Top Ten Posts – 2011

To reflect on 2011, I have listed here the ten most popular posts in terms of visits this year. Two of the posts were written in prior years but were visited frequently this year. In addition to being popular, I think they are representative of the stories and issues which I wrote about this year.

1. The Trail of Tears remembered

2. Uganda update: Anti-Homosexuality Bill on tomorrow’s agenda

3. Committee chair says Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill may not be considered

4. What would dominionists do with gays?

5. A major study of child abuse and homosexuality revisited (2009)

6. NARTH is not primarily composed of mental health professionals

7. Only the gay die young: Examining the claims of shorter life expectancy for homosexuals (2007)

8. The evangelical blackout of research on sexual orientation

9. William Penn founded the Quakers and other tall tales from David Barton

10. Was the Jefferson Bible an evangelism tool?

Finding the Seven Mountain Teaching in Unexpected Places

Since publication in 2007, I have referred many people to the book, unChristian by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons.  In their book, Kinnaman and Lyons report that the church is known more for what it is against than what it is for. They also document the extreme anti-gay sentiment which dominates evangelicalism. Among young people outside the church, nine out of ten viewed Christians as anti-gay.

Part of my retreat from the culture war relates to the realization that evangelicals have earned this perception. Evangelicals have not stopped with disagreement, but actively opposed equal treatment of gays. And they have not stopped with political opposition. Evangelical thought leaders blame gays for every societal evil and do so with a venom that is often shocking. When I read unChristian, it seemed that the research reported there validated my worries that Christians were largely on the wrong track.

Until recently, I had referred people to the book without knowing much about the organization which produced it. UnChristian author Gabe Lyons runs a group called Q. On the Qideas website, Lyons describes Q as:

Q Ideas

Q was birthed out of Gabe Lyons’ vision to see Christians, especially leaders, recover a vision for their historic responsibility to renew and restore cultures. Inspired by Chuck Colson’s statement, “Christians are called to redeem entire cultures, not just individuals,” Gabe set out to reintroduce Christians to what had seemed missing in recent decades from an American expression of Christian faithfulness; valuing both personal and cultural renewal, not one over the other. Re-educating Christians to this orthodox and unifying concept has become central to the vision of Q.

I was surprised by two items in this description. One, Chuck Colson, a respected evangelical figure, has done a lot to earn Christians the anti-gay reputation that Lyons seems to lament in their book. For instance, today’s column from Colson complains about the President’s recent push to promote decriminalization (more about that in a coming post).

The second element which surprised me was the embrace of the cultural mandate – the belief that Christians are called to create a Christian society. A modern version of this view is that Christians are called to dominate the seven areas of culture and thereby create a Christian society. In an article, titled Influencing Culture, Lyons lays out the program:

HOW NOW SHALL WE INFLUENCE?

The idea of culture shaping is widely debated. Most people, and until recently myself included, implicitly believe that cultures are changed from the bottom-up and that to “change our culture, we need more and more individuals possessing the right values and therefore making better choices.” The problem is that it is only part of the solution. In a widely distributed briefing that was presented to The Trinity Forum called To Change the World, James Davison Hunter asserts, “It is this view of culture that also leads some faith communities to evangelism as their primary means of changing the world. If people’s hearts and minds are converted, they will have the right values, they will make the right choices, and the culture will change in turn.” 

Hunter goes on to say, “…the renewal of our hearts and minds is not only important, it is essential, indeed a precondition for a truly just and humane society. But by itself, it will not accomplish the objectives and ideals we hope for.” This could explain why Christianity as it is practiced by many well meaning, admirable Christians in the past decades has failed to have significant traction.

Cultures are shaped when networks of leaders, representing the different social institutions of a culture, work together towards a common goal: “Again and again we see that the impetus, energy and direction for changing the world were found where cultural, economic and often political resources overlapped; where networks of elites, who generated these various resources, come together in common purpose.”

Saving souls is not enough. “Networks of elites” must come together with the “common purpose” of creating a Christian culture. Then he describes the seven mountains teaching with the slightly different phrase “seven channels of cultural influence.”

