Commentary

Carl L. Jech responds to Dr. Strommen

Carl L. Jech, a religion and philosophy professor from San Francisco, California, sent this reply to Dr. Strommen:

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Former bishops Chilstrom and Erdahl, Strommen suggests, are introducing schism in the church. Quoting Pannenberg, he says they are straying from the Reformation tradition. I thought reformation was about change and about “time making ancient good uncouth.” Luther was accused of “introducing schism in the church.”

Strommen is looking for a “middle ground.” That certainly is typically Lutheran, but we must also bear in mind that Dietrich Bonhoeffer believed that there was no middle ground on Hitler and the Nazis. Is there a middle ground on Apartheid or genocide?

When folks like Jerry Falwell consign all homosexuals to hell — aiding and abetting murderers like those who killed Matthew Shepard — it is not surprising since he no doubt believes that all non-Christians (which is the vast majority of the human race) are going to hell. Strommen may not have such a negative view of all gay people (what does he think about other sexual minorities such as those who are intersexed?), but the general tone of his arguments does suggest a definite second-class status for unconventional sexuality in general. And there is a dangerously thin line between such second-class status and Apartheid, genocide, or forced conversions!

Attacking the assumption that homosexuality is equal to heterosexuality, Strommen generalizes that homosexuality is against the biblical norm. Scholars always have disagreements, but a very solid case can be made that our doctrine of Creation should embrace the incredible diversity of divine creativity. Is it anything short of idolatrous to elevate conventional heterosexuality to the level of the divine? Has Strommen read L. William Countryman’s Fortress book “Dirt, Greed and Sex”? When quoting St. Paul let us remember that Paul sometimes reflects the cultural mores of his time, that Paul himself says that not everything he writes is “from the Lord,” and that he most explicitly condemns moralistic judgmentalism. The idea that “the plain sense of Scripture” is clearly anti-gay is losing steam and Strommen comes off as stoking the fires again.

Strommen is certainly right when he describes homosexuality as a “highly complex subject.” That is more true of all sexuality than he seems to understand. But he gives himself away when he goes on to state that few homosexuals “have wanted or welcomed their orientation.” I question whether Strommen is any more widely read on this subject or any more in touch with psychology and psychologists than I, and I understand the current consensus to be that discomfort with being gay is largely the result of societal pressures and a desire to be accepted, not the result of an inner or natural sense a person has that there is something wrong or disgusting about being gay. Of course, because all sexuality is complex, many if not all or most people experience some confusion, searching or uncertainty as they discover their sexuality, and if “ex-gay” efforts were only about helping people discover who they really are and how they really feel there would be little objection. But the whole ethos of “ex-gay” thinking tends to be based on the false assumption that being gay is clearly somewhere between unfortunate and sinful!

The major problem with this assumption is that it attacks the self-esteem of all gay people and indeed any kind of “sexual minority.” Strommen’s middle ground seems to want to help only those gay folk who are unhappy with gayness, but since his underlying assumption is that all gay people should be unhappy with being gay, the vast majority of gay folk experience this as a genocidal tendency. Truth includes feelings, as the current attention to “emotional intelligence” stresses, and folk like Strommen do not seem to understand how genocidal their implicit wish that homosexuals didn’t exist feels to gay people and other sexual minorities!

The issue of deep-down inner feelings also provides an answer to Strommen’s attack on Chilstrom and Erdahl’s first assumption. Just about all experts are now in agreement that an incredibly complex mixture of hereditary/biological and environmental factors are involved in sexual orientation. Indeed, it’s true of almost everything about us. The salient point is that the vast majority of gay people experience their sexuality as a given! It “feels as though” one was born this way! This is the Truth.

Joseph Campbell says that religion and myth is more about the experience of life than about “meaning” in life. There are times when the heart should overrule the head. I suspect that if Strommen would pay more attention to why some people want to be “ex-gays” he would discover that conversion therapy is too much about fighting against one’s own feelings. How would he feel about being told he should become homosexual?

What about the success rates of ex-gay conversion therapies? Strommen gives us a few numbers and there can be no doubt that some troubled souls managed to “change” or at least modify some of their behavior. But I challenge him to prove that these numbers are significant compared to the vast majority of gay folk who experience this conversion business as genocidal. The more likely outcome of “conversion” is that failure will lead to depression, to a kind of sad asexuality, or to self-incrimination — a lifelong struggle against one’s natural feelings — what one play produced in San Francisco in the 1970s called the real “crime against nature.”

Robert Spitzer’s quoted study of “reorientation” has been widely criticized for its methodology — phone interviews, etc. Strommen has taken the side of the minority in the psychological profession who have a favorable view of ex-gay conversion reorientation efforts. The majority view clearly is that these efforts generally do more harm than good both to individual clients and to the majority of gay and other unconventional sexual folk who experience ex-gay rhetoric as a genocidal-type attack on their core identity. Does Strommen really understand why the vast majority of gay folk are so terribly offended by the whole ex-gay business and subject it to endless ridicule?