Thursday, June 4, 2009

Homosexuality from a New Church Perspective

I've noticed that it's hard to find New Church perspectives on homosexuality online so I've decided to provide links to the best articles on the topic that I'm aware of.

To be clear, I'm not interested in starting a debate on this topic. There are other venues for that. I want to provide resources to people who are looking for perspectives on homosexuality from people who believe, to differing degrees, in the theological writings of Emanuel Swedenborg.

Different New Church organizations have different positions on homosexuality. The positions of 3 of the organizations are briefly described in a "List of Christian denominational positions on homosexuality" on Wikipedia.

The majority of the articles here are by members of the General Church of the New Jerusalem. There are also a few articles by members of the Swedenborgian Church of North America. You can find a statement of the position of the General Conference of the New Church in the June 2009 issue of New Church Lifeline (PDF). (I found the PDF hard to read because it's formatted for printing so I copied the relevant portions into this extract.)

I don't have any articles by members of the Lord's New Church which is Nova Hierosalyma, the Church of Truth, the New Church of Southern Africa, or the New Church in Australia. Please let me know if you find any information about these other organizations' positions.

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"Homosexuality" by Rev. Jeremy Simons.
Do the Writings talk about homosexuality? Simons, a pastor in the General Church, addresses this question, discusses the various passages that seem to be talking about it, and compares the phrases that Swedenborg seems to use for homosexuality with phrases used by his contemporaries.

"What the Word Says Directly on Homosexuality" by Rev. Grant Odhner.
Odhner, a pastor in the General Church, has collected these notes on homosexuality. They include an overview of how the Old Testament, New Testament, and the Writings treat of homosexuality directly and they also include some thoughts about causes of homosexual feelings and behavior, differing degrees of the seriousness of homosexuality, and some principles from the Writings about how to deal with homosexuals.

"Notes on Homosexuality" by Rev. Mark Pendleton.
In these 18 pages of notes, Pendleton, a General Church pastor, includes passages on love, marriage, adultery, and judging others. He also includes portions of Rev. Jeremy Simons' research and references to a study by Rev. Willard Heinrichs.

"The Worst Adultery" (PDF) by Rev. John Odhner. (New Church Life 1993: 453-463.)
In the explanation of the story of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19) the phrase "worst form of adultery" is used (Arcana Coelestia 2220). Odhner, a pastor in the General Church, addresses the question of whether homosexuality is the worst form of adultery, in the light of other teachings about adultery.

"A Theology of Sexuality" by Rev. Alain Nicolier - Part 1 (PDF) and Part 2 (PDF) (scroll down to 356-364). (New Church Life 2008: 318-328, 356-364.)
Nicolier, a pastor in the General Church, discusses theories, "myths," and negative influences (particularly from parents) that may cause people to identify themselves as homosexual.

"More on Understanding Homosexuality" by Rev. Grant Odhner. (New Church Canadian Fall 1992.)
This is a letter that Odhner wrote in response to an article by Rev. Glenn Alden, "Understanding Homosexuals," in the February 1992 issue of New Church Canadian. He discusses the theological origins of homosexuality, compares homosexuality with polygamy and concubinage, and ends by discussing human responsibility and repentance. He writes, "in summary, I think we need to see homosexuality as an evil, as something people are ultimately responsible for, as something that can change through sensitive education and repentance."

"Risking on the Side of Compassion" by Rev. James Lawrence. (The Messenger Nov. 1996.)
In this article, Lawrence, a pastor in the Swedenborgian Church, explains why he decided to bless homosexual unions.

"What is True Conjugial Union?" by Duane V. Beougher. (The Messenger Nov. 1996.)
In this response to Lawrence's article, Beougher, a member of the Swedenborgian Church, argues that the Writings are clear that homosexual relations cannot constitute a true conjugial union and that the term marriage should only be applied where that possibility exists.

"Letter to the Editor" by Dr. Reuben P. Bell. (The Messenger Jan. 1997.)
In this letter to the editor in response to Lawrence's article, Bell, a former pastor of the Swedenborgian Church and then the General Church, explains why he sees Lawrence's position to be a profane, dangerous, and harmful abuse of the truth.

"Further Thoughts in Response to Gay Marriage Commentary" by Rev. James Lawrence. (The Messenger June 1997.)
Here Lawrence responds to people's reactions to his article by saying that he does not look to the Writings as the ultimate determinant for his theological position on the nature of homosexuality but instead seeks "a new theological framework" and that he believes that "gay love... is profaned or made sacred by the integrity of the individuals involved."

