the 11 objections to homosexual ordination and the 12 arguments in its favor presented by Rev. Doug Hagler and Rev. Aric Clark. We begin with their answers to objections:

“Homosexuality is an abomination.” [My advice to conservatives: skip this argument. It is not central to our case.] Non-kosher food is an “abomination” (Deut 14:3), not to God, but in the sense that it is to be utterly despised by Jews. Jesus sets aside the kosher food laws for Christians (Mark 7:19), but there is nothing else in the Hebrew Bible described as an “abomination” that is not reaffirmed as sin in the New Testament other than cross-dressing (Deut 22:5). Male and female prostitution are specifically an abomination “to YHWH” (Deut 23:19), as are any form of idolatry, witchcraft, adultery, homosexual behavior, bestiality, and incest. Non-kosher food is the only ritual-cleanliness category for which this term is used.
It is claimed here that Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 does not describe a “committed, monogamous relationship between two people of the same gender” because this was “not a category considered in Bronze Age Middle Eastern thought.” No such distinction was necessary. In both Leviticus and 1 Corinthians, we see that love, consent, and commitment are irrelevant. Both active and passive partner are held equally guilty, no matter what their motives or the quality of their relationship.

“Homosexuality is the ‘sin of Sodom’.” How can you deny the obvious?? One can say that intended rape is the real issue, but clearly implied is the sense that Sodom is depraved because they demand sex with their own gender. Homosexuality is never named specifically in other Biblical references to Sodom because the audience already knows the story (although see 2 Pet 2:7, which connects Sodom with the sexual sin of aselgeia). Ezekiel mentions inhospitality, but it also says Sodom did “abominable” deeds, an obvious categorical reference to the abominations named in Leviticus (Ezek 16:50).

“Homosexuality is like pedophilia or bestiality.” True, we cannot lump homosexuality, bestiality, and pedophilia together, but why is the person who is attracted to children to be viewed as dirt, while everyone else is loved by God? The real issue is not whether those who practice same-sex intercourse are loved by God, but the fact that all three practices in question here both grieve God and harm the person who does them.

“Homosexuality is like incest or polyamory.” The Bible does NOT teach the goodness of behaviors that it tolerates in its characters. That is a deliberate falsehood. The Bible’s central teaching is stated three times, in the Torah, by Jesus, and by Paul: “The two [man and woman] shall become one flesh.” God intends sex only for a lifelong one-flesh relationship between a man and a woman. Any other practice is a departure from God’s intention, including fornication, concubinage, polygamy, and divorce.
What 50% of Americans practice is serial monogamy, not polyamory. With regard to Christian leadership, we regard divorce as sin redeemable by repentance and fidelity to one’s subsequent spouse. In the current debate, we are being asked to affirm homosexuality, not as sin redeemable by repentance, but as a good gift of God and a human right.

“Homosexuality is unnatural.” When we say “unnatural,” we mean that God did not design us to do this. In his book What We Can’t Not Know, Budziszewski argues from God’s design: Our lungs were designed to take in air, not food. The same is true for the issue of practicing sexuality in total defiance to God’s design.
Same-sex relations are a part of nature. But so is sex between different species. So are cancer, schizophrenia, and AIDS. So are black widows and praying mantises who kill and eat their mates, and mackerel who kill purely for sport. “Go and do thou likewise”? And again, why is the natural sexual attraction to children not a part of God’s good creation? If we get rid of our arbitrary notion of consent, and/or if we can ever prove (as some in the APA have tried to do) that sex with children can sometimes be healthy, our objection to it becomes pure hatefulness.

“Homosexuality is dangerous and/or unhealthy.” Homosexuality is no more or less dangerous and/or unhealthy than heterosexual immorality when practiced to the same degree. Both should be avoided.

“Homosexuality is a choice.” We concur that same-sex desire is not a choice. As in the case of substance addiction, the choice is how we respond. We expect a pedophile to make the right choices in response to their attraction to children, even though they did not choose to have these desires. Those with same-sex attraction who choose not to get involved sexually with their own gender tend to have more success breaking free from their desires than those who do become sexually involved.

“Sexual orientation can be changed with ‘reparative therapy’.” The claims that reparative therapy is a cruel hoax are sweeping and unsubstantiated. Reputable reparative therapy has been shown to have a 70% success rate in reducing unwanted same-sex desire, a rate comparable to substance addiction treatment. Both kinds of treatment have a similar rate of recidivism, but no one claims that treatment for addiction is useless or harmful.

“Homosexuality damages society and/or traditional marriage.” Here I defer to page 13 of Alan Wisdom’s article “Is Marriage Worth Defending?” (http://www.theologymatters.com/TM100216.Part1.pdf) He argues that divorce and adultery around us tends to erode the marriages of all married couples. The same would be true for cohabiting couples, and for the acceptance of gay marriage as simply one more lifestyle option.
Again, I reject the claim that the Bible approves of eight different kinds of marriage. The marrying of female captives after a one-month waiting period is the Bible’s unique humane alternative to what everyone else in the Near East: rape and sale into slavery. Marrying a slave promoted her to family status; what’s wrong with that? Jesus rejects polygamy, and Leviticus 18 makes it extremely difficult, since it forbids marriage to any in-law. The only reason we do not favor levirate marriage is because we no longer have the same level of concern for preserving offspring for a man who has died. And the supposed forced marriage of a rape victim is actually marriage of a girl who has been seduced, which the girl’s father can prevent if the male is a jerk. (Here is a case of gratuitously seeking to distort the Bible by exaggeration to make it sound unworthy of belief.)

