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theologians, homosexuals, and other animals

The Anglican Communion Institute, Inc. (which is an incorporated nonprofit, but uses the .com suffix normally used by for-profit companies) -- which I gather is not to be identified with The Anglican Communion Institute (which uses the .org suffix reserved for nonprofits, but which never incorporated separately from The Anglican Institute, which all involved except Don Armstrong, its executive director) -- has published an interesting piece. (And yes, all of this shuffling about of names and titles for the same group of people, give or take Don Armstrong, makes my head swim too.)

This is an article called "Why Theology Should Precede Change." It's interesting enough that The Anglican Communion Institute, Inc., which in none of its incarnations styled itself any kind of medical research clearinghouse -- would publish a piece that is essentially a review of selected medical and psychological literature. The word "God," for example, appears nowhere in the piece. The word "Christ" appears only as part the name of the Disciples of Christ denomination and as part of the title of To Set Our Hope on Christ, of which the author strongly disapproves. The word "Christian" appears only in this sentence: "Christian theology and systems theory both recognize that secrets are divisive, cause distorted perceptions, and increase pathologic processes totally unrelated to the secret" -- and that's a statement that readers of the Gospel According to Mark, for starters might find simplistic if not misleading with respect to attitudes toward secrets in Christian theology, although not with respect to family systems theory.

But don't just look at what words do and don't appear in the article to assess its genre; I think if you read the whole thing, you'll find it's fair to classify it as a review of selected medical and psychological literature with a narrative frame about the author's correspondence with the Presiding Bishop and President of the House of Deputies. I think if you read the article, you'll find it's a fair summary to say that the article asserts that theology should precede change with respect to policies and theologies regarding human sexuality because more recent scientific study comes to different conclusions regarding causality for same-sex relationships. The author does not argue against the biblical exegesis or theology of To Set Our Hope on Christ; her criticism of the document is about which scientific studies it cites. Her criticism of the choice of people to serve on the committee is not that there weren't enough or good enough theologians; it's that the committee did not include any career scientists who could speak authoritatively to scientific studies of human sexuality. Theology gets a cursory name-drop in the article's title and in the plea of the penultimate sentence to "State the theology of the change first"; but the article's thesis is at core a scientific one: that the most recent and best scientific literature suggests that sexual orientation is influenced at least as much by social and environmental factors as by genetic ones. How accepting that thesis would lead us to conclude that it's improper for Christians to bless same-sex relationships or ordain clergy in same-sex partnerships is never made clear in the article, aside from its assertion (unproven and unargued) that the authors of To Set Our Hope on Christ and the bishops and deputies to General Convention voted on resolutions regarding human sexuality on the basis of outdated science rather than any kind of theology.

Of course, there are a lot of scientists who would argue with the article's suggestion that more recent and better medical research on human sexuality better supports the view (presumably that of the author) that a man's or woman's orientation toward the same sex is socially conditioned and "pathologic adaptation." I'm not going to do so, or at least not here and now. I'm not a neuropsychologist, a geneticist, a psychiatrist, or any other kind of scientist who could speak with authority about the science of human sexuality. My postgrad coursework is in biblical studies, church history, and theology. While I occasionally veer into authoritative tones when talking about rock music or Joss Whedon's superiority as a writer of episodic television, I generally try to be clear about where my training gives me academic or institutional authority and where it doesn't -- and I'm closest to being an expert on St. Paul and Luke, not on human genetics, neuropsychiatry, psychology, or any other such science.

The author of this ACI, Inc. piece -- Dr. Jacqueline Jenkins Keenan, as the byline reads -- has an academic background very different from mine. Let's see -- she's a "Dr." writing on human sexuality, and her article seems to suggest that she would have been a better choice for the committee selected to write To Set Our Hope on Christ than were the theologians and pastors who served.

Is she an M.D.? No.

Does she have a Ph.D. in psychology? Is she a research scientist in neuroscience or some other field that includes studies of human sexuality? No.

Is she a Ph.D. at all? No.

Dr. Jacqueline Jenkins Keenan is a veterinarian.

"She has been reading and studying human and animal medical literature for 27 years," her byline says to justify her speaking as an expert in medical science about human sexuality. I've been reading novels for more than 27 years, but that doesn't make me Dostoevsky; I'm a biblical scholar working to finish her dissertation, and that's a very different sort of scholarly animal, I'd say. At this point I'd have to say that Dr. Keenan has as much academic credibility with respect to human sexuality as does "Dr. Laura," the kinesiologist-turned-radio-self-help-guru, who does at least have a Ph.D. in something related to humans.

At least Dr. Keenan's studies in her MTS program "focusing on family systems" has something to do with humans rather than horses, though family systems theory isn't exactly a theological discipline. Perhaps that's why she seems unaware of the myriad volumes of Christian theology and ethics of human sexuality produced over the last forty years or more, and doesn't refer to any published theological document other than To Set Our Hope on Christ -- not to any of the official reports or studies from 1967 on listed in To Set Our Hope on Christ's Appendix, not to any of the works listed in its endnotes, and not to any of the works that would spring up in a simple search of the Virginia Theological Seminary's library catalog. And perhaps she will have read more theology she finds worthy of comment by the time she finishes her MTS degree.

