Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Gay and Christian but not at a Christian School

David Gushee of RNS reports on "eruptions" on evangelical higher education campuses 3 December 2019.

In the story he refers to Reid Arthur who came out as gay at George Fox University and Joanna Maxon who is in a same-sex marriage and involved in a law suit at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena California.

A professor, Karen Swallow Prior at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has been the target of Southern Baptists for comments she has made, which have been interpreted as supportive of same-sex attracted Christians.

Here are links to the stories mentioned above

Arthur Reid https://www.teenvogue.com/story/christian-college-student-came-out-gay-taylor-swift-lip-sync

Joanna Maxon https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2019/11/25/former-student-sues-seminary-claiming-she-was-expelled-after-officials-obtained-tax

Karen Swallow https://founders.org/2019/11/23/a-follow-up-about-the-karen-swallow-prior-kerfuffle/

As we see in recent news, the rights of same-sex minorities are in focus for people who do not identify as heterosexual and for those Christians who wish to challenge the "gay agenda" or disallow sexual minorities from sacred rites like a Christian marriage or ministry.

See related posts

January 2020 Decision Magazine

January 4 post on Methodist House Divides over Sexual Minority Beliefs

Decision Magazine and Divided Christians 2020

Not long ago, the conservative evangelical magazine, Christianity Today (19 December 2019), received considerable press coverage for its call for the U.S. president to be removed from office on moral grounds. The January 2020 issue of Graham’s Decision magazine proclaims a decidedly conservative political message, which notes the accomplishments of the Trump administration.

Decision magazine is the flagship publication of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA). The association is celebrating 70 years (1950-2020) of “Proclaiming the Gospel.” Decision’s subtitle is The Evangelical Voice for Today.

The theme for the current issue is “America on the Brink: What’s at Stake in 2020.” The photo suggests America is dangerously close to falling off a cliff.

Franklin Graham kicks off the featured articles with “2020: A Nation on the Brink.” Two accomplishments of the current president are noted in the second and third paragraphs—appointment of conservative judges and protection of religious liberties. Other concerns of Graham include LGBTQ issues (“Will the ungodly sexual agenda of the LGBTQ lobby be forced down the throats of our schools and our children?”) and the decline of the percentage of Americans who identify as Christian.

Next, Jerry Pierce wrote “2020: A Year of Decision.” His list of items includes religious liberty related to concerns about the LGBTQ movement and abortion.

“In eight years under the previous administration, a rash of White House executive orders, directives and bureaucratic rules were used to press the hobnail boot of the LGBTQ movement and the abortion lobby against people with sincere Biblical convictions.”

Mat Staver’s article, “Living in a Parallel Universe” opens with the case of Sandra Merritt and Planned Parenthood.

I could to on, but I won’t. My point is simply that politics and religion are married for conservative Christian Republicans. As was evident in our research findings (JPT, 2019), a dual identity is present for American Christians who identify as evangelicals and Republicans. This Decision magazine issue illustrates the committed relationship of evangelicals to President Trump and the Republicans.

Instead of a separation of church and state, there is a separation between Republican Christians and non-Republican Christians when it comes to the laws that govern Americans. The salient sabers are support for life or death of the unborn and support or lack of support for the rights of sexual minorities. These are not surprising issues, which is why I included them in A House Divided: Sexuality, Morality, and Christian Cultures and why I pay attention to such topics.

There are other concerns in the magazine, but I was struck by the cover and the lead articles focusing on political decisions and those limited to the USA in contrast to possible articles about Christians living out their faith in other dimensions of life and in various parts of the world. 

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Methodist House Divides Over Sexual Minority Beliefs

The proposed split of the United Methodist Church (UMC) is a cultural marker of the power of deeply held belief to divide religious people. The split is over sex and morality. Specifically, the desire of one group of Methodists to lift the denomination's ban on same-sex marriage and LGBT clergy.

Christians have been divided over moral issues since the time of Jesus. Fortunately, this split does not appear carved in blood as Christian divisions sometimes did centuries ago. Instead, a proposal refers to respecting differences. Here's a quote from USA Today (Jan 3, 2020)
"The undersigned propose restructuring The United Methodist Church by separation as the best means to resolve our differences, allowing each part of the Church to remain true to its theological understanding while recognizing the dignity, equality, integrity, and respect of every person," the proposed agreement states. "
The story has been widely circulated; however, the proposed split has not happened yet. In May 2020, the UMC will meet in Indianapolis where any official action would take place. Comments in the story reflect irreconcilable differences (e.g., "polarized sides") and the language of subgroups (e.g., "conservative," "centrist and progressive").

