Revoice Evermore

The controversy over the upcoming Revoice conference continues to resound through social media. To catch up a little, read my first post on the matter.

Revoice is an organization composed of people who seek “to encourage, support, and empower gay, lesbian, and other same-sex attracted Christians so they can experience the life-giving character of the historic, Christian sexual ethic.” The group encourages same-sex attracted people to be open about their orientation in traditional church structures but to remain celibate.

In essence, it looks like those opposed to Revoice don’t like it that Revoice supporters refer to themselves as gay or queer or as a sexual minority person. Both sides believe gay people should be celibate, but the anti-Revoicers don’t think it is right to use gay as a self-description.

Evidence is compelling to me that same-sex attracted people demonstrate a variety of essential differences which justify a descriptive difference even if they decide their beliefs don’t allow same-sex sexual behavior.

At the heart of the discussion is biblical exegesis of I Corinthians 6 suggesting that Christian converts not only leave their behavior behind but also their identity and state of being. Recently, Rev. Owen Strachan made this point in a Patheos post, writing:

 In layman’s terms, Paul views the Corinthians as having broken decisively with their old identity and practice. They were thieves, but are not any longer.  They were drunkards, but are not any longer. They were homosexuals (whether the malakoi or the arsevokoitai, the passive or active homosexual partner, respectively, according to the Greek) but are not any longer.

Strachan adds:

David Garland says it well in his own exegetical commentary: “The implication is that Christianity not only offers a completely new sexual ethos and a new ethos regarding material possessions but also brings about a complete transformation of individuals. God’s grace does not mean that God benignly accepts humans in all their fallenness, forgives them, and then leaves them in that fallenness. God is in the business not of whitewashing sins but of transforming sinners.”

The verses in question are I Corinthians 6:9-11:

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor [a]effeminate, nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.

Assuming these words are translated correctly,* I wonder if there could be another way to understand this passage. Strachan wants us to believe that spiritual conversion changes a person from gay to not gay. His exegetical partners set up a complete transformation standard for conversion.

However, empirically speaking, this is rare. Most same-sex attracted people who have converted to Christianity remain same-sex attracted many years after conversion. Since Strachan and his Revoice critics view same-sex desire and attraction (not just behavior) as sin, then they leave the same-sex attracted Christian without hope. I don’t know what they think changes at conversion for a gay person. I know this is an inconvenient observation, but it is a true one. I asked Strachan in a comment at his blog to address this issue but he has not answered.

In the list above, some of those traits are more likely to change completely with conversion than others. For instance, I have little trouble believing a thief will completely transform but not all converted alcoholics do.  Relapse happens.

Will Covetous Believers Go to Heaven?

In my view, the I Corinthians 6 passage affirms that God can reach anyone with forgiveness and redemption. Even swindlers, thieves and adulterers can be justified, and once justified, one is always justified. Once you were not justified, but now you are. Some of those Corinthians were pretty far gone but God forgave and justified even them. To say that God requires a complete transformation standard defies human experience. If covetous believers aren’t going to make it, then very few are going to make it, including many preachers.

As far as I can tell, the Revoice approach is quite traditional but recognizes the reality of human experience. To them, “gay” doesn’t signal a rejection of their beliefs but rather is a matter bearing true witness.

 

*It is no secret that the translation of several of the traits described as sins in the I Corinthians 6 passage has been disputed. I am not taking a position in this post on the accuracy of the translation.

