Review of Roy E. Gane, Nicholas P. Miller, and H. Peter Swanson, eds., Homosexuality, Marriage, and the Church: Biblical, Counseling, and Religious Liberty Issues (Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University Press, 2012).
In January 2006, the Seventh-day Adventist Kinship International Advisory Council and the Association of Adventist Forums conducted a conference on the subject of Christianity and Homosexuality in Ontario, California. In 2008, Adventist Forum published conference papers in a volume entitled, Christianity and Homosexuality: Some Seventh-day Adventist Perspectives. In 2009, Andrews University, Michigan, ran a conference in response to the earlier conference and book. Homosexuality, Marriage, and the Church is a selected compilation of papers from the Andrews conference.
My review of Homosexuality, Marriage, and the Church comes from two relevant perspectives that I suspect may not be combined in any other single person on the planet. I am a Seventh-day Adventist theologian and I am gay. I will bring both these perspectives to bear as I examine each of its four sections in turn: "Theological Issues," "Legal Issues," "Counseling Issues," and "Testimonies."
The Need for a Broader Discussion
The book needed to look at wider issues than just homosexuality. It needed to address the needs of other groupings of "rainbow" people. In particular it needed to look at the issues of intersex and transgender people.
The strongest theological argument against the legitimacy of same-sex relationships rests on two facts: the biblical descriptions of the creation of human beings as male and female and the assumption throughout the Bible that all legitimate sexual relationships include the same binary. Nevertheless, in our world there are indisputably human beings who biologically are intersex people, i.e., not entirely male or female, but a mixture of the two. The order of the original creation has profound ethical implications for Judeo-Christian ethics. However, its significance is not absolute. Adam and Eve's nakedness in the garden (Gen 2:24) is not mandatory for believers. So in a binary world, what are intersex people to do with their sexuality? Even biblical prohibitions of particular same-sex sexual behaviours assume that people are definitely male or female.
The easy answer for the rest of us is that they should be celibate. However, such an answer has more to do with satisfying our desire for orderliness than with God's desire for justice and mercy. Inspiration declares that the person who would give up love for all the wealth of their whole household would surely be scorned (Song of Songs 8:7). The right to the opportunity of a loving sexual relationship is thus even more fundamental than the right to one's possessions. What do the principles of self-respect and love for the other as one's self require? What is God telling when he fails to grant all such people the gift of celibacy? If marriage is the normal prophylactic against sexual immorality for most other people (1 Cor 7:2) what should the normal prophylactic for intersex and transgender people be?
Intersex people have some physical characteristics that are male and some that are female. Transgender people have a body of one gender but a mind that tells them they are actually of another. Both situations may ultimately be equally biological. Transgender people certainly have no sense that they choose to be different than other people. The fact that Adam and Eve were neither intersex nor transgender is neither here nor there. How we address the needs of intersex people will impact how we address the needs of transgender people. Once we have formulated an approach for these two groups we will be ready to look meaningfully at the possibility that some people may indeed be male or female, except that biologically their sexual attraction is hardwired to be that typical of the opposite sex. The discussion in Marriage, Homosexuality, and the Church is distorted because it begins in the wrong place.
Specific Critique of Papers on Theological Issues
Richard M. Davidson is the author of the first paper in the theological issues section, "Homosexuality in the Old Testament." He tends to minimize immediate context in favor of more distant contextual possibilities. For example, he claims that the use of the Hebrew word for "abomination" in the singular in Ezek 16:50 refers specifically to homosexuality and that the reference to "abominations" in the plural of vs. 51 refers to all four sins of Sodom in vss. 49, 50. He claims that the same singular/plural pattern in Ezek 18:10-13 with the same intent. The basis of the claim is that "abomination" in Lev 18 the singular refers specifically to homosexuality and "abominations" in the plural is more general (pages 27, 28). In a rush to go back to Lev 18, Davidson has ignored the fact that none of the other "abominations" of Ezek 16:50, 51, is sexual, while most in Lev 18 are. He has failed to note the way in which the description of the wicked man in Ezek 18:10-13 is elucidated by the contrasting though parallel description of the righteous man in Ezek 18:5-9. He has also failed to note that in Ezek 33:26, 26, the same singular/plural pattern occurs, and there the singular abomination is simple unfaithfulness in marriage, not homosexuality. Immediate contexts have been abandoned for more distant alleged allusions that may be linguistic echoes, no more.
