Thursday, August 07, 2008

BOOKS: Christianity and Homosexuality: Some Seventh-Day Adventist Perspectives

We were excited when Christianity and Homosexuality: Some Seventh Day Adventist Perspectives was released earlier this year, as the editor is a friend of ours. We've eagerly followed the development of the book from when it began as a convocation of Adventist academics and luminaries presenting papers on this issue, an issue of some controversy within the SDA church, as it is with many religious denominations. While the book was particularly targeted at an Adventist audience, it should prove a very useful resource to parents, parishioners, and gay people of any Christian denomination. The collection of essays is grouped into five thematic areas: autobiography, medical science, social science, theology, and social policy. In each section, echoing the structure of the conference, several viewpoints are presented followed by an independent closing response to the preceding views. The choice of thematic areas was wisely considered, as they address the breadth of common concerns -- is homosexuality biologically caused? is it a pathology? what does the Bible say about it? -- and reflect a distinctly Adventist way of thinking which puts weight on medical as well as biblical views. It was also very wise to begin with personal stories -- those of a lesbian church member, the mother of a gay son, and a gay ex-pastor -- which powerfully ground the academic discussion in the realization that we are talking about real people's lives. The contributors are varied in their background -- university professors, pastors, doctors, lawyers, psychologists, all with strong Adventist credentials -- and they are varied in their viewpoints, some themselves gay or lesbian, some straight but sympathetic, and one or two less than gay-positive views. The book (and the conference) did not set out to contrive an arbitrary balance of views, with an equal weight to a "pro" and "con" point of view, nor should it have. To paraphrase Rush Limbaugh, this book is the balance, as the arguments against homosexuality are well-known and pervasive in the church, and need no additional rehearsals. But it does present a thoughtful range of views.

The essays are all respectably argued and respectfully voiced, although in a few passages one can sense justifiable anger simmering below the surface. Adventism, like Judaism, is more than "just" a religion, it is a culture and a way of life, part of which is strong tradition and familial loyalty. Thus, it is especially traumatic for gay Adventists to be estranged or ostracized from their church family, not unlike being kicked out of one's own family. One's family has a special ingrained demand on the love of its members, even when they are angry at having been hurt by it. That poignant tension is a palpable undercurrent in some of the essays. I am hopeful that those passionate expressions might inspire the appropriate righteous indignation in others rather than defensiveness. I am also impressed that some of the essays, rather than the usual arguing for (or even begging for) acceptance, are prophetic cries against hypocrisy and injustice, and open challenges to the church to stop falling short of its own ideals. I think those are called for, and well answered.

As an avid student of religion, I jumped to the theology section first. John R. Jones, of La Sierra University, presented an intriguing and thorough exegesis of the typical Bible passages used to condemn homosexuality, illuminating many of them by historical context, and ending with a positive vision of biblical hermeneutics as a continuation of Paul's efforts to evolve the church beyond its original Judeo-centric views. This was countered by Roy Gane of Andrews University, who brought to my attention one of the most appalling New Testament texts I have ever read. But there were interesting theological insights to be found outside the theology section too. Mitchell Tyner, an attorney (formerly counsel for the General Conference), grounds his policy recommendations in insightful readings of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son stories. And Catherine Taylor, a clinical social worker, writing the response to the behavioral science section, has clearly given much thought to theology. I am thankful to her for her thoughts on creation: the implication of stewardship in dominion, the injunction to care for the weaker among us embedded in the Sabbath commandment, and most of all, the reminder that God said it was not good that man should be alone. And of course it was bittersweet to read the essay written by our late pastor Mitch Henson.

As a "member of the choir being preached to", I found the book intriguing, thought-provoking, and full of new insights. I hope that it will be as useful and as well-received by those who really need to read it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good work. Appreciated the insight.