Tuesday, June 25, 2013

This Changes Nothing

The apology by Alan Chambers, the leader of Exodus International, and the subsequent announcement of the closing of the umbrella organization changes nothing. Let me repeat: this changes nothing.  The apology seemed to be heartfelt and gracious and addressed the abuses that bedeviled the organization and its ministry. The leader was right to apologize for those abuses. However, the abuses themselves, the fact that a number of ex-gays have decided they are not “ex” gay after all, does not change the fact that choosing to have sex with those of the same gender is a sin.  There. I’ve said it.  It is a sin.  In fact, Alan Chambers says it as well.  In a part of the apology that rarely gets quoted, I might add:

I cannot apologize for my deeply held biblical beliefs about the boundaries I see in scripture surrounding sex, but I will exercise my beliefs with great care and respect for those who do not share them.  I cannot apologize for my beliefs about marriage. But I do not have any desire to fight you on your beliefs or the rights that you seek. My beliefs about these things will never again interfere with God’s command to love my neighbor as I love myself.   

 And as a sin, it is a hard habit to beat, especially if you have a biological predisposition towards same-sex attraction.  It is hard to beat, just as a number of other conditions are hard to beat.  When a recovering alcoholic falls off the wagon, we don’t come to the conclusion that it is pointless to try to change his/her behavior towards alcohol.  So why make the claim that “reparative” therapy is not only useless but harmful just because it fails to work in many cases? Or for that matter, one can't make the case that it doesn't work if the real problem is that it is being used abusively.  Is the claim that no one has ever changed their sexual habits?  Is the claim that no one has ever changed their sexual orientation? 

There are many things wrong with this argument, but the one that disturbs me the most is this: If the claim is that God cannot help homosexuals live a holy life, either by overcoming their same sex attraction or by choosing to live a non-homosexual lifestyle despite that attraction (the choice that Alan Chambers makes), then how can we claim that God can change anything about anyone?  That is what troubles me – I want very much to believe that God can and will change me.  Not my sexual orientation or behavior; that isn’t my particular problem.  But there are things in my life that I pray daily that God will change.  And I truly believe that over time, the promise is that God will honor such prayers and work within each of us to make us into God’s own image.  In the Methodist tradition we call it “going on to perfection” and supposedly we really believe that this is possible. So while it may be true that Exodus International is full of sinful people who get caught up in power and give in to sin, that changes nothing about what I believe God can do in a person’s life.  

Yes, I know that the opposing argument is that love is not a sin.  I agree. Love is not a sin. Sexual orientation is not a sin. Sexual activity in the wrong context is a sin.  And I agree that we should love all people—yes, I really do mean all people—unconditionally.  As it happens, I don’t find it hard to love those of other sexual orientations.  But there are people that I find it difficult to love.  I suspect I am not alone in this.  That is because what is truly “inborn” in us is sin.  I am a sinner.  I was not born a nice person or a good person, but I desperately hope that I am getting better as time goes on. I don’t say this because I hate myself or anything, but I know the secret places of my heart and I know that I am not really a very nice person.  I don’t think I am particularly worse than anyone else, mind you, but I think we all have a nasty side that will come out given the right circumstances.  We also have the image of God that can come out given the right circumstances and the power of the Holy Spirit working within us!

So let’s stop acting like the failures of the “ex-gay” organizations somehow proves that it is not possible for God to work in the lives of those who have same-sex attractions to overcome those attractions.  If you want to hold up the list of bad guy ex-gays, I can hold up lists of gays who aren’t particularly nice people either – starting with Michael Piazza www.dallasobserver.com/2003-12-04/feature/fallen-angel/full/.  But talking about the problems of Michael Piazza doesn’t prove anything anymore than Walker Railey’s downfall proves something about United Methodist Ministers—except maybe that if we are looking for inborn traits, the lust for power is one that we should probably consider.

6 comments:

  1. Interesting Martha. Thank you!

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  2. First of all, no one tries to make an alcoholic NOT alcoholic. Alcoholics are alcoholics forever, and all you can do is try not to drink alcohol. As I understand it, "reparative" therapy does try to make people not gay.

    Second, alcohol abuse is harmful, whereas loving relationships are good. Comparing gay sex to alcohol abuse is like comparing trans fats to broccoli - one gives you heart disease, and the other is... perfectly fine. Not the be-all end-all of food, or anything, but it's wholesome and beneficial. You seem to think there is something un-wholesome about gay relationships, but I still don't understand what that is.

