Monday, March 27, 2006


Following up on a couple of past items:

1. Jim Burroway, author of the Box Turtle Bulletin, has recently completed an in-depth, footnote-for-footnote analysis of Paul Cameron's main propaganda piece. It's not necessarily for the weak of stomach (Cameron paints a deliberately lurid and disgusting picture of gay life), but Jim's carefully and thoroughly researched rebuttal is a must-read for anyone who wants to be fully informed on this issue.

Read all about it here.

How telling is it that a man as thoroughly divorced from the truth as Paul Cameron continues to be quoted so frequently by those who claim to speak for the church?

2. For those interested in the topic of intersexed individuals, I found this helpful article at The issue goes far beyond hermaphrodites.

Of particular interest is the phenomenon known as Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS), which causes individuals possessing male (XY) chromosomes to develop as females. Although infertile, many of these individuals are externally indistinguishable from genetic (XX) females. According to popular rumor, actress Jamie Lee Curtis falls into this category (though to my knowledge this is unconfirmed).

Did God intend for these people to be male? If not, why not, when they have a Y chromosome? If so, how do we as the church treat these individuals? Assuming a person with AIS is attracted to men, can we call this heterosexuality when she herself is genetically male? These aren't just theoretical questions.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Personality Test

A friend of mine recently introduced me to this test. So far two friends have told me that my results were very accurate. According to this system I am a Considerate Idealist.

And yes, while my femininity score was twice as high as my masculinity score, my attention to style was almost nonexistent. Guess we can't all conform to expected stereotypes.

For baseline comparison, my Myers-Briggs type is INFJ.

But enough about me. To take the test yourself, click here. Feel free to share your results...

Monday, March 20, 2006


A friend of mine recently pointed me toward a statement made by Tony Campolo that I think perfectly sums up the current state of the evangelical church:

"Politics has changed religion - it's like mixing ice cream with horse manure. It doesn't do anything to the manure but it ruins the ice cream. This has caused great harm to religion - we will live to regret the error."

As conservative Christians have allowed themselves to become increasingly identified with a particular political agenda, they have ceased to be the salt and light that they still see themselves as to the point that they have become little more than another political interest group.

As I was considering Campolo's statement I thought of another analogy which, while less precise, speaks to the situation in a similar way. In the universe of Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series, the world is undergirded and sustained by the True Source, which some individuals can tap into and wield in seemingly magical ways. During the last great battle against evil, however, the Dark One managed to introduce a taint into saidin (the male half of the True Source). Although the power of saidin was not diminished, any man who now accesses it will eventually be driven mad and destroyed by the taint.

That is where the analogy begins to break down (not to mention that Jordan's worldview is not specifically Christian), but the image it provides of people being driven mad from the use of tainted power (in our case the authority of the church intermixed with political force) is still useful.

If we've learned anything from history we should already understand that a militant church inevitably commits atrocities that would have otherwise horrified its members. And yet we see a large segment of the American church, alarmed by the loss of the privileged position it once held in Western society, once again taking up arms (at least figuratively) and seeking to impose "Christian values" on an unreceptive world at any cost and by whatever means necessary.

And so conservative Christians, who were once more likely to be defenders of individual rights, are now better known for their moral crusades than for their love. Instead, we now have almost daily stories along the following lines:

-Television preachers calling for the assassination of foreign leaders and the overthrow of sovereign governments.

-Ministry leaders becoming power brokers more interested in tinkering with legislation and political nominations than in the actual ministry work they were originally called to.

-Local activists willingly abandoning the right to form Christian after-school clubs that they once fought so hard to obtain, for the sole purpose of blocking gay students from forming their own clubs.

-Exodus (and some of its local affiliates) aiming an ever-increasing stream of invective at the group of people it ought to have the most compassion for.

If that's not madness, what is? It's difficult to imagine a more self-destructive path that the church could take. And destruction is the only real fruit of our drive for power as people walk away from the church by the thousands, looking elsewhere for the answers they seek.

One last thought to consider: If we, as Christians, feel justified in forcing others to conform to our standards through the force of majority opinion, what's to stop some future non-Christian majority from doing the same to us?

