Attendees at the Summit in Cape Town awoke to cooler weather and rain on its third day, Wednesday, March 19, 2014.
Devotional by John Nixon
But this did not dampen spirits as they gathered for the second of a three-part devotional by Southern Adventist University Professor John Nixon whose topic was “Sex That Makes God Smile.” His key text was Genesis 1:26, 27 where we learn that God’s plural image is captured in the union of male and female. This doesn’t mean every person needs a partner to be whole (Jesus didn’t). We are created to be moral, spiritual, and to love. The greatest of divine attributes is love and its fullest expression is in relationship. Spiritual life needs the balance of relationship.
We must teach our boys that it’s okay to have girl friends who are not girlfriends. The spirituality of sex was lost when Christians stopped teaching about sex. As Christianity moved west it came under the influence of Hellenistic thought and its teaching of a dichotomy between a good soul trapped in a bad body, distorting the concept of sex. The Gnostics promoted asceticism with the debasement of the body, social seclusion, celibacy, and silence with the denial of pleasure. Church fathers like Origen believed all sex to be evil, and Augustine taught procreation without recreation. Vestiges of such philosophy remain in some churches, to the point of interpreting the Song of Solomon as only figurative of Christ and the church.
Jesus came to restore the sanctity of marriage where God celebrates the sexual union. But in our modern society children have grown up learning about sex as self-gratification from a sexualized world rather than from the family and church. They experience a world that says “yes” to sex, and a church that says “no.” Converts to the church from the world go from sex without love (licentiousness) to love without sex (asceticism). However, we learn from The Adventist Home (page 123) that God doesn’t just tolerate sex, he looks on it with pleasure. Nixon declared that our church is no better than other churches (even though we have a message for these last days), but it is positioned to recover joyful sexuality because of our unique belief in human nature (the union of body and soul). This gives us a special responsibility to teach people about the kind of sex that makes God smile!
Social Science Perspectives on Scripture, Alternative Sexualities, and Society by Curtis Fox
Next, Curtis Fox, Chair of Loma Linda University’s Department of Counseling and Family Services, followed up with his PowerPoint lecture, “Social Science Perspectives on Scripture, Alternative Sexualities, and Society.” He started off by noting that it is a new day when the church engages in a dialog on alternative sexualities — “a history-making moment.” He said the issues are “broad and broadening,” cutting across many sectors of our lives with important implications.
His lecture had three major goals: to explore attitudes, to consider the etiology of homosexuality, and to propose considerations for advancing our witness in the world. He warned us that the issues are complex and that narrow views only add to confusion and false claims. In fact, there is no reason to come together for such a summit if all we’re going to do is affirm that homosexuality is “bad.”
We cannot deny that attitudes on this topic are rapidly changing, especially among our youth. He specifically recognized the role of SDA Kinship International as a support group for its 2,000 members, saying “whether we like it or not, the phenomenon is with us.”
The trend to same-sex marriage is increasing at a rate that makes it difficult to get accurate data on the move from attitudes to practice. His research suggests that beliefs about the cause of homosexuality is partly a function of religious beliefs. In the “nature vs. nurture” debate, no position can be taken that is based on sound research except to say that there are meaningful links to both biology and environment. Personal experiences need to be taken seriously; they are always the interaction of several factors. Any concept of “normalcy” has to be challenged because variations clearly exist. We know and can be grateful that God works with humans in their imperfections.
If homosexuality were a choice, conversion therapy would work, but for the most part it does not. In fact reparative therapy has been denounced by most professional organizations in a position to know the evidence. We do know that the affects of societal prejudice against LGBT youths too often leads to depression and suicide. Such prejudice is fueled by some of the following myths: Most pedophiles are gay. Gay relationships are transient. Gays don’t make good parents. Gay parents make gay children. Being gay is contagious in terms of lifestyle.
Fox continued by outlining some major issues in this dialogue:
- The clash of world views disallows for concordance between interested parties.
- Lack of tolerance for ambiguity is typical for church positions.
- How do we now function in the context of new legal mandates and representations?
