Thursday, May 01, 2008

    NATIONAL DAY OF SILENCE

    For awhile now, my youth have been asking to talk about the issue of gay rights and gay marriage. For some, the interest is very personal as they have members of their family or close friends who are gay. For others it is an issue of justice. And for some, it is simply a matter of curiousity: What does the Bible really say about all this? This Sunday we'll finally tackle the topic, partly by reflecting on The National Day of Silence.


    Last Friday was the National Day of Silence which invites students to remain silent for an entire day as a sign of solidarity with those youth who must remain silent in the face of intolerance and bullying, particularly GLBT teens. I actually participated in The Day of Silence several years ago at my seminary. GLSEN, the organizers of the observance, emphasize that:

    1) The Day of Silence’s purpose is to bring attention to anti-LGBT name-calling, bullying and harassment and effective
    responses.

    2) Hundreds of thousands of students of all beliefs, backgrounds and sexual orientations participate in the Day of Silence.

    3) Day of Silence participants encourage schools to implement proven solutions to address anti-LGBT name-calling, bullying and harassment.

    4) The day is a positive educational experience.
    Unfortunately, an event designed to promote understanding, justice, and mutual care for all students has often stirred up protest from certain Christian groups who can't seem to separate advocating respect for GLBT teens from their own issues about sex. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that students in my old high school in Jefferson City, Missouri actually participated in the observance this year and the school allowed it. But of course the local paper saw plenty of dissent from some Christians in the community who couldn't help but raise the spectre of the "homosexual agenda." Still, it's good to know that even in my conservative hometown in Mid-Missouri, the tide is changing and perhaps life for ALL students in my ala mater will be just a little bit better in years to come. Here is an excellent reflection on The National Day of Silence by Melissa, a youth pastor who serves a baptist congregation in my hometown.

    The bottom line here is, the Day of Silence and its supporters are asking us to consider whether or not our schools are safe space for all youth, including GLBT teens. The question I will pose to my youth this Sunday: Is our youth group a safe space for all youth, including GLBT teens?
    How would your group answer that question?
    --Brian

    16 comments:

    Josh Frank said...

    Brian, great post. I'd like to think the group(s) I lead would be a safe space.

    Thanks for posting this view; I think it gets overshadowed by the shouters most of the time.

    Melissa said...

    Thanks, Brian, for the post and the link. I hope this stirs up a lot of positive dialogue. We addressed this a couple of years ago when one of my regular students "came out". I was very pleased with how the youth responded and loved on him without any difference. We did a talk about homosexuality and the main point was that if we were really going to be a youth group that reflected Christ, we would have a several gay and lesbian students involved because they felt loved and cared for by our youth family.

    Unfortunately, we don't apply the same love and care to youth that we don't know! That is our big struggle. They could be straight as an arrow but if the kids don't find something in common with them , well . . . . :)

    mrmason said...

    Hi, Brian. I happened to stumble across your blog when searching for information about using Facebook for ministry.

    However, I'm a little worried by this post. While I do not condone any hatred towards anyone (Matt 5:21-22), I am worried that by participating in something like the "Day of Silence", we are not calling a sin a sin...which is what homosexuality is. I realize teens get many crazy ideas from the culture and they can be confused by these ideas and their raging hormones, but showing an acceptance for their sin will only confuse them more when they are shown that the Bible condemns homosexuality as such.

    As with any issue, we should approach them with love and mercy, but we are to tell them the truth. If you had some teens sleeping around, or dabbling in drugs, or stealing funds from the church, you would tell them those things are wrong because 1) the Bible says so, and 2) it can really harm them in the long run. It might hurt their feelings for a while, but their eternal salvation may rest upon them knowing the Truth.

    I pray we don't confuse "loving your neighbor" with "accepting what God says is wrong".

    God bless,
    Mark

    Brian said...

    Mark,
    Thanks for posting. We hope that this blog is a place where those of differing points of view, particularly theological, feel free to express their thoughts. In my tradition, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), we consider it a strength that we each can come to differing interpretations of scripture. This does not mean that we each come up with our own interpretation of scripture. Rather, that we are free, in community with others, to try to uncover meanings and truths in the biblical text. My search for bibical understanding, in community with many who do and don't agree with me, has led me to an understanding that the biblical texts have nothing to say about what we understand as "sexual orientation." Therefore, I do not understand homosexuality, in and of itself, to be "sinful" any more than "heterosexuality," in and of itself, is sinful. So, I see no issue with promoting the Day of Silence leading to an understanding of homosexuality as simply part of the diversity of humanness. But I respect your choice to read the biblical texts differently.

    mrmason said...

