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.

New Studies Point to Biological Basis for Male Homosexuality

A study out yesterday lends support to the fraternal birth order theory of male homosexuality. Also called the older brother effect, the effect has been hypothesized to relate to an immune response in mothers of sons. The more sons a woman has, the more likely her younger sons will not be heterosexual. Although without support up to now, supporters of the immune theory believe that having sons for some women create antibodies which react against proteins which effect brain development. Presumably, the brain development would be an areas which effect sexual orientation.
From the press release:

Groundbreaking research led by a team from Brock University has further confirmed that sexual orientation for men is likely determined in the womb.
In the first-ever laboratory study of mothers of gay men, the research was prompted by more than two decades of statistical data examining the ‘older brother effect’ which shows that biological older brothers — but not older sisters — increase the odds of homosexuality in later-born males.
The study, “Male Homosexuality and Maternal Immune Responsivity to the Y-Linked Protein NLGN4Y,” was published Monday, Dec. 11 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Brock Health Sciences Professor Tony Bogaert, lead researcher on the project, said the new study has produced some of the most significant findings in men’s sexual orientation research in the past 10 or 15 years. The team included researchers from Harvard and the University of Toronto.
“The implications of this study, especially if and when it is replicated by an independent team, are profound,” said Bogaert. “Along with more deeply understanding the exact origin of the older brother effect, it helps solidify the idea that, at least in men, there’s a strong biological basis to sexual orientation.
“This is the culmination of more than 20 years of research where we started looking at the older brother, or fraternal birth order, effect. The current study adds to the growing scientific consensus that homosexuality is not a choice, but rather an innate predisposition.”
Bogaert, an internationally recognized expert in human sexuality, said the study is groundbreaking for at least two major reasons:

  • It supports the conclusion, suggested by previous studies, that genes alone do not completely account for homosexuality.

  • It suggests that immunological factors should be considered along with genetic and hormonal factors as possible biological influences on sexual orientation.

The study did not link the proteins with specific neural outcomes but did find that mothers of gay sons demonstrated a different immune response than mothers of straight sons.

The team of psychologists and immunologists tested 16 women with no sons, 72 mothers with heterosexual sons, 31 mothers of gay sons with no older brothers, 23 mothers of gay sons with older brothers, and a control group of 12 men.
The women’s antibody reactivity was measured to two proteins (PCDH11Y and two forms of NLGN4Y) found only in males, both of which are expressed in the male fetal brain.
The team found that mothers of gay sons, especially those with older brothers, had significantly higher antibody levels to both forms of NLGN4Y than did the control samples of women, including mothers of heterosexual sons.
“It seems that some women during their first male pregnancy, or just after their first male birth, begin to detect this foreign substance (the NLGN4Y protein) and start to develop an immune response. And then later, with further male pregnancies, the high levels of antibodies directed toward this substance may change brain development in these later born males,” Bogaert said.

If the work is replicated and it can be demonstrated that these antibodies influence brain structures associated with non-heterosexuality, e.g., the hypothalamus, then the evidence for the immune connection would be even stronger. Since antibodies in response to multiple male births would only effect a small number of gay males, there must be other pathways to non-heterosexual brain development. As I review several lines of research, I believe there are other ways in addition to the immune hypothesis (e.g., hormones, epimarks) that the neural basis for non-heterosexuality could come to be.

Genetic association study

Just last week, a genome association wide study found yet more ways in which the DNA of gay males differ from straight males. Alan Sanders andphoto-1456434893711-6a909e9cd81d_opt his team reported that they found those differences in a gene which is involved in helping to form the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus repeatedly shows up in studies where gay and straight males differ.
Charles Roselli has studied the hypothalamus in rams and found that “gay rams” (male oriented rams) demonstrate size differences in the preoptic area of the hypothalamus. Here is a 2013 video where he described his research:

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 Canons of Elvira and The Nashville Statement

Since the church has been making statements, church leaders have been telling people in the pews what to do and not to do in their beds. In theNashville logo context of talking about the Nashville Statement, a Grove City colleague recently pointed me to the Canons of Elvira as an early (303 AD or so) instance of this. Just for fun, here are some of the rules, called canons, that the church in Spain expected the people to live by. Before I provide a few of them, here is a description of the Synod of Elvira from the Catholic Encyclopedia.

Held early in the fourth century at Elliberis, or Illiberis, in Spain, a city now in ruins not far from Granada. It was, so far as we know, the first council held in Spain, and was attended by nineteen bishops from all parts of the Peninsula. The exact year in which it was held is a matter of controversy upon which much has been written. Some copies of its Acts contain a date which corresponds with the year 324 of our reckoning; by some writers the council has accordingly been assigned to that year. Hardouin suggests 313, Mansi 309, and Hefele 305 or 306. Recent opinion (Duchesne, see below) would put the dateconsiderably earlier, from 300 to 303, consequently previous to the persecution of Diocletian. The principal bishop attending the council was the famous Hosius of Cordova. Twenty-six priests are also recorded as sitting with the bishops. Its eighty-one canons were, however, subscribed only by the bishops. These canons, all disciplinary, throw much light on the religious and ecclesiastical life of SpanishChristians on the eve of the triumph of Christianity. They deal with marriage, baptismidolatryfastingexcommunication, the cemeteries, usury, vigils, frequentation of Mass, the relations of Christians with pagansJewsheretics, etc.