Millions of dollars are at stake thus, the group also addressed ways to deal with the division of money if a new Methodist denomination is created.

The whole presentation in the news media appears to show a friendliness between the groups and a thoroughly modern view of divorce as a good solution. The divorce analogy makes sense, but serves as another reminder that many Western Christians have changed beliefs about acceptable relationships.

Here's a link to a news video on the proposed split from Chicago's WGN

Thoughts on The Deep Divide

In my reading of works by religious scholars, it has been common to see inclusive language suggesting respect of people with diverse opinions about Christian beliefs and practices. Unfortunately, this benign language obscures the deep divisions and palpable differences that barely keep acrimonious remarks unspoken among congregants who ostensibly desire to love their neighbors.

Scholars appear to revel in their embrace of diversity and "different voices." Sometimes the revelry appears superficial as in ensuring discussion groups have people from this or that subgroup of humanity are represented. I say it's superficial because no group can ever represent all the possible subgroups in a large society or organization. 

The discussion in the media about the UMC split seems quite benign as I suggested above. Nevertheless, such a divide would not occur unless there is some driving force. Holding beliefs is one thing, acting on them is quite another. In general, human emotions are the driver of behavioral action. It would be hard to imagine one group splitting from another by simply saying something like, "You know what, we can't seem to agree on this issue so why don't you go this way and we'll go that way." I'm not suggesting this did or did not occur. I have no present connections with the UMC. 

I am suggesting that all Christians ought to pay attention to the powerful feelings linked to statements about morality and the actions Christians take to persuade others to live according to their moral sentiments, if people want to understand what's happening at a deeper level. I understand that other ideas of depth may be theological, philosophical, sociological, and anthropological, but my focus is on the Psychology of Religion and Spirituality though I consider what scholars write in other disciplines.

From the research on moral foundations theory, matters of same-sex relationships, appear driven by concerns for sanctity and the sacred and fit well with the intratextual fundamentalism theory related to how different Christians read the sacred text, that is, the Bible.

For more on how Christian groups wrestle with the morality of same-sex marriage and relationships, see A House Divided: Sexuality, Morality, and Christian Cultures. 

Available on AMAZON and bookstores worldwide.


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Wednesday, December 4, 2019

American Christians and Faith-Based Christmas

In the past decade, some Christians expressed concerns about the decline of Christian greetings and the presence of public nativity scenes.

But more and more Christians don't see to care, according to Pew Research published in 2017.

About half of Americans plan to attend church on Christmas, but it is down from 2013.

Most (over 80%) will gather with family/friends on Christmas Eve or Day.

Less (37%) believe Christian displays should be allowed on government property even if other religious displays are not present.

About half report store greetings do not matter (e.g., Happy holidays, Merry Christmas).

Belief in the supernatural aspects of the biblical birth story is on the wane as well. See the chart from the Pew report.
Pew Research 2017

There's a lot more to the study so have a look if you are interested:



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Women still having virgin births

A small percentage of American women reported becoming pregnant as virgins.

Amy Herring, a professor in the Department of Biostatistics in the Gillings School of Global Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and her colleagues (2013) identified 45 women who reported becoming pregnant without sexual intercourse. What did they learn about these extraordinarily women?

Of course, it's Christmas time and there are nativities everywhere. And children still sing about "'round yon virgin," though I doubt many pause to contemplate the meaning of that phrase. In any event, it was perhaps inevitable that a scientist would look at contemporary virgin pregnancies.

The study was clearly large in scale with 7870 American youth as a part of a longitudinal study. The most recent assessment of the women who enrolled in 1995 is the focus of the current analysis. It turns out that 45 women reported becoming pregnant as a virgin without using assistive technology.

The importance of religion was important to the women who reported virginity but was not linked to virgin pregnancy. Those who reported a virgin pregnancy were more likely to have signed a chastity pledge (30.5%) compared to the nonvirgins who reported pregnancies (15%) or other virgins (21.2%).