 

 

Sponsor: Celibacy as Therapy Goal Allowed by CA's Anti-Conversion Therapy Bill

The outrage surrounding California’s anti-conversion therapy bill (AB 2943) is growing by the press release. For instance, last Monday (April 30) Summit Ministries canceled a conference in CA because they contend the bill (when it becomes law) will forbid advice which doesn’t affirm homosexuality. According to the press release,

Summit’s program would fall under the proposed law because its lineup includes defenders of traditional man/woman marriage and people who advocate pursuing only those sexual activities approved in the Bible. Myers said it has also been common during prior trainings for students to ask questions of Summit staff about how to address confusion over gender identity and sexual attraction in the context of their faith. By prohibiting such conversations, AB2943 would cripple Summit’s ability to care for and equip its students, Myers said.
“What are we going to say to a young person experiencing sexual confusion?” he asked. “That the state of California forbids us from allowing a biblical ethic embraced by billions of people for thousands of years to inform our answer?
“California state authorities are hijacking good-faith concerns about reparative therapy to deny constitutional protection to those who hold traditional views of sexuality and marriage,” Myers added. “We cannot and will not bend God’s truth to accommodate the state of California.
“This is the most blatant chilling of free speech in America in my lifetime.”

According to the bill’s sponsor, the bill doesn’t relate to speech or religious teaching. It regulates sexual orientation change efforts. The bill would only apply to their conference if Summit Ministries charges conference goers for sexual orientation change counseling.
If students ask questions about what the Bible teaches, the teachers are free to provide whatever teaching they believe. They can recommend change efforts, celibacy, prayer, meditation, or whatever they believe. They can recommend books, sell books and tapes, and even recommend therapists. However, those therapists can’t conduct those treatments under the new law.

Would the Bill Prohibit Counseling to Live a Celibate Life?

Summit Ministries argued that biblical advice, such as celibacy, would be prohibited by the bill. I asked bill sponsor Evan Low’s office if counselors could help clients seek celibacy if clients wanted to avoid homosexual behavior. Low’s office referred me to policy advisor Anthony Samson who answered by email that “AB 2943 would not prohibit one from providing therapeutic help to an individual seeking to become celibate.”  He pointed to the word “includes” in the following definition of “sexual orientation change efforts”

(i) (1) “Sexual orientation change efforts” means any practices that seek to change an individual’s sexual orientation. This includes efforts to change behaviors or gender expressions, or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same sex.

Samson said, “The term ‘includes’ means that the practices following it must be in connection with seeking to change an individual’s sexual orientation.  In other words, ‘efforts to change behaviors or gender expressions, or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same sex’ would be precluded to the extent they were provided in connection with seeking to change one’s sexual orientation.” Samson explained, “Because providing services to help one become celibate would not be in connection with changing one’s sexual orientation, it would be permitted.”
So biblical advice would not be banned and therapeutic help for traditional clients will still be available as well. For instance, I have no hesitation in conducting or recommending sexual identity therapy in CA.
To me, these protestations appear to be efforts to derail the bill in order to protect reparative therapy. Having read the bill, I can tell that the Summit press release, and most of the Christian news articles on this bill are reactionary efforts which don’t deal directly with the actual bill. If these groups want to be ta ken seriously, they should secure scholarly opinions from serious legal scholars and not culture warriors.
Furthermore, if religious conservatives want to have an impact on this legislation, I encourage them to do what I have done. Contact the sponsor and enter into a respectful, rational, fact-based dialogue.

Fact Sheet on AB 2943

Why the Mental Health Professionals Want to Ban Conversion 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.

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.

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.

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.

Some Reactions to the Nashville Statement

Nashville logoThis week the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood released a series of affirmations and denials regarding human sexuality and gender. Titled the Nashville Statement, the document was signed by a group of conservative theologians, professors, and pastors. The statement trended on Twitter and has led to numerous blog posts and news articles.  In this post, I will link to three of them and then provide a few reactions to aspects of the statement. If you haven’t read the statement, you should do so before reading the rest of the post.