- Significant others at the table may disallow for more heartfelt dialogue. A challenge from Ellen White contains helpful perspectives; see “Handbook of SDA Theology,” SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 12 (2000), page 698.
Finally, Fox shared some summary thoughts:
- Postmodern values in our world present a serious threat to the church.
- The etiology of homosexual orientation is complex and simple explanations will not suffice.
- Our language must be characterized by humility with no bigotry, hatred, or marginalization. (See Patriarchs and Prophets, page 165.
- The high calling of the church is to love homosexuals as we love our (heterosexual) neighbors.
- Therapy to change sexual identity may be injurious.
- The church needs to inspire people to think, ask questions, inspire dialogue without closing down conversation by declarations.
- Our responsibility is to regard and respect.
- Warning: the church may be into building closets — thus creating underground states for some people; open up the conversation and be prepared to listen.
Fox closed by quoting the familiar Micah 6:8: “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice and love mercy and to walk humbly with your God?”
In the question and answer period, Fox had some pithy responses: The path of sin is to Admire, Desire, Acquire. Just as Jesus was, so the church must be: insulated, not isolated, from people! The calling of the church is to love and care for all people.
Panel chaired by Lowell Cooper
Before lunch, GC Vice President Lowell Cooper chaired a panel made up of Rex Rosas (Southern Asia-Pacific Division HR Director and Legal Counsel), Rodney Brady (South Pacific Division CFO), Karnik Doukmetzian (GC General Counsel), Ruth Parish (GC HR Director), and Nicholas Miller (Director of AU International Religious Liberty Institute).
Elder Cooper introduced their purpose by reminding us that the church lives in dynamic relationship with society and its organizations. We are called to engage, not withdraw, from society. The beliefs of the church are growing ever more distant from society so today we are looking at the legal and business environment in which we do our work.
He mentioned five areas of particular interest:
- Where the church gets drawn into litigation.
- How gay rights affects the church.
- How the church can be proactive rather than reactive.
- Should the church ever initiate litigation?
- How should we respond to media attention?
Some of the panel’s comments dealt with the fact that sexual orientation is one of the UN’s Human Rights. Protecting employees from discrimination in hiring, benefits, etc., is a big thing now. Although in some countries we currently have religious protections, the church will soon face employment issues.
Emerging as an issue is whether the church’s religious liberty can survive in the midst of increasingly egalitarian views. There is a connection between gay marriage and employment. Institutional religious freedom is one thing but what about individual religious freedom?
Examples of what we might face include: If you accept public money you can’t discriminate. Why stand up for the Sabbath and not Marriage?
We must review our policies to make sure they are consistent and fair and review our doctrines relative to policy; are they in concordance and unprejudicial? Having a good relationship with our communities is important; being a good neighbor before we need a neighbor.
Breakout Session II (Peter Landless)
After lunch the second breakout session took place:
1. Alternative sexualities employment issues in the church — with Rodney Brady (South Pacific Division CFO), Karnik Doukmetzian (GC General Counsel) and Ruth Parish (GC HR Director)
2. Understanding transgender — with William Murdoch (LLU Psychiatry Chair) — CANCELLED as he did not come to the Summit.
3. Relating to children and youth challenged by alternative sexualities —with Curtis Fox (LLU Chair of Counseling and Family Services).
4. Alternative sexualities a disorder or a choice — with Peter Landless (GC Director of Health Ministries).
5. A continuum of care with inclusion of pastoral counseling to conversion/reparative therapy — with Peter Swanson (AU Seminary Professor of Pastoral Care).
6. Neither do I condemn you: Go and sin no more — with Ben Schoun (GC Vice President).
Again I wish I could have attended all of these sessions, but I chose Peter Landless.
Landless said that if he had to make a choice between these two options, he’d go for “disorder.” He started with a case study of a male born out of wedlock, graduated the valedictorian of his class, the mother died, he drifted into a promiscuous lifestyle, eventually came back to the church, was baptized and eventually married (heterosexually), had three kids, became a church leader, but continued to struggle with same-sex attraction all his life.
