Looking Back on Cornerstone – The Gays Have Their Day

Cornerstone.pngProbably the most anticipated element of Cornerstone that I was involved with was a panel discussion entitled, “Gay Rights or Wrongs,” which was a conversation about how the church should approach the issue of GLBT persons. (I wrote about other aspects of Cornerstone last week.)

This was an exceptional moment in the 26-year history of Cornerstone since they had never before had a pro-GLBT-inclusion advocate as a speaker. In fact, as I noted last week, even as recently as five years ago, the seminars mainly had to do with the merits of creationism, pro-life strategy sessions, and evidential apologetics. The fact that I was there, and that recent speakers have included the likes of Phyllis Tickle, Chris Heuertz, Richard Twiss, Brian McLaren, Jay Bakker, and Shane Claiborne will, to some, show the slippery slope slide of Cstone into rampant, anything-goes liberalism. But to those of us who are a bit more rational about such things, it is evidence of the overall shift (dare I say, emergence) of evangelicalism.


On the panel with me were Rich Amesbury, a professor of ethics at Claremont School of Theology, Andrew Marin of the Marin Foundation, Christine Sneeringer from Worthy Creations Ministry, and Frank Carrasco of Exodus International.

Frank and Christine are both “ex-gay,” according to their testimony. When asked, they made it clear that they thought that persons could be cured of what they called “unnatural same sex attractions.” At one point, I asked that they panel use the words “gay” or “lesbian,” since it seems to me that “same sex attraction” is simply an evangelical euphemism for these terms.

But, to their credit, Frank and Christine were not strident. They both spoke candidly of their love for the “gay community,” and professed to having many gay friends. They did not imply at any point that gay persons could not enter the Kingdom of Heaven, nor did they imply that homosexual sex is a worse sin than any other sin.  At one point, Christine even said that Exodux is not an “evangelism ministry” — in other words, Exodus does not try to get people out of homosexuality.

That got Andrew Marin’s ire up. In what was the only moment on the panel that approached contentious, he challenged Christine on that point, asking just what Exodus is about if not evangelizing people out of gayness. Christine replied that Exodus merely helps those who want out of homosexuality.

Otherwise, Andrew reiterated the main point of his book and his seminars: the evangelical approach to GLBT persons has been abominable, and it hasn’t accomplished anything but hurting gays and widening the rift between gays and the church. The first move, according to Andrew, must be love. First love. Once you’ve got that right, you can consider your next move.

Rich focused on the “heteronormativity” in our society, arguing that the discrimination against GLBT persons is because of the social constructs around sexuality rather than around theological or biblical arguments. Heteros have had the hegemony of majority and used it to oppress non-heteros.

For my part, I proposed that sexuality is a much more complex phenomenon than the church is usually willing to admit. We have these categories — “gay” and “straight;” “male” and “female” — when, in fact, many people don’t fall in line quite as we would like them to. (I use the term phenomenon purposefully, since one’s sexuality is ultimately one’s own experience of the phenomena of feelings and chemical processes and social expectations.) What, I asked, does the church do to a boy who is born with undescended testicles? Is Jesus’ day, he would have been thrown into a field to die of exposure, but we would consider that inhumane. However, where does that person fit in our communities of faith.

At that point, a hand went up in the back of the tent, and a person testified that, as a hermaphrodite, she’s found it nearly impossible to fit in in a church or in society. And a gay teenager in the front asked if the church would accept him if he got married to a man and adopted children someday. And a straight teen asked why she feels pressure to steer every conversation she has with her gay friends toward conversion.

Excellent discussion ensued, ably moderated by Michael Spencer.

Afterward, I spoke to my new friend in the back of the tent, and I was thrilled to find out that she’s found a church home in an emergent community of faith that I know well.  However, as we spoke, two other former lesbians with Exodus hovered, literally holding an open Bible, hoping to have a moment to talk…
 

  • Your Name

    “Afterward, I spoke to my new friend in the back of the tent, and I was thrilled to find out that she’s found a church home in an emergent community of faith that I know well. However, as we spoke, two other former lesbians with Exodus hovered, literally holding an open Bible, hoping to have a moment to talk…”
    So it is ok for you to affirm her in your views and beliefs but because two people from Exodus would like to connect with her, that is bad? You seem to cast them in a poor light by using language that paints them negatively.
    However, good article and these are the same questions that have come to me in conversations, especially about hermaphrodites. But, I cannot say that the Bible is open to homosexuality and to look at it any less than a sin is antiscriptural. Loving the sinner, as we all need, should be the main basis.
    Of course, the church hasn’t done very well with this either, they say they “love the sinner” with their own veiled agenda in the background. This issue seems a lot more complicated than it needs to be but isn’t anything that humans get involved in?

