“You’re being so emotional” and its variants (including “be rational” or “this must be personal”) are dismissive statements trotted out when people are presenting their ideas regarding a subject, and the accuser wants to minimize the validity of those ideas. By highlighting “emotionality” or lack of rationality, the presumption is that the person’s arguments lack merit. Although this tactic could be employed by or toward individuals of any gender, it is frequently used by men as a denigration of women’s speech. Often, these are statements of deflection; the accuser, not having a rational counterargument themselves, avoids having to defend their position by merely making hand-waving objections to the points raised. I’ve been the recipient of such remarks on a number of occasions: when presenting research in my own area of expertise, when merely restating data from an article, or even when simply reciting facts that were previously agreed to. In almost every case, the person making the statement was not an expert, admittedly wasn’t familiar with the subject matter, or in some cases hadn’t even read the primary source of the information in question. In addition to being a tool of deflection, this tactic is frequently also an act of projection. That is, because of ignorance regarding the topic at hand, comments like these are made in an attempt to mask the fact that the person making the statement is actually the one operating from their own fear and refusal to acknowledge that their long-held beliefs may be wrong.
I witnessed this in full force during and after the G. Arthur Keough Summit “LGBTQ: Pastoral and Theological Perspectives” at Washington Adventist University in March. In-depth anthropological and biblical research was presented by scholars who had devoted years of study surrounding the topics of sexuality in scripture. Nevertheless, people who had dramatically less expertise attempted to trivialize the presentations as only being fueled by personal feelings. The vast majority of the sentiments in this vein were only expressed online or in private discussions. However, at the closing session of the conference, one attendee publicly shared his disdain with the presenters and declared what the Bible “clearly” noted, based on his deductions. Obviously, he was thinking rationally, while they were not. Implicit in his comments was the idea that their scholarship could be disregarded because the presenters had personal feelings that overrode their ability to look at the topic objectively. This was particularly aimed at the two presenters who identified as queer. Never mind that both of them were formally trained ministers, experts in exegesis and biblical languages. Who cares that they’ve invested years of study to their understanding? Because they are part of the LGBTQIA+ community, their views could easily be discounted.
Am I suggesting that anyone with a certain level of education should be blindly unchallenged? Absolutely not! But instead of following the mold of flat earthers and climate change deniers, we should come to discussions with a healthy respect for research and facts.
Emotion is not bad. And many topics are inherently emotional. But contrary to popular belief, holding a strong opinion—even an emotionally charged or personal one—does not automatically negate your presentation of facts. Faithfully examining evidence is how we discover truth. Adventists have valued this concept from our inception, thus earning us the nickname “people of the Book.” We earnestly heeded Acts 17:11 and proudly claimed the attributes of the Bereans as our own! “Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” Like the Bereans, Adventists had earned a reputation for diligently examining proof to see if stated claims were so. Yet this habit has been abandoned by some. Instead, it’s been replaced by the tradition of relying on tradition. Circular, I know. Whatever has been repeated in times past is what should be retained—no need for considering any other information. Apparently, we have all the light that will ever be needed! It’s shameful that when we have an opportunity to reason together, some reflexively retreat from discussion in favor of standing on what has always been thought. But as the saying goes: “A faith that cannot be tested cannot be trusted.” If a belief is sound enough, it should withstand intellectual challenge.
What’s more disappointing, though, is that the crux of much of the debate is indeed an emotional one after all: the emotion of disgust. Near the close of the meeting, Pastor Daniel Xisto poignantly invited the attendees to consider how they would react to having an entire conference devoted to deliberating about whether or not you are “disgusting.” Earlier that day, Pastor Alicia Johnson soberly noted that for some believers, it is counted as a point of pride to be able to merely sit next to someone queer. In their minds, not showing open revulsion is an exemplary demonstration of Christian love! Our official stance tells queer people that we only “hate the sin” and that they can be welcomed if they remain celibate. Nevertheless, we hypocritically reject anointed ministers like Paul Anthony Turner when they come out, even when making a commitment to celibacy. There’s no rational reason. It’s scripturally indefensible. It is inconsistent with our own mandates. Yet there is a refusal to admit that these bigoted actions are only explicable by a reliance on emotionality to the exclusion of logical reasoning. At least be honest.
If one intends to take a strong scriptural stance on this subject, then it deserves strong scriptural examination. Not a cursory reading; not a dependence on what someone else has stated. It deserves a true scrutiny of the available resources. I have not spent this article delving into proofs for or against different positions or beliefs. I’m merely appealing for people to study honestly. Weigh the multiple facets to form your own conclusions. If you’re looking for an in-depth look at the topic, that’s not this article. Instead, you can begin by reading the words of a scholar on the matter. (Pastor Johnston’s book can be found here: https://www.aliciajohnston.com/lgbtqadventists.)
Courtney Ray, MDiv, PhD, is an ordained minister of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and a clinical neuropsychologist. She is president of the Society for Black Neuropsychology.
Previous Spectrum columns by Courtney Ray can be found by clicking here.
Photo by Jakayla Toney on Unsplash
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