“Paul condemns homosexuality.” Hagler and Clark’s reading of Romans 1 bears no resemblance to the text or context. Clearly, in Romans 1, homosexuality of both kinds is presented as a warning light for the depths of human depravity, not a gift of God if only it were practiced properly. It is not “cherry-picking” to take Paul’s sin list in 1 Corinthians 6: 9-11 as timeless and universal, both because it reaffirms many Old Testament commands that carried a death penalty (indicating their seriousness), and because it warns that those who continue such practices “shall not inherit the reign of God.”

“Ordaining LGBTQ people makes it harder to work with churches in the rest of the world.” The Two-Thirds World is a reminder to us that our rejection of Biblical sexual ethics is a heresy of Western white revisionists.

The following are responses to the writers’ positive arguments:

“Justification is by faith.” Here is where the writers, in the words of Jude, “twist the grace of God into licentiousness” (Jude 1:4). “Whoever says, ‘I have come to know him,’ but does not obey his commandments, is a liar, and in such a person the truth does not exist” (1 John 2:4; see also 1 John 3:6). The issue is not pure sinlessness (1 John 1:10 says we make God a liar if we claim we are sinless), but the unrepentant persistence in sin. 35 years ago, I never thought I would find myself quoting James’ “Faith without works is dead” and insisting on repentance, but that’s because I never dreamed there would be such open rebellion against the will of Christ within the church.

“We are sanctified by the Holy Spirit and gifted for service.” Not without repentance! Sexual immorality “should not even be named among you” as an acceptable Christian form of behavior (Eph 5:3). The issue is not what we have done in our past, but whether it has stayed in our past, or remains part of our present lifestyle.

“LGBTQ persons have clearly demonstrated spiritual gifts for ministry.” So have many heterosexual offenders, whom we rightly exclude from ministry if they cannot desist from their behavior. Powerful preachers and teachers who are living in defiance of God’s revealed will are a threat to the peace, unity, and purity of the church.

“We call unclean what God calls clean.” Nowhere do the writers ever demonstrate that God calls same-sex intercourse clean.

“We are made a community of equals in Christ.” Equality is not the issue.

“Jesus is silent on homosexuality, and nowhere in the Bible are loving monogamous LGBTQ relationships dealt with at all.” False on both counts. Jesus says more about homosexuality than he does about the environment, health care, and numerous other issues. Aside from affirming the central teaching of the Torah on sexuality (quoted above), Jesus also names the sin of aselgeia on his sin list in Mark 7:22. Aselgeia is a term used by Jews for shocking violations of the sex laws of the Torah beyond adultery and fornication, and is likely to have been his term for homosexual behavior. The burden of proof is on those who claim that the Bible’s prohibitions of homosexual behavior do not deal with loving mutual LGBTQ behavior. The term Paul uses in 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy is a generic masculine noun, “he who has koitos with a male.” There is no indication that the act is not loving and mutual.

“Our first and most important ordination is baptism,” “The priesthood is composed of all believers,” “Exclusion LGBTQ of persons adds nothing of value to the ordination standards we already have.” What a watering-down of ordination into meaninglessness! It ignores Paul’s teachings in 1 Timothy and Titus about the necessity of leaders sending the right message by their manner of life to those they lead and to outsiders. One gets the impression that as long as one has a baptismal certificate, one’s manner of life, calling, and gifts are irrelevant. The writers state that “chastity in singleness” does not begin to address the social reality of the average American who starts having sex at 16 and does not marry until 28. Apparently the crowd and the Gallup Poll determine God’s truth, and if 60% of pastors seduce their parishioners, then God had better get rid of our outdated standards. Seriously, we know we will never stamp out domestic violence and substance abuse among our people, but we rightly allow zero tolerance for them, no matter how prevalent they may become.

“LGBTQ persons already serve in other denominations and organizations, proving dire predictions false every day.” This claim ignores what’s going on in the Anglican communion and the ELCA at the moment. Give it time. Unlike the UCC, we are a connectional church, therefore we have yet to see what will happen when we overturn our standards. And if the Bible is merely a book full of fairy tales, then yes, a church with LGBTQ leaders will not be much different from a church without them.

“No church that does not choose an LGBTQ minister, Elder, or Deacon will ever have to ordain one.” Nonsense! An empty, false promise if there ever was one. The movement for LGBTQ ordination is based on it being a fundamental issue of justice. Justice cannot allow injustice to coexist with it in the same house. The permission to ordain women, within 20 years became the requirement to ordain or else. Already the GA has voted to require local churches to pay for pension and medical benefits for gay partners, whether it violates local conscience or not. We know it will not stop there.

“The church is currently lending tacit support to mocking, bullying, torment, and exclusion suffered by LGBTQ persons.” The people who practice bullying do not care what we in the church think about homosexuality or the use of violence, and they do not bother to bully or torment those who fornicate, abuse alcohol or drugs, or commit domestic violence, all of which we also oppose. And I will not be surprised if someday, those who support LGBTQ ordination will support the mocking, bullying, torment, and exclusion of those who hold the historic viewpoint on sexuality.

Monday, November 29, 2010


Wow. This is a sermon by George Macdonald, read by David Baldwin. It is long, but worth it.

h/t Undeception.

Some highlights:
"If anything be against mercy it cannot be called justice for it is cruelty."

"To say on the authority of the Bible that God does a thing no honourable man would do is to lie against God."

"I will accept no explanation of any way of God which explanation involves what I should scorn as false and unfair in a man."
"Such justice as Dante's keeps wickedness alive in its most terrible forms."

"The notion that a creature born imperfect, nay born with impulses to evil not of his own generating, and which he could not help having, a creature to whom the true face of God was never presented, and by whom it never could have been seen, should be thus condemned (to hell), is as loathsome a lie against God as could find place in a heart too undeveloped to understand what justice is, and too low to look up into the face of Jesus. It never in truth found a place in any heart, though in many a pettifogging brain. There is but one thing lower than deliberately to believe such a lie, and that is to worship the God of whom it is believed."
 "Love, and not self-love, is Lord of the universe."
"Our business is not to think correctly, but to live truly."