Most of the virgins reporting a pregnancy were knowledgeable about condom use and the withdrawal method of birth control. Some parents of virgins who were pregnant reported inadequate knowledge about sex/birth control (27% agree/ strongly agree). See the study for more details.

More virgins gave birth to boys (59.8%). Also, virgins were younger (19.3 years) when their babies were born compared to nonvirgins (21.7 years).

The authors discussed possible limitations of their study.

For more detail, see BMJ https://www.bmj.com/content/347/bmj.f7102

Ad. For more about sexuality, morality, and Christian Cultures, buy A House Divided on AMAZON or other booksellers worldwide.


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Thursday, November 7, 2019

Charismatic Comedian Crist Confesses

Taylor Bergland posted a well-documented story of sexual harassment in Charisma magazine (6 November, 2019) that has circulated widely in Christian (Christianity Today, Christian Post) and general news (Washington Post, People) sources. The focus is on the sexual behavior of a Christian comedian, John Crist.

That a popular Christian would be exposed for sexual misconduct is nothing new. From time to time clergy and other high-profile Christian folks make the news for some type of sexual misconduct. We learn of their apologies after reading the lurid details. Then they usually disappear from view. Of course, the headline person and those closely connected, may live with pain and suffering for years.

Is there anything worth considering from the perspective of the psychology of religion? I think so. Several features of the story fit with my thoughts in A House Divided. And there’s some nuances as well. I recommend reading the Charisma story.

9 Lessons from the Charisma Crist Story

1. Technological pathways
The technology use in the story reveals a shift in the way sexual predators work in sacred sex scandals. A young woman is working on a podcast project and wants to speak with Crist. The predator uses Snapchat to pursue his quest. Parents, pastors, and parishioners do well to stay up on technological pathways to illicit intimacy.

2. Drugs.
 Old methods persist. Crist tries the booze approach and the young woman shares the fruity vodka. Alcohol is becoming more popular amongst young Christians after it was demonized by the ultra-conservatives in evangelicalism. Drugs and sex have a long history of association from Genesis to Charisma. (BTW, alcohol is a drug so the common expression alcohol and drugs is redundant.)

3. Christian Idols.
 A young woman reports her respect for Crist using the telling term idolized. She travels a distance to meet him as if on a pilgrimage. Indeed, conservative Christians are schooled to respect people in authority. Crist isn’t an authority like clergy, but he is a leader and became like an idol. Sometime in history, protestants were upset about the saintly figures in Catholic churches. The sanctimonious said "Saints were idols." But there’s something about humans that elevate religious leaders to idol status. Parishioners beware. Leaders have the same basic human nature as followers. Spirituality ought to make a difference, but the spiritual factor isn't always obvious.

4. Sex addict. 
Crist discloses he’s a sex addict to Kate and in his public statement. Labels are an odd thing in psychology. Some labels help patients obtain insurance covered treatment for their conditions. But the term sex addict is more like a folk concept. It’s hard to know if everyone means the same thing by the term. Labels like sex addict externalize problems as if they were diseases or some overpowering entity that victimizes an unsuspecting person who needs medical help rather than participation in life-altering behavioral change. Surely the sexual desire of young people is strong. That’s human nature. And some people have stronger desires than do others. Fortunately, most people have inhibitions and do not harm other people. But others will need boundaries for life, or until their sexual desire dissipates. I won't quibble with those who believe God can deliver sexual predators from pursuing new victims or exorcise some sexual demon (see deliverance from evil spirits). Believe whatever, but at least keep predators away from potential victims.

5. Spiritual struggles. 
There’s a lot of research on spiritual struggles. A leader in this line of research is Julie Exline of Case Western Reserve University. The Charisma author notes Kate’s struggle with 
“what it means to be Christian after being so disgustingly let down by a role model I considered a man of God.” 
Another woman refers to shame and feeling stupid. Some recover their faith and others don’t. The article tells of women who left Christianity. Perhaps the fallout will go on for years. Spiritual struggles are real and painful. I hope more Christians recognize the problem of spiritual struggles and find ways to support those who are struggling. Struggles aren't always about sex. Sometimes Christians feel God let them down. And that faith is not powerful enough to redeem people. Spirituality takes a hit when spiritual leaders hurt others and cover up for their friends out of misplaced loyalty. 

