Saturday, March 20, 2010

Tim Timmerman

So this fall, my brother went of to GFU, and I was rather surprised to find out that they, generally considered more conservative than my own SPU, had an openly gay professor: Tim Timmerman, an art prof. I was pretty excited about this, and was even more excited when I found out he was going to speak at chapel about homosexuality. I was a little wary when my brother sent me the link on iTunes U with the comment "Let me know what you think...I'm interested :P" and even more wary when my father (who I don't exactly see eye-to-eye with on this issue) forwarded it to me with the subject "A good message from GFU". So today, I finally found time to sit down and watch it (after a brief run-in with iTunes that I got around with Boris Fritscher's iTunes store alternative). I'll kinda-sorta liveblog it after the fact, as I'm watching it. So, here goes:

He introduces the talk by stating that he understands he is talking about people people know, or are, or are related to, and also notes that he himself has struggled with homosexuality. He also made an interesting comment that he believes that what the church does in the next ten years with this issue is crucial for the direction of the church - something I tend to believe as well. Then he starts out by dividing the church into two caricatures. He clearly denotes them as caricatures, but still, they are so hugely's not a good start. One is highly homophobic, very non-confrontational, telling them to be quiet, holding the Bible up as a shield between them and the gay germs (I'm not kidding, he included "we think you might be contagious"). The other is very sappy, concerned with wronging the gays, saying they're sorry, telling them they're okay, to "go settle down in a gay marriage and do whatever you do there" to but shoving them out the door with a "God bless you" because they don't want to deal with them. He (obviously) condemns both of these approaches as being "from the pit of hell" because they're very passive.

Now, I'm sure there are plenty of churches that are like this. And maybe it's just because I'm in Seattle, where churches mostly simply can't ignore or brush away the issue because we have the second-highest percentage of LGBT individuals in the nation, right behind San Fran. But most of the churches I'm familiar with don't come close to either of these camps. I'll summarize some of my experiences, with generalities, but not caricatures. My home church and my current church up here (both relatively small, conservative congregations) largely ignore the issue, at least publically, as far as I have seen. There might be a reference in a sermon to the sinfulness of homosexuality. I seem to remember my home church noting that it's not the gravest of all sins as well. But mostly, it's just not dealt with, because it doesn't have to be. Gay members are either pretty quiet, taking their struggle outside of the public sphere of the church, or leave altogether. Then there are the churches with more public faces. These, in Seattle at least, can't afford to not deal with the issue, and can't afford to fit into one of Timmerman's caricatures. They generally fall along a spectrum, illustrated by a few examples: some either publically ridicule and/or condemn homosexuality (e.g. Mars Hill), some see homosexuality as a sin but embrace homosexuals as sinners like the rest of us (I believe Seattle Vineyard), some publically admit that it's a difficult issue, and not one that they can settle easily (e.g. Quest), others are open-and-affirming (e.g. St. James', St. Mark's, Wallingford UMC). Nowhere have I seen a church that is described by his caricatures. So, with that said, we'll see what he proposes.

He correctly notes that both of his examples are "totally passive," avoiding involvement, saying "be well, be warm, and be on your way." He accuses the church of exchanging the first passive response for the second. Again, being a resident of Seattle, I want to stand up and offer any of my local churches as a counterexample - for better or for worse - as most of them are anything but passive. Open and affirming churches - the forefront of the pro-homosexual movement within the church - are hardly "blithely blessing" their gay brothers and sisters and being absent in their lives.

It was good to hear that he is more worried about the passive church than about condemning homosexuality. And he clearly noted that no one chooses homosexuality (but with a cheap shot at the absurdity of gays wanting to choose "hairy guys" over "lovely women" - what about the women who choose the disgusting "hairy guys" over the beautiful "lovely women"?). He then terms homosexuality as having "higher same-sex needs" and "deep needs for their own gender" and says that this won't be fulfilled by "having sex with the same gender" - which it won't, of course, any more than "higher opposite-sex needs" will be fulfilled by "having sex with the opposite gender." He then cites that he knows hundreds of gay men who have been in committed gay relationships, and came back to him feeling "less of a man" for it. He then clarifies that he met these men via his involvement with "People Can Change" - from the appearances, a pretty stock, if loving, ex-gay program - this isn't just a random sampling of the gay community.

