On the Horns of a Dilemma or at the Horn of the Altar: An Introduction to This Theme Issue

Michael J. Boivin, Ph.D., MPH, Guest Editor


Perhaps the most controversial issue confronting the evangelical Christian church in America today is that of homosexuality. It is a topic of current urgency in terms of empirical research and theoretical prominence in the behavioral sciences, giving rise to intense political and public policy debate. It has also been the topic of vehement ecclesiastical discussion and conflict. Against this backdrop, the editorial board and institutional representatives of the supporting colleges and universities of the Christian Scholar's Review (CSR) decided at the annual CSR Board meeting in April 22, 1995, to dedicate this theme issue of the journal to the topic of homosexuality.

It seemed only appropriate that one of the leading evangelical Christian scholarly publications would be willing to provide a forum for scholars to address this issue at a time when the flames of controversy have been vigorously fanned within the church and in the "culture wars" of our broader society. However, the decision on the part of the CSR representatives to tackle this issue head on was one of courage and integrity.

Courage, because one simply cannot avoid intense criticism and conflict when attempting to address an issue for which there are already so many impassioned and militant advocates who must shout out the answers before hearing the questions. Integrity, because a Christian endeavor is not worthy of the name unless it is true to our Lord's commission; that is, to be salt and light for Him in the world. I know I betray my bias as a behavioral scientist when I say this, but I say it shamelessly. Scholarship, and especially Christian scholarship, cannot remain sequestered away in its own esoteric ivory towers. To be worthy of the name of Christ, it must be willing to come down and meet the masses. It must speak articulately, thoughtfully, and sensitively to the pressing issues of the human condition as it lives and breathes amidst a fallen world and twisted social order. It must try to offer real answers and real insights in the hopes of touching the lives of real people. And here and now, it chooses to speak to the human struggle that is homosexuality. And especially now, at a time when it has become a watershed of evangelicalism, where the ecclesiastical battle lines are being drawn upon the debris of broken lives.

It is my hope and prayer that the efforts of the contributing authors will be recognized by the reader as having been offered out of a motive of servanthood. To those who come in the throes of dissonance and uncertainty; to those who have felt the lash of misunderstanding and injustice; to those with open minds and hearts who come honestly seeking answers; to the concerned; to the curious; to the skeptic and critic; to the intellectual pilgrim looking beyond easy and comfortable answers; yes, even to the jaded and embittered who feel beyond reach of any insight that evangelical scholarship has to share---it is to you that these pages are offered. The men and women whose efforts are presented here have dedicated countless hours of deliberation and struggle in formulating thoughtful responses that are thorough, scholarly, and Christian in the fullest sense of those words. Their efforts are excellent, and I am privileged and grateful to be associated with those efforts, even if only in helping to provide a vehicle for their dissemination. It is, however, in recognition of these individuals and their outstanding work that I retain the guest editorial prerogative to make one final note of recognition. It is to the victims and victors of the human drama encompassed in what we call homosexuality, it is to them that this theme issue is dedicated.

Hormones and Hermeneutics: Natural and Special Revelation in Confronting the Issue

There is no comprehensive paradigm for dealing with the issue of homosexuality that incorporates a Christian worldview as a vital and distinctive aspect of its consideration of the empirical and scientific evidence that pertains. Most attempts on the part of Christian scholars to broadly deal with the issue rely either on a predominantly Biblical approach (emphasis on God's Word) or on the psychobiological or psychotherapeutic evidence (God's world) which, at first glance, appear to be in tension with one another. As a result, Christian practitioners must decide on the morality of the homosexual lifestyle on the basis of a preponderant weighting of either a well-informed Biblical exegetical/hermeneutical epistemology, or on the basis of scientific epistemology documenting the biogenetic basis and/or origin of the condition and/or lack of enduring change thereof. At the same time, they recognize the human struggle involved for these apparently sincere clients, and the difficulty in achieving and documenting effective and enduring psychotherapeutic change in sexual orientation.

It would be presumptuous of me to suggest that the reader could come away from this theme issue having developed a unifying paradigm which might allow for a more ready integration of these disparate epistemological emphases (natural and special revelation) in dealing with the issue from an authentically Christian standpoint. I think it is safe to say, however, that the reader has every opportunity to glean from these pages a profound tempering of perspective. Each of these articles breaks new ground on this issue within their disciplinary specialty areas, and taken together, offer a new vantage point from which the reader can continue to build his/her integration of the revelation offered by God's Word and His human creation in its intended and fallen state.

