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The Great Conundrum

Timothy Kincaid

May 3rd, 2010

Every so often there is an issue which challenges the core beliefs of Christianity. Sides are taken, scripture is quoted, accusations fly, indignant self-righteousness justifies positions, feet get dug in, and denominations schism. And in the past few hundred years, these battles have played out in the legislatures and courts of our nation as each side tried to force their neighbor to live according to their dictates of faith.

We have debated the right of women to own property, fought (literally) over slavery, marched about suffrage, banned liquor, allowed liquor, and argued over whether creationism should be taught in classrooms, all while both sides claim that God and the Bible clearly and unequivocally supported their cause. Even still today there are Christian Churches in which women cannot preach, evolution is denounced, and a glance demonstrates that segregation is still alive.

And church fights are not new; In fact, divisions and disagreements are as old as the faith. Even the Apostles didn’t agree among themselves and schismed over matters of firm conviction.

In the 15th chapter of the Acts of the Apostles a drama unfolds about whether non-Jewish converts should be circumcised. Part of the church leadership – including Jesus’ brother – saw this as a clear commandment in Scripture, the one evidence of a covenant with God: It’s right there! In the Scriptures! There is no way around it!

Others argued that this was easy for them to say, they were circumcised as babies. But this church was growing among Greeks and other non-Jews, and adult male Greeks were not so quick to want to adopt a faith system that required them to lop off part of their penis. And how could it possibly be right and fair that a message that sought to break the ‘sin and punishment’ paradigm and replace it with a relationship hold so strongly to rules that discriminated against some?

So in one of the defining moments that conceptualized Christianity as a unique religion rather than a Jewish sect, pragmatism won. A series of revelations found that dietary laws, traditions of worship, and even the one true sign of the covenant between God and Man were secondary to the spiritual message that the Jesus followers wanted to spread.

And that first division was simply the precursor of those that have come up since. It is what I call the Great Conundrum: what do we do when that which is accepted as doctrine based on Scripture begins to appear to be unfair and immoral?

The conflict arises out of a handful of premises and goes to the very heart of knowing the nature of God and practicing faith.

THE PREMISES

Premise 1: God is good.

This understanding of the Deity as being primarily a being of good that loves, guides, and wants the best for his children is not as universal and timeless as we may think. Ancient cultures often feared their deities and made sacrifices of the most heart-wrenching sort to appease their anger and appeal for leniency and a bountiful harvest.

But while God as an angry old man in the sky is still a part of the faith (think Fred Phelps’ “God Hates Fags” signs), Christianity has, over the ages, come to see the Divine as being beneficent. Rules that appear taxing are for our own good, sacrifices are minimal and ceremonial, and tithes and gifts are necessary for the body of believers to worship in comfort.

And one of the core truths that Christianity has adopted is that God is fair. Unlike an Olympian who has all too human emotions, the Christian God will not tempt you beyond what you can stand and if you are on tough times or experience grief He offers comfort to match your sorrow. And if you look back in the sand along the rough patches of the path and see only one set of footprints, it isn’t because God left but rather that was where He carried you.

And whatever else may be believed about Him, Christians agree that God is not simply cruel and heartless, tormenting humans for His own merriment or providing rules and restrictions without purpose or for our own good.

Premise 2: The Bible is the Word of God

The Southern Baptist Convention says it this way:

The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God’s revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy. It reveals the principles by which God judges us, and therefore is, and will remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried. All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation.

Other denominations use other language, but all – from the most liberal to the most conservative – place importance on the collected wisdom of the Bible and believe it to reveal or inform about God’s nature, plan, intent, and design for mankind.

Premise 3: The Scripture is revealed in doctrine

This one is a bit trickier, but basically it boils down to “the way I interpret scripture is the proper way to interpret scripture”. And it is, of course, the great differentiation between branches of the faith, denominations, or even congregations.

Most of these interpretations do not rise to the level of doctrine, and even fewer to creed. But those that seem to be shared by all Christians (or by all Christians who “matter” because your religious community considers them “real Christians”) tend to become so integrated into the faith as to appear essential.

And when something comes along that challenges this essential shared belief, then there is conflict. And the more “evident” it is that the doctrine is “clear” in Scripture, then challenges to long-held presumptions begin to appear to be an attack on God himself.

THE GREAT CONUNDRUM

And that is why the question about where homosexuality fits into the church, the community, and society has become today’s Great Conundrum. Modern understanding of sexual orientation has led to this paradox:

For millenia, church teaching has been that God is good and applying his rules leads to happiness. God has said that homosexuality is forbidden and abomination to him. This is evident in Scripture and it is abundantly clear that homosexuality is not to be tolerated. Those who are homosexual are vile and willful sinners who choose to defy God.

However, we currently know the homosexuality is a naturally occurring attribute of a person. One’s attractions are not selected and are based in part on genetics. Other contributors may include other biological or perhaps even social factors, but conscious choice is seldom involved at all and no manner of effort seems effective in changing homosexuality into heterosexuality.

Therefore, God has – through genetics and other factors under the control of his divine hand – created a group of humans which he condemns for being the way He created them. He rejects and punishes them (and endorses the human punishment of them) for the sin of existing, a sin over which they had no free will.

This is not conceivable to modern Christians. This is contrary to how they view the nature of God. And so, Christians are faced with the following options: Either

  • The writers of the Scripture got it wrong, or
  • Your understanding of Scripture is incorrect, or
  • Modern understanding about homosexuality is wrong, or
  • God is a bully.

This is not at all easy for Christians to address, especially conservative Christians. Those who ask them to change their doctrine about homosexuality are asking them to agree that either the Scripture has no authority, the Bible doesn’t mean what it says so clearly, or God’s a jerk. None of these seem like tolerable options.

THE RESPONSES

So thoughtful Christians seek a way out of this paradox; they try and find a reconciliation. And basically, the responses I see fall into the following categories:

Response 1: Liberal interpretation of Scripture

Some Christian traditions have an easier time with conundra. They see the Bible as a living organism, divinely guided but not set in stone. The see the Holy Spirit as continuing to reveal truth and that Biblical Principles trump specific scriptures.

As the United Church of Christ puts it: “God is still speaking”.

To a more liberal Christian, the commandment to do justice and show mercy is the heart of God and the core principle of Christianity is to love your neighbor as yourself. Anything that conflicts with those principles is seen as entering the writing through the prejudice of the writers or relevant only in the context written.