"Homosexuality" by Rev. Coleman Glenn.
In this blog post, Glenn, a recently ordained pastor in the General Church, explains how it’s possible for someone to think that homosexuality is a disorder and still approach homosexuals with love, and why he thinks of homosexuality in the same way that he think of brother-sister incest. I recommend reading the comments that follow the post.

"Homosexuality" by Brian Smith.
In this blog post, Smith, a theological school student in the General Church, explains why he believes that a person can oppose the practice of homosexuality from love, why he thinks the practice of homosexuality is harmful, and why he seeks to help people who have that struggle see that there is a path out. There is a lot of discussion in the comments that follow the post, mostly between members of the General Church and people who grew up in the General Church but no longer associate themselves with it.

Discussion on BeliefNet
This is a long discussion on BeliefNet of homosexuality from the perspective of Swedenborg's theological works. I read and skimmed the first fifth of the entries. I would guess that the contributors include members of the Swedenborgian Church and General Church and people not affiliated with any organization.

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I know that there are other articles and posts that have been written on this topic. (For example, a number of articles come up if you search for homosexuality in New Church Life on HeavenlyDoctrines.org.) If you find an article or post that you think should be included here, leave a comment with a link and a short description of the content of the piece.

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UPDATE: Since I first posted this on June 4th 2009 I have received a number of additional articles. I have added a link to an article expressing the position of the General Conference of the New Church, a study and an article by Rev. Grant Odhner, and some notes by Rev. Mark Pendleton.

I have also changed the link for the discussion on BeliefNet. Rev. Jeremy Simons pointed out that only half of the discussion was available at the old link. He recommends the end of the full discussion.

16 comments:

Nancy said...

Malcolm,
I'm very grateful to you for assembling all of these different perspectives. Thank you very much for the thought and effort you put into this post.

alanmisson said...

Hi,

I am the Editor of Lifeline, the monthly magazine of the General Conference of the New Church. In the June 2009 issue you will find articles on the following subjects - "Addressing the Subject of Homosexuality" and a "Policy Statement on Sexual Orientation".

An online copy of this issue of Lifeline can be found at www.new-church-lifeline.org.uk/current.htm

alanmisson said...

Hi,

Further to my previous comment here is the link properly encoded. It will take you to the June 2009 issue whilst it is current.

Lifeline

Malcolm said...

I have added 3 additional articles and a link to the New Church Lifeline article that Alan mentioned. See the update at the bottom of the post.

Alan, I extracted the relevant portion of the article into a Word document for easier reading. Let me know if you want me to take that down and just link to the full issue.

Malcolm said...

I have updated the link for the discussion on BeliefNet. See the end of the post.

radex33 said...

I found Revd. Jeremy Simons article useful. It was a real eye-opener. It has clarified for me that Swedenborg was indeed an extremely unpleasant bigot. His views on homosexuals and homosexuality have vitiated everything else he said. I can no longer regard anything he said as true. I am not a homosexual, not remotely, but I find Swedenborg's opinions on the subject astonishing, appalling, and repellent.

Clark Echols said...

Two interesting pieces from the media that I appreciate.

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2009/july/34.30.html

Here is a quote from late in the above article:

"We cannot very well argue for the sanctity of marriage as a crucial social institution while we blithely go about divorcing and approving of remarriage at a rate that destabilizes marriage. We cannot say that an institution, like the state, has a perfect right to insist on certain values and behavior from its citizens while we refuse to submit to denominational or local church authority. We cannot tell gay couples that marriage is about something much larger than self-fulfillment when we, like the rest of heterosexual culture, delay marriage until we can experience life, and delay having children until we can enjoy each other for a few years.

"In short, we have been perfect hypocrites on this issue. Until we admit that, and take steps to amend our ways, our cries of alarm about gay marriage will echo off into oblivion."


And an opinion piece from the Wall Street Journal. Does that fact make it a "conservative" opinion?

http://online.wsj.com/wsjgate?subURI=%2Farticle%2FSB10001424052970204619004574322084279548434-email.html&nonsubURI=%2Farticle_email%2FSB10001424052970204619004574322084279548434-lMyQjAxMDA5MDEwMDExNDAyWj.html

Clark

Annika said...

Malcolm, do you know where Jeremy Simons' article originally appeared?

Malcolm said...

Annika,

I'm not sure where Jeremy's article originally appeared. My guess is that it started as notes for a doctrinal class on the topic and has been circulated but never published anywhere. You'll have to check with Jeremy to find out for sure.

trrish said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
trrish said...

I've attended a New Church for the past five years. I like the community. I'm not qualified to be throwing doctrine around. I hope it's cool for me to comment here.

