Sponsor: CA Conversion Therapy Bill Won't Ban Books or the Bible

Some conservative pundits are worried that a bill moving to the California State Senate will ban the Bible or at least some Christian books. Upon examination, I don’t see a basis in fact for that claim.
The bill is AB 2943 and would amend state law on unlawful business practices with a prohibition on performing sexual orientation change therapy for a fee. A fact sheet for the bill provided by bill sponsor Assemblyman Evan Low can be viewed at the link below.

Fact Sheet on AB 2943

Liberty Counsel has been spreading the view that the Bible would be banned by the bill and National Review’s David French has made a serious case that the bill would lead to a ban on certain Christian books.  Essentially, they say that the current law prohibits the sale of “goods” which result in harm from being sold. They argue that books which promote changes in behavior away from homosexual behavior even if the goal is celibacy might be considered within the reach of the statute since the statute defines sexual orientation change as including “efforts to change behaviors or gender expressions.”
Since the entire bill is about sexual orientation change, it seems clear to me that the reference to behavior change is due to the practice of some change therapists to get gay clients to engage in heterosexual behaviors even when it doesn’t seem natural as a kind of behavior therapy. This isn’t a reference to celibacy – which by the way doesn’t reflect a change in orientation.
In fact, the next section of the bill says that sexual orientation change efforts as defined by the statute don’t include interventions which:

(A) provide acceptance, support, and understanding of clients or the facilitation of clients’ coping, social support, and identity exploration and development, including sexual orientation-neutral interventions to prevent or address unlawful conduct or unsafe sexual practices; and (B) do not seek to change sexual orientation.

Clients who decide to live a celibate life can count on a counselor’s help as long as those interventions are neutral regarding change of orientation.

Does the Bill Ban Books?

I wrote Assemblyman Evan Low to ask if AB 2943 prohibited the sale of books or videos promoting conversion therapy by therapists. I also asked if the amended law would prohibit the sale of religious books or videos which advocate that gays should change their sexual orientation by religious means. Finally, I asked if AB 2943 prohibited the sale of books or videos promoting celibate behavior for gays as a way to adhere to religious beliefs.
Low’s Communications Director Maya Polon wrote back to answer all three questions negatively. According to the sponsor, the bill doesn’t relate to books or speech. I followed up by asking if any of the unlawful business practices has ever led to the banning of any books or speech. She wrote back to say that she wasn’t aware of any instance where books about any those practices have been banned. I also asked Mr. French via Twitter if he was aware of books banned in CA due to the unlawful practices law but have not heard back from him as yet.
A few days ago Evan Low responded to this issue via Twitter:


I haven’t decided what I think of the bill yet but unless this part of the law has ever been used to try to ban books before, then it doesn’t seem to be a serious reason to oppose it now. There is a lot wrong with conversion therapy but generally I favor more freedom not less. What makes me think this could be a reasonable response to the harm reparative therapy can do is that there is nothing in the bill that stops a person from trying to make personal changes outside of a professional context. Furthermore, I don’t see how the bill prohibits counselors from helping clients who pursue celibacy. However, it does remove the stamp of approval of the mental health professions for change therapy.

Family Policy Alliance Misleads Public on Conversion Therapy Legislation

To hear Focus on the Family’s public policy arm, Family Policy Alliance, talk about it, the opponents of forcing teens to go to sexual orientation change efforts (aka conversion therapy) don’t want kids to go to counseling. Listen to Stephanie Curry use the phrase “basic talk therapy” like it is her job (which in this case it is).

Transcript:

Hi, I’m Stephanie Curry and I’m a public policy manager with Family Policy Alliance. I’m here today to talk to you about a series of bills that we’re seeing across the country that would seek to ban basic talk therapy for our children. Family Policy Alliance cares about this issue because we care about our children and that they’re able to have access to basic talk therapy if they are struggling with unwanted same-sex attraction and gender identity issues. We believe that families and parents know what’s best for their children and they should have the ability to find licensed therapists that support their moral and religious principles.
Some bills we’re seeing that are cause for concern are for example a bill in Massachusetts that said it was child abuse for a family to take their child to a therapist to get therapy for their unwanted same-sex attractions or gender identity issues. We also have seen a bill in Massachusetts that equates this type of basic talk therapy to torture. Now we know that this isn’t true. Because we love our children, we want them to have access to compassionate and ethical basic talk therapy that is open to change. Thank you so much for joining us today.

