10/13/2004

Serious stuff

One of the things about my Christian faith that has changed over the years is my attitude on what might be termed the "homosexual question". Being in the Episcopal Church this issue has been thrust upon us over the last twenty to thirty years as the gay community has sought legitimacy in the church. Most mainline denominations have been dealing with the issue through this time, but the Episcopal Church above all has been in the forefront.

I am one of the few people I know who has switched sides on this debate and it hasn't been easy. Let me start with where I started...

In the beginning I had no clue about gay people. I never consciously knew any growing up and never really thought about it except for the occasional appearance of a character on a TV show or movie. I guess John Inman's character on the 1970's britcom Are You Being Served was typical of my view - good for comic relief and way over the top, but not really real.

If I had a "position" on homosexuality in my early years it would be that, as an engineer and designer, people were obviously made with an "insert Tab A in Slot B" design and "inserting Tab A into Slot C" was something you could do, but was never really the original plan. Much like you can hammer a nail with a wrench, but it's not really the optimum tool, so to speak, and you are likely to get less than optimum results. I wasn't a churchgoer or particularly a Christian at this point so religious values weren't really of any importance to me in considering this.

Things began to change for me in the mid-1980s. First, I was now involved in the church, and secondly, the AIDS crisis was starting to bite. Also, after the ordination of women in the Episcopal Church in the 1970s, the gay community was now clamoring for open acceptance (it was pretty obvious that there were already, in fact, gay priests here and there, they were just closeted to various degrees.)

Here's where my engineer view really showed up. Not only is Tab A not designed for Slot C, there are some natural consequences for stupid behavior. I wasn't at all sympathetic to the plight of AIDS victims. This wasn't because I thought it was some kind of divine retribution, but rather a simple case of the natural consequences of stupid behavior. If someone chooses to run across interstate highways, dodging cars at least for a while, I'm less than sympathetic when they finally get hit. In much the same way the hedonistic gay society of the seventies and eighties was a train wreck waiting to happen. Whether it was merely hepatitis B or C or something new, nastier and lethal like AIDS, having sex with multiple anonymous partners several nights a week is beyond stupid. As my mom used to say, "if you fall out of that tree and break your leg, don't come running to me!"

So that was the eighties.

As we moved into the nineties other things came into play. I had been a volunteer youth leader for several years at this point, and I had finally come into contact with a few gay kids. I had a literally life changing experience as a counselor at a camp in 1992. There was a gay kid in my small group and during the week he came out to the group and described some of the experiences that had hurt him. It was late at night after an emotional day, including a healing service. As he spoke, the group was frozen. I was burning and I felt God tell me that I had a choice. I could choose to dismiss this issue or deal with it. As I think about it now, it was a "What Would Jesus Do?" moment. Everything in my mind screamed to avoid or dodge the issue, but instead my body made me walk around the circle and hug him. It wasn't a token hug, either. We hugged for a few minutes, and one by one the rest of the group joined us.

Somehow, that encounter put a human face on what had been up to that point a merely theoretical exercise and I would never be the same again. I was still of the opinion that homosexuality was technically wrong, but the picture wasn't quite as sharp any more.

After that I felt like I needed to know more, so I bought a book on counseling homosexuals which I naturally got from my local Christian bookstore. This, I figured, was my ticket to being able to deal with any of these situations again.

Funny thing was, the arguments put forth in the book were crap. They were strained and they didn't ring true. There are only seven references to homosexuality in the entire bible, and none of them address a long term relationship between two consenting adults of the same sex. Sodom and Gomorrah - well I can agree that homosexual gang rape is probably wrong. As for the Leviticus purity laws - well there's that whole shellfish/poly-cotton/kill the homosexual vibe going on...

Paul? Well, there's enough vagueness in the wording and interpretation to drive a bus through. I'm willing to bet the homosexuality he refers to is the kind of pederasty common in Greek society where young boys were pretty much fair game. Again, none of this really relates to a mutual long term monogamous relationship between consenting adults of the same sex.

Around this time I was less inclined to think of alternate interpretations as heretical and sought something out and stumbled across What The Bible Really Says About Homosexuality. Not only was this an interesting counterpoint, the author isn't so full of his own blowhard self-righteousness.

