Yesterday morning Paula and I attending the quarterly meeting for recognized religious professionals at Stanford. Our topic was homosexuality, and so I was expecting a pretty vigorous discussion.
For the record, there was no shouting. It was all very civil (with the possible exception of a question that could be interpreted as honest inquiry or a cheap shot depending on how much slack you wanted to cut the questioner–I personally thought it was a cheap shot and I’ll leave it at that).
The format was simple: six representatives from six different religious traditions summarized both their philosophical stance and their practical approach to homosexuality on campus. That format explains the civility–as you’ll see there were some pretty different perspectives.
First up was the Mormon representative (Alonzo). He took a gracious but firm stance against homosexuality. Two interesting points: he rooted his attitude in the Mormon conception of the family as eternal, and he was careful to point out that thoughts and feelings cannot be sinful. I would strongly disagree with him on both points.
Next was Rabbi Noa, the Jewish representative. She took a strongly positive stance towards homosexuality, and tried to explain all the Old Testament references in terms of forbidding pagan rituals. I’m exceedingly skeptical, and after the meeting I asked her for some documentation of that claim.
After that the Catholic representative (Theresa) made her pitch. She accurately recited the teachings of the church (the orientation is not necessarily sinful but the practice is intrinsically evil), and then proceeded to tell us why her church was wrong. I thought that was… interesting.
Next up was Ron Sanders (Campus Crusade for Christ) speaking on behalf of the evangelicals. He did an outstanding job, first tearfully apologizing for the evils done under the guise of Biblical authority, and then upholding Biblical authority: homosexuality is immoral. Perhaps people cannot control their orientation, but homosexuals have the same responsibility as heterosexuals–>to not engage in sex outside of marriage. He expressed an unpopular truth in a humble and respectful manner.
Then Richard, the Lutheran priest, gave his perspective. He’s gay himself, and so it was unsurprising that he very strongly endorsed the compatibility of Christianity and homosexuality. He’s a very dynamic speaker.
Finally we had a Buddhist spokesperson. David had an interesting approach, suggesting that in Buddhism the goal is to deny desire of any sort. Homosexuals need to transcend their desire for sex in the same way that heterosexuals do. Interesting. As a Christian I would respond that desire is not bad if it is a desire for a good thing. Homosexual desire is bad because it is a desire for a bad thing.
Overall, it was clear that the majority of ministers at Stanford view homosexuality as a morally neutral issue. No surprises there. I was pleasantly surprised that the organizer picked speakers with a diversity of perspectives. I was especially thrilled that they invited the Campus Crusade leader to present the evangelical perspective.
It was also clear that people hold their views on this subject passionately. There were several tears in evidence, and you could sense tension in the room throughout the discussion.
In case anyone is curious, the Assemblies of God (and I as its representative) believe that God’s intention is that sex be expressed between one man and one woman in the context of the lifelong committment called marriage.
In a related story, yesterday there was Stanford Freedom to Marry Rally, advocating the legalization of gay marriages.