Friday, July 26, 2013

Links for July 26, 2013

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It would be difficult and a little dishonest to give you a list of interesting links this week without mentioning the new addition to the royal family, which was probably the hottest topic of discussion online this week. So I'll just get it out of the way up front. On July 22, at 4:24 PM His Royal Highness Prince George Alexander Louis (the name was revealed just yesterday) was born a healthy baby boy to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Ever wonder what this news looks like in dollars and stats?

In other news, our very own PhD candidate (and Ground Motive contributor) Joseph Kirby published a fascinating essay called “The Spiritual Meaning of Technological Evolution to Life” in the latest issue of Cosmos and History. It’s available for open access, so I recommend that you make sure to take the time to give it a read this week.

New philosophical problems and ethical dilemmas arise at a dizzying rate these days as game-changing technologies pop up all over the place. Here’s an article exploring some of the implications of the introduction of 3D printer technology.

What if you could crack open your Facebook page and pop a message over to your friend the dolphin who has learned to use an underwater touchpad interface? This week I came across this thrilling (and maybe a little chilling) TED talk on a new project developing an interspecies internet that could bring dolphins, apes, elephants, and other animals online through the development of special interfaces. This project makes us rethink intelligence, our own human uniqueness, and what technology can do. Is the interspecies internet a new way to responsibly share the planet or the new frontier for (cyber)colonialism? Does this mean we’ll have to add whistle characters to our QWERTY keyboards so that we can use the dolphins’ natural given names in Dolphinese?

I’m a little embarrassed to say that I watched all 25 minutes of this documentary on animals and technology showcasing the work of the LLHC (Large Little Hamster Collider). Says one straight-faced researcher explaining the groundbreaking work of the LLHC: “Nature has been doing these experiments for as long as nature exists. Particles always scattered off hamsters.” Don’t worry, no hamsters are harmed in these very scientific experiments. I wonder what CERN thinks about the Large Hadron Collider’s slightly cuddlier copycat counterpart.

On a more serious note, I came across this thought-provoking and moving story about how Jenny, a woman with Down syndrome, fights for her right to independence in a recent court case. This article raises some really important questions that we need to think through about intellectual disability and social equality.

Another court case that has caused quite a stir and gives us pause is the recent shocking verdict in Florida that found George Zimmerman not guilty of the murder of Trayvon Martin based on Florida’s self defense laws. For a thoughtful reflection on here’s an article by Lisa Sharon Harper drawing out its implications for issues of injustice and racial prejudice. “Finally, last weekend, George Zimmerman was found “not guilty” and black America realized a web of laws have been hacking away at our civil rights to live and expect equal protection under the law,” Harper laments. “The old Jim Crow is back.”

Continuing Ground Motive’s discussion of the importance of fiction, here’s an article from Relevant magazine on how Christians could benefit from a good regular dose of fiction.

This week I came across these thoughts on how this author finds it to be the sad reality that sometimes the local pub makes a better church than the Sunday morning congregation: “Jesus is moving into our streets. And even into our bars. It is here that I have found people, who are not scared of brokenness.”

Last but by no means least, The Atlantic published an article yesterday summarizing some data collected from a recent survey in the US, which indicates significant growth in the size of the religious left, making some wonder if the new “moral majority” will have a distinctly progressive tint to it. “And the data indicate,” writes Jonathan Merritt, “that the growth of religious progressives may soon shift the balance of power that has existed for more than a quarter century.” Should we rejoice that more and more Christians seem to be increasingly concerned about social issues like poverty and the environment, or should we fear the implications of a shifting “Moral Majority”?

