Tag Archives: Homosexuality

More Emerging Conclusions (LGBT 6)

The best scientific research I have seen, at least from sources not biased against Scripture or religion, have concluded that a gay or lesbian identity is changeable. A person embraces a gay or lesbian identity by choice, it is not inherent. This means that a person can have a homosexual orientation but still embrace the gospel call to accept Jesus Christ as one’s Lord and the master of one’s life. Accepting Jesus as Savior and Lord is core to what it means to be a follower of Jesus, so this finding is very significant. There is no immutable barrier to LGBT people accepting the gospel and participating in the life of the church.

At the same time, research indicates that, in most instances, homosexual orientation is not a choice, but is ingrained into the person’s being. So-called “change therapies” have had very limited success over a period of five or six years (there may seem to be a “change” over the short term, but it usually does not last). It is likely that where a change can be scientifically verified, the person was actually bisexual rather than homosexual, but these categories can be hard to separate clinically. If one’s orientation is ingrained, and not subject to change, that is extremely significant for how Christians should treat LGBT people. To demand a change in inner thought processes and urges when such a change is unlikely or impossible is more abusive than godly.

How do we explain the presence of immutable characteristics that incline a person contrary to God’s original creation design? From a biblical perspective, these are a consequence of human rebellion and sin, but not necessarily the individual’s own rebellion and sin. Sin is not just a legal breaking of the law. Sin is a poison or an infection that is ingrained inside all human beings from birth and distorts everything we do and everything we are. In this we are all on the same ground. We are all broken people whose brokenness may manifest itself in different ways, but from the standpoint of the gospel, we all start in a similar place. We are “out of compliance” by nature. That means “temptation” is not the same thing as sin. In a broken world, sexuality of all types can incline a person toward sin. In this the homosexual and the heterosexual are on the same ground. Both are broken, in the biblical sense, and both need the redemption that comes in Christ and the support of the Holy Spirit. Sin and its consequences cannot be eradicated by effort, they require divine intervention, which will only be experienced in its fullness at the Second Coming (Rom 8:22-23; 1 Cor 15:51-54). Until then, we are all in need of compassion, understanding and forgiveness.

This tells me that any Christian outreach to LGBT people must occur in full awareness of a common brokenness. If heterosexual Christians act as if they are morally superior to homosexual people, they are not only abusive, they are wrong from a biblical perspective (don’t worry, we will be looking at the biblical texts themselves soon). They are like those Jesus describes as seeing the speck in another person’s eye while missing the plank in their own (Matt 7:1-5, NIV). The biblical perspective on sexuality is not biased against gays, its analysis penetrates deep into all human self-deception and delusion. LGBT people are not exempt from the biblical analysis, neither are they to be singled out as uniquely lost or depraved in some way.

Another emerging conclusion is that bisexual and homosexual are not the same thing. If one thinks of orientation as a continuum with full heterosexuality at one end and full homosexuality at the other, bisexuality is a condition in which the person is somewhere between, attracted at times to the same sex and at times to the opposite sex. Most people are at one end of the spectrum or the other, but some are at various places in between. For church communities that like everything simple or “black and white,” sexuality and its manifestations are more complicated than they would like. Add in intersex and transgender, and things are far more complicated yet. Bisexuals may have more choice in how they express their sexuality, but bisexuality is also more a symptom of human brokenness than the result of a person’s decision and action.

In this generation, people and human sexuality have proven to be more complex than we realized before. I would like to turn in the next blog to some of the biblical data to see what “word from the Lord” we can get to help manage the complexities as church communities.

Emerging Conclusions (LGBT 5)

As I examine the Seventh-day Adventist literature on LGBTIQ, I do see an emerging consensus on a number of challenging issues. My report is not the final word, by any means. But it is better to have an educated position on difficult topics than a knee-jerk or naïve position. I am open to further research and deepening understanding, but there has developed a strong political element in relation to this topic. There are many issues researchers will not touch because of their fear that the results may work against the political consensus, or that they may be ostracized by their research community. So the research needs to be attended to, but with a certain amount of healthy skepticism in a politically-charged research and educational environment. Give appropriate deference to those who have spent their lives researching on issues of sexuality, but think for yourself and don’t buy conclusions where the evidence seems suspect. And be very suspicious of any result that is clearly contradictory to Scripture.

