Friday, August 26, 2005

Interview: Karen Booth of Transforming Congregations

Rev. Karen Booth is the spokesperson for Transforming Congregations, a network of churches across the country that encourages and assists homosexuals in exiting their lifestyles. As their website states "Believing that homophobic (fearful, hateful and rejecting) and accommodationist (uncritically accepting and affirming) responses were both contrary to Scripture, the group sought instead a compassionate approach that would offer the hope of transformational healing to those struggling with unwanted same-sex attraction and behavior."

Transforming Congregations consists mostly of United Methodist churches, but includes Lutheran, Presbyterian, Assemblies of God, and other denominations within its ecumenical reach.

Preceding the upcoming Hearts of Fire convocation at Lake Junaluska by the Reconciling Ministries Network is a prayer breakfast by Transforming Congregations. Rev. Booth graciously agreed to answer questions about that event and Christian responses to homosexuality.

1. In a recent press release, you described a prayer breakfast that Transforming Congregations is holding on the eve of the Hearts on Fire convocation at Lake Junaluska. What actions will your ministry take to directly communicate your views with those attending Hearts on Fire?

Our purpose in holding the prayer breakfast is twofold. Primarily, it's to connect with like-minded people who believe as we do that same-sex attraction/behavior and gender confusion are not God's will for human sexual _expression, and to offer them an alternative response to the "Hearts on Fire" event besides protest. Secondarily, we also hope to gain broader exposure for our message and ministry through denominational, other religious and secular media. Voices of ex-gays tend to get drowned out in this particular controversy, and we hope our breakfast will help to remedy that.

So we will probably not have much direct interaction with the "Hearts on Fire" attendees. RMN Director Troy Plummer has been informed about what we're doing and any of their media reps are welcome to come and hear the program portion of our breakfast, to submit questions or interview our speakers. One of our Board members has registered for the convocation and will be attending as an observer/participant. He is willing to share his personal testimony if there is any call to do so. But otherwise, we intend to honor their time and space by not interfering or disrupting.


2. In an interview this week, Rev. Troy Plummer of Reconciling Ministries Network insisted that gay marriage is faithful to the Biblical standards of that institution. He said: "People ask me why we make a "fuss" about gay marriage. I say: The fuss is about living in honesty and loving in honesty. The fuss is about the fidelity and faithfulness of persons of same-sex orientation to their spouse and also to their family of faith. We not only advocate for and celebrate these values, we are asking our church to support their GLBT members in these values." How do you respond?

GLBT Christians living in committed relationships is far better than their living promiscuously. Troy would get no argument from me on that. But it doesn't logically follow that committed GLBT relationships are therefore OK. I believe they're sinful, meaning that they're not the perfect will of God for sexual _expression. So, as their sister in faith I cannot and will not support them in their desire for church approval. For my opinions on marriage, see several articles in the newsletter archives section of our website - www.transformingcong.org

3. Last month, a pastor in Virginia was placed on involuntary leave for refusing to admit a homosexual into membership of his congregation. Were his actions in compliance with the Bible and the Book of Discipline?

I can neither affirm nor criticize this pastor's actions because I don't know all the details of how he came to his final decision. I can only express what I would do if I were still serving as a local pastor. I would welcome GLBT persons into fellowship; I would faithfully and lovingly serve them, just as I have others in the past. But if they were unrepentant, I would not admit them to membership, since our membership vows require a turning away from sin.

4. What empirical evidence is available to prove that homosexuals can be changed into heterosexuals?

When I hear the word "empirical" I think of scientific studies or experiments that measure physically verifiable results. Someone on another blog mentioned "penile erectile studies" as one example, which I suppose is a way to measure sexual attraction and response. To my knowledge, nothing like that has ever been done with either gays or ex-gays. But I wonder what the value would be in doing so. What would it prove/disprove? I've been set free from heterosexual sin. Would I still get aroused if I were made to look at or read sexually explicit material? Probably. Does that mean I'm the same person I was twenty years ago? No.

