The love of a parent can be an extraordinary thing. Often it causes him/her to go above and beyond what one human, under normal circumstance, would do for another. Frequently the bonds of parental devotion trigger an ability to rise to what would otherwise be insurmountable.
But, what happens in the heart, mind, and dealings of a father when a child is deemed to be “different” by his church and society? What is the response of a mother who comes to the awareness that her son or daughter is something other than what the world around them pronounces as normal and natural, as pleasant, as something to be embraced?
Occasionally a parent will collude with those that decry their offspring as deviant, shunning them, some going so far as to disown or pronounce them dead. Still others, while perhaps not understanding their loved one and inwardly wishing they would change, will choose to embrace them, ignoring the charge to do otherwise – what those around them might declare as the proper response to such peculiarity. There are a few, however, whose zeal and passion for their beloved is something with which to be cautiously reckoned. There are a small number of moms and dads who will go against mind-boggling odds and opposition to protect and prosper their child, attempting to create a broader climate of love and acceptance, choosing instead to make the world around them a more suitable place on behalf of the son or daughter they cherish so much.
Such was the plight of Bishop Melvin E. Wheatley of the United Methodist Church when in 1980 he stood alone against his entire denomination addressing an issue of growing importance to him at its general conference. He was becoming increasingly disturbed that his church would tell a constituency of its members, one of which was Bishop Wheatley’s son, that they were considered to be errant with regard to a state of being over which they had no choice, just, he observed, as he himself had no choice in such matters. Furthermore, the Bishop simply knew in his heart of hearts that if his son indeed identified with this otherness—discerning that everything about him was right and good—the stereotypes, he concluded, must not be true.
Such is the case of Mary Lou Wallner who in February of 1997 received a phone call that would forever change her life. Her daughter, Anna, because of the non-acceptance she felt, and a love that she rightly perceived to be highly conditional, and with the vast majority of her life ahead, instead decided to extinguish it. Since that unspeakable day, Mary Lou took it upon herself to be educated on an issue she now recognizes to be overwhelmingly hemmed in with fear and misinformation, most of it coming from a source she wholly trusted – her church. Because of the strength, fortitude, the determination and love of a mother who has lost a precious child, she has devoted her life to T.E.A.C.H. other parents what can happen when they listen to the conventional wisdom of an uneducated church and society, warning them not to make the same fatal mistake that she did in rejecting a significant part of her daughter’s person.
Such was the experience of the Rev. Dr. J. Kenneth Grider, a dearly loved and well-respected theologian and seminary professor from within the marvelous heritage of the Church of the Nazarene – the largest body of believers to emerge from the holiness movement which began in the early to mid 1800s.
Dr. Grider had written an essay in 1999 that he intended to have published as a precursor to an expanded version, a book that was to come out at a later time. To that end Dr. Grider was seeking prospective publishers. His untimely death in 2006 caused both works to go unpublished.
Dr. Grider had sensed the necessity for, and had undergone, some intense studies of a biblical, psychological, and scientific nature into a very controversial subject upon which he ultimately concluded that the denomination he prized so much is terribly mistaken. His intention was to present his findings to his church despite the fact that he would have become the target of intense criticism from within that body, as well as perhaps others. He could easily discern that he would “suffer professionally,” as he put it, upon making his discoveries known to a people that do not easily accept an opposing view of something they have determined to be a “deviation from God’s design.” Dr. Grider was prepared to take that vocational blow for thousands of Nazarenes who he, no doubt, treasured.
But first and foremost in his mind was the deep, deep love and affection that he as a father felt for his gay son.
If it would interest you to journey briefly into the findings of a father who loved unconditionally a son that was indeed different, but in his mind not morally deviant, read on. What follows is the body of that unpublished work.
May God, our heavenly Father, guide you and give you wisdom and insight as you look deeper into an issue which presently divides many a person’s self-identity as well as their family and their church.
Introduction by Rick James (formerly an ordained pastor and one of thousands of gay Nazarenes)
WESLEYANS AND HOMOSEXUALITY
by J. Kenneth Grider
Wesleyans Come Running To Help
We Christians, whose first name is Wesleyan, have been given warmed hearts about three sizes too big; and we have enjoyed a long history of running to help when almost any group has been disenfranchised or even under-enfranchised. This was so with John Wesley and Adam Clarke in early Methodism, and with theOberlinCollegewing of the Holiness Movement on this side of theAtlanticled by Charles G. Finney. These Americans were all strongly abolitionist; and although it took the bloodiest war in our history to do it, in the 1860’s we helped to cast slavery off, asEnglandhad already done in 1816.
The same was so with women. We know that they are said to be a husband’s chattel right in the tenth of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20, just as his cattle and donkeys and physical possessions were. We know that Paul said that they are to keep silent in the churches (I Cor. 14:34 NIV) and not to teach a man (I Tim. 2:12). But we don’t like spot-checking in Scripture. We note that in the same epistle (see I Cor. 11:5, 14:34) Paul says that they are to keep their heads covered when they prophesy, i.e., preach. And we know that Joel 2:28 had said that the daughters would preach, and that Peter said in Acts 2 that the Pentecost event fulfilled Joel’s prophecy. So we came running to ordain women, the first Christians (as far as I know) to do it. Wesley had given John Fletcher’s later wife and another woman encouragement as two of his preachers. And in 1853 Luther Lee of the 1843-founded Wesleyan Methodists ordained Oberlin graduate Antoinette Brown to preach with Galatians 3:28 as his text where Paul says that Jew and Gentile, bond and free, and women and men are all one in Christ. Professor Donald Strong, who did his Ph.D. dissertation at Princeton in this area, somewhat questions whether Brown was actually ordained, or simply installed as a church’s pastor, in part because Lee was not a bishop with traditional ordaining office. In part, also, it was because some local papers, which reported the event, did not refer to it as an ordination. In any case, the Wesleyan Methodist Connection, the Free Methodists and other Wesleyan-Holiness denominations, and later the Nazarenes, were ordaining them proudly.