The fact that the men of Sodom speak of "knowing" rather than "raping" Lot's visitors (Gen 19:5) suggests to Davidson that homosexuality is the issue, not (just) rape (page 13). He has overlooked the age-old tendency of perpetrators to use euphemism to minimize their actions and for victims to use euphemism to minimize their sense of victimhood. Surely we can simply accept that Lot offered his daughters in the place of his visitors because in the patriarchal mindset it was one thing to forcibly treat a woman as a woman; it was quite another to do the same to a man. That acceptance does not mean we have to emulate Lot, let alone side with him by suggesting God himself would have held the perpetrators in higher esteem if they had raped women instead.
Robert A. J. Gagnon does no better in his paper, "The Scriptural Case for a Male-Female Prerequisite for Sexual Relations: A Critique of the Arguments of Two Adventist Scholars." For example, his understanding of the parallels between Gen 1:26, 27, and Rom 1:23, 26, 27, 28 exhibits a clear preference for distant context over immediate context:
And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them (Gen 1:26, 27).
And [they] changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things....
For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:
And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet (Rom 1:23, 26, 27).
The purpose of Gagnon's parallel is to make the complementary nature of the creation of male and female in Adam and Eve the specific background to explaining what Paul means by action "against nature" in Rom 1:26, 27. However, Gagnon totally ignores the fact that the image and likeness in Gen 1:26, 27, denote a totally different concept to that of the image of man in idol worship in Rom 1:23. Animals certainly were not part of the image in Gen 1:26, 27.
Paul specifically references the creation of the world [Rom 1:20], not the creation of Adam and Eve. Paul argues that God's eternal power and Godhead, not male-female complementarity, are understood, based on God's creation of the world, not His creation of Adam and Eve.
By overemphasizing the link to Gen 1:26, 27, Gagnon is able to minimize the immediate relevance of idolatry to Paul's discussion in Rom 1:25. "Against nature" (Rom 1:26) is thus made to signify specific defiance of creation orders regarding male and female, without any regard for the fact that in the closer context of Rom 11:24, the difference between the wild olive branch grafted "against nature" and the good olive tree it is grafted onto is one of human cultivation, not of different divinely created kinds. Gagnon claims, "Even in 1 Corinthians 11:14-15, Paul's argument is based on the fact that nature shows us that massive hair loss for men is not presumed to be due to some sort of disease whereas for women it is otherwise." This claim is extraordinary, since in fact Paul asserts it is the long hair of men that is contrary to nature, although there is no evidence that in the natural world male hair cuts itself automatically. Unless one contends Paul would have condemned the long hair of Nazarites like Samson and John the Baptist, the construct of nature must be seen here as being cultural rather than creational. The question arises: "Since nature and against nature are cultural constructs in 1 Corinthians 11, is it possible natural and against nature are cultural constructs in Romans 1 and not universal laws?"
Gagnon rejects the contention that "Paul in Romans 1:24-27 treats homosexual attraction solely as a chosen condition of constitutional heterosexuals, " arguing that the "expressions 'exchanged' and 'leaving behind' in 1:26-27 do not refer to a willful exchange of heterosexual desire for homosexual desire" (page 122). However, he ignores context by not providing any evidence that the exchange of Rom 1:26 is any less wilful than the exchange of God's truth for a lie in Rom 1:25.
Finally, Gangon cites evidence that loving homosexual relationships were known in Roman times, in order to imply that Rom 1:26, 27, is against loving monogamous relationships today as well (pages 113-116). However, he ignores the fact that Josephus uses the same Greek word that Paul uses in Rom 1:27 (orexis) to designate the lust that fuelled Amnon's violence as he raped his sister, Tamar. It thus has connotations of degradation of the other, even to the point of rape. Rape is hardly in view in Rom 1:27, for the lust is mutual. However, neither is love. Mutual dishonour is certainly writ large.