Not all of these have to do with sex but they give some insight into how views of sin and morality have changed within the church. They don’t seem to be in an order and were not all decided at one time. Generally, it appears that the Christian leaders then didn’t think highly of sex, even in marriage. Becoming a leader meant giving it up.

33. Bishops, presbyters, deacons, and others with a position in the ministry are to abstain completely from sexual intercourse with their wives and from the procreation of children. If anyone disobeys, he shall be removed from the clerical office.

For non-leaders, punishments for violations were severe:

7. If a Christian completes penance for a sexual offense and then again commits fornication, he or she may not receive communion even when death approaches.
8. Women who without acceptable cause leave their husbands and join another man may not receive communion even when death approaches.
9. A baptized woman who leaves an adulterous husband who has been baptized, for another man, may not marry him. If she does, she may not receive communion until her former husband dies, unless she is seriously ill.
10. If an unbaptized woman marries another man after being deserted by her husband who was a catechumen, she may still be baptized. This is also true for female catechumens. If a Christian woman marries a man in the knowledge that he deserted his former wife without cause, she may receive communion only at the time of her death.
11. If a female catechumen marries a man in the knowledge that he deserted his former wife without cause, she may not be baptized for five years unless she becomes seriously ill.
12. Parents and other Christians who give up their children to sexual abuse are selling others’ bodies, and if they do so or sell their own bodies, they shall not receive communion even at death.
13. Virgins who have been consecrated to God shall not commune even as death approaches if they have broken the vow of virginity and do not repent. If, however, they repent and do not engage in intercourse again, they may commune when death approaches.
14 If a virgin does not preserve her virginity but then marries the man, she may commune after one year, without doing penance, for she only broke the laws of marriage. If she has been sexually active with other men, she must complete a penance of five years before being readmitted to communion.
15. Christian girls are not to marry pagans, no matter how few eligible men there are, for such marriages lead to adultery of the soul.
16. Heretics shall not be joined in marriage with Catholic girls unless they accept the Catholic faith. Catholic girls may not marry Jews or heretics, because they cannot find a unity when the faithful and the unfaithful are joined. Parents who allow this to happen shall not commune for five years.
17. If parents allow their daughter to marry a pagan priest, they shall not receive communion even at the time of death.
30. Those who sinned sexually as youth may not be ordained as subdeacons. This will guard against their being promoted to higher offices later on. If they have already been ordained, they shall be removed from their office.

Some canons are frightful:

5. If a woman beats her servant and causes death within three days, she shall undergo seven years’ penance if the injury was inflicted on purpose and five years’ if it was accidental. She shall not receive communion during this penance unless she becomes ill. If so, she may receive communion.
41. Christians are to prohibit their slaves from keeping idols in their houses. If this is impossible to enforce, they must at least avoid the idols and remain pure. If this does not happen, they are alienated from the church.
50. If any cleric or layperson eats with Jews, he or she shall be kept from communion as a way of correction.
80. Slaves who have been freed but whose former masters are yet alive may not be ordained as clergy.
68. A catechumen who conceives in adultery and then suffocates the child may be baptized only when death approaches.

Some are just odd:

35. Women are not to remain in a cemetery during the night. Some engage in wickedness rather than prayer.
62. Chariot racers or pantomimes must first renounce their profession and promise not to resume it before they may become Christians. If they fail to keep this promise, they shall be expelled from the church.
67. A woman who is baptized or is a catechumen must not associate with hairdressers or men with long hair. If she does this, she is to be denied communion.
81. A woman may not write to other lay Christians without her husband’s consent. A woman may not receive letters of friendship addressed to her only and not to her husband as well.

With my tongue in my cheek, I tend to agree with the part about mimes renouncing their miming. Those Elvirans were on to something there.
I have a feeling it won’t take 1700 years for future Christians to look back at the Nashville Statement and question dogmatism of these authors. We now let mimes (should we?), chariot drivers, hairdressers, and men with long hair in the church. Pastors aren’t removed from office for sex with their wives. Maybe someday, it will not be fashionable for evangelical Christians as a group to question the salvation of LGBT Christians.
Some things change and some things don’t. My point isn’t to suggest everything changes or that everything should change. I am saying that we should be open to the possibility that tradition plays a role in our moral reasoning and that what we know and don’t know about LGBT issues makes them candidates for issues which should be reexamined in light of current science and experience.

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.