  • http://www.benlemery.com Ben

    Argh your thing needed to be refreshed, just reposting so I have my information up.
    “Afterward, I spoke to my new friend in the back of the tent, and I was thrilled to find out that she’s found a church home in an emergent community of faith that I know well. However, as we spoke, two other former lesbians with Exodus hovered, literally holding an open Bible, hoping to have a moment to talk…”
    So it is ok for you to affirm her in your views and beliefs but because two people from Exodus would like to connect with her, that is bad? You seem to cast them in a poor light by using language that paints them negatively.
    However, good article and these are the same questions that have come to me in conversations, especially about hermaphrodites. But, I cannot say that the Bible is open to homosexuality and to look at it any less than a sin is antiscriptural. Loving the sinner, as we all need, should be the main basis.
    Of course, the church hasn’t done very well with this either, they say they “love the sinner” with their own veiled agenda in the background. This issue seems a lot more complicated than it needs to be but isn’t anything that humans get involved in?

  • http://www.makesha.com Makeesha

    Sounded like one of the better conversations ‘the church’ has had throughout recent history…that’s refreshing. I totally agree with your trajectory – sexuality and gender is indeed more nuanced and complicated than most in evangelicalism would care to admit or even care to learn about. They want it to be simple so that their values and rules can be clear cut and simple.
    I think those of us who consider ourselves progressives, Christians and not landing hard on the straight side of the spectrum (but in very happy and satisfying straight marriages) recognize this and are speaking out more than ever before…which is shifting the tenor of the conversation…I hope. I think this is especially effective when men are willing to speak out about the nuances of their own sexuality and gender identity – as a society, we’ve always been more comfortable with the fluidity of female sexual orientation and gender identity.

  • Nathan Myers

    Tony,
    Good article. Though I don’t agree with your inclusive viewpoint, I’m glad that there are better conversations taking place amongst disciples of Jesus regarding sexuality.
    That said, I’d echo Ben’s comment above. It was clear to see you setting up to cast Exodus in a negative light from the very beginning, so I wasn’t surprised by your little narrative hook at the end. But, I guess we all have our perspectives, so why wouldn’t I expect you to stack the deck in that direction?
    The most important issue brought up in your post here is the question of love. Yes, I agree with Andrew, the first step must be love. And the evangelical community has done an abominable job with that. But what is love, then? Is it unconditional acceptance no matter what? Is that what love is? It’s what our culture pushes. I personally find that to be just as unhealthy as steering all conversations with homosexuals to a point of reminding them of a belief that they’re sinning.
    We have to come up with a better, more deeply Biblical, more practical and relational form of love. I don’t see sound rooting on your part, and I don’t see it with much of the evangelical right. Granted, you help restore dignity to persons mistreated, and I don’t want to marginalize that importance. I’ll leave my comments at that.
    Nate Myers

  • http://Astatum.net Andrew

    I’m thrilled to hear of the good convo. I wish that my own (supposedly) more “moderate/progressive” baptist community (which will go unnamed but whose website can be found at http://www.thefellowship.info) would have been willing to have such a conversation at their recent gathering in Houston. Wish I could’ve been there with you!
    Peace, A.T.

  • Anon

    I get the sense that Exodus folks don’t really want to have openly gay folks in the church, at least of the non-celibate, referring to themselves as “gay” or “lesbian” as opposed to “one who struggles with same sex attractions.” My sense is that they’d view a more inclusive position towards gays as undermining their own struggles or as a source of temptation and envy.
    I think Tony is right to be skeptical of the Exodus folks. They have a terrible track record of actually succeeding in changing anyone’s sexual orientation. They refuse to allow any objective research to be done on their methods and success rates. In any case, “praying the gay away” doesn’t really seem to work, and it often results in LGBT folks ditching the church entirely when we finally do come to terms with our sexuality.

  • http://homebrewedchristianity.com tripp fuller

    Rich Amesbury is awesome.

