Don't repeat the mistake on page 847 of The Prayer Book .  Here is what God really requires from the chosen people:

Do justice

A series of essays towards General Convention in 2003


A Psychological Issue Continually Overlooked
in the 'Gay' Debate

by Rob Voyle, Psy.D.rob@voyle.com

One psychological angle is continually overlooked in any discussion about sexuality. In my teaching on the issues of sexuality and orientation I always begin by addressing two basic psychological issues.

  1. Human beings are universally ashamed of their sexuality. From a theological perspective after they ate the fruit of the Tree of knowledge the people knew they were naked and were ashamed. I think that is an anthropological story about why people of all cultures (at least in my review of National Geographic magazines :-) cover the adult genitalia. What this means is that we will never have a truly rational conversation about sex as will start to tap into varying levels of shame in the room. This shame is manifested in many ways but is clearly seen in the intensity of guilt people can get into, even about sexual thoughts, but not give a second feeling about their greed and the way their living causes others to suffer. I think of the shame and public outcry and desire to impeach one president for getting oral sex in the White House and the incredible public support for a president who appears to commit the sin of Sodom (Ezekiel 16:49) on a daily basis in the White House...but I digress.

  2. With respect to Homosexuality, and this is true especially for men, lesser extent for women. The vast majority of straight men have a visceral aversion to homosexual sex. The aversion occurs at a primeval visceral level and is intense enough to cause vomiting.
    This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. --Ezekiel 16:49
    This has nothing to do with theology and probably little to do with culture as I have seen it across all cultures and socioeconomic levels. It is in my opinion a by-product of evolution and is probably akin to stranger anxiety that ultimately manifests in racial prejudice. Unless we recognize, address and disarm this visceral reaction we will also not be able to have an intelligent redemptive conversation. People shut down when they go visceral, moreover they will grab what ever is handy to justify the intense beyond-rational response. They will choose whatever Bible passage is handy to justify their response in order to reduce the anxiety. In addition they will seek to "kill" either in word or action that which evoked the response. After addressing these two issues I have found people much more able to engage in serious and compassionate Bible study, dialogue and other study on relevant psychological, sociological issues.

I use a combination of humor, Bible and psychological reflection. Most of my teaching relies on a version of socratic questioning presented with a degree of the TV detective's Columbo's style of inquisitiveness.

I usually begin by asking the question "Why did god create sex?" I then look at scripture The Adam and Eve story. This is garden pre fall where they are told to multiply i.e., sex is God's idea. Its not good for the man to be alone etc. The deep longing within humanity for intimacy. One of the things often overlooked in the list of reason's God gave us sex is pleasure, cf Sarah to the angel "Will I have pleasure again" I build a platform of positive regard for the gift of sexuality. Obviously sex is more than reproduction, because unlike most animals we engage in sexual behavior at times when a couple is not fertile.

We then look at the Fall, the issue of shame. All cultures despite how warm cover the adult genitals etc. I then make the case that we will not have an intelligent conversation about sex because of the shame. I may get them to think (in the privacy of their own minds) of their worst use, or most sinful expression of their sexuality. (I happen to believe that all human behavior is fallen and in need of redemption. Heterosexuals need the sexuality to be redeemed just as homosexuals do. I am not saying that homosexuality is a sin just that all sexual behavior needs to be redeemed to get it back to the purposes that God intended. ) As they think of this event I get them to assess their level of shame. Then I get them to think of the worst or most sinful use of their money and asses their level of shame. The vast majority will begin nodding their heads when I ask about which was greater.

I then address the issue of aversion to homosexuality. As I mentioned most straight men have a visceral aversion of homosexuality, and a tolerance to some extent and inquisitiveness about Lesbian sex. The reverse is true but to a lesser extent with women. Many straight women have an aversion to lesbian sex but not to gay sex. The intensity of this seems to be less in women than men. I also recognize that these are generalizations, but I am always amazed at the vast head nodding that goes on when I talk about these feelings. I point out that it has nothing to do with theology or Bible, because this aversion occurs beyond the Christian world. I believe that this aversion is actually evolutionary and is partly why the species survived. As a parallel example I talk about the evolutionary benefit of stranger anxiety, and the problem of racial prejudice. Just because we feel some way doesn't make it acceptable even if the feelings are part of some hard wiring. I have seen little children raised in very accepting families respond to others of a different race in very prejudicial ways. I think this relates to the sinful way in which we humans relate to others on the basis of evaluation of distinction and difference rather than on our common experience as children of God.

I also might share some of my own experience. I have worked extensively in the HIV/AIDS field and had many gay clients. I am totally OK intellectually with gay couples, blessing of same sex unions etc., but it still catches me by surprise viscerally when I see one of my gay couples kiss each other on the lips. I would also say that my aversion is way less intense than it would have been 15 years ago before I worked in the field. What I find in presenting this material of having a straight male acknowledge the feelings is that it normalizes many of the straight folks feelings but also helps them not to have to stay there. They can also recognize how they will then grab onto passages of scripture to justify their feelings. Having an intense feeling without justification is impossible for humans to cope with.

I might also ask people what the sin of Sodom is. Sodom is the standard Biblical example, even Jesus used it, of a people under condemnation. No one has yet given me Ezekiel's definition 16:49 of Sodom's sin. this also has the effect of disarming a purely literal view of a few passages and also reinforces the notion of shame and how it impacts the way we blindly read scripture.

I have been surprised at how the above has disarmed some of the visceral response and allowed a healthy conversation to take place. It hasn't helped everybody but has been very useful too many based on the feedback I have gotten.

Part of the socratic questioning is to raise confusion in people's minds about what they believe. Jesus was an expert at raising confusion in people's minds. As adults we will not learn anything until we get confused. Confusion means that the old way of mapping reality is not working to explain the reality we have before us. Obviously we need to manage the level of confusion. Too much, overwhelms and no learning occurs. If for example you simply stand up and tell a group of people that the sin of Sodom is: "16:49 This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. " you will create very little learning. On the other hand if you ask people what it is, get some ideas, generate some bewilderment, and then open your Bible and quote Ezekiel you will create a lot of learning, and in many cases soften the rigidity with which they have held other passages.

One of the things that has happened over the years with the constant conversation at conventions etc. is that many people are being desensitized to the physical aversion they have. Likewise as people come out of the closet and are seen as OK people that desensitizes people. A similar example occurred with the ordination of women. (granted the level of aversion was not as extreme, but for many people who were opposed their experience of women priests desensitized them and allowed them to then change their beliefs.)

Rob Voyle
Director, Clergy Leadership Institute


You are welcome to submit your essays for consideration for this series. Send them to lcrew@newark.rutgers.edu Identify yourself by name, snail address, parish, and other connections to the Episcopal Church. Please encourage others to do the same.

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