Symposium: Homosexuality and the Church
By Kenneth Lau
The Symposium took place on Saturday 17 October 1998 from 2:00 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. and was held at Faith Methodist Church in Singapore. It was organized by Centre for the Development of Christian Ministry, Trinity Theological College. After the seminar ended, the organizers said the study group would draft a statement setting out their findings. I asked if they intended to (i) incorporate feedback from homosexuals on the matter, and (ii) take into consideration positions adopted by other more liberal churches. The answer to both questions was no; the statement would be a position paper issued by the evangelical churches.
Homosexuality: A Biblical Perspective
Dr. Tan Kim Huat / Rev. . Dr. Choong Chee Pang
[Dr. Tan began the presentation.]
According to the speaker, it is important to listen to the word of God and obey his instructions, the interpretation of which is important but controversial. He said gay Christians claim that the Bible does not condemn homosexuality, but instead condemns promiscuity and exploitation, and that societal view are uninformed and biased.
The speaker said that the Bible does not go into technical issues of inclination or formative factors, but only addresses homosexual acts. The Old Testament evidence that gay Christians use to show support for homosexuality, for example Ruth and Naomi or David and Jonathan, do not contain descriptions of an explicit sexual element and should not therefore be considered.
In discussing Sodom and Gomorrah, the speaker said that the evidence here to condemn homosexuality was not clear cut. The inhabitants had apparently wanted to have sex with "other flesh", meaning probably the angels which Lot was sheltering.
The speaker noted that Jesus did not condemn homosexuality in the New Testament. However, there were many negative references by St. Paul regarding homosexuality.
[Dr. Choong took over the presentation at this point.]
The speaker focused on Romans 1:26-27, which he said talked about perversion of the human mind leading to idol worship and homosexuality. He called on gay Christians not to "distort and pervert" the Bible, and compared homosexuals negatively to murderers, saying that the latter at least had "a sense of shame". He ended by noting that elections to the House of Representatives in the United States would take place on 3 November 1998, and said that gay political clout was such that those who spoke out against homosexuality could not get elected.
Homosexuality: A Medical Perspective
Dr. Anthony Ang
The speaker explained that the development of sexuality was both biological and social. According to him, 5% males were homosexual. A few years back, there were articles in the journal Science suggesting that homosexuality had biological origins. Since then, other articles had been written disputing biological primacy.
The speaker mentioned various possible developmental factors contributing to homosexuality:
- Hormone levels during pregnancy. The speaker mentioned as an aside that his own three year old son liked rough-and-tumble play, and that he believed this made it unlikely his son would turn out to be homosexual.
- Absent father, intimate mother.
- Sexual abuse as a child.
- Problems with emotional intimacy with the opposite sex.
- Gambling theory — an adolescent which stumbled upon homosexual activity may be tempted to continue with this.
The speaker did however mention that an author of a scientific article who wrote that he had many of these developmental factors did not turn out to be gay. Regarding change, the speaker said that up to 30% of strongly-motivated individuals could experience "some degree of change", given the appropriate support.
Finally, the speaker said that some authors of scientific articles were not necessarily objective, and remarked that many of the articles supporting biological theories of homosexuality had been written by gay authors or those sympathetic to the cause.
Homosexuality: A Psychological Perspective
Mr. Anthony Yeo
The speaker mentioned that he is currently a Methodist, studied in a seminary in the United States and teaches at the Trinity Theological College. He began by saying that it is easy to state what is right or wrong when dealing from a biblical point of view but that his job was not so simple.
In the opinion of the speaker, those who had same-sex feelings were not devoid of any moral sense; their problem was how to cope with what they were experiencing. After spending 27 years spent counseling, the speaker said he found that life was not as simple as we would like it to be.
The people the speaker counseled were not political activists. They were people who "hurt a lot" and, even if Christian, cannot turn to the church because that is where they are often condemned. They struggle with of anxiety and depression, feelings of inadequacy with heterosexual relations, and this drove them into same-sex relations.