These are the same denominations who found it easier to work around “slaves obey your masters” and “wives, submit to your husbands”. They find less conflict between God’s creation of all that is and the seven day timeline that is laid out in Genesis.

Specifically, in relation to homosexuality, they see Biblical condemnations to not relate to relationships but instead to be about prostitution, abuse of power, and pagan worship. It is wantonness and a lack of respect for God’s gift of sexuality that displeases Him, not the gender of the person with whom you mate.

Response 2: Rethinking Scriptural interpretation

Some literalists have delved into Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic to try and determine if the way in which English translations treat certain passages accurately reflect the original intent. Some confirm original thinking, some change dramatically based on their study.

As our readers know, the condemnations included in the writings attributed to Paul are unique. He selected, or perhaps created, terms that were not known to be otherwise used at the time of his writing. There are reasons to believe that these terms may refer to gay men and women, but scholars on either side who claim absolute certainty are probably putting their personal beliefs above their scholarly ethics.

And then there are other factors which suggest that Jesus and his earliest disciples may have bucked tradition – or as much as could be accepted at that time – in addressing eunuchs (a term for all sexual minorities) in ministry. Some note that the first Christian convert was an Ethiopian eunuch and see in this a message that Levitical condemnations are no longer applicable, especially of those who, like Phillip’s Ethiopian eunuch, are judged on terms of sex and sexuality.

Response 2a: Remaining in Conflict

Some people really struggle with this issue.

They believe gay people when they tell them that orientation is intrinsic and that to deny them a relationship would be cruel. But they also have studied scripture and cannot see that this is acceptable to God. But yet they believe in a God that is loving and fair.

So there they sit. Unresolved, conflicted and confused.

These are the people who “leave it to God” but find that they return to the subject and continued study and pray. Their basic decency is set against their long-held and deeply felt beliefs. This is perhaps the most heart-wrenching group of all, and the one’s who have my sympathy the most.

But I do see this response to be a transition for most. And usually a transition of incremental steps towards acceptance.

I find that many who respond in this manner do change their political and social responses. While they may continue to hold onto hidebound orthodoxy on the matter of sinfulness, they come to adopt a social position that gradually accepts the humanity and eventually the spirituality of gay people.

Response 3: Denying evidence

Christians have a long tradition of valuing personal testimony over scientific evidence.

In a religion in which “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”, those who believe the impossible are considered to be more in line with TRUTH than those who look for rational explanation. When miracles are an evidence of God, then the less empirical something is, the more holy it can seem.

This is reinforced in recent years by a Christian movement and way of thinking that has seeped into many conservative Christian communities to one extent or another; the “name it and claim it” movement encouraged the believer to step out in faith, to act on God’s promises, to see yourself in a place you have not yet reached and believe that God would make it true. Although the teaching has been denounced by some Christians, much of the underlying notion that if one sees things too closely to reality then one is denying God’s power is still alive.

And indeed, some branches of Christianity have come to see science as suspect. Scientific evidence threatens the notion that the Earth was created in six days 6,000 years ago. Scientific scholars are skeptical of seeing God’s judgment in storms, preferring to blame atmospheric conditions.

And when some Christians are presented with evidence that contradicts what they want to believe, they can be quite creative in reinterpreting the facts in a way that allows their presumptions to remain. This is called “having a Christian Worldview.” You start with the conclusion that God is good and holy and that the Bible is both true and beneficent, and anything which contradicts this is false.

So if God plans on punishing gay people with eternal torment, obviously they deserve it. And, as sin must have a component of free will, then gay people must be choosing to engage in sin and homosexuality must be primarily a choice.

You see this thinking frequently illustrated by claims that “there is no gay gene” and “change is possible”. In recent years, virtually every preacher who waved the Bible at legislators and demanded that they treat gay people differently from straight people has “met people who used to be homosexual but have left that lifestyle.” Ex-gays are trotted out to testify before denominational bodies to convince the faithful that Pastor Joe should be dismissed because if he really believed God, he would be straight now and married, just like all the ex-gays they see on the 700 Club.

It matters little that the most thorough study conducted by evangelical Christians who were seeking confirmation for religious ex-gay therapy demonstrated that gay people cannot be turned into straight people. This, and other evidence, is ignored because facts are irrelevant to TRUTH.

And it matters little that studies about twins, x-chromosome inactivation in mothers, spacial navigating, hair whorls, handedness, Rh Factor, birth order and a host of other issues all lead one to conclude that biology plays a role in the sexual orientation of at least some gay men. Many conservatives resolve the conflict by simply asserting that “no one is born gay” and – equally importantly – no one must stay gay.

Response 3a: Obfuscating by changing language

One subset of response 3 is to try and change the ideas about sexuality by changing or limiting the language.

The first step is to reject the notion that each person has a sexual orientation. Because only heterosexuality is ordained by God, then that is all that exists. Any sexual attractions that are inconsistent with heterosexuality are temptations, or trials, or other difficulties. So instead of orientation, some will talk only of behavior.

However, acts alone do not justify the opposition to homosexuality. Most conservatives are as offended by the gay person who is single and not having sex as they are by the happily married gay couple with a healthy and active sex life.

So they have decided that identifying as gay is sin; recognizing and acknowledging a fact about the direction of ones attractions is completely unacceptable. And to try and condemn identity, they play a redefinition game with the word “behavior”.

Look, for example, at the language for credentialing of ministers in the Evangelical Free Church in America:

While tragically, as a result of the fall, believers might experience sexual attraction to those of the same sex, Christ’s followers will not affirm this as part of God’s plan for their lives nor build their identities around such attractions. Therefore, persons will not view themselves, or refer to themselves as homosexuals, but rather define their identity as new creatures in Christ. One may (and indeed, honesty may demand that they must) acknowledge the reality of same-sex attraction, but must ground their identity in Christ, not in their sexual attractions. Thus, any person who embraces a homosexual identity, even if celibate, acts in rebellion against God’s created order of male and female, demonstrating that they have not fully repented from homosexual lust and behavior.

See the logic? If you call yourself gay then you are rebelling. Thus it is your behavior that is condemned, not your orientation (which doesn’t exist). In this way of thinking, those who identify as gay are, by so identifying, making themselves worthy of eternal damnation. And this has the added benefit of automatically discounting any testimony of gay Christians, even celibate ones; they are “unrepentant” and not to be trusted.

