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.
 
 

New Study of Gay Brothers Renews Interest in Genetic Factors in Homosexuality

Papers in Australia and the UK published stories late yesterday about a study recently described at the 2013 International Association for Sex Research by Alan Sanders and then yesterday by Michael Bailey at the American Association for the Advancement of Science on genetics and homosexuality. According to an abstract of a 2012 presentation of the study, the researchers conducted a genome-wide linkage study involving over 400 pairs of gay brothers. The team identified two regions of interest: the pericentromeric region of chromosome 8 and Xq28, the region previously reported by Dean Hamer in 1993. According to the 2012 abstract, the findings “suggest that genetic variation in each of these regions contributes to development of the important psychological trait of male sexual orientation.”
The study has not been published but will surely renew interest in genetic factors involved in homosexuality. According to Bailey, as reported in the Guardian, sexual orientation is not a choice. However, this does not mean that sexual orientation is completely determined by genes. It appears that the regions identified in this study contribute in some manner to variation in the trait of sexual orientation. The linkages identified in the study do not eliminate the role of other factors in sexual orientation, including the balance of hormones during fetal development.
The new study is consistent with our statement in the recent letter to Uganda’s president Yoweri Museveni:

From a scientific perspective, the causes of homosexuality are only partially understood. While it is unlikely that there is one simple biological or genetic cause for homosexuality in all people, there are neural, cognitive and personality differences between homosexuals and heterosexuals which appear to have at least some basis in biology.

Truth Wins Out has an interview with Alan Sanders about the study and related issues in interpreting the role of genetics in homosexuality.
 
 
 

Emails Contradict Dr. Nicolosi’s Conflicting Claims of Cure

Earlier this week, I posted audio of Dr. Joseph Nicolosi talking about using porn in reparative therapy as a technique. A dispute had arisen between Exodus President Alan Chambers and Nicolosi about the use of porn in reparative therapy. In my view, the audio and rejected workshop description decided Round One in favor of Chambers. (See this post for the scoop)

Now, it looks like Round Two goes to Chambers as well. ExgayWatch has posted an email from Nicolosi where he explicitly promises cure to Alan Chambers.  Recall Alan claims that reparative therapists promise 100% cures. Nicolosi contested that in a Facebook posting saying:

Alan, what you are saying is untrue. I have never said I could cure someone completely from homosexuality. All my books make it quite clear that homosexual attractions will persist to some degree throughout a person’s lifetime.

Never say never.

In the email obtained by XGW, Nicolosi told Chambers that he could cure him 100%. After Chambers acknowledged on the Dr. Drew show that he could still find men attractive, Nicolosi wrote this (and more, go read the whole thing):

The point Alan is that you can get to a place where there is no more homosexuality. ReallyYou can actually get to a place where you can willfully (sic) think of an SSA image and have no bodily sensation.

Why stop half way? Why not do further work and finish the task and have it completely behind you. consider this invitation, not only for your sake but also as a testimony of complete healing to truly motivate others.

We have the therapeutic tools to get you over what ever SSA is remaining. (emphasis in the original email)

This is not that surprising to me. I attended three NARTH conferences (2002-2004) and I heard various reparative therapists make these claims. Various ex-gays would come out and say that. Part of the reason I believed the folks in the documentary I Do Exist was because I was hearing these claims made often. Time has told a different tale.

Also, other reports have come along where Nicolosi is quoted making grand claims. Take this one from 2009 – Nicolosi Claims 75% Cured.

Last week I blogged about a homosexuality conference in London hosted by the conservative Anglican Mainstream, and featuring Joseph Nicolosi, Jeff Satinover and Arthur Goldberg. One attendee was David Virtue who runs Virtueonline.com. His website is popular among conservative Anglicans. Virtue had much to say about the conference but one quote stood out. The quotes within this segment of Virtue’s article come from Nicolosi.

Nicolosi said he has been helping people to “increase their heterosexual potential” for 25 years, and puts his success rate among men at about two out of three. “75% of our clients are completely cured, the 25% who are not usually have other factors that are not brought into the counseling situation.”

“It is not the absent father, but the non-responsiveness of the father. It is when the father shuts downs and rejects the boy’s masculine striving and he shames the boy in his strivings to become a man. That boy will find some male to connect with. It is the negative experience of the father that destroys him and pushes him towards men who offer him homosexual sex as a way out.”

