|Did evangelical Dobson
My fellow gay friends give me that look "are-you-all-
there" when I tell them I still listen to the Christian radio station.
But I explain, I'm a critical listener. I find it a healthy exercise, for
someone like myself who has been steeped in evangelicalism, to
tease apart its characteristic words (like "biblical"), its long standing
issues (like "world" and "secular" versus "Christian"), and its
theological stables (like "born again," and "living in the word"). I've
become my best mentor.
Each evangelical radio speaker I invite into my kitchen gives me text
and context with which to debate, reason, and apply logic. I'm
challenging not so much the speaker, but myself. Is the American
evangelical world and life view that I endorsed without question for
most my adult life, really viable? At some point in our development,
we question. Or we should, if we want to grow.
For me, I started questioning my American evangelical world and life
view at age 44 when I went down the road that said "It's OK to be
Christian and gay." (Certainly a wrong turn for any sanctified gay
evangelical!) What got me on that road? This one thought: What
I know about myself and what the evangelical world is telling me
should be so about myself, completely clashes. I had to choose
between personal experience and evangelical dogma with regards to
I chose personal experience. And right there, my methodology for
knowing truth was heretical, making me a first rate heretic. You
see, according to the world and life view I was taught, whenever the
Bible and experience do not agree, we are to accept the Bible and
reject our experience. Our experience counts for nothing. Zero.
Now, whoever created that paradigm for truth paved the way for
the protestant pope. And so, today, we have many protestant
popes all giving us, on the authority of "thus saith the Lord," God's
final word on everything from sex to doomsday. The open Bible in
the hands of every pew warmer is a sure recipe for chaos if black
print on white pages elevates the reader to "God has spoken, and
that settles it!" Every one becomes their own pope. And I'm afraid
preachers, all too often, fall into this category, too. In the words of
my seminary professor (which shocked me at the time!): "be careful
the Bible doesn't become a paper pope." How scandalous to think
that chapter and verse can't be found for every situation in life.
You may think I am over stating the case. However, if you
were to live in my world (experience, again, forgive me) you
wouldn't think any of this is an over statement. I am gay and
Christian. I live in a gay relationship with a gay Christian - for ten
years now. Yes, we make love. The Christian world in which I used
to walk and talk, from family to colleagues, have, for the most part,
completely disowned me. I once asked my lay-preacher, Bible
thumbing father a question to which the answer had already
become obvious between us, "I'm dead to you, aren't I, like an
orthodox Jew who has married a Gentile?" "Yes, you are," he said.
Conversation over. Any future family contacts from Christmas
greetings to family reunions and family funerals were denied. Total
silence. I was dead to both my parents.
But I digress. My opening sentence is what I really want to tell
you: I do listen to the Christian radio (as I said) and yesterday
while listening to James Dobson I heard something quite remarkable
(as far as evangelical talk is concerned). Now, that's saying a lot
since you know that James Dobson never says anything remarkable
where a homosexual radio listener is concerned. But on this one
occasion he did.
It was the Monday afternoon broadcast here in New York
City (October 22, 2007) and I was preparing the evening meal. (I
usually listen to Dobson in the morning when I make and pack a
lunch for my life-partner, Jose.) Dobson was interviewing Archibald
Hart on his new book The Sexual Man: Masculinity without Guilt.
Both the author and Dobson strongly agreed that it is absolutely
normal – based on the average experience of evangelical men – for
committed Christian men to find themselves sexually aroused again
and again throughout the day by women other than their wives,
and that to feel guilty about such feelings is misplaced.
Nothing about this is remarkable. It has all been said before.
Personally, I came to this conclusion as soon as I hit puberty and
experienced sexual arousal at the mere sight of a man's bare chest
(I certainly did not choose that response, therefore no guilt here).
James Dobson went on to say that it was his opinion that the
Christian man feels guilty about these normal "hormonal responses"
because of the preaching and teaching on "Jesus' words" in Matthew
5 that to lust after a woman is to commit adultery with her already
in his heart.