The Basic Talk Therapy Bill

In fact, the only bill I could find in MA did not refer to therapy as child abuse or torture. The bill does not prohibit basic talk therapy. The 2017 bill — H1190 — specifically forbids interventions which serve sexual reorientation or gender identity change. However, the bill does allow a neutral exploration of sexual and gender identity issues.
Read the the bill below:

SECTION 1. Chapter 112 of the General Laws, as appearing in the 2014 Official addition, is hereby amended by adding following new section:-
Section 266. (a) Definitions.
For the purposes of this section, “licensed professional” means any licensed medical, mental health, or human service professional licensed under Chapter 112, including any psychologist, psychiatrist, social worker, psychiatric nurse, allied mental health and human services professional, licensed marriage and family therapist, licensed rehabilitation counselor, licensed mental health counselor, licensed educational psychologist, or any of their respective interns or trainees, or any other person designated or licensed as a mental health or human service professional under Massachusetts law or regulation.
The term “sexual orientation” shall mean having an orientation for or being identified as having an orientation for heterosexuality, bisexuality, or homosexuality.
The term “Gender identity” shall mean a person’s gender-related identity, appearance or behavior, whether or not that gender-related identity, appearance or behavior is different from that traditionally associated with the person’s physiology or assigned sex at birth. Gender-related identity may be shown by providing evidence including, but not limited to, medical history, care or treatment of the gender-related identity, consistent and uniform assertion of the gender-related identity or any other evidence that the gender-related identity is sincerely held as part of a person’s core identity; provided, however, that gender-related identity shall not be asserted for any improper purpose.
“Sexual orientation and gender identity change efforts” means any practice by a licensed professional that attempts or purports to impose change of an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity, including but not limited to efforts to change behaviors or gender expressions, or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same sex. The term “sexual orientation and gender identity change efforts” does not include practices:
(A)(1) to provide acceptance, support, and understanding of an individual’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression; (2) facilitate an individual’s coping, social support, and identity exploration and development; or (3) that are sexual orientation-neutral or gender identity-neutral including interventions to prevent or address unlawful conduct or unsafe sexual practices; and
(B) Do not attempt or purport to impose change of an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
(b) Under no circumstances shall a licensed professional advertise for or engage in sexual orientation and gender identity change efforts with a patient less than 18 years of age. Any licensed professional violating this prohibition shall be such subject to discipline by the appropriate licensing board, which may include suspension or revocation of license.
(c) Whoever violates this section shall be considered to have violated section 2 of chapter 93A. Any such claim brought under this section shall be subject to sections 5A and 7 of chapter 260.
SECTION 2. (a) Subsection (a) of Section 51A of chapter 119 of the General Laws, as appearing in the 2010 Official addition, is hereby amended by inserting after the words “chapter 233” the following words:-
or (vi) being subjected to sexual orientation and gender identity change efforts as defined by section 169 of chapter 112
(b) Section 51A of chapter 119 is further amended in subsection (i) after the word “family.” by adding the following words:-
Any report including licensed professionals engaging in sexual orientation and gender identity change efforts as defined under section 169 of chapter 112 shall be filed within 30 days to the appropriate licensing board for review and possible suspension or revocation of license.

Therapists Should Be Neutral

Religious right pundits have been distorting these bills since they first came along. The MA bill clearly allows “basic talk therapy” which “provide[s] acceptance, support, and understanding of an individual’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression” and “facilitate[s] an individual’s coping, social support, and identity exploration and development” or “that [is] sexual orientation-neutral or gender identity-neutral including interventions to prevent or address unlawful conduct or unsafe sexual practices.”
Therapist should facilitate coping, social support and identity exploration and do so in a neutral manner. Therapists should not try to push sexual reorientation.
As a result of supportive therapy, some teens will determine that they are straight or cisgender and others will come out as a sexual minority. Such therapy is legal under this bill. Religious therapists should be perfectly fine with this arrangement. Therapy should not be a platform for spreading religious beliefs or making clients into Christian disciples.
What the state of MA is trying to prevent is for a therapist to use the cover of a state license to pursue sexual orientation or gender identity change. Therapists may do many things to support families who are traditional in their beliefs, but under a law like this, they may not actively use techniques or prescribe methods which have the intent to change orientation. Given that those techniques rarely, if ever, work, this would be beneficial for teens on balance.

Top Ten Blog Posts of 2017

In 2017, the following ten posts received the most page views:
10. K-LOVE’s Pledge Drive: Money Behind the Music (2017)
9. Former Newsping Pastor Perry Noble Incorporates Second Change Church (2017)
8. American College of Pediatricians v. American Academy of Pediatrics: Who Leads and Who Follows? (2011)
7. After the Demise of Mars Hill Church Mark Driscoll Landed on His Feet with Over One Million in Donations (2017)
6. IRS and Postal Service Agents on Scene at Benny Hinn’s Office (2017)
5. Mark Driscoll Spins the End of Mars Hill Church (2017)
4. A Major Study of Child Abuse and Homosexuality Revisited (2009)
3. Former CFO at Turning Point Claims David Jeremiah Used Questionable Methods to Secure a Spot on Best Seller Lists (2015)
2. What’s Going on at Harvest Bible Fellowship? James MacDonald Resigns as President of HBF (2017)
and the #1 post is:

  1. Open Letter to Gateway Pastor Robert Morris from a Former Member of Mars Hill Church (2014)

 
Some past posts have aged well. The 2009 post regarding child abuse and non-heterosexuality has been in the top ten nearly every year since 2009.counseling image 2 Readers continue to be interested in Mars Hill Church and various players surrounding the demise of that church.
Although the page views don’t show it, the story that continues to be covered here and almost nowhere else is the Gospel for Asia saga. The target of federal scrutiny and two RICO lawsuits in the U.S., GFA has also initiated and been involved in various legal actions in India. Although the scope of the GFA empire dwarfs other organizations I have examined, it continues to fly along under the radar.
For a profile of my work and the role blogging has played in it, see this lengthy article by Jon Ward in Yahoo News earlier this month.