And they feel no remorse for their attitude. They are justified in their viciousness by “having great sympathy for those who struggle with unwanted same-sex attractions.” But no sympathy for you, you aren’t struggling.

Response 3b: Making excuses for God

Some are not happy with the difficulties of reconciling a just God with a judgmental God, so they make up excuses.

Gay people are deserving of judgment because they hate God. Or because they are a threat to the family. Or are promiscuous or militant or seduce children.

God is not condemning them for being gay, you see, but for being evil. Therefore they spend great amounts of time documenting and tracking and convincing themselves of every negative thing they can find about gay people.

Gay people “die 20 years earlier” and that’s why God condemns them. Or they get AIDS and see there, that proves it.

These are the winners of the LaBarbera Awards, the folks who run campaigns to “fight the homosexual agenda”, the Christian journalists who edit and editorialize so as to keep their stories subject to their dogma.

These are the folks who spend their life trying to convince you (and themselves) that they are not bigoted. You can recognize them by their stock phrase, “I don’t hate homosexuals.”

Response 4: Stepping away from the conundrum

It is my impression that the largest group of Christians when confronted with this conundrum just can’t deal with it. This is a tough contradiction and requires a response that is not easy to come by. So they walk away from it.

I see this response as taking one of a few different methods.

Response 4a: Abandoning decency and compassion

Some when confronted with the possibility that God is a cruel and petty dictator will just accept this as His prerogative. If there is a conflict between God’s laws and God’s mercy, they couldn’t care less; it’s not their problem. So they just choose to not see the conflict as a conflict at all.

This thinking is reminiscent of the bumper stickers in the 70′s which said, “God said it, I believe it, that settles it”. Or, more recently, “God Hates Fags.”

It may seem like this is a large group because they are the ones that say outrageous things and get attention. You see them making comments to every on-line news story. They write letters to the editor denouncing “homosexual activists”. Unlike the excuse makers, they really don’t care whether God is fair to you or not so it’s no conundrum to them.

Fortunately, this is not really that big of a group. Most Christians don’t have a complete and total lack of compassion when it comes to their faith. Most do care if their neighbors appear to be condemned in Scripture unfairly. But unfortunately, those who really don’t give a damn about gay folk are very very vocal.

Response 4b: Abandoning faith

Some people reach a conundrum of faith, look at the paradox, and realize, “ya know, I don’t believe any of this crap.”

For many gay Christians, the challenge between what they have been taught to believe and what they know to be true has resulted in the wholesale dismissal of religion altogether. The evangelical zeal of some biblical literalists has converted many gay folk… to atheism or agnosticism.

Not only do they toss out doctrine, dogma, and tradition, they find that they don’t really believe in God at all, or at least not in a religious way. And if there are no gods at all, why spend time worrying about whether or not they are fair?

Response 4c: Waiting to see

I think that this is the response most often taken by Christians who are confronted with the Great Conundrum.

They don’t read Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic. They are not scholars. They have not experienced divine revelation. So they’ll technically trust their pastor for the moment while waiting for the “religious authorities” to figure it all out.

This is often seen in people who attend church regularly, enjoy their spiritual life, but also like their gay friends. They avoid discussions about “sin” and “hell” because they don’t really know what they believe. Their preacher says that gay folk are sinners, but these folk are not get too caught up in that and they’ll just leave that all up to gay folk to work out with God.

That may seem like a cop out. It may feel like this person really needs to decide between their religious beliefs and their friends and get over it already.

But taking a time out for more observation is not unreasonable. Provided, of course, that it does not turn into blind obedience of tradition and dogma masked by ignorance and guided by a lack of concern.

CONCLUSION

Those who have no faith or who may have already dealt with this issue can sometimes be impatient.

C’mon. Look at the evidence. Let go of your bigotry!

But we should not be impatient. This is not an easy process for people of faith. And quite often they don’t really know who to believe.

But in our frustration at the snails pace that change can sometimes take, let’s console ourselves with this thought: Having fought through a difficult decision, having questioned their core beliefs, those who come to find that God has an abundant welcome which includes gay men and women are not likely to be fickle with their affections. They fought for this resolution and they will not give it up easily.

All we can do is try and live our lives with dignity, decency, and self-worth, to spread the truth about sexuality as it is further developed, and to be consistently compassionate to those who are caught in a conundrum.

Comments

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Lynn David
May 3rd, 2010 | LINK

You went from 3a to 3c, did you forget to post 3b or just get the designation wrong?

I had this same genre of talk with a bisexual fellow the other night. He was somewhat militant against any religious condemnation of us. I pointed out there are all levels of thought among religious and you have to take that into account and work with them from there. For instance, I pointed out to him that there were some whose religious convictions were that homosexuality (the behavior) is always a sin, but still they manage to accept gays and lesbians at face value and even support our rights. You certainly cannot broad-brush Christians these days about homosexuality (and that is coming from an atheist).

BTW… speaking of science. I ran across the notion that there is no such thing as perfection in the universe – especially at the inception of it. There had to be a flaw or we would not be here. It sort of goes against the grain of Genesis and each, “and god saw that it was good” statement concerning creation. Nothing has ever been good, that is perfect. Perfection leads to stasis and death. Life demands a flaw.

Neil D
May 3rd, 2010 | LINK

I appreciate the thoughtful attempt to bridge the gap between religion and our homosexual lives. Ulitimately, though, I see the logic of the position taken by the Evangelical Free Church. They are within their rights to see our behavior as sinful just as they are within their rights to see divorce, sex outside of marriage, masturbation, or any other behavior as sinful. To deny our sinful nature is to be willful in our sin and reject repentence. Being openly (and sinfully) homosexual is no different, in their eyes, from being openly adulterous. If I were a member of their church, I expect they would not want me to go around saying that stealing food is not a sin if you are hungry.

Here is a fact: Many religions teach that homosexuality is a sin. Why can’t we just accept that, say we don’t believe it, and move on to another religion or atheism. Why must we challenge their theology? It is a fools game to argue the question on religious terms. Those who reject our civil right to be left alone and to pursue our happiness must be opposed in the secular world. To a great extent, we’ve already won that battle. Extending this battle into their churches is, I think, unnecessary and counter productive.