Roy E. Gane accepts answers that are altogether too easy in his paper, "Some Attempted alternatives to Timeless Biblical Condemnation of Homosexual Acts." For example, it is much easier to insist that the prohibitions against homosexual activity in Lev 18:22; 20:30 are moral and permanent if every sex law in these two chapters is seen as moral and permanent as well, including the prohibitions against sexual relations with a woman while she is menstruating (Lev 18:19; 20:18). Gane notes that the deliberate violation of the law regarding sex and menstruation leads to:
divinely administered "cutting off," with no ritual remedy available (see Lev. 20:18). This absolute nature of the prohibition indicates that its applicability does not depend upon the ritual system and continues after that system has passed away (page 166).
Cutting off without ritual remedy also applies to those who do not practice circumcision (Gen 17:14) or who don't observe Passover (Num 9:13), the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Exod 12:15, 19), or the Day of Atonement (Lev 23:29). Gane has never argued for the moral and permanent nature of these observances.
Miroslav M. Kiś brings his considerable skills as a counselor and a theologian to bear as he discusses innocence, guilt, and shame in "Return to Innocence." I rejoice at his honesty:
My sincerest desire is that I had known years ago what I know now about the distinction between homosexuality, homosexuals, and homosexual acts. It is clear that more education and information should reach every pew of our churches (page 184).
On the other hand, I am puzzled by his claim that the "social pressure, homophobia, and other forms of ostracizing cannot be charged as the only culprits for intense shame among homosexuals" (page 180). I can only say I have absolutely no sense of shame about my sexuality. I am not claiming sinless perfection. I am claiming that my sexuality was frozen for so long that it has emerged as the sweetest, purest, most innocent part of me.
In "Homosexuality and the Bible: What is at Stake in the Current Debate?,"Richard M. Davidson suggests place of Scripture itself in the life and doctrine of the Church is at stake in the discussion about homosexuality. I agree with him, except not in the way he might expect. The place of Scripture is in danger of being murdered, but this time not in the house of liberals. It is in danger of being massacred by Davidson, Gagnon, and Gane themselves, while they so loudly trumpet their conservative credentials. It is already being slaughtered in the house of its "friends."
I was disturbed by the omissions in this section. At the Andrews conference, Jason Hines and Mitch Tyner took very different positions on religious liberty and gay marriage to those of the contributors in this section of the book. Is that why their papers are absent?
In his contribution, "Should Adventists Care about Protecting Traditional Marriage?," Nicholas P. Miller presents a horrific account of the effects of "the gay lifestyle" on gay life-expectancy and child-rearing. He appears to be unaware of the poor credentials of some of these researchers he cites and omits important research that simply doesn't fit his thesis.
Miller ignores the reality of the lives of individual gay people. He knows nothing of who I am and how I raise my child, nothing of who my gay friends are as actual people. Nothing of the lesbian couple I know who have been raising the two nephews of one women, along with the boys' half sister, who is not even a blood relative of either mother. These women went to court to fight to protect these children from parental abuse and have done amazing feats under the most challenging circumstances. They now have a beautiful baby girl through sperm donation and they have ensured there will be plenty of male presence in her life. Nicholas Miller, even if you repeated your diatribe to our faces, we would never accept the implication that there is something second rate about our parenting. As an Adventist academic I must be dispassionate in response to your words. As an Adventist gay person, I don't have to be. Your paper is a gross act of violence against me and against the people I love. We are not legal theories. We are human beings.