If instead, "empirical" means psychological or behavioral studies, then for both gays and ex-gays we move into the realm of self-report and self-identification. Both are entirely subjective. But numerous psychological/behavioral studies indicate that sexual behavior and even sexual self-identity (orientation) is fluid and can change over time. Dr. Robert Spitzer's work is the most recent, but it has been subject to criticism, controversy and misrepresentation from many different perspectives. Bloggers can read more about his work and about a variety of other studies at
http://www.freetobeme.com/ and http://www.drthrockmorton.com/.

Which leads finally to the whole question of what constitutes "change," An article in our first archived newsletter reports an interesting discussion about that topic among Exodus leaders. My favorite quote is this one:

"Healing from homosexuality is the process that occurs when an adult, whose primary or exclusive sexual and/or romantic attractions have been towards persons of the same sex, experiences a significant decrease in same-sex attractions and an increase in opposite-sex attractions to the extent that a heterosexual life that is emotionally, sexually and psychologically fulfilling is made possible. Accompanying these erotic and emotional changes is a change in self-perception in which the individual no longer identifies him or herself as homosexual."

Clinical perhaps, but the quote nonetheless shows it's far more complex than simply saying "homosexuals can be changed to heterosexuals." That's a media sound-bite, not the understanding of most of us who currently work in ex-gay ministry. Instead, we prefer to speak and write about
freedom from homosexuality. For some that means functioning happily as a self-identified heterosexual. For some it means living a fulfilling chaste life. For some it means occasional temptation that teaches submission, obedience and trust. For all it's a process of sanctification. Mainly because it's not about science or psychology; it's about faith.

If folk want some further reading on the subject, I'd recommend Mark Yarhouse's book
Sexual Identity: A Guide to Living in the Times Between the Times

11 comments:

John Wilks said...

Thank you John for the interview and that you Karen for the great wisdom and compassion you show as well as your devotion to the hope that God is willing and able to sanctify us! May we never settle for any Gospel less than the one that says God's grace can bring change to all who seek Him.

Joel Thomas said...

It is not "great wisdom and compassion" to refuse to admit gays and lesbians into church membership. It is pure, self-righteous hate of an extraordinary degree, a matter so evil and demonic as to strike at the very heart of anything called Christian.

John Wilks said...

Joel,

Your remarks are beyond offensive and close minded. Disagree if you must, but you have no right to claim to know that Karen bases her views form hatred. Who are you that you can peer into her heart and know her inmost motives and thoughts?

You, sir, have shown a degree of intolerance that undermines the very cause you claim motivates you. And I hope you find the heart to repent. For until you do, your credibility and your witness are gravely damaged.

I firmly disagree with GLBT acceptance. At the same time, I would not dare assume that those who push for it are evil in their heart's intent. I may like like or agree with the goals, but God alone can judge the hearts behind them.

And if you would just think from our point of view, if homosexuality is a sin, how in the world would it be compassionate not to speak up and be clear about it?

You have every right to deny the sinfulness of homosexuality, but you should be able to see that we who disagree with you are acting out of compassion- even if you feel that our compassion is wasted and missued.

My brother, I have long held repsect for you though we so passionatly disagree. I pray you will give me reason to respect you once again.

Joel Thomas said...

John Wilks,

Karen says homosexuality is a sin, which, by definition means that she sees it as Satanic and Demonic (that's the nature of all sin). Why is it wrong for me to similarly label exclusion of gays and lesbians from church membership as a sin, and thus also Satanic and Demonic?

I am labeling the attitude, not the person. Ironically, I wouldn't exclude Karen from church membership, but she would do so for gays and lesbians. So, if I'm not for excluding people, but someone else is, I'm the intolerant one?

If it is fair for Karen to exclude gays and lesbians from church membership, it would be fair for me to exclude her on the basis that I think withholding membership is a sin. However, I don't regard membership in legalistic terms but on the basis of a heart oriented toward God. Karen has no qualification to judge gays as unfit for membership and I similarly have no qualification to judge Karen unfit.

I am addressing ONLY the issue of membership exclusion. I am not speaking to the matter of the differring views on homosexuality as a sin. I respect those differences. I do not respect, however, the idea of prohibiting membership.

If Karen's views are taken literally, then not even I, a pastor, would meet Karen's membership test.

I can't ask for your respect by speaking in untruth.

John Wilks said...