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The learn more about the sexual identity therapy framework, go here.

My Journey Away from Reparative Therapy

Over the past few weeks, I have written about the Nashville Statement. In doing so, I realized that many readers here haven’t followed this blogclass2
since the beginning (2005) and aren’t aware of my work in the area of sexual identity. In fact, I would say a significant number of readers came along in 2014 when I wrote about Mars Hill Church.
On Saturday, Yahoo News published a profile of my work by Senior Political Correspondent Jon Ward. In the well written piece, Jon focused on my prior support for sexual orientation change efforts. However, he also connected the dots from that work to my opposition to Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill and later opposition to Christian nationalism and megachurch exploitation. I appreciate Jon’s careful attention to the nuances in the story.
If you are interested in more information about how I went from being a supporter of reorientation therapy to being a vocal opponent and how that journey connects to current interests, I encourage you to go read Jon’s profile.

Mixed Orientation Couples and The Nashville Statement: What Would I Do?

Last week, I wrote about advice given by Nashville Statement signer Rosaria Butterfield to a heterosexually married woman who fell in love with acounseling image 2 woman. In addition, this woman had come to dislike her husband greatly and had not been intimate with him for over a year. Butterfield’s answer to the intimacy problem was for the woman to submit to sex often, even though she said she couldn’t bear it. My strong criticism of this generated intense discussion and questions about what I would do in such a situation. This post addresses those questions.
I don’t have to speculate since I have encountered scores of these counseling situations over the years with both straight and mixed orientation couples. Let’s review Butterfield’s scenario:

Sitting across from me at the kitchen table this afternoon, you poured out your heart. When you married your high school sweetheart at 19, you never once suspected you would be in this place. Now, at 39, after twenty years of marriage, you call yourself gay.
In tears, you tell me that you have “come out,” and that you’re not looking back. You haven’t had an affair. Yet. But there is this woman you met at the gym. You work out with her every morning, and you text with her throughout the day.
Even though you are a covenant member of a faithful church, sit under solid preaching, and put up a good front for the children, you have been inwardly despising your husband for some time now. Hearing him read the Bible makes you cringe. You haven’t been intimate with him for over a year now. You tell me you can’t bear it.

Apparently, according to Butterfield, the kitchen table woman is considering an exit from the marriage to be with the gym woman. Butterfield denies that the woman is gay since, in her mind, sexual orientation isn’t a category of existence. She cautions the woman against destroying the family, urges her to repent, submit to her husband’s leadership, and have sex often. It is the last bit of advice that I called the worst advice ever. Butterfield said:

Second, embrace the calling that God has given to you to be your husband’s wife. Your marriage is no arbitrary accident; God called you to it in his perfect providence. And God’s providence is your protection.
Your lot has fallen in pleasant places (Psalm 16:6). Pray for eyes to see this. Recommit yourself to one-flesh love with your husband. Pray together that your hearts would be knit together through Christ. Make time to talk honestly with your husband about how your body works. Show him. Make time to preserve your marriage bed as a place of joy and comfort and pleasure. Have sexual intercourse often. This is God’s medicine for a healthy marriage. One-fleshness is certainly more than sex, but it is not less than sex. Your husband is not your roommate. Treating him as such is sin.

Based on my experience, I think Butterfield’s advice, if followed by the woman in her current emotional state, would hasten the demise of that marriage.

What is a Better Approach?