The Statement Gets Ahead of Science

Mark Yarhouse, my partner in the development of the sexual identity framework, weighed in and asserted that the dogmatic assertions in the statement are far ahead of the data on gender dysphoria. Here is a sample from his post, On the Nashville Statement:

When I wrote Understanding Gender Dysphoria, which was published in 2015, I noted that transgender presentations were a wave that was going to crest on evangelicals and that the church was not prepared for it. I noted that we needed to think deeply and well about gender identity and to engage with some humility what we know and do not know from the best of science, as well as learn from mistakes made in how evangelicals engaged the topic of sexual identity and especially how evangelicals treated the actual people who were navigating sexual identity and faith. I was suggesting we could learn from that experience and make some adjustments as we encounter the topic of gender identity.
I’m afraid the Nashville Statement, perhaps out of a desire to establish the parameters for orthodoxy on gender identity concerns, gets ahead of evangelicals because it doesn’t reflect the careful, nuanced reflection needed to guide Christians toward critical engagement of gender theory, while also aiding in the development of more flexible postures needed in pastoral care.

An Unhelpful Exclusive Statement

Historian Chris Gehrz had a somewhat stronger post at the Pietist Schoolman. He writes for those who feel in the middle on GLBT issues. Here is a sample:

But then the Nashville Statement doesn’t allow for the possibility of Christians disagreeing on such issues. I’m sure anyone paying any attention already knew what these authors and signers thought about sexuality and gender identity. If that’s all it addressed, I’d just try to ignore the statement. But then there’s Article 10…
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.
Wait, so… Is salvation at stake for queer Christians and their supporters? Is there to be any continuing communion or collaboration with those who have departed “from Christian faithfulness”? And are those of us who do think it’s possible to agree to disagree also making such a “departure”?

Gehrz also sees the statement as a Trump-like expression which trolls the gay affirming crowd and affirms those who oppose gay rights.

Nor that the authors have chosen to condemn “transgenderism” just days after Pres. Trump began to implement a ban on transgender persons serving in the military, only feeding the perception that whatever daylight separates Trumpism and evangelicalism is vanishing. (After all, that ban was reportedly discussed with Trump’s much-maligned evangelical advisers before he first tweeted his intentions last month.)
The Nashville Statement strikes me as theology for the Age of Trump because it’s being thrust into social media for little purpose other than to energize allies and troll enemies — distracting our attention from more pressing problems in order to demonize minorities whose existence causes anxiety among the many in the majority.

All Words and No Words-Made-Flesh

Although opposed to the statement, Jonathan Merritt doesn’t think it will have much effect. Writing at Religion News Service, Merritt says:

When it comes to issues of sexuality and gender, a statement like this is unlikely to move the needle with those who aren’t already in agreement. It is all head and no heart. It speaks to your mind but fails to look you in the eyes. It is intellectual, but not pastoral. It dialogues about people, rather than with them. It acknowledges the theology of these issues but never the humanity. It is all words and no word-made-flesh.
So progressives who hope for change should take a deep breath and stay the course. Keep comforting your friends. Keep making space for those whom others refuse to welcome. Keep loving your neighbors, and don’t forget that these signers are your neighbors, too.
Like so many before it, this statement won’t change anything. But if you keep leading with love, you can change everything. Proclamations don’t shape history; people do.

Bad Timing

Generally, I think the timing of the statement was poor. In the midst of an epic natural disaster and the national conversation on racism, a document which singles out a minority doesn’t seem wise. I suppose the reaction would have been negative at any time, but I think some of the intense negative reaction relates to increased awareness of the document this week.

Some Additional Reactions

While I don’t have reactions to all 14 articles, I will provide a few additional thoughts.
I was intrigued by the inclusion of Article VI:

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.

I see it as a plus that the statement recognizes disorders of sex development (once commonly referred to as “intersex” conditions). However, I think the statement could have gone further to wrestle with the implications of what Jesus said as recorded in Matthew 19: 11-12.

11 Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. 12 For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.”