    Brian,

    Thanks for responding.

    We could get into a discussion of the scriptures, but I would simply pose this question:

    Do you think homosexuality is a healthy lifestyle?

    Brian said...

    Mark,
    I think the challenge for me is the use of the term "lifestyle." Gay people live all sorts of lifestyles, just as straight people do. There are gay people who go to work, shop for groceries, live in a monogamous, loving relationships, go to church, contribute in positive ways to their community, some even raise a family. I would consider that a "healthly" lifestyle. I think sometimes when folks talk of being gay as an "unhealthly" lifestyle, they are equating being gay with dangerous emotional/physical sexual activity, but of course there are many people straight people who engage in the same behaviors.

    Your thoughts?

    Peace,
    Brian

    mrmason said...

    I agree. There are many "unhealthy lifestyles" talked about the Bible. My question was more pertaining to the homosexual act of sex. Do you think homosexual sex is "healthy" and fulfills God's purposes the way that He made us.

    This may seem like a tangent, but it's something I've wanted to discuss for a while so bare with me if you would...haha.

    Laura Francabandera said...

    Hi guys, hope you don't mind if I butt in. :-)

    One thing that has recently helped me come to terms with my thoughts about this is to think of homosexuality as nothing more than just another in a long line of sins all of us are susceptible to.

    There is that wonderful scripture in 1 Corinthians 6:9 where it lists homosexuality as a sin, but then it lists all of the other sins which we do. It's not that homosexuality is the sin above all sins, but I think a reason it is such a hot button issue is that sexual sins are just more personally devastating by nature (and in sexual sins I include hetrosexual sins as well like adultery, porn, lust etc, etc.

    So I think much of the problem comes when we can't separate the sin and the person. I would hope that a gay youth would be treated just as a youth with any other sins (greed, cheating, drinking, etc) would be treated. They know the Bible says not to do it. But still treat them like a person living under the grace of Christ, and not someone with a communicable disease.

    I agree with Brian's post about it being called a "lifestyle". I'll be interested in following this post to see where it leads.

    Thanks for the conversation,
    Laura

    mrmason said...

    Laura,

    I couldn't agree more. It's not right for Christians to elevate homosexuality as worse than everything else.

    Maybe the reason we do this is because the culture is pushing so hard for acceptance of and even an embracing of the act. Society has been doing this with heterosexual immorality for decades and many in the church have turned a blind eye to this as well simply so we can fit in with the culture.

    Brian,
    I would like to hear your take on 1 Cor 6:9-10 and Romans 1:26-27 and why you don't believe God expressly forbid the act (along with many other acts).

    jeremyzach said...

    yes!!!! tomorrow night i am covering this same topic in my high school group. it should get very interesting.

    Here are my two cents:
    Homosexuality can be broken into two categories: 1) homosexual orientation and 2) homosexual behavior. Homosexual orientation is not a choice. Homosexual behavior is a choice.
    Although this raises the question of: How can God simply deprive a homosexual from his sexual and emotional expressions? ( I am still grappling through this question.)

    There is scientific research that reinforces that scientists have located a gene Xq28 that has the “possibility” to lead a child to a homosexual orientation. Also there has been studies that reinforce that animals, namely rats have acted in homosexuality activity. I agree with the scientific data that states: lesbianism is more psychosocial and homosexuality is more biophysical.

    Homosexual Evangelical Christians are torn not only between their sexual orientation and traditional biblical interpretations, but also between the homosexual community. I have found that Evangelical homosexual Christians can act in celibacy while acknowledging their sexual orientation.

    The funny thing is that Jesus never condemns homosexuality. Jesus only condemns the judgmental religious people who look for sin in the lives of others without dealing with the sin in their own lives (Matthew 23). hmmmm….sound familiar to a brand of Christianity?
    Jesus responds with love, respect, and dignity to everyone.

    The Torah illustrates that homosexuality is wrong (Lev 18.22, 20.13, & Deut. 23 17-18). It is the Torah’s goal to clearly define the moral code (10 commandments) and purity code (eating shell fish, sexual behaviors, etc).

    The Pauline perspective talks a bit about homosexuality and immoral sexual acts (1 Tim 1.10-11, 1 Cor 6.9, and Romans 1.26-27).