Tuesday, March 14, 2006


Paul Varnell recently wrote an article (available at the Independent Gay Forum) about the contradictory statements made about homosexuality by conservative Christians. At their root, these statements can be boiled down to this set of assertions quoted by Varnell:

"1. Homosexuality leads to misery and unhappiness, and homosexual sex is totally repulsive. (But)
2. Nonetheless, it's so appealing that if people find out about it, many will want to try it. ... (O)nce they get "hooked" they can't or won't stop."

As Varnell goes on to outline, a number of variations on that theme can be frequently heard in Christian circles, with no notice ever taken of the dissonance that becomes obvious when those two assertions are placed side by side. Of course, as Christians we are forced to wrestle with paradoxes in the course of our exploration of the nature of God, but it is possible to become too complacent in our willingness to accept contradictory claims.

That willingness permeates ex-gay philosophy as well, as Exodus spokespersons repeat many of the same claims made by other religious right groups. On the psychological end all aspects of same-sex attraction are defined in the worst possible light, even when doing so requires engaging in mental gymnastics. Whenever I'm attracted to another man I'm a narcissist, seeking to worship that which I already am. Yet by being drawn to a man who's not my identical twin, any differences between the two of us are signs of my 'cannibal compulsion,' i.e. my attraction to him is an effort to compensate for my own perceived deficiencies by 'consuming' his strengths. No allowance can be made for the possibility that I might simply appreciate him for who he is without either wanting to be him or mistaking him for a carbon copy of me.

Likewise, it's impossible according to ex-gay philosophy for two men (or two women) to have a long-term, loving, monogamous relationship; those that do are actually lying about their relationship and only give the appearance of caring about each other. Nothing that openly gay individuals say about themselves or their lives can be trusted; likewise, nothing that a conservative Christian says about gays can be questioned, no matter how it may appear to be at odds with reality.

This mindset has also worked its way into theology as it relates to homosexuality. Reparative therapists and ex-gay leaders begin with the assumption that homosexuality is nothing more than an artificial (and purely psychological) imposition on our natural heterosexuality, which anyone is capable of reclaiming. When confronted with the fact that most people who attempt to reclaim their "natural heterosexuality" never see any real shift in their sexual attractions, they dismiss the problem by insisting that those who failed just didn't try hard enough, or didn't really want to change.

Which is the only conclusion one can come to if one assumes that heterosexuality is God's will for all homosexuals, and that he would therefore provide it to anyone who sincerely sought it out. What advocates of this position (which is not unanimously held in ex-gay circles, but nonetheless remains common) fail to see is that they have adopted a variation of the "health and wealth" doctrine that most Christians rightfully reject.

"Health and wealth" proponents assert that God's will is material prosperity for all of his followers; all a believer has to do is "name it and claim it," and the good life will quickly follow. Anyone who fails to achieve wealth or to overcome any and all illness through this method just didn't have enough faith. Granted, most ex-gay programs prescribe a rigorous regimen of prayer, counseling, inner healing and sometimes masculinization/feminization exercises, but ultimately the base assumption is the same.

Although some conservative Christians have begun to back away from this dubious association, they nonetheless remain saddled with the burden of having to dismiss any evidence that might paint homosexuality as anything less than a completely negative state of being. And so, by surrendering its commitment to truth in favor of ideology, the conservative church gives up its ability to minister effectively to an entire group of people.

Friday, March 10, 2006


One argument I've generally shied away from in the debate over homosexuality is the question of intersexed individuals - people born with both male and female sex organs, as well as those who appear to be one gender but don't fit that gender in terms of their genetic makeup. I've always thought it a relatively weak case to make, since the intersexed make up an extremely small percentage of the population and homosexuals (with very rare exceptions) have the same XX or XY chromosomes as their heterosexual counterparts.

Last year, however, I read a blog piece (which is no longer online, unfortunately) that pointed out some very pertinent questions that the existence of intersexed individuals raise regarding Christian assumptions about gender.

The basic conservative case goes something like this: Genesis teaches us that God created us "male and female," and other biblical passages related to marriage teach that each of us was designed for a heterosexual relationship with a member of the opposite gender. To further reinforce the assertion that homosexuality is something artificially imposed on us during childhood (if it's not in fact a conscious choice), one might turn to Psalm 139:13-16 ("For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb" and so on) as proof that, since God was intimately involved in designing each one of us, he clearly would have made each of us heterosexual.

Without even touching on the mounting evidence that homosexuality is at least partially attributable to genetic influences, that still raises the question: what about the intersexed? If God specifically designated our gender and intended for every individual to conform to specific gender roles, how do we explain the existence of even one intersexed person?