  • Ted Seeber

    I’m beginning to wonder if God’s love is truly unconditional, for all of us. And how incredibly stupid it would be if it was- for in modern America at least, one cannot sin if one is loved unconditionally. Unconditional love erases sin.
    I prefer a loving father to that- and as a father, my love is NOT unconditional. My child experiences discipline from me at times, when necessary, and thus, my love is not unconditional. But I’d suggest that the discipline of conditional love is closer to the Greek of Agape, than the uncritical, unconditional love of modern America, where, to paraphrase Pope Benedict XVI in his latest encyclical, we have rights but no duty- and thus, have reduced right to mere license.

  • http://missional.ca Jamie Arpin-Ricci

    Hey Ben,
    In Tony’s defense, the posture of the people (Bibles in hand) is a loaded image. While I do not question their sincerity, I understand completely Tony’s concern. When I invited my lesbian friend to my high school graduation (from a Christian school), a group was standing in the wings in the EXACT same way. When she was alone, they did corner her and subject her to unloving judgment.
    I am not suggesting that this is what the people Tony saw were going to do. However, the image of identified “ex-gay” ministry types waiting with open Bibles in hand, at best, reflects their insensitivity/ignorance to the bigotry that people in the GLBT community face.
    Peace,
    Jamie

  • ryan

    Soooo were emergent Christians are about having conversations, but once you disagree with them they bust out their favorite code word of being “skeptical” of that person’s sincerity/honesty. Which really just means you think their view is horrible (those of Exodus in this instance) and should not be given consideration in true conversation. Nice.

  • Dave Horsman

    Thanks Tony for the updates on Cstone. I’m sure you have written on your views of gays and their place in the church before, but I can’t seem to find it. All I can find on google is hate site links when I try and search for a blog archive.
    Could you post a link if you get a chance?
    Peace,
    Dave

  • Gregg

    1. Calling the panel discussion a “conversation” is inaccurate. The panel was biased in favor of pro-GLBT-inclusion advocates. The two Exodus International speakers were not theologians and therefore unable to argue against the academic arguments of Jones and Amesbury. As a result the pro-GLBT-inclusion advocates started with the assumption that GLBT behavior is not sinful. On another site, Mr. Jones favors this type of “conversation” stating “it’s good that a conservative scholar wasn’t on the panel, is that he (and, surely, it would have been a he) would have unswervingly talked about biblical passages. I’ve been on panels like that. It doesn’t help anyone. We all know that the ways we read scripture don’t jibe, and that makes all the difference.”
    2. Mr. Jones, as is his custom, misrepresents Cornerstone’s past to advance his theory of “the overall shift (dare I say, emergence) of evangelicalism”. With the exception of pro-GLBT-inclusion advocates (until this year), Cornerstone has always had a wide range of speakers calling for change within the church. Tom Sine and Dr. Stanley Grenz come to mind.
    3. “However, as we spoke, two other former lesbians with Exodus hovered, literally holding an open Bible, hoping to have a moment to talk…”. What is Mr. Jones implying? Why was this statement made? Mr. Jones, since it obviously caught your attention, when you walked away what happened? Tell us the rest of the story, instead of attempting to put Exodus in a poor light.

  • http://www.benlemery.com Ben

    Hey Jamie,
    Let me disagree a little bit with you. Tony isn’t sharing concern, he is attempting to paint people with a broad paintbrush to create a negative perception.
    One negative experience doesn’t negate all similar experiences. It is simply stating that Tony does this far too often and to be fair, so do I. haha. It is a difficult thing to write objectively when you are so cornered into your ideology. But when it starts to demonize others for their views or at least leave you with a perception that they are bad because they want to share their views, then that is just unfair.

  • Susan

    Good article, Tony. Your concerns about the Exdous people hovering with Bibles is a real one. The bible has so often been used as a bludgeon, a weapon against LGBTQ people. I would have seen those bibles as a wedge or wall waiting to be thrust into my face. I don’t know if straight people understand what it feels like to have people arguing about and questioning their very souls: the source of love within them; arguing about whether the love they experience in their lives is of God or of something else; questioning their relationships to God and loved ones, their call to love and be loved in the way in which they have been created by God.
    Because so many people struggle with the sins of homophobia and biblical idolatry, we do need conversations and articles like these, unfortunately, but it still feels as if in these conversations LGBTQ people are treated as objects rather than subjects; inferior rather than on a par with other Christians; scrutinized and judged and objectified rather than loved and accepted fully for who God created them to be. To know that so many Christians see the very essence of our beings as “sinful” or flawed, often makes Christian fellowship very hard for LGBTQ people. The judgment that still pervades the church still drives, and has driven, so many LGBTQ people away from Christ and the body of Christ.
    Just to try to make my point: I wonder what it would be like for heterosexual people to hear that large numbers of LGBTQ Christians had big meetings and discussions on the issue of heterosexual people and what kind of “place” they have in the church; and discussions on heterosexual people’s flawed relationships and their sins against the Holy Spirit. What if LGBTQ people met in large numbers and held debates on how we can bring heterosexual people out of their sexually hegemonic, Spirit-thwarting judgmentalism and into a deeper understanding of God’s expansive and radically inclusive love?
    Of course I”m not saying all straight people are that way. I love and appreciate my straight allies and extend my love to all people who enter this debate in order to try to end bigotry and ignorance. I’m just trying to illustrate what it feels like to be an object of controversy because of who one was created and called, by God, to be.

