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