Alan J. Reinach's paper, "Wake up and Smell the Equality: Same-sex Marriage and Religious Liberty," and Gerald Chipeur's paper, "Northern Exposure: How the Church Is Faring Under Canda's Same-sex Marriage Regimen," focus on how legal changes in favour of "gay rights" could limit or already are limiting the church's religious liberty in employment and other areas. These papers bemuse me. The scholar in me agrees that religious institutions need to be able to defend their identity. The gay man sniffs out their fear as the fear of powerful men scared of losing their dominance over the weak. The ungracious part of me says we deserve whatever the law might dish out. The compassionate part of me asks that my Adventist brothers and sisters simply meet me and my tribe in a place of true reason and love.
In "Freedom and Marriage," Scott Zentner argues that the legalization of same-sex marriage would damage straight marriage by destroying the distinct roles of men and women in the home. "Marriage is principally concerned with shaping sex-specific roles, not validating personal relationships, sexual or otherwise" (page 300). To ward off homosexuality, it seems we must maintain rigid stereotypes about men and women, just as some opponents of women's ordination are doing as they resist justice on another battlefront in my church. I believe there are real differences between the sexes but that very few are absolute. Most are generalizations. Men are alleged to be more "deliberative" than women, more capable of abstract thought and dealing with spatial relationships. Women are said to be more adept at the use of language and personal communication (pages 290-297). I have seen women deliberate with brilliance and they are no less women for that. My understanding of spatial relationships is so poor that when I was a teenager, my driving instructor thought he had finally met a person who could not learn to drive. He never told me till much later and I did learn, but that is beside the point. I can read several languages. I talk and communicate for a living. Personality tests reveal I have more sensitivity than the average woman. I can walk into a room and discern in a moment what everyone is feeling. One imagines Zentner might want to ban me from straight as well as gay marriage, with traits like these. Do they make me less of a man? Hardly.
Zentner even suggests "promiscuous or immodest women . . . [should be] looked down upon more than promiscuous men" (page 306). Ah, the memories that claim brings back of church meetings when I was a teenager, where young women were warned in front of young men that young men were only after one thing, and that they were responsible to keep those young men, who would of course go as far as they let them, if not further. It was enough to revolt any young man, straight or gay, who had the least bit of sensitivity, and who was suddenly imagining himself as no more than a rapist in the making. Do we really want to impose such madness on another generation? Whatever the generalizations about male and female behaviour, Jesus' equalizes gender responsibility for sexual purity when he asserts that a man is as accountable for not committing adultery against his wife as she is for not committing adultery against him (Mark 10:11). Paul writes of mutual sexual responsibility and privilege (1 Cor 7:3, 4), notwithstanding all the allegations of sexism sometimes lodged against him. I don't need a woman as a complement to keep me from promiscuity. The words of the man of Nazareth are enough for me. Zentner, your double standard is viscerally repulsive.
Gary V. Wood's "Same-sex Marriage and the Declaration of Independence," nearly canonizes the Declaration of Independence in a way I find offensive as an American. How non-American Adventist readers must cringe at this contribution! He offers a fundamentalist reading of the minds of those who wrote it, as if he really believes these natural law advocates would surely change their minds about nothing if they were alive today.
Mark A. Yarhouse's "The Pastoral Applications of a Three-tier Distinction between Same-sex Attraction, a Homosexual Orientation, and a Gay Identity," seems to be a game in semantic casuistry. He clearly would have great difficulty ever comprehending my identity as a "gay celibate." Discovering my gay identity has been an enormous blessing to me because for years I had to shut down half my God-given personality in order not to know the truth. A colleague used to tell his students, "Ask God to do whatever he wants with you whatever the cost." I would try this prayer and my world would fall apart everytime, so I would take back the permission. But then I began praying, "Do it whatever the cost, even if I die in the process." I did not die but I did discover who I really am. Now I am in touch with the whole of me and the whole of me serves God as he intended. Yes, my sexuality is a core part of me. I revel in the beauty of God's creation of me as a gay man. No, I have not yet felt I must have sex with a man to be fulfilled. I do understand that for some people it may be necessary to avoid getting into a "gay script" that leads them into sin. But that is not how it has been for me. When I have told people I am gay nobody has ever assumed I am sexually active except Adventists. It begs the question, who is writing this gay script we fear?