Besides for slaves and women, we came running to help other under-enfranchised persons: the poor; persons in debtor prisons; children indentured to coal mine owners because they were just the right size to dig coal out of those low-ceilinged coal veins; toddlers used as chimney sweeps because they were small enough to be let down England’s chimneys.
I have been wondering lately, especially after reading Fuller Theological Seminary’s 14-year-teacher, Mel White’s coming out book Stranger at the Gate, who had grown up gay in a Church of God, Anderson, home, and after learning of the scientific findings that same-sex proclivity is genetic – whether we should also come running to support persons born as gays and lesbians.
The Evidence that Homosexuality is Genetic
Born as gays? Yes. We used to suspect it. Now we know it most especially from a study of DNA strips. Dean Hamer, Ph.D., a molecular geneticist associated with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) inBethesda,Maryland, proved scientifically in the early 1990’s that male homosexuality is not due to choice, but that it has a genetic cause. In a two-year study funded by the federal government (‘91-’93), helped along by the fact that he had the advantage of consulting with some of the other 3711 doctoral-level researchers at NIH, he found through DNA strips that same-sex proclivity in males is genetic, i.e., biological, a disposition which is a given. And right now DNA findings are overturning scores of wrongful convictions of persons in our prisons.
Hamer did the research along two lines. One was a study which showed that gay brothers and gay identical twins have many more homosexuals in their family trees than heterosexual men have. Researchers could have done such a study as this earlier, but no one did. No one, that is, had done it with this degree of thoroughness.
The other line of research by Hamer was a purely scientific one, which could not have been done earlier because it was based on very recent scientific knowledge. Here, the scientific tools and techniques used were brand-new (Hamer, 21). Hamer writes, “We looked directly at gay men’s genetic information – their DNA, the long threadlike molecule that contains both the blueprints of life and the instructions for carrying them out. Using an approach called DNA linkage analysis, we found that a small region of the X chromosome, Xq28, appeared to be the same in an exceptionally high proportion of gay brothers” (Hamer, 21). He adds, “This study provided the first concrete evidence that ‘gay genes’ really do exist and narrowed the location of one of them to a few million out of several billion bits of information that makes us human” (Hamer, 21). He did not find as yet the specific gay gene. He found “a marker, a strip of DNA, rather than a single gene” (Hamer, 21).
This study by Hamer, proving “a genetic link to homosexuality” (Hamer, 17), was first reported on in July of 1993. It was published in Science, the journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Hamer’s six-page article was given front-page headlines in the world’s leading newspapers. In the U.S., it appeared during the heat of discussions about gays in the military, one day after President Clinton’s July 15 deadline for the Pentagon to announce its policy on homosexuality in the military – which turned out to be a mere “don’t ask, don’t tell” directive. A wide interest was piqued.
USA Today’s headline read, “Is There a Gay Gene?” It was on the front page of the Washington Post as “Study Links Genes to Homosexuality.” Canada’s Edmonton Journal’s headline read, “Gays and DNA Link: Study Showing That Homosexuality May Run In the Family Sets Off Alarm Bells.” The Ottawa Citizen said, “Gene Finds Opens Pandora’s Box of Ethical and Legal Questions.”
In many instances, fathers and mothers stopped blaming themselves for gayness in their children, for it had long been thought by many that the proclivity was due to bad parenting.
Actually, however, mothers are not altogether off the hook. Although their actions were not found to be its cause, when the family trees of gays were studied by Hamer, it was found that a predominant number of gays in the family tree were on the maternal side. Technically, this is what the “Xq28,” on the X chromosome mentioned above relates to. It is why gays and lesbians were soon wearing t-shirts inscripted with a pithy summary of Hamer’s findings, “Xq28 – Thanks for the gene, Mom!”
The April 21, 1999 issue of Science magazine reports on a new study which, for some, brings somewhat into question whether Hamer’s findings are correct, but the L.A. Times and other papers reported that Hamer believes they were not able to replicate his findings because they did not study a significant number of gays – to which researchers responded that they sought more of them but were not able to obtain a larger number of gays willing to participate. This shoestring research in Canada did not in any way bring into question Hamer’s findings of a DNA-strips proof that homosexuality is genetic, only whether it is found precisely at Xq28 on the X chromosome.
Sexologist Havelock Ellis was quite early (1936) in propounding the theory that male homosexuality is genetic. He wrote of a case study which “clearly showed that the case [of homosexuality] was congenital and not acquired, so that it could not be termed a vice” (p.222, Sexual Inversions).