DN
May 3rd, 2010 | LINK

I agree with Neil – I don’t really care what someone’s religion says about me, my boyfriend, my cats, my car, or anything else. All I want is equal treatment when dealing with the government. But then I remember that there are a lot of people in America who oppose (to one degree or another) church / state separation.

CPT_Doom
May 3rd, 2010 | LINK

Neil, I don’t think anyone in the LGBT civil rights movement wants to change what individual religious groups believe (although there are certainly LGBT members of many churches trying to do exactly that – and that is their right). The problem is that those churches who condemn homosexuality are not willing to accept that there are those who disagree with them, and that we have equal rights.

That is perhaps the biggest problem with the thought process Timothy has so well outlined her – the moral superiority that comes with it. Because believers are often convinced that they have found the one and true path to God, it is easy for them to believe they are superior to those who are “lost” or on the wrong path. And there are many self-styled preachers out there who are all too willing to promote that idea and then move their church members to enforce their beliefs in the political arena, creating classes of sub-citizens who don’t fit their model of perfection or morality.

One response that Timothy did not cover is to directly challenge Premise 2. There is no one “bible,” even for the various Christian denominations, and there are demonstrable errors in every single version of them (just ask Gallileo). Therefore any one denomination’s “bible” cannot be perfectly true.

More importantly, the entire course of scripture that most Christians believe in (just to use the example I know best) shows human after human allowed to make pretty huge errors by God in order to learn. Can’t the belief in the inerrancy of the “bible” be one of those?

IMHO any human being – a resident of a completely commonplace planet orbiting a completely standard sun in the completely regular outer area of a fairly typical spiral galaxy, which itself exists within a very common cluster of galaxies within only one universe within the multiverse of potential such universes – who thinks that they can know the mind of the power that created all of that with any accuracy is a fool.

TampaZeke
May 3rd, 2010 | LINK

Neil, the simple answer to your question is, because they don’t just have religious beliefs that they believe and uphold for themselves. They take those religious beliefs and turn them into laws that take away our rights and force others to be legally obligated to follow THEIR religious beliefs. I don’t see outsiders trying to change different churches’ beliefs so much as simply trying to keep them from institutionalizing them for civil society. I do see MEMBERS of certain churches asking THEIR OWN churches to reconsider their beliefs. That is nothing new and is certainly not exclusive to the gay debate. Women Baptists and Catholics have EVERY right to challenge their churches’ discrimination against women just as gay members of various anti-gay churches have every right to challenge their churches when they believe that they’ve misinterpreted or misapplied the teachings of their faith.

On a related note. I’m proud to announce that the Florida Conference of the United Church of Christ has just, this weekend, voted unanimously (save one individual out of hundreds of delegates) to declare the entire Conference, which represents 100 churches, OPEN AND AFFIRMING for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersexed and questioning people.

David
May 3rd, 2010 | LINK

“Many religions teach that homosexuality is a sin. Why can’t we just accept that, say we don’t believe it, and move on to another religion or atheism. Why must we challenge their theology?”

Because the war over homosexuality really is not about us vs. them. It is the latest skirmish in a war between two different world views – between domination theology and liberation theology.

The first preaches a ‘slaves to Christ’ approach – anything deemed by doctrine or tradition to be sin must be sacrificed to faith. It is pre-Luther theology, and can summed up as ‘saved by works’. Each person is to assert domination over the self, and society over each person, to create a society where only “good works” are allowed.

Liberation theology is the opposite, it has its roots in Luther’s theology of ‘saved by grace through faith’, and embraces Peter’s vision from God “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.” (Acts 11, 1-18). The laws of Christ becomes the standard by which any other biblical law is evaluated and any that violate ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’, ‘Love God with your entire self’ are perceived as either false or misinterpreted.

Like it or not, the battle between liberation and domination is, and has been, shaping human culture. The political changes leading to democracy in place of monarchies, the eradication of slavery and the advancement of civil equality for women, the erosion of class based inequities – all of these steps to civil equality for everyone reflect the transition from domination to liberation.

And though it may offend some who condemn Christianity, the history is very clear that it is predominantly people of faith who have created this change, not only in their churches, but in the world around them. Human society is marching, slowly and haltingly, to liberation.

In the U.S., Christianity is the predominant influence on people’s sense of right and wrong, and for civil liberty to continue to growth, liberation theology must grow as well. It must grow in terms of who it applies to, embracing GLBTQ people as it has already embraced people of color and women. It must grow in numerical terms, converting those who would be oppressors on the basis of sexuality just as it has converted many would be oppressors on the basis of race.

The reality is that atheism cannot win this war for liberation. There are not enough atheists to make a difference. And atheism’s premise is essentially dominationist – by asserting that the experiences and lives of people of faith are irrelevant. Replacing fundamentalist Christianity with atheism simply exchanges one domination system for another.

And bear in mind, atheists are not in agreement on homosexuality and gay rights, or women’s rights, or racism. There is no shortage of homophobic or racist or sexist atheists, and the ‘we have the only answer and everyone else is wrong’ explicit message of atheism not only mirrors fundamentalist religion, it opposes liberation and self-determination.

Changing religions won’t help, many are just as caught up in the struggle between domination and liberation. Some over the issue of sexuality, others over issues even more fundamental.

While religion is not the only force participating in humanity’s march toward liberty and justice for all, it is a major player, and abandoning it to dominationism is self-defeating not just for GLBTQ people, but for any oppressed or oppressable people.

David
May 3rd, 2010 | LINK

Re:”change what individual religious groups believe”

This is always raised as if there was some form of coercion involved, which plays into the lie used by fundamentalist religionists. But liberation theology does not advocate force, and the “LGBT members of many churches trying to do exactly that” are not attempting or even considering coercion.

Rather, there is an effort to provide information to those who lack it, to enable someone who believes ‘homosexuality is sin’ to change their own mind and heart, rather than have change forced on them. The coercive approach is how domination is expressed and so it is only natural for those who embrace domination to assume that change, of any kind, must be coerced. Domination theology assumes ‘everyone is basically corrupt, incapable of recognizing what is good’. And so change “for the good”, whatever the good may be, must be coerced.

But liberation theology begins from a very different place spiritually and socially and psychologically. Liberation theology assumes that people are capable of recognizing what is good, when given the chance – an assumption that is the foundation of Christ’s ‘love your neighbor as yourself’ as well.