Virtue is not a critic and would not have a reason to lie. However, even though Virtue confirmed to me that Nicolosi said those words, he later changed the article to remove the reference to 75% cure at the request of Nicolosi’s wife – who was not at the conference.

Nicolosi is not the only one who makes wishful claims, it seems to be part of the genre. I can recall Richard Cohen doing the same thing, telling an audience once, that his clients, “never go back.”

I have been criticized by many (some of whom are not now doing so), for stealing hope from people as a consequence of my realistic approach to this area. I make no apology for it. Reality is what it is. We have to adapt. Following one’s values and beliefs does not rest on false hope or wishful thinking.

 

Latitude News covers the relationship between Scott Lively and Uganda’s anti-gay bill

I provided comment for this series of Latitude News reports. They are worth looking at for those who are interested in the relationship of Americans (notably Scott Lively) and the Uganda bill.

Click these links for the reports:

Uganda, U.S. export anti-gay pressure (podcast)

U.S. exporting homophobia to Uganda – Part I (print story)

U.S. exporting homophobia to Uganda – Part II (print story)

The facts and players will be familiar to anyone who has followed this blog for the past three years. I think they have done a nice job of summarizing the situation and getting us up to the present.

Latitude News covered the divide among evangelicals in the United States over the Ugandan bill. This is a balanced approach I appreciate.

 

Text of Liberia’s Bill to Make Homosexuality a First Degree Felony

This morning I received the text of the proposed amendment concerning homosexuality from Jarlawah Tonpo, Director of Press and Public Affairs of the Liberia Senate. Offered by former First Lady, Sen. Jewel Taylor, the amendment has not yet been debated and is not law. No date has been set for debate or vote. Both Houses of the legislature would need to pass the bill to send to the President for signature or veto. I wrote about this bill and a companion bill in their House last week.

As far as I can determine, in Liberia penalties for a First Degree Felony can range from 10 years in prison to death. The amendment is short and without definitions.

SENATOR TAYLOR’S PROPOSED AMENDMENT

TO THE DOMESTIC RELATIONS LAW OF LIBERIA

LAW AS CURRENTLY STATED

DOMESTIC RELATIONS LAW

Sub section 2.3 who may not marry

“No marriage shall be contracted between persons, one or both of whom has a spouse still living; not

between an ancestor and a descendant, a brother and sister of either the whole or the half blood, an uncle and niece or an aunt and nephew, or first cousins; or of persons of the same sex.

AMENDMENT

To Amend and restate Section 2.3 of the Domestic Relations Law to provide for the prohibition of same sex marriages in Liberia.

It is enacted by the Honorable Senate and House of Representatives of the Republic of Liberia, in Legislature assembled:

Section 1:

That from and immediately after the passage of this Act. Section 2.3 of the Domestic Relations Law is hereby amended and restated as follow:

This prohibition shall apply whether the prescribe relatives are legitimate or illegitimate. No one shall  give effect to any public act, record, or judicial proceeding of any one which represents a relationship between persons of the same sex that is treated as a marriage under the laws of the Republic.

Section 2:

No two persons of the same sex shall have sexual relations. A violation of this prohibition will be considered a first degree felony.

This Act shall take effect immediately upon publication into Handbills.

ANY LAW TO THE CONTRARY NOTWITHSTANDING

Liberian Senate Leader Says Gay Legislation Not Needed

In what appears to be a quick move to downplay reports yesterday of draconian anti-gay legislation in Liberia, the Senate President Pro-tempore, Gbehnzongar Findley, said yesterday that no need exists for pro- or anti-gay legislation.

The President Pro-tempore of the Liberian Senate, Gbehnzongar Findley has said that there is no need for any legislation on the protection of gay and lesbian rights in the country.