Having said that, many ideas that claim to be based on the Bible are actually based on either selective reading or a distorted reading lens. One of my teachers loved to say, “It isn’t hard to have strong convictions on any topic, as long as you are willing to ignore some of the evidence.” On top of that, all readers of the Bible, including conservative ones, tend to read the Bible through a hermeneutical lens that can distort the outcome of their study. I have spoken to this latter point at some length in chapters three and four of my book The Deep Things of God. I refer you there for more detail. Below I share some things that Seventh-day Adventists (and other conservative Christians) who are knowledgeable on both the Bible and science are coming to agree on. I believe these kinds of agreements need to be the foundation of further study and practice.

One emerging consensus among educated Adventists (including both conservative and liberal) is that one’s sexual orientation in most cases is not a choice. The behavioral sciences have always debated the issue of nature versus nurture. Is a condition inherited or does it exist because of experience and training (intentional and otherwise)? Is a homosexual orientation genetic or otherwise inherited? Or is it something that happens because of parental relationships, abuse, or certain family dynamics? Is it a choice or is it determined in some way? From my experience and understanding, these debates often swing back and forth between the two options, but most often the evidence leads researchers to “both/and.” Most conditions can be traced to a combination of both inheritance (genes, etc.) and upbringing. And inheritance does seem to play a role in same-sex attraction and orientation. Be that as it may, even if homosexuality was solely a result of nurture rather than nature, Adventist understanding is that the character of a child is largely formed something between the ages of three and seven. And how many seven-year old children got to choose their parents?

So while the adoption of a gay or lesbian identity involves a choice, homosexual orientation is rarely, if ever, a choice. There are some exceptions and we will address those in the following blog. This conclusion is very significant for the church. Regardless of how it happened, if orientation is not a choice in most instances, the church must be careful not to demand of people something that they are not capable of, even with prayer and fasting. If the science is correct, that would be like demanding that someone born without a leg produce a natural one before they can be accepted into the church. To require such would be abusive and cruel. At the same time, orientation should not be confused with identity. To accept a person with physical, mental or emotional challenges is not the same thing as “condoning sin.” To accept a person who is “different” through no choice of their own is not “condoning sin.”

When I shared this consensus with an Adventist friend, he became upset with me. “To live with a homosexual orientation and not try to change it is to live in sin,” he proclaimed, “I believe that it is a choice that people make, and wrong choices are sin.” While I have not met a homosexual person who felt that they had a choice (many have prayed for years that God would change them) that story would not be convincing to him. So I simply asked my friend, “When did you choose to be heterosexual?” He had no answer. Where we stand on this issue determines to a great degree how we treat all kinds of people whose life and struggles are different from our own.

LGBTIQ: Defining Terms (LGBT 3)

A few years back the American Academy of Religion had a “Gay and Lesbian Studies Group.” Then more recently it became the “LGBT Studies Group.” Then a couple of years ago it became the “LGBTIQ Studies Group.” What was going on? Scholars of gay and lesbian studies became increasingly aware that human sexuality is a lot more complicated than just “gay and straight.” So I thought we’d better define our terms before we get any further.

Lesbian: A lesbian is a female who is not only attracted to other females sexually (rather than males) but sees that attraction as a core personal identity. Lesbians do not apologize for their attractions and/or sexual preferences, they embrace them. A person could embrace the term “lesbian” even though she is not in a sexual relationship. She feels her sexual identity is a part of “who she is.”

Gay: The term “gay” is applied to males who are not only attracted to other males sexually (rather than females) but see that attraction as a core personal identity. A “gay person” refers to someone who identifies with his sexual identity, whether or not he is in a sexual relationship. When people speak of gays and lesbians as a group, the term “same-sex relationships” is increasingly preferred to the term “homosexuality,” which can have pejorative overtones in some contexts.

Bisexual: Here’s where things can get a bit confusing. They are individuals who are more or less equally attracted to both sexes or either sex. They can “play it both ways.” Some prefer to call this condition “pansexual” or “fluid” sexuality. Bisexuality is not the same thing as homosexuality, where a person is primarily attracted to the same sex, although it can easily be confused with it. Some prefer to think of sexuality as a continuum, with opposite-sex attraction at one end, same-sex attraction at the other, and bisexual in the middle. But bisexuals may not be “50/50,” the attractions may be fluid, yet more inclined toward one gender than the other.