USA Today reported March 3, 1998 on new research outlining “the first strong evidence of a physical difference between lesbians and straight women.” Discussing what appeared that day in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the USA Today item says, “The inner ears of gay women, like those of men, are less sensitive than those of heterosexual women.” It adds, “The discovery adds new support to the theory that sexual orientation may be predisposed before birth. Evidence suggests that biological differences in the womb govern sexual orientation in adulthood. For instance, previous research had found that two parts of the male brain are different in gay and heterosexual men and that some genes differ between gay and straight men.” It goes on to say that “researchers at the University of Texas at Austin measured the function of the cochlea—the spiral-shaped part of the inner ear—of 200 adults and found that the inner ears of female homosexuals have undergone ‘masculinization,’ probably from hormone exposure before birth.”
And the March 30, 2000 issue of Nature carried details of a scientific study showing that homosexuality is genetic, based on the length of the fingers of gay persons. It was reported by Diane Sawyer on ABC’s Good Morning America TV program, as further evidence of the genetic connection.
Somewhat less scientific than Hamer’s findings, and those of other earlier and later scientific researchers, but significant nonetheless is what John J. McNeill, forty years a gay Jesuit, says. He speaks of “new evidence coming from biblical studies and from various empirical studies in the human sciences, especially psychology and sociology, that completely undermined the traditional understanding of homosexuality as a chosen and changeable state” (McNeill, p. xvii). McNeill also says: “New insights… leave no doubt that one has no choice about sexual orientation and that the only healthy reaction to being lesbian or gay is to accept it” (Ibid.). And he adds, “Above all else, there is the evidence that has come from the collective experience of lesbians and gays” (Ibid.). That is, this is what their experience is: that they have always been gay – as far back as their sexual recollection goes.
After outlining a century of scientific studies into the cause or causes of homosexuality, Simon LeVay, while admitting that there might be some non-genetic cause which contribute, concludes that much scientific evidence points to a genetic cause as the major determinant. LeVay says, “Although the sources of this diversity [in sexual inclination] are probably not all genetic, the molecular genetic approach offers by far the best prospect of understanding how sexual diversity arises. The simplest hypothesis is that genes, such as one a Xq28 [a reference to Dean Hamer’s findings, which study LeVay applauds], are elements in the molecular cascade that controls the sexual differentiation in the brain (Queer Science, p.279).
If, as it seems to be, the proclivity is genetic, and if this fact can be promulgated sufficiently, surely it will be liberating for gay men and lesbians. Surely populations will not continue to allow overt discrimination against them in housing, in employment, in the military, in adoptions, etc.
Many in the scientific world, as the new millennium begins, understand with Hamer and many other scientists that it is genetic, and that we are to flow with the flow, not trying to “cure” it. (Cures, failed so-called ones, have been as varied as have been the theories of its origin – hypnosis, exorcism, injections with male hormones, prayer and support groups, you name it.) Instead of trying to cure it, many understand, even, that it might have some redeeming uses: reducing the tendency to overpopulate ourselves; a programming of altruism; etc.
Based in part on an assumed inclination of homosexuals to work in the caring service areas, E.O. Wilson in his book On Human Nature thinks that the homosexual might be the “genetic carrier of mankind’s rare altruistic impulses” (p.149). He says that their genes might even be carried through “collateral lines” as of nieces and nephews (p.151).Wilson, of course, believes that homosexuality if not unnatural, since it is determined by genes. But even if it is natural, that does not in itself mean that its promiscuous practice is acceptable, even as heterosexuals do not copulate with the opposite sex without restrictions – the chief one being marriage.
Other Reasons Given for Homosexuality
Genes are likely more influential upon homosexuality than hormones are. Hormones—androgen, estrogen, and testosterone—excreted from the endocrine glands, are present in different measures in all persons. Yet some researchers have concluded that hormones are what cause homosexuality – which some of them have called “inversion.” Even if genes and hormones both incline a person toward homosexual behavior, a person’s free will is surely in play, else the behaviorists in psychology, such as the late B.F. Skinner, would be correct. Some have surmised that homosexuals have lower testosterone than do heteros; but when a study group was injected with testosterone, and with other masculinizing hormones, it only increased their sex drive, but did not change any of them into heteros.
Through our wide-remembered past, before Hamer, especially, pretty much nailed it down scientifically as genetic, in DNA strips, the cause of homosexuality was viewed in a variety of ways. Aristotle thought it to be caused by some bodily defect – and he himself, along with his teacher Plato, who lived his 80 years as a bachelor, and Socrates are understood by many researchers to have been gay. Medieval theologian Albert the Great understood that it is caused by an unexplainable burning frenzy, to be exorcised, or, if that fails, burning at the stake. He held the theory that everyone needs to believe and practice the right things to be admitted to heaven, and that heretics rob people of their souls and are thus worse than murderers. After Darwinpublished his Origin of the Species in 1859, some said gayness is evolutionally regressive, and a threat to humans, as degenerative and not enhancing. Some have said it is caused by excessive masturbation.
One aspect of the problem is that, if there are non-genetic causes, such as environmental ones, no study as yet has shown precisely what they are. It used to be thought that a boy’s father caused gayness, by being too uncaring, or too absent. Yet whole generations of African American boys, millions of them, have been reared in recent years without a father in the home, and this has not produced a high incidence of gays in the African American population. The already-mentioned Simon LeVay asks, “Where is the resulting explosion of homosexuality among black male teenagers?” (p.279). He adds, “It has not happened (ibid.). While LeVay might be correct in understanding that unspecified non-genetic factors might have a place in homosexual orientation, since it has now been proven by Hamer’s study that DNA strips indicate a genetic cause, then gays are simply born that way.
