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.
 
 

What If Country Mill Farms Discriminated Based on Race?

City of East Lansing logoCountry Mill Farms and legal advocacy group Alliance Defending Freedom is suing the City of East Lansing with a claim of religious discrimination. According to the complaint, the City of East Lansing acted to exclude “a farmer whose family farm is twenty-two miles outside the City from participating in its city-run farmers market solely because the City dislikes the farmer’s profession of his religious beliefs about marriage on Facebook.” CMF claims that the policy “violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution as well as state law that prohibits Michigan cities from regulating activities outside city boundaries.”
Read the Country Mill Farms complaint here.
I want to raise a legal question with this post. I do so because I think the CMF situation may have a broader application to how Christians think about sexual orientation discrimination.

Background of the Country Mill Farms Case

The City of East Lansing includes sexual orientation in their non-discrimination statement.

It is hereby declared to be contrary to the public policy of the City of East Lansing for any person to deny any other person the enjoyment of his/her civil rights or for any person to discriminate against any other person in the exercise of his/her civil rights or to harass any person because of religion, race, color, national origin, age, height, weight, disability, sex, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, student status, or because of the use by an individual of adaptive devices or aids.

CMF operates a farm outside the city limits of East Lansing. They sell produce throughout mid-Michigan and host weddings on their farm. For years, CMF sold produce at a farm market in the city limits of East Lansing without incident. However, after CMF publicly declared their practice of referring gay couples to other vendors for weddings, the City of East Lansing changed their policy regarding approval of vendors for space to sell produce at their farm market. After the change, the city required that vendors operating at the farm market adhere to the non-discrimination code in their “business practices.” On this basis, East Lansing denied CMF space at the farm market.
The ADF complaint alleges that the City of East Lansing refused to allow CMF to sell at the market “solely because the City dislikes the farmer’s profession of his religious beliefs about marriage on Facebook.” Via the town’s Facebook page, I asked if the city took action based on the owners’ beliefs or their business practices. In reply, they said:

[I]t’s about their business practice, not their religious beliefs. The issue is that, as part of their business practice, they do not serve all couples.

According to the complaint, CMF referred at least one couple in the past to another farm and then issued this statement on their Facebook page in December 2016:

This past fall our family farm stopped booking future wedding ceremonies at our orchard until we could devote the appropriate time to review our policies and how we respectfully communicate and express our beliefs. The Country Mill engages in expressing its purpose and beliefs through the operation of its business and it intentionally communicates messages that promote its owners’ beliefs and declines to communicate messages that violate those beliefs. The Country Mill family and its staff have and will continue to participate in hosting the ceremonies held at our orchard. It remains our deeply held religious belief that marriage is the union of one man and one woman and Country Mill has the First Amendment Right to express and act upon its beliefs. For this reason, Country Mill reserves the right to deny a request for services that would require it to communicate, engage in, or host expression that violates the owner’s sincerely held religious beliefs and conscience. Furthermore, it remains our religious belief that all people should be treated with respect and dignity regardless of their beliefs or background. We appreciate the tolerance offered to us specifically regarding our participation in hosting wedding ceremonies at our family farm.

A court will decide if the City of East Lansing is discriminating based on the owners’ religious beliefs.

What If CMF’s Religious Beliefs Opposed Biracial Marriage?*

In all of these religious liberty cases, I have been wondering if Christians would rally to the side of religious liberty if the religious belief involved was to oppose biracial marriage. I have asked Alliance Defending Freedom three times if ADF would defend plaintiffs who refused to provide services to vendors who declined to serve biracial couples for religious reasons. To date, they have failed to answer. I asked CMF a similar question via CMF’s Facebook page, and they responded:

Thank you for your message.
You can follow the case at www.ADFLegal.org
God bless you!
Steve & Bridget Tennes

There are people who oppose biracial marriages on religious grounds. League of the South members run businesses; what if one of those people called on ADF to represent them in their religious liberty struggle?
I would like to address this as a matter of law. In the East Lansing ordinance, sexual orientation is listed along with race. Presumably, referring a biracial couple to another wedding vendor would be considered racial discrimination, even if for religious reasons. As a matter of law, how is it different to refer a gay couple? What if the CMF Facebook post said the following — It remains our deeply held religious belief that marriage is the union of one man and one woman of the same race and Country Mill has the First Amendment Right to express and act upon its beliefs? Would ADF defend them? Would Christian pundits write columns defending their religious liberties?
If the City of East Lansing is telling me the truth, CMF would be able to sell produce at the farm market if they served all couples, even if they ADF logoexpressed publicly their disapproval of gay marriage. In the public square, I submit that the image on the coin is Caesar’s and that Christians should give to Caesar what is his. However, belief can submit to no earthly authority as a matter of conscience. If Christians want to follow Jesus’ teaching regarding our public involvement in jurisdictions with anti-discrimination laws which include sexual orientation, I don’t know how we can offer our services to some and not to others. Believe what you need to believe, but serve everyone as required by law.
I still hope ADF will address this matter and provide their rationale for taking cases like CMF and Arlene’s Flowers if they won’t take the case of a League of the South member with religious beliefs opposing biracial marriages. Open discussion about these cases may take us closer to an ethical position which allows us to honor our religious loyalties while properly discharging our duties as citizens.
 