  • TimD

    Tony, you posted an article at Patheos on gay marriage.
    I have posted a response article. I invite you to respond. We will post your response article. As you will see, my article is critical of yours in several respects. Yet I offer my thoughts, and the opportunity to respond, in the spirit of Christian charity.
    To see Tony’s article and my response article, go to the following main page. You’ll see “tabs” (Featured, Faith@Work…). The last one is the “Public Square” tab, and there you’ll find our articles:
    http://www.patheos.com/Gateways/Evangelical.html
    Thanks, and God bless.

  • http://apolarity.com Adrenalin Tim

    The ‘hook’: ‘…hoping to have a moment to talk…’ gives the lie to their earlier claim that ‘Exodus merely helps those who want out of homosexuality.’

  • http://missional.ca Jamie Arpin-Ricci

    Hey Ben,
    I see your point and recognize it’s validity. However, knowing Tony as I do (and as a friend who has openly disagreed with him, as he can tell you), I truly believe that Tony’s statement at the end of the post were not stating ideological concern, but pastoral. Would I have included the statement? Probably not, but I think you are reading the wrong intentions into his inclusion of it here.
    Care to weigh in, Tony? Don’t blame you if not.
    Peace,
    Jamie

  • shak

    Alot of folk over look the concept of the eunuch in the bible as a third sex
    http://homosexualeunuchsandthebible.com/index.html

  • http://blog.beliefnet.com/churchbasementroadshow/ Tony Jones

    Ben, I reported what happened, from my perspective. I’m not attempting objectivity. In fact, I believe that objectivity is a unicorn — it doesn’t exist. If it’s demonizing to report someone’s behavior, then…well, then we’re all screwed.

  • Aideen

    Tony, God bless you man.
    Also, *LOL* at the Exodus people wanting to approach the intersex woman – what exactly would they have to offer her anyway?

  • Your Name

    It’s exciting to hear that Cornerstone was open to a diverse panel.
    Re: transgender in the church, what about Paul’s saying/song, “In Christ there is no Greek nor jew, male nor female [. . .]“?

  • Anon

    Also, *LOL* at the Exodus people wanting to approach the intersex woman – what exactly would they have to offer her anyway?
    Something like this: “Out of an abundance of Christ-like caution, we’re here to advice you that you should never engage in any sexual activity. Your ambiguous sex is God’s way of telling you to never lie with any human being, lest you inadvertently commit the sin of homosexuality. If you need resources in overcoming all of your sexual urges that may naturally arise in you, our ministry is here to help people like you. God bless you and have a nice day.”

  • Jules

    “Something like this: “Out of an abundance of Christ-like caution, we’re here to advice you that you should never engage in any sexual activity. Your ambiguous sex is God’s way of telling you to never lie with any human being, lest you inadvertently commit the sin of homosexuality. If you need resources in overcoming all of your sexual urges that may naturally arise in you, our ministry is here to help people like you. God bless you and have a nice day.”
    After reading that I think I just puked in my mouth…..
    I’ve been having little encounters with ex-gay people as of late. They have really repackaged their stuff as of late. If you look closely though its the same thing. They have yet to admit their “ministry” has done harm. They have yet to admit that the reason they have had to change their tactic is because that is the only thing they can change.
    Like I said at imonk’s blog, I’m sure they presented a candy and roses deal, but its far from that. When they start to admit a lot of damage they have done in all of their years then we can talk.