What progressive people of faith are trying to do is educate and empower their more fundamentalist peers to change their own minds about these issues, to empower the anti-gay Christian to change his or her own mind about homosexuality, to empower the misogynist to change his or her own mind about gender roles and what women are allowed to do, etc.

Change is absolutely the goal, but, not a change forced from outside or above or next door, but coming from within each person, as reflection of their change in knowledge and understanding.

It is ironic, because that change from within is a fundamental concept even for fundamentalist Christians, even as they resist it with all their might. And it frightens them, makes them feel vulnerable and threatened from within themselves. Unfortunately, their response to vulnerability and fear, like that of bullies, is to become even more domineering, to win their inner war by oppressing the outer world around them. It is ironic because the war between the old (domination) and the new (liberation) is a strong theme in the very Bible that fundamentalist Christians use to prop up their domination.

In practice, it is crucial to do at least two things at once – point out the crime, the harm, the sin implicit and intrinsic to oppression of any kind including anti-gay theology, all the while providing both the evidence and the room necessary for people to change their own minds in response to awareness of the harm they are doing.

Timothy Kincaid
May 3rd, 2010 | LINK

Lynn David,

Thank. It was a typo.

Jason D
May 3rd, 2010 | LINK

“The reality is that atheism cannot win this war for liberation. There are not enough atheists to make a difference. And atheism’s premise is essentially dominationist – by asserting that the experiences and lives of people of faith are irrelevant. Replacing fundamentalist Christianity with atheism simply exchanges one domination system for another.”

I beg to differ, domination has nothing to do with atheism. In fact, all the atheists I’ve met are all about the liberation from organized religion.

“And bear in mind, atheists are not in agreement on homosexuality and gay rights, or women’s rights, or racism. There is no shortage of homophobic or racist or sexist atheists, and the ‘we have the only answer and everyone else is wrong’ explicit message of atheism
not only mirrors fundamentalist religion, it opposes liberation and self-determination.”

WHAT?

Since when is “everyone else is wrong” the explicit message of atheism???

How on earth can there be an explicit message to a group with no rules, no shared value system, no organization, no culture, no agenda, and no collective goal or purpose?

David, you’ve fallen into the trap of believing that Atheism is an alternate version of religion. An Anti-religion (like an anti-hero). It is not.

The “A” in atheism means “without”. As in “without god” basically atheists are without faith. They are not anti-god. That would be ANTI-theism.

Atheism is a large, broad group of people who range from those who are uninterested or unconvinced about religion and spirituality to those who firmly deny it.

To paint the entire group as one singular philosophy is ridiculous. Atheists are not united in any sense — and that’s the point.

I believe you’re the one that keeps coming back to this blog and tries to force a diverse, eclectic, un-unified, and vaguely defined group into a firm, solid, rigid mold. It shows you have limited understanding of both the subject matter and it’s complexities.

While it is true there are some atheists who are anti-religion, they are no more representative of the group than drag queens are representative of all LGBT people.

Priya Lynn
May 3rd, 2010 | LINK

David said “There is no shortage of homophobic or racist or sexist atheists”.

BS, such atheists are few and far between. Go and hang out at a blog like Pharyngula, you’ll see atheists are overwhelmingly equal rights advocates. Of course you don’t want to actually check it out and see for yourself, it would interfere with the distortions you love so much.

David said “and the ‘we have the only answer and everyone else is wrong’ explicit message of atheism not only mirrors fundamentalist religion, it opposes liberation and self-determination.”.

That is just as much your message as it is the message of atheists. If you think atheism mirrors fundamentalist religion, opposes liberation and self-determination then most certainly your philosophy does as well.

Neil D
May 3rd, 2010 | LINK

David writes in response to my comment:

“Because the war over homosexuality really is not about us vs. them. It is the latest skirmish in a war between two different world views – between domination theology and liberation theology.”

Forgive me if I don’t want to enlist!

What I see in some of these comments is a strong desire to change religion itself. And that is exactly my point about moving on to either another religion or atheism. You have set for yourself an impossible goal.

I want my civil rights and will fight for them in the secular world. But I have no desire to connect that fight to the larger fights over the relevance of various fundamentalist or liberal religions in the 21st century.

Why would we do that?

Timothy Kincaid
May 3rd, 2010 | LINK

Neil D,

“Because the war over homosexuality really is not about us vs. them. It is the latest skirmish in a war between two different world views – between domination theology and liberation theology.”

Forgive me if I don’t want to enlist!

Neil, this commentary isn’t about you or what you want to do. It isn’t even about “a strong desire to change religion.”

It’s about what Christians experience when their worldview is challenged. What they experience.

You don’t have to enlist in the conversation.

Neil D
May 3rd, 2010 | LINK

Thanks Timothy – message received.

It’s sometimes hard not to come away from these “conversations” with the impression that our interests (religious vs secular LGBT) have diverged.

penguinsaur
May 3rd, 2010 | LINK

David said “and the ‘we have the only answer and everyone else is wrong’ explicit message of atheism not only mirrors fundamentalist religion, it opposes liberation and self-determination.”.

II see David’s back with his usual atheist bashing bull****. So wanna tell us about the many, many Christians who think Hindu’s have the right answer? What about Muslims who think Jews have the right answer?

Whats that? Every single religion to ever exist has asserted that “we have the only answer and everyone else is wrong”? That’s absurd. That would mean David is being a shifty, lying douche trying to claim it’s bad that athiests think they’re right when holding any opinion whatsoever on any subject whatsoever requires you to think your answer is right and all others are wrong.

PS: Wanna come up with some actual statistics on how many athiests are bigots? Because it’s been statistically proven the majority of American Christians hate gay people *unless you wanna parrot Maggie Gallagher and tell us people voting to take our rights away don’t hate us*

Timothy Kincaid
May 3rd, 2010 | LINK

Neil,

I don’t think that religious and secular LGBT necessarily have competing interests, just that sometimes they aren’t the same interests.

The lesbian minister in the United Methodist Church who is trying to keep both her ministry and her integrity may have a different set or priorities than the gay man serving in the Air Force.

But it is all part of the quest for equality and each persons battle reflects on and builds on the other.

