It is a manifestation of grace that we Presbyterians are able to love the sinner and, yet, hate the sin. One of the ways we seek to be gracious to Presbyterians who are homosexual in orientation is to love the individuals but hate the individuals' expression of their sexuality. Good Samaritans that we are, we are inclined not to desert those whom Alfred Gross, 35 years ago, called "strangers in our midst." Instead, we direct them toward treatment so that they can clean up their act and get on with life the way we believe it is supposed to be lived.
I am one of those to whom the good Samaritans bring their burden for treatment. In addition to being an ordained Presbyterian minister, I am also a clinical counselor, licensed to diagnose and treat mental and emotional disorders. In my 34 years of doing counseling and psychotherapy, I have seen many homosexual men and women in therapy, and I believe that today is a good time to tell you about it. If the response of faith toward Presbyterians who are homosexual is to get them into treatment, then you may find it helpful to know what I have discovered over the years.
So, before addressing the proposed amendment, I am going to talk about people and address some of the issues which seem to have given rise to the proposal. First, I will comment on the diagnosis and treatment of Presbyterians who are homosexual. Then, I will seek to distinguish between sexual preference and sexual orientation. Finally, I will to return to the matter of loving the sinner while hating the sin.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Diagnosis of psychological disorders is not an easy task. Certain symptoms must be recognizable and recognized and, then, organized around a common theme which distinguishes that pattern of symptomatology from all others. Once that is clearly done, we have a more or less discrete diagnostic category. In 1952, the American Psychiatric Association began publishing the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in order to standardize the process of diagnosis. In 1994, they published the 4th and latest edition of the Manual, containing the name, description, and a statistical code number for all known psychiatric disorders. Its purpose is "to enable clinicians and investigators to diagnose, communicate about, study, and treat people with various mental disorders." (DSM IV, xxvii) It is also utilized for standardization in the filing of insurance claims. In order to receive insurance reimbursement for psychotherapeutic services, I must name not only what I did but the disorder I was treating, using a diagnostic code from the Manual. If it is not in there it is not a reimbursable disorder.
The 3rd edition of the manual appeared in 1980 and manifested a significant change in the understanding of homosexuality. The focus was no longer on homosexuality per se, but on an individual's confusion about it or discomfort with it. The latest edition of the Manual has dropped the term homosexuality altogether.
In 1987, volume III was revised and the language changed from a discussion about one's "preferred sexual orientation" to, simply, "sexual orientation." Preference, sexual preference, or election, or choice ceased to be the issue. It became a matter of sexual orientation. More on that later.
This is all to say that those who would bring Presbyterians who are homosexual in for treatment must now realize that homosexuality is no longer a diagnostic category, no longer considered pathological, no longer a treatment entity. This is not to say that Presbyterians who are homosexual are not in treatment. I continue to see homosexual patients in my own practice. What we are treating, however, are the same kinds of issues anyone else brings into therapy. For persons who are homosexual, that includes the anxiety surrounding the prospects of having one's sexual orientation exposed by zealous homophobic people. It includes the depression that arises out of coping with yet another life stressor, always on top of having to dodge the darts hurled by an ill-informed society.
Problems I see among homosexual couples are the same problems I see among heterosexual couples: money management, an extraverted partner who wants to go out on the weekends and an introverted partner who wants to stay home, discovering ways to structure whose turn it is to cook dinner or clean the kitchen or the bathroom, and developing a communication style that will stop the hurt and rejection one experiences with callous words from an unsympathetic partner.
When incorporation of Presbyterians who are homosexual into the full life and ministry of the church has not been outright forbidden, it has often been conditional. One of the conditions has been that of getting the person into psychotherapy so that he or she can get rid of their sexual desire or learn how not to express it. Speaking to you as a long-time member of the psychotherapeutic community, please hear me say that homosexuality is not a sickness, not a psychological disorder, not pathological. It is one sexual orientation toward life.
Sexual Preference vs. Sexual Orientation
As an orientation to life, it is not to be confused with sexual preference. The phrases sexual preference and sexual orientation are frequently used as if interchangeable. The truth is that they have quite different meanings.
My sister is left handed. Her left hand is her dominant hand. The same is true with my wife's brother and with our two daughters. I remember when my sister was a child and would pick up her spoon or a crayon in her left hand. My mother would take it from her and put it into her right hand. My hunch is that some of you may have had a similar experience. You know what my sister did. She used her right hand for a while but soon put the spoon or the crayon into her left hand. Eventually, my mother gave up and accepted the fact that she had a left-handed daughter.
Left-handedness was my sister's constitutional orientation, as is the case with my brother-in-law and my daughters. I can remember my daughters' frustration over not being able to find left-handed scissors. If you did not realize it, right-handed scissors do not fit the hand very well and the blades tend to pull apart rather than slide together when cutting. On those occasions, my girls clearly preferred to have left-handed scissors, they may, however, have preferred, at those moments, to have been right handed. That not being possible, they struggled through the shortage of left-handed scissors and of left-handed desks in school and nowadays, as young homemakers, they struggle with the inconvenience of right-handed measuring cups, including the markings on the automatic coffee maker pot.