"One chief cause of the amount of unbelief in the world is, that those who have seen something of the glory of Christ, set themselves to theorize concerning him rather than to obey him."

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Homosexuality damages society and/or traditional marriage

Claims like these are actually impossible to demonstrate or prove, but they are common nonetheless - perhaps for that very reason.(1) There is little question that fighting over homosexuality damages the members of society who are denied equal rights under the law and are treated as second-class citizens.(2)  As for marriage, we don’t think any responsible observer would attribute our current problems with marriage in the US to LGBTQ persons. There is no situation where a societal ill can be legitimately laid at the feet of the LGBTQ community, where no other causes or circumstances can be identified. The above argument is rendered meaningless, and is simply an expression of fear, or perhaps frustration, deserving a pastoral response - but not validation.(3)
Furthermore, ‘traditional marriage’ is a recent social construct. Our contemporary romantic ideal was a terrifying innovation 100 years ago. Traditionally, marriage has involved polyandry, polygyny, surrogate pregnancy, concubinage, arranged marriages, marriage between children, and others.(4)  The Bible approves of at least 8 types of marriage, including marrying war hostages, marrying slaves, marrying up to 700 women, marrying a sibling’s widow, marrying one’s rape victim, and others.(5)  We rightly reject these many forms of ‘traditional’ marriage.

1. This argument, that homosexuality is damaging to society, is so common it is difficult to even begin citing it.  This is amazing, given that there is no support for it whatsoever.

2. LGBTQ suicide rates, rates of substance abuse and depression, are often higher than that for heterosexuals.  Opponents of equality for LGBTQ folks might say that this is due to despair of being trapped in "the gay lifestyle" (as if such a thing even existed).  Recent attention has been drawn, however, to suicides due to the bullying of gay teens (or teens who are perceived to be gay).

3. Correlation does not imply causation.  Just because some people perceive a decay in society does not mean that the decay is caused by a decrease in discrimination and abuse directed toward homosexuals.

4. Some of these still persist today, but for the most part, the industrialized idea of marriage is of two people who are societal equals marrying because they love each other and they choose to.  This is a modern innovation in a lot of ways - not the least of which the idea that men and women are equals (something that one could easily find Biblical passages to refute, if one were so inclined).

5. Polygamous marriage, which was common throughout the ancient Near East, as well as elsewhere; Levirate marriage (Gen 38:6-10); a man marrying his 'property', a female slave (Gen 16:1-6, Gen 30:4-5); concubinage (Judges 19:1-30); a male warrior and a female prisoner of war (Deut 21:11-14); a male rapist and his victim (Deut 22:28-29); a male slave to a female slave without consent, and of course; monogamous marriage, which was often arranged marriage, and occurred between what we would now define as children.  We need to note that in some of these cases, these forms of marriage were created as protection for women, such as women taken as 'spoils of war', or rape victims, or slaves whose masters force them to marry.  We would now rightly see even the concept of taking a human being as 'spoils of war' as reprehensible, and we rightly reject slavery in all forms. We therefore reject as immoral these definitions of marriage even where the original intent was to protect against a worse possibility.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Sexual orientation can be changed with 'reparative' therapy

(1)Even in cases where “reparative” therapy isn’t simply abuse, this is not true in the vast majority of cases.(2) The fact remains that some “reparative” therapies are abusive and even criminal.(3) Beyond Ex-Gay is one example of an organization and conference for the survivors of these therapies. Truth Wins Out is another.(4) Attempts to change a person’s sexual identity overwhelmingly fail (except in a few rare cases)(5), which leads to an escalation of force used by those who are committed to the false idea that a person’s sexual identity is a malfunction of some kind. This is a view that is not shared by any credible American scientific organization, and should not be encouraged by the church.(6)

Here is the General Assembly of the PC(USA) recommending against reparative/conversion therapy, joining with every US scientific organization in condemning it's use with LGBTQ persons.  The full text is in italics below.  Ten years ago, the General Assembly said what we are saying now.

1. In rare cases where a person's natural sexual orientation has been corrupted through abuse or trauma, therapy is the loving response, in order to restore a person to healthy consensual sexual expression.  The false argument here is that sexual orientation can (and should) be changed with therapy.  "Reparative therapy" is also one term for therapies used to alter sexual orientation - here it is meant as a place-holder for all such techniques, including conversion therapy and reorientation therapy.

2. Here's an example of some extended analysis of whether reparative therapy of adolescents constitutes child abuse or neglect.  Here's the APA's Task Force on Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation.  They found two things: methodological problems in many studies, and no evidence of significant change in same-sex attraction.

3Here's the British Medical Association making the claim that conversion therapy is in itself harmful.

4. Beyond Ex-Gay; Truth Wins Out. It seems that the ones truly needing reparative therapy are the survivors of reparative therapy, and what needs to be 'repaired' is not their sexual orientation, but the effects of attempts to force another orientation on them in order to fit the heterosexual norm.

5. See above.  Again, it is possible for therapy to help someone recover a healthy sexual orientation after trauma or abuse.

6. If the assumption is that one must be forced into heterosexuality, then when attempts fail, it makes sense that efforts would escalate.  Trying to convince can become coercion; coercion can become worse and worse.  Here are some stories from survivors of this kind of 'therapy'.  Here is the American Psychiatric Association's position paper in opposition to any kind of 'reparative' therapy to change sexual orientation.  In doing so, they join the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, and the National Association of Social Workers, among others mentioned above and otherwise.  The church should under no circumstances support therapies which are ineffective, sometimes abusive and damaging in themselves, and which are repudiated by every major American medical or psychological association.