"I am labeling the attitude, not the person. Ironically, I wouldn't exclude Karen from church membership, but she would do so for gays and lesbians. So, if I'm not for excluding people, but someone else is, I'm the intolerant one?"

She did not say she'd refuse membership to gays and lesbians, she said she'd refuse membership to those who refuse to repent of their sins. So she would admit a repentant gay or lesbian, but not an unrepentant one.

Just as I would admit an repentant adulterer but refuse membership to an unrepentant one.

So far as all sin being demonic in nature, on what basis do you conclude that? Even the most fire-breathing fundamentalists I know don't pin all sin on Satan. The human bent toward sin is our own. The Devil my help encourage it, but it is ours.

Seems to me you are bending over backwards to be both offended and offensive when such is not necessary. And since calling traditionalists bigots and homophobes hasn't worked, I guess you'll just say we're under the influence of the Devil.

So far as respect goes, I would never claim that someone who thinks what you think is being willfully evil and acting in a satanic fashion. I do not do so because I see your faithfulness to your convictions even though I think you are wrong and in need of a course correction.

But you have chosen to make boogie-men of us and not extend the same minimum credit to us. So it is not that you speak what you find to be true that makes me lose respect for you- it is that you state your views in divisive, hurtful, slanderous, and grace-less ways. And for one who claims the name Christian, such an attitude is indefensible.

Karen Booth said...

I want to respond to one of the comments about my believing that homosexuality is Satanic or Demonic. Actually, it’s probably more accurate to say that I think it’s a form of idolatry. (Romans 1) Let me give you an example.

Last year, a dear gay friend of mine was robbed and murdered, more than likely a “cruising” gone very, very bad. Ironically enough, I was asked to do his funeral. It was hard because he was such a gentle soul. But it was also a wonderful celebration of his life.

You see, he and I shared a love for design, and several years ago we took a trip together, along with my forbearing husband, to a doll show in Chicago. He met my family – who feel the same way I do about homosexuality – and they extended him warm hospitality. And we had hours together in the car to talk – about life, about fashion design, about sex, about faith. He knew what I believed about sexuality, which of course was completely different than what he believed. But he was one of the few LGBT people I know who continued to be friends with me after I changed my pro-gay worldview. Our deep respect and affection for each other allowed us to “agree to disagree.”

And I didn’t preach about sin at the funeral; I preached about his faith. I knew he was a man of faith, and since I believe same-sex issues have to do with sanctification, not salvation, I had no doubt that he was now with Jesus. I probably part company with a lot of evangelicals at that point, but so be it.

That’s along preamble to get to my illustration. At the funeral dinner I met a lot of his friends – some really neat design people from New York, some family from West Virginia and a number of locals. Our area “pride” group was there. And as I watched them I realized they didn’t interact with anyone else. They sat at a table by themselves. They carried on their own private conversations. I realize much of it was grief. My friend was very dear to them, too. But as I reflected on it afterwards, I began to think it was also more.

The core of their identity was there at that table. Their “pride” was in their sexuality. And it occurred to me that anytime any of us put our main identity into anything other than being new creations in Jesus Christ, it’s idolatry. To my way of thinking, that is the real basis of the sin.

Joel Thomas said...

John Wilks,

I believe that all sin comes from temptation and that Satan is the tempter. That's always been my view and I think it is consistent with Wesleyan theology. I don't believe original sin has any power less (absent) an evil force that tempts us. Original sin is like kindling, but there has to be a match that sets it ablaze. It is the giving in to temptation that starts the fire.

If someone is repentent of their sexual practice, then it would seem to me that they are either ex-homosexual or non-practicing (celibate) homosexual, not gay or lesbian. The latter terms are mostly used by people who self-identify and embrace their homosexual orientation. Karen welcomes celibate homosexuals as members then, not gays or lesbians, by my understanding of the use of terms.

From that standpoint, I believe I am accurate in saying that Karen would deny membership to gays and lesbians. Because the terms "gay" and "lesbian" are so self-identifying is one of the reasons the UMC has insisted that only the term "homosexual practice" be used.