The big question: Is a person born gay or does that person become gay? Landless gave a brief overview of brain development, neuro-anatomical development, home environment, fraternal twins, birth order, and other literature suggesting genetic etiology for homosexuality. None is determinative; it is not known whether there is mere association or whether it is causal. His conclusion was “it is very complex and we don’t know.”
He emphasized that clinicians should be aware that there is danger in reparative therapy, including significant risk. There is no scientifically valid answer to cause; medical science has not ascertained etiology. There are some anatomical differences that have been observed but no physiological differences.
From a non-Christian viewpoint, homosexuality results from genes and environment. How do we reconcile a biblical stance with truly caring for someone gay? Read John 8:11 and along with Jesus, say “neither do I condemn thee — go and sin no more.” We don’t believe in pie-in-the-sky but we must affirm that no behavior is beyond the reach of God’s healing grace.
After the breakout sessions, Dr. Peter Landless spoke at a plenary session of “Medical Issues.” Again he started with a case study: this time about a boy who was born with the wrong body with heart-wrenching results. If parents and relatives can reject children born with such conditions, how about the church? Should it be different?
The objectives of this presentation were:
- Review normal fetal development.
- Review known anatomical and physiological factors.
- Understand proposed theories.
- Review the epidemiological evidence.
- How to care for the LGBT population. He recommended reading the chapter in Christ’s Object Lessons on the Good Samaritan, keeping in mind Christ’s question, “To whom am I neighbor?” As I consider these things, what may change is me!
Psychology/Psychiatry Perspectives by Peter Swanson
The last (evening) plenary session of this long day was Peter Swanson (AU Seminary Professor of Pastoral Care) on “Psychology/Psychiatry Perspectives.”
In a thoughtful preamble he suggested the following concepts: Support my church in working against discrimination and for human rights. The church has a responsibility to bring people back into the fold with redemptive healing. Marriage is not the only plan for relationship needs. Singleness is within the healing design as well — in church, fellowship should be available to all. All may be freed from perversion and discrimination. Titus 2:11-14 is pertinent.
Then came some general observations: Attraction comes to some, but not all. Sex is a central focus for some, others not. Some are very promiscuous, but not all — many have enduring relationships. There are more similarities between homosexuals and heterosexuals than differences. Some have a homosexual orientation without the behavior. Sex is only one aspect of their lives. However strong one’s attraction, God’s grace is sufficient. Young tempted souls need your patience and love; bind them to the church by love.
There is a range of opinions about these issues and Swanson asserted that he does not speak for all psychologists. The American Psychological Association’s DSM (Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) eliminated homosexuality in 1972, reasoning that it could no longer be considered a pathological disorder, and if it is not a diagnosable disorder then there is no treatment.
Then Swanson asked several questions of the delegates: Would medical diagnosis make homosexuality easier or more difficult to treat? If it is not a disorder, does it make it easier to bring gays into the fellowship?Homosexuality is now considered a normal form of human bonding; how does that influence our thinking in a religious context? Sexual orientation is the direction of sexual interest and can include non-sexual shared values. Within a religious context, what behaviors are censored? How do we see the relationship between Jesus and John today?
Sexual orientation change efforts are unlikely to work with appropriate therapeutic treatment. In fact, they will usually produce negative side effects such as negative self image and distress. Some few have felt it was helpful and helped them find a religious community. Is it realistic to expect all to change their orientation? What should be the church’s stance with regard to reparative therapy? Since it helps some few, is it ethical to withhold treatment? There has been some research into asexuality but it has not yet been recognized as normal. If sex were to be ruled out, what religious constraints would there be to living together? Should the church be in the business of regulating members’ behavior or creating an environment for people to succeed? Is sexuality on a long continuum with bisexuality in the middle, or are they three different orientations? How should we apply the biblical principle “not to treat people badly” (Exodus 22:21) to our treatment of gays? Gender identity disorder in children usually means transgender; what moral principles should guide their lives? Transsexuals (male or female, neither distinctly) usually consider themselves to be heterosexual; is this religiously okay? Intersexed can’t tell which gender they are but they are mostly happy with their assigned sex; is “don’t ask, don’t tell” the best way to relate to them religiously? Transvestism, or cross-dressing is not indicative of a sexual problem; does Deuteronomy 22:5 mean it’s wrong? Those with paraphilic disorder are sanctioned in Scripture; how should they be ministered to? How can we fulfill the Great Commission Jesus gave us if we ignore all these people?