A short time later I decided to get an MBA. One of the options in Seattle for a somewhat similar program is the Graduate Management program at Antioch University Seattle. It's really pretty far out liberal but a friend of mine had been there and enjoyed the, um, opposite viewpoints from his own. I gave it a shot too. I had gay and lesbian classmates and the most superb marketing professor who just happened to be a lesbian. This was a pretty intense program and spending time at close quarters with these folks was again life changing. Where the youth encounter had been a pivotal moment this was a long term learning experience. I'd like to think that they also learned something about me and my often conservative viewpoint that surprised them pleasantly. The key thing here is that all of these new gay friends were in long term stable committed relationships, and that for the most part they just wanted to live a happy quiet life with their partners.

Another turning point was reading Bruce Bawer's A Place at the Table. Hey, here's an articulate gay conservative! Not only that he describes very articulately how he ostracized himself from the church when he discovered he was gay because he had been brought up to believe that being gay was antithetical to being a person of God. It took him ten years to find his way back.

As time wore on the gay issue advanced in the Episcopal Church (not always by fair means on either side), culminating in August 2003 in the election of Gene Robinson in New Hampshire as the first openly gay bishop in the Anglican Communion. After all the openly gay priests who had been ordained over the years the massive reaction in the Episcopal Church caught me a bit by surprise, but I guess for a lot of people it was just the final straw. It's really too bad - a lot of friends left my own church, but I just don't get why they're so upset about who the bishop is 3000 miles away.

But don't get the idea that I'm just sappily PFLAG pro-gay. The gay community has many different facets and some of them are pretty ugly. However, none are any uglier than the worst excesses of hetero society, so I'm just not up for singling out gays.

Take promiscuity - please!

In hetero society it's absolutely venerated. I've been a fan of Friends and Seinfeld since the beginning, but there's no doubt they promoted a hedonistic anything goes mentality in the 1990s. Throw in Sex and the City, the OC and whatever other sleazy crap Fox is showing these days and hetero society has nothing to be proud of relative to the gay community.

I guess that's kind of the short version of the long story - I may choose to flesh this out (ha!) a bit more later.



Comments:
Yours is a touchingly honest and well-written disclosure. I congratulate you for it. In my own blog (versuspopulum.blogspot.com -- in August archive), I have raised the question why gay issues have become the hot button -- yea, even the ONLY hot button -- issue on the Church's plate. I understand there are Biblical issues (although, as you indicate, I think they are far less clear than they are made out to be); there are "traditional" considerations (can 2000 years of Church teaching be wrong?); there are ecumenical concerns. And I take these all very seriously, which is why I still oppose ordination of gay or lesbian candidates who do not promise to remain celibate and chase, even though I actively promote the legal recognition (in some form) of same-gender relationships.

Also involved, however, are bigotry (though by no means in all cases), personal taste (many just get squeamish at the notion of gay sex -- your Tab A and Slot B take on it was good), lack of information, and a plethora of stereotypes. That's why your honest and thoughtful reflection is so valuable: It sllows for a discussion of the issues that reaches the important level -- that of the personal, for the reflector and for the ones reflected on.

I hope you will "flesh this out" in the future.

Best wishes,
Dwight
 
Thanks for your honest exploration of this subject Dave. My journey is somewhat similar to your own, although my "Aha" moment came in dealing with the news that my Father is gay. Issues are one thing, but it becomes such a different process when we are confronted with real people.

Grace and Peace,
Joe
 
I found your blog and this posting from a conservative Anglican site from which you will probably get more disapproval than praise for your conclusions, but I want to thank you for sharing your thoughts. You obviously spent a lot of time carefully considering all sides of the issue before coming to the place where you are now. What I see in your posting is the very best kind of theological reflection. I look forward to visiting your blog again.
 
Thanks all for your comments.

I have readers? Who knew?

I'll definitely check out the reciprocal stories.

Anyway - Karen, you didn't apparently put in the link to the conservative Anglican site you mentioned, so I'd be interested if you would add that in. Thanks :)

And as I read through it there's so much to amplify, but it was good to just write it stream of consciousness style as it came to me...

peace,
dave
 
dave,

My experience in the mid-eighties was that I was in a group counseling program with a gay and lesbian. The counselor herself, was an ex-Southern Baptist who becme a Hindu vegetarian and was quite progressive. However, she had counseled many clients through their same sex attractions to hetero-sexuality and thus could not condone the behavior. She was professional at all times and allowed her patients to self determine and assured them that whatever therapy they chose she would love them. But, her professional recomendation was to do the psychological work necessary to resolve their family and gender issues. So, I went through 3 years of therapy with two homosexuals who worked out their gender attraction issues. This was remarkable and has influenced my position.