"The 211th General Assembly (1999) affirms that the existing policy of inclusiveness welcomes all into membership of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) as we confess our sin and our need for repentance and God’s grace. In order to be consistent with this policy, no church should insist that gay and lesbian people need therapy to change to a heterosexual orientation, nor should it inhibit or discourage those individuals who are unhappy with or confused about their sexual orientation from seeking therapy they believe would be helpful. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) affirms that medical treatment, psychological therapy, and pastoral counseling should be in conformity with recognized professional standards "

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Banner Fealty

A sermon for Christ the King Sunday

Oh say can you see, by the waning evening light
What so timidly we followed, from Galilee to Jerusalem.
Whose broad stripes and livid scars, wake the fear in our heart,
That our Lord was a lie, and his death kills our hoping.

From the top of Calvary hill, a place called Golgotha, meaning “the Skull” a flag waves. Planted by centurions, and raised up a staff it declares to the world in Hebrew, Greek and Latin: Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum. Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews.

It is a cruel joke. A taunt to the followers of the man crucified under that banner, who had considered him much more than King of the Jews. They had believed him to be the King of the World. They followed him here expecting a great victory, and now they are reduced to weeping, and hiding for shame, for fear. Their victory has become a bloody execution. The King is dead. The war is lost.

And now they have to ask themselves whether they are still loyal to that banner: Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews. Were they ever loyal?

Banner Fealty is an ancient practice. Leaders assembling their army plant a banner, a flag, a symbol on a high place and summon their subjects to swear their allegiance. Those willing to risk their life in battle pledge their “fealty” an oath of service and loyalty to the banner. In ancient warfare fought on a field face to face, the Banner is how you organize and direct the movements of your troops. The banner goes first into battle, leading the loyal warriors against the banner of the enemy. Every soldier hopes that he will follow his banner to victory. That at the end of the day his own banner will be standing tall, while the enemy’s flag is buried with the dead.

This is what a flag is – that symbol you pledge and promise to follow into danger. The thing you hope will lead you to victory.

This ancient practice has not varied to this day. We no longer have kings, but we still have banners. We still swear our fealty to the symbols of our national pride. We pledge allegiance to the flag. And the meaning of this allegiance is precisely the same – it is a promise that if we were to go into battle we would fight for our flag against the flag of our enemy. It is the hope that our flag will be flying high when the flag of our enemy has been brought low. It is a bloody reminder of our commitment to tribal divisions – that we are willing to kill other people to protect those in our clan.

Loyalty is a powerful and dangerous thing. It cannot be divided and remain true. You cannot serve two kings. You cannot follow two different banners into battle. You will either walk with one or the other and either uphold one or the other. Even if you believe these two kings are allied, you must still choose which one you will march with. Which one you trust to lead you to victory.

Flying from the top of that hill in Jerusalem, a lonely flag, which read: Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews. And those who had sworn their allegiance to that banner wondered whether they had won or lost. Caesar believed he had claimed the field, and won the day. The cross is a stand in for Caesar’s banner, a warning to those who march with other kings “this will be your fate.”

But Caesar could not predict, because Caesar could not comprehend, the nature of Christ’s victory. Jesus is a king like no other whose battle plan the enemy cannot defeat, because even in defeat, especially in defeat, the banner of Christ is raised most high. The army of Christ marches unarmed. It bears all cruelty and returns good for evil and so disarms the foe. For you cannot destroy that which is under God’s promise of resurrection and you cannot overcome love with hatred. If I am willing to die for your soul, then you cannot take my life from me. The path of the cross makes the walker invincible.

Invincible. If you have the courage to walk it. Because you cannot follow the banner of Christ and the banner of Caesar both. You cannot pledge allegiance to a flag of blood and warfare and nationalism, and be loyal to the prince of peace. You either put down your sword and accept the cross, or you live by the sword, and die by it also.

Therefore, we have a sanctuary divided, and we will as long as we have both the flag of the United States in the corner, and the cross hanging over the communion table. We are hesitating to commit. It is understandable. We are human. Our affections pull us in different directions. We have always been prone to idolatry. Our idols are subtle and cunning and they tell us that we can serve both masters. That we can worship at the base of both flags. That we can trust our lord and savior, but also put our trust in our military, and our political leaders. There has most likely never been a time in your life when you were asked directly to make this choice. I will understand if you reject what I am saying to you now, therefore.

Jesus, the Nazarene, King of the Jews. That is what the banner said which they hung over his head on the cross. By the light of the resurrection the Church came to understand that the banner actually read: Jesus, the Nazarene, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Prince of Peace. His banner will never fall, but will be raised higher every time one of his disciples has the courage to follow him to the cross, rather than march behind Caesar. And for the rest of us Jesus offers these words: Father forgive them for they know not what they do.

Homosexuality is a choice

(1)Putting the ocean of anecdotal evidence against this claim aside, there is no scientific consensus supporting the claim that homosexuality is a choice in the vast majority of cases(2) - quite the opposite, no credible American scientific organization would support that claim.(3) Because sexuality is more than brain chemistry, scientific studies will never tell us all we want to know about ourselves,(4) but the evidence that homosexuality is not a choice in the vast majority of cases is consistent and overwhelming.(5)

1. This is a core part of the argument that homosexuality is sin. Sin often involves our volition. We will to do something wrong. In some cases, it is possible for something to be sin and not a choice, but we can deal with that later in more detail. If homosexuality is not a choice as, is becoming increasingly accepted even among conservatives, then an element of moral guilt is removed. This is partly why opponents of inclusion are so eager to separate between sexual orientation and behavior, but the division between being and action is never clean.