I realize I am a layman but this sounds like a recognition that the rules are different for some people. Not everybody is going to get married and not everyone has the requisite interests for heterosexual marriage. Jesus said so without condemning them. Some scholars have amassed linguistic evidence which suggests a eunuch could include persons who do not have inclination for opposite sex relations, such as gays and lesbians.
Practically, the Nashville signers don’t give us a clue how people Jesus referred to here can “embrace their biological sex.” Referring to GLBT people, I don’t know what that means. The Nashville statement certainly goes beyond Jesus’ words in Matthew 19. Given that the teaching from Jesus is pretty slim on this point and the Nashville Statement is vague in guiding “eunuchs,” I strongly disagree with the Nashville Statement’s 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.

As Mark Yarhouse said in his post, this statement is way out in front of what we know for sure. I will add that for “eunuchs” however defined, the statement is vague and severely limits sincere differences of interpretation and opinion among people who are orthodox. On that basis alone, I think the CBMW should go back to the drawing board.
Along similar lines, I think Articles 4, 12, and 13 may be at odds with existing research on gender differences and sexual orientation. For instance, Articles 12 and 13 sound like a theological statement of religiously-based reparative therapy which does not work to eradicate (“put to death”) attraction to the same sex.
Article 4 speaks of “divinely ordained differences between men and women.” What are those differences? While there are real differences which show up in research studies, the list of them would differ significantly from church to church and denomination to denomination. The lack of clarity invites abuse and misunderstanding.
Finally, I think Jonathan Merritt is probably correct that the conflict will die down and the statement will become a short hand for those who signed it but accomplish little else.
 
 

The Editor of The New Atlantis Responds to My Critique of the Mayer and McHugh Article

On August 25, Adam Keiper, editor of The New Atlantis emailed to give me his reaction to my initial critique of the new article by Lawrence Mayer and Paul McHugh on sexual orientation and gender. Please review that post before you read his remarks.
I appreciate Keiper’s professionalism in his remarks. I also appreciated a cordial phone call we had on Thursday. Keiper gave permission for me to publish his remarks. They are reproduced in full from the email. I plan to add my reactions over the next day or two within this post. I wanted to post his thoughts while the issue is current. My reactions to the part of the article on sexual orientation (I have yet to really examine the section on gender identity) are interspersed below.

In what follows, I would like to offer a few responses to some of the points you raise. I invite you to post this e-mail as an addendum to your piece on Patheos. I must note at the outset that I am not here writing on behalf of the authors of the report, nor as a scientist or physician (as I am neither), but rather as an interested reader of your piece and as the editor of The New Atlantis who worked closely with the authors on the report over the course of several months.
You begin by pointing out that “Sexuality and Gender: Findings from the Biological, Psychological, and Social Sciences” is not a study. You are correct. It is, as you rightly remark, a scientific review of the literature.
You are also correct in noting that The New Atlantis is not a peer-reviewed scientific publication. It is, rather, editorially reviewed — like many other journals and magazines intended for a wide public audience (such as Democracy Journal, National Affairs, The American Interest, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, etc.). When we publish essays and articles on technical subjects, our fact-checking process is especially rigorous, and in such cases we often ask experts to help our editorial team in its work. In the case of “Sexuality and Gender,” both our editorial team and the authors consulted with a range of experts in different fields. Peer review can be a very important part of the scientific publishing process. Our aim, however, was not to publish an original research study but rather to translate into accessible prose the scientific findings that were already published in peer-reviewed publications.
You next say:

Even calling the paper a new study isn’t accurate, there are no new studies in the paper. A bunch of old ones are missing as well.

I disagree with your characterization; there are some recent studies and papers that are mentioned in the report, including a handful that were published in 2015 and 2016. All told, I believe the report is quite up-to-date. I also would not say that old papers are “missing” per se; that seems to imply cherry-picking, which is an unsupported charge. Of course the authors of the report could not have discussed every paper in the vast scientific literature, but they selected the papers that they discussed on the grounds of their quality and scientific significance — emphasizing literature reviews and meta-analyses, pointing out when other significant papers contradict or criticize the literature reviews and meta-analyses, and then discussing more recent papers and studies that fill in gaps or further advance knowledge. Some older papers in the literature were deemed to be neither sufficiently important nor sufficiently rigorous to warrant discussion.

