Lesbians, gays, bi-sexuals, trans-sexuals and queers (LGBTQs): chances are you have a strong view about people who identify themselves this way. Perhaps you identify with this diverse grouping of humans yourself. This month we review different perspectives on LGBTQs, noting that the various perspectives can stir up a wide and often polarizing range of reactions, from praise to confusion to skepticism to ire.
The first set of resources highlight some perspectives from Christians on this subject, featuring the recent article by a cultural anthropologist and long-term mission consultant Sherwood Lingenfelter. The second set of resources are perspectives from the American Psychological Association, providing research-informed information on sexual orientation, gender orientation, and practice guidelines. We begin this Update with a link to the popular TedxWomen Talk, 50 Shades of Gay and finish with a few more perspectives from us along with Philip Yancey.
Why is this controversial topic important for member care and mission/aid?
1. It influences the selection procedures and in some cases the “discipline” practices in mission/aid.
2. It points to new skill sets that need to be developed when working with LGBTQ people/issues.
3. It influences our understanding of being human including human sexuality and spirituality, (e.g., sexual/gender orientation being on a continuum vs a dichotomy; theological beliefs).
4. It is a major social and human reality of which to be aware and informed.
5. It points to the need for protecting all people and assuring their human rights.
Warm greetings from Geneva,
Kelly and Michèle O’Donnell
50 Shades of Gay TEDxWomen, 2012, by iO Tillett Wight
"Artist iO Tillett Wright has photographed 2,000 people who consider themselves somewhere on the LGBTQ spectrum and asked many of them: Can you assign a percentage to how gay or straight you are? Most people, it turns out, consider themselves to exist in the gray areas of sexuality, not 100% gay or straight. Which presents a real problem when it comes to discrimination: Where do you draw the line?"
Perspectives from Some Christians
Sherwood Lingenfelter: Gay and Lesbian Christians: Framing Questions and Clarifying the Debate a Place in Church and Mission for LGBTQ Youth. In The Missionary Family: Witness. Concerns, Care, edited by Dwight Baker and Robert Priest, Pasadena, CA USA: William Carey Library, 2014. “The challenge facing evangelical Christians today is how we love, mentor, and guide committed Christian youth, students, and graduates of our colleges and universities who have same-sex attraction and are passionate about following Jesus and serving God….I have experienced this challenge in a very personal way.…before my daughter “came out” in 2001, I was much more sure of my traditional position on gay issues….her journey through Moody and Biola, and her continuing commitment to know and follow Christ as a lesbian has had a profound effect on my thinking and emotions as a father. At the same time, while serving as Provost at Fuller Theological Seminary, I was challenged by students to create a more compassionate and caring community for the men and women enrolled at Fuller who have same-sex attraction, and who experience critical and hostile language and feelings of fear and oppression because of their sexual orientation….The question perhaps most important to people with same-sex attraction is, What implication does my sexual orientation have for my identity? Growing up in a context where people like them are called names (fag, queer, homo, and other terms of disparagement) many ask, “What and who am I?”….My assumption is that the factors driving current evangelical conversations are multiplex. The etiology of same-sex attraction is so complex that the best current research is inconclusive; the cultural and political pressures upon the church are so intense that they cloud our thinking, research, and interpretation of data; the alternatives presented to us by the secular society are without moral compass, inadequate biblically and theologically, and yet we are hard pressed to engage meaningfully with them.”(pp. 209-210) [Note: This article outlines issues primarily within the USA, Evangelical context, and the author intentionally does not offer much opinion or guidance. The author seeks to identify issues/opinions surrounding causes/change, Scripture, core identity, and different “scripts.” In the book, the article is followed by 13 respondents—13 short articles in response to the issues/opinions outlined by Lingenfelter. Click here to access the kindle version.]