It's interesting to me that the New Church, and Swedenborg, seems to go out of its way to explain the "non-literal" translation of The Bible, Old testament and New, yet takes all these alleged references to homosexuality at face value.

I would propose that the New Church is limiting its consciousness by how it is choosing to view body type. My body type looks like a woman. My gender seems to be mostly feminine. Others I know with female body types have much more of a masculine gender - with the 'traditional' masculine strengths. And vice versa. Many of those more masculine women are labelled as "lesbian" because they are attracted to the feminine in another woman.

If you look at the study of intersexed humans (once called hermaphrodites) - those who are born with mixed or ambiguous genitalia - you find heartbreaking cases where a doctor made an arbitrary choice that "this is a girl" for someone who clearly identified as male. What most enlightened people do theses days is let the child grow and self-identify as male or female.

The existence of intersexed humans to me clearly shows us that gender and body type do not always concur. It seems then that it could be true in all sorts of people, not just technical intersexed. Why any of us should decide what body type someone else needs to be with...I don't understand. Consider gender as a continuum. We all fall on it somewhere. We've all been given a body that also falls on a continuum beween male and female, with intersexed humans somewhere in the middle.

Why not let the person inside determine where they fall, and who they are attracted to. Perhaps masculine---->masculine is an "abomination", but there is no way for someone outside a body to determine which gender that person truly is. Perhaps gender *is* a spiritual issue, not "natural". Judge not what you cannot see.

I've read just about all of the articles referenced here. Rev. James Lawrence really touched me with his point of view.

I find many of the other articles to be impossible to differentiate from any other Christian denomination, other than mentioning and quoting Swedenborg. I think the General Church could try to go the extra mile and think outside the box on the matter of gender -- in many ways, not just pertaining to homosexuality.

There are some good films that delve into the complex childhoods and lives of intersexed humans.

http://www.isna.org/videos

With all the emphasis on believing in a God we cannot see, and not relying only on our senses, I don't know why we are so hung up on the things we can *only* see.

I very much like and relate to what Clark Echols said.

Trish

Malcolm said...

Today, over at New Church Perspective they're starting a series of articles on the topic of homosexuality. I've had the chance to preview them and I think they will provide a valuable contribution to this difficult conversation.

The link above takes you to the post introducing the series. I think it does a good job of describing how to approach this conversation.

After the various articles are available I will, of course, add them to this collection.

KenB said...

Dear Trish,

Thanks for your posting. I am a physician currently discussing homosexuality, proposed marriage "defence of"/equality legislation, and the stance of the churches, with a dear friend and mentor who is a retired minister with the New Church in Australia.

It is so easy to quote passages from the Writings and Bible to "prove" the errancy of homosexuality.

And yet that worldview depends upon the foundation stone that XX = female = femininity, and XY = male = masculinity ... without exceptions.

That worldview immediately falls asunder once we acknowledge intersex, as you pointed out. John Odhner's "shades of grey" indeed!

So (hypothetically), my child is born with congenital adrenal hyperplasia. Should they be in a conjugial marriage with a man, a women, or are they excluded from ever having a conjugial marriage?

Or what if I marry someone with complete androgen insensitivity? Am I actually gay? Is my marriage an abomination in God's eyes?

The occasional messiness of human gender identity and sexuality means that any sweeping "one size fits all" pronouncements about conjugial love are problematic.

Cheers,
KenB

Lee Woofenden said...

Hi Malcolm,

Though it's not really about homosexuality, your readers might be interested in an article I recently posted:

What is the Sin of Sodom?

This article discusses the common claim that the sin of Sodom was homosexuality, and then moves on to a more Swedenborgian interpretation of the story.

Lee Woofenden said...

Also, in addition to the Beliefnet link you have posted, which leads to a discussion titled "Gay Marriage," there is another discussion of homosexuality from the old Swedenborgian Beliefnet threads under the title:

"Homosexuality debate"

Both of these threads were subsequently moved out of the Swedenborgian discussion area to the "Christianity and Homosexuality" section of Beliefnet by the Beliefnet staff, so they are not easy to find as a specifically Swedenborgian or New Church discussion of homosexuality.

leewoof.org said...

Hi Malcolm,

I have now written and posted two major articles on homosexuality:

Homosexuality, the Bible, and Christianity

And:

What does Emanuel Swedenborg Say about Homosexuality?

The first one is aimed at a general Christian audience. It goes into detail on the Biblical basis of the homosexuality debate.

The second one takes up many of the issues about Swedenborg and homosexuality that are discussed in articles you link to above.