The Seven Channels of Cultural Influence

What are the different social institutions of our culture that Hunter is referring to? They are the social institutions that govern any society, including business, government, media, church, arts & entertainment, education and the social sector. Their combined output of ideas, films, books, theology, websites, restaurants, investments, social work, laws, medical breakthroughs and technology drive an entire nation.

The ideas and values they perpetuate sustain the moral fiber and social conscience of the culture. The people who lead these influential institutions have the opportunity to shape the ideas, thoughts and preferences of millions of others. If Hunter is right, it doesn’t take all that many people or time to witness dramatic shifts in the convictions and aspirations of a culture.

And one of the most unique channels of cultural influence is the church. Few other institutions convene participants from so many areas of society. When Christians embrace the common goals of both redeeming cultures and individual souls, the possibilities for positive cultural influence dramatically increase.

Lyons then uses what he calls “the homosexual movement” as an example of how one may use the seven mountains teaching to change the culture. He points to an article in the Regent University Law School Journal by Paul Rondeau (a past president of the board of the Parents and Friends of Ex-gays) which claims the current acceptance of gays as people stem from a small group of gays gathered in 1988 in Warrenton, VA. According to this narrative, the ability of that small group to steer the seven channels of influence is what has triggered the social change.

Lyons wants to do the same thing via the Church.

THE CHURCH’S OPPORTUNITY TO INFLUENCE CULTURE

I believe that the church is the hope of the world and is positioned like no other channel of influence to shape culture. Its people are called to be in the world. As John Stott puts it, “we find ourselves citizens of two kingdoms, the one earthly and the one heavenly. And each citizenship lays upon us duties which we are not at liberty to evade.” Although the work of culture creation may take place outside the physical walls of a church building, the local church creates a natural space where social networks of leaders, within all seven channels of culture, can work together towards a common goal. Nowhere else does this potential for synergy exist. Unlike other channels, the church is a living organism where God’s spirit constantly moves and seeks to express Himself through a willing Body.

Sadly, by focusing on just the “spiritual” and the afterlife, the Christian church has strayed away from its potential influence in the here and now, positioning itself instead as just another subculture. Many Christians currently hold unique and influential positions throughout the seven channels of culture, but have never been supported by fellow believers.

There is nothing particularly new in this. This is an expression of a familiar controversy about the role of the church in society. Lyons says it is sad that the church has focused on the spiritual. I think the church does not focus enough on it. Especially as the 2012 election looms, it is clear to me that many in the religious right want to use the church a a tool of political organizing for the GOP.

Lyons and Kinnaman rightly complain that the church today is known more for being anti-gay than for anything else. However, in my view, the approach suggested by Lyons is part of the problem. If the church is seeking to express Christian views of spiritual life to individuals then the personal characteristics of that individual don’t matter much. However, when cultural change is your aim, then those who would be hurt by your vision of culture become your enemies.

For instance, Chuck Colson inspires Lyons to redeem cultures. Colson’s vision of a redeemed culture does not include defense of people oppressed because of their sexual orientation.  Colson is using his position as a cultural leader to oppose the decriminalization of homosexuality around the world. If Colson is doing it well, as Lyons implies, then the anti-gay attitudes Lyons documents are inevitable.

I think the Founders got it right. Religion in general can be beneficial when it supports the rights of all and freedom of conscience. However, when one religion seeks to dominate, then others who believe differently will rise up to seek protection for their beliefs.

Put railways ahead of gays says Uganda’s President

Really? Museveni to donor nations:

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni on Friday urged international donors not to let concerns for gay rights affect development aid, saying homosexuals also needed roads, power and trains.

“Before anyone gives me a lecture about homosexuals and their rights, first talk about railways,” Museveni told delegates at the end of a regional meeting in Kampala attended by five other African presidents.

“Homosexuals also need electricity, homosexuals also need roads, homosexuals also need railways,” Museveni said to applause.

Hard to use all of those modern conveniences if you are in jail, Yoweri. Although maybe Museveni is right. If the Bahati bill passes, gays will need electricity in jails, and roads and railways to take them there.