In the Beginning Was the Word, And The Word Became Flesh

This theme issue begins, appropriately enough, with several articles dedicated to a Biblical perspective on homosexuality. Gene Haas, Professor of Theology and Religion at Redeemer College in Ancaster, Ontario, offers a thorough exegetical treatment of the Biblical passages pertaining to homosexuality. In this article, Haas carefully and systematically dismantles some of the more recent revisionist scholarship that has sought to redefine the traditional manner in which Biblical admonitions pertaining to homosexuality have been understood. Haas argues his case very clearly and concisely, and in the end, encourages the reader against the whole notion of a continuing empirically-based revelation or developmental hermeneutic which is Biblically accepting of homosexual practice.

On the other hand, a very different approach is used by Michael McIntyre, Assistant Professor in the International Studies Program at DePaul University in Chicago. In interpreting the very same passages of scripture, McIntyre emphasizes a hermeneutical perspective rather than an exegetical one, weaving together several important themes within the context of a progressive revelation of the attributes and purposes of God within the human condition. Placing the weight of his arguments on historical scholarship pertaining to the cultural context and literary use of various key words in the original Greek, McIntyre comes to very different conclusions from Haas on the critical word studies pertaining to Romans 1:18--23 and I Corinthians 6:9. As a psychologist and someone who is not a Biblical scholar as such, I am intrigued by how these two eloquent and careful Biblical scholars could arrive at such sharply conflicting points of view, and support each so effectively. Clearly, until we can ask him ourselves, our conclusions about what the Apostle Paul precisely meant in his word usage will largely depend on whether our own biases and presuppositions encourage us to weight the supporting evidence of scholarship largely in terms of exegesis or in terms of hermeneutics. Alas, we are caught on the horns of a dilemma somewhere between Augustine and Aquinas as the authoritative Word is understood through the subjective filters of a frail and fallen human intellect.

Lest we despair at this point, the third part of this opening trilogy of Biblical scholarship pertaining to homosexuality is provided by Dr. Priscilla Turner of Vancouver, British Columbia. She sweeps aside any attempt at elaborate progressive hermeneutics or a scholarly critique of orthodox versus revisionist perspectives in debating the relevant Biblical interpretations. Instead, Dr. Turner relies on an in-depth philology of the plain sense of the Greek and Hebrew texts and concludes that homosexual practice is fundamentally incompatible with Biblical teaching. In the process, she breaks new ground in relating homosexual conduct to porneia, which Christ himself condemned, and in also using the Septuagint of Leviticus to offer a new perspective on the word meanings intended by the Apostle Paul for this issue. Turner's succinct and witty style pierces like a dagger right to the heart of the exegetical issues surrounding these Biblical passages and their interpretation.

Of Mice and Men (of all sorts): Scientific Epistemology and Materialistic Assumptions in Considering Homosexuality

The next trilogy of articles in this theme issue stems from the work of psychologists who provide a thorough review and critique of the psychobiological literature pertaining to homosexuality. Stanton Jones, Provost at Wheaton College in Wheaton, IL, along with his doctoral student in clinical psychology, Mark Yarhouse, provide an excellent and thorough critique of the current scientific evidence related to the research literature. Disturbed by the increasing tendency on the part of church denominations to decide ecclesiastical debate, doctrine, and policy on this issue on the basis of a naive interpretation of the "scientific" evidence in favor of biogenetic determination of homosexual orientation, Jones and Yarhouse go about "setting the record straight." They begin with a careful examination of the research on the prevalence of homosexuality in the general population, followed by a review of biogenetic and neuroscientific factors related to homosexual orientation, followed by a review of the results of psychopathological research pertaining to this orientation and lifestyle. Jones and Yarhouse then conclude with a review of the evidence pertaining to the psychotherapeutic efficacy of intervention for homosexuality. These authors propose that while good science should inform the deliberations of the church in considering this issue, science should not dictate the ethical or moral dimensions of homosexuality, since it is not equipped to do so. On such considerations the church must, in the end, engage these issues on theological grounds.