Homosexuality in Animals
Recent scientific studies have also shown that numerous non-human animal species are characterized by homosexuality. Since individuals in many animal species are homosexual, it is only likely that certain individuals in the human species will be gay. Since some animals copulate with the same sex, and only with the same sex, the indication is that their homosexuality is an aspect of their DNA makeup.
To begin, let me quote from Simon LeVay’s Queer Science where he says, “Animal studies have demonstrated that sexual acts between males or between females are common in a wide variety of species. Just among anthropoid primates (monkeys and great apes), homosexual behavior has been described in thirty-three species according to a recent review by Paul Vasey (see “Homosexual Behavior in Primates: A Review of Evidence and Theory,” International Journal of Primatology 16:173-204, 1995). Gay activist Larry Kramer says that studies by Clellan S. Ford and Frank A. Beach found “in 1957 that homosexuality exists in every species of every mammal“ (Kramer, 244).
Some male rats seem to be gay. In a study announced in the Journal of Steroid Biochemistry, some male rats had no interest in mounting an estrous female, but were unusually ready to mount when paired with a stud male (12:337-346, 1980). In another study of 25 control rats (whose mothers had not been stressed during pregnancy), 6 of the 25 refused to mount females – and in these six, a certain sexually-related area of the hypothalamus in the brain was only about half the size of this nucleus in the rats which did mount females (see Brain Research 581:244-251, 1992).
Some sheep seem to be homosexual. The Journal of Animal Science reported that every year, a sheep farmer found that about 10 percent of the rams he had raised to be studs failed to perform when paired with estrous female sheep. Study of the matter revealed that some of the studs copulated among themselves, pairing off, and taking turns mounting each other (70:1787-1794, 1992).
It was found that, whereas estrogen levels are about 4 times as high in rams as in ewes, the gay rams had an estrogen level about equal to that of ewes, and about a fourth of that in the heterosexual rams (see Hormones and Behavior 29:31-41, 1995). More studies of animals need to be done. Some studies indicate that homosexuality in some of the non-human mammals might not be a permanent case, as it seems to be among humans.
One matter is clear: same-sex attraction is not unnatural. If it obtains in animals, who make no moral decisions, but simply act according to their nature, then perhaps humans who act on such interests, also do so based on a natural orientation. Another observation which might be made as relates to animal homosexual behavior is that homophobia has not been observed in the non-human world. When same-sex copulation occurs among animals, other animals do not try to stop them, nor does this activity seem to affect an animal’s status.
Homosexuality and Experience
One of the ways in which we human beings decide on the validity of an opinion is: Does it meet the test of human experience? Is it what human beings actually experience? In philosophy, proof from experience is called a posteriori (in distinction from a priori proof which is deciding things prior to your experience and without taking experience into account). Deciding things based on experience is called empiricism. Two of its standout advocates were John Locke (1632-1704) and David Hume (1711-1776). The other type of philosophy is that which makes decisions based on reason. It is called rationalism, and one of its standout high priests is Georg Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831). Hamer’s scientific proof, through DNA strips showing that homosexuality is genetic, approaches the cause of homosexuality rationally. Both approaches to the cause of homosexuality are recognized and valid approaches. Hamer’s approach was discussed earlier. Here, I am attempting to suggest that a person’s experience of being gay is another way of deciding matters regarding the cause of homosexuality.
Homosexuality is what many people say they experience. Robert Warren Cromley says in his book In God’s Image, “Homosexuality is not something about which people make a choice. They just are that way” (p.33). Greg Louganis, the gay Olympic diving gold medalist with AIDS whose participation was questioned when a diving accident caused him to bleed profusely in the pool, said in a June 21, 1997 interview on the Geraldo TV show, “I was born that way [gay].”
McNeill, the gay former Jesuit priest, says: “It should be stressed here…that human beings do not choose their sexual orientation; they discover it as something given” (p.221). He continues by saying, “To pray for a change in one’s sexual orientation is about as meaningless as to pray for a change in the color of one’s eyes” (p.xvi).
LeVay, in Queer Science, perhaps next in significance as a book on gayness to Dean Hamer’s Science of Desire, says, “Although there are exceptions, gay men in the United States today (1996) generally tend to claim that they were born gay. Ninety percent of gay men surveyed in 1994 by the Advocate (a major gay magazine) claimed to have been born gay; only four percent believed that choice came into the equation at all” (p.6). Of lesbians asked, 15 percent said that choice had something to do with it (Ibid.). On their believing that they were born gay, what is meant is that from as far back as they can remember, they (the gay males) felt themselves to be different from other boys in their feelings and manner of play. LeVay thinks that the few who say they had a choice in the matter in some cases might be saying that they finally chose to admit it to themselves and perhaps to selected other persons – and that they had been gay all along (see p. 6).
Larry Kramer, one of the principal gay writers of our time, says, “Homosexuals are born, just as heterosexuals are born” (p.245) Gay writer Andrew Sullivan says that a homosexual is someone who “has had no fundamental choice in the matter” (Virtually Normal, p.18). A similar observation has been made by Richard A. Isay, after counseling gays for many years. He writes, “My clinical work and the empirical studies done by others…suggests that, like heterosexuality, homosexuality is constitutional in origin” (Being Homosexual, p.42).
Mel White, the former Fuller Theological Seminary teacher for 14 years, a writer for Billy Graham, and for Religious Right leaders including Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and James D. Kennedy, reared in a devout Church of God Anderson home and having attended their college in Oregon, says in his coming-out book Stranger at the Gate, “My sexual orientation, like everybody else’s, is forever, and to ignore or deny that fact can be a fatal mistake.” (p.73).