In this instance, I am focusing on the difficulties that religious people – Christians in particular – have when they find that their underlying worldview, their faith and belief structure, is challenged.

Timothy Kincaid
May 3rd, 2010 | LINK

I’ll not be letting this thread become another anti-atheist v. anti-Christian bashfest. I’ll be deleting any following comments that go that way.

(Though, Penguisaur, I don’t think that most people who vote to take our rights away actually do hate us. I think hate plays a much smaller role in all of this than anti-gay activists can sometimes make it seem. I plan on a commentary on this subject soon.)

cd
May 3rd, 2010 | LINK

Because the war over homosexuality really is not about us vs. them. It is the latest skirmish in a war between two different world views – between domination theology and liberation theology.

That’s unfortunately too narrow and particularistic a perspective. The social status of homosexuals and homosexuality is an issue the globe over at the moment, an argument within all kinds of religions and social groups- including those in which dominion vs liberation is no issue.

I view it as a question in which the Modern and the pre-Modern (pre-scientific, nature deity pagan/occultic) worldviews collide, much like they have on race and ethnicity and the status of women. The religious anti-gay argument is at bottom that homosexual behaviors are “unnatural”, i.e. constitute known violations of Laws Of Nature imposed by nature deity.

The stakes are more empirically this: Modern understanding is that homosexuality is a behavioral difference from the majority, not inherently a manifestation of insanity. To Modern understanding forms of bipolar disorder (and the tic disorder spectrum generally) are increasingly identified with social unreliability/insanity and as sources of social trauma and dysfunction.

The anti-gay activist side’s view is the traditional certainty that homosexuality is a manifestation of insanity or its equivalent, demonic possession, along with a violation of a Divine proscription. More subtle is that the anti-gay side also works to keep certain forms and behaviors legitimated as mainstream that in pre-Modern times were indeed accepted as normal range. But to the eye that looks clinically at such things, e.g. mine, these increasingly like unwitting rationalizations and increasing demands for legal protections for coping mechanisms that adults with either suppressed homosexuality or e.g. undiagnosed bipolar disorder employ. I.e. the secretive authoritarian patriarchal family in which everyone suffers various kinds of abuse that one parent can’t restrain themselves from inflicting.

So I see an argument about who is sane and who isn’t in an argument formally about homosexuality, with definite winners and losers.

And though it may offend some who condemn Christianity, the history is very clear that it is predominantly people of faith who have created this change, not only in their churches, but in the world around them. Human society is marching, slowly and haltingly, to liberation.

As a former Christian who has considered the matter and the evidence for it carefully, I would suggest to you that Christianity is a vehicle for many things mostly from the Ancient World. Christianity’s core- the argument about Sin and Salvation- is conservative, containing a low assessment of human goodness and no actual grounds to expect the improvement of the world or mankind over time. (That this seems to be the case and is occurring at a remove from religion, indeed as religion declines, is also telling.) Liberal Christianity takes its spirit from other sources.

The notion of successful redemption of the world by increments as a human duty is found in e.g. Judaism.

The reality is that atheism cannot win this war for liberation. There are not enough atheists to make a difference. And atheism’s premise is essentially dominationist – by asserting that the experiences and lives of people of faith are irrelevant. Replacing fundamentalist Christianity with atheism simply exchanges one domination system for another.

True enough about the first point. But I’ll disagree with the second. What Modernity does over time is put religions in such a relationship to reality that they have to shed their accretions. Thereby slowly reducing each religion’s believed portions and authoritative interpretation to the mystical religious teaching and experience from which they came originally.

We live in a time in which the Church and extra-Biblical Christian materials and institutions have lost their political power in American life almost completely. The struggle for gay rights is in the American religious arena a part of the major contemporary argument, about the authority of the traditional interpretation of the letters of Paul. In a generation or sooner that will not be much of an argument anymore and the authority of the traditional interpretation of the Gospels- the deity status of Jesus- will be.

One of the accretions or inadequate conceptions that faces erosion in this way is theism. Atheism serves as the idea or movement whose work is that particular erosion.

AdrianT
May 3rd, 2010 | LINK

“And though it may offend some who condemn Christianity, the history is very clear that it is predominantly people of faith who have created this change, not only in their churches, but in the world around them. Human society is marching, slowly and haltingly, to liberation.”

The figures actually show a march away from religion altogether. But attributing past successes to faith is exaggerated. Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson – the authors of one of the greatest documents ever written, guaranteeing rights to individuals, and not to god, were deists. Thomas Paine called for abolition way ahead of 19th century faith inspired pioneers like Wilberforce. The trades unionists and marxists like Bayard Rustin, were as important as Martin Luther King (who took inspiration from the book of Exodus – very inspiring, but what did the chosen people do after they came down from the mountain?).

I accept the great works done by the Quakers; however, we owe a great debt to enlightenment thinkers, to breakthroughs in Science, to great people like Charles Darwin, who empowered people to question, to doubt, to reason, to demand evidence, to scrutinize.

That is not replacing one dominion with another as david above suggested. Science and reason, challenging authority, are the ways to arrive at the truth. Science is strengthened through scrutiny, whereas beliefs in gods, demons are diminished.

People don’t just leave the church because pastors say nasty things about gays – it’s because the reasoning is absurd in the first place. Once you realize there was no ‘Eden’ or ‘Fall’ or biblical flood, and that we evolved from other apes in Africa – that washes away superstitious explanations about homosexuality. Free thinkers, better educated and armed with more knowledge, are improving all the time at putting the case against religion coherently, and convincingly. The Bush government and 9/11 made it a necessity for a more assertive atheism.

That is why the evangelicals hate evolution so much: more than anything else, it pulls down the foundation of their morality and their world view. It is as important to support Exodus and Narth as it is to fund creationism, or take over state education boards, like in Texas, where children are now being denied proper science education.

All churches that have accepted the truth about the origins of life are in terminal decline. I think the successful churches are going to be the literalists in the long term. If you look at the percentage of Americans who think that Genesis is literally true, it’s always been about 40%; it’s not shifting much. It may take a few generations to get these people out of the dark ages.

Overall then the real battle is between enlightenment thinking and reason versus militant theocracy. How, more than what, people think.

DavidMichael
May 3rd, 2010 | LINK

I don’t think we have a homosexual issue going on, I think we have a God issue going on. After intense study of the lead up to the crucifixion, I have come to a few conclusions:

1) Jesus stood for 2 commandments, love thy neighbor and love God, which would cover all ten of the Judeo-Christian commandments.

