Friday 26 February 2010

The deadly truth about Uganda's anti-gay bill

Thousands of miles separate me from Uganda, but little separates me in spirit from the hundreds of thousands of Ugandans who are now in fear of their lives.

For the truth is, if Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2009 were passed in the US or Canada today, I would be awaiting death at this moment. I am what the proposed bill calls a “serial offender.” I would not be the only one. Every practicing homosexual in the nation would face the same fate. Every friend and family member who tried to protect us would risk imprisonment or execution. Anyone defending our right to live could be tried for promoting homosexuality, and could incur the same punishment.

At stake are neither abstract moral principles, nor simply human freedom, but actual human lives. The Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2009 is effectively a mandate for the mass execution of gays and lesbians, and their supporters.

The last few months have seen a widespread apologetic effort to distract from the true implications of the proposed legislation. One common claim is that the death penalty has been dropped from the bill. It is true that Uganda’s Minister of Integrity and Ethics was reported as saying this in December, 2009, but no further evidence has been forthcoming. In January, President Yoweri Museveni denied his government had any responsibility for the contents of the bill. To this day, only one draft remains: the original draft, recommending the death penalty. Nothing has changed.

A second claim is that the laws will exist only to protect the vulnerable – victims of gay rape, for example, especially the “boy child.” This too is alien to the actual content of the bill. While it does address victimization of children, it also makes it clear that serial offenders will be punished with death. Not only do serial offenses include physical acts – including simply “touching” with intent to commit a homosexual act – it also includes those guilty of “related offenses,” such as “promoting” homosexuality, or in the case of someone in authority, failing to report a homosexual within 24 hours.

Everyone of conscience should be open in opposing these brutal laws. Thankfully, the western world has many such people of conscience. They include both the religious and the non-religious, homosexual and heterosexual, conservative and liberal. They recognize this is a basic matter of social justice.

How sad, then –infuriating! – that a writer in the mainstream evangelical publication Christianity Today this month has offered such a lukewarm response to the impending legislation, arguing that “both silence and open condemnation end up violating important missional and human-rights principles.”

What possible human-rights principle is violated by speaking out openly to condemn this brutal assault on human lives? This week, the leader of the worldwide Anglican Church did not hesitate in describing the bill as “repugnant.” In December, evangelical pastor Rick Warren condemned it as “unjust, extreme and unchristian.” Dr Warren Throckmorton, a Christian psychology professor who holds to traditional sexual morality, has spearheaded the movement among Christians to denounce the threat to gays in Uganda.

Frankly, as a gay man, I am scared when I witness the reluctance of some intelligent, civilized, Christian people to speak out against this potential atrocity. Whether they explicitly affirm the proposed Ugandan legislation or simply shut their mouths and let it pass silently, my only thought is: Who will come to my defense when they come for me?

It is not time to waver in speaking out. This is an issue that transcends partisan lines. Regardless of personal politics, religion or sexuality, unequivocal condemnation of Uganda’s ugly, violent and fundamentally inhumane Anti-Homosexuality Bill is the only proper response.

Tuesday 9 February 2010

What the Archbishop did - and didn't - say

Ruth Gledhill reports that Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, made a "profound apology" to gays and lesbians in his presidential address to the Anglican Church Synod today.

Here is the relevant part of ++Rowan's speech:
The debate over the status and vocational possibilities of LGBT people in the Church is not helped by ignoring the existing facts, which include many regular worshippers of gay or lesbian orientation and many sacrificial and exemplary priests who share this orientation. There are ways of speaking about the question that seem to ignore these human realities or to undervalue them; I have been criticised for doing just this, and I am profoundly sorry for the carelessness that could give such an impression.
I am not sure the apology, or the apparent acknowledgment of gay priests and parishioners, extended to all gays and lesbians. For ++Rowan glides over the fact that the "many sacrificial and exemplary priests who share this orientation" also share their lives - and their beds - with same-sex partners.