The great early-modern literary genius, Michel DeMontainge, says that the experience of human beings has difference in it: “Experience has just as many [shapes as reason has]; there is no quality so universal here [in experience] as difference” (quoted in Andrew Sullivan’s Virtually Normal, p.168). No doubt there are differences in the experiences of homosexuals; for example, some realize it much earlier than others. Yet I have also found a commonality. Almost all gay people say that they were evidently born with this same-sex proclivity.
The Religious Right’s View
Typical of the Religious Right’s views on the cause or causes of homosexuality is the view of Dr. James Dobson in his Dr. Dobson Answers Your Questions. In it, my former Sunday School teacher (during my 1970-71 sabbatical year in Pasadena, California) does not include a biological, genetic cause as even one of them; and he gives no credence to the understanding that it is the professed basic experience of gays. He says, “Homosexuality has many causes, in the same way that a fever may occur from different sources. However, as a generalization it can be said that homosexuality often seems to result from an unhappy home life, usually involving confusion in social identity” (p.451). Then Dobson discusses the kind of home environment which causes homosexuality, saying it is sometimes due to a “dominating” mother (p.454) or a father who is “rejecting and ridiculing of the child” (p.451). He adds, still faulting the parents, “If parents will provide a healthy, stable home environment, …homosexuality is highly unlikely to occur in the younger set” (p.452). This was published in 1982, so Dr. Dobson could not have had the advantage of what I consider the single most significant publication, Dean Hamer’s Science of Desire of 1994. Yet numerous other scientific studies had already been issued, which had indicated a biological, genetic cause (see discussion of perhaps a dozen or more of such studies in Simon LeVay’s Queer Science, many of which were out long before 1982).
In Dobson’s book, p.453, he also says, “Some of my colleagues report better than a 70 percent cure rate.” And he adds, “This condition can be treated successfully, when the individual wants to be helped, and when a knowledgeable professional is dedicated to the same goal” (Ibid.).
The Religious Right leaders, in recent attacks against homosexuals, in general do not seem to be aware of the scientific studies tracing homosexuality to a biological, genetic source. This includes Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and James D. Kennedy. Even Billy Graham does not seem to be aware of such studies. In late 1997, in a visit toSan Francisco, when asked about homosexuality, he simply stated that the Bible calls it a sin, and he added that there are worse sins.
Dobson, James D. Kennedy, Pat Robertson, and other leaders of the Religious Right, all seem to think that homosexuality can be “cured,” and that it often is.
What McNeil says about his ten years as counselor to gays, following forty years in the Jesuit priesthood, is this: “The claim of certain groups to be able to change homosexuals has been shown to be spurious and frequently based on homophobia” (p.xvi). What seems to happen, he says, is that the gay persons believe they should change, pray, and believe that God has transformed them. Then they give testimony that change has occurred, and the Religious Right chalks them up as more persons, in the 70 percent or so of gays for who they “secure” a transformation into heterosexuals.
Similarly, on a Dateline TV program aired on November 28, 1997, a therapist stated to Jane Pauley that he had gotten one man to change from a homosexual into a heterosexual. And what was the proof of this “change”? “He’s married and has three children.” But this proves nothing at all. Surely we all know gays who have married heterosexuals and have begotten and reared families. The gays I know, and gays I have known of, are in many instances simply gay persons who are trying to align themselves with the expectations of the church and synagogue, and of our society generally. As regards this therapist’s report, he said, according to the TV program, that he did not want any of his “changed” patients to be interviewed on the Dateline TV program.
Michael Bussee, the founder of Exit and who helped to found Exodus, who manned an ex-gay hot-line for years and for years gave testimonials in churches about the program of helping gays to change, could not himself change. He came to realize that enticing gays to change is futile. He is witness to the failure of such attempts. Bussee says, “I was so sincere, I tried hard, but I wasted years of my life misleading myself and misleading others” (quoted in Stranger at the Gate, p.272).
Writing in the early 1990’s, Mel White says that he had spent thousands of dollars on Christian psychiatric counseling because he hoped for a metamorphosis in himself whereby he would become a heterosexual. He cooperated with his professional counselors until he was driven to attempt suicide. He says in his Stranger at the Gate that after all this psychiatric counseling he was the same loathsome gay scholar and writer and professor and preacher—the same gay person, although married for many years—that he had known himself to be from at least age 12.
For many generations it was understood, even by professionals, that homosexuality occurs as a mental disorder. But this became gradually so unconvincing that in 1975 the American Psychiatric Association voted to remove it from its list of psychiatric disorders in their Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Yet many people, especially of the Evangelical Right, still consider it as at least not normal for anyone. Enrico S. heard this message and, appearing at Michael Bussee’s office one morning, said he had hurt himself, lowered his pants, and revealed dozens of marks where he had cut his organ and scrotum, trying to eradicate his gay feelings, but failing (told in Stranger at the Gate, p.273).
It might be observed that if homosexuality is truly pathological, as prohibitionists have often said, then its victims need help instead of ridicule and unsympathetic bashings.
What It is Like to be Gay
- To be gay is feeling fear on top of fear on top of fear.
- To be gay is like being Jewish and being hated by your parents for being Jewish.
- It is being human and being hated, discriminated against, maligned, marginalized, because you are human.