Sometimes same-sex couples who wanted to continue their relationship found it difficult but did not know what to do. The people who turned to him had an overwhelming sense of guilt, and his job was not to find out why they were like this, or to give reasons, but to instead help them.
The speaker spoke of the tension he experienced as a Christian and a counselor. It was easy to say that they should be heterosexual, and become non-promiscuous, but the definition of change is broad. Change can also mean stopping the undesired behavior, even though the orientation remains.
The speaker mentioned several reasons for therapy:
- Fear of homosexual inclination.
- Confusion about sexual identity.
- Need to talk about homosexual feelings.
- Fear of giving in to homosexual desires.
- Pressure to seek help because of non-feminine / non-masculine behavior, as the case may be.
- Same-sex partners with relationship problems.
- Being of a marriageable age and feeling pressure from family.
The speaker also touched on the many dilemmas he faced. There was the possibility that the emotions being experienced may not be good for bad since we all creations of God. There was such a thing after all as one's own "natural createdness". At this point, the speaker surprised many in the audience by admitting the possibility of same-sex attraction in many of his male friendships.
The possibility of bisexuality was brought up. There is a potential that we may be created for both man and woman. If emphasis were given to one particular area, there is a possibility that area would develop. The speaker mentioned that non-sexual friendships were also possible.
The speaker stressed that there are people who are hurting, and who may be as committed to their faith as anyone else. The dilemma was not that Grace was not present, but that we did not know how to interact with these people.
The speaker concluded that he may not have the answers but that his concern was to help people. While working with them, he noted that he was challenged about his own sexuality, and that he faced difficulty in connecting truth with its own experience.
Note: During the intermission, I asked the speaker if he would help homosexual people cope with their sexual orientation if they did not want to change. He said he would.
Homosexuality: A Sociological Perspective
Dr. Ho Kong Chong
The speaker began by noting that he was addressing the issue from the point of view of a sociologist raising issues for theologians to answer. He intended to take an ethical position, and could not "privilege Christian society".
An important thing to ask when sexual behavior is being regulated is whether or not the needs of society is served. The speaker said that significant portions of society are homophobic due to a perceived threat to heterosexual society. This tended to subject homosexuals to societal ridicule, leading them to feel threatened and keep their homosexuality secret, leading to a gay subculture.
Results of a study by Michael, Gagnon, Lauman & Kolata (1994) Sex in America p. 175 showed:
|Homosexual sexual desire
|Homosexual behavior last 5 years
|Homosexual sex since age 18
|Homosexual sex since puberty
Numbers however were important since they translate into votes.
Homosexuals generally wanted the rest of society to treat them as they would another ethnic group, and assimilate. Some however adopted a radical position with mass demonstrations and sit-ins, analogous to the politics adopted by Greenpeace to draw attention to injustice.
The speaker cautioned against thinking that homosexuals are a homogenous group.
How should homosexuality be treated? Medical opinion has changed rapidly during the past 30 years. The conservative attitude in the 1960's has given way to the position that it is a lifestyle choice and that homosexuals should be left alone. The speaker said that only "if it is learnt can we talk about treatment".
Should homosexuality be treated? The speaker noted the existence of laws regulating sex between men in Singapore, and police activity against homosexual men. He said that speaking as a sociologist, we should not look at what the Bible says. Consistency should be followed. If we are against casual sex, then we should be against both heterosexual as well as homosexual casual sex. There is a place for sexual ethics, but one-sided interpretations should be avoided.
The speaker concluded by discussing how Christians could engage the gay community:
- Other segments of society are coming around, especially the medical community. The speaker was confident that the rest of society would follow.
- The church needs to differentiate between the sin and the sinner, otherwise it would push the community further away.
- Close male friendships should not be condemned.
- Homophobia should be condemned. The speaker made reference to the Matthew Sheppard murder without referring to the victim by name.
Homosexuality: A Theological Perspective
Revd. Dr. William Wan / Revd. Dr. Simon Chan
[Dr. Wan began the presentation.]