While The New Atlantis article was thorough, I still don’t think Mayer and McHugh captured everything necessary to make the claims they make. More on that below.

We are gratified to learn that Professor Bailey agrees with some (even if not all) of the report’s major findings; namely, that the social stress model does not alone account for all of the mental health difficulties experienced by LGBT people, that the empirical evidence does not support the idea that gender identity is innate and fixed, and that all of these issues should be studied more openly and rigorously by scientists. (Professor Bailey also mentions that “Sexuality and Gender” does not discuss his review of the literature on sexual orientation. Professor Bailey’s paper is very recent, and so our authors were unable to include a discussion of it before “Sexuality and Gender” went to press.)

Bailey’s paper was published online on April 25, 2016. Given the quality of Bailey et al’s work, I think the paper should have been included in their review or they should have waited to publish until they were able to include it.

Moving on to some of the topics that you suggest ought to have been included in the report but were not:

Mayer and McHugh’s paper is missing any serious discussion of epigenetics.

It is true that, other than a passing reference, this report does not discuss epigenetics. There is a good reason for that: the literature on epigenetics and sexual orientation remains inconclusive with regard to the question of whether homosexuality is innate and fixed. It is in the nature of epigenetic markers that they are (for the most part) acquired rather than inherited, and so, without a well-supported theory about why (for instance) gay men have distinctive patterns of DNA methylation, the fact that they have such markers does little to explain the origins of homosexual attractions, behaviors, or identity. (For what it’s worth, the Bailey paper only dedicates a single short paragraph to epigenetics [on page 77], and that paragraph basically says that the evidence doesn’t amount to much.)

This is exactly why the recent work on epigenetics should have been included in both papers. One would not need to go into it much in order to say that the line of research is intriguing and may yield answers after more studies are done. Mayer and McHugh’s paper needed to do this because they made a very definite claim: “The understanding of sexual orientation as an innate, biologically fixed property of human beings — the idea that people are “born that way” — is not supported by scientific evidence.”
Since epigenetic research may indeed be relevant to that claim, I believe it was an oversight not to discuss the where that research program could lead. Keiper’s statement, ” without a well-supported theory about why (for instance) gay men have distinctive patterns of DNA methylation, the fact that they have such markers does little to explain the origins of homosexual attractions, behaviors, or identity.” I agree that such a theory doesn’t exist. However, I am not making strong claims against innateness. Given the state of research at present, I don’t think making such a strong claim is warranted. More on this point at the end of the post.

You go on to claim that

[Mayer and McHugh] overlook the new genetic linkage paper involving gay brothers

I believe you are incorrect. “Sexuality and Gender” does mention the 2015 genetic linkage paper involving gay brothers (Sanders, et al., including Bailey). If this is not the paper to which you are referring, please let me know.

You are correct. I am sorry for that oversight and have corrected that error in my original post.
Having said that, I believe Bailey et al’s discussion is more thorough. They note the need for very large samples in genome studies and tell us that findings approaching significance were found in the large 23andMe study (see Bailey on page 77 and Mayer and McHugh on page 32). While 23,000 sounds like a large sample, there were only a few over 1,000 exclusively gay males in the study. We learn that from Bailey et al, not Mayer and McHugh. In other words, the methods we have available at present may not be sensitive enough to find the very fine biological differences which may move one individual toward same sex attraction and another toward opposite attraction unless very large numbers of people are involved.