What I found remarkable was this: Dobson said we know what
Jesus does not mean by experience. He was speaking about
that common pool of experience that Christian men share. Since all
Christian men, by virtue of their "hormonal" make up, experience
repeated sexual arousal towards other women throughout any
given day – and that for any man to deny this universal truth about
men was to put him in serious "trouble" (which Dobson didn't
explain) – that, therefore, Christ's words "to lust after a woman"
can not be a reference to the common, everyday 'lustful'
experiences of all evangelical men. Therefore, once experience is
taken into account, it becomes obvious, according to Dobson, that
Jesus' saying has reference to what a man "wills" to do with his
sexual arousal, and not to the simple fact that a man has sexual
arousal when seeing another woman.
OK, if you've read this far, you're perhaps a bit disappointed. "Do
you mean to tell me," I can hear you say, "that because James
Dobson made reference to a common pool of experience, you find
that remarkable?" No. What's remarkable is that he used this
universal-male experience to limit the possibilities of how
Matthew 5 could be interpreted. Experience was now teaching
Dobson and not the sermons and Sunday school teachers who had
taught the saying of Jesus for decades as a simple straightforward
injunction that Christian men don't "lust" after other woman. He
questioned the accepted teaching because it contradicted a common
experience found in the sexual lives of evangelical men.
So, why was this a remarkable statement? You see, to
rely on experience this way is very much a "no-no" in many, if not
most, evangelical settings. Repeatedly you'll hear James Dobson on
his radio broadcast assert how Focus on the Family will follow the
Bible and not every wind of today's psychological findings
(experience). He will cite the issue of homosexuality as a main
example of how Focus on the Family will not bend to the social
sciences (again experience), or to the politicians (who hear the
testimonies of their LGBT constituencies), and to the so called gay
agenda (LGBTs who simply testify to their own sexual experience as
being same-sex in orientation). He will not bend, because the Bible
he asserts, is so very clear on its teachings against homosexuality.
But is it that clear?
After all, how clear is the Matthew 5 teaching that for a man to lust
after a woman, he has committed adultery with her already in his
heart? Well, according to James Dobson we must take experience
into account and interpret the verse in light of what we know from
studies such as Hart's study on his findings on evangelical men and
their sexual lives.
About fifteen years ago I took a study tour of Israel.
Our guide was an American professor who had taught at a
university in Texas and was, at the time, living in Israel for more
than ten years as a teacher and student of the history of that
region. At one point he commented to the tour group that he could
never be a Christian because of Jesus' words from Matthew five. In
a private conversation I asked him to explain himself. It was simple
math. Christ had said "xyz" and he was never able to live "xyz"
therefore he could not become a Christian. He found it impossible
not to "lust" after women, "And," he said, "if that is the same as
committing adultery with them, well, I just don't understand that
kind of reasoning. I don't understand how Jesus, the founder of
Christianity, could give that kind of a law to men. I can not stop
'lusting' after women, but to my thinking that does not equate
adultery, not even in my heart."
My tour guide would have been the perfect Focus-on-the-Family
radio guest as a prime example of what Dobson and Hart were
discussing: Experience and a black and white reading of the
Bible don't often fit. Something has to give. And for Dobson and
Hart what must give is a black and white reading of Matthew 5 when
it comes to the pooled sexual experiences of heterosexual
evangelical men. "Experience tells us how not to interpret this"
saying of Jesus, said James Dobson. Jesus does not mean to say
that red-blooded heterosexual American evangelical Christian men
must feel guilty every time they feel sexual arousal towards another
So, Dobson and Hart's findings – the pooled experience of the sex
lives of evangelical men - tell us what "lust" can not mean in this
particular verse. That's what I found remarkable.
The next morning, while fixing my partner's lunch as he
ate breakfast, we half listened to part two of the Dobson and Hart
discussion on Christian men and sex. "I have to tell you what
Dobson said yesterday," I told Jose. "OK," he said, "turn the radio
off and tell me about it." "Dobson actually said that 'experience
tells us how not to interpret Jesus' saying that a man who looks on
a woman to lust after her has committed adultery with her already
in his heart;' that's remarkable," I said. "Those were his words," I
said, "that experience tells us how not to interpret," I emphasized.