Stanton L. Jones and Mark A. Yarhouse's study, "Ex-Gays? An Extended Longitudinal Study of Attempted Religiously Mediated Change in Sexual Orientation," confirms that real change in orientation is extremely rare. The article seems at least partially to confuse cessation from addictive sexual behaviours with a change of orientation. Would we say that a straight sex addict was suddenly less straight because (s)he changed some of his/her addictive behaviours? Hardly. We would just say (s)he was recovering from his/her addiction. Until we can separate out the issues of orientation and addiction we will keep going nowhere fast on the topic of homosexuality.
As for Carlos Fayard's paper, "The Psychological and Spiritual Care of a Gay Man Who Chose Celibacy: A Case Study," I do wonder if this Catholic priest had not had enforced celibacy imposed on him if he might have escaped becoming a sex addict in the first place. As it is, the story has a place in a book on addiction; it has no place in a book on orientation.
Stanton L. Jones and Mark Yarhouse's second joint contribution, "Sexual Orientation and Skin Color: Deconstructing Key Assumptions in the Debates about Gay Marriage and the Church," especially stresses the fact that scientist have not uncovered any definitive gay gene or set of genes. The point is moot for strictly speaking race is itself a social rather than biological construct, as the erstwhile ability of some South Africans in the apartheid era to move between different racial categories illustrates. That fact hardly justifies racial discrimination. The fact that certain people refuse to believe that my sexual orientation is anything but a perverse choice is irrelevant to me. I sure feel I was born this way. Other people's acceptance or otherwise of that reality is irrelevant. Hitler consigned not only six million Jews to the gas chambers, he also exterminated a million gay men. I will stand equally against racial discrimination and against discrimination against gays.
Inge Anderson's "Good News for Adventist Attracted to Their Own Sex," constitutes a singularly bright spot in the book. I particulary treasure the following jewel. "While in the world the primary definition of homosexuality relates to sexual attraction, many conservative Christians think of homosexuality in terms of sexual activity with some of the same sex, making no allowance for the possibility that some people are attracted to their own sex in the same manner as most people are attracted to the opposite sex" (pages 442-443).
Inge Anderson's paper is a beautiful lead into the testimonies section of the book. The brevity of my comments doesn’t do justice to the content here. Ron Woolsey, Lisa Santos, Winston King, Jonathan Smith, Virna Santos, and Wayne Blakely, your testimonies are all uplifiting, each beautiful in its own way.
Every male contributor in this section tells a story of recovery from profound sexual addiction. However, I am not a sex addict. I rejoice in your recovery. But I don't understand why someone with a much tamer story wasn't included too. I know many gay men who are not sex addicts and if the organizers of the conference couldn't find any, they were just not looking in the right place. Was any straight non-addict ever made gay by testimonies of recovery from straight sexual addiction? No. So why do people think I will be turned straight by the testimonies of recovery from gay sexual addiction?
I have never felt the shame over my sexuality that each of the six contributors to the testimonies section sadly felt, male and female alike. That fact is not to my merit, it simply is. However, it does lead me to believe we should start writing a new script for our gay brothers and sisters and especially for our gay children. The words of parents, parental figures, and peers have tremendous power. People often live down to expectations instead of up. A dysfunctional father checks every month whether or not his daughter is pregnant and rejoices when she is not. It is no surprise when the daughter who has till now been chaste decides she might as well not bother, since nobody believes her story anyway. With the negative scripts we write for our gay children, it is a wonder that any gay people survive. et it is a testimony to God's grace that indeed some of us do, even as it is a testimony to the power of ignorance and bigotry that others slash their wrists. So let's burn the stereotypes and start lifting one another up.
I am no doubt an oddity for I am both a Seventh-day Adventist theologian and a gay man. However, at the end of the day, I am one person, not two. The cognitive academic "I" and the affective emotional "I" not only coexist, they are actually integrated aspects of the same person. What is the role of the objective written word and of the subjective experience in my Christian walk? For me there is no conflict, for it is the same God who inspired Scripture who sent his Son into the world and is now writing his law in my heart.