As ridiculous as Museveni’s rhetoric is, it does raise a challenge to those who want hang gays or herd them into Uganda’s prisons. Gays are citizens of Uganda as are non-gays. When Museveni says they need basic services, he is right, even as he is oblivious to the reasons why Western nations are threatening to target aid to specific projects. They know gays need those things and they want them to be able to use them freely without fear of death or jail.

New study: Lesbian parents not associated with homosexual behavior in sons

In one of the better studies of the effects of lesbians as parents of sons and daughters, researchers reported that 17-year old boys raised by lesbians were no more likely to be gay than those raised in straight homes. Gartrell, Bos and Goldberg found that 5.6% of boys raised in lesbian households reported sex with other boys whereas 6.6% of boys from a representative national survey reported ever engaging in sex with other boys. The difference was not large enough to be considered a statistically significant finding.

Reparative theorists claim that boys who are raised without a strong, salient father often become homosexual. In this study, the boys of lesbian parents had not been raised with any father figure and yet they were no more likely to report a gay identification than boys surveyed in a national sample with predominantly straight parents. If the absence of strong male role model generates same-sex attraction, the effect should show up in this sample.

I need to add that the group of lesbian parents represent a convenience sample and may not be representative of all lesbian parenting. Even so, the fact that boys raised in these homes displayed no behavioral indication of the effect predicted by reparative therapists is worth noting.

I assume these researchers will continue to follow these families and the results may shift more in line with reparative expectations. However, at present, this study is a challenge to the classic reparative theory.

Gartell, N. K., Bos, H. M. W., & Goldberg, N. G. (2011). Adolescents of the U.S. national longitudinal lesbian family study: Sexual orientation, sexual behavior, and sexual risk exposure. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 40, 1199-1209.

For more on this study, see this post. I should also make clear that this post is not intended to be a comprehensive review of this study. I am here highlighting one aspect of it. There are many findings of interest, including the results with girls which indicates  that girls are more likely to engage in same-sex sexual behavior.

The Evangelical Blackout of Sexual Orientation Research, Part 2

Last week, I commented on what I see as an evangelical blackout of sexual orientation research by Christian media and organizations. While I stand by that viewpoint, the situation is actually worse than a blackout. The blackout is selective; some new research is reported. However, the studies reported and the way they are reported seem designed to create a slanted picture.

A case in point. Currently, on the NARTH (National Association for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality) website, scientific advisory board member, Chris Rosik, reviews a new report from Gartrell, Bos and Goldeberg about lesbian parenting recently published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior. The headline for the review is

New Study: Daughters of Lesbian Parents More Likely to Engage in Same-Sex Behavior and Identify as Bisexual

This is definitely a new study. The blackout is not total, but as I will demonstrate, it is selective. NARTH ignores the hard science involved in the brain scan studies but finds one aspect of a small longitudinal study of lesbian parenting to report. Now that you read the headline, read what Rosik says about how the study can be used.

While this small study is valuable as a starting point for longitudinal research into same-sex parenting, professionals and policy makers should be very wary of making any meaningful conclusions from its findings.  Serious methodological limitations also argue against making sweeping generalizations.  As is the case for the vast majority of studies in this area, the sample size is quite small, constituting only 78 adolescents.  The sample of lesbian parents is self-selected and appears to be different from the general population on important demographics such as socioeconomic status and educational attainment.  Demand characteristics (i.e., external influences such as political goals that might motivate study participants to respond in a particular manner) are not considered or assessed by the study’s authors with respect to the lesbian mothers or their adolescent children.

And then…

Certainly the Gatrell, et al. (2011) study provides some intriguing though entirely non-generalizable findings that are consistent with the hypothesis that non-heterosexual experiences and identities are more common among daughters of lesbian families than those raised in heterosexual families.

First, Rosik reports, via headline, the finding that would be of concern to religious conservatives but then in the article says one cannot make such generalizations. If one cannot generalize beyond the sample, then why report the finding as if one could?

The study also found that no children were abused in lesbian homes. This finding is in contrast to heterosexual families where abuse is reported (26% of teens report physical abuse by a parent or caregiver according to national surveys). Since NARTH is commonly represented in cases against same-sex parenting, and such information is relevant to their membership, why was that fact not a part of the headline?