    Literally your entire argument here is "It's wrong because God says so," and I distinctly recall you saying that that wasn't a good enough argument for you. You wouldn't commit murder just because God told you to - why is that a good enough reason for you to go around telling the world that gay people should feel bad about having sex?

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    1. Amanda, your point about alcoholics is well-taken. I should have made it clear that I was talking about changing behavior, not orientation. In fact I would suspect that it is very difficult to change one's sexual orientation, though there is anecdotal evidence that change does happen. Unfortunately, the only evidence we really have is anecdotal, either for the success or the failure of intentional change.

      A few studies have been done on animals that suggest a change in body chemistry can change orientation as demonstrated by behavior. I believe most of the changes involved have been toward homosexual behavior.

      I doubt that I would personally recommend "reparative" therapy to someone of homosexual orientation. The person seeking the therapy would have to want it badly and I would have to know personally the therapist. I would certainly never suggest such therapy to someone who was happy with their orientation.

      However, on the issue of whether or not gay sex is a good thing - I doubt this is the place to talk explicitly about the aspects of gay sex that I believe are harmful. Yes, I think there is something unwholesome about gay sex.

      I also differentiate between loving relationships and sexual relationships. A sexual relationship can be an expression of love, but frequently in today's society it is not. And I don't believe a loving relationship has to be expressed sexually in order to be loving. One of the problems that I see in the current culture is that deeply committed friendships between two men or between two women seem to be on the wane. The only relationship of a deeply loving and passionate nature that many can conceive of is one that is sexual. That troubles me.

      Another issue I have with the statement "loving relationships are good" (especially if you equate loving with sexual) is that not all loving relationships are, in fact, good. Some of them are abusive; some of them cause problems such as adultery. Some of them are inappropriate. Many of them end in deep pain. This is true of both heterosexual and homosexual relationships. For instance, I would not agree that a loving relationship that includes sexual behavior between my husband and another woman is good, no matter how "loving" it is.

      And, yes, my argument is from a religious perspective. I never claimed anything else. I did indeed say "God told me to" is not a good enough reason for something, but evidently you missed (or I didn't make clear) the remainder of that. I would not kill someone "because God told me to" because I find in the Bible that God is the one who sacrificed Godself in Jesus, and who did not allow his disciples to kill those who came against him. I think that any time one believes that one is receiving a "message from God" it is important to check that message with the whole of the biblical text and ask oneself, "Is this what the God we know in Jesus would say?" One of the problems I see in the church today is that some people are deciding that God has told them personally that certain behaviors are ok now, even though the biblical witness suggests differently.

      In these posts, I am trying to lay out what I consider the biblical reasons for believing as I do about marriage. I don't expect those who do not see the Bible as having some kind of authority to agree with me. It would be strange if they did. But I do hope to contribute to the conversation in the Christian world. Too often Christian fundamentalists have what I consider too simplistic a reading of the biblical text and the "progressives" think everything is completely culturally conditioned. I am trying to bring a different voice to the table.

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    2. Okay, so you do in fact think gay sex is icky, for unspecified reasons. Good to know. I'd love to know the reasons why, because I am completely unable to imagine what they could possibly be. I don't expect you to go into explicit detail on your blog, though.

      I think your distinction between "loving" relationships and "sexual" relationships is nonsense. I'm sure you've felt romantic passion in your life, so you ought to know that affection and sexual desire are intertwined in romantic relationships. A friendship and a romantic relationship are not the same. "Friends with benefits" and a romantic relationship are also not the same. And I don't imagine most straight marriages would last too long if they were celibate. Some would, but not the majority.

      So when you say gay people shouldn't have sex, you're consigning most of them to a life devoid of romantic relationships. Sex is not the entirety of a romantic relationship, but it sure is part of it.

      I'm surprised you even argued with my point that loving relationships are good. You're just arguing semantics while ignoring my real point. Imagine a relationship exactly like your marriage, only both partners are men or both are women. That's the kind of relationship I'm talking about. Obviously.

      So you wouldn't do ANYTHING God asks you to do - but practically speaking, you would, because God would never disagree with your opinions on what is right and what is wrong. How convenient! And by the way, how exactly do you explain Abraham and Isaac?

      P.S. Gay people are not ruining or sexualizing same-sex friendships.

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    3. Actually, I shouldn't use the term "gay sex." After all, gay people don't do anything straight people don't do. Perhaps there are kinds of sex straight people shouldn't be having?

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