For all the frustrations I have had with my perception of the blindness of so many of the contributors to this volume, I wish for each one the realization of God's dreams for them. Human paths are very different. Your paths have not been mine. But people like me are at the table too. As are people like the three couples who are featured in the Seventh Gay Adventists movie. Do not discount us or what we have found from the Lord. We are not going away!
Sebastian Wilson is a pseudonym.
David Ferguson, Fritz Guy, and David R. Larson, Christianity and Homosexuality: Some Seventh-day Adventist Perspectives (Roseville, CA: Adventist Forum, 2008).
I have never had sexual relations with another man: not even close. But I do know what it is to be deeply in love and have sublimated some of my sexual desire through deeply intimate lifelong platonic same-sex friendships. I know where my erotic and romantic attractions lie. I know who I am. I know for a certainty that I am gay. I am no pinup boy for gay celibacy. I do not have the gift. As deep as my yearning is, I have proved I can live without sex, but that does nothing to ease my loneliness. For now I choose celibacy so I can remain at my current post in ministry. To cope I take six tablets a day for hypertension and three a day for depression. Since this choice may take decades off my life I don't recommend it to others.
Discussed by Rich Hannon, "Adventism and the Intersex Problem," Spectrum 40/3 (Summer 2012): 32-34.
On the contrary Ham's looking on the nakedness of his father has serious consequences (Gen 9:7-27). "Uncovering nakedness" becomes a euphemism for sexual relationships (Lev 18; 20).
One response might be that Jesus did recognize the existence of people who do not fit the male/female binary, i.e., eunuchs. "For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother's womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake" (Matt 19:12). Surely, it might be argued, if the last category is to be celibate, then so must the first two be.
The immediate context is Jesus' citing of the Genesis model to defend the permanence of marriage (Matt 19:4-9). The disciples respond in horror that it might not be "good to marry” (vs. 10). Jesus replies, "All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given" (vs. 11). Jesus' identification of the three categories of eunuch follows (vs. 12). The significance of this identification for the current discussion depends on whether "this saying" in vs. 11 refers to the disciples' horrified reaction (vs. 10) or his teaching of the current applicability of the Adam and Eve model in vss. 4-6. If vss. 4-6 are indeed in view, the right or otherwise of those born eunuchs to sexual relationship is not even being discussed. Instead, the right of others to insist they fit the male/female binary is being denied. Consideration of the weighty issues of justice and mercy for third gender people cannot be dismissed simply because a reader prefers one referent for "this saying" (vs. 11) to the other.
Richard G. Brentlinger, Gay Christian 101—Spiritual Self-Defense for Gay Christians: What the Bibel Really Says about Homosexuality (Pace, Fl: Salient Press) , 263.
Evidence noted by Chrysostom millennia before the gay rights movement. St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on the Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans, Homily IV.
Flavius Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, viii, 169.
Miller is not the only contributor to make pointed references to the "gay lifestyle," he is just the most blatant. There is no such thing as a single "gay lifestyle" anymore than there is such a thing as a single "straight lifestyle." How offended would my straight friends be if I pointed at a brothel and said, "So much for the straight lifestyle!" I feel equally offended by references to "practising" and "non-practising" homosexuals. Is homosexuality like learning a musical instrument that "practice" is necessary? My sexuality feels as innate to me as yours does to you. Would it be appropriate to call a chaste teenager a "non-practising straight?" Not usually. If you must make the distinction, talk about "sexually active" and "sexually inactive" gays. But don't use these euphemisms because they are not euphemistic.
E.g, J. G. Pawelski, E. C. Perrin, J. M. Foy JM, et al, "The Effects of Marriage, Civil Union, and Domestic Partnership Laws on the Health and Well-being of Children," 118 (2006): 349-364, presents a very positive view of the child-rearing capacities of same-sex households.
As for the alleged inability for same-sex couples to complement each other in the act of sex itself, this inability exists only in the minds of the ill informed and unimaginative. For gay people the question doesn't even arise.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/5020