The first thing I would do in this case is to determine who the client is. Is it the woman or the marriage? If she came in to see me alone then I would work with her to pursue her goals in accord with the sexual identity therapy framework I developed along with Mark Yarhouse. We work within the value framework of the client after a vigorous process of clarifying values and beliefs.* This might mean the marriage might never be the focus.
Even though I would focus on her values and beliefs initially, I would certainly ask if she had any interest in saving the marriage. If she did, I would recommend that the husband come in as well. If he agreed, then the couple and relationship would become the focus.  For the sake of discussion, I will assume she has some interest in saving the marriage.
Intimacy is always a focus on marriage counseling but can never be forced. Especially in the church, there is a power differential between men and women. Counselors must be sensitive to this and treat each member of the couple with dignity and equal respect. No one is to be shamed for sexual desires nor should anyone be shamed for lack of sexual desire. The partner who is more interested in sex must understand that intimacy cannot be forced or coerced from the partner less interested in it. This truth applies to so many situations in marriage, not just the one in the Butterfield scenario.
Full personal histories and a history of their relationship would need to be fleshed out with all of the triumphs and failures. Circumstances surrounding courtship, marriage and births are critical to the development of their story. We want to figure out how the current crisis fits into the ongoing narrative. This is standard counseling work but it sets the stage for making intelligent recommendations tailored to the couple in the room.
I have worked with dozens of Christian couples who have implemented some form of Butterfield’s advice prior to seeing me. When women have done this against their will, the results have been resentment and anger. The marriage deteriorated to the point that counseling was a last resort before seeing the lawyer. I recall one case in particular where the a woman not only left her husband but left her church and lost her faith. Her husband had required her to see the elders on more than one occasion because sexual frequency wasn’t to his liking. Even after he realized how degrading the whole thing was, it was too late. She had enough.
Another woman complained of pain in intercourse but was forbidden by her husband of seeing a gynecologist. After she went anyway, it turned out she had a medical reason why intercourse was painful. When this information was shared with her husband and the pastor, it didn’t matter. She was still required to fulfill her wifely duty because it couldn’t be that bad. She had children after all. That was it, the marriage was over. There are too many more stories.
In the context of mixed orientation marriages, some marriages have stayed together and some haven’t. Some women are bisexual, decide that the family is irreplaceable and worth more than another relationship. Other women determine that they lied at the beginning, were never straight and feel horrible about it. The couples decide it would be best to end the relationship for everybody concerned. Some gay people (I call them spousosexual) have sufficient fluidity in their orientation that they fall in love with one member of the opposite sex without losing their general attraction to the same sex.  Although I don’t think it is common, some of those marriages survive.  The point is that the one-size-fits-all advice offered by Butterfield to woman who have resentment against their husbands would almost never fit anyone and should be removed from the web. I can only see pain and destruction coming from it in the context it was offered.

What About I Corinthans 7?

Let me close by saying a word about those who protest by appealing to I Corinthians 7. Here is the passage:

Now for the matters you wrote about: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband. The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. I say this as a concession, not as a command. I wish that all of you were as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.

First, Paul said that he wrote this as “a concession, not as a command.” Now, I am not a theologian, I am not from Nashville, nor have I ever been a theologian in Nashville signing important documents, but it seems like it is important to note that this instruction isn’t a command. Those are not my words, but Paul’s.
As an aside, Paul said he wished everyone could be single. Does that mean God’s design is singleness? He said everyone has their own gift. What does that say about the person who never has had an opposite sex attraction?
Back to the passage, I recognize that this sounds like marriage is a kind of a transaction, each person has a duty. There is a sense in which this is true in a normal marriage. When people are basically happy with each other and want to have sex, then Paul said they should not deprive each other. Paul started off the instruction by saying he didn’t think it was good for a man to touch a woman (is that God’s design?), so he had to make it clear that for those who are married and want to have sex, he would make a concession and say it was fine for this occur. In the face of some killjoy saying “no sex,” Butterfield’s advice is great.
However, a little later in the passage, Paul gets to the situation Butterfield encounters in her article.

10 To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. 11 But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.

Butterfield’s kitchen table lady might leave her husband according to Paul but she shouldn’t remarry, nor should he remarry. I know mixed orientation couples who have an uneasy separation along these lines because living together was too confusing and painful. Of course, that result is not ideal, but it appears to be one envisioned even by a literal reading of I Corinthians.
In short, I don’t think Butterfield’s advice is a proper application of I Corinthians 7 to a marriage where both partners are not invested in the marriage.
 
*For more on sexual identity therapy, see these articles in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal as well as the SIT website.

Wishful Thinking, Forced Intimacy, and The Nashville Statement

photo-1474367658825-e5858839e99d_optI started counseling LGB people and mixed orientation couples about two decades ago. Initially, I had high hopes that counseling might regularly assist same-sex attracted people become straight or bisexual. In a story that has been told elsewhere, I have since changed my mind.
Part of what helped form my current views of sexual orientation was the experience of counseling and researching mixed orientation couples. I concluded: If heterosexual responding did not happen for same-sex attracted people in that context, it probably wasn’t going to happen at all. For couples already married, I decided to work with them to maintain their marriage if that is what they believed was right. However, I don’t make unrealistic promises. And if people decide to part, I certainly understand the pressures which lead to that decision.
Due to my work, I read a recent article at John Piper’s website by Nashville Statement signer Rosaria Butterfield. In it, she gives some of the worstNashville logo advice I have ever read to a woman in a mixed orientation marriage. Below I respond to it. My response to the article is not theological. Instead, I respond as a clinician and researcher.
In essence, Butterfield denies people are gay:

A mixed-orientation marriage combines one spouse who “is” gay and the other who “is” straight. This new language for sexuality and humanity has become our post-Christian world’s reigning (and godless) logic. Gay may be how someone feels, but it can never be who someone inherently is. Because all human beings are made in God’s image, we are called to reflect God’s image in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness. We are a Genesis 1:27 people, born male or female with a soul that will last forever, and a body that will either be glorified in the New Jerusalem or suffer unspeakable anguish in hell.