In the meantime, the most interesting point to me about "Why Theology Should Precede Change" is where it was published: on the website of The Anglican Communion Institute, Inc. despite its not saying anything in particular about Anglicanism or Communion, and among the work of "collegial theologians" despite its decidedly medical focus and near-total lack of theological language. It is an article about scientific studies of human sexual orientation written by a veterinarian, and it is difficult to see how it could in any way further or even address the concerns suggested by the name, "The Anglican Communion Institute, Inc." unless the ACI wishes to ground our koinonia with one another not on our shared Baptism, nor on our shared theological heritage or historical ties via Canterbury, nor on our shared call to engage God's mission, but rather on a shared scientific consensus regarding the development of sexual orientation and a shared conviction that heterosexuality is, medically speaking, an earlier or healthier state than any other sexual orientation. That would be a curious communion indeed.

August 7, 2007 in Anglican (Communion) Institute (Inc.) | Permalink

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Comments

A superb commentary on an essentially off-the-point article by a well-meaning amateur with skills in neither theology nor human psychology -- in spite of her wide reading.

Posted by: Tobias Haller | Aug 7, 2007 4:24:44 PM

As a veterinarian I would have expected her to comment on the causes of homosexual behaviour in animals, of which I'm told there are numerous examples. Most recently for me was the example of two male penguins. I think it's clear that the cause of homosexual orientation is not well understood, but what does that have to do with how we treat our homosexual neighbor? Why can't we just accept that some people have a homosexual orientation. My son is gay and he has been with his partner for 17 years and I don't care what made him gay, he just is and I love him.

Posted by: John Larson | Aug 7, 2007 4:34:30 PM

Of late, ACI has been beating the drum over the need for better theology on several fronts. I myself was never that impressed with To Set Our Hope On Christ, but I'm even less impressed with Dr. Keenan's scientific findings. Which leads me to ask - what's this all about? A way to slow things down, before the AC fractures or a deep need for TEC to develop more theological support for its positions in order to hold more conservatives within it?

Posted by: C.B. | Aug 7, 2007 7:00:16 PM

"Her criticism of the choice of people to serve on the committee is not that there weren't enough or good enough theologians; it's that the committee did not include any career scientists who could speak authoritatively to scientific studies of human sexuality."

Well, arguably, our PB now fits that bill as well as/if not better than Dr. Keenan, eh?

*****

Oh geez louise: citing flexibility in female sexuality? I guess we need more affirmation of *bisexual women* then, don't we? (Funny, I don't think that's Dr. Keenan's point :-/)

Posted by: JCF | Aug 7, 2007 9:54:05 PM

I find it absolutely hilarious that the Network types who constantly monitor anything ++KJS says for sufficient mentions of Christ barely mention our Savior in a supposedly theological document. I think that's very telling as to what their real motives are.

Posted by: Pisco Sours | Aug 8, 2007 1:52:33 PM

It’s often said that the revisionists have a low view of the authority of Scripture, which is true, but it’s more difficult to debate Scriptural interpretations than it is to expose problems in the area of pure logic.

What really offends certain Episcopalians about someone like Archbishop Akinola is that he affirms the falsity of someone else's viewpoint. It seems to them like the reasonable (and Episcopal) thing to avoid affirming that some viewpoint is simply wrong. They suppose that truth is subjective and, in taking this position, their claiming a dispensation for themselves they they’re refusing to any other view.

You don't have to affirm the authority of Scripture to see the logical problem here. Socrates exploded the fallacy of subjectivity for all time with the following question in the Theaetetus. Ponder his logic: "Since he grants that the opinions of all men are true, then would he not be conceding that his own opinion is false, if he grants that the opinion of those who think he is in error is true?"

We can acknowledge that perceptions may differ, but as Aristotle said in the Metaphysics: "Perception is surely not of itself, but there is something else besides the perception and that is necessarily prior to the perception."

This matter of objectivity versus subjectivity pertains also to issues of morality. C. S. Lewis put it this way: “We are forced to believe in a real Right and Wrong. People may be sometimes mistaken about them, just as people get their sums wrong, but they are not a matter of mere taste and opinion any more than the multiplication table.”

We may not know even approximately the nature of the moral requirement in a given instance, and we must remain humble about that, but that doesn’t prove the nonexistence of the moral order. The danger all around us now is that people are forsaking any notion of objectivity in the moral area – even though there is unrecognized unanimity about morality in many areas. Rape isn’t moral wrong just because almost every thinks it is wrong but because, as Lewis said, there is a “real Right and Wrong.” It’s just as real as the multiplication table and the law of gravity. If there is something wrong, there has to be a right that is being violated.

If you’re talking with a revisionist or someone who isn’t sure, see whether this issue of subjectivity is lurking. You’ll probably find that they’ve never been presented with the ancient logic of how subjectivity refutes itself.

Posted by: jfm | Sep 29, 2007 4:21:17 PM

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