Friday, September 28, 2012

Love Won Out in Mechanicsburg, PA, Part II

Sign reads: "What if I think I'm gay? Was I
born this way? Can I be gay and Christian?
Is change possible?  Does God still love me?
What does the Bible say? The world has
answers for him. DO YOU?"

(To read part I, click here)
On September 22nd, I observed a Love Won Out conference hosted by Exodus International at the West Shore Evangelical Free Church in Mechanicsburg, PA. After the morning's testimonials, I attended a breakout session hosted by Dan Keefer entitled "Homosexuality in a Post-Christian Culture." Keefer, executive director of Day Seven Ministries, offered listeners a paradigm for practicing ethics in a non-Christian culture.

Keefer shared an anecdote about Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day, describing a group of five pro-LGBTQ supporters he saw while waiting in line at his local Chick-fil-A. The five people were peaceful, sporting a rainbow flag to show their support for LGBTQ rights. As Keefer waited to order, he saw a car with bumper magnets that read "Jesus saves" and "Be sure your sins will find you out." When the LGBTQ supporters saw the magnets, Keefer walked over and talked to them, expressing his disapproval of the magnets' message. He assured them that not all Christians are like that, and they shook hands. Keefer shared the story to show listeners why he doesn't like to see scripture used to "club" people.

I found this anecdote revealing. It suggested to the audience that disapproving of homosexuality and patronizing Chick-fil-A were not homophobic; rather, those sporting angry magnets on their cars were the real homophobes. In effect, it depicts homophobia as something over there, something other people perpetrate, rather than a trait of Exodus itself.

Keefer contrasted Biblical ethics with Greek thought, cultural relativism, utilitarianism, and situational ethics in an attempt to demonstrate why Biblical ethics were superior. In my opinion, he did this by presenting oversimplified caricatures of the the above ethical systems and a monolithic picture of Christian ethics, which in reality are extremely diverse. According to Keefer, Christian ethics understand that philosophy and morals are only helpful when the Bible is used as a "foundation" and "filter" for moral principles. In such a belief system, God is the ultimate arbiter of right and wrong, and love (as defined by God) undergirds morality. Thus, moral decisions are made on the basis of the Bible, prayer, and conscience.

>Christians, he argued, are called to engage the surrounding culture with love, civility, honesty, justice, and integrity. He defined justice as God's defense of the poor and oppressed, integrity as lack of hypocrisy and moral purity, and civility as respectful treatment of others that acknowledges their value as people.

LGBTQ supporters might argue that those virtues are lacking from anti-gay voices! I thought.

Keefer observed that pro-LGBTQ people often point out the moral hypocrisy of Christians, telling listeners that they need to ask whether or not they've fixated on homosexuality while neglecting other moral issues. He listed several principles from Turning Controversy into Church Ministry by William P. Campbell, including avoiding extremes, embracing the whole of scripture, presenting a message of both grace and truth, and realizing that no one is unreachable with God. To my annoyance, he repeated a line that I'd heard many times from Exodus speakers: the goal isn't to go from homosexuality to heterosexuality, but from homosexuality to holiness.

In the afternoon, I attended another breakout session by Joe Dallas entitled "The Gay Gospel," in which Dallas attempted to deconstruct queer theology. Dallas told listeners about his early attempts to reconcile his Christianity and homosexuality, including his time with the affirming Metropolitan Community Church in the late 1970s. The MCC’s gay-affirming interpretation of the Bible appealed to him because it brought an end to his inner struggle, he said. Unfortunately, after six years with the MCC, he decided that he’d been deluding himself and quickly repented of his homosexuality.

Dallas described pro-gay theology as an interpretation of scripture that “revises” Biblical passages on same-sex sexual activity. He spoke of pro-gay theology alongside “pro-gay ideology” which tries to convince people that homosexuality is a normal phenomenon. The former argues that homosexuality is ordained by God, while the latter relies on psychology, philosophy, and other fields, he claimed. Dallas told the audience that pro-gay theology affirms many of the basic tenets of Christianity (the Trinity, the divinity of Jesus Christ, etc.), but claims that Biblical passages on homosexuality have been mistranslated or misinterpreted. He accused pro-gay theology of indulging in eisogesis (imposing meaning on scripture) rather than proper exegesis (drawing meaning from scripture).