He then starts talking about the "gay identity" being a lie, and seems to mix up gender identity with sexual identity. Where you are on the scale of "manliness" or masculinity doesn't strictly correspond to where you are on the sexual orientation scale. He also says that "sodomy" historically referred to anything from man-on-man sex to oral or anal, regardless of who was involved - basically anything outside the norm. He gives a bunch of negative examples and statistics to show that the "gay lifestyle" is basically poisonous, that gay relationships fall apart more often than straight ones. I don't have the time or energy at the moment to find the studies that contradict this claim, other than the study I'm immediately familiar with that lesbian couples, at least, are better parents, but I think that comparing gay relationships, which are just now being seen as acceptable in some places, to straight relationships, which are part of the nuclear family woven into our culture, is hardly fair. Opponents will say that that's gay relationships aren't okay, but that's not my point. My point is, regardless of absolute acceptability, relationships, especially marriage, are not an island. It's well-known that without the support of their community, marriages are much more likely to fall apart, and straight relationships have default cultural support, while gay relationships don't. I'm not proposing that that's the whole story, but I do think it's a contributing factor.


Tim has moved onto homosexuality in childhood, in absence of relationships or a "gay lifestyle", blaming homosexuality on childhood problems - certainly not a negligible phenomenon, but I don't think it explains all of homosexuality. He then quoted James 1:26-27 ("pure and undefiled religion"), which caught me off-guard as it's one of my favorite verses, and said that these homosexuals are "orphans," orphaned from their masculine identity. He gives the example of St. Gregory of Nyssa as a strong, non-sexual male friendship that fulfills the "God-given need for someone to walk with us in this life" and gives the example of "wedded friendships" and "covenant brotherhoods" in the early church, where men vowed themselves to each other, which basically from his description sounds like marriage without the sex. I'm not really sure what to do with that - where does it cross from being friendship to being same-sex attraction? When they start having sex? How do we map that to our culture today? I don't terribly understand it, so I'll leave it for now. But it's interesting.

He also called the church out on its focus on marriage, and largely ignoring and even shunning singleness - the classic problem of "singles groups" being matchmaking services. Bravo for that - I've always been kind of confused about that, especially with what Paul had to say about marriage. He closed with some advice, on how to deal with the young men who didn't have good relationships with their fathers.

In summary, it was a decent message - I don't want to strangle Tim like I do most of the times I watch a Mark Driscoll sermon. He didn't further reinforce his caricatures of the church, and just kind of let them lie, which was good. But he seemed to be focused on one specific cause and expression of homosexuality, and a very specific "gay lifestyle" of promiscuity and noncommittal relationships, as if there was a "straight lifestyle" that was universally monogamous. He focused on men needing same-sex relation on a non-sexual, heterosexual level and turning to homosexuality to get that, emphasizing the difference between same-sex needs and sexual desires, the former of which can be fulfilled by friendship. I'm not denying that - that may sometimes be the case - but I don't believe it covers all of homosexuality. Additionally, he didn't mention lesbians at all - maybe that wasn't the point of his talk, maybe he doesn't have experience with them, but they are also very present, and don't fit into the nice box of homosexuality that he made, and seems to assume takes care of the problem. Basically, he may be write for some gay men, but I don't think simply putting all homosexuals (gays and lesbians) in his box will work.

If you want to watch Timmerman's talk, you can grab it via iTunes, or via Boris Fritscher's iTunes browser like I did, if you don't have iTunes, and don't want to download all of its 90MB heft.

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