General Conference had, and defeated, the opportunity to make homosexual sexual practice a reason to exclude from membership or to be a chargeable offense. In fact, in 1988, General Conference defeated a move to provide that laity leadership positions were not open to practicing homosexuals. To me, that is a clear statement that the Church will not bar practicing homosexuals from membership, since the majority of leadership positions require church membership.

I believe that the Judicial Council will uphold the action of both Bishop Kammerer and the Virginia Conference in disciplining the pastor for excluding the person from membership.

I think you've made it abundantly clear that you don't want to be in the same church with me. I've made no such claim toward you, on the other hand. I simply welcome those who profess Christ as their Lord and Savior.

If someone speaks for slavery or segregation, is it less divisive if the tone used is gentle?

I read a Texas text books from the 1930's. It spoke in very loving language about Negroes. How they were to be treated kindly and repected, not to be abused or mistreated. It also said that because of their inferior intellect and their inability to govern themselves and their lesser controls over their temperments and sexual drives they must not have the right to vote or to self-govern or to mix unduly with whites.

If someone says that Blacks should sit at the back of the bus or attend separate schools, what difference does it make if the person advocating such position speaks softly or not? Or the person advocating the opposite view.

I never wrote of anyone being willfully evil or willfully Satanic.

Where have I ever called you a bigot or a homophobe? In fact, I'd prefer to be in the same church with you, whereas you'd prefer that we not be in the same church.

You don't think it is extremely hurtful for a gay person to be told that they aren't welcome as a church member? You think that when you call for excluding practicing homosexuals from membership that they don't feel slandered or hurt or that you are acting in a divisive way?

One of the very worst sins of all, the greatest form of idolatry I know, is the failure to tithe, because that is stealing from God. How many conservatives, or liberals for that matter, refuse membership to non-repenting non-tithers? When, in the UMC has someone EVER been put on trial for stealing from God (failing to tithe)?

Your last line says it all, for you are implying that I'm not a Christian (as opposed to merely displaying un-Christian behavior). That's something I've NEVER alleged against you or against Karen.

John Wilks said...

"Your last line says it all, for you are implying that I'm not a Christian "

No, I just said you aren't acting like one at the moment.

John Wilks said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
John Wilks said...

Joel,

In the light of a new day, the LORD's day at that, I would like to extended an olive branch.

In re-reading my comments, I can now see a harshness in my tone which I regret. I was writing with the emotions of being offended and my comments were aimed more to force an apology more than to enter a dialog. Needless to say, that was not a productive approach and has not lead us to a good place.

I don't know if there is much more to say on this particular thread. But I do know that we both remain passionate about our views on the broader issues and that we will likely find ourselves in coversation, even debate, about them again somewhere in blogdom.

For my part, I will make every effort not to allow a disagrement over ideas- even very important ideas- to become overly charged with a personal grudge. I hope in the future that you and I and all others who share in such exchanges will extend the civility and grace of Our Lord more than we demand it from others.

Joel Thomas said...

John Wilks,

When people passionately believe different things and are sure that those things have a significant impact on church and society for the good or the bad, it is inevitable that the tone will at times be uncivil and at other times perceived as uncivil. That is particularly true for people who have never met and don't understand all the history and forces that have driven the other side's belief or particlar way of either defending or advancing a cause related to that belief.

My prayer is that someday when we are in heaven together that we will be reminded that on each side some aspects of the arguments may have resembled whether the toilet paper goes over or under. That is not to say that doctrine doesn't matter, that how the Bible is viewed as authority is unimportant, but I think for any of us it is easy to lose sight of the humanity of the other, that there is a real live person on the other end and that somehow love of God and love of neighbor must not be lost.

I try to remember what a seminary professor of mine told us in explaining the sometimes cruel methods the church used to get people to repent. The professor wasn't defending the methods but explaining that in their own way, those using torture or other severe punishment sincerely believed that they were possibly saving the victims from a far worse fate -- eternal life in hell, and thus were, by their own understanding being loving and compassionate.

At times, perhaps, we on both sides are emulating that type of response -- each convinced that we are saving the church from certain doom. But the Bible also calls us to be humble and tender hearted. I don't find the proper balance of defense of faith and living the faith easy to achieve.

However, there is likely a larger picture that both sides, including both of us, are missing, at least to some degree. I sincerely regret that.