Swanson concluded by stating that he has tried to raise awareness of how professionals view these issues. Do we really want, as a church, to decide who to attract in, who to keep in, and who to cast out? He observed that in some ways the APA and the church are similar — both have strict admission criteria. In fact some churches like to be viewed as fortresses with demanding expectations. They don’t take seriously the commission in Luke 14: 21, 23, to “drag in as many as possible.” Are they taking seriously Ephesians 5:3 by making sure there are no perversions among us? If so, what do you do with them? I Corinthians 6:11 says the church accepted people like that. What biblical principles are foundational in such considerations? Who should we appoint to safeguard integrity?
Swanson concluded: “I’m praying for a miracle, that the doorkeepers and bouncers in the church will be more like Jesus who freely fellowshipped with sinners!”
In a question and answer period that followed his presentation, Swanson shared further insights, such as: I personally don’t think homosexuality is a clinical disorder. The loneliness, severe depression, and suicide of some has been due to aversive therapy (electric shock to the genitals). As a church we need to talk about stuff we don’t talk about. God gave people sex for both procreation and pleasure. The respected Christian psychologists Jones and Yardhouse say let people decide what they want. Having a crush on a teacher can be normal; it may be irrational but it is not pathological. Obviously such a teacher needs to wise and judicious. I believe the Bible teaches us how to live, not the APA. I’m concerned that some Adventist mental health professionals are more loyal to their professional organizations than they are to the church.
Swanson’s closing comment: “We need to talk about that soon.”
Conversation with President of the Uganda Union Conference
It is becoming clear to me that many delegates are learning things at this Summit that they didn’t know. It is also clear that some of these issues are more urgent in certain parts of the world than others. Before leaving the Cape Town International Convention Center for the night, I sought out Elder John B. P. Kakembo, President of the Uganda Union Conference. I told him that I had heard that he supported the recent anti-gay legislation in his country so I wanted to hear the truth from his own mouth. He responded, “Yes, I supported it 100% and have paid the price!” He went on to tell me that he is a participant in a five-member Inter-Faith Committee composed of the leaders of the Anglican, Catholic, Orthodox, Adventist, and Muslim communities in Uganda who have banded together to deal with the scourge of AIDS. They’ve been receiving some $6 million a year from the US government to assist with retroviral medicine that goes to homosexuals and heterosexuals alike. This committee fully backed the recent legislation (minus the clauses about turning in and killing gays) because (and he wanted this emphasized) it deals with predators and not consenting adults.
He told me that I would not believe the cases they have seen that have maimed and disfigured victims for life. It is not at all the kind of situation we’re talking about here at this Summit.
Barack Obama called the Ugandan president and labored with him for more than four hours not to sign the legislation but when the parliament found out that the Inter-Faith Committee was behind it, they voted it, and their President finally signed it into law. The US government withheld $4 million in aid, which is hurting homosexuals in Uganda.
Kakembo said they are still reviewing the provisions of the bill to make sure it is going to punish only those who are predators. He assured me church members would never finger gays to their detriment. I asked him for his permission to share what I had learned from him, and he said he can’t be vilified any more than he already has been by well-meaning but misinformed people from around the world.
I’m going to sleep thankful for this Summit and what we are all learning; I pray we can learn to be committed to both truth and people, and never to hurt people with truth but rather save them with it.
Lawrence T Geraty is president emeritus of La Sierra University and is reporting from Cape Town for Spectrum.
Read the Adventist Review/ANN’s report of the day’s proceedings at the Cape Town conference.
Image: ANN. Panel discusses legal and employment considerations.