Transgender: Things get even more complicated here. A transgendered person is “none of the above” although they may appear at various times to be “all of the above.” Transgender means that the gender (and often sexuality) of brain and body are in conflict. In 99% or more of cases, the gender of the brain is the same as that of the body. But in less than one per cent of cases, a person is gender conflicted. The gender they identify with is not the one that manifests itself physically. External gender is determined in the first three months after conception. Brain gender (whether a person considers themselves male or female) is determined 4-6 months after conception. I once assumed that people who cross-dress or pursue sex-reassignment surgery were “making it up.” But I now understand that male and female brains are not the same and can usually be distinguished by brain scans. So if someone is physically male but identifies as a female, it is not usually some imaginary condition, it is because that person’s brain was assembled differently than that of the typical physically male person. Another term for this experience is “gender dysphoria.”
If a person’s brain is female and is attracted to males, but the body is male, it will appear as same-sex attraction, but is actually not at the level of the brain. So this category complicates things for a church community that wants simple, “biblical,” categories for dealing with relational situations. Later on, we will address the question of the degree to which the Bible anticipated these and other complications in the gender reality we are exposed to today.

Intersex: The term intersex is used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with an anatomy that doesn’t neatly fit the definitions of either male or female. In other words, in about one per cent of live births, the physical gender is ambiguous. One cannot tell by looking at the genitals if the person is male or female, or the person may have external genitalia for both or neither male and/or female. Or a person may have male genitalia on the outside, but female organs on the inside. To confine conversations about sexuality to heterosexuality or homosexuality is to ignore the tremendous complexity of possible conditions a person may find themselves in.

Queer: When I was small “queer” was a derogatory term for people who were “different,” usually homosexual. Today the term is applied to all of the above, to sexualities and genders that don’t fit the typical mold. It is a “catch-all” category for anyone who doesn’t fit the standard experience of gender and sexuality. So scholars involved in studying any of the above realities sometimes speak of “queer studies.” As such, this is no longer considered a derogatory term but a category grouping together people who don’t fit the typical gender mold.

If all of the above is way more complicated than you wanted to know, please be aware that I have only scratched the surface. I believe the above definitions are helpful, but they are over-simplifications for the sake of communicating a basic understanding. There are many types of transgender people and many types of intersex conditions. Scientists are currently aware of some 36 genes that affect the gender outcome, both of body and brain. If any one of these genes develops or combines with others out of the “norm,” it can create noticeable differences from the typical male and female presentation. In some cases several genes may develop or relate to each other in unusual ways. So the varieties of sexual and gender manifestation are far more numerous than we thought and much of that is not a “choice” that a person made along the way.

When it comes to faith and to church community, this issue requires the compassion and understanding of Christ toward those who seem “queer” to us. The natural reaction to “differentness” is rejection, but the gospel calls us to treat people in a way that is counter to our natural, sinful reaction. Fleshing out the previous two sentences is a major reason for this blog series.

Three Important Books on “LGBT” Issues (LGBT 2)

Three books, in particular, have been extremely helpful to me, two from the Seventh-day Adventist perspective and one from a dear colleague in the Methodist tradition. The latter book is The Moral Vision of the New Testament, by Richard Hays (San Francisco: Harper, 1996). It was named by Christianity Today as one of the hundred most important religious books of the 20th Century. In it is a chapter where Hays wrestles with the Scriptures on this topic in full and fair dialogue with a gay friend. Hays’ commitment to God and the Scriptures is unassailable. I remember him responding to a question at a seminar in Loma Linda about whether he has changed his position since he wrote that book twenty years ago. He responded, “I wish I could.” His compassion for people caught between their personal experience and what the Bible teaches was clear. But he testified that the he couldn’t get around what the Bible teaches. He said something to the effect that: “However one might exegete specific texts, the overall trend of the Bible is clear. Whenever the Bible speaks about sexuality within a traditional marriage, it is always positive, whenever it speaks about sexual alternatives, it is always negative.” Any person of faith approaching the issue honestly will find it complex and sometimes heart-wrenching.