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Religion in Contemporary Art: A Guest Article by Willem Hart

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This week I'm excited to share a guest article by Willem Hart, written in response to our post reviewing a lecture by Dr. James Elkins. Willem attended the May 23, 2013 lecture at the Art Gallery of Ontario and, as an artist himself, was fascinated by the topic. In this article he provides some helpful insights in response to the work of James Elkins as well as to Ground Motive's discussion of contemporary art.

by Willem Hart

Rembrandt van Rijn, Supper at Emmaus, oil on
panel, 1648 (Louvre, Paris)
James Elkins’ view that “…committed, engaged, ambitious, informed art does not mix with dedicated, serious, thoughtful, heartfelt religion. Whenever the two meet, one wrecks the other” suggests that this is true for our time. The key work in his title is “contemporary”. I doubt that Elkins would apply this to the work of Giotto, Michaelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci, Caravaggio or Rembrandt, etc. Clearly their religious convictions motivated them to produce what we consider great art. That means committed, engaged, ambitious, informed art can mix with dedicated, serious, thoughtful, heartfelt religion. And whenever the two have met in the past, great and important art happened.

Ever since the Enlightenment we have marginalized religion, but that does not mean that we have abandoned either religion or spirituality.

LEFT: Carravaggio, The incredability of St Thomas, 1601/02  RIGHT: Michelangelo, The Sistine Chapel ceiling, (painted between 1508 and 1512) showing Adam and the hand of God.
In the end all art is religious and spiritual and expresses the deepest thoughts of its creators. Just because the church has stopped sponsoring artistic expression does not mean that art has no religious content or that one wrecks the other. The ongoing construction of Antoni Gaudi’s Sagrada Famîlia, is an interesting example of the church’s continuing interest in honoring God through art.

LEFT: Antoni Gaudi (1852-1926), Sagrada Família,
Roman Catholic church under construction
in Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain.
RIGHT: Graham Sutherland tapestry,
Christ in Glory, Coventry Cathedral, 1962.
Elkins, in his book, On the Strange Place of Religion in Contemporary Art (2004, Routledge) makes a distinction between fine art and religious art. He does this in a seemingly disarming fashion by claiming that his own beliefs are not part of his writing. How can they not be? Surely it is impossible to divorce one’s spiritual commitment from one’s work. In the Preface Dr. Elkins suggests that, “There is no monolithic art any more than there is a property called religious.” Yet in the same book he asserts that “Religious art will be one type of art and fine art another and there will be no particular problem in the fact that one excludes the other. They will be separate but equal.” That is a bit facile for me, a straw man argument in fact. It’s an artificial construct that does not hold up to reasonable examination. To say that one does not exclude the other is strange to say the least.

LEFT: Claes Oldenburg, Giant Hamburger, (1962), Art Gallery of Ontario.
RIGHT: Andy Warhol, one of the many versions of Marilyn, ca 1962.

LEFT: Roy Lichtenstein, print, ca. 1960.
 RIGHT: Jasper Johns, one of the many iterations
 of his American Flag series, ca 1958/60.

William Holmar Hunt,
The Light of the World,  1853
Fine art is of course distinct from graphic/commercial art, decorative art, scenic art, as well as the cloying depictions of nature represented by the likes of Thomas Kinkade, or the romanticized Christian vision of William Holmar Hunt. Fine art is unmistakable whether its content is religious or secular.

And religion still influences fine art. Graham Sutherland’s “Christ in Glory” at Coventry Cathedral is a case in point. Is this work, ten years in the making, any less worthy than a Van Eyck altar piece?

A Claes Oldenburg “Giant Hamburger” is as religious or spiritual as Michelangelo’s “Pieta”. Calvin Seerveld (Professor emeritus at the Institute for Christian Studies, Toronto) suggests that “art tell-tales in whose service a [person] stands.” While I don’t like the work of Andy Warhol, there is no mistaking its religious content. In fact he was a committed Catholic Christian who attended mass regularly. Contemporary artists hold up our icons to us and suggest that this is our religion, this is our faith. That can be said of artists such as Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Frank Stella, and Willem de Koning, to name just a few.

William H. Johnson, Mount Calvary, (ca 1939)

What does one make of the work of African-American artist William H. Johnson whose religiously oriented work is honored in major institutions? There are of course numerous examples of religiously influenced art in major institutions and venues.