This piece is followed by another article in which Yarhouse and Jones critique materialist assumptions in the interpretations of research on homosexuality. They attempt to evaluate some of the philosophical pitfalls associated with an overly strong reliance on such assumptions undergirding a scientific epistemology. They begin their critique by raising concerns about the validity and objectivity of much of the recent biogenetic research purporting to document an enduring and stable psychobiological basis to homosexual orientation (essentialist position). Yet their principal objection to the essentialist emphasis is not so much the credibility of the findings, as the tendency on the part of many to assume that documenting a biogenetic basis to homosexual orientation automatically places it outside the sphere of moral consideration or condemnation. Implicit in this is the tendency to accept that the biological properties of the human condition are preeminent, and fundamental to what defines the core of personhood.

In the third article of this trilogy, Heather Looy, Professor of Psychology at The King's University College in Edmonton, Alberta, takes a similar approach in her treatment of the topic. She critically evaluates the scientific evidence in questioning five commonly held assumptions with respect to the psychobiological research evidence. After questioning the stability of a heavily weighted scientific epistemology in defining this issue, she concludes her critique by calling on Christian scholars instead to consider how human sexuality might be better understood and transformed within a model that incorporates a more thorough Biblical view on human nature.

Looy, Jones, and Yarhouse all argue that Christians need not buy into such a truncated view of personhood, nor accept the materialistic, reductionistic and simplistic linear deterministic assumptions that underlie this view. Such an approach, they feel, biases our consideration of homosexuality towards an essentialist position, and severely limits the scope of personhood by equating a biologically based predisposition of sexual orientation with one's basic identity. Such an approach also ignores the fact that people make choices to act or not to act upon all manner of inclinations each day, and many such choices have direct moral import before God and human society.

A Little Less Than Angels, A Little More Than Animals

Jones, Yarhouse, and Looy address some of the fundamental tensions between a thoroughly empirical epistemology and a rational/Biblically-based epistemology by undermining the former and making it a maid-servant to the latter. The manner in which the conflict is resolved, however, is somewhat reminiscent of Abraham's decision in the dispute of birthright between the sons of Sarah and Hagar. In the end, Ishmael's legitimacy, though secondary, was overlooked entirely as he and Hagar were cast out into the wilderness (of theological debate) to die a lingering death. Only they did not die, but (by the grace of God) grew into a fierce rival of Isaac and Israel ever since.

Perhaps it is better to use these competing epistemologies in a cooperative manner to balance and cross-validate each other, rather than science and Christian phenomenological experience in opposition to each other in a contest that by definition for the Christian scholar, science cannot win. To allow these different approaches to cross-validate one another in a process of epistemological triangulation, however, requires an alternative paradigm broad enough in scope and robust enough to accommodate their guiding presuppositions and methodologies with integrity.

Just How Many Parts Are There to a Whole?

A Hebraic model of the person as described elsewhere {Michael J. Boivin, "The Hebraic Model of the Person: Toward a Unified Psychological Science Among Christian Helping Professionals," Journal of Psychology and Theology 19 (1991): 157.}, however, conceptualizes the various dimensions of personhood as existing along a mutually interactive continuum in which the divinely-inspired aspects of the human condition are directly apparent in the biopsychological aspects. As such, the Hebraic model vouches for the adequacy of the philosophical assumptions of a psychological science, and it can allow such a perspective to permeate the theological, analytical and scientific considerations of Christian scholars considering the issue of homosexuality.

More importantly, a Hebraic model invokes an empirical science within the context of a theologically-based understanding of human origins and ultimate purpose. In doing so, it distinguishes between the physical in its fallen or maladaptive state and the physical in its completed or redeemed state (humankind and cosmos in God's Kingdom here on earth). In other words, there is a mutual interaction among the genetic, physiological, interpersonal, sociological, and supernatural aspects of personhood---all of which can be understood within a unified paradigm that is theologically driven, yet consistent with scientific precepts and insights and not just tolerant of them. Such a model has rich potential for the understanding of both the brain/behavior aspects of homosexuality, and the spiritual import of such propensities.