2. By ocean of anecdotal evidence, we mean: go speak with a homosexual person and ask them when they decided to be gay. Or, conversely, think about when you chose to be heterosexual. Of course you never did. Neither did they. In a small number of cases, a person's natural sexual orientation might be corrupted by abuse or other environmental factors, in which case the loving thing to do is to nurture them toward healthy, consensual sexual expression. Here's a pastor saying just this from the recent news. For him, his sexual orientation was no more of a choice than the call of God on his life - in his own words. This is true of LGBTQ folks who want to be ordained this very moment.

3. As for scientific consensus, homosexuality was removed from the DSM in 1973. The American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the American Counseling Association, and any number of other scientific organizations take the position that in the vast majority of cases, homosexuality is not a disorder and is not a choice. Numerous long term twin studies have come to the same conclusion. If you argue that homosexuality is a choice in most cases, or even in a large minority of cases, you are doing so apart from the best science available.

4. This chunk of counter-argument is leaving aside ethical or theological considerations for the most part, and simply dealing with the false claim about choice that under-girds so much anti-equality rhetoric.

5. In fact, claims to the contrary are essentially the sole purview of religiously-motivated groups which function outside the world of scientific study and peer review.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Homosexuality is dangerous and/or unhealthy

(1)As mentioned above, this argument is nonsensical because there is nothing, no specific sexual activity, that LGBTQ persons engage in which straight persons do not engage in in greater numbers.(2) If we are going to have sexual-act litmus tests for ordination, we should at least be fair about it.(3) But the above claim, that LGBTQ activities are somehow especially or inherently dangerous or unhealthy, makes no sense whatsoever, because there are no exclusively LGBTQ sex acts for us to consider.(4)

1. This is a popular argument, from those who want to claim that they are just looking out for the best interests of sexual minorities, or trying to promote public health. It is also crucial to the aim of opponents of inclusion who know that they will have little traction in convincing most people to prohibit something which is not intrinsically harmful. Unfortunately, out of zeal to prove this point they have relied heavily on the work of Paul Cameron who has been thoroughly discredited. He was expelled from the APA in 1983 for not cooperating with an ethics investigation. He has been publicly rebuked by the American Sociological Association and the Canadian Psychological Association for misrepresenting sociological and psychological studies in his work. His methodology has been repeatedly shown to be a joke, and he pays to have his "studies" published by a non peer-reviewed journal. He is a hack scientist, who somehow has maintained his credibility in certain conservative circles. You still find his work or the work of his organization the Family Research Institute quoted authoritatively by NARTH, Exodus International, Jack Chick, Westboro Baptist, Focus on the Family, Family Research Council, One by One and many other individuals, politicians, pundits and others who don't bother to fact check. Whenever you encounter this argument you should dig to find what the sources are and if Paul Cameron is included in there dismiss it immediately for the junk it is.

2. Estimates vary widely, but the most recent survey suggests about 7% of the overall population is homosexual. Every study since Kinsey including the most recent and comprehensive National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior has demonstrated that far more heterosexuals engage in any and all of the sexual behaviors that LGBTQ persons do. You name it, you or your neighbor has probably done it. Therefore any claim we could make about the health risks of particular sex-acts applies at least as much to heterosexuals. Practicing good hygiene and safe sex is important for everyone.

3. Nearly everyone, 95% of Americans, have premarital sex and have for decades. This is true for both genders and going back without any change into the 1940's at least. It is extremely normative. We certainly are not arguing that merely because something is common it is acceptable - far from it, but we currently have a standard in place that is flagrantly, grotesquely hypocritical. Nearly all of our ministers, including the writers of this document, are made liars by this standard. Worse, we make liars out of our Committees on Ministry and our Presbyteries every time we examine a candidate or minister member and overlook this standard. Even if we were rigorous in examination it is impossible to enforce. How do you propose we ensure compliance with fidelity in marriage and chastity in singleness? 24 hour observation? This standard is and always was a discriminatory regulation intended to exclude some people from full participation while making fools of the rest of us.

4. We sincerely hope no one is still repeating the canard about AIDS being a "gay disease". HIV is transmitted through bodily fluids and is just as likely in unprotected heterosexual sex as in unprotected homosexual sex. In fact, in Africa, where the AIDS epidemic is the worst it is overwhelmingly a heterosexual phenomenon.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Homosexuality is unnatural

No matter how we interpret the word “natural”, this claim is false.(1) That homosexual activity is observed in nature among other mammals is incontrovertible. Even if no other mammal engaged in any homosexual activity, there is no question that such activity occurs among humans, meaning that it is indeed entirely “natural”.(2)
If the claim is that homosexual activity is “unnatural” because it does not lead to procreation, then we would have to condemn all sex that is not aimed at procreation as equally “unnatural”, and may have to consider preventing married adults who are not parents from being ordained - not to mention anyone on birth control, anyone who masturbates, etc.(3)
If the claim is that homosexual activity is “unnatural” because it is dangerous or perverse, we should bear in mind that there is nothing activity-wise that LGBTQ persons do that straight persons do not do in far greater numbers.(4) Homosexuality is natural by any reasonable definition of the word.

1. (For the issue of "complementarity", see below) Let's set aside for a moment the fact that almost nothing the Bible enjoins human beings to do is strictly "natural", and that calling something "unnatural" isn't really a significant argument against it. In many cases, "homosexuality is unnatural" seems to be code-language for "I find homosexuality disagreeable" - where it is not simply a result of a poor working definition of "natural".

. The most common use of the word "natural" is to mean "occurring regularly in nature", or "in accordance with natural principles". Homosexual behavior has been widely documented in thousands of animal species, including examples of monogamous life-long pairings. It occurs regularly in nature and is in accordance with natural principles.