    I argue that God designed human sexuality to be expressed only within the loving bounds of a monogamous, heterosexual marriage relationship. However in reference to the homosexual issue: I recognize the consistent biblical teaching that homosexual relationships are not a part of God’s design for humanity. Homosexual expression is not a viable lifestyle for believers. At the same time, I do not believe it is biblical to elevate any particular sin above the other, and it is essential to provide a redemptive, healing, experiential, and safe community for those who struggle with any thing: same sex attraction, anger, self image, depression, identity, and the list can go on and on.

    Brian said...

    Laura and Jeremy,
    Glad you joined the conversation.

    Mark,
    Regarding your question about various scriptures and how they pertain to this issue -- I just simply don't believe that the biblical writers say anything about homosexuality. I've done a good deal of historical reading in this area and I'm convinced that what we call "homosexuality" is a modern concept. The biblical writers were never addressing consensual, mutually loving and healthy adult relationships when they refer to those activities that we have translated with the modern term "homosexuality." In those few citations that everyone lifts up, the writers are likely referring to temple prostitution, adult rape of males to claim dominance, or other unheathly sexual or violent practices. I also keep in mind that these texts were being written in a culture and a time completely foreign to the world we live in. Their understanding of sexuality was quite different from our own as relates to gender differences, not to mention that they had no conception of sexual orientation.

    Too often I hear Christians declaring same sex relationships as wrong without explaining why or how they are harmful. If the only answer is that God intended sex to be between men and women for the purpose of procreation, then what do we do with all the couples who choose not to have children or with people who marry when they are elderly and cannot have chidren? If sex is okay between husband and wife just for pleasure and not to produce a child, how unfair is it to deny that mutual pleasure to gay folk?

    Ultimately, all the other issues aside, I think much of this debate comes down to how one reads the Bible. If you read the text as in some way the very words of God, then you will have quite a different take on all this than if you read the texts as a human product, written by those attempting to explain their experience with God in limited human language.

    Again, thanks to all who have been posted. I appreciate the conversation.
    Peace,
    Brian

    mrmason said...

    Hey Brian,

    Sorry for taking so long for the reply...it's been a busy few days.

    You said quite a few things that I think warrant a reply, but I'll try to keep everything short if I can.

    The scriptures in question are the following:

    Leviticus 18:22, Leviticus 20:13, Romans 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9, and 1 Timothy 1:8-11

    None of them are in the context of temple prostitution, rape, or any other violent acts. They all are about the specific act (“a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman”) and even suggest mutual consent (as in Romans 1). So the fact that the people might love each other or only do it with one person is irrelevant. The ACT is what is being condemned.

    Also, you mentioned that it might be ok for two adults to maintain a healthy, monogamous relationship and enjoy the pleasure of being together. Apparently that is the very, very rare exception. A vast majority of homosexuals have many, many partners…even while in a long-term relationship. Multiple websites citing multiple studies confirm this:

    [1] http://www.exodusglobalalliance.org/ishomosexualityhealthyp60.php

    [2] http://www.narth.com/docs/whitehead.html

    [3] http://www.cwfa.org/articledisplay.asp?id=959&department=CWA&categoryid=family

    The main stats that jump out to me are the following:

    “David McWhirter and Andrew Mattison conducted a non-random study of 156 stable committed male homosexual couples. They found that none of the over 100 couple that had been together for more than 5 years had been sexually monogamous or exclusive.” [1]

    “Bell and Weinberg reported evidence of widespread sexual compulsion among homosexual men. 83% of the homosexual men surveyed estimated they had had sex with 50 or more partners in their lifetime, 43% estimated they had sex with 500 or more partners; 28% with 1,000 or more partners. Bell and Weinberg p 308” [1]

    “One important and carefully conducted study found suicide attempts among homosexuals were six times greater than the average (Remafedi et al. 1998)” [2]

    “Homosexual men's practice of anal sex has left many of them victims of anal cancer. One article in the New England Journal of Medicine commented, "Our study lends strong support to the hypothesis that homosexual behavior in men increases the risk of anal cancer: 21 of the 57 men with anal cancer (37 percent) reported that they were homosexual or bisexual, in contrast to only one of 64 controls.” [3]

    We could argue “stats” forever and never get anywhere. However, you hit the nail on the head in the last paragraph of your post. If one reads the Bible as the very words of God (trying to GET God’s meaning OUT of it), one can easily read that homosexually is among the list of sins man commits that is against God; it’s in plain black and white. But if one does not believe that, and one tries to PUT IN their interpretation, you can get all kinds of different meanings.

    I’ll stick with the scripture when it says:

    2 Timothy 3:16 - “All Scripture is breathed out by God"

    2 Samuel 7:28 - "And now, O Lord God, you are God, and your words are true, and you have promised this good thing to your servant."