Addressing his monthly press briefing on Thursday, Pro-tempore Findley said the issue of gay right is not an issue in Liberia as no one has been denied his/right to practice gay or lesbianism in the country.
Pro-tempore Findley clarified that the Constitution of Liberia guaranteed the right of everyone including those involved in same sex practices. “Are these being any act of discrimination against any of them; is there any discriminatory law against them or have they been disfranchised or are people throwing stone at them?” Pro-tempore Findley wondered.
He said as President Pro-tempore of the Liberian Senate any act of infinitive whether for or against will not fall under his gavel. He noted that the Constitution does not in any way infringe on the right of anyone including gay and lesbians. He said the organic law of the country guarantees such right and will not be the one to decide.
“There is no need for legislation for gay and lesbians right because it is in the law and if anyone feels that their right is being violated let them go to the court,” the Grand Bassa County Senior Senator averred.
I know very little about the situation for LGBT people there so I don’t know whether gays would share the Senator’s assessment of the situation.
Sen. Findley seems clear that he will not entertain proposals from either Senator Taylor or LGBT campaigners.

Current Official Text of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2009

This morning Helen Kawesa, Public Relations Manager for the Uganda Parliament provided this copy of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill which was introduced on Tuesday. As you will see, it is the same bill as was printed in Uganda Gazette on September 25, 2009 and then first tabled on October 14, 2009. Click the screen capture to go to the Gazette copy.

To date, the bill has not been amended and this is the version re-introduced on February 7, 2012.

This morning AFP news service has an article that correctly reports the story about the bill, amendments and the process involved.

Parliament officials said Thursday that the bill — which US President Barack Obama has described as “odious” — had been reintroduced in its original format, which included the death penalty clause.

Bahati continues to say he will recommend the removal of the death sentence for aggravated homosexuality.

A Ugandan lawmaker behind a proposed draconian anti-gay bill that sparked an international outcry said Friday he wanted to drop clauses that would see the death penalty introduced for certain homosexual acts.

“There will be no death penalty at all…that will go,” David Bahati, the legislator who formulated the bill, told AFP.

However, it remains to be seen whether or not the Parliament will alter the bill in the way Bahati now proposes. Two sources within Parliament have informed me that the MPs will be inclined to agree with recommendations made by Bahati and the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs committee. If he can be believed, Bahati’s strategy seems to have shifted to making it dangerous for GLBT people communicate or gather. More on this in the next post…

Reparative therapy and confirmation bias: An illustration

One of the biggest problems I have with reparative therapy is the self-fulfilling nature of the approach. Reparative therapists assume that the existence of same-sex attraction means a person has suffered gender based trauma during a specific period of childhood.

Reparative therapist David Pickup has commented on another post that straight men may have wounds but, from his point of view, they are not as deep as those which haunt gay men. In other words, if a straight man says he was traumatized in the same way, the reparative therapist’s answer is that the trauma wasn’t deep enough to trigger the reparative drive leading to same-sex attraction. If the gay man says he does not recall any such trauma, then the reparative drive theory posits that the gay man has repressed it and needs to uncover it. It seems to me the powerful effects of confirmation bias are at work.

The assumptions necessary to work as a reparative therapist remind me of the assumptions often associated with the repressed memory movement. Especially during the decade of the 1990s, many therapists assumed that negative moods such as depression or relational problems were due to childhood abuse of some kind that had been forgotten via the defense mechanism of repression. Some therapists harbored a belief that clients who could not remember trauma from the past were in a state of denial. This belief  led some therapists to repeatedly ask about recollections of trauma and hold out the possibility to their clients that they were simply unable to remember.

By questioning the mechanism of repression, I am not questioning the reality of gender based trauma. I am not questioning that some gay people had very impoverished childhoods. Of course that is true. But so did many straight people. In his recent comment, Mr. Pickup proposed that gay people have experienced deeper trauma than straight people experienced. This seems circular to me. How can you tell which experiences are worse? As far as I can tell, the way reparative therapists answer this question iss by knowing the sexual orientation of the client. Straight people have deep wounds; gay people, by definition according to the reparative approach, have deeper wounds.

As an illustration of how clients can adapt themselves to the theories of their therapists, I offer the experience of Carol Diament. Ms. Diament initially thought she would not need to detach from her family, as the other clients at Genesis Associates did. However, after awhile, “memories of abuse came up” and she detached from her parents (over three years), husband and even small children (at least 8 months and maybe longer).

Eventually Carol got away from Genesis, sought another therapist and came to realize that her memories were reconstructed with the help of her therapists at Genesis. By then, the damage was done. She had lost years of her life and had even lost her immediate family.

The clip is just over nine minutes long, but I hope you will watch it all the way through. Then, I hope you will discuss this and let me know what you think. Am I seeing a parallel with reparative theory that is valid or not?