- It is like having blue eyes and being hated because your eyes are blue.
- It is like being heterosexual and being discriminated against for being attracted to the opposite sex.
- It is like being left-handed when the tools are made with right-handed people in mind.
- It is like taking a walk on a street at midnight in a megalopolis’ most crime-infested area.
- It is knowing that you are more likely to contract the virus which causes AIDS than heteros are.
- It is having more friends who are HIV positive than heteros have, and realizing that some of your gay friends have likely been infected. And it is being mad about this whole thing of the AIDS epidemic.
- It is comforting a friend who is dying of AIDS.
- It is being married to a woman because that is what society and the church wanted, but yearning in your fibers to be with a person of the same sex.
- It is being an elementary school teacher, which is fulfilling to you, and wearing a wedding ring although you are single, because you know that in that particular school you would be out of there pronto if the parents or the administrators knew you are gay.
- It is being a dentist and knowing that most of your clients would not be seeing you if they barely suspected that you are gay.
- It is still attending the church of your childhood, and realizing that some people there are wondering if you are gay because you are not married and do not even court a woman. It is sometimes seeming to court a woman.
- It is wondering, sometimes, if the majority hetero church membership might be right, and wondering if God really does love instead of despise you.
- It is realizing that your neighbors are no doubt suspecting that you are gay and might be feeling that you and your same-sex partner taint the neighborhood.
- It is realizing that even in a business office you will likely not be respected as much if your gayness is known.
- It is wishing that you could come out of the closet and march with the other gays in the Gay Pride Parade each June, and realizing that if you did march with them, it would be seen by society that ordinary people like you—people who live respectable, responsible, caring lives—are also gay.
- It is to be in the closet because you know that fall-out in many directions would happen if your gayness were known, and it is fearing that someone will “out” you because they don’t want you to live a lie.
This is what it is like to be gay. This is what many in the Religious Right say is a chosen state, a preference to being a heterosexual person. But who would be so insane as to choose such a state? No, it must be that gay people find themselves to be gay. They try to change, only to find out that, with all their sincere following of the advice given them, they are the same gay persons as before.
To me as a hetero, gay male sex is distasteful. Yet since it seems to be their orientation; who they are genetically and perhaps somewhat by their hormones; who they are emotionally; who they are naturally like so many other mammals – it is a question of whether they should be held as strangers at the gate, and without their own place at the table.
We of the church, who have long interpreted the Jewish-Christian Bible as proscribing it, might need to check carefully to see if we have been interpreting that Holy Book correctly. We now turn to such study, with the profound confidence that even the God of the Bible— who always comes running to help people who are marginalized for no fault of their own—is likely to be caring and understanding of this marginalized group too.
Scripture and Homosexuality
It will readily be seen that in this paper I have been using reason and experience, often used by Mr. John Wesley, as two supports for beliefs and practices. As we turn to Scripture, we will be using a third of his sources of support – realizing that, although the word “homosexuality” was not used in English until 1892, still, same-sex attraction does not seem to have been viewed as an important matter by the practical-divinity-interested Wesley. In his Notes on the New Testament, in comments on the three N.T. homosexuality passages, he makes no observation which shows that he is clearly aware of homosexuality as a problem.
On “sodomites” in 1 Tim 1:10 he mentions that word, but makes no comment on it, and comments on the next word, “menstealers.” Of “effeminate” in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, he misses what it refers to, commenting, “Who live in an easy, indolent way; taking no cross, enduring no hardship.” On “sodomites” here he says that they are seriously in sin but does not indicate what the sin is. On the Romans 1:26-27 passage he is vague, speaking of “that unnatural lust.”
In this area, I wish to make a number of observations – not conclusions. I do so remembering that Mr. Wesley, who taught logic and argumentation at Oxford, whose most distinguishing teaching had to do with the importance of our experience, would go to Scripture again and again to see if he had interpreted it correctly if it seemed to counter reason or experience or tradition.
Homosexual Orientation Not Known One observation I would make about Scripture and homosexuality is that the three references to it in the Old Testament and the three in the New Testament do not seem to suggest that the writers knew anything about homosexuality as an orientation. Scriptural references are solely about same-sex activity. And I ask if we should hold them to that standard when we ourselves did not know for sure that it was a biological disposition until 1993? Do the Bible’s writers know that the world is round, or that the earth spins one round each day, or that it circles the sun every year? Did they need to know such facts of science in order to direct us, as Wesley says they do, on how to make it to the celestial city?
The Sodom Story is Evidently Not About Gay Sex Another observation I would make relates to Sodom, which is the source of the chief single biblical opposition to same-sex relations, and the basis for homosexuality’s being named sodomy. For one thing, whatever the people of Sodom were, they were that way “to a man” (NRSV), where the NIV reads, “all the men of every part of the city of Sodom—both young and old—surrounded the house” (Gen. 19:4). It would be unlikely that every man of the city was gay. And while Isaiah (1:9, 1:10, 3:9, 13:19), Jeremiah (23:14, 49:18, 50:40), Ezekiel (16:46,48,49,53,55,56), Amos (4:11), Zephaniah (2:9), and several New Testament writers (Matt. 10:15, Luke 17:29, Rom, 9:29, 2 Pet. 2:6, Jude 7) all mention Sodom, not one of them relates Sodom’s (or Gomorrah’s) sin to homosexual orientation or behavior. Their sins were said or implied to be inhospitality, greed, and pride. It is particularly revealing that Jesus’ only reference to the sin of Sodom implies that it’s sin was inhospitality (see Matt. 10:14-15).