. Some people argue that the only 'valid' sex acts are ones that might result in procreation - and this is often the implicit argument when someone is talking about what is "unnatural" with regard to homosexual sex acts. Not only does this line of argument ignore the obvious social, pleasure, health and psychological dimensions of sexual behavior it is used in mysoginistic ways detrimental to public health by condemning contraceptives and prophylactics. This idea is often supported by the clumsy argument from supposed design - object A fits into object B, and therefore, that is the only acceptable configuration. We hope you can see why this is absurd, because stuff like this is beyond parody.

. Regardless of what sexual activity one is considering - anal sex, oral sex, masturbation, you name it - heterosexual individuals and couples are engaging in it in far greater numbers than LGBTQ persons. The recent National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior reveals, as all past studies of this type have, that human sexual behavior is highly varied and that practices often treated as taboo in our public discourse are in reality widespread. Of course, any sexual behavior carries risks and every one is responsible to take care of their health and the health of their sexual partners, but it is not a unique homosexual issue.

Complementarity, or Complementarianism
Complementarity, or complementarianism, is a core argument often put forward under the rubric of homosexuality as unnatural. In brief, complementarianism is a Christian theology which states that men and women have very specific, God-ordained roles to play in life and society. This idea is nothing new - we can go back to Aristotle and further to find the concept that men and women should both stick to their ordained places. For men, unsurprisingly, this God-ordained function is wielding authority - in contrast to women. If you are scratching your head and thinking "complementarianism is just patriarchy dressed up in drag", you are correct. It is an old argument, that women should remain 'in their place' because they are designed to be subservient child-bearers only, but not an argument we owe any attention.

Certainly, people in the ancient world believed in fundamental differences between the sexes which under-girded their misogynistic societies. Some of these beliefs wormed their way into the Bible as well. Fortunately, the power of the Holy Spirit is present throughout scripture, breaking down barriers between people, undermining arguments against equality, in Paul's majestic restatement of a baptismal creed in Galatians; in the many stories of strong women in the Old Testament including Esther, Deborah, Miriam, Ruth & Naomi; in the priestly expression of the imago dei; in Elizabeth's faith; in Mary's courage who became the only human to give birth to God; in the constancy of the women at the cross and the tomb; and Mary Magdalene's commission as the first evangelist.

Those arguing for complementarianism ordinarily base their argument on the pairing of male and female in the creation narratives, then repeated various times in the Old Testament and the New as the basis of God's design for human relationships. They choose to privilege this theme in scripture over others which affirm a wide diversity of human relationships. Most significantly they overlook Jesus' frontal assault on the concept of family, and Paul's largely negative view of marriage in contrast with celibacy.

Setting the Bible aside, the design of male and female genitals is taken as evidence of complementarianism. Really, however, this is basing a complex argument on a basic observation that simply does not sustain it. It takes little imagination to come up with more than one configuration for sexual activity. Arguing from human design to support inequality is something western society is fighting hard to end permanently. The church should not be propping the door open to allow in poor logic which has been invoked to deny rights to women.

Apart from issues of equality between men and women, complementarianism also fails to justify denying rights to LGBTQ persons for all the reasons it fails to justify denying rights to women.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Homosexuality is like incest or polyamory

(1)It must first be noted that the Bible openly approves of polyamory and does not share our modern definition of incest.(2, 3) Because of this fact, those wishing to make a purely “Biblical” argument should accept this as a point in favor of LGBTQ ordination. Nonetheless, this argument is false. Incest is very often also rape and sexual abuse, and in cases where it is not rape/abuse it risks offspring with severe genetic abnormalities.(4) Incest is something that, despite the Bible, we have come to define differently and reject over time, even though royal families practiced it well into the last century. Polyamory is also something that the Bible approves of but which we reject.(5) It is now our assumption that fidelity is best expressed, children best raised, etc. by monogamous parents.(6) However, it should be noted that the vast majority of Americans practice serial polyamory since very few people only have sex with one marital partner in their entire life, and this is appropriately no bar to ordination.(7) Homosexuality is not like either incest or polyamory.(8)

1. This is another argument that seeks to lump homosexuality in with other other sex practices, logic notwithstanding. Less offensive than the comparison to pedophilia and bestiality, this argument is still quite false.

2. That the Bible at some points approves of polyamory should be apparent to anyone who has read the Old Testament. Solomon had 700 wives. Enough said. The Biblical assumption is that men of means should have more than one wife, and that having many wives is a demonstration of power and wealth - the same as in many other ancient cultures. If someone wishes to make a "Biblical" argument for what are approved ways to couple sexually, polyamory and what we would now define as incest must be on the table. Just ask Betty Bowers.

3. The Bible is not consistent in it's stance where incest is concerned, and does not define incest in the way that we define it now in the United States. The marriage of Abram and Sarai who are siblings is unproblematic, as are the incestuous relationships of Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Leah and Rachel, among others, while Lot and his daughters are condemned. This chart illustrates the inconsistencies we are referring to. It is also worth noting that what is permissible for men in scripture regarding incest is different from what is permissible for women.

4. That incest is incredibly harmful to its victims is well documented. Consider this information from an organization called RAINN. We do not think people of conscience will read this information and then continue to make the case that homosexuality is like incest.

5. In many cases, the Bible presents things as acceptable that we no longer find acceptable, and vise-versa. Everyone makes decisions as to how they will live, and no one outside the Bronze Age (and for a year, this guy, sort of) lives a "Biblical" lifestyle. We have intentionally used the term serial polyamory here instead of the more common serial monogamy to highlight the hypocrisy among those who lament the destruction of the institution of marriage by non-traditional families and do not themselves adhere to a one man-one woman lifelong commitment.

