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.

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