Jackson Pollock,  Crucifixion, 1962.
While contemporary religious art is nothing like the expressions of faith and religion in and before the Renaissance, they are no less religious or spiritual. Even a cursory examination of 20th century artists reveals a deeply religious (spiritual) direction. As John Donne put it, “No man is an island unto himself.” I take that to mean that we are all spiritually, if not religiously connected.

The late Christopher Hitchens (God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, 2008), and Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion, 2006), whose atheist opinions attack views that are mostly no longer held by mainstream religion, contend that a supernatural creator almost certainly does not exist and that religious faith is a delusion, a fixed false belief. They are of course entitled to their beliefs, but to me committed, engaged, ambitious, informed art cannot be produced without dedicated, serious, thoughtful, heartfelt spirituality. The two are inseparable.

The blog Ground Motive discusses religion and art without ever showing something visual. You cannot possibly discuss the impact of religion, faith, and spirituality on art without showing images. Where in this discussion do you fit the work of African American artist William H. Johnson, and a crucifixion painting by Jackson Pollock, both from the mid-20th century period?

On June 29, 2013, the important and influential Gallery Maeght in Southern France will open an exhibition of art “Les Adventures de la Vérité” curated by French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévi. The gallery does not normally invite “outsiders” to organize its exhibitions. One notable exception was the exhibition curated by André Malraux, “Musée Imaginaire”, in 1973. It is remarkable that Bernard-Henri Lévi, an important thinker, is in charge of an exhibition of visual art that explores the eternal struggle for truth. Not only that, but his choices are decidedly religious. Not just spiritual, but religious.

A comparison between Jean Michel Basquiat's Crisis X, 1982 (LEFT) and Crucifixion by Bronzino (ca 1340) (RIGHT) at Gallery Maeght, 2013.

He considers a conversation between Jean-Michel Basquiat’s “Crisis X” (1982) and “Crucifiction” (ca 1540) by Bronzini. Lévi shows Jackson Pollock’s “Crucifiction” (1939/40), and compares “The veil of Saint Veronica” (17th c.) with Andy Warhol’s “Studies of Jackie” (1964). To me this shows that the influence of religion cannot be separated easily from the practice of art.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Links for July 19, 2013

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The recent discussions sparked by this summer's posts have been both exhilarating and stimulating, and I'm excited to see our readers and contributors engaging in fruitful conversation. If you've been following along but are unsure about whether your voice fits into Ground Motive's discussion, I assure you that it does! We'd love to hear your perspective.

As some of our contributors are involved in the vibrant (and occasionally volatile) conversations on some of Reddit's philosophy boards, two recent pieces created a bit of a stir on r/Philosophy. My post on why philosophy can be boring seemed to hit a nerve and was met with strong criticism from some but strong affirmation from others on Reddit, resulting in 117 comments (as of today). Joe Kirby's first piece on Star Wars and culture was a hot topic of discussion on r/Philosophy and brought in people with strong opinions from all sides, resulting in 131 comments on Reddit.

Some Links Worth Exploring...

Here are some links from across the internet I've come across recently that are related to issues that Ground Motive has been exploring (or are articles you might just find interesting).

If you'd like to read a little more about topics related to the recent Ground Motive discussion on homosexuality, I found this article by Rachel Held Evans to be a helpful way of framing the discussion. She provides some level-headed insights on how it's problematic that Christians sometimes use a "pick and choose" approach to reading the Bible "literally" when they want to identify people as sinners.

In working through my fears that philosophy might be boring and I might be making things worse, I came across an article describing a humorously heated exchange between Noam Chomsky and Slavoj Žižek in which Žižek says of Chomsky, "I don’t think I know a guy who was so often empirically wrong." Chomsky, on the other hand, is convinced that continental philosophy (and especially Žižek's work) is empty, boring chatter.