After working with LGBT people for two decades, I believe some people are inherently gay. They have never been attracted to a member of the opposite sex, even while married to one. They have tried everything to change, but nothing changes.
Some people are bisexual and seem to fluctuate without warning or conscious choice. Others are basically gay, but fall in love with one member of the opposite sex. If that love is dashed or ceases for some reason, then there is nothing left of their straightness.
Butterfield says there is one size because of the Bible. Even though that’s not exactly what the Bible says, that’s how she and her Nashville Statement interpret it so that’s how anyone she talks to has to be. I used to look at people that way. I won’t do that anymore. There are many things in this world I wish were different but wishful thinking won’t change how things are.
She continues:

Being born male or female comes with ethical and moral responsibilities, blessings, and constraints — by God’s design and for the purpose of image-bearing. Because creation is an identity issue, my feelings — no matter how deep, abiding, or original to my conscience — are not my identity or descriptive of what kind of Christian I am.

In other words, no matter how real reality is, it isn’t really real unless it matches up with her understanding of the Bible. What Butterfield overlooks is that she is basing her argument on her feelings about the Bible. She is confident that her interpretation is the right one. She feels strongly about it. Her feelings are more right than the feelings of the woman she is talking to. She believes that God’s design for most people is normative for all people. No exceptions are allowed. The fact is that some people are naturally different than the norm. No matter how strongly she feels that such exceptions shouldn’t exist, they do.

No, friend. I am not in a mixed-orientation marriage and neither are you. This false category banks on modernism’s magnetism to personal pain as proof of purpose. Like Frankenstein’s creature, modernity’s identity is piecemealed from the unconverted woman that you once were. But gospel identity calls us to the future. Jesus always leads from the front of the line. If you are in Christ — and I believe that you are — then you are a new woman. You have a Galatians 2:20 identity. If you are in Christ, then you are in the process of being sanctified (Hebrews 10:14). You truly are who you will become when you are glorified one day.

The denial of sexual orientation leads to a denial of the present. The woman Butterfield is talking to is living in a body and brain right now, not “one day” by and by. She has a husband she can’t bear to be with and a conflict that is real in the present. She needs something more than it will be well someday.
I do agree with Butterfield’s caution about ending a marriage. What I advocate for in this post is honesty and reality not broken homes. Many couples I have worked with keep their marriage but with real and honest expectations. Furthermore, they do so after an extended period of examining their beliefs to determine that they want an intact marriage more than anything else. If they don’t have those beliefs, then they may peacefully and amicably part ways.

Worst Advice Ever

However, probably the worst advice I have ever read for same-sex attracted people is what comes next:

Your lot has fallen in pleasant places (Psalm 16:6). Pray for eyes to see this. Recommit yourself to one-flesh love with your husband. Pray together that your hearts would be knit together through Christ. Make time to talk honestly with your husband about how your body works. Show him. Make time to preserve your marriage bed as a place of joy and comfort and pleasure. Have sexual intercourse often. This is God’s medicine for a healthy marriage. One-fleshness is certainly more than sex, but it is not less than sex. Your husband is not your roommate. Treating him as such is sin.

Forced intimacy is not intimacy. I can only imagine the horror of a person hearing these words. I have counseled numerous survivors of this kind of advice. What this does is ruin a person for any kind of intimacy, same-sex or opposite-sex.  Maybe some people can hear this, but to me, this sounds cult-like. Channeling early Mark Driscoll, Butterfield instructs this woman to allow her integrity to be violated in the name of God.
The Nashville Statement is supposed to be all about rightly ordered sexuality. I can’t see how a person entering into coerced intimacy reflects this. Butterfield very clearly tells this woman she sins if she doesn’t have sex against her will. This advice doesn’t even pass the test of her fellow Nashville Statement signer and Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood president Denny Burk’s criteria for ethical sexuality. In his book What is the Meaning of SexBurk wrote:

We ought to evaluate the ethics of any sexual act on the basis of its ability to encompass the four purposes [of sex]: consummation, procreation, love, and pleasure.

Butterfield’s kitchen table friend said she didn’t love her husband and derived no pleasure from the experience. How then is sex against her will an ethical act?
I hope DesiringGod.com reconsiders this article and removes it before anyone takes it seriously.

The Nashville Statement and God's Design

Nashville logoAs they say in journalism, the Nashville Statement has legs.  Mark Galli has a critical editorial about the NS in November’s Christianity Today. The President of NS sponsor Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood Denny Burk answered that a couple of days ago. Downstream, I am now responding to Burk.
Because it is behind a paywall, I can’t read all of Galli’s op-ed. However, my main focus is what Burk has to say in reply. In particular, I want to briefly discuss God’s design and sexual orientation and gender identity.

God’s Design

Article 7 of the NS says:

We deny that adopting a homosexual or transgender self-conception is consistent with God’s holy purposes in creation and redemption.

