My thanks to Wendell Karsen for so thoughtfully and substantively engaging the “dialogue and discernment” process encouraged by our shared denomination, the Reformed Church in America. It is in that ever-Reforming spirit that Letha Scanzoni and I have offered our brief contribution to the free marketplace of ideas, and welcome others’ ideas as well.
We wrote our book hoping to bridge the great divide between traditionalists, who feel passionately about the need to support and renew marriage, and progressives, who understand that our sexual orientation is nearly always something we did not choose and cannot change, and is therefore best accepted. We offer evidence indicating that both sides are right, and that this world would be happier and healthier if, for all people, love, sex, and marriage went together. Because of our human “need to belong,” intimate and supportive covenant partnerships are conducive to flourishing lives. Moreover, an inclusive marriage renewal movement that promotes monogamy for all can help deflate the alternatives to marriage.
Wendell Karsen faults the chapter excerpted by Perspectives for not engaging pertinent Scriptural texts. But that is rather like faulting billiards for not being aerobic exercise. Our intent in this chapter was simply to explain why the emerging scientific consensus, as expressed in recent statements by national mental health organizations, calls for skepticism about claims for reparative therapy and sexual reorientation. In other chapters, we do engage the biblical and theological debate over same-sex behavior and marriage and gender.
As Reverend Karsen suggests, let’s allow Robert Spitzer (author of that famous study that proponents of sexual reorientation love to cite) to speak for himself. In a later essay for the Wall Street Journal (May 23, 2001), he reflected that “To my horror, some of the media reported the study as an attempt to show that homosexuality is a choice, and that substantial change is possible for any homosexual who decides to make the effort…. In fact, I suspect that the vast majority of gay people would be unable to alter by much a firmly established homosexual orientation.”
We do not claim that sexual reorientation never happens, nor do we desire to challenge any individual’s experience. Nevertheless, there are well-known reasons to doubt, in the absence of an actual clinical trial (like the one suggested at the end of our article), the after-the-fact memories and testimonies of those who trumpet their success in programs of weight loss, smoking prevention, delinquency prevention, or sexual reorientation.
In fact, given the huge numbers who have felt called to do a sexual U-turn, strikingly few claim to have been chosen. There are, as Rev. Karsen rightly notes, anecdotal reports of ex-gays, but these are offset by anecdotes of ex-ex-gays, including those of former leaders of ex-gay ministries who say that, earlier claims notwithstanding, no one was changed. Even former Exodus director Bob Davies has acknowledged that “as an organization, we also need to re-examine…the public perception of our use of terms such as ‘healing’ and ‘change'” and to attend to supporting people in controlling their sexual behavior.
The resilience of sexual orientation (for us straight folks, too) makes sense in view of the accumulating evidence that sexual orientation is a natural disposition, not a moral choice. After our book went to press, new confirming evidence emerged.
As a “Reformed and ever-reforming” people we will continue our quest to more deeply understand both God’s Word and God’s works.
Exposed to male sex-related odors, gay men’s brains react similarly to straight women’s. With the manipulation of a single gene, both male and female fruit flies display same-sex attraction. These new discoveries add to a dozen other revelations of gay-straight differences in things ranging from brain centers to fingerprint patterns to skill at mentally rotating geometric figures.
Finally, for the devotees of Freudian reparative therapy here is a question to ponder: Given the difficulty of sexual reorientation that is acknowledged even by its advocates, what failure rate should persuade someone not to risk the agonizing frustration, guilt, depression, self-torment, and even suicidal thoughts that so often accompany the persistence of same-sex longings? In view of Scripture’s silence about naturally disposed sexual orientation and committed gay relationships, at what point could we agree that we had all best seek to live responsible moral lives within the reality of our sexual orientation?
As Lewis Smedes wrote in Sex for Christians, “Homosexuality is a burden that homosexual people are called to bear, and bear as morally as possible, even though they never chose to bear it.” Shortly before his death, Smedes, in whose writings and counsel I found encouragement, wrote me that he now wished his next sentence had been “something like this: ‘It is a burden most obediently and creatively borne in a committed love-partnership with another.'”
By its June 2005 action in deposing theology professor Norman Kansfield from office and suspending him from ministry (for having officiated at the Massachusetts wedding of his daughter and her partner), our Reformed Church in America has indicated, as expected, its disagreement with Smedes and with a growing number of its own members, especially among its youth and younger adults. Nevertheless, as a “Reformed and ever-reforming” people we will continue our quest to more deeply understand both God’s Word and God’s works. And in time, I do believe, we will cease stigmatizing gay people for who they are and whom they love. “In the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ there they shall be called children of the living God” (Rom 9:26).