Over the years, I have worked with many clients, gay and straight, who have experience significant trauma with parents. However, I have not been able to differentiate them based on the severity of their experiences. Furthermore, I know and have worked with many gay men and women who recall no deep trauma relating to their parents or peers. I also know gay men who experienced trauma after they came out to their parents because of the tension surrounding homosexuality. However, prior to the disclosure, the relationship was on par with any comparable straight person’s home life.

I also want to be clear that I am not closed to the possibility that certain childhood experiences could influence some people to question sexuality and engage in same-sex behaviors. In addition, some experiences of abuse are associated with risky sexual behavior of all kinds. Therapy, even reparative therapy, might help such people. However, I think these scenarios represent only a portion (probably very small) of the total gay and bisexual population.

Nigeria moves to criminalize same-sex unions

From July 14, 2011, Sharon Slater of Family Watch International, and recent speaker at the annual convention of the National Association for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), told delegates at a Nigerian law conference that same-sex marriage in the United States was a threat to religious and family freedoms.

On July 25, a bill was tabled in the Nigerian legislature to criminalize same-sex unions. The bill forbids any marriage contracts civil or religious between members of the same sex. It even removes the freedom to conduct such ceremonies in a church if such unions were permitted within the theology of that church. Here are the penalties:

According to an AP article out today, the bill has now gone through two readings and has had public hearings.

This bill is a watered down version of a prior bill which would have imposed more restrictions (see BTB for an earlier article on this bill). Thus, I am not suggesting that Slater concocted the bill or the effort. However, when she spoke to the Nigerian audience, she certainly did nothing to discourage the restriction of personal freedoms and added fuel to the fire already burning.

She and her organization have taken the position that they oppose laws which execute gays but she supports nations who want to make or maintain other laws which criminalize homosexuality.

In essence, this bill criminalizes any same-sex union. Here is the definition of same-sex marriage:

The clause “or for other purposes of same sexual relationship” is so broad that any coupling or any duration could be in view.

 

Christians behaving badly

LivePrayer’s Bill Keller really did not need to comment on a tragedy he knows nothing about, but he did.
In a press release out today, Keller used the suicide of 15 year old Jamie Hubley to go on a rant about gays.
Keller blames the victim, Anderson Cooper, Rachel Maddow and Ellen DeGeneres for the suicide, assuming that the boy was in distress because he had come out as gay.

Last Friday, a 15-year-old Ottawa boy Jamie Hubley, committed suicide after documenting his hardships of being “gay.” Liveprayer’s Bill Keller said that while the media wants to demonize anyone who dares call this CHOICE of sexual activity what God calls it in the Bible, a sin, it is those in the media who glamorize and promote this choice as normal and acceptable, along with gutless pastors too afraid to speak out against this sin, along with faux churches that glorify this deviant, unnatural, and unhealthy choice of sexual activity, who are most responsible for Hubley’s death.

Rants by fundamentalists about homosexuality are not really news, but this one is so noxious that it illustrates the growing gulf in the church between those who know something about homosexuality and those who don’t. The scholars, ministers and lay people who are making an attempt to understand the subject are moving in one direction and what is left are those who ignore abundant evidence to the contrary of their beliefs.
Recently, I was talking with a 20-something minister who told me that he had become disillusioned with the culture war machine, most clearly over homosexuality. He told me of his struggle to relate to a gay friend, because the friend was more devout in his Christianity than many of his straight Christian friends. His friend was nothing like the right wing stereotypes about “the gay lifestyle.” He also said he worked with some gay men and lesbians at a job where they talked freely about their lives. This young man told me about how common their descriptions were and how normal their families sounded.
He struggled because what he read and heard from evangelical leaders did not square with his own experience. He felt internal pressure to conform his attitudes to the conventional wisdom he was hearing and to disregard his direct experience. He also told me that he didn’t care what anyone said, he didn’t believe his friends could change their orientation, “any more than I can change mine,” he said.
I fear that the rants and rhetoric from those who seem threatened by social change will become more strident. Like a huge self-fulfilling prophecy, they will behave badly toward gays and others who disagree with them, and then they will use the natural reaction of those attacked as a proof of their righteous stance.
I just wish suicides by 15 year old kids could be left out of it.