I recommend that you put Neil Gaiman's new book The Ocean at the End of the Lane on your summer reading list. It's a beautiful and profound novel that's thought-provoking and a pleasure to read. Here is an article on Gaiman's new book and his approach to fiction, reviewing his new book and his talk at this year's Book Expo of America. Fiction, says Gaiman, "shows you that the world doesn't have to be like the one you live in. Which is an incredibly dangerous thing for the world." If you haven't already, check out our recent post on what Richard Kearney has to say on this with regard to the Holocaust, Irish politics, and ancient Greek thought.

The summer is going by too quickly, and I don't know about you, but I'm looking for ways to make the most of it while it lasts. Maybe before the fall semester starts, I'll pop on over to Mars using NASA's new theoretical warp drive design and see those newly discovered Martian tablets with the text of John 3:16 in 12 languages and, inscribed in plain English, a message from God that reads, "I am real." I can imagine Kierkegaard turning in his grave as Christian faith becomes just a little less absurd. Or maybe I'll just content myself with watching pitch slowly form into a drop, now that, as of last week, it's finally proven to be an extremely viscous fluid. Either way, the rest of the summer will be a thrill.

An interview that is worth a listen and will get you thinking is Professor of Theology at Emmanuel College and professional jazz pianist Tom Reynold's interview on SoundCloud on the topic of jazz music and theology.

Exploring similar issues to Ron Kuipers' Ground Motive post on freedom and tradition, here is an interesting piece that looks to Kierkegaard for a way of talking about freedom as both limitation and imitation.

On the topic of Christian activism and his recent book The World is Not Ours to Save: Finding the Freedom to Do GoodTyler Wigg-Stevenson's interview with Qcast in New York explores some important ideas on how North American Christians should think about their involvement in social justice locally and globally.

Finally, speaking of social justice, James K. A. Smith's recent essay on "How I discovered I could long for justice in both this world and the next" is provocative food for thought as we consider the connections between personal faith, academics, the church, and social justice--do we need to talk about God when do social justice work? In what ways should our personal faith be integrated into or separated out from other spheres of life and activity?

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Politics, Spirituality, and Sacrifice in Star Wars Episodes I, II, and III

Episode 2 of Ground Motive's Popular Mythology Series.

by Joseph Kirby

In my previous essay, I argued that the scene where Darth Vader destroys the Emperor at the end of Return of the Jedi was a spiritual and political mistake. This essay will refine my arguments in light of some of the critiques leveled against it. I argue that the scene is fine if we see it as the conclusion to the original trilogy, but that the meaning completely inverts if we view it as the conclusion to all six movies seen in chronological succession.

The original trilogy is primarily about the redemption of Vader and the healing of the bond between father and son. The political drama of galactic struggle against Evil Empire is primarily backstory for this spiritual/family dynamic. By killing the Emperor, therefore, Vader is not implicitly taking a stand on the nature of political evil and how it should be fought – he is redeeming himself. In the prequels, by contrast, the political drama is not backstory. The question of how a virtuous Republic transforms into an Evil Empire is central, and the answer these movies give is unsettling: they depict our virtuous democratic system as falling into chaos because there really exists some overwhelmingly powerful and infinitely malicious person – and seen in light of this political message, the end of Return of the Jedi now says that if we kill this evil person, our political problems will magically end. In short, we now have a scapegoat ritual along the lines described by Réné Girard: the Emperor, who we are told is the source of all our woe, is sacrificed by the galactic Republic in order to purge itself of its own internal violence, and the Star Wars saga is the mythic distortion the galaxy tells itself in order to justify this horrific act. The claim that “in the Star Wars universe the Emperor really is evil” is beside the point – in the universe of a witch-hunt, the witch really is evil as well.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Fiction Stronger than Truth: An Interview with Richard Kearney on Imagination

This is an excerpt of an interview conducted by Rebekah Smick, Associate Professor of Philosophy of Arts & Culture at the Institute for Christian Studies, with Richard Kearney on October 13, 2012 in conjunction with the event titled "Imagination's Truths: Re-envisioning Imagination in Philosophy, Religion & the Arts" held in Toronto, on October 13, 2012.
The full text of this interview is available for download from  the institutional repository of the Institute for Christian Studies. Additionally, the video of this interview as well as Kearney's lecture and the conference panel session are available via this playlist on Youtube.