In his CT op-ed, Mark Galli criticized Article 7 of the NS for this position which stigmatize some Christians who consider themselves gay even though they refrain from gay sex.* Burk isn’t having it:

In response to this, I would simply point out that Galli’s criticism is not that Article 7 of the Nashville Statement is false or unsupported in scripture. His argument is simply that those who embrace a gay identity might disagree with it. He may be right that some who embrace a gay identity will not wish to support the statement, but that fact should not be confused with a substantive critique of Article 7 on the merits. Nor should it obscure the fact that Christians who experience same-sex attraction can and do endorse the statement (e.g., Sam Allberry, Rosaria Butterfield, Christopher Yuan).

Burk says Galli doesn’t use the Bible to criticize the NS, then Burk resorts to a defense which relies less on the Bible and more on natural law. As I will demonstrate below, Galli and Burk both look to nature but see different things. Burk continues:

Notice that Article 7 focuses on God’s purpose in his creation design and in his redemptive work through Christ. The careful reader will recognize that this article is concerned with the revelation of God’s design in both nature and scripture. In what sense does Galli think it consistent with God’s design to embrace a transgender self-concept? In what sense is it consistent with God’s design to embrace a gay self-concept? Does Galli think that adopting such self-concepts are a part of God’s original design in creation? Does Galli believe that people will embrace a gay or transgender self-concept in the new heavens and the new earth?
Galli offers us no guidance on these questions, but they are precisely the kinds of questions that ordinary Christians are asking and that Article 7 of the Nashville Statement answers. And I believe the statement does so in a way that is consistent with both natural law and scriptural revelation.

Burk looks at nature, sees the typical arrangement, calls it God’s design and asks Galli questions. He wants Galli to answer that embracing a transgender or gay self-concept isn’t consistent with God’s design. Burk wants him to say that such self-conceptions were not part of the original plan nor will they be part of the eventual eternal state. Therefore, we shouldn’t affirm them now.
Let me now speak for Galli and ask some questions of my own. Mr. Burk, what about the exceptions? Do they not exist? Are they not valuable? In what sense do you think it is consistent with God’s design to pretend that LGBT people don’t exist now? Do you think straight and cisgender people become undesigned if we acknowledge that non-straight and transgender people exist? If those people who exist in exception honestly acknowledge it, will anyone be excluded from the new heavens and the new earth? Can’t the typical and the atypical coexist in your world? They do in mine.
Galli points to one part of nature and says the NS doesn’t fully capture it. Burk comes along, points to a more orderly part of nature and says everybody is supposed to be straight and cisgender even if they aren’t.

Exceptions Happen

In fact, there are many exceptions to “design” in nature.  Among humans, some people have extra bones or teeth, some have webbed toes, some are missing limbs. Some couples are unable to have children. Among sheep, some rams attempt to mate with other rams. This does not alter the behavior of the straight rams. Arguing against LGBT people from God’s design is a weak argument because LGBT people also exist in God’s world. I don’t believe they are a surprise or have thwarted His plans. The basic means of furthering the species is intact even if a small percentage of people aren’t going to find love and attachment in the usual way.
 
Oppose same-sex sexual behavior if that is your conviction, but don’t tell LGBT people that their very existence is an attack on God’s created order and then tell them in the next breath that your statement to that effect is “an expression of love” for them.
Read my other posts about the Nashville Statement here.
*The issues are similar for transgender persons but for simplicity, I will focus on sexual orientation.

Nashville Statement Question: Are GLBT Christians Saved?

Nashville logoSince the Nashville Statement was published by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, a focus of criticism has been Article 10 which states:

WE AFFIRM that it is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism and that such approval constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness.
WE DENY that the approval of homosexual immorality or transgenderism is a matter of moral indifference about which otherwise faithful Christians should agree to disagree.

The president of the Council is Denny Burk. About Article 10, Burk wrote:

That is why Article 10 of The Nashville Statement is as important as any other article before you today… We are not arguing today about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. We are not spinning our wheels about adiaphora or some issue of moral indifference. We are declaring what it means to be a male or female image-bearer. We are defining the nature of the marriage covenant and of the sexual holiness and virtue. To get these questions wrong is to walk away from Jesus not to him. There is no more central concern than that.
Readers who perceive Article 10 as a line in the sand have rightly perceived what this declaration is about. Anyone who persistently rejects God’s revelation about sexual holiness and virtue is rejecting Christianity altogether, even if they claim otherwise.

Some observers have interpreted Article 10 as a claim that GLBT Christians and those who affirm them are not Christians at all. Saying that those who reject the Nashville Statement are “rejecting Christianity altogether” appears to be a strong statement about salvation and so it isn’t completely clear what the CBMW authors and signers have in mind.
Over the past week, I asked several Nashville Statement authors and signers how they understood Article 10. Most said the article wasn’t a statement about salvation. However, the CBMW and leaders involved in the group (e.g., Denny Burk) haven’t answered direct requests for an interpretation.

