Journal ambiguous on homosexuality, clear on 'sexually-positive' sex ed

by Russell D. Moore, posted Thursday, December 06, 2001 (18 years ago)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)--An ambiguous stance on the place of practicing homosexuals in the church follows a call for "comprehensive" and "sexually positive" sex education for children are among articles in a "Sexuality and the Church" edition of the quarterly Baptist journal Review and Expositor.

The Review and Expositor is published by a consortium consisting predominantly of Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) and Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT) partner schools. The journal's most recent edition was circulated this fall although it is dated Spring 2001.

In the article on the church's response to homosexuality, William Tillman Jr., professor of Christian ethics at the BGCT-related Logsdon School of Theology at Hardin-Simmons University, relates a spectrum from full acceptance of homosexuality in the Metropolitan Community Churches to the outright rejection by the Southern Baptist Convention's Baptist Faith and Message statement of beliefs.

Tillman notes to the reader that he is not attempting to present "the 'right' response of the church to homosexuality," explaining, "If the reader is looking for a formulaic, step-by-step consideration of the Church and homosexuality, take this advice: Pass on this article."

Tillman tells of a friend who "will often interrupt our conversation about homosexuality with the remark, 'Okay, okay. But, what is THE right answer?' The honest response for that conversation and for this article is that the right (the good, the honest, the blessed, the ethical) answer is more difficult than one word, one article can propose."

The journal's editorial introduction by P. Daniel McGee, counseling and psychological services director for the Baptist General Convention of Texas likewise notes that the issue of sexual orientation "remains confusing, even to the experts."

"Whatever the church's response to homosexuality it ought to be based on the best research and knowledge available, the best biblical investigation and inquiry, and the best of what Jesus expects of his followers," McGee observes. "While the first two will be debated for years to come, the latter issue is a clear and simple one. Some people appear to be threatened by anyone different. Other Christians, while not threatened, believe that homosexuality is clearly sinful and unacceptable.

"Once again, we do not claim to know all of the answers, but we urge churches to deal with these issues honestly, with integrity and love," McGee concludes.

Tillman argues that homosexuality will cause pastors to think ethically as they decide how to counsel homosexual teenagers, whether to accept practicing homosexuals as members, and whether to perform same-sex marriages or recognition ceremonies.

"Will the Church recognize its place in addressing the spirituality of all peoples, including those who are homosexuals?" Tillman asks. "Will sexual preference be another item of membership criteria for congregations? Will there be congregations that will see themselves as the place of sanctuary for homosexuals? As some traditions have adopted homogenous mission strategies, will there be congregations which will support such adaptation toward homosexuals?"

Calling on pro- and anti-homosexual persons to learn from one another, Tillman notes, "There will come some level of acceptance from both sides of the divide. Not only will some homosexuals be a part of congregations on the congregations' terms, but also some congregations will adapt to the terms of the homosexuals."

The journal is less murky on the church's response to sex education. It includes an article by Lane Powell, in which the Texas writer criticizes a "vocal minority" of the American population for opposing "comprehensive sexuality education" in public schools. She calls on churches to engage in full-orbed "sexually-positive" education programs that provide information about abstinence and contraception for those who do choose to become sexually active.

The Southern Baptist Convention has been part of the "vocal minority" Powell references. The SBC, in convention resolutions, has opposed most public school sex education curricula, and the supposedly value-neutral "safe sex" approach to sex education, as a failure. The SBC's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission has instead advocated programs that present abstinence until marriage as the only "safe" approach to sexuality. This position has been bolstered by the SBC's LifeWay Christian Resources, which pioneered the nation's most widely used church-based abstinence education initiative, "True Love Waits."

Powell, in her article, asserts, "Insisting on abstinence-only education has been one way of narrowing the discussion." Public school sex education programs, she argues, do not "encourage sexual activity or experimentation."

Powell proposes that "the experience of one's sexuality is appropriate at every age and stage of life and that sexual learning can enhance healthy, sexually-positive attitudes," which she defines as "those which promote experiences that are non-coercive, non-exploitative, risk-free, and mutually-pleasurable." She points to her own experience as a college student in the 1960s, having received "sexually-negative" attitudes from her home church. Such attitudes hindered her ability to talk "with my boyfriend about how we should handle a potentially risky situation," she writes.

"My sexually-negative education put me at high risk at a time when the normal feelings of sexual excitement yearned to be expressed," Powell explains. "I just did not know what to do except to try to resist and risk losing the one I cared about so much, or to give in and keep my fingers crossed that nothing 'bad' would happen.

"He too was torn between the pleasurable sensations of natural desire and the guilt of even having these new feelings," Powell continues. "Neither of us could talk to the other one about it. We had little sexual vocabulary and no experience at discussing sexual issues. So there we were, trying to cross a minefield with no map."

Of issues in the journal ranging from homosexuality to sex education, the BGCT's McGee notes in his editorial introduction that there is "so much at stake here."

"Whether we are dealing with the theology of sexuality, sex education for our families, sexual enrichment for our married couples, clergy or members in trouble or suffering from abuse, or homosexuals seeking a community of love, we cannot stick our heads in the sand," McGee writes. "The price of ignorance and apathy is deadly."

The journal comes on the heels of two years of contentious debate within moderate Baptist circles over questions of sexuality. The 2001 CBF General Assembly in Atlanta was rocked by controversy over the issue of homosexuality, with the group voting narrowly to prohibit practicing gays and lesbians from being hired as missionaries or national denominational staffers.

Review and Expositor is published by a consortium of theological schools, most notably its three "sponsor institutions," McAfee School of Theology at Mercer University, Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond and George W. Truett Theological Seminary at Baylor University. The journal lists as "patron institutions" Campbell University Divinity School, Central Baptist Theological Seminary, Gardner-Webb University's White School of Divinity, Hardin-Simmons University's Logsdon School of Theology and Northern Baptist Theological Seminary.

With the exception of Northern Seminary, these seminaries and divinity schools partner with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, which was formed in opposition to the conservative movement in the Southern Baptist Convention. Truett Seminary and Logsdon School of Theology also are institutions of the Baptist General Convention of Texas.

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