Rebekah Smick: What does it mean to you to speak in terms of "imagination’s truths"?

Richard Kearney: Well on the face of it, it would seem that imagination is about unreality, therefore, if you define truth as reality imagination is but an untruth. But there are certain truths proper to fiction, and certain truths that one can only access as complete through fiction. Aristotle in the Poetics, which is probably our first philosophical account of the relationship of truth and fiction, makes the point that it’s not a story that recounts the facts and gives you a chronicle of events that gets to the truth of what happens. It’s the poets who prescind from the facts but aim at an essence, what he calls an “essence of events.” And they do this through a process of mimesis, creative imitation or representation, and mythos, that’s our word “myth,” but in the Greek it’s “plot.” So there’s a restructuring and a reconfiguring of the facts such that we are able to see what is universal in human actions and human sufferings, and that for Aristotle is something that is only accessible through art.

Other philosophers have said interesting things [related to] that. To leap into the modern era, David Hume maintained that all men are liars and poets are liars by profession, so that poets actually take the ways in which we use imagination in our lives to construct meanings and then bring them to a higher level so that we become aware that we’re actually constructing meanings. Nietzsche goes for this too, when he says there are no facts; there are only interpretations of facts; and interpretations of facts involve imagination, the constructive, productive, constitutive role of imagination. And he ultimately concludes that there are two kinds of liars, there are those who tell lies and don’t know they’re telling lies—because our imaginations are always at work even when we’re dreaming and perceiving and eating, imagination is always at work symbolizing and giving meaning to things. So the distinction he makes is between the liars who don’t know they’re telling lies and authentic liars who know that they’re lying—and they’re the poets, or those who avail themselves of the poets and the artist’s work and so realize how the lie is performed. So there are the liars who deny they’re lying, and they’re the inauthentic ones, and the liars who acknowledge that they’re lying, and they’re the authentic ones. And of course in the latter sense, the lie is, as Samuel Beckett says “lyingly exposed,” and when it’s exposed and performed, then we have a freedom around it and it’s easy to be a lie; it actually becomes a truth. So I would claim there is a truth proper to fiction in this way.

If I might just give an example, a practical example: a number of years ago I was giving a talk in Montreal on different cinematic portrayals of the Holocaust, so I was talking about Schindler’s List and Life is Beautiful and Shoah by Claude Lanzmann. And going through the various pros and cons, you know, of doing a fictional dramatic recount of the event, Schindler’s List, versus Shoah, which is two-camera, face to face, testimonials of survivors, first generation survivors. And after it, this little woman came up to me after question and answer, and she said, “You know, I was one of the survivors. I was on Schindler’s list.” And she said, “I was never able to return to the experience, never able to revisit it, never able to talk about it, never able to think about it, remember it, until I saw the film. And when I saw the fictional account played by fictional characters, I was then and only then able to identify with myself as a real victim.” But it was only by going through it in imagination, by the detour of fiction, by a certain vicarious journey that she was able to come back to what was in effect an inexperienced experience. So it took fiction for her to be able to experience it for the first time. And that to me is a case in which fiction can actually serve to bring out a truth that otherwise remains concealed. Why? It’s because it’s just unbearable.