Did he not include them in his apology? Or did he hope that by not mentioning them, he could escape the fact that this debate is not primarily about "sexual orientation," but about the actual day-to-day lives of gay Christians and priests and the partners they love?

It is a telling omission. I suspect the man in the middle has once again tried to please both sides, expecting the conservatives to say, "He's quite right, as he was only talking about non-practicing (ie celibate) homosexuals," and the LGBTs and liberals to say, "Look, he's said we're okay and he's on our side."

Unfortunately, by dodging the real issue, ++Rowan has only succeeded in insulting those on both sides of the debate.

Monday 8 February 2010

Why I'm not convinced by 'ex-gays'

A few weeks ago I did a bit of a Q&A with a Christian friend from my Bible college days. One of the questions he asked was what I made of ex-gays, ie Christians who say they have been turned from homosexuality to heterosexuality. He cited the testimony of a mutual acquaintance who claims to have been healed of homosexuality literally overnight, and is now married with children.

I'd like to post my response here, since it struck me as a good summary should anyone ask me the same question again.
In evaluating ex-gay testimonies, I’d point to three things.

First, my own experience. I was a Pentecostal and I fought “same-sex attraction.” I can testify from my own experience that the capacity to con yourself into thinking you have overcome or are overcoming your basic sexual orientation is huge. I was in denial a long time, knowing deep down that I was still basically attracted to men. There were times when I was so “victorious” in the Christian life that I thought infrequently enough about men that I could convince myself I’d changed or was changing. I tried desperately to exploit the 20 percent of me that was attracted to women (yeah, there’s a hint of bisexuality in me). For periods I could “triumph,” but it never lasted. Nothing fundamentally changed.

Second, other people’s experience. In the whole ex-gay movement, the examples of people who claimed to be “healed” of homosexuality only later to turn back or be caught out are numerous. At least two founding members of Exodus, the world’s biggest ex-gay organization, left the movement and admitted they were still gay. Another of their head honchos got married, but had to leave too when he was photographed chatting up guys in a gay bar. Jeremy Marks, an Anglican who founded Courage, one of the UK’s main ex-gay ministries, did a total turnabout on the issue when he realized after years it just wasn’t working for him or anyone else. I talk to people every day who have survived the ex-gay movement, some of whom have spent thousands on therapy, counseling and ministry over the years.
To this I might add that even the most impressive ex-gay testimonies I have heard turn out to be more complicated once you scratch beneath the surface. A common report is that attractions resurface and temptations still occur when the subject is feeling down, stressed or weak. That suggests to me that they are managing their attractions, but their basic orientation towards males remains unchanged.
Third, the scientific evidence. There basically is no scientific evidence that sexual orientation can be made to change through therapy, ministry, prayer etc. There have been two or three deeply flawed studies, but even the best of these (carried out in the US a couple years ago) points to a minuscule success rate. The consensus of psychologists and psychiatrists is that this kind of therapy is useless at best and dangerous at worst.

That’s not to say sexual orientation can never change, of its own accord, say, but can it be made to change? Everything I know to be true says no, it can’t.

So what do I do in the case of [our ex-gay acquaintance]? Assume he’s lying? No. There are many possible explanations. Maybe he grew naturally into heterosexuality? (As I said, sexuality changes, it just can’t be forced to change.) Maybe he was bisexual all along? Maybe he’s kidding himself? (I kidded myself a long time about my success at changing.) All I can really say is that based on my experience, others’ experience and most importantly the scientific research, that God made him straight overnight is the least likely explanation.
I write regularly about the "ex-gay" phenomenon at

Tuesday 2 February 2010

Navigating the TWU controversy

I've been engaged in some interesting discussions regarding the controversy over Trinity Western University, the Canadian Christian college blacklisted by CAUT for limiting academic freedom. Since TWU requires its faculty to assent to a fairly rigorous Statement of Faith, the charge (at least my main concern) is that its professors are hindered in free academic inquiry. Some major questions (eg the inerrancy and authority of the Bible) are settled in advance, and therefore they are forbidden from reaching conclusions outside the university's narrow scope.