Andrew Marin: Love is an Orientation: Elevating the Conversation with the Gay Community Downers Grove, IL USA: IVP Books, 2009. “Andrew Marin’s life changed forever when his three best friends came out to him in three consecutive months. Suddenly he was confronted with the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community (GLBT) firsthand. And he was compelled to understand how he could reconcile his friends to his faith. In an attempt to answer that question, he and his wife relocated to Boystown, a predominantly GLBT community in Chicago. And from his experience and wrestling has come his book, a work which elevates the conversation between Christianity and the GLBT community, moving the focus from genetics to gospel, where it really belongs. Why are so many people who are gay wary of people who are Christians? Do GLBT people need to change who they are? Do Christians need to change what they believe? [This book] is changing the conversation about sexuality and spirituality, and building bridges from the GLBT community to the Christian community and, more importantly, to the good news of Jesus Christ.” See also the six part video study and the participant's guide at the author's website:
Mark Yarhouse: Homosexuality and the Christian: A Guide for Parents, Pastors, and Friends
. Bloomington, MN USA: Bethany Publishers 2010.
Perspectives from the American Psychological Association
Definition of Terms: Sex, Gender, Gender Identity, Sexual Orientation (one page)--excerpted from Guidelines for Psychological Practice with LGB Clients (APA, 2011).
Public Information Brochures: Sexual Orientation/Homosexuality, Transgender/Gender Identity, Intersex Conditions
"A series of brochures from the Office of Public Communication, in collaboration with the Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Concerns...answering basic questions and listing some additional resources." Examples:
Answers to Your Questions for a Better Understanding of Sexual Orientation and Homosexuality (APA, 2008)
Answers to Your Questions About Transgender People, Gender Identity, and Gender Expression (APA, 2012).
Discriminatory Laws and Practices and Acts of Violence Against Individuals Based on their Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UN General Assembly, Human Rights Council), November 2011. For a quick overview, have a look at the one-page Introduction and the Table of Contents. LGBTQ issues continue to be a hotly contested topic among member states in the UN.
Being the Imago Dei
Q: Are you a homo?
A: No, I’m a human.
Q: But are you LGBTQ?
A: Are you LMNOP?
Q. So are you gay then?
A: No, but my partner is.
Q: So you are not straight?
A: I am not crooked.
One perspective that can help to find some common ground in the LGBTQ debate is this: all humans and any grouping of humans have dignity, worth, and inalienable human rights (Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948). Going one crucial step further, from our personal perspective as Christians, all people are made in the image of God—male, female, and everyone in between. And this image (aka the imago Dei) is intended to reflect the character of God: God is good, God is love, God is light. We finish this Update with one more perspective, an excerpt from Philip Yancey's book, Jesus.
“People who looked to Jesus as their political savior were constantly befuddled by his choice of companions. He became known as a friend of tax collectors, a group clearly identified with the foreign exploiters, not the exploited. Though he denounced the religious system of his day, he treated a leader like Nicodemus with respect, and though he spoke against the dangers of money and of violence, he showed love and compassion towards a rich young ruler and a Roman centurion. In short, Jesus honored the dignity of people, whether he agreed with them or not…The person was more important than any category or label...How easy it is to join the politics of polarization, to find myself shouting across picket lines at the “enemy” on the other side. How hard it is to remember that the kingdom of God calls me to love the woman who has just emerged from the abortion clinic (and yes, even her doctor) [editor: and the man who got the woman pregnant], the promiscuous person who is dying of AIDS [editor: and the non-promiscuous person infected with HIV, often with little choice in the matter], the wealthy landowner who is exploiting God’s creation [editor: and any of us, rich or poor, doing the same via our lifestyles and choices]...Jesus’ love cuts across lines, transcends distinctions, and dispenses grace. Regardless of the merits of a given issue—whether a pro-life lobby out of the Right or a peace-and-justice lobby out of the Left—political movements risk pulling onto themselves the mantle of power that smothers love. From Jesus I learn that, whatever activism I get involved in, it must not drive out love and humility, or otherwise I betray the kingdom of heaven.” Philip Yancey, Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI USA (2010) p. 85
More MCA Resources
Global Portal for Good Practice (website)
Reflections, Research, and Resources for Good Practice (weblog)
Global Mental Health: A Global Map for a Global Movement (website)
Global Integration: Connecting and Contributing (updates, materials, webinars)
Global Member Care: (volume one): The Pearls and Perils of Good Practice (2011)
Our latest book! Global Member Care (volume two): Crossing Sectors for Serving Humanity (November 2013) The e-book version is available on Amazon