Friday, January 30, 2009

Searching Issues: What is the Christian Attitude Towards Homosexuality?

In my last review, I pointed out the difference between tracts that sow hatred and fear towards others, and those that are just trying to 'help'. Jack Chick's The Birds And The Bees instructs children to fear gay people, so I call it a work of hate. This Searching Issues booklet, written by Nicky Gumbel and published by Alpha North America, falls into the 'help' category, fortunately. It's still a load of crap, but Nicky's heart, while not in the right place, is at least in the right place's general vicinity.

It starts well, I have to say. Rather than condemning or judging, Nicky Gumbel advocates understanding and compassion "toward those for whom their homosexual orientation is a daily struggle." I doubt many in the gay community would consider their orientation to be any more of a struggle than their straight counterparts, but I'll let it go. After all, he acknowledges that "the church's attitude to (gay) people has often been one of prejudice, ignorance and oppression."

However, he goes on to say that "love does not involve condoning sin." Does Nicky consider being gay a sin? Not exactly. He points out the difference "between homosexual orientation and homosexual behavior", and makes clear that only the behaviour is sinful. In other words, if you are gay, you'll be fine as long as you pretend not to be. "The biblical writers clearly disapprove of same-sex sexual practices," Nicky tells us, adding that the few scriptural references to such practices "are brief but uncompromisingly negative."

So, as with most tracts, we are caught between the rock and the hard place of supposed biblical inerrancy; if the Bible says so, then it is so. Not a surprising view, especially since this booklet seems to have been written for Christians and not secular readers. There is no cause to question the Bible's 'truth' for such readers; Nicky only seeks to remind them of their devotion, then tell them what those 'uncompromisingly negative' biblical passages mean.

Where Nicky really gets into hot water with me is when he discusses the causes of sexual orientation, and whether said orientation can be changed. "Some people believe that homosexual orientation is innate or inborn," Nicky says, then he tells us "there is no conclusive scientific evidence" to support that claim. But, "it is possible that homosexual orientation is something that may be acquired or learned." Nicky tries to seem as if he is giving both sides of the argument equal weight, but it soon becomes clear where he truly stands. First he compares homosexuality to congenital disease, arguing that "even if there is a scientific basis," it's still not necessarily good. Then he cites a survey by the British Medical Association in which 14 gay people "were totally released after Christian conversion." I checked the end notes to see when that study was done... 1955. Not exactly recent data, Nick.

Perhaps Nicky realized that a study from the fifties might not be enough, so he tells a story of some gay men he converted, one of whom "had an extraordinary vision of Jesus" in his bedroom before giving his life to Christ. He broke up with his boyfriend, who went on to have his own "amazing vision of Jesus." Nicky doesn't give us their names (or, for that matter, any "conclusive scientific evidence"), so we have to take his story on faith.

This booklet ends with a plea to Christians "to love people and welcome them with open arms into the church." That would be great, if Nicky didn't also advocate speaking out "against the practice of homosexuality." After all, according to him, "it is wrong to promote a homosexual lifestyle in schools," and "it is wrong to ordain unrepentant, practicing homosexuals into Christian leadership." Those last two statements seem to have come from nowhere, and I wonder if he squeezed them in at the last minute.

"Love is the key from first to last," Nicky writes, and I believe him. Which is to say, I believe that he believes it. As such, I don't consider this to be a work of hate. I do, however, believe it is dangerous. In spite of the many appeals to love the gay and hate the gayness, this booklet seeks to convince with flimsy logic and data that his intended readers are unlikely to question. It is also clearly biased, despite its attempts or desires to be otherwise. At least it doesn't contain the hatred on display in so many other works of this nature. It's a step forward, but too small a step in an age when we really should be running.

Likely to Convert - N/A
Likely to Convert Gays - 1
Artwork - 3
Ability to Hold Interest - 7
Unintentional Hilarity - 2
Level of Disturbing or Offensive Content - 7