*Let me be absolutely clear. I do not believe CMF discriminates based on race, nor do I have any evidence that they would refuse to sell produce to anyone. I raise an analogy and seek opinions about why religious belief should trump anti-discrimination law for one class of persons but not for another.

New Study: Prenatal Exposure to Progesterone May Influence Adult Sexual Orientation

image003The causes of sexual attraction continue to be of significant interest. This study will focus attention on prenatal factors, far outside of an individual’s control. These findings may also direct attention to the administration of Progesterone.

PRESS RELEASE
Progesterone and bisexuality: Is there a link?
Giving progesterone to prevent miscarriage could influence baby’s sexual orientation in later life
Heidelberg | New York, 3 April 2017
Bisexuality is quite common among men and women whose mothers received additional doses of the sex hormone progesterone while pregnant. This is one of the findings of a study led by June Reinisch, Director Emerita of The Kinsey Institute in the US, published in Springer’s journal Archives of Sexual Behavior. The study tracked the sexual development of 34 Danes whose mothers were treated with the hormone to prevent miscarriage.
According to the research team, progesterone appears to be an underappreciated factor influencing the normal development of variations in human sexuality and psychosexuality. The findings warrant further investigation given that little is known about the effects on offspring of natural variations in levels of maternal progesterone and that progesterone is widely used to treat pregnancy complications.
Men and women all naturally produce the sex hormone progesterone. It is involved in women’s menstrual cycles, and helps to maintain pregnancies and development of the fetus. It plays a role in neural development and the production of other sex hormones as well as steroid hormones that help to regulate stress responses, inflammation, and metabolism in the body. Physicians often prescribe progesterone and its bio-versions to support the fertilization process, to prevent miscarriages or premature births, or to increase babies’ birth weights.
The 34 participants in the study were drawn from the Copenhagen Perinatal Cohort, which comprises information collected from virtually all children born between 1959 and 1961 at the university hospital in Copenhagen, Denmark. The 17 men and 17 women were selected because their mothers exclusively received the progesterone lutocyclin to prevent a miscarriage. These men and women were compared with a carefully selected control group who were not exposed prenatally to lutocyclin or any other hormone medication, but who otherwise matched the study participants based on 14 relevant physical, medical, and socioeconomic factors. The participants were all in their mid-20s when asked about their sexual orientation, self-identification, attraction to each sex, and sexual history using questionnaires and a structured interview with a psychologist.
It was found that men and women whose mothers were treated with progesterone were significantly less likely to describe themselves as heterosexual. One in every five (20.6 percent) of the progesterone- exposed participants labeled themselves as other than heterosexual. Compared to the untreated group, the chances were greater that by their mid-20s they had already engaged in some form of same-sex sexual behavior (in up to 24.2 percent of cases), and that they were attracted to the same (29.4 percent) or to both sexes (17.6 percent). Both exposed males and females also had higher scores related to attraction to men.
“Progesterone exposure was found to be related to increased non-heterosexual self-identification, attraction to the same or both sexes, and same-sex sexual behavior,” says Reinisch. “The findings highlight the likelihood that prenatal exposure to progesterone may have a long-term influence on behavior related to sexuality in humans.”
The research team believes further studies on the offspring of women medically treated with progesterone and other progestogens during their pregnancies as well as studies examining the effects of natural variation in prenatal progesterone levels are warranted to provide more insight into the role that this hormone plays in the development of human behavior.
Reference: Reinisch, J.M. et al. (2017). Prenatal Exposure to Progesterone Affects Sexual Orientation in Humans, Archives of Sexual Behavior, DOI: 10.1007/s10508-016-0923-z

Calling All Former Participants in Studies of Sexual Orientation Change Efforts

Writing on Tuesday about Joseph Nicolosi’s new reparative therapy study got me thinking about the other studies of sexual orientation change efforts which have come and gone. I know a few participants in the Spitzer, Shidlo and Schroeder, Jones and Yarhouse studies who once told researchers they had changed orientation but now identify as gay. I suspect some have stayed about the same as they were when they participated in the research. It would be interesting to find out if there are any patterns in experience since those studies were published.
With that in mind, I am calling for subjects in any of the studies designed to assess sexual reorientation to contact me. If you participated in the Spitzer, Shidlo and Schroeder, Jones and Yarhouse, or any study which asked if you had changed orientation (including my 2005 study), please contact me at this email (SOCEFollowup@gmail.com). Those interested don’t have to reveal their identities at first and feel free to write with any questions about this effort.
It seems pretty clear to me that some erosion in the percentage of people claiming change has occurred since Exodus International shut down. Several former leaders in Exodus have recently come out as gay and there may be others who participated in studies from that era who have gone in a different direction. While this isn’t exact science, it may help to shed some light on the long term experience of those who once claimed to have changed orientation.
 