The second book I found helpful was the volume edited by my esteemed colleague, David Larson, and others; Christianity and Homosexuality: Some Seventh-day Adventist Perspectives (Adventist Forum, 2008). The book is generally considered to promote a more left-wing perspective than that of Hays or the Seventh-day Adventist denomination. But Larson explained to me the intention of the editors that the multi-author volume would provide a balance of perspectives that would include right, left and middle. But some of the more right-wing authors pulled out rather than be associated with other authors in the book, so the more conservative perspective in the book was there but relatively limited, giving the book a distinct, more radical flavor than the editors intended. While I found some of the perspectives extreme, I learned a lot from the book and recommended it to the members of the University Board as a good way to get up to speed on the issues.

In reaction to the above book, the Seminary at Andrews University set up a conference including many of the more conservative scholars who bowed out of the earlier project and added significant names from scholarship outside the Adventist Church. This resulted in another book, Homosexuality, Marriage, and the Church, edited by Roy Gane, Nicholas Miller and Peter Swanson (Berrien Springs: Andrews University Press, 2012). It was expected that this conference and book would be very different from Larson’s. To my great surprise, the two books seemed to agree on more than they disagree. There are certainly points of difference. But the points of agreement were considerable and, in my view, point the way forward for the church. Any conversation on this issue should begin with what all reasonable believers can agree on. One purpose of this blog series is to spell out some of those points of a agreement and explore the best way for the church to move forward. I don’t claim to offer a final word, but those who have heard me talk about these things have urged me to share them for the benefit of the church. I will begin in the next blog by defining some key terms that are sometimes misunderstood.

LGBTIQ and the Church

This is not a topic I am anxious to address for a number of reasons. It is a hot-button topic, which often infuriates people from multiple perspectives. It has political implications, which isn’t a lot of fun these days. But if you work at a faith-based institution of higher education in California, you can’t avoid the topic. And if you are a church administrator anywhere in North America (or increasingly in much of the world), you can’t avoid the topic either. To compound matters, scientific and biblical knowledge about the topic is increasing exponentially at the same time most people would prefer not to have their pre-conceived opinions on the subject challenged. So in many ways this blog project is a no-win proposition. But decades ago I made a commitment to God to speak the truth as I see it, without fear or favor, so here goes anyway.

Because of extensive conversations on the topic at my home institution, Loma Linda University, I have had to get up to speed on many issues related to LGBTIQ. Recently I have been asked to consult with a number of Seventh-day Adventist Church entities at the conference, union and division level. These consultations have gone surprisingly well, and my contributions have been considered game changers for many. World church leadership is also seeking to make its way forward on this issue, maintaining faithfulness to the testimony of the Bible regarding sexuality, on the one hand, but also faithfulness to the Bible’s call to exercise compassion for every human being as a “soul for whom Christ died” (see Romans 14:15 and 1 Corinthians 8:11). I have been asked, therefore, to offer my contribution to the discussion in this format and to be one of many voices helping the church find its way on this issue. I will express important principles that I have learned from attention to the Bible, science and experience. In doing so, I speak as an individual, I do not represent the position of Loma Linda University or any other organization. But I do speak as a committed Christian and a committed member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. I supports its teaching on marriage and sexuality as the ideal that all should strive for within their capabilities.

There is a personal element in this topic for me. Back in the 1950s, when I was still in the single digits, an aunt moved into our home from another country, which had suffered greatly during World War II. She was “different,” but a lot of fun, except for the smoking, which I didn’t particularly care for. People quietly talked about 1945 and some really bad things that had happened to her then. She didn’t particularly care for men, or for God, for that matter. A while after, my mom said that her “friend” would be coming over and also living with us. I was way too sheltered to suspect anything unusual about the arrangement until I was a lot older. But I loved both women and I was sure that God loved them at least as much as I did. So when the gay and lesbian movement became public knowledge, I was not taken by surprise the way some of my friends were. When I moved to Loma Linda University in 2007, and became aware of the ferment on this issue in the State of California the following year, I was more than willing to learn all I could about the topic and help the University navigate some of these issues.