Left-handedness was not something any of them chose. It is not something that they are likely to be able to change. Twice my dominant right arm was wrapped in splints to be carried in a sling. I was in the sixth grade when I broke my arm and in the eighth grade when I dislocated my wrist. I remember being called to the chalk board in an eighth-grade math class to work an algebra problem. Tough enough in itself, but left-handed on top of it all. I worked the problem correctly, but wrote with great difficulty. On both occasions, even after weeks of having my arm in a sling, I was not able to write very well with my left hand. Writing left-handed was not who I was. Hard as I tried, I could not change my right-handed orientation, even though, for a time, I might have preferred that I could.
As a psychotherapist, I have seen only two persons who were homosexual in orientation but preferring to become heterosexual. These are persons who would fit the 1980 diagnosis of "Ego-distonic Homosexuality," meaning that it was not the homosexuality that was the problem, but their discomfort with it. One man ran from his homosexuality into a pathological marriage; the other committed suicide. Neither found they could change their sexual orientation and were unable to accommodate the prejudices of an unsympathetic public. They were in check mate. They could make no move. Each of them checked out in his own tragic way.
At the same time, there are Presbyterians who prefer their homosexual orientation. It is who they are-without apology or contrition or reform. That does not mean that they do not have trouble with a society or a church which does not understand what it does not tolerate. What it does mean is that they are comfortable with who they are and choose not to fight a battle that does not belong to them.
Loving the Sinner/Hating the Sin
All of our good intentions notwithstanding, I have problems with loving the sinner while hating the sin. It may be good in theory, but it is tricky in practice. Had my mother persisted in trying to get my sister to eschew her left-handed orientation, chiding her for being different than everyone else in the family, my sister would have likely been hard pressed to see the love in all that.
As a heterosexual male, I have no interest in learning-even through psychotherapy-how to develop a sexually passionate relationship with another man. Think about that for yourself-same-sex passion. For most of us, that is not who we are, not our sexual orientation. We are not interested in changing. Some would rather die first. Sexual orientation is not a matter of choosing, or preferring. It just is. Whether it is my right-handedness or my heterosexuality that is in question, and even though it is my church that is raising the issue, if I am being compelled to change who I am, I do not find love in that.
The theological response to proposed Amendment B [Moderator's Note: this was presented just before B's passage] has become much more clouded than the psychological one. Prominent arguments for the proposal cite selected scriptures that supposedly support the case.
One of the foremost biblical scholars of today, Edward F. Campbell of McCormick Theological Seminary, notes that current support for proposed Amendment B is a product of careless biblical scholarship and a zealous desire to make the Bible read the way one wants it to read. Passages which are meant to be descriptive of human behavior have been elevated to the level of prescriptions. There is a loss of the humility which serious scriptural study requires and a loss of the vision of a God who calls us into compassionate fellowship with each other. ("A question of scriptural authority and issues" in McCormick Perspective, Winter 1996, pp. 5-6.)
As Presbyterians we sometimes manifest a bifurcated sense of social justice. Even the 1978 "Policy Statement and Recommendations on the Church and Homosexuality" explicitly supported, on the one hand, a ban on discrimination in employment that was based on sexual orientation while, on the other hand, indicated that the provision would not affect employment in the church. It seems that hating the sin had not been clearly distinguished from hating the sinner in that piece. (cf. Livezey, L. G., "A question of the ethical tensions in the church's stance on ordination" in McCormick Perspective, Winter 1996, pp.9-10.)
In his classic work, I and Thou, Martin Buber (1958), presented a model for healthy human interaction. Too often, he wrote, we treat other people as if they were machines or implements for our personal use. It is what Buber called an "I-It" relationship. What our faith calls for is to treat others with a dignity and compassion that is characteristic of our God. It is the kind of relationship that Buber called "I-Thou," representing a divine prizing of one person by another.
Earlier I cited an ascription by Alfred Gross, identifying homosexual people as strangers in our midst. That is the title of a book he wrote on the subject 35 years ago. His remarks have a hint of the thinking of the time but seem very current. He said:
It is time to stop talking about homosexuals and commence to think about people. Homosexuals are people. They are people with a certain set of problems, to be sure; but all sorts of people have all sorts of problems. And the sooner we set about trying to find some workable solutions the better off we will be. Thus far all we have done has been to ostracize, reject and condemn those stigmatized as undesirable. The shortcomings of this method of dealing with a perplexing problem are obvious. (Gross, A. A. (1962) Strangers in our midst. Washington DC: Public Affairs Press, p. 11.)
The proposed Amendment B is said to be the fidelity and chastity amendment, but this proposal has never really been about fidelity and chastity. It has always been a veiled effort to sanctify prejudice through legislation. Ordination to ministry in the service of our Lord is an issue of faith, character, and competence. That is how we are to judge our leadership. That is what we are called to affirm. Proposed Amendment B does not arise out of that kind of judgment or affirmation of leadership. It represents a very slippery, subtle, and shameful attempt at gerrymandering the boundaries of our conscience. I cannot support that.