Dallas reviewed several key Biblical passages used to condemn homosexuality, such as Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13. He emphasized that Biblical law is good and that Jesus came to fulfill the law rather than destroy it. To the common criticism that it is hypocritical to embrace the anti-gay parts of the Old Testament while ignoring other passages on food, clothing, etc., Dallas offered several weak replies. First, he claimed that the New Testament teaches that aspects of Old Testament law, such as animal sacrifice, are no longer necessary, but that the New Testament confirms some of the moral rules laid down in the Old Testament, such as the ban on homosexuality. Additionally, he argued that some commandments are permanent and transcend the law, such as the command to love God and neighbor. Dallas also rejected the claim that Biblical passages on homosexuality are referring to pagan religious rites (see here for an example) rather than consensual same-sex sexual activity as we know it. The term used to condemn homosexuality in the Old Testament -- toevah, translated as "abomination" -- is also used in scripture to refer to ceremonial impurities and wrong things, Dallas claimed, adding that there is no indication that such things could be permitted in different circumstances.

Dallas also discussed passages in the New Testament such as Romans 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, and 1 Timothy 1:9-11, arguing that they too referred to homosexuality. Nothing in the Old or New Testaments offers guidance to same-sex couples or praises same-sex unions, he observed, so if God approved of same-sex couples, why would he be so negligent on the issue in the Bible? To boot, scripture consistently condemns homosexuality while praising heterosexual unions, he insisted, making its position clear.

At the end of his talk, Dallas concluded that people embrace pro-gay theology because it tells them what they want to hear about homosexuality and because it reflects the nature of the times we live in. He expressed annoyance with people who defend themselves by saying, "I'm not a theologian," which is not an excuse for Biblical ignorance, he claimed.

Joe Dallas' criticism of queer theology had several major flaws. First, he held up the Bible as an inerrant, divinely inspired book, rather than a collection of documents shaped by the assumptions of their authors that should be interpreted with nuance. Second, in his rush to justify Biblical homophobia, he neglected the full content of some of those passages, such as Leviticus 20:13 which demands capital punishment for male-on-male sex acts. Does it make sense to quote such passages as authoritative while ignoring their violent implications? Finally, would these arguments make sense to Christians who see love and justice, rather than wrath as the foundation of their faith?

In conclusion, the Love Won Out conference in Mechanicsburg tried to promote a softer form of homophobia, but its messages were still deeply troubling. Conference speakers framed homosexuality and faith as mutually exclusive, rejecting LGBTQ-affirming interpretations of Christianity. The conference simultaneously rejected stale stereotypes about LGBTQ persons while featuring testimonials in which homosexuality and dysfunction were spoken of in the same breath. A subtle Christians-versus-the-world message pervaded the conference, depicting mainstream society as misguided on LGBTQ issues. In short, Love Won Out showed me that while Exodus International's message has evolved in small ways, its core homophobia remains.


  1. Great reporting, as always. I wonder if the softer approach just gets drowned out by the ardent homophobes who get attracted to this kind of an organization. The it's-wrong-but-it's-just-another-sin crowd gets overshadowed by the it's-wrong-and-I'm-repulsed-by-it crowd.

    1. Wise Fool -- Thanks. There definitely seemed to be both voices at the conference, but I suspect that the two categories get blurred more often than we think.

  2. Did they discuss any political topics other than the Chic-fil-a issue. Previous Love Won Out Conferences have gone to some length on this. I was wondering if this was diffrent

    1. Dave -- I didn't hear a lot of political talk at the talks I attended at Love Won Out. There might have been talk of political topics in other workshops, but I can't definitively say.

  3. Sometimes I think the "benevolent" homophobia is worse than the alternative in some ways. It's analogous to telling women they are powerful and loved by God while telling them the most important thing they can do is serve their husbands.

    1. Cognitive Dissenter -- It seems to be a common tactic of right-wing Christians to oppress someone while saying they love them. Whether this is to soothe the oppressor, the oppressed, or both is the question.


All comments are subject to moderation. Threatening, violent, or bigoted comments will not be published.