Another interesting finding in the study was that boys were less likely to have been sexual involved with girls in lesbian families than in straight families. Isn’t that what abstinence educators want to promote?

My point here is that NARTH leaders do keep an eye out for new research, however, their reporting of them is selective. And then when they choose to review a study, their review is selective.

I have established that NARTH is a key source of information for Christian right organizations. When some relevant studies are ignored, and others are selectively reported, it seems clear to me evangelicals are poorly served by the organizations they count on for information.

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One hot gadget debate this season is the Kindle Fire versus the Nook Color. We opted for the Fire and the Amazon Universe. Anyone like the Nook better?

If you subscribe, let me know what you think of getting this kind of content on an e-reader.

 

Blogkeeping: Holiday schedule

Ah, ’tis the season to be jolly. And for me, ’tis the season to reduce the number of blog posts I write.

This will probably hold true through the month of December. After the finals are given and graded, it will be time to relax a bit. There are some stories or issues that could change that plan but for now, that is the plan.

Let me take a moment to explain the icons in the left hand column of the blog. The first one is my first effort at writing children’s fiction. Over the past three years, I have written three short stories for my son. He has been keen on having me publish them, so the first one is available on Amazon as an ebook. I won’t be quitting my day job anytime soon, but I have had fun writing these stories and most importantly, he likes it.

The next icon is to a book on bullying prevention called Bullycide. Brenda High at Bully Police put this together as a resource for anyone who wants to make a difference. There are prevention lesson plans, articles and vignettes that promote safe schools. Any benefit I get from the sales, I put right back into the Golden Rule Pledge.

Then after the blog admin links, you can search Amazon’s website. Anything you purchase through that link generates a small royalty to my blogmaster, Paul Oyler. The same is true for the B&H Cameras icon. Anything purchased there will help Paul out a bit. And blogmastering is his day job so I like to help him out. He does a good job.

Blessings on everyone this season. And now a little seasonal music for your enjoyment…

Hillary Clinton’s Remarks Calling for Decriminalization of Homosexuality

I am late to this story which unfolded on Tuesday, Human Rights Day. The Obama Administration called on the rest of the world to decriminalize homosexuality, punctuating this call with remarks from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Geneva. The full text of these remarks are here. I am going to pull out some comments that are significant to me.

Clinton directly makes the case that laws criminalizing homosexuality are violations of human rights.

It is violation of human rights when people are beaten or killed because of their sexual orientation, or because they do not conform to cultural norms about how men and women should look or behave.  It is a violation of human rights when governments declare it illegal to be gay, or allow those who harm gay people to go unpunished.  It is a violation of human rights when lesbian or transgendered women are subjected to so-called corrective rape, or forcibly subjected to hormone treatments, or when people are murdered after public calls for violence toward gays, or when they are forced to flee their nations and seek asylum in other lands to save their lives.  And it is a violation of human rights when life-saving care is withheld from people because they are gay, or equal access to justice is denied to people because they are gay, or public spaces are out of bounds to people because they are gay.  No matter what we look like, where we come from, or who we are, we are all equally entitled to our human rights and dignity.

Then she dispels the myth that homosexuality is a Western invention.

The second issue is a question of whether homosexuality arises from a particular part of the world.  Some seem to believe it is a Western phenomenon, and therefore people outside the West have grounds to reject it.  Well, in reality, gay people are born into and belong to every society in the world.  They are all ages, all races, all faiths; they are doctors and teachers, farmers and bankers, soldiers and athletes; and whether we know it, or whether we acknowledge it, they are our family, our friends, and our neighbors.

Being gay is not a Western invention; it is a human reality.  And protecting the human rights of all people, gay or straight, is not something that only Western governments do.  South Africa’s constitution, written in the aftermath of Apartheid, protects the equality of all citizens, including gay people.  In Colombia and Argentina, the rights of gays are also legally protected.  In Nepal, the supreme court has ruled that equal rights apply to LGBT citizens.  The Government of Mongolia has committed to pursue new legislation that will tackle anti-gay discrimination.

Clinton directly addressed the perceived conflict between gay rights to live freely with religious beliefs.