Differences of Opinion Among Signers

One signer, radio host and minister Michael Brown, said God is the “ultimate judge” of who is saved and who isn’t. However, he added that, in his view, the article is pertinent to the topic of salvation. In response to my question about the meaning of Article X, Brown told me

God alone is the ultimate judge of who is saved and lost, but yes, I believe this is equivalent to a couple living in adultery. The Word says those who practice adultery will not inherit God’s kingdom, and therefore it is heretical to state they will (1 Cor 6:9-10).
But definitions are important here.
If by “gay Christians” you mean practicing homosexuals, I would say they cannot follow Jesus and practice homosexuality at the same time. (Again, God is their ultimate judge and He knows whether they are in ignorance or rebellion.) If you mean people who struggle with SSA but seek to honor the Lord, of course they can struggle while following Jesus. They are champions with whom we stand strong.
Can I say that someone is not saved if they affirm homosexual practice? Certainly, I cannot say that.
Can I say they are embracing heresy? That they are no longer evangelical? That they are endangering their souls and the souls of others? Absolutely.
This has been my position all along, so it was easy for me to sign on here.

Brown seems to hedge a bit but leans toward doubting the profession of salvation by a GLBT Christian. On the other hand, signer and Liberty University professor Karen Swallow Prior believes Article 10 refers to orthodoxy and not salvation. She said:

I see an important and crucial distinction between the word “faithfulness” (the word used in the statement) and the word “faith.”  A departure from “Christian faithfulness and witness” is not the same as a departure from “the Christian faith.”  I was surprised and dismayed that some people seem to see those two words as having the same meaning.

This is an important question. If the Nashville Statement authors and signers intend to limit salvation to those who affirm the statement, then Romans 10:13 will need to be reworded.

Those who call on the name of the Lord and affirm the Nashville Statement on GLBT issues shall be saved.

Nashville Statement signers, what do you think Article 10 means?

If you signed the statement, please leave a comment. What do you think Article 10 is all about? If you didn’t sign it, what is your impression of it?

The Nashville Statement and Same-Sex Attraction

Nashville logoDespite many critical reactions, the Nashville Statement continues to attract signers. The creators of the statement hoped to draw a line in the church sand and they apparently have succeeded.
The statement is divisive regarding the moral status of homosexual acts and desire. It isn’t surprising for the signers to consider same-sex sexual behavior to be sinful. This was already widely known. However, the statement draws a more controversial line when it declares same-sex attraction to be sinful even if never acted upon and asserts that same-sex attraction can be eliminated by following Jesus.
Article 12 of the statement says:

WE AFFIRM that the grace of God in Christ gives both merciful pardon and transforming power, and that this pardon and power enable a follower of Jesus to put to death sinful desires and to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord.
WE DENY that the grace of God in Christ is insufficient to forgive all sexual sins and to give power for holiness to every believer who feels drawn into sexual sin.

When I first read this, it sounded like a condemnation of both same-sex attraction and behavior. It also seems like the authors and signers believe same-sex attraction can be “put to death” or eradicated. Although reparative therapy is nowhere referenced in this statement, this sounds like the authors expect same-sex attracted people to be able to kill their attractions by religious means.
The statement was authored by the Committee for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Writing for CBMW, Denny Burk confirmed my reading of the statement. About Article 12, he said:

The Nashville Statement leaves no room for such revisions nor does it leave ambiguity on the question. But we are not merely reasserting what the Bible says about the moral status of homosexuality. We are also saying that the gospel of Jesus of Christ offers hope for those laboring under the power of this particular temptation:

Elsewhere, Burk has been even more clear that same-sex attraction is inherently sinful. In his article, Is Homosexual Orientation Sinful?

When a person feels themselves experiencing an attraction or a desire toward a person of the same sex, what is their responsibility before God at that point? Is a desire for sexual activity with a person of the same sex a morally benign desire? In the terms that Jesus teaches us, it is always sinful to desire something that God forbids. And the very experience of the desire becomes an occasion for repentance. And it is pastoral malpractice to tell someone who is feeling a sexual attraction for a person of the same sex that they need not repent. In the moment they feel their sexual desire aroused in such a way—in that moment—they must confess the desire as sinful and turn from it. (p. 108)

Burk answers his article’s question in the affirmative.

So how do we answer the question, “Is same-sex orientation sinful?” Insofar as same-sex orientation designates the experience of sexual desire for a person of the same-sex, yes, it is sinful. Insofar as same-sex orientation indicates emotional/romantic attractions that brim with erotic possibility, yes, those attractions too are sinful. Insofar as sexual orientation designates an identity, yes, that identity too is a sinful fiction that contradicts God’s purposes for his creation. (p. 114)

What’s the Problem Here?