New Sexual Reorientation Study Off to a Shaky Start; Michael Bailey's Brain Scan Offer is Still Good

After the closing of Exodus International, the wind went out of the sexual reorientation sails. In June of last year, former ex-gay organization Exodus International leader Alan Chambers said the movement was “gasping for air.”
However, a quiet breeze may be blowing still as demonstrated by a study being conducted by one of the luminaries of reparative therapy, Joseph Nicolosi and relative newcomer Carolyn Pela.  Nicolosi and Pela summarized their preliminary findings at a meeting of the Christian Association for Psychological Studies a year ago. Nicolosi described the study on his website:

Dr. Pela described the study as being longitudinal with a within-group repeated-measures design.  Their dependent variable was psychotherapy as conducted at Dr. Nicolosi’s Thomas Aquinas Psychological Clinic.  The independent variables were (1) well-being as operationalized by the Outcome Questionnaire 45 (OQ-45.2), a highly respected measure of psychotherapy process and outcome, and (2) separately assessed dimensions of sexual orientation, namely, thoughts, desires, behavior, and identity.  Data collected to date involved 102 male psychotherapy clients who presented with ambivalence, discomfort, or distress regarding their SSA.  Eighty-one participants had been involved in the study long enough to have well-being assessed and data on change were available from 56 participants at the time of the CAPS presentation.

I am pretty sure the dependent and independent variables are reversed in his description. The independent variable is what is manipulated in an experiment and the dependent variable is a measure of results (see this brief explanation). That problem aside, what did they find?

Findings from preliminary data collected over a 12 month period indicated statistically significant reductions in distress and improvements in well-being, significant movement toward heterosexual identity, and significant increases in heterosexual thoughts and desires with accompanying significant decreases in homosexual thoughts and desires.  Effect sizes for these changes were generally in the moderate range, which suggests they are robust and not likely to be statistical artifacts.  The findings did not discover significant change in heterosexual or homosexual kissing or sexual activity.  These findings appear to have been the result of very low base rates in these behaviors among study participants leading to floor effects and a subsequent lack of change, as it is not possible to change a behavior in which participants are not engaging.

To summarize, the participants were thinking straighter but not doing anything about it.
To me, this result is understandable. If one is in treatment with the stated goal to think more about heterosexual outcomes, then there would be strong motivation to produce those experiences when asked. However, the test for any actual change will be when therapy is over and the regular rehearsal of such ideas isn’t happening. The difference between process changes (how a client feels during therapy) and outcome changes (what remains after therapy is over) is often great. Reorientation therapy studies are filled with people who said they had changed during the study but then felt differently months or years later. Thus, follow up must be a key component of any therapy study.
It should be pointed out that this study isn’t a true experiment since there is no control group. There isn’t a way to test for the effect of the passing of time. Spontaneous fluidity has been reported and it isn’t clear without a control group that psychotherapy is responsible for any change that is reported (or to what degree the therapy is responsible). Without a long term follow up and a control group, this study won’t provide much more information than we already have.
Finally, if Nicoloso and Pela truly want a potent and believable pre and post measurement, they should take Northwestern University professor Michael Bailey’s offer to conduct brain scans of the participants. Some years ago, Bailey informed Nicolosi that he could bring his patients to the lab to test their automatic responses to erotic cues. Nicolosi never took him up on the offer. I recently asked Bailey if the offer was still good. He answered in the affirmative. Pre (or even mid) treatment scans compared with post-treatment scans would help to offset the lack of a control group.
 