"But," I noted, "when we try to say, as gay Christians, that
experience tells us how not to interpret 'against nature' in Romans
1, somehow the same reasoning doesn't apply." Evangelical, gay
Christian experience does not have the same status as evangelical
heterosexual male sexual experience. Dobson's interpretation of
scripture reminds me of a quote I had recently gleaned from my
general reading, "Texts don't mean, people mean with texts."
As I began my (very irregular) morning studies, and because I was
putting into writing a summary on John Wesley's four authorities
for the Christian life (one of which is experience), I decided to find
Dobson's remark that "experience tells us how not to interpret"
Jesus' saying. I quickly found the broadcast on the Internet and
downloaded it. I fast forwarded it to the part Hart and Dobson
discuss Matthew 5 and the "normal" sexual arousals evangelical men
have throughout the course of any given day as women step in and
out of their activities. As I listened, yes, the broadcast said that
this male evangelical "sexual arousal" is normal; yes, the church has
misapplied Jesus' saying so that evangelical men unnecessarily feel
guilty; and yes, we need to understanding that Matthew 5 is not
saying what we used to think it says.
But that one sentence which had put a smile on my face, wasn't
there. Did I only think I heard Dobson say experience tells us how
not to interpret Jesus' saying. I had laid aside my study of Wesley
for three weeks. Wesley wasn't consciously in my mind when I
heard Dobson speak. I had been reading other books and other
ideas. If anything, picking Wesley up again this morning was the off
shoot of hearing Dobson say experience tells us how not to
interpret Jesus' saying. But the Dobson statement wasn't there in
the Internet play back of the radio broadcast.
I wonder if they edited that comment, I thought. I had no
way to know. It didn't really matter. His argument was still there
though his verbatim explanation of how he was arguing was
missing. Because of studies on the sexual lives of evangelical men,
so argued Dobson and Hart, we know what is universally "normal"
for evangelical men (heterosexual men, mind you; no mention of
homosexual evangelical men), and therefore we can conclude that a
black and white reading of Jesus' saying in Matthew 5 would be
incorrect and would therefore wrongly cause a feeling of guilt. That
was their argument.
Haven't gay Christians been arguing the same way for years about
themselves and certain passages of scripture? Yes, like Dobson, we
have given credibility to our evangelical-gay pooled experiences and
have brought them along side of scripture in our reading of
scripture in order to understand what the Bible is not saying just
like Dobson did for his evangelical heterosexual men and Matthew 5.
If I did hear correctly, and if they did edit Dobson's statement that
experience tells us how not to interpret Jesus' saying, well, all I can
say is, they have failed to take the opportunity to walk along side of
those like John Wesley. I guess I will turn to him now and get on
with my studies. According to Wesley, the Christian has four
authorities: scripture, tradition, reason and experience.
Unfortunately, much of what I hear on the Christian radio is all
scripture - that one final authority, so much so that it trumps the
other three to such an extent that they are completely excluded
from sight. As for tradition, reason and experience – maybe we
need to take them out again, give them a good dusting, and read
them. Isn't that what the preacher used to say about the Bible? –
give it a good dusting and open it again. Well, now he needs to say
it about tradition, reason and experience. After all, Dobson did
dust off "experience" and used it, even though he used it oh so
ever selectively. Still, that did put a smile on my face. How
remarkable: Dobson put a smile on my face. Hello experience,
welcome back to Bible interpretation. Thank you Dobson for
reintroducing evangelicals to experience and Bible interpretation.
Written Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2007,
by Stephen Parelli, MDiv
Executive Director, Other Sheep, Bronx, NY
What's remarkable is
that he used this
experience to limit the
possibilities of how
Matthew 5 could be
and a black
reading of the
|Experience --- like The
Hart Report above ---
tells us how not to
interpret Jesus' saying on
lusting after women.
|John Wesley and the four
authorities for Christians
Visits to this web page since Oct. 24, 2007
|Dr. James Dobson
Focus on the Family