And if intersexed individuals do in fact have a specific gender that God assigned to them, what do we do if the doctor excises the wrong set of sex organs? What if God intended for Jill to be a man, but she's now a woman because Dr. Jones decided it would be easier to snip off her male parts? Would her church stand behind her if she pursued a 'lesbian' relationship or decided to undergo gender reassignment surgery? And all of that doesn't really even begin to touch on the issue of transsexualism, which is yet another bundle of complicated questions.

Is it possible that God isn't as intimately involved in the details of our birth as we assume? The alternative seems to be that he has a direct hand in the existence of genetic anomalies, and I'm not convinced that many Christians are willing to seriously face up to the ramifications of such an idea.

If we, then, acknowledge that the world is a far more complicated place than our tidy categories allow for, what does that do to our efforts to reduce all of life to simple either-or propositions? For my part, it makes me suspicious of anyone on either side of the debate who thinks that such questions have simple, pat answers. I'm far less impressed by a person's skill at throwing proof texts in other people's faces than I am by their ability to display humility and compassion (which is to say I'm impressed far less often than I'd like to be).

If God really intended for life to be simple, it would be.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006


Over the weekend I watched The Outsiders for the first time in a number of years. I'd been avoiding the movie for some time, even though it was one of my favorites as a teenager, due to the period of my life that I associate it with, but now that they finally released the long-lost extended version I couldn't resist any longer.

The movie does still evoke some fairly strong emotions for me, though it's nice to know that I can watch it now without totally reexperiencing how thoroughly miserable I was when I was fourteen. At that time in my life I read and reread the book so many times that I practically had it memorized; if we'd had a VCR at the time, I would have quickly worn out a VHS copy of the movie. As difficult as life was for the book's characters, I would have given anything to have the close-knit community of friends that they had. Having had several opportunities since then to experience that level of camaraderie, I'd give - well, not anything, but quite a bit - for the opportunity to make that a permanent part of my life.

Time may not heal all wounds, but it at least gives us the distance that we need to move on with our lives.

Healed or not, we never completely escape our past experiences. They become a part of us, facets of our personality that subtly color our actions and decisions in ways we may never be conscious of. That guy I just can't bring myself to like? He reminds me of a kid who tormented me in third grade. That innocuous comment I blew up over? It triggered my 'fight' mechanism because of something my parents did 25 years ago.

We are, of course, capable of rising above those instinctive reactions, but how many people really make the effort to engage in the self-examination necessary to identify and defuse their triggers? In the case of more traumatic memories it might not be something to even attempt without professional counseling.

Even more frustrating, of course, is being on the receiving end of somebody else's triggered memories. Why did that person react so negatively to me? There's nothing I can do about it if she's unwilling to talk it through with me.

Realizing that somebody hurt me out of reaction to some old wound in their own life doesn't change the fact that I've been hurt, but it provides a starting point for addressing the problem. If I respond by striking back, I just deepen their pain and perpetuate a cycle of retaliation.

Making an effort to understand somebody else's pain may not undo what they did to me, but it lays the groundwork for healing to take place on both sides, and opens up the possibility of continued relationship between us. Vulnerability is risky, but without it true community can never happen.

Which is not to say that all actions should be pushed under the rug, of course; if someone commits a crime, especially a violent one, justice requires that they be held accountable in a court of law. But learning to forgive them is not the same as letting them off the hook.

When you think about it, it's really a wonder that we can relate to each other at all. Two individuals who share similar cultural, religious and economic backgrounds can nonetheless have vastly different perceptions of the same event. And the vagaries of language don't help; we may agree on the surface about the meaning of a word, yet in practice have slightly different understandings about its application. Those differences quickly grow into a huge gulf as we move away from those in our immediate circle.

Sometimes I think being a hermit would be a lot easier than trying to relate to other people. However difficult celibacy may seem in some respects, it does afford me the luxury of never having to get too close to another human being. (And yes, I know that's not the church's ideal vision for celibacy, but perhaps it's time to pay more attention to how the average person actually applies it in the real world.) I can glide through life engaging with others on a superficial level, going through the motions of church and charity and community, all the while keeping everyone just far enough away that they can't hurt me. I suppose some married people do the same with their spouses, but it's even easier without such entanglements.

If only I really could be content playing the perpetual outsider...