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Thursday, February 9, 2017

"Speaking of Homosexuality" (Joe Dallas)

TITLE: Speaking of Homosexuality: Discussing the Issues with Kindness and Clarity
AUTHOR: Joe Dallas
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, (256 pages).

Homosexuality has become one of the most controversial and divisive issue this century. As more societies legalize same-sex marriages and impose harsh punishment on any forms of discrimination against homosexuals, it is becoming very risky for anybody to say anything negative about homosexuality. Witty politicians would be quick to praise gay rights and to march alongside pride parades. A lot of news media would pounce on any objections to the flaunting of homosexuality. Homosexuality has become mainstream, even as traditional understanding of biblical Christianity gets marginalized to the sidelines. As experienced by the author who used to identify himself as a gay Christian arguing for the acceptance of homosexuality, his turnaround has a nasty pushback from the very gay friends he formerly identified with. The very pro-gay parties he used to support has turned hostile against him when he no longer believe that homosexuality was ok. The major line drawn was this: "Is homosexuality a sin?" Say no and he would be welcome with open arms. Say yes and he would be branded a bigot, a homophobic, or some nasty adjective. Standing up against gay activists is a path very few people dare to nowadays. The challenge laid out in this book is this: How do we navigate our relationship with gay people without compromising on what the Bible say?

Dallas makes a few assumptions in this book. It is about building a bridge for fruitful conversation between a Revisionist and a Traditionalist. The latter takes the Bible literally, for the most part while the former attempts to 'revise' the interpretations for modern relevance. It is speaking from the position of a former gay advocate. It is summarizing the usual propositions and counter-arguments surrounding key biblical verses and to provide a way forward in responding to both. It is speaking to as inclusive a group as possible. This includes, militants, mainstream, millenials, Revisionists, and family members. In other words, there is no one-size-fits-all kind of a book. It is an invitation to talk.

Three key elements shape the context of such conversations: Presumption, politics, and personal. In 'presumption,' we need to be aware about our own presumptions about the other side. Do we start off thinking we are all right and they are all wrong? If that is the case, then there is no room for any conversation. No one theory is leak-proof. Beware of misconceptions such as all homosexuality is involuntary; or all gays are ultra liberal; or being gay is a choice; etc. Avoid stereotypes. Be aware of other presumptions about us as well. Truth is, there is a lot of wrong presumptions from all sides. Then there's 'politics' in which people lobby power and influence to their side. The presumption is that a conservative politician is also a conservative Christian. With the entry of courts and power politics, the sexual debate becomes politicized. With regard to the 'personal,' there are people whose families are split due to the existence of gay family members and conservative thinking in their midst. Learning from Jesus' interaction with the Samaritan woman at the well, Dallas gently points out the way of Jesus in speaking plainly about himself; understanding her context; and presenting a way to be part of the solution. Some of the notable aspects in constructive conversations include:

  • Learning the seven rules of engagement
  • Being aware of the four different theories on the origins of homosexuality
  • Learning how to respond to questions about immutability; inevitability; immorality; and reparative therapy
  • Responding to same-sex marriage arguments fairly
  • Navigating the tide of accusations about homophobia, hate, hypocrisy, and harm
  • Whether the term 'gay Christian' is a misnomer
  • Sodomy and the Old Testament prohibitions in Leviticus
  • What Jesus did and did not say
  • Paul's teaching about arsenokoites
  • ...

Each chapter ends with ten talking points to both summarize as well as to lay out possible launchpads to constructive conversations. This book essentially lays down the terms as clearly and as fully as possible, recognizing the variety of views and counter-views. In fact, the key to maintaining a healthy conversation is understanding, which is exactly what Dallas has tried to do. I think he did a splendid job in pointing out the contexts of people engage in this debate. Many people fail to move beyond the first post due to deeply held beliefs and unwillingness to let go of negative stereotypes of those different from them. It's human nature on both sides of the divide. Let me offer three further comments about this book.

First, Dallas has tried to be comprehensive. He aims at a wide group, namely militants, millenials, mainstream, revisionists, and family members. This is mainly for clarity of thought and ease of explanation. Truth is, there is often a mix of views, where an individual can be more or all of the above. He also takes care to cover both Old Testament and New Testament passages about the topic. Of interest is the chapter on what Jesus say and did not say. I believe this is important because people from all sides have erred on misquoting Jesus in some way. Most relevant of all is how Jesus focused on what marriage is and is not.

Second, the focus is on building bridges through constructive conversations. Learning how to respond to typical arguments is important not because of winning the argument, but to increase understanding beyond the superficial levels. Things are often much more than it seems. Those who hold certain views often do so because of a personal experience or some vested interest. It could be political or personal. Whatever it is, there is always some legitimate reason why people hold on to certain views. Being aware of this will help us not let our heads run too far ahead of our hearts. As the saying goes, we can win the argument but lose the person. Building bridges enable us to stay at the coffee table even when our opinions clash strongly.
Third, I like the ten talking points that Dallas has put out. It is clear and easy to follow which makes this book a wonderful primer to use in beginning any conversations about homosexuality. Each of these points can also spark active discussions at a small group level, something I would actively encourage.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


This book has been provided courtesy of Baker Books and NetGalley without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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