The third, and perhaps most challenging, issue arises when people cite religious or cultural values as a reason to violate or not to protect the human rights of LGBT citizens. This is not unlike the justification offered for violent practices towards women like honor killings, widow burning, or female genital mutilation. Some people still defend those practices as part of a cultural tradition. But violence toward women isn’t cultural; it’s criminal. Likewise with slavery, what was once justified as sanctioned by God is now properly reviled as an unconscionable violation of human rights.

In each of these cases, we came to learn that no practice or tradition trumps the human rights that belong to all of us. And this holds true for inflicting violence on LGBT people, criminalizing their status or behavior, expelling them from their families and communities, or tacitly or explicitly accepting their killing.

Of course, it bears noting that rarely are cultural and religious traditions and teachings actually in conflict with the protection of human rights. Indeed, our religion and our culture are sources of compassion and inspiration toward our fellow human beings. It was not only those who’ve justified slavery who leaned on religion, it was also those who sought to abolish it. And let us keep in mind that our commitments to protect the freedom of religion and to defend the dignity of LGBT people emanate from a common source. For many of us, religious belief and practice is a vital source of meaning and identity, and fundamental to who we are as people. And likewise, for most of us, the bonds of love and family that we forge are also vital sources of meaning and identity. And caring for others is an expression of what it means to be fully human. It is because the human experience is universal that human rights are universal and cut across all religions and cultures.

Clinton seems on the mark to say that this conflict is challenging. Judging from the reaction of religious right talking heads, I think the challenge is right here in the USA.

Clinton then appeals to the Golden Rule. I like this.

Finally, progress comes from being willing to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.  We need to ask ourselves, “How would it feel if it were a crime to love the person I love?  How would it feel to be discriminated against for something about myself that I cannot change?”  This challenge applies to all of us as we reflect upon deeply held beliefs, as we work to embrace tolerance and respect for the dignity of all persons, and as we engage humbly with those with whom we disagree in the hope of creating greater understanding.

Clinton here is not calling for anyone to agree that homosexual behavior is in line with their religious beliefs. However, she is calling for people to act in accord with their religious beliefs about reciprocal treatment. If you don’t want to be discriminated against for something intrinsic to you, then don’t do it to others.

The Evangelical Blackout of Research on Sexual Orientation

Of late, I have given several talks to a variety of evangelical groups about the current research on sexual orientation. Along the way, I have been contacted by evangelicals who ask about the current status of sexual orientation research. After the conversations and speeches, many questions come up. One question I hear after almost all of these conversations is: Why haven’t we seen anything about these studies?

Many of the questioners read evangelical publications and consume evangelical media. However, they don’t know anything about the brain research of Ivanka Savic in Sweden (2005, 2006, 2008) or Adam Safron and colleagues at Northwestern University (since 2005). Their knowledge of research stops at Dean Hamer or Simon Levay (both published studies in the 1990s).  They know there is no gay gene but they don’t know about the significant brain, perceptual and cognitive differences reported within the past six years by various researchers around the world.

Many evangelicals believe homosexuality is due to abuse. Some will say with confidence that gays are more likely to be abused than straights but they are unaware of the actual magnitudes of difference. However, they are unaware of the 2009 study by Wilson and Widom which found no relationship between abuse and having a gay partner for men or women (men were more likely to have had at least one gay experience in their adult lives but not a recent partner). They are unaware of the 2010 work of Wells and colleagues in New Zealand that found 81.6% of gays reported no sexual abuse in their lives. Abuse is also higher among gender non-conforming children, whether gay or straight. Given that gays are more likely to be gender non-conforming in their histories, it seems likely that greater reports of abuse among gays relate in part to gender non-conformity, and have little, if anything, to do with cause of attractions for the majority of people who are same-sex attracted.

Many evangelicals I speak to think that change of orientation is pretty common and the evidence is being suppressed by the gay-friendly media. Some of them will point to the Jones and Yarhouse study of Exodus participants. Some will even say that over half of the participants changed orientation. When I explain to them what change means in the context of the study, they are surprised. Then I point out a study, also by Mark Yarhouse, that found no change in orientation for men and women in mixed orientation marriages. They wonder why that study was not reported in the media. I wonder the same thing.

