Yoweri Museveni recently based his decision to sign the bill outlawing homosexual expression in Uganda on the fact that he understood homosexuality to be largely influenced by environmental factors. If homosexuality could be proven to be genetic, then he said he would consider not signing the bill. But if research pointed to the environment, then he believed they could make changes in the environment to suppress homosexuality. I personally don’t understand how proof that it’s caused by environmental factors would mean it can be eradicated, as it seems clear that people don’t choose their orientation either way, and that homosexual desires have been present among some people in most cultures throughout history, but aside from that: the research doesn’t seem nearly as clear as he concluded.
That got me thinking about how this idea—that homosexuality is the result of childhood wounds or societal influence—is predominate in many Christian circles as well, and it often leads to different problems. I’m not an expert here, but scientists who have devoted their lives to these questions say the research indicates that a gay orientation is likely caused by a number of factors. Both biology and the developmental process likely influence a person’s sexual orientation, and the extent to which one is more influential than the other probably differs from person to person, as sexuality is so layered and complex.
I haven’t yet been able to read Rosaria Champagne Butterfield’s book The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert cover to cover, but I do want to highlight one portion of it that I’ve been thinking about recently in relation to our project here at Spiritual Friendship. Towards the end, Butterfield writes:
What good Christians don’t realize is that sexual sin is not recreational sex gone overboard. Sexual sin is predatory. It won’t be “healed” by redeeming the context or the genders. Sexual sin must simply be killed. What is left of your sexuality after this annihilation is up to God. But healing, to the sexual sinner, is death; nothing more and nothing less.
From the context, I think it’s clear that Butterfield is making an anti-Pelagian point. She’s saying that what we sexual sinners need is not a touch-up operation that amounts to little more than a project of moral self-improvement. What we need, instead, is total, absolute surrender—death to the entirety of our old ways of thinking and living, and rebirth on God’s terms. So, for instance, she goes on to say that a lot of young Christians think their pornography addictions will be cured if they can just get married. (A misreading of 1 Corinthians 7:9, I might add.) But no, Butterfield says, “Marriage does not redeem sin. Only Jesus can do that.” The project of self-salvation, even with something sanctified like marriage, is doomed from the get-go.
Now, the reason I’ve been thinking about this is that it could be read as antithetical to the work we’re trying to do here at SF. We say things like this: Our same-sex love can “express itself as chaste friendship or mystical approach to God rather than as gay sex.” Which could imply that we think our being gay shouldn’t be surrendered to daily death so much as it should be reinterpreted or redeemed or reformed.
I was providing a training for counselors recently, and at one point we were discussing the concept of congruence, which I was describing as an end goal in a counseling process I had helped co-develop with Warren Throckmorton (referred to as Sexual Identity Therapy). The thinking is that when you counsel someone who experiences a conflict between their sexual identity and their religious identity, you want to help them resolve that conflict; that resolution can be thought of as congruence. The experience of congruence may look different for different people.
When I think of congruence, I am thinking of helping a person live his/her life and form an identity in keeping with his/her beliefs and values. I came across the idea of congruence among gay Christians when I conducted a series of studies of sexual minority Christians. (“Sexual minority” in the mainstream LGBT literature refers to people who experience same-sex attraction whether or not they identify as LGBT or report same-sex behavior.) In any case, I was comparing those who integrated their attractions with a gay Christian identity and those Christians who dis-identified with a gay identity. If I were to translate this to the SF crowd, I would say that the gay Christian identity was closest to what we might describe as a Side A gay Christian. The group that dis-identified with a gay identity were either closer to what readers here would think of as Side B gay Christians (in terms of not viewing same-sex relationships as morally permissible) but without the “gay” identification, if that makes sense.
My work as a psychologist has been in the study of sexual identity development among people of faith. I conduct research on the experiences of Christians who are navigating their sexual identity in light of their religious identity. Most of that research ends up at professional conferences and in peer-reviewed journals. I’ve been told that an average of three people actually read any peer-reviewed journal article, so I try to blog about some of the findings here and also discuss current happenings related to an institute I direct here.
I have conducted other studies as well—some truly controversial studies that are indirectly related to sexual identity development—and I will share in the future how those projects have changed the way I approach this topic.
How do I fit into all of this? My interactions with folks at SF have grown over time. I had read Ron Belgau’s work and Wesley Hill’s book quite a while ago, and I had the opportunity to meet and interact with Wesley in England a couple of years ago. I’ve also followed Melinda Selmys’ and Julie Rodgers’ blogs for some time now. Like most readers, I have benefited from learning some facet of their lives, the challenges they have faced either living single or celibate or living in a mixed orientation marriage. They have also challenged me to grow in important ways.
During the debate over Galileo, some theologians appealed to verses of Scripture to “prove” that Galileo’s sun-centered model of the solar system could not be correct. For example, Psalm 93:1 says, ”the world is established; it shall never be moved.” Along with 1 Chronicles 16:30, Psalm 96:10, and Psalm 104:5, this was taken to show that Galileo’s claim that the earth moved around the sun was contrary to the teaching of the Scriptures. Ecclesiastes 1:5, which says, “The sun rises and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it rises,” was interpreted to show that the sun does move. Taken together, these were thought by some to provide a conclusive biblical refutation of Galileo’s heliocentric arguments.