    Numbers 23:9 - "God is not man, that he should lie,
    or a son of man, that he should change his mind.
    Has he said, and will he not do it?
    Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?"

    Psalm 12:6 - The words of the Lord are pure words,
    like silver refined in a furnace on the ground,
    purified seven times.

    Proverbs 30:5 - Every word of God proves true;
    he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.

    http://www.fivesolas.com/inerrancy.htm

    http://www.biblebb.com/files/MAC/DOC-1.HTM

    If you won’t stand on the scriptures, then your ground is sinking sand. You will be swayed with the ever changing winds of the culture and there will be no more Truth. You might fit in for your short time on Earth, but you and those who follow you will have to give an account to God about how you have twisted His words to fit in with the world.

    Think about it.

    Mark

    Brian said...

    Mark,
    Thanks for replying. This is a difficult conversation to have in this type of forum so I’m not sure we will be able to get much further. You have laid out nicely a clear difference in the way we read scripture and I think that is helpful in understanding how we could come to such differing interpretations. As I look back over the scripture texts you have cited, my first challenge is that I cannot look at these texts in isolation from their larger context, as if they each are automatically referring to the same thing. I can only understand what they have to say by looking at each citation in the context of the book in which it is contained, the author of the book, the setting and culture of the author, etc. Thus, I struggle when I hear folks at times proclaim “The Bible says…” In my understanding, the Bible is not monolithic. It does not speak with one voice but rather a multitude of voices of those writing in different places, in different times, with different purposes, understandings and agendas. That said, as I take a cursory look at the texts you mentioned, I come to these observations: The challenge for me with the Leviticus texts is that they must be read within a historical context and one must take into consideration historical details only hinted at in the text itself. First and foremost, it is clear that these Levitical passages are addressed only to males. The entire context of the passage assumes it is only men who are hearing this teaching. This tells me something about the male-centric culture that wrote the text and thus is already a red flag that this culture is quite different from my own. Next, I have to ask why they would have referred to men having sex with men as an abomination. I know from historical study that their understanding of same- gendered sex comes from their experience of neighboring peoples who made a practice of raping male strangers in order to demonstrate dominance and power over alien peoples (much as rape is used in male prisons today). In addition, they were also familiar with neighboring cultures that would have used different sexual practices as part of their worship rituals. The entire point of the book of Leviticus is to help the Israelites distinguish themselves from the other cultures around them – to help them remain distinct in their identity. Rejecting the sexual practices of others was one way to accomplish this goal. Lastly, the Israelites of this time were in danger of dying out as a people if they didn’t keep producing lots of children (as many died at birth or at an early age). Allowing any sexual behavior that did not produce children would have thwarted this goal. So it is not a surprise that they would have frowned on any sexual behavior not capable of producing children. This concern is not as important to us today, living in an overpopulated world.
    Now, as to the Romans text. Read in its larger context within the book of Romans, it seems clear to me that the real concern here is idolatry, not sexual identity. The people are worshipping something other than God and it is likely referring to temple prostitution. Additionally, notice that it says that men and women gave up “natural intercourse” and became consumed with passion for the other gender. Now, we have no indication that the ancient world had any sense of our concept of “gay,” “straight” or otherwise. They just assumed all people were naturally inclined to be attracted to the opposite sex (as is the majority of the population). So one can assume that what is described here is straight people giving up their regular sexual habits for same-sex behavior. As same-sex attraction IS natural for a gay/lesbian person, they would not seem to be the ones described in this passage. If indeed what the writer is referring to is what we know of as gay people, then he reveals his culture’s lack of understanding of same-gender attraction as part of the human diversity.
    Finally, to the 1 Timothy passage (from a book of the Bible that is questionable in authorship and which is troubling in man y of its attitudes, in my opinion, particularly as concerns women). The word “sodomite” might be translated various ways, but in reference to the story of Sodom, again we have a story of apparently straight men using rape to dominant strangers in the their town.
    Wow! that’s about as long-winded as I get! : )
    Peace,
    Brian

    mrmason said...

    Brian,

    Thanks for the reply. I'd like to look over the context you mentioned for a little while.

    However, you never addressed the fact that by lifting up and equalizing this "diversity", you are allowing your students to go down a path that only leads to suffering (depression and suicide), disease (cancer and AIDS), and ultimately death (physical and most believe spiritual). If any one of your heterosexual students was putting themselves in the path of this oncoming train, you would beg them to change their life and flee from that group of people who would want nothing more than to use them for their own sexual pleasure.