2) I think Jesus knew the Judeo God was all out wrong and hyped as that God has two heads, a breeding ground for insanity when opposites are involved. Pontius Pilot did not want to kill Jesus as he did not see him as much of a threat. The Sanhedrin (the religious Jewish hierarchy)felt otherwise, and I don’t believe a few miracles and a “turn the other cheek” philosophy would have gotten them riled enough for death. I truly believe they felt Jesus was going to turn Judaism on it’s ear. And if he had succeeded, we would not be having this discussion because only the God of love would exist in scripture, which would be the accurate description of “the one true God” having one head, of love only. The fact that man was “made in the image and likeness of God” is a big tell tale sign that we very well could have been lab created by another physical being, with “two heads” of fear and love, so to speak.

3) Jesus’ death meant that Judaism still ruled, even with the Christian component, as it does today. We do not have an authentic distilled Christian only church yet, short of one by Marianne Williamson who teaches A Course In Miracles, all teachings of Jesus only, in LA, CA. Jesus said “upon this rock I will build MY church” which never got built because of religious political reasons resulting in his death, if my conclusions hold water.

4) We have a Judeo-Christian religion. The Christian part is the love Jesus taught, the Jewish part is the condemning God piece, which is unprovable and speculative at best.

If we actually lived in a sane world, the Judeo God would be on trial here, not gays. I think a lot of people, especially the younger generation are getting wise to this skeptical God scene and calling BS. The true Christian God has yet to surface in any great magnitude. But if we are to live in “a thousand years of peace” it won’t happen with the current model.

I believe the only reason true ancient Christians had to bow to Judaism at all by including the OT as “gospel truth”, and the bleed through into the NT, was well, they were simply outnumbered.

Neil D
May 4th, 2010 | LINK

Mr. Kincaid wants me have compassion for those well-meaning Christians who struggle to reconcile their beliefs with my struggle for civil rights. Fair enough. I am, actually, a patient man in this regard. In my first two comments, I suggested that we disentangle our fight for civil rights from religion entirely. Let me be clear. I am prepared to accept that some religious people don’t like me, don’t want me around them, and don’t want me working in their organizations. In exchange, I merely ask that they leave me alone.

Yet I was informed by other commenters that this won’t work because:

“The problem is that those churches who condemn homosexuality are not willing to accept that there are those who disagree with them, and that we have equal rights.”

“They take those religious beliefs and turn them into laws that take away our rights and force others to be legally obligated to follow THEIR religious beliefs.”

“Because the war over homosexuality really is not about us vs. them.”

And that:

“it is crucial to do at least two things at once – point out the crime, the harm, the sin implicit and intrinsic to oppression of any kind including anti-gay theology…”

Mr. Kincaid encouraged me to disengage from the conversation and protested that his commentary was not about me. Yet nearly every commenter drew the logical conclusion that, in fact, his commentary was about me – about us. Everyone seems to think that we must change their religious beliefs in order to safeguard our civil rights.

Mr. Kincaid counsels patience and ends with platitudes about living our lives with dignity and spreading the truth about sexuality.

So Mr. Kincaid it appears you, like the others, want to change religion too. Well that’s not my fight. It is, in my opinion, unnecessary and counter-productive. Maybe we owe them more than compassion for their conundrum. Maybe we owe them their right to not like us.

CLS
May 4th, 2010 | LINK

Leaving the faith over its view of homosexuality is not reasonable, if the faith is correct. But is it correct? One may begin questioning religion and theism because of the conundrum of antigay Christianity but it is not sufficient reason to abandon religion. Their are legitimate reasons to become an atheist, but that isn’t one of them. The concept of god itself doesn’t make sense and is contradictory or, at best, undefined nonsense.

Emily K
May 4th, 2010 | LINK

DavidMichael, you could not be more wrong about Judaism. If you studied the Rabbinical writings and the Oral Torah you would see that the Gospels have painted us as stereotyped obsessive fundamentalists. Nothing could be, and could have been, further from the truth. Take Hillel the Elder as one example. Before Jesus came around (if he even existed) Hillel espoused “the greatest commandment is ‘love thy neighbor as thyself, that is the sum of the torah. all else is interpretation. go and learn it.’”

DavidMichael
May 4th, 2010 | LINK

Emily,

What in my comment, made you deduce that I was advocating that Jews were “obsessive fundamentalists”?

I have never thought that Jews were akin to the strident bunch labeled “right wing” Phelps types; I’ve always viewed Jews as quite the opposite actually.

Jason D
May 4th, 2010 | LINK

Neil, I think you’re conflating a bunch of things.

The missing component is this:

There are gay christians.

And just as any other Christian, their faith is often what ties them to the community. A church is not necessarily made up of people who all agree on all subjects. There are groups (soulforce, I believe is one) made up of gay/progressive christians who are lobbying their own church for change. Is this not permissible in your book? I don’t believe Timothy was espousing those outside a particular faith group try to change it, that would be ridiculous, my understanding is that Timothy is speaking about LGBT people who are part of Church ABC striving for change from within.

You have a very good point about letting people not like us, and I think most people would agree with that.

The issue is that “not liking us” doesn’t seem to satisfy them. I think Ben In Oakland is fond of saying “hey, just treat us LGBT people the same way you treat Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Unitarians, and all the other folks you think are going to hell.” I find that to be a reasonable request. People don’t have to like or accept Judaism to simply leave Jewish people alone. Somehow LGBT are not extended this same courtesy.

I don’t think people are saying we have to change their beliefs — what they’re saying is that us simply saying “you have a right to think I’m a sinner” and walking away won’t stop them from passing laws or persecuting us further. Telling a mugger, “you have the right to desire my money or belongings” is certainly the truth, but that doesn’t really solve the problem of getting mugged, now does it?

Timothy Kincaid
May 4th, 2010 | LINK

cd,

You make some very intersting points. But I do want to quibble with one:

I would suggest to you that Christianity is a vehicle for many things mostly from the Ancient World. Christianity’s core- the argument about Sin and Salvation- is conservative, containing a low assessment of human goodness and no actual grounds to expect the improvement of the world or mankind over time.

