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).

A Question With Only One Answer?

Perhaps you’ve seen the answer Miss California gave to the question about marriage. She stated that marriage should be between a man and a woman. The problem with the question was that it only had one “right” answer. It was the politically correct answer. I’ve never seen such backlash for someone answering by giving her honest opinion. Apparently it was an opinion held by many others, judging by the applause in the background. It is an incredibly divisive subject to be asked about in this venue – one designed for soundbites and not substantive reflection and nuance.

I’m not sure what to make of Perez Hilton. Obviously, he felt passionately about the topic. He seemed absolutely outraged by Miss California’s answer. Check out his comments about taking back his apology and calling her various derogatory names. Unbelievable. Her convictions apparently cost her the crown. To her credit, whether you agree with her opinion or not, she stood by her comments and by her convictions. I don’t think she took this tone, but it reminded me of the saying: If you don’t want the answer, don’t ask the question.

It raises for me the larger question of whether we are going to be able to coexist in our culture. We are a diverse and pluralistic society. By definition, we are going to disagree. It isn’t diversity if we all believe the same thing. I remember reading one author years ago refer to the idea that “diversity with substance offends” (or close to that). I remember thinking that it was as if we had to be reminded that diversity actually refers to differences (of opinion, beliefs, values, and so on). The reaction by Perez is a good illustration of how out of touch some segments of our society are with other segments of our society. I think I would have to say the same thing if Miss California acted surprised to have lost the crown over her answer. It raises the question: Can these segments coexist, even when one segment will be offended by the other segment on one topic and vice versa on another topic?