6. In fact, children raised by committed, same-sex parents do measurably better than those raised by opposite-sex parents. Not a lot better, but significantly, measurably better. There is plenty of evidence that children with two parents fare better than children with one parent - this is not to denigrate the heroic efforts of single parents everywhere, merely to point out that the two-parent ideal is supported by more than anecdotal evidence. (And here is an article that has a different take on the issue)

7. Learn more about actual human sexual behavior from the Kinsey Institute, the National Center for Health Statistics, the NHSSB or any number of other places.

8. The debate over ordination rights has never been a debate between those who adhere to the Bible and those who do not, whatever opponents of equality may say. It is a debate between people who preference ancient purity laws and those who preference God's ever-widening call to those who are outcast, forgotten, and least.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Homosexuality is like pedophilia or bestiality

(1)Pedophilia in any circumstances constitutes rape because, by legal definition, a minor cannot be a consensual sex partner.(2) Pedophilia is also a violation by any measurement because it is forcing sexual activity on someone who is not physically or psychologically ready for it.(3) Love and sex between two consenting adults who are the same gender has nothing to do with pedophilia whatsoever, whether legally, morally or theologically.(4)
Bestiality is a person having sex with an animal - this comparison is offensive, as if a same-gender partner was not even a human being.(5) Love and sex between two people of the same gender has nothing to do with bestiality whatsoever, whether legally, morally or theologically.(6)

1. This analogy is usually proposed as a 'more accurate' analogy for homosexuality than race or gender. Race and gender, goes the argument, are 100% heritable, absolutely immutable, and primarily non-behavioral conditions of life, and therefore, intrinsically benign. Whereas, sexual orientation is only partially heritable, somewhat mutable, and behavioral. It is more analogous, they would say, to other sexual behaviors such as pedophilia, bestiality, polyamory, or incest. We reject the idea that it is so simple to separate identity and behavior. Proponents of this argument ignore the degree to which race and gender actually are social constructs - behavioral patterns, which are highly mutable and anything but benign. We reject discrimination on the basis of race and gender, just as we reject discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, because it is possible for a person of any race or gender to live a moral life not because the categories themselves are heritable.

It should go without saying that sex with minors is, and should be, illegal. Occasionally, one hears it put forward by opponents of equality for LGBTQ persons that we should consider pedophilia a sexual orientation, maybe even a protected category. This is an extension of the basic mistake underlying the entire analogy which is a misplaced emphasis on the structural characteristics of various sex acts. Whatever you might think of same-sex acts, there is a pretty basic difference between having sex with a consenting adult and having sex with a child or minor, and not just from the obvious legal standpoint, but on a moral level as well. That difference is to do with harm and consent.

This is where we would list citations for the fact that victims of pedophilia are emotionally and psychologically damaged by it forever; that they carry the wounds around with them for the rest of their lives. Really, though, do we need to make this case? I hope not.

Consent matters, and children are not able to consent either legally or psychologically. In Biblical times, people we consider children and minors now would be acceptable sex partners. Similarly, the consent of a woman was often irrelevant. Thankfully, in many areas, our theology has moved beyond the worldview held by the authors of the Bible. We are not aware of a significant modern theologian who would argue that consent does not matter, or that children are the same as adults with regard to sexuality.

If LGBTQ folks are 'the enemy', we would expect some opponents of justice and inclusion to dehumanize them. If 'they' rut about like animals, or if they are no better than those who violate children, if they cannot possibly be making love exactly like heterosexuals make love, then it is easier to deny them equality.

Comparing homosexuality to pedophilia is bad logic; comparing homosexuality to bestiality is entirely beyond the pale. The issues of harm and consent still apply. Sex with animals is abuse, and animals are incapable of giving consent. Those incapable of distinguishing between cruelty to animals and adult consensual love are not in a position to teach us anything about sexual ethics.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Homosexuality is the 'sin of Sodom'

The ‘sin of Sodom’ is inhospitality.(1) Nowhere in scripture is the destruction of Sodom linked with same-sex activity of any kind. The story immediately preceding the account of the destruction of Sodom is of Abraham receiving the three strangers and being hospitable to them.(2) This is contrasted with the reaction of the men of Sodom who seek to gang-rape(3) the angel visitors(4) while Lot protects them under the auspice that they have accepted his hospitality.(5) Ezekiel, in listing the sins of Sodom lists pride, idleness, greed and inhospitality, but never mentions homosexuality.(6) Jesus himself cites this reason by analogy claiming that the towns which are inhospitable to his disciples will end up worse than Sodom or Gomorrah.(7) The association between Sodom and homosexuality is largely the fault of bad translation. The Hebrew word, [qadesh], meaning ‘temple-prostitute’ has often been mis-translated ‘sodomite’ though it bears no linguistic relationship to the city of Sodom.(8)

1. One need look no further than Merriam-Webster to find out how this false interpretation has been incredibly influential since Medieval times or earlier. In their definition, 'sodomy' includes anal and oral sex as well as sex with animals. Many states in the U.S. had sodomy laws on the books until the Supreme Court struck them all down as unconstitutional in 2003. Now an American can only be prosecuted for sodomy overseas or in the military under special circumstances.

2. Hospitality is a central value of near-eastern culture, and is continually lifted up as a central commandment of God in the Torah. In Genesis 18 Abraham is commended for his hospitality by the very angels which will later move on to Sodom and be received so rudely. For their hospitality Abraham and Sarah are promised a son who is the start of the nation of Israel. The contrast couldn't be more stark: the hospitable family becomes a nation. The inhospitable nation is destroyed apart from one family. The parallelism forms the context of the Sodom account.