Meanwhile, Back At the Ranch

In the next article in this theme issue, rather than arbitrate among conflicting epistemologies, Gary Strauss pursues a multi-faceted approach to the issue in the form of the Wesleyan (Anglican) Quadrilateral. He is a professor of psychology in the Rosemead Professional School of Psychology at Biola University in La Mirada, CA, and provides a thorough and scholarly as well as a compassionate and sensitive human dimension to his consideration of the issue. Strauss considers the issue in light of Wesley's doctrine of authority in balancing various sources of insight into the human condition; beginning with Scripture, followed by ecclesiastical tradition, personal (and professional) experience, and finally, reason. Throughout, Strauss tempers his considerations with the faces and lives of homosexual persons that he has worked with directly as a counselor and friend.

Having considered each of these perspectives, Strauss concludes in the end that the fullest experience of divinely-ordained human bonding in lifelong partnership is available only in a heterosexual marriage relationship. However, Strauss does not arrive at this conclusion in a glib or cavalier manner; nor does he purport to know just how far the Kingdom of God will or will not extend amidst the reality and human struggle of this fallen order. This is a decision which he, thankfully enough, leaves to God. In the end, each of us must cling to the horn of the altar seeking mercy for reasons known only to ourselves and God.

Courtship and Gay Couples: Christians and the Law, the Constitution, Public Policy, and the Public Schools

Julia Stronks, an attorney and professor of political studies at Whitworth College in Spokane, WA, provides a thoughtful and provocative challenge to the evangelical community in its concerns about how to promote the Judeo-Christian ethic as foundational to our culture and society. She challenges various traditional evangelical perspectives as to precisely how a faith commitment on an issue like homosexuality pertains to the role of the government in light of the constitution, the rights of the majority and the minority, pluralism and social order, and the common and the public good. As she systematically reviews the various philosophical, ethical, constitutional, and legal aspects to these considerations, it becomes abundantly clear that the Christian response to homosexuality must be defined at a variety of levels. How one engages the issue in terms of personal faith and morality may be altogether different from how one engages the issue in behalf of a struggling loved one or friend. In turn, one's engagement of this issue will be tempered when it applies to public demonstration or social protest by a militant stranger, versus a court-related civil suit on behalf of the right for a same-sex marriage license, versus legislative initiatives at a state or federal level, versus constitutional considerations at the highest levels of the judiciary, versus the foundational institutions of our society and culture as they are impacted upon by such policy considerations. Simply put, a Christian response at one level may not necessarily follow or be appropriate at an altogether different level where the configuration of rights and responsibilities and the working out of the Kingdom of God in the midst of conflicting values and tensions may take on an entirely different dynamic. Yet, so often within evangelicalism we assume that a simple Biblical precept drives a moral stance, and hence, one's response to an issue irrespective of the social or political layer or context.

Likewise, when considering majority and minority rights within the context of our public institutions, and in particular, our public schools, similar issues apply. Jonathan Parker, a professor of education at Huntington College in Huntington, IN, considers the issue of whether and how homosexuality should be dealt with within the public schools. When considering how our faith should inform stances on public policy issues such as the consideration of homosexuality within our schools, Parker does an excellent job of sensitizing the reader to the fact that such policy considerations are a two-edged sword. What one advocates in terms of tolerance or restriction for the homosexual in our present cultural climate can very well pertain to similar policy considerations in terms of a Judeo-Christian perspective within the curriculum, policy, and practices of students and teachers in our schools. In the end, is the cause of Christ best served for our children and for the society at large if a climate of diversity, tolerance, and openness is fostered within the public forum of our schools? Or is it best for Christians to confront and delegitimize those lifestyles and groups within the public sector which they feel to be fundamentally incompatible with the Christian faith or which threaten the moral and social well-being of our children. Just what is a balanced and reasonable approach for evangelicals in this regard? Whatever one's views, Parker ends with an admonishment---Caveat emptor .

This theme issue then concludes with a series of book reviews that are very important, in that they bring to bear on this discussion some of the most significant recent books by Christian scholars. Although the range of perspectives on this issue vary a great deal among the books represented in these reviews, the critiques offered by these book review authors are thoughtful and helpful in directing the reader to still other resources that could provide a significant tempering of perspective.

Taken, together, let me again offer this hope and encouragement to the reader. Within this theme issue are the resources to enhance the perspective of any who are open and seeking. In subtle and in dramatic ways, the ideas, perspectives, biblical and disciplinary resources available in the articles which follow can be used by God to transform our views to those that are more thoroughly thoughtful, sensitive, balanced, and Christian. If it has done that, then this theme issue has been a salt and light in taking us from the horns of a dilemma to the horns of the altar.

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