    As I stated before, one could easily make the case that if a person was trying to live a life pleasing to Christ, they could almost certainly not do it by acting on their homosexual urges.

    Do you ever think about how kids' lives will be impacted by what you are saying to them about this issue?

    Mark

    Barry K said...

    Mason, as someone who deals with research every day in my role as a marketing consultant, the research you cite absolutely has to be looked at very skeptically. It is not being put forth by independent, impartial research organizations, but by groups with a specific bias on the topic. In fact, any organization that suggests homosexuality is something that a person can choose to have fixed about themselves is clearly showing they do not have an impartial view, nor do they represent mainstream and long held psychiatric views of the normalcy of homosexual orientation.

    I see your questions and assertions as well-intentioned, so I'm assuming you were being hyperbolic when you suggested that embracing sexual diversity is a path that "ONLY leads to suffering (depression and suicide), disease (cancer and AIDS), and ultimately death (physical and most believe spiritual)." Certainly you are aware that millions of healthy gay people are living full and productive lives in the world today? At the same time, you have but to pick up a newspaper or watch cable TV on a daily basis to see how many heterosexual people are involved in adultery, porn addiction, drug addiction, crime, abortion, or are suffering from venereal disease or depression. Just last week we heard the story from San Diego State where fraternity members were busted for openly operating a large scale, sophisticated drug dealing operation. Well, I can't think of a more obvious bastion of heterosexuality than a college fraternity. Yet it would be logically unsupportable to suggest that just because many heterosexuals participate in unhealthy and disordered behavior that one should draw the conclusion that heterosexuality itself is disordered and something to avoid.

    I would offer that it is worth considering that sexual expression between consenting adults cannot be deemed to be intrinsically good or bad. The distinction is that, as with all gifts that God bestows upon his children, we have the opportunity to use it in healthy or unhealthy ways. But I would argue that a gay person and a straight person are no different in this regard -- each can chose to express their sexuality in ways that are likely to harm them physically and spiritually, and each can chose to express their respective sexuality in ways that bind them to a committed partner in a loving union that brings them to deeper appreciation of creation.

    mrmason said...

    Barry,

    Thanks for the reply.

    I trust the sources I used because they are not doing the research themselves, they are simply gathering statistics from other (hopefully unbiased) sources. I was simply trying to show what fruit results from what I believe is a perversion of God's original plan. Heterosexual immorality can be just as bad, as you pointed out.

    But I think this comes down to a much deeper issue: if we trust in what man says (i.e. psychiatry, studies, etc.) over what God says, we will be always shifting our opinions. However, the Word of God says that God never changes (James 1:17).

    In response to Brian:

    I am sincerely impressed that you would look at the context before interpreting a verse. Most people don't do that these days.

    However, there are many times where you hint at something that I think is dangerous. You tend to try to minimize what an author is saying because you don't agree with it. The main example would be when you said you didn't like the book of Timothy because Paul seemed to be demoting women (which he's not, but that's another discussion altogether). You are interpreting the scripture based on your own worldview, and if it does not fit, you "throw it out".

    As I posted before, there are many, many scriptures where God's prophets and God Himself says that His Word is true, so we should believe every word was inspired by God rather than just men writing about their experiences.

    About the verses in question: If we follow your interpretation of Lev 18:31, then we would need to interpret Lev 18:32 the same way. Therefore, by that argument, men having sex with animals is simply another form of sexual diversity. Or you could take it farther and say that men having many wives is simply another form. Or you can even argue that adults and children being together is ok, too, if the child is consenting. You have no basis to argue against those if your interpretation of Leviticus is correct.

    As for Romans, you are correct; the context is one of idolatry (vv. 21, 22, 23, 25). However, it is because of this idolatry that God gave them over to sinful desires and lusts (vs. 24, 26). So when Paul says that "natural" relations were given up for unnatural ones (vv. 26, 27), by natural he means the way that it has always been from Genesis through Paul's day until now: that the man would "leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh." Everywhere in scripture, pure marriage between a man and a woman is exalted (Genesis 2, Ephesians 5).

    To trust in man's interpretation of current conditions (that homosexuality is natural) is to simply try to fit the Bible into the culture. The Apostle John warned us "Do not love the world or anything in the world.... For everything in the world – the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does – comes not from the Father but from the world." (1 John 2:15) And Jesus said "If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you." (John 15:18-19) So beware of trying to fit in with the culture and please man. Your opinions will change daily because so does the world.