So fiction can say it in another way and make the unbearable bearable, which is one of the main points Aristotle makes in the Poetics. He says that when we go to the theatre, and we see tragedies, we witness events—Agamemnon slitting the throat of poor Iphigenia, Oedipus committing murder and incest, the most hideous things. And these are things we could never contemplate, or never accept or tolerate or experience or regard in real life; but through the detour of fiction, we can look at the most hideous things, the most difficult things, the most painful things, the most tragic things, and see them in a new way. So for Aristotle that was a very liberating thing because two of the most powerful and very often unacknowledged (we might say today unconscious) emotions in Greek society, in all societies, were pity and fear, which were pathomata, they were passions. And too much fear, too much pity could destroy a society. Over-identification with people, too much pathos, too much eleos or pity, or too much fear could lead to violence or distance or cruelty. So what you needed was an imaginary synthesis of these two emotions so as to de-pathologize them, civilize them, and then the citizens, who would go and have their unconscious passions purged and distilled and refined and refigured, would then go back into society more human and humanized citizens.

RS: Can works of the poetic imagination cause change?

RK: Well, I think they can but not directly. Seamus Heaney makes the point that no poem ever stopped an attack. And I think that’s right. But at the same time, we know that works of art have indirectly and culturally prepared a space and a place and a time for change. In Ireland, for example, there were many poets—Patrick Pearse and Yeats and so on—who prepared people, arguably, for change. Yeats even made this statement after the 1916 uprising against the British: “Did that play of mine send out certain men the English shot?” This play was Countess Cathleen (Cathleen ni Houlihan), and Mother Ireland comes back and calls her sons to sacrifice themselves for the free nation. Now, that was Yeats being a bit presumptuous; I think about 10 people saw the play, and none of them who were there got shot; but at the same time, the consciousness of 1916 and the way it radically changed people’s opinion about independence was in many respects a part of a cultural revolution, which preceded a political revolution—I wouldn’t say caused it, but it meant that people interpreted the events in a different way. They saw the rebels as martyrs in a symbolism and a mythology of martyrdom that was part of a certain poetics, a national poetics.

And I would say that in Northern Ireland (I’m talking about Ireland because I’m Irish) the Good Friday peace agreement of 1998 was, in my mind, also facilitated by the fact that so many Irish writers, poets, novelists, and dramatists were writing about their adversary. So you had Catholic writers writing from the point of view of Protestants, and Protestant writers writing from the point of view of Catholics—you know nationalists, unionists (I’m using “Protestant” and “Catholic” as stand-ins for the two communities). And I think that this exchange of narratives, of narrative imaginations, also had a big impact in allowing people eventually to say, as it was written in the Good Friday agreement, you can be British or Irish or both. You could be both! I mean you don’t have to kill each other for a United Ireland or a United Kingdom, which are constitutionally incompatible because sovereignty is one and indivisible. So: United Ireland or United Kingdom, but you can’t have both. Well, in imagination you can. Constitutionally you can’t, but in imagination you can. So I think that this symbolic excess, over factual incompatibility, had something to do with the Good Friday peace agreement’s affirmation that you can be British or Irish or both.

And then you can look at works like Picasso’s Guernica, or Sartre’s political plays, or the roles of poets like Sorescu and Donescu in the rising Romania, Václav Havel in Czechoslovakia, I mean countless examples where distant writers have created a space of contestation, but also of utopia, of thinking otherwise, which is all poets and artists can do. They can try to fill this space in, and when they do it’s usually a disaster. To quote Seamus Heaney again it’s a question of “opening up a landing site” for things to come; it’s creating “landing sites” and then helping people to observe what is coming and interpreting what is coming. But art works in the realm of symbolism, not in the realm of ideology, and when the two conflate or become too confused or fused, I think that’s dangerous.

RS: I agree. It would take a certain refining of one’s ontology of art, for example, to make sure that your poetry doesn’t become propaganda.

RK: Yes, and it can be a very thin line.