You also note that the report ignores “work on ‘gay rams.’” It is true that “Sexuality and Gender” does not discuss homosexuality in non-human animals. While there is evidence of apparently exclusive homosexuality among domestic rams, this is not very convincing evidence that homosexuality is innate and fixed in human beings. And as Bailey and his colleagues note in their review (pages 68–69), although homosexual behaviors are frequently observed among wild animals, exclusive homosexuality has never been documented for animals in the wild. (It is worth acknowledging that documenting exclusive homosexuality among wild animals would be a difficult task, and so it is possible that there are exclusively homosexual animals that have not been discovered — but this only shows the need for more research on these questions.)

The gay ram research is important because of the parallels with research in humans. One would not posit weak fathers or child abuse to explain rams who prefer other rams. Apparently, something in the biology of the rams is involved. We are not rams but there are similar brain structures involved, some of which show up in studies of human brains.

You claim that

[t]he TNA authors minimize the neural differences between gays and straights, calling them ‘minor differences in brain structures.’ How do these authors know what differences are minor and which are not? In fact, the differences in symmetry and brain activity are quite provocative and have not been accounted for by any environmental theory.

The neurological differences between homosexuals and heterosexuals represent some interesting correlations, but they cannot be used to accurately predict whether a person is heterosexual or homosexual. (Moreover, as anyone familiar with the fMRI literature can tell you, it is very easy to find brain differences in brain-scan studies; e.g. this study found that when people were aware that they were drinking Pepsi or Coke, this “brand knowledge for one of the drinks had a dramatic influence … on the measured brain responses.”) I don’t see much distance between the ending of your last sentence quoted above and what the report says, as in the executive summary: “… [S]uch neurobiological findings do not demonstrate whether these differences are innate or are the result of environmental and psychological factors.”

Continue reading “The Editor of The New Atlantis Responds to My Critique of the Mayer and McHugh Article”

The New Atlantis Study on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity That's Not a Study

UPDATE: In a post out on 8/27/16, Adam Keiper, editor at The New Atlantis magazine responds to this post with a rebuttal to my points below. I urge you to go read it. I in turn respond to him. I also make a correction in my original post below based on his communication to me.
————————————————- (original post below)
Over the past year, hot discussions of sexual orientation have been pushed aside by controversies over gender identity and bathrooms. A new article from The New Atlantis shows that both topics have plenty of life. Yesterday, social media was buzzing about a new “study” of sexual orientation and gender identity by Lawrence Mayer and Paul McHugh. Actually, the article was not a study but a review and summary of empirical studies. As far as I can tell, it is being touted most by conservative leaning and anti-gay organizations.
The New Atlantis describes itself as a “Journal of Technology and Society.” However, the article did not receive peer review and it shows. Lawrence Mayer, the first author, is not well known in sexuality research circles but the second author is. Paul McHugh is retired from Johns Hopkins and was responsible for discontinuing the sex reassignment program there. He also was an advisor to the Repressed Memory Foundation in the 1990s.
Quickly, the National Organization for Marriage touted the paper as “Groundbreaking New Research.” Even calling the paper a new study isn’t accurate, there are no new studies in the paper. A bunch of old ones are missing as well.
In this post, I want to include some initial reactions and then some notes from Michael Bailey, professor at Northwestern, who was cited several times in TNA paper. I am going to focus on their points about sexual orientation and leave the gender identity points for a future post.
Here is their summary of research regarding sexual orientation:

● The understanding of sexual orientation as an innate, biologically fixed property of human beings — the idea that people are “born that way” — is not supported by scientific evidence.
● While there is evidence that biological factors such as genes and hormones are associated with sexual behaviors and attractions, there are no compelling causal biological explanations for human sexual orientation. While minor differences in the brain structures and brain activity between homosexual and heterosexual individuals have been identified by researchers, such neurobiological findings do not demonstrate whether these differences are innate or are the result of environmental and psychological factors.
● Longitudinal studies of adolescents suggest that sexual orientation may be quite fluid over the life course for some people, with one study estimating that as many as 80% of male adolescents who report same-sex attractions no longer do so as adults (although the extent to which this figure reflects actual changes in same-sex attractions and not just artifacts of the survey process has been contested by some researchers).
● Compared to heterosexuals, non-heterosexuals are about two to three times as likely to have experienced childhood sexual abuse.
● Compared to the general population, non-heterosexual subpopulations are at an elevated risk for a variety of adverse health and mental health outcomes.
● Members of the non-heterosexual population are estimated to have about 1.5 times higher risk of experiencing anxiety disorders than members of the heterosexual population, as well as roughly double the risk of depression, 1.5 times the risk of substance abuse, and nearly 2.5 times the risk of suicide.
● Members of the transgender population are also at higher risk of a variety of mental health problems compared to members of the non-transgender population. Especially alarmingly, the rate of lifetime suicide attempts across all ages of transgender individuals is estimated at 41%, compared to under 5% in the overall U.S. population.
● There is evidence, albeit limited, that social stressors such as discrimination and stigma contribute to the elevated risk of poor mental health outcomes for non-heterosexual and transgender populations. More high-quality longitudinal studies are necessary for the “social stress model” to be a useful tool for understanding public health concerns.

First, here is Michael Bailey’s quick reaction:

1. Their review of sexual orientation is not up to date (A major omission is that it neglects to cite our recent magnum opus on this topic: http://psi.sagepub.com/content/17/2/45.full.pdf+htmlf). The idea that sexual orientation is fluid has some plausibility for women, but not for men.
2. I agree with the authors that discrimination alone is unlikely to completely explain differences between heterosexual and homosexual people in mental health profiles, although it may contribute.
3. They are right on that the idea of innate, fixed gender identity is not consistent with empirical evidence. I differ from them, however, in believing that sex reassignment is still the best option for some individuals.
4. Most importantly, I agree that all of these issues should be openly discussed and researched. There is little government support for open-minded investigation for these controversial issues. That is unfortunate and exactly backwards. Support should be directed to resolve the most contentious issues.

As I reviewed the sexual orientations sections, I agree with Bailey. I especially agree that readers should read this major review of research on sexual orientation published earlier this year. Mayer and McHugh’s paper is missing any serious discussion of epigenetics, they overlook the new genetic linkage paper involving gay brothers, (they do address it, see the follow up post) as well as work on “gay rams.” The TNA authors minimize the neural differences between gays and straights, calling them “minor differences in brain structures.” How do these authors know what differences are minor and which are not? In fact, the differences in symmetry and brain activity are quite provocative and have not been accounted for by any environmental theory. Of course, we need more research with larger sample sizes but Mayer and McHugh just shrug these studies off as inconsequential.
Regarding sexual abuse, the authors review several studies which demonstrate higher rates of sexual abuse among GLB people as opposed to heterosexuals. For the most part, they report the relevant details but they failed to catch the mistakes in the Tomeo study and report it incorrectly (see this post for the problems with using Tomeo). Even though some who are touting the study miss this, the authors provide caution for those wanting to see homosexuality as the result of sexual abuse:

In short, while this study suggests that sexual abuse may sometimes be a causal contributor to having a non-heterosexual orientation, more research is needed to elucidate the biological or psychological mechanisms. Without such research, the idea that sexual abuse may be a causal factor in sexual orientation remains speculative.

They say “sometimes.” I would say infrequently or rarely and would add that we really don’t know. What we do know is that most people who are GLB were not abused. The TNA paper affirms that observation.
On the “born that way” claim, I find it contradictory that the authors express uncertainty about the causes of orientation but then say with great certainty that the “born that way” theory isn’t supported by scientific evidence. This line is apparently meant to hook the social conservatives which indeed it has. I mentioned the misleading “Groundbreaking New Research” headline from NOM, and then I just saw Liberty Counsel’s email which leads: “Scientific Research Debunks LGBT Propaganda.”
For readers wanting a more thorough review of the literature, please see the paper from Bailey and colleagues linked here.