I think that you are mistaking Sin and Salvation with it’s predecessor, Sin and Punishment (what Paul called “the law of sin and death”).

I would agree that Sin and Punishment was a very ancient and very conservative concept and still sits at the heart of much of the theology of many Christian denominations. But Sin and Salvation is a radical, wildly liberal concept (please recognize that I use “Sin” cautiously here).

If we recall the origins of Christianity, it was presented as “good news”, unlike the religions around it, you weren’t facing punishment or penalty for your errors or flaw but instead forgiveness for free. Even the word “salvation” serves as a reminder that one is “saved” from having to pay a penalty or serve punishment.

Radical.

But, of course, 2000 years of word games now presents Christianity, for many, as a religion based on “follow me or go to Hell”. We are all “sinners in the hands of an angry God” deserving of eternal fire and only granted by our desperate clinging to a somewhat tenuous grace that gives us even the slightest hope of redemption.

Not so radical.

As I see it, the extent to which one holds to either punishment or to salvation (or, as stated above to domination v. liberation theology) informs which response one will have when faced with a religious conundrum such as homosexuality.

Timothy Kincaid
May 4th, 2010 | LINK

Emily

If you studied the Rabbinical writings and the Oral Torah you would see that the Gospels have painted us as stereotyped obsessive fundamentalists.

The practice of singling out ones enemies and describing them in the most negative terms is not a new one.

When the gospel writers spoke about those whom they saw as oppressors and enemies, they weren’t complementary. Just as we here do not always use complementary terms to describe those on the Christian right who lead the cause to deny us our rights.

And just as it can sometimes appear that we are condemning all Christians (and some sites do conflate all Christendom and call it homophobic), so too do can the gospels appear to an ignorant reader as a stereotyping of all Jews. Readers of the gospels need to remind themselves that in a large part these were communications from Jews, to Jews, and about Jews. And that rants against one particular sect are to be understood to be biased, just as a Baptist writing about Catholic beliefs is biased.

Priya Lynn
May 4th, 2010 | LINK

Timothy said “If we recall the origins of Christianity, it was presented as “good news”, unlike the religions around it, you weren’t facing punishment or penalty for your errors or flaw but instead forgiveness for free.”.

LOL, yes, right, accept this “free” “gift” or face eternal torture.

Richard Rush
May 4th, 2010 | LINK

Priya Lynn said, “LOL, yes, right, accept this “free” “gift” or face eternal torture.”

It reminds me of a Mafia protection racket. But at least the Mafia doesn’t want anything more than your money.

wendy
May 5th, 2010 | LINK

Thank you Timothy. Describing the spectrum of Christian response to this conundrum is helpful – because no one benefits from painting everyone with the same brush – wehther that be gay people, Christian people, or gay Christian people. We all need the space and freedom to process our own journeys – even as we remind one another along the way to extend that same space and freedom to others.

penguinsaur
May 6th, 2010 | LINK

(Though, Penguisaur, I don’t think that most people who vote to take our rights away actually do hate us. I think hate plays a much smaller role in all of this than anti-gay activists can sometimes make it seem. I plan on a commentary on this subject soon.)

“They don’t think I deserve the same rights as them, but it doesn’t mean they don’t like me!”

Uh huh…

Jason D
May 6th, 2010 | LINK

penguinsaur,

Yeah, I have a hard time with that one too.

But in a certain respect I think there might be a bit of validity.

I’m sure there were plenty of men who treated women like Goddesses and respected them sincerely — they just didn’t think women should vote or own property.

I’m sure there were some slave owners back in the day who treated their slaves nicely, like one of the family, like people — they just didn’t think they should be free.

I’m sure there were some white folks who didn’t have anything “personal” against black folks, they just didn’t want them voting, or going to school with their kids, or marrying white people.

Except I have an issue with that.
How can a person, have an opinion about other persons and have it not be personal?

I have a hard time not laughing when people say “I don’t have anything against gay people, I just think marriage is only between a man and a woman.” The position “marriage is only between a man and a woman” is directly AGAINST gay couples getting married. It’s AGAINST gay people. It’s not like you can come to that decision in this world and pretend gay people had nothing to do with it. It’s not like you were trying to prevent walruses from marrying people and “oh look, coincidentally this also deprives gays of their rights, too, oops!” It’s not a coincidence, or unfortunate side effect, it’s the whole goal and purpose.

Guess what, I’m on the side of marriage between a man and a woman. BUT I don’t think that’s the only possibility. SO I support straight marriage AND gay marriage. It’s not the support of “traditional marriage” that’s the issue it’s when that’s the only thing on the menu that’s the problem.

Timothy Kincaid
May 6th, 2010 | LINK

The world is not broken into the dichotomy of “they like me” and “they hate me”. There are a lot of shades between.

I plan on writing something about this at some point soon. But in the meanwhile:

I recall my reaction when Alberto Kenya Fujimori won the Peruvian presidential election. It felt odd, something was out of place.

Was it because I hate Japanese people? No. It wasn’t even an underlying bigotry relating to the Japanese.

It was because I held prejudices about who “should be” president of Peru. It was supposed to be someone who was a “real Peruvian”, that is, someone Latino.

Now, it didn’t take long to get my head around the idea that “real Peruvians” come in many ethnicities and, of course, Peru’s voters can elect whomever they want. But my first response was flavored by a prejudice of which I was never even aware.

My point is that we should be cautious to assign the motivation of “hate” to what may be nothing more that a prejudice that has not been fully examined.

We all have prejudices, folks. It’s what we do with them once we recognize them that matters.

michael
May 13th, 2010 | LINK

“God has said that homosexuality is forbidden and abomination to him. This is evident in Scripture and it is abundantly clear that homosexuality is not to be tolerated.”

actually this is proven as incorrect. relations between same sex partners is not listed in the bible at all, the bible only mentions community rape. the people who initiated the anti-gay movement were the same people who initiated the anti-sex movement. the catholic ruler in Rome that started the march against sex period which has since included homosexuality in recent years as his values have been carried into the modern church for those who are fanatic fundamentalists. its an idea rather then actual doctrine. this is just like the concept of angels having wings, this concept came from early paintings rather then actual doctrine.

Lars Winstrom
May 21st, 2010 | LINK

[Ed: We do not allow a cut and paste of other people’s work. Those wanting to read about a hypothetical cure for homosexuality based on pheromones can do so here.]

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