6. Disgust. 
In the quote above, Kate uses the word disgusting. Disgust is indeed a common feeling linked to unwanted sexual advances. And disgust can impair healthy sexual functioning for so many. Disgust makes so much sense for people raised in purity culture. And disgust can spread to nearby people and things by association. Disgust with a male leader can spread to men, sexual activity, or settings like church.

7. Character matters.
 Sex stories sell products. But Charisma offers three reasons why they published the story. They appear to have genuinely considered the Christian ethics of the matter. It’s worth reading the article to understand their perspective. Leaders who book Crist “need to know the person.” People like Crist who link Christianity to “their public persona… should be held to a higher standard.” And “the body of Christ must police itself and has an obligation to protect the innocent and vulnerable among us.” 

My take is that the character of leaders matters to the people at Charisma. My question is how flexible Charisma and their readers will be when it comes to politicians, pop stars, and others who mix prayer, a scripture quote, or a faith message with their power or wealth gathering behavior? I like their focus on protection of the vulnerable. Let's not forget that. And let's be wary of pop stars and others in the spotlight whose light shines brightly until they fall. Christian character isn't built in an overnight conversion. The newly born again need to grow up. They need to be tested. Perhaps I've lived too long. I just get a little concerned when Christian stars flame out and cause distress in their followers. 

8. Forgiveness.
 It isn’t surprising that someone would bring up forgiveness. I detected some caution in the article. At least some people seem to understand that forgiveness does not necessarily entail restoration to one’s career. It’s hard to know when a person has truly changed so they are no longer at risk for abusing others. Too many clergy and other leaders have been able to re-offend.  For more on forgiveness see Psychology of Forgiveness.

9. Apology.
 The expected apology appears in the article. But what constitutes an effective apology? Did Crist get advice on what to say or was his response evidence of a deep regret linked to repentance? There are ways to make an effective apology (e.g., see “6 ways to make an effective apology”). How long should we wait to be sure a repentant person has changed forever? The answers to these difficult questions require considerable wisdom and discernment. Repentance is another one of those things that demand evidence that there has been change.


The article is a timely reminder that Christian leaders may be guilty of sexual harassment thus, all churches and Christian organizations must have policies about sexual harassment. When someone like Crist comes into a Christian venue, they need to sign a commitment to honor all policies, including prohibitions against sexual harassment.

It is refreshing to read an article by a conservative source that focuses on the predator and the harm he has done. We have to be done with victim-blaming. And the author appears to have made a serious attempt obtaining credible reports. Of course, Crist's confession helps with the credibility. Accusing people of misbehavior--especially sexual misconduct--is a serious charge that can ruin a life whether true or false. 

Related posts

Sexual harassment, Apologies, and Forgiveness

Psychology of Hurricane Harvey and the metoo flood

Sexual Assault and Allegation Research

Psychology of Sexual Harassment

Forgive? Yes. Reconcile? Maybe.


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Tuesday, July 9, 2019


The hot button moral issues have divided Christians into two combative camps. People aren’t listening anymore. And young people are leaving the church. What can be done to bring people together?

In a House Divided, Sexuality, Morality, and Christian Cultures, I try to establish a framework for discussing divisive issues.

What is the framework?

The framework requires respect based on understanding why sincere Christians arrive at different conclusions about morality. There are four major components of the framework, which are covered in Part I.

1. How facts about sex can help us think about the issues.

2. How an understanding of our human nature can help us develop a humble stance toward different ideas (Read more about the SCOPES model).

3. How conservatives and progressives read the Bible differently (e.g., see Borg, 2001)

4. How conservatives and progressives emphasize five to six  different dimensions of morality (See Haidt 2012).

What are the topics?

The topics are linked to beliefs and values in conflict about matters related to some aspect of sexuality.

  • Sex Education
  • Contraception
  • Premarital Sex
  • Sexual Orientation
  • Christian Marriage
  • Same-Sex Marriage
  • Gender Roles in Marriage, Church, and Culture

What have reviewers said?

"Geoffrey W. Sutton’s book, A House Divided: Sexuality, Morality, and Christian Cultures, is a great book for seminaries, for college classes, for churches that want to encourage their