Your imposition upon St. Paul about not knowing about Commistted Same Sex Unions is patnetly incorrect. All forms of same sex love of mature consenting adults was found in Greek world of Paul's day. Robert Gagnon has an excellent book that categorically destroys this recent myth. I suggest that you read some better sources, narth.org and the above mentioned Gagnon to get a larger view.

God Bless,

Russell Arnett
 
dave,

My experience in the mid-eighties was that I was in a group counseling program with a gay and lesbian. The counselor herself, was an ex-Southern Baptist who becme a Hindu vegetarian and was quite progressive. However, she had counseled many clients through their same sex attractions to hetero-sexuality and thus could not condone the behavior. She was professional at all times and allowed her patients to self determine and assured them that whatever therapy they chose she would love them. But, her professional recomendation was to do the psychological work necessary to resolve their family and gender issues. So, I went through 3 years of therapy with two homosexuals who worked out their gender attraction issues. This was remarkable and has influenced my position.

Your imposition upon St. Paul about not knowing about Commistted Same Sex Unions is patnetly incorrect. All forms of same sex love of mature consenting adults was found in Greek world of Paul's day. Robert Gagnon has an excellent book that categorically destroys this recent myth. I suggest that you read some better sources, narth.org and the above mentioned Gagnon to get a larger view.

God Bless,

Russell Arnett
 
Great post, Dave. As I'm sure we've discussed before, Bawer's A Place at the Table was seminal for me, too, in changing my attitudes towards gays and lesbians.
 
Dave,

Thanks for your post. I'd consider Arnett's suggestions of narth and Gagnon to be more of the 'narrow' (and obsessed) perspective rather than 'large'. But, see (and judge) for yourself.

Ultimately, as you revealed in your story, it's about the power of the Gospel to change hearts and minds - and take the logs out of our pharisaic eyes.

Frank
 
The Anglican site mentioned above (arguably more traditional than "conservative", although mny of those who respond to are very conservative indeed) is "titusonenine,classicalanglican.net", run by theologian Kendall Harmon.
 
I'm sorry, but I don't think there is any compelling historical or exegetical reason to read Paul's condemnation of homosexuality as applicable to pederasty alone.

That said, I don't think running around calling homosexuality an abomination and running them out of the church is the right thing to do.

Then again, I don't think they should be bishops, either.
 
Hey Anastasia, how many hands do you have anyway? On the one hand you think this, but on the other... never mind. :-)

As my original post was pretty much a stream of consciousness piece of writing it's not exactly comprehensive on a lot of the details, nor is it a thesis for a degree, so please take it as such.

I might just amplify the part about Paul writing in 1 Cor. Sure, he's not just referring to pederasty. There's also temple prostitution, but after that it gets difficult because most of the books I've read acknowledge that he uses uncommon terms that are difficult to translate accurately. Enough smart people acknowledge this that I don't believe anyone who says they know exactly what Paul meant.

Here's the NIV...

9 Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.

What's translated as "male prostitute" here is "effeminate" in the KJV or "homosexual" (footnote "catamite" (boy kept by a pederast)) in the NKJV.

What's translated in the NIV as homosexual offenders (not teribly specifi) is "abusers of themselves with mankind" (??) in the KJV and as "sodomites" in the NKJV.

On the surface they appear to be the two sides of the homosexual coin - the dominant/submissive, or donor/recipient, but it seems reasonable to me that the dual characterization of homosexual relationships here is basically one of inequality.

While long term homosexual relationships existed in Ancient Greece and Rome, this doesn't appear to me to be what Paul is referring to. YMMV.

I guess in a broader sense, if homosexuality was SO bad, why didn't Paul go into more detail? This is THE MAIN NT passage condemning homosexuality and it's basically a fleeting mention in passing in a list of other stuff. Paul droned on at considerable length on many other topics. If this is so bad, why not this too?

I liken the homosexual issue to Sherlock Holmes story of the dog that barked in the night(*). It's not so much what the Bible has to say about homosexuality, it's how little it has to say.


(*) The key was, of course, that the dog didn't bark, thus tipping off Holmes to the fact that the crime was an inside job.
 
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