Whether one affirms same-sex orientation or not, Article 12 is problematic on empirical grounds. First, efforts to eliminate same-sex desires, religious or not, haven’t been effective. Burk wrote in his blog post that the Nashville Statement “offers hope” for same-sex attracted people. Based on nearly 20 years of research and clinical experience with GLB people, I believe the statement offers false hope based on wishful thinking. It is the rare person who credibly reports that their same-sex attractions are “put to death.” This experience, if it can be believed at all, is the infrequent exception rather than the rule. The Nashville Statement promises much more than is true for the majority of Christians I’ve encountered who have tried to follow these teachings. For many, the result is discouragement, depression, suicidal wishes, and a rejection of the faith. There is no reason to sugarcoat this. It is a denial of reality to do so.
Burk offers consistent doctrinal reasons for his position on orientation when he says that it is “sinful to desire something that God forbids.” However, I question his analysis of the meaning of desire. In fact, I question whether or not we can know for sure what Jesus had in view when he taught that a married man who lusts for another woman has committed adultery. I am not certain that we can judge the modern concept of sexual orientation by this illustration. Was Jesus teaching about sexual orientation or was he teaching about the hypocrisy of the Pharisees (Mt. 5:20) and the continuity of the moral law? I doubt Burk will take the rest of this teaching in Matthew 5:29-30 just as literally as he does verse 28.

28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.30 And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell. (emphasis added)

If Jesus is speaking literally, then why doesn’t the Nashville Statement affirm elective organ and limb donation as the appropriate pastoral response to illicit sexual desire?
None of the signers would sign up for such pastoral advice. However, they have agreed with a pastoral response which offers false hope and not much else. So no matter what one believes about the morality of same-sex sexual acts, the Nashville Statement affirms a view of sexual orientation and change that has been discredited and encourages pastors to mislead their same-sex attracted congregants. Along with other problems, this is reason enough to reject the Nashville Statement.
If people want to sign a statement, perhaps they could consider this one.

A Real Life Reason to Reject the Nashville Statement

Nashville logoLast week I wrote some reactions to the Nashville Statement on sexual orientation and gender identity.  The statement was written by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and has been the focus of much controversy since it was released a week ago.  I thought the statement missed the mark in several ways, but the one I want to highlight with this follow up post is the Nashville Statement’s claim about disorders of sex development.
After my post on the Nashville Statement came out, I received the following email from Lianne Simon. Lianne is an intersex individual who tells her story on her website and also accompanies Dr. Megan DeFranza (PhD, theology, Marquette University) on speaking engagements regarding intersex conditions and theology. They manage the website intersexandfaith.org. Simon gave me permission to use her email:

In your Patheos post you said, “Practically, the Nashville signers don’t give us a clue how people Jesus referred to here can “embrace their biological sex.”
I think their intention is fairly clear. Sex is strictly binary to the signatories. Gender identity is entirely ‘adopted’ rather than rooted in biology. Therefore, intersex people must have a biological sex (i.e. male or female) that is confused or obscured by their disorder. So. the statement
“…and should embrace their biological sex insofar as it may be known.”
means that intersex people should embrace the sex assigned them by doctors and accept the medical treatment involved.
This is the way I, as a Christian intersex person, understand their position. As do my intersex friends.
We are castrated by doctors, undergo cosmetic sex assignment surgeries without our consent, are given hormones, lied to, have secrets kept from us, and made to live in shame–all in the name of their bloody binary view of sex.
That’s what their statement means to us.
They not only approve, they’re demanding that we embrace the evil that’s being done to us.
And if we object to the binary sex forced upon us, then we’re rejecting God’s plan and departing from the faith.
Kind regards,
Lianne Simon
www.intersexandfaith.org
www.liannesimon.com

Simon’s story is fascinating and well worth reading. She wrote a detailed response to the Nashville Statement at her website. She provides a human face to the topics covered in the Nashville Statement. I hope the signers will reconsider their pronouncements about disorders of sex development in light of Lianne’s life.
The part of the Nashville Statement Lianne referred to is below:

WE AFFIRM that those born with a physical disorder of sex development are created in the image of God and have dignity and worth equal to all other image-bearers. They are acknowledged by our Lord Jesus in his words about “eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb.” With all others they are welcome as faithful followers of Jesus Christ and should embrace their biological sex insofar as it may be known.
WE DENY that ambiguities related to a person’s biological sex render one incapable of living a fruitful life in joyful obedience to Christ.

Lianne’s story provides a real life foundation for my criticism that the guidance offered by the Nashville Statement is uninformed and inadequate. She concludes her blog post with this:

I’m grateful that the Nashville Statement says that we who are intersex are “created in the image of God and have dignity and worth equal to all other image-bearers.” But I’m troubled that this affirmation appears to require us to give up our bodily integrity and embrace some doctor’s guess at what sex God meant us to be.
Understand this—your Nashville Statement drives intersex people away from the Gospel.

The real world of sexuality is not as neat and clean as portrayed by the signers of the Nashville Statement. I hope Lianne’s story provides a caution to those who marginalize those who have been dealt a hand they didn’t ask for.