An Update on Andrews U. Conference

I returned this morning from the Andrews University Marriage, Homosexuality and the Church conference. The conference continues on today with what I understand will be more discussions of biblical theology. Live feed and brief commentary (tweets) on the conference is available through The Spectrum.

Andrews conference 2009The conference appeared to be designed for conservatives within the Adventist community to discuss and reflect on the scientific, theological, and legal/public policy issues related to the topic of gay marriage. In light of the conference design and structure, it was not so much a dialogue among people with radically different perspectives. In fact, with the exception of one panel that had one dissenting voice, it seemed to me that the conference provided more of an update and points of discussion for primarily conservatives within the community.

In any case, on Thursday night I was asked to step in for Dr. Stanton Jones who was scheduled to give the opening plenary address. That address dealt with claims of homosexuality being innate and immutable. I reviewed some of the most recent research intended to support the biological hypothesis that is often pointed to in an effort to establish homosexuality as innate. I also discussed recent studies on natural fluidity among females in particular, as well as a study I was involved in that demonstrated average meaningful (although modest) gains in change efforts along a continuum away from homosexuality for some (and toward heterosexuality for some). Both natural fluidity and the data on change attempts challenge claims of immutability.

Yarhouse at AndrewsOn Friday I gave the original paper I had already been asked to deliver. I spoke about the development and synthesis of sexual identity, essentially reviewing data on how people come to identify themselves as gay (or choose not to claim such an identity). I made a three-tier distinction between same-sex attraction, a homosexual orientation, and a gay identity and then discussed the pastoral applications for those who are navigating sexual identity conflicts.

Dr. Robert Gagnon spoke Friday night on the topic of biblical texts and themes associated with homosexual behavior. I’d read Gagnon’s work prior to the conference, and his book The Bible and Homosexual Practice is widely considered the most comprehensive treatment of the subject. I have also found his dialogue (Homosexuality and the Bible: Two Views) on these text with Dan Via to be helpful and more accessible to non academics. GagnonIn any case, Gagnon’s talk on Friday night developed themes that have arisen from revisionist attempts to reinterpret key texts or draw conclusions based upon certain observations (e.g., the claim that Jesus never spoke to the topic of homosexuality). He offered a good, clear presentation of his argument. If anything, he had to cut short what he could have spoken on for a couple of more hours.

Friday evening’s events closed with a panel discussion that allowed for questions and answers from the audience on matters of law/public policy, psychology and counseling and pastoral care, and theology.

I understand that today’s sessions will continue to cover biblical theology and related matters. Again, the conference can be followed on-line through The Spectrum, for those who are interested. Update: David Hamstra (see comment below) also has a collection of concise summaries of each presentation/panel.

Andrews University Conference on Marriage, Homosexuality and the Church

andrewsAndrews University is hosting a conference on Marriage, Homosexuality and the Church. The conference is scheduled for October 15-17, 2009. Andrews University is a school of the Seventh-day Adventist church. As with many faith communities, the Seventh-day Adventist church has been struggling with the topic of homosexuality. This conference is bringing together scholars from a number of different disciplines to discuss some of the issues the conference organizers saw as central to the church discussions.

I will be presenting a paper titled “Pastoral Applications of a Three-Tier Distinction between Same-Sex Attraction, a Homosexual Orientation, and a Gay Identity.” I will also participate in a panel discussion and will be discussing how the church responds to enduring conditions.

Other presenters include Stanton L. Jones (Wheaton College), Richard M. Davidson (Andrews University), and Robert A. J. Gagnon (Pittsburgh Theological Seminary).

Talking to Your Kids about Sex

How and WhenHere’s a topic that creates anxiety for most parents. I don’t know too many parents who feel confident in this area or who even have a game plan for what they intend to do when the time comes.

I was asked to speak to parents this weekend on the topic of sex education. The title of the talk is “Talking to Your Kids About Sex: What to Say, When, and Why.” If others are interested in this subject, I am basing the talk on the books series God’s Design for Sex, which includes the book by Stan and Brenna Jones, How and When to Tell Your Kids About Sex (Baker Books). I think this is by far the best Christian resource/series on the topic. The series also includes four other booklets for children/teens based on their age and addressing appropriate topics in a way that is accessible to where they are developmentally. Indeed, the first two of these booklets, Before I was Born and The Story of Me, are actually read to children by the parent, while the next one, What’s the Big Deal, is read in parts as a kind of script between a parent and child. The last one, Facing the Facts, is for teens is read and then the parent and teen can discuss it together.

There are many reasons this series is the best available. The booklets are age-appropriate, provide accurate information, and address relevant topics. The series as a whole is not geared toward having “the talk”; rather, the focus is on character formation from a young age. So there is an emphasis on education/knowledge, but also on recognizing needs, equipping kids with relevant skills, and providing them with parental and peer group support.