Washington State Supreme Court Rules Against Arlene's Flower in Sexual Orientation Discrimination Case

Just awhile ago the Washington Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling against Barronelle Stutzman and Arlene’s Flowers in the sexual orientation discrimination case over flower arrangements.
Read the ruling here.
The owner of Arlene’s Flowers, Barronelle Stutzman was fined as the result of refusing to provide a custom flower arrangement to a gay couple in Richland, WA. Stutzman appealed the fine and ruling to the Washington Supreme Court and today lost at that level as well.
The court held that Washington’s Law Against Discrimination and Consumer Protection Law was violated by Stutzman when she refused to provide services on the basis of her customer’s sexual orientation. Stutzman maintained that she did not discriminate on the basis of orientation but rather due to the fact that the customers wanted custom arrangements for a gay wedding. She had provided flowers for one of the gay men for years but balked at providing them for the man’s wedding.
I have asked the Alliance Defending Freedom organization for comment and will update this post throughout the day.
My question is what would ADF do if the reason for refusal of service related to a religious objection to miscegenation. Would ADF defend a store owner who –for religious reasons — refused to provide a custom arrangement to an African-American and white couple?
More to come…

David Barton Promotes Seven Mountains Dominionism Through Schools of Government

In the recent sales pitch to representatives from Gateway Church, David Barton commented on the schools of Government he has helped establish at Charis Bible College and Ecclesia College. Watch:

Transcript:

In the last two– in the last year we’ve had two Christian colleges come to us and say, ‘Hey we want to do a School of Government. Will you guys do our School of Government?’ And so, all right, I can do that, cuz I’ve been in politics a long time. I’ve recruited thousands of people for office, trained– I’ve recruited hundreds, trained thousands. And what we did, so you know, we’ve got a lot of people in office, like those two senators I mentioned, we don’t want anything like that coming out of these colleges. So what we do at the whole. There’s five levels to what we do.
The first level is nothing but biblical world view. You’re going to understand the Bible applies to every issue. You’re going to be able to show us what the Bible says about capital gains tax, about estate taxes, about progressive taxes, capitation. You are going to show us what the Bible says about social programs, ya know, we are going to get biblical worldview down.
Once we do that, we’re going to get American history down. American history you think is secular. We’re going to show you that it’s God-filled. The third thing we do is we’re going to show you what the Bible says about government in general, and the fourth thing is we’re going to teach you the Constitution, and the fifth is we’ll show you how to get elected.
Now I don’t want you close to office if you don’t have those other foundations. And so that’s what we try to do in that holistic view is we want a biblical foundation, biblical thinking. From that, we’ll look at history, and from that, we’ll look at how that applies to our involvement in the Seven Mountain philosophy, whether that be business, or media, entertainment, the judiciary, whatever it is. We want people in those seven mountains, but we want to have them having the right view of God, and history, and the Bible. And so that’s what we try to do with all of those, is-is pull all of those together, if that makes sense.

I think Barton should call his schools: the Anti-Federalist School of Government. It was the anti-federalists who believed the Constitution should have included a connection to God and the Bible.
In any event, those who deny dominionism should take a look at this. Barton’s goal is to train future politicians in the teaching that Christians should be setting the tone in all areas of life so that they can legislate Christian answers to political issues.

Weekly Standard Writer Says I'm An Academic Who Should Know Better

On Wednesday, Weekly Standard writer Jonathan Last wrote to ask if I read the entire paper on sexual orientation and gender identity from Mayer and McHugh in The New Atlantis. He had read my blog post on the subject and asked if I had read only the sexual orientation sections.  I replied that I had only read the sexual orientation parts of the paper. I added that with school starting here I had not gotten to the gender identity section of the paper.
From that brief exchange, Mr. Last wrote the following today about me:

Making these kinds of statements—that we do not fully understand homosexuality or transgenderism—has become a courageous act. Mayer and McHugh have already been attacked, both by LGBT activists and academics who should know better.
Warren Throckmorton, a psychology professor at Grove City College, rushed to publish a critique of Mayer and McHugh before he’d even read the full report. Why the rush? Throckmorton was outraged that “As far as I can tell, it is being touted most by conservative leaning and anti-gay organizations.”
What’s interesting is that if you read deeply enough into Throckmorton’s hasty critique, it turns out that his substantive differences with Mayer and McHugh are reasonably small. His real concern is that some conservative, somewhere, might use the report as a tool to question the political orthodoxies of the day.

Outraged? I re-read my post and didn’t find outrage (please go read it again). I stated my observation about where I had been seeing the paper. Furthermore, I explained why I hadn’t read the rest of it. I didn’t comment on the part I didn’t read.
The real cheap shot is his statement is that I want to keep conservatives from political questioning. Given my work over the years, that’s just silly. If anything, the bulk of research on sexual orientation has been kept from religious conservatives by other religious conservatives (especially true in evangelical circles). In any case, I can’t see how he arrived at his conclusion from my post. I found holes in the Mayer and McHugh paper and mentioned them. Would Mr. Last prefer that I not point them out?
I am not going to opine about Mr. Last’s motives for getting me so wrong, but I believe he should correct himself and, at the least, put a link to my initial post so his readers can judge for themselves.

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”