The speaker noted that God created us for a special purpose, using Genesis to illustrate divine ordering and purpose. He said that if there were a clear intent for creation, then there was a possibility of thwarting that intent.
Genesis 27 was cited to illustrate the example of the creation in God's own image, of male and female. Man was created for woman, which was the intent of God. Using an analogy of indoor plumbing and outdoor plumbing, the speaker stressed the importance of "complementarity", saying that man was not intended to be alone.
Fellowship, said the speaker, was only possible because man was intended to be with woman. Any other ordering did not reflect the God's intention otherwise. This speaker also cited the commandment to be "fruitful and multiply", and ended by reiterating that the real perversion of homosexuality was the non-acceptance of God's ordered creation.
[Dr. Chan took over the presentation at this point.]
The speaker started by saying that feminists do not use the biological argument for homosexuality since this would undermine their social creation argument, which states that men and women's position in society is socially determined.
Feminists view relationships as being the result of the autonomous agents, each person having the right to enter the relationship. The speaker, however, held the view that relationships could not last as long as they were based on "rights" and "sexual dependence".
But what about committed same-sex relationships? The speaker admitted that this was a harder argument to dismiss. He said however that a committed same-sex relationship was difficult to resolve with the idea of "body persons", in which souls with bodies need to function properly with physical as well as spiritual congruence.
Although the speaker acknowledged that there could be many positive aspects of homosexual relationships, he finally dismissed them by saying that they could not offer "physical complementarity".
Homosexuality: A Pastoral Perspective
Revd. Dr. Robert Solomon / Dr. Donald Chia
[Dr. Solomon began the presentation.]
The speaker began by saying that his interest was not with regards to homosexuality per se, but instead with homosexuals in contact the Church. He noted that while the church could not dictate morality to the state, it should try to help the homosexual function as a person by adopting a moral perspective regarding the individual.
Homosexuality was regarded as: an act (what you do), a disposition (how you feel) as well as self-identification (who you are). There is a need to find congruence between all three aspects. The speaker cited the need to balance self-identification with disposition (instinct/desire) and revelation (word of God).
Pastoral care aspects center upon the following areas:
- Healing. When an act is contrary to who we are (being), this results in sin. When disposition is contrary to being, this would result in illness (if it is determined) and need to be treated.
- Reconciliation. This is the key aspect of pastoral ministry and deals with alienation. Is the homosexual more alienated than the rest of us? Reconciliation requires forgiveness and repentance.
- Reconciliation with others. This requires a recognition that the homosexual act is sinful and that celibacy is required. However, church acceptance is also required. The church should avoid "catastrophising" homosexuality; the speaker stressed that other sins were just as harmful, for example greed and pride.
- Reconciliation with self. If disposition is contrary to being then reconciliation is needed in the direction of being to achieve transformation.
- Sustenance. There often remains desire which cannot be resolved. The sustenance of the celibate homosexual is needed and it is often helpful to organize recovery and accountability groups.
- Guidance. This takes the formation of spiritual formation. Marriage is possible; some ex-homosexuals marry and thrive, but this cannot be forced.
The speaker then described various pastoral situations for the audience to consider. How should homosexuality be dealt with if discovered pre-baptismal? Post-baptismal? Should a celibate homosexual or ex-homosexual be accepted in a leadership position? Should a homosexual be given communion?
Finally, the speaker stressed the need to consider this sin in relation to other sins, giving the example of lust for a woman.
[Dr. Chia took over the presentation at this point.]
The speaker made the point that there is no scholarly consensus on the causes of homosexuality, but added that causation does not excuse behavior.
Question and Answer Session
The question and answer session lasted half an hour. Four members of the audience managed to ask questions during the allotted time, touching mainly on the teachings of St. Paul and the creation order argument advanced by Dr. Wan and Dr. Chan.
The last question was posed by Andrew, who identified himself as being queer and asked how the Churches intended to treat its homosexual members. The panel of speakers thanked him for his courage but did not give a satisfactory answer. Dr Solomon did however say that those who threw stones would be judged.