3. They men of Sodom seek to 'know' the angels, which often has sexual connotations. The best explanation of the reason behind this is that Sodom had recently been at war and the strangers were likely regarded as spies. Male on male rape was a common way of humiliating enemies, and still occurs in places like prison today. This is no more an instance of homosexual behavior than is prison rape. This story is made even more horrific by the fact that Lot offers to allow them to gang-rape his daughter instead. Frankly, this is not a story from which we can draw much in the way of moral insight without a great deal of discernment. Lot's sexual behavior, including incest and offering his daughter to be raped by a crowd, is despicable by any modern standard, whether one approves of LGBTQ ordination or not.

4. The identity of the visitors as angels is another aspect of this story that speaks against it having anything to do with homosexuality. Whatever acts are contemplated here the gender of the persons involved is less significant than the difference in species. Jude mentions Sodom in passing, describing the inhabitants as "going after strange flesh". Had Jude meant to condemn homosexuality for violating the supposed "two-flesh rule" he would have said they were going after the same flesh. What Jude is instead doing is referring to a popular legend in his time that the women in Sodom had sex with angels. Jude is definitely familiar with this legend as he quotes from the Book of Enoch which tells the same legend about "the watchers" (angels) who seduced human women in violation of God's laws.

5. Given how despicable Lot's behavior is by our standards the only reasonable interpretation of why God saves his family is that his 'righteousness' is the same as Abraham's from the chapter before - he is hospitable to the strangers. It is what distinguishes him from the other men of Sodom. The entire story spins on this virtue.

6. When Ezekiel lists the sins of Sodom (in context) he goes beyond just inhospitality, and offers a litany of sins; none of which have anything to do with homosexual behavior. The oracle does use sexual language: God compares Jerusalem to an adulterous wife. But it is clear that the sins being metaphorically described in sexual terms are economic and political in nature. The problem, as always, is that Israel turned to their neighbors for support and defense instead of God. The problem is that Israel was idolatrous; a fact which matches well with the general trend in scripture of identifying "detestable" sexual acts with idolatry.

7. Jesus in mentioning Sodom has the perfect opportunity to tell us how horrible homosexuality is, but doesn't in either gospel in which this story appears. Again Jesus identifies the problem as inhospitality, specifically: rejecting God's messengers. Which he says is the same as rejecting him and the one who sent him. In other words, inhospitality to those who come from God is turning from God - idolatry.

8. In the story of Tamar, the word for prostitute [zonar] and for temple prostitute are used interchangeably, and 'temple prostitute' can appear with 'prostitute' in a parallelism; ex: Hosea 4:14. There were a number of cults in the ancient Near East which supposedly dealt in temple prostitution, though most of our sources on these cults are later, disapproving historians. Clearly the practice was widespread enough to warrant being mentioned consistently - as 'detestable' because it is idolatrous.

Not only is homosexuality not the 'sin of Sodom', it is Not A Sin. But that was the topic of another series.

In case you're wondering, there's a good chance that as far as the old definition of the word is concerned, almost everyone you know is a Sodomite.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Homosexuality is an abomination

(1)The Hebrew word, [toevah], sometimes translated as ‘abomination’ or ‘detestable’(2), is also applied to the eating of shellfish(3) in Levitical law, among other things, and seems to be a ritual-uncleanliness term, sometimes used to describe idolatry. Of course, it is not translated as ‘abomination’ when applied to eating shellfish, because abomination is a word specifically chosen in an attempt to paint a particular act as more heinous than the others listed in the same section of law. This is the long-standing translators’ bias impinging on the Biblical text.
Furthermore, the act described as ‘abomination’ was not describing a committed, monogamous relationship between two people of the same gender - which was not a category considered in Bronze Age Middle-Eastern thought.(4) Rather, the ‘abomination’ in question would have been an instance of adultery and/or having sex with ritual prostitutes.(5)

1. This line of argument draws from verses like Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13.

2. The more famous word 'abomination' was used in the NRSV, the NKJV, and the NASB. In the NIV it is 'detestable', and the word 'detestable' is more consistently used for the many things described as [toevah].

3. The same word [toevah] is applied to eating shellfish in Leviticus 11:9-12 and Deuteronomy 14:9-10. We are not Hebrew scholars, but the exact same term is used to describe many things that no sane person would describe as an 'abomination', and it is often just used to mean 'idolatry' (ex: Deut 18:9-12). It occurs 103 times in the OT, but is generally only translated as "abomination" with regard to supposed homosexual acts - clearly and regrettably the translators' bias coming through. Practicing sorcery, human sacrifice, eating shellfish, trimming one's beard, consulting with a medium, are all described using the same word. Perhaps the best definition may be 'taboo' since the same word is used to describe acts forbidden to the Egyptians but perfectly acceptable to the Israelites (Gen 43:32 & Exodus 8:26). The fact is, many things described as [toevah] we do without a second thought. Others are entirely foreign to our culture and society. In our context, it is not enough to say something is [toevah].

4. That is, there is no situation whatsoever where the Bible deals with a same-sex act that is not also either adultery or fornication, if not also idolatry. It is clearly 'detestable' for the ancient Israelites to engage in any foreign forms of worship. It is quite possible that to 'lie with a mankind as with womankind' is 'detestable' because it is a form of adultery. It is also possibly 'detestable' because to treat a man like a woman sexually is to dishonor him in the context of Bronze Age gender roles (read: misogyny). No one seems bothered by the fact that it is 'detestable' with no explanation as to why. We are left to guess.

5. This is of course a catch-22 which has apparently paralyzed ordination of LGBTQ folks in the ELCA. Current debate is around what constitutes a "committed relationship". Since we discriminate with regard to marriage rights for LGBTQ folks, one cannot simply point to marriage as a committed relationship. As long as we discriminate with regard to marriage rights, LGBTQ persons will inevitably be vulnerable to the "adulterer" or "fornicator" claims. To date, sex with ritual prostitutes is not a concern.