We need to remember that God had already decided to judge the people ofSodomprior to their requesting thatLotbring out to them the two visiting strangers, referred to as angels.
We also need to remember thatLotwas a newcomer to the city and probably violated the hospitality protocols by not consulting the city elders when important visitors arrived. No wonder they (and others) were enraged! Their desire to “know” these visitors might have been just that, especially if we remember that the Hebrew verb for “to know,” contrary to popular opinion, “is very rarely used in a sexual sense in the Bible: in only ten of its 943 occurrences in the Old Testament does it have the sense of carnal knowledge” (John Boswell, 94).
Finally, even if we were to grant that the men ofSodomwere insisting on having sex with these strangers, what we would be talking about would not have been consensual gay sex but rape.
The Leviticus References Are in the Holiness Code Another observation I would make is that the two proscriptions of homosexuality in Leviticus (18:22; 20:13) come in the midst of a Holiness Code’s numerous prohibitions, most of which we do not adhere to today: no sex in marriage during the wife’s menstrual cycle, no weaving any clothing made of two kinds of cloth, no eating pork or shellfish, no cutting one’s sideburns, no picking fruit from a tree until its fifth year, no sowing a field with 2 kinds of seed, no tattoos – the list is lengthy. What makes us be able to say that these prohibitions are obsolete while anything said against homosexuality isn’t? And even if we could, by some means, demonstrate the relevance of the verses in the Holiness Code on homosexuality to today, wouldn’t that also mean that we would have to abide by the punishment assigned in these verses to people committing homosexual acts, namely death? (20:13)
Paul Might Be Referring to Two Heterosexuals in Rom. 1:26-27 Yet another observation I would make is that what Paul is opposing in Romans 1:26-27 appears to be unnatural relations between two heterosexuals. Paul (and the other Biblical writers) assumes that everyone is heterosexual, and that it would therefore be against nature (para phusin, not kata phusin) to have same-sex relations. But if Hamer is correct, then it would be natural for two person born as homosexuals to be attracted to each other, and what Paul is referring to would not obtain. Paul was, no doubt, familiar with what was widely practiced in the Greek world – hetero men having sex with boys. It is this that Paul labels “unnatural,” connecting it with idolatry, knowing that it was practiced in connection with idol worship at temples. Actually, in the two Leviticus passages, when same-sex relations are called an “abomination” (or “detestable” [NIV]), many scholars have noted that the reference is to transgressing Jewish ritual law, i.e., idolatry.
We Need to Admit that We Do Not Follow the Scripture on Many Matters We Christians have not followed numerous biblical enjoinders. A small matter is that Paul’s commanding the holy kiss is seldom followed today. Most of us Wesleyan-Holiness Christians do not abide by Paul’s enjoinder to Timothy to drink a little wine medicinally.
But there are also big matters in any listing of our non-compliance with Bible teachings. One of them has to do with the Bible’s opposition to greed, and the opulence it makes possible. Greed, along with inhospitality, is the big sin ofSodom, and it is a big sin for the prophets, for Jesus, for James and others. In addition, there are dozens of Scriptures that forbid the practice of charging interest when lending money.
In general, we do not pretend to follow the system of economics in the Old Testament e.g. a year of jubilee when all debts were to be erased. Besides this, it is known by all Bible students that the Old Testament condones and even encourages bigamy.
In addition, Jews are told by God that as they do battle with distant enemies, they are to “put to the sword all the men,” and take the women as “plunder the Lord your God gives you” (Deut. 20:10-15). In the next chapter, they are told, similarly, “If you notice among the captives a beautiful woman and are attracted to her, you may take her as your wife. Bring her into your home.” The Lord says that after she “has lived in your house and mourned her father and mother for a full month, then you may go to her and be her husband and she shall be your wife” (Deut. 21:10-14).
All Bible students know that Jacob worked seven years for Rachel, got her sister Leah instead as a trick, and then worked for their father another seven years for Rachel – and the great patriarch lived as a bigamist without the Lord’s disfavor. Other bigamists, and even polygamists, are mentioned without reprisals – although in the Ten Commandments, adultery is a no-no.
There is therefore little justification for upholding the Scripture’s proscriptions against same-sex relations on the basis that we must uphold all of the Scriptures enjoinders.
Finally, I Would Discuss the Bible’s Trajectory Meaning It is not enough to decide what the Bible meant at an early time. We need to sense the direction toward which its meaning is pointing. Its meaning in the first century often was that women are to be denigrated; and it sanctions our holding slaves. Yet as the centuries passed, Wesleyans, especially, decided to look at the whole picture. We decided to ask what it means, as it relates to women and slaves, in our time, when women can be educated in our present cultures; in our time, when we are trying to live according to Jesus’ teaching that we should treat other persons as we would like to be treated.
Since we know, scientifically, that homosexuality is genetic, this knowledge might guide us in our interpreting what the Bible is saying in its five or six references to same-sex relations. Whereas Orthodox Judaism and Roman Catholicism, and even Protestantism, in general, has in the past interpreted the Bible to mean that all same-sex relations are prohibited, it might be that its meaning is different from what we have thought it to be. For example, in light of the many recent scientific studies which suggest that it is biological—an inclination in the genes—perhaps we need to see that we can no longer refer to homosexuality as a preference, but that it is instead a natural given orientation which is not chosen at all.