  • Anon

    They have really repackaged their stuff as of late. If you look closely though its the same thing.
    It seems like they mostly do a lot of rhetoric of “personal choice” lately. The trouble is that when they actually talk about LGBT people’s lives, they still have a rather nasty tendency to paint a terrible picture based on unfair and untrue generalizations. You’ll still hear the bogus statistics about some insane number of sex partners the average gay man has or about the average gay male life expectancy being 43 because we’re all dieing of AIDS constantly because of our immoral lifestyle (you know, “the homosexual lifestyle” that we all lead, incapable as we are of fashioning a style of living distinct from every other avowed homosexual).
    My own take is that ex-gay folks fear seeing more LGBT acceptance in the church because they see it as marginalizing their struggle and their “ministry.” It’s much harder to peddle your services to a teenager questioning his or her sexuality if there is a happy gay couple openly attending services. But, I do hope Tony is right and that the days of opposition to gayness being the shibboleth of Evangelicals are numbered.

  • panthera

    I have had conversations with white Christians reflecting on their experiences during the 1950′s through the 1970′s on the integration of Negroes into their churches.
    They speak of many of the same conversations and elements of discourse as Tony does.
    Ultimately, of course, the whole anti-gay faction of the Christian church gives the lie to their ‘love’ for us. People who practice love take the time and trouble to analyze reality and confront the dichotomy between their beliefs and God’s natural world.
    Christianists love to attack us because it is so much easier to focus on our purported sins then to actually work on developing their own relationship with God. As a gay man, I owe Christians like Tony a great debt for going to bat against these hateful people.
    Thanks, Tony. I appreciate your efforts.

  • Husband

    ” It was clear to see you setting up to cast Exodus in a negative light from the very beginning,”
    Nathan, EI sets themselves up in a negative light. They seem to believe God made a mistake when God made me gay. God didn’t. That, and they ones I’ve met are simply not nice people. I know several of themwho have not been ‘converted’. They simply lie and take their paychecks. Sad, really.
    “But what is love, then? Is it unconditional acceptance no matter what? Is that what love is?”
    Well, that’s certainly the model Christ gave us, and it’s wworked well between Him and me. Sorry you find it “unhealthy”.
    Regarding “steering all conversations with homosexuals to a point of reminding them of a belief that they’re sinning”, why must I believe (be forced to ‘believe’) what an EIer believes? Speaking of society ‘pushing’ things? My Church and my faith teaches my that my committed love is “sin”. Maybe I should be “pushing” EIers to believe what I believe. No, that wouldn’t be freedom of religion, would it?

  • Husband

    ” … is not sin …”

  • ArtBoy

    For God/Bible-lovers, this issue revolves around what the scriptures say, and nothing is going to change that. Personally, I have no stake in whether or not the Bible condones homosexual practice. But it simply doesn’t. I can’t help that. Frankly, I would be relieved if it did, as it would make resolution of this issue a lot easier. The groundwork laid in the 2nd ch of the Torah, “Therefore a man…cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh” is simply never given up; not in the OT, with Jesus, or in the NT letters.
    My sexual orientation is to have sex with 16 year-old girls and married women whom I happen to find attractive. There is no question that I was born this way, however, it would be Biblically incorrect to say that God made me that way. Yet, having been born-again, by faith I have no intention of ever acting on my aforementioned “natural” desires. We come to God on His terms, as written in His word.
    LGBT sex isn’t any worse than heterosexual sin, but neither is it somehow “special”.

  • http://eyesofhope.wordpress.com Theresa Seeber

    Tony, I have said it before and I will say it again, You are my hero. I honor you and I value you and I am ever grateful for you. I wish we lived closer so David and I could have more time to spend with you.
    I was once taught that I needed to pray away my own bisexuality. I did, and even believed for a time that God had delivered me. But he didn’t. He did do something for me, though, and the difference in my life was so marked that I could believe for a time he had delivered me. He delivered me from the lustful temptations I was suffering from, the ones that the secular gay community seems to be characterized by. I don’t mean my attractions, or any of the other things that make me gay. I mean the things that caused me to see sexuality and women in general as something other than the beautiful gift of God they are. I won’t go into further detail, so if I have lost you I guess that is just a chance I am willing to take. The point is there are things related to our sexuality God would desire to help us overcome, to be free from. But our sexual orientation itself isn’t one of them.
    And by the way, I disagree with you ArtBoy in your assessment of what you call your sexual orientation. To desire young ladies, or to desire married ladies, is not a sexual orientation by definition. But I think I see the point you are trying to make with it.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X