A review of Straight and Narrow?: Compassion and Clarity in the Homosexuality Debate.

By Thomas Schmidt.
IVP, 1995.

The debate about homosexuality revolves around a number of crucial and controversial subjects: human sexuality and emotions, politics, religion, the family and relationships, questions of health, privacy and the social good.

While the debate often entails secular homosexuals and Christian straights slugging it out with each other, the debate is increasingly being waged just as fiercely within church circles. Indeed, the Christian debate about homosexuality may be just as explosive as the Reformation was 400 years ago.

Joe Dallas, President of Exodus International, wrote in 1991: “The debate over homosexuality and the Bible – specifically, whether or not the Bible condemns homosexual acts in all cases – will do no less than rip the body of Christ apart within the next decade. It will force believers to declare, in black and white terms, where they stand on issues of sexuality and biblical interpretation.”

By far the best book written to date about this divisive issue is Thomas Schmidt’s Straight and Narrow. This book performs four important tasks, and performs them exceedingly well.

Firstly, it expounds the biblical case against homosexuality. That is, it shows that Scripture teaches unequivocally that homosexual practice is sinful.

Secondly, it provides one of the best summaries of the case against homosexuality on health grounds. Thirdly, it examines the nature/nurture debate (are gays born that way?) and concludes that while a number of factors may account for homosexual behaviour, explanation of the behaviour cannot serve as a justification for the behaviour.

And finally, the book attempts to remind us that no other response than the love, mercy and compassion of Christ will suffice. Every homosexual is a human being made in God’s image and likeness. Schmidt reminds us of the human face of homosexuality – he reminds us that beyond the anger and rhetoric and emotion are hurting, lonely people who desperately need Christian compassion and love.

Scripture and homosexuality

Since the publication of D.S. Bailey’s Homosexuality and the Western Christian Tradition in 1955, a number of works have appeared seeking to harmonise homosexuality and the Bible. A number of clever ploys and stratagems have been adopted by the theological revisionists. The sin of Sodom and Gomorrah, for example, has been re-cast as the sin of inhospitality, not homosexuality. Arguments are made that Jesus never condemned homosexuality, and so on. Schmidt examines these arguments, and their many variations, and finds them wanting. While many evangelicals in the past have dissected these faulty arguments, this is among the best critiques of the arguments thus far written.

Homosexuality and health risks

Medical doctors have long known of the extraordinary health risks involved with the homosexual lifestyle. Yet, for various reasons, few doctors feel compelled to speak out about them. Conservative Christians have long used sexual practices as a weapon against homosexuality.

Schmidt’s treatment of this issue is different for two reasons. Firstly, he sees the health risks as a tragedy, not as something to gloat over. Christian compassion should be our response to such lack of mental, physical and emotional well-being. And secondly, the information he uses is taken only from primary, not secondary, sources. And it all comes from secular, scholarly sources, “virtually all of which is either neutral or affirming of homosexuality”. Thus he has marshalled the most impressive, reliable and irrefutable collection of evidence to date on the serious health implications of homosexual practice.

This section alone features 131 footnotes. It is a wealth of information and it all points to one inescapable conclusion: “For the vast majority of- homosexual men and for a significant number of  homosexual women – even apart from the deadly plague of AIDS – sexual behaviour is obsessive, psychopathological and destructive to the body.”

The tremendous promiscuity rates among gays, the extra-high incidence of drug and alcohol abuse, the high number of sexual partners, and the sexual activities practised, all contribute to plague proportions of disease and illness. There is simply no comparison to the heterosexual community in this regard. The homosexual lifestyle is simply an invitation to an early grave. And it is not the minority, but the overwhelming majority of homosexuals, who are at risk.

Nature/Nurture

Like the section on health, the evidence used in this section is taken only from recent, scholarly and secular sources. The vast amount of information makes it clear that simplistic causation theories (eg. it’s in my genes) are not scientifically sustainable. The evidence is simply not in for a genetic or biological basis of homosexuality.

Instead, it seems culture and environment are major factors in the incidence of homosexuality. And choice has a large part to play in the whole equation. As Schmidt points out, “A large component of homosexual activists applaud biologic causation theories for their effect on public opinion, but are philosophically committed to personal choice as opposed to any deterministic theory, biologic or environmental.”

Schmidt also examines the social constructionism theory which states that sexual/gender differences are determined not by biology but by society. That is, we learn our sexuality like everything else, and in reality there are numerous genders (not just male and female), and people can embrace many different versions of gender. This theory was especially prominent at the recent Women’s Conference in Beijing, and we can expect to see much more of it. Indeed, it was the approach taken by an academic with whom I recently debated on ABC Radio, who wants to introduce pro-homosexual sex education into primary schools.

Christian compassion

Schmidt distinguishes himself from many conservative critics of homosexuality in that he bends over backwards to show empathy, respect and compassion for homosexuals. He makes it clear that heterosexuals have plenty of dirty laundry as well.

It is all too easy for many evangelicals to judge homosexual behaviour without really loving the homosexual person. We all mouth the platitude, “hate the sin but love the sinner” but for many of us, myself included, the latter part is seldom attained, and probably just as seldom striven for.

Thus the value of this book. It overwhelmingly makes the case that Scripture condemns homosexuality as sinful; that on health grounds alone the homosexual lifestyle should be eschewed; and that the genetic cop-out just doesn’t wash. But it doesn’t let others off the hook. It reminds each person to examine the beam in his or her own eye before judging others.

Schmidt is probably right when he says, “Only when we show that we have a greater concern about our own sin will we have a right to confront sin in others. This is not tolerance. It is justice.”

We all need to be informed about the homosexuality debate and we dare not compromise biblical truth and morality. But we also dare not compromise our calling to express Christ’s love and compassion.

Because the debate about homosexuality is such an emotionally charged issue it demands that we do our homework and that we present our case lovingly, intelligently and rationally. Those who can’t should stay out of the debate. Or as Schmidt puts it: “Christians who cannot yet deal with issues calmly and compassionately should keep their mouths shut, and they should certainly stay away from the front lines of ministry and public policy debate – not to mention television talk shows.”

Indeed, an objective stand for God’s truth must be accompanied by an awareness of the fact that we are dealing with human beings. This is important because emotion rather than truth tends to determine how a secular public views such issues.

As Schmidt so incisively observes, “Those who defend the objective approach fail to understand public debate, which is less a search for truth than a spectator sport. Like it or not, spectators respond to emotional stories and cheer for the underdog. Moreover, since the reigning value of- modern culture is not truth but tolerance, anyone who takes a stand disapproving of another’s behaviour is bound to lose a debate.”

That doesn’t mean we cannot be critical of homosexual conduct, it just means we need to carefully examine the way we do it. Any appearance of heterosexual self-righteousness will smack of hypocrisy. Quite often our attitudes will be read easier than our words, so periodic attitude checks are in order. Having all the right words and doctrines, while holding on to wrong attitudes, will hinder our witness in this area.

Schmidt seeks to find a third way between two extremes – between those who want to water down the biblical message concerning homosexuality, who say that homosexual behaviour is not sinful, and those who can only condemn homosexuals without offering them the outstretched hands of Christ.

Moderation without compromise, balance without dilution, is the hallmark of this book. Anyone involved in the debate about homosexuality – and we will all have to make a stand at some point – should get this book.

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