Richard Kearney holds the Charles B. Seelig Chair of Philosophy at Boston College. He has written several books on the important but neglected role that imagination plays in encouraging ethical sensitivity to issues of social justice, including The Wake of Imagination.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

We Love You But...

by Ron Kuipers
In the summer of 1992, the ICS hosted a conference on the theme of creation order entitled “An Ethos of Compassion and the Integrity of Creation” (the conference proceedings are still available in a book that bears the same title). This conference is infamous in the annals of ICS history, because during the proceedings two ICS professors, James Olthuis and Hendrik Hart, directly challenged the Christian Reformed Church’s official position on the morality of homosexuality and same sex relationships. Hart argued that the Christian Reformed emphasis on creation order had come to underwrite a doctrinal rigidity that prevented the church from responding compassionately to society’s marginalized groups, and he used the dominant Christian attitude toward the LGBTQ community as a primary example of such insufficient compassion. Olthuis engaged with the theological position of Richard Hays, and suggested alternative ways of reading Romans 1 in light of the rest of scripture, suggesting that one could thereby achieve a biblically-funded position that did not condemn, but rather affirmed, committed same-sex relationships.

Not exactly earth-shattering stuff, but it was enough in 1992 to land Hart and Olthuis in serious hot water. Many observers predicted that Hart and Olthuis’ comments guaranteed the imminent demise of ICS, and indeed ICS lost some donor support due to the controversy these papers generated. More than this, the institution itself, traumatized by the controversy, became a timid shell of its former self, focusing on engaging the academy at a high level, but more or less ceasing to engage directly with people in the church, as it had once so vigorously done. The church thus lost an important voice in its ethical deliberations, and ICS lost a good chunk of its ability to have cultural impact.

Fast-forward 21 years later and, to what should come as little surprise to anyone, the debate over what Christians should think about the morality of homosexuality has not gone away, but has in fact intensified. In June we heard the surprising news that Exodus International, a Christian ministry committed to the idea of ‘reparative therapy’ for homosexuals (understanding homosexuality as a mental disorder for which one could seek a cure), is shutting its doors. Executive Director Alan Chambers’ stated reason for doing so is emphatic: “Please allow me to be clear: I do not believe that reparative therapy changes sexual orientation; in fact, it does great harm to many people.” He adds: “For quite some time we've been imprisoned in a worldview that's neither honoring toward our fellow human beings, nor biblical.”

Chambers’ dramatic move follows fast on the heels of the recent Synodical decision of the Christian Reformed Church in North America to appoint “a study committee to provide guidance on applying the denomination’s policy on homosexuality to a rapidly changing culture.” That policy, which itself is not being opened for review, was published in 1973, a short time before homosexuality was de-listed from the Diagnostics and Statistics Manual of mental disorders. The gist of the report takes a “hate the sin but love the sinner” approach to the issue, although it does contain strong language about ministering to homosexual Christians in love and without condemnation, refusing to approach one sin as more egregious or qualitatively different in kind than another.

Pleas from the floor of Synod to reopen the findings of the CRCNA’s 1973 report on homosexuality, in the light of 40 subsequent years worth of new psychological, sociological, and biblical scholarship, were ultimately rejected by Synod, however, as the pressure to preserve the status quo ultimately triumphed over calls from young adults and others for the CRC to revisit its stand from the ground up. One pastor went so far as to suggest that any reconsideration of the 1973 report would force him out of the church, and he thus implored his fellow delegates with the words “Don’t kick me out, please.” In what the CRCNA website reports as “the debate’s most dramatic moment,” however, elder delegate Joseph Bowman of Classis Toronto told the assembled gathering that he spent 20 years in therapy in a futile attempt to change his orientation: “I stand before you as a 40-year-old, single, celibate and chaste yet openly gay man … no longer willing to be silent.” His words were received with a standing ovation.

It took incredible bravery for Bowman to come out in such dramatic fashion, and the crowd of delegates are to be commended for embracing him and making him feel safe. At the same time, I and many others in the Christian Reformed Church still eagerly await the day when my Christian brothers and sisters in non-celibate, committed same-sex relationships will receive the same affirmation and acceptance. For them, the church’s message continues to be, “we love you, but….”

Ron Kuipers is the Director of the CPRSE and Associate Professor in the Philosophy of Religion at ICS.