Speaking of Homosexuality, Joe Dallas. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2016.
Summary: A point by point refutation by a former gay activist of the arguments against the church’s traditional view of homosexuality.
I feel that I should begin this review with something of a “trigger warning.” In coming months I will be occasionally reviewing books on the discussion going on between what might be called the “traditional” and “affirming” camps within the Christian community with regard to homosexuality. The warning is that probably no one who follows this blog will agree with all or even any of the books reviewed on this subject. Truth is, I probably won’t either, or will not agree with all that I read. I don’t read only things with which I agree. For some, this is a matter associated with deep and complicated emotions and experiences, and if this is too sensitive, it’s OK to take a “pass” on these posts.
Now, down to the review of this book. Joe Dallas, its author is a self described “former gay activist” who, because of his faith in Christ turned from homosexual activity, eventually married, is the father of two children and in his writing and ministry deals with homosexuality and others issues related to sexuality from a traditional Christian perspective. I would characterize this book, unlike some others, as less pastoral and more polemical. Dallas writes and formats the book to address the arguments against a traditional view of homosexuality and respond to them. Each chapter follows a format of statement of a traditional view, what he calls “revisionist” arguments against that view, then traditional responses, and concludes with talking points. It reminds me a bit of Thomas Aquinas in Summa Theologica!
After an introduction that talks about misconceptions and presumptions both traditional and “revisionist” communities have of each other and the need, and difficulties, of moving beyond politics and rhetoric to relationship, he has two more chapters that lay groundwork for what is to follow. One is to identify who he is speaking to: militants, millenials, those in the Mainstream, Revisionists, friends and family. In reality, I suspect it is mostly other “traditionalists” who will read the book. The other is to identify his “rules of engagement”: speak clearly, appropriately, empathically (1-3), concede what’s true, consider what’s possible, watch the apologies, recognize and point out diversions. On apologies, he would say we should own our own sins against LGBT persons but not apologize in vague terms for the whole church.
Then he takes up a series of issues that often arise in arguments against the traditionalist position:
- Are people born gay?
- Sexual orientation cannot be changed.
- Same sex marriage and the Bible.
- Homophobia, Hate, Hypocrisy, and Harm
- Can someone be gay and Christian?
- What was Sodom’s sin?
- Homosexuality and Leviticus
- Jesus and Homosexuality
- Paul and Romans
- Paul and arsenokoites
I cannot summarize the arguments of each chapter in ways to do them justice. He would contend that whether people are “born gay” or not is immaterial to the validity of the traditional teaching. Not all our inborn tendencies should be indulged. Perhaps more controversial yet is his argument that some forms of change therapies, voluntarily pursued by the person and not under pressure, should be permitted. Perhaps most telling is his rhetoric against homophobic and “hate” labels. He believes that to think a behavior is wrong does not necessarily imply fear or hate if no signs of fearful or hating behavior accompany these beliefs.
The last five topics turn to the biblical arguments, stating both traditional and “revisionist” arguments with good citations of their works. Dallas provides a relatively concise summary of the discussion, albeit one that favors his view strongly, as one would expect.
My sense is that Dallas’ book is a recognition that, given the shift in cultural opinions, and the wide acceptance of LGBT sexuality in society, anyone who still holds a traditional view and who affirms this personally or publicly needs to be able to clearly and compassionately give reasons for those views, if given the opportunity. Negative prescriptions of “what not to do and who not to do it with” just don’t cut it.
At the same time, I just don’t think the argument format of a book like this cuts it with millenials, even if they would agree theologically with Dallas. The tone, albeit a compassionate one, feels very much like the conversation those of the boomer generation have had (mostly within traditionalist circles) for thirty years around these issues. It seems to me that there is a relational dimension for millenials who have grown up around “out” LGBT persons, and a differing understanding about sexuality more broadly to which this feels a bit tone deaf.
The question in the end, of course, is who is right in these matters? If the traditionalist position is right, as Dallas argues, it cannot be minimized as a “non-essential” because in the end this leads to the adoption of revisionist theology, which he sees happening not only in mainline but also in evangelical communities. To shift to a “revisionist” or “affirming” understanding may just seem to be conforming to the wider culture and an expression of compassion, but it also means a break with twenty centuries of orthodoxy, as well as the convictions of much of the church in the majority world. That is no small thing, and calls not merely for sentiment, but good arguments where people listen to scripture, each other, and the Spirit of truth. Whether you agree with Dallas or not, given his personal narrative, and experience working with these issues, his arguments are important to heed as part of this larger conversation.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.