I could be wrong but I don’t think any of the studies to which I have referred here have been reported in the Christian press. The Jones and Yarhouse study was reported widely, but the Yarhouse study showing no change among sexual minorities in mixed orientation couples – which is more recent – was not reported anywhere. NARTH – a group of mostly lay people but which claims to be a scientific group – has no information on the 2008 study by Savic and Lindstrom showing clear structural differences in the brain associated with sexual orientation differences. Shouldn’t a scientific organization which claims to be interested in the science of sexual orientation report information which is relevant to sexual orientation? That omission is only one of many.

Many evangelicals get their information from NARTH through groups like Family Research Council, Focus on the Family, Exodus International, etc. Others get information from Christian media. However, these studies are not reported in these places. No wonder most evangelicals approach sexual orientation with a 1990s mindset. It is as if the evangelical world is in blackout mode when it comes to current studies on sexual orientation.

I suspect the culture war is to blame. It cannot be because sexual orientation is not news. The issue comes up in the Presidential campaigns and other news all the time. However, evangelicals are quite unprepared to discuss this very current topic with the most recent and best scholarship.

In my view, Christian media and organizations have a responsibility to provide this information to their readers and consumers. Given the backlog of unreported studies, there is plenty of material for their reporting.

University of Utah professor: NARTH article “unscientific and irresponsible”

Does engaging in same-sex behavior cause people to become gay? NARTH Scientific Advisory Board member Chris Rosik posed this question in a recent review of a study on risk behavior among gay and bisexual men. The study, led by David Huebner at the University of Utah found that gay and bisexual men who engage in risky sexual behavior may justify subsequent risky behavior as their attitudes change in response to their actions. After reviewing the study, Rosik extended the study findings to the causes of same-sex orientation:

First, if engaging in sexual risk behavior leads to changes in beliefs and attitudes that legitimize such behavior, is it wise to encourage early self-labeling and sexual activity among male adolescents experiencing same-sex attractions? Could participation in early homosexual risk activity such as unprotected (or even protected) anal intercourse lead some adolescent boys down a path of homosexual activity and identity and away from what might have been an eventual heterosexual adjustment?

Rosik proposes that adolescent boys might alter the course of their adult sexual orientation from straight to gay by experimenting with same-sex behavior. However, Rosik’s generalization is improper according to study lead author, David Huebner. In an email, Huebner told me:

Our study examined how adults’ attitudes about condoms and their perceived peer norms about condoms each relate over time to self-reports of condom use during intercourse with casual sexual partners. Condom use is considered a preventive health behavior, and thus, our results might generalize to other preventive behaviors, such as seat belt use, exercise, smoking cessation, or breast cancer screening. Our study does not, in any way, address the development of sexual orientation during adolescence, or the development of normal, healthy sexuality among gay or straight adolescents. Any attempt to generalize our findings to those topics is unscientific and irresponsible.

Huebner’s team researched attitude changes about risk behaviors, not developmental factors in sexual orientation. Furthermore, the findings are not generalizable to the general development of attractions among teens who are attracted to the same sex.

Rosik’s question may seem like harmless speculation to some. However, many on the religious right encourage fear of gay people on the grounds that gays recruit questioning youth who would otherwise be straight. Uganda’s David Bahati justified the draconian Anti-Homosexuality Bill with the claims that gays are recruiting young people. Over the past two years, Bahati has promised to produce evidence of his claims that gays in Uganda systematically recruit kids. To date, he has not produced any such evidence.

Far right pundits in this country raise fears about anti-bullying programs because they might indoctrinate students into homosexuality. Linda Harvey (aka Mission America) yesterday said on her radio show that gays cultivate kids for pedophiles.

Only about 25% of NARTH’s members are clinicians or researchers with professional training or access to the original study. The rest are lay people and culture warriors who look to the NARTH website for accurate information about scientific work. Unfortunately, those readers could easily come away from his review with the perspective that research done by University of Utah researchers supports the recruitment concept of gay development. Although those with a trained or critical eye will catch the improper generalization, I suspect most will not see it. Thus, given the audience of Rosik’s review, I have to agree with Dr. Huebner and say that Rosik’s unqualified speculation is “unscientific and irresponsible.”