The problem with this kind of interpretation is that these interpreters were mistaking phenomenological language, which describes appearances, with ontological language, which tells us about things as they really are. The sun does appear to rise and set, but this is caused by the earth’s rotation, and not by the motion of the sun. The earth appears fixed and immovable, but in fact, it rotates on its axis and revolves around the sun.
One of the most persistent mistakes made by critics of Spiritual Friendship is the assumption that when we use any language that they don’t like (most commonly, though not limited to, the word “gay”) to describe our experiences, we are using that language to make ontological claims.
Josh Gonnerman has already written a fine response to Austin Ruse’s Crisis Magazine article. There is one point that I wanted to address that I didn’t think he covered, which is the belief within a lot of conservative Catholic circles that any kind of intimate friendship between men and women is “playing with fire.”
I suppose that I should begin by pointing out that I am a convert—that’s true of most of the people here on Spiritual Friendship, but many of my friends and colleagues here are converts from Protestant churches that share this kind of suspicion when it comes to mixed-sex friendship. I’m a convert from liberal Anglicanism via atheism so I was never raised with any of these ideas. It was always just normal for me to have male friends, and it was normal for my male friends to have female friends.
In my post yesterday, I said nothing about the substance of Phil Robertson’s comments to GQ Magazine. I said only that I did not think his comments about gays were bad enough to deserve suspension (I actually think his comments on race are more disturbing, though as far as I know A&E didn’t make an issue of these comments in announcing his suspension).
I deliberately did not address the substance of his comments, because I didn’t want to seem to be joining the people piling on and calling for his head. However, I then spent a lot of time yesterday moderating comments here and at First Things, and became convinced that I needed to say something more about the substance of Robertson’s remarks.
I have no objection to Robertson paraphrasing 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; I’ve quoted those verses on various occasions myself. However, there is a glaring problem in his comments that none of his defenders seem to see.
In pointing this out, I want to be clear that I am responding to his comments in the GQ interview. I do not watch his show, and I do not know him personally. However, since the interview is the source of controversy, and the interview is what many Christians are defending, I think it worthwhile pointing out that at least part of what he said in the interview should have attracted much more objection from Christians than it has. A blanket defense of Robertson’s words is, from a Christian perspective, indefensible.
I wanted to follow up Kyle’s excellent recent post on the complexity of sexual identity with my own account of bisexuality. I’m certainly not trying to characterize Tom Daley or anyone else, but I wanted to give some picture of what it could mean for a man to have a bisexual orientation.
There’s a fairly widespread belief that bisexuality doesn’t really exist in men. From what I can tell, there are a variety of reasons for this belief. I think one of the more common reasons is that it is quite common for gay men to initially identify as bisexual. That leads to the suspicion that any man claiming to be bisexual simply hasn’t been able to accept himself as gay yet. Some skepticism stems from a 2005 study titled “Sexual Arousal Patterns of Bisexual Men” that failed to find evidence that male bisexuality actually existed, although a 2011 study titled “Sexual Arousal Patterns of Bisexual Men Revisited” using the same methodology showed a different result. I was always puzzled by the 2005 study, given that my experience contradicts the conclusion many people were drawing from it. There is also need for caution in interpreting the results of both studies, because the methodology used simply involved measuring genital arousal in response to certain forms of pornography. Thus, it only measured one part of attraction under artificial laboratory conditions and may not be reflective of someone’s full experience of sexual orientation. Given that I’ve never used porn, I’m actually not certain what results I would have gotten under the studied conditions.
Recently, both Ron Belgau and Melinda Selmys have written here on Spiritual Friendship about Joseph Sciambra’s book Swallowed by Satan and the hubbub it has caused amongst conservative commentators. In the book, Sciambra recounts his slow descent from teenage Playboy consumer to gay Satanist and sado-masochistic porn star who dabbles in Neo-Nazi rituals. Before undergoing a Christian conversion experience at the end of the book, Sciambra enjoys an astonishing variety of sexual liasons that I will not discuss in detail here. Conservatives have seized gleefully on Sciambra’s narrative as an expose of the sordid reality behind the “gay agenda.” Sciambra has featured on LifeSiteNews and on Bryan Fischer’s show. The message from the Religious Right is that homosexuals are out to recruit your children into the gay lifestyle—a never-ending carnival of witchcraft, Nazism, and sex with goat-headed men (you don’t want to know more, trust me).
I am not sure Sciambra is doing the Church any favors. When someone claiming to be promoting biblical teaching about homosexuality gives the impression that anything other than the slimmest imaginable proportion of gay lives are a whirligig of devil-worship and sexual sadism, chances are that when someone finds out this picture of the gay community is not accurate (by, say, meeting normal gay people), they will also conclude that Christian moral teaching is false.
Although theoretical reflection about spiritual friendship is important, there is also an important place for talking about the practicalities of how it gets lived out day-to-day.
Over the last few years, I’ve gotten to know a number of young Christian professionals and grad students here in St. Louis. Although our careers spanned a range of disciplines, we had enough common interests that we could get along well and have meaningful conversations.
In some ways, the life of this group of friends is quite mundane. We’re all quite busy with our studies and work. But we still make time to go hiking on weekends, or grab dinner and a movie, or hang out at a pub, or walk around Forest Park or the Botanical Garden. Sometimes there are more of us involved in these activities, sometimes smaller subsets of the group—even just two or three—will do something.