When we think of the Bible’s proscriptions in the context of the present time, it is not enough to hear what it is saying to the times when it was first written. We need to decide what Scripture is saying on same-sex matters today, even as we have had to do so as it relates to women and slaves, guided as we are by the Holy Spirit.
Clark Pinnock is perhaps one of the five or so most significant evangelical theologians of the twentieth century. Pinnock believes that we should “grow as hearers of the Word of God” (WTS Journal, Fall, 1999, 137). He believes that we as evangelicals should be prepared to be thrust into new and fresh interpretations of Scripture. In support of being willing to accept what is new, he quotes Jesus: “’Every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old’” (Matt. 13:52, ibid.). Getting more to his point, he says, “we must distinguish between the original meaning of the words and the truth toward which they are pointing us” (ibid.). Pinnock says that if we are not willing to “reflect on the Word of God in relation to contemporary experience and contexts, we invite Jesus’ criticism: ‘You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky – why do you not know how to interpret the present time?’” (Luke 12:56, ibid., 138).
Pinnock believes, as surely as we all do, that God reveals truth to us progressively, little by little. This is obvious within Scripture itself. Pinnock points to what he calls the Bible’s “potential” meaning, which would include such matters as that anyone may be redeemed, that we are to be gripped by a “concern for the non-human world” (ibid., 148), and that it teaches the “calling of women” (ibid.).
I am using Pinnock’s insights in order to say that perhaps we need to study the Bible’s half-dozen (or fewer) references to same-sex relations according to the potential of their meaning for us in our present time.
To use another example, we know that the earth is only a small spherical body, compared to the multiplied billions of larger heavenly bodies in the broad expanse of God’s creation. So we would not say some things about the earth which the Bible says about it. In Psalms alone the phrase “ends of the earth” appears twelve times in the NIV; and sometimes it reads, “all the ends of the earth.” We who are friends of Scripture have usually interpreted these as references to long distances, or to remote cities, or to where the land ends and the sea begins. Yet on the surface it seems to indicate that the earth is flat. The same is so in the Bible’s stating that the earth has four corners. John the Revelator says, “I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth” (Rev. 7:1). And the same writer says that Satan will deceive the nations in “the four corners of the earth” (Rev. 20:8). The sphericity of the earth had been surmised by Plato three centuries before our era; but such was not the usual view. It is possible that the Biblical writers describe the earth as they do because they did not believe that it is spherical. It is not important that they should have known matters such as this.
We would also not say, “The world is firmly established; it cannot be moved” (Ps. 93:1). People took this literally, a view espoused by Ptolemy in the second century A.D., that the earth is stationary and at the center of all heavenly bodies which revolve around it. Actually, this passage was used widely in the sixteenth century to oppose Nicolaus Copernicus’s now universally-accepted theory that the sun is at the center of our heavenly system and that the earth rotates, and revolves around the sun.
Martin Luther used Josh. 10:13, which says that the sun was commanded to stop, to oppose Copernicus (1473-1543) as an “upstart astrologer” and a “fool.” Melanchthon used Ecclesiastes 1:4-5, about the sun rising and going down, to oppose him. John Calvin opposed him with Psalm 93 where it is said that the earth cannot be moved. And in 1632, roughly a century later, when Galileo, who had earlier taught the Ptolemaic geocentric theory, sided with Copernicus, the pope condemned him.
Are we going to be like Martin Luther, Philip Melanchthon, and John Calvin, who all opposed Copernicus for his findings about the sun and the earth? What I am meaning to say is that we need to try to discern the meaning of Scripture for our own times when it talks about same-sex relations. Since the writers of Scripture did not know about a homosexual orientation, these references probably refer to heterosexuals having sex with other heterosexuals.
These observations are not conclusions. In them I am raising questions, in the hopes that we Wesleyan scholars might take another look at Scripture, in light of recent scientific findings. The Bible is a book of religion and ethics, not a book of science as such. It is altogether trustworthy on beliefs and practices, but only if you interpret it according to its times and according to our times. True, it seemed to Luther and others that the sun was traveling around the earth each day. In Bible times, what we now know about heliocentricity was not known. Do the Bible writers need to know what we now know in order to point us to Christ for our redemption, and finally to heaven?
What are we Wesleyan-Holiness scholars going to teach about homosexuality, especially in view of Hamer’s recent findings, and in view of the 1998 findings that lesbianism is genetic? What should you teach?
This issue is not even really controversial in our Wesleyan-Holiness denominations; it is way down there under our rug. I realize that I, as one who has an image of leaning toward conservative directions in theology, could suffer professionally – as by coldness toward the reprinted editions of my Wesleyan-Holiness Theology and my Entire Sanctification or by their even being banned in some places, because I feel I need to raise questions seriously about whether or not, in the plight of gay men and lesbians today, we should use the hearts grace gave us, about three sizes too big, to come running to help in some way, this last large under-enfranchised minority.
This article was prepared to be given at the March 5-6, 1999 Wesleyan Theological Society meeting. But I was asked not to, so as not to be an embarrassment to my university, Olivet Nazarene, where I am retained as distinguished visiting professor of theology, and where they were to inaugurate, less than a month later, an annual Holiness lectureship in my name. Yet because of certain developments, I have initiated its publication in 2000. I am confident that, although some complaints may come in from so conservative a constituency, ONU will, in the main, greatly benefit from this research.