Dr Todd Pettigrew at Maclean's Blogs is more concerned with the effect on students. How does the Statement of Faith affect assessment of students' work? How does it influence the content of teaching in the classroom?

My latest discussion turned sour very quickly, unfortunately. It can be found in the comments thread here. In the first response to my contribution, I was accused of a litany of offenses, including a "brutally literalist reading of the concept of inerrancy," being wilfully ignorant of basic comprehension and interpretation and denying the historical existence of Jesus, among other nonsense.

I am more than aware of the range of views on inerrancy within evangelical scholarship. I wrote 25,000 words on the subject for my degree. I don't for a minute ascribe to TWU a "scientific textbook" approach to the Scriptures, or any of the other things I was intemperately caricatured as saying.

But even within a very flexible, nuanced evangelical view of inerrancy, the actual historicity of key events cannot be avoided. For example, at the very least, the Virgin Birth, Incarnation, Death and Resurrection of Jesus must be treated as historical events. For most inerrantists, even those with a very broad definition of inerrancy, other events such as the existence of Adam and Eve, the Fall, the Noahic Flood and the Exodus, are also historical. The bottom line is that if the Bible treats something as a historical event, it should be accepted as historical truth.

Some of these are directly required in the TWU Statement of Faith:
We believe that God created Adam and Eve in His image, but they sinned when tempted by Satan.

We believe that Jesus Christ is God incarnate, fully God and fully man, one Person in two natures. Jesus—Israel's promised Messiah—was conceived through the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. He lived a sinless life, was crucified under Pontius Pilate, arose bodily from the dead, ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father as our High Priest and Advocate.
That is not to say (and I made this clear in the discussion, but in vain!) there isn't room for maneouvre in the details. On Adam and Eve, for example, the broadest definitions of inerrancy can accept the interpretation that Adam and Eve were simply the first hominids to bear the image of God, thus squaring with evolution. Details such as talking snakes and forbidden fruit would usually be taken as allegorical. But this doesn't detract from the basic historical assertion: there was a couple called Adam and Eve; they sinned; sin was brought into the human race.

In this I was accused of attributing "the wackier literalist beliefs to the entire institution in order to discredit TWU."

How far can the TWU Statement of Faith be stretched?

In response to TWU's position on Adam and Eve, Theresa (who appears to be connected to the college in some way) wrote the following:
I would say that even this insistence on an historical Adam and Eve (far removed in the distant past… even if it were a couple hundred thousand years ago…) is still building a straw man. The point, again, of this symbolic passage in the Bible (yes, Symbolic – not strictly historical) has primarily to do with morality and faith and not empirical history. Whether or not Adam and Eve were the first “sinners” is not so important as the very obvious fact that no human being since “then” is free of sin or error. If there is historical truth to the Fall narrative, you need not look any further in the past than a moment ago to see the truth of the matter.
I am not sure how this matches up to the TWU Statement of Faith. The main reason is that even I can agree with this. How is the Statement of Faith evangelical in any meaningful way if it can be interpreted so loosely as to accommodate even a liberal agnostic? I am very doubtful if Trinity Western would accept a purely symbolic interpretation of Adam and Eve. And in retrospect, it seems Theresa still wants to insist that the story is of a historical event, just that the historical aspect is not its primary meaning.

I am eager to (and perhaps will, soon) talk to someone from Trinity Western about how broadly the Statement of Faith can be interpreted. There is no doubt it requires inerrancy, and that, in its broadest form, requires at least that the Bible is historically true when it intends to be taken as historical truth.

The basic issue remains: Under the TWU Statement of Faith, a scholar is forbidden from reaching certain conclusions. If the Bible makes a truth claim, it must be accepted as truth. Sometimes it is truth about history, occasionally about science, often about morality, and frequently about God, and at various times it is allegorical, symbolic or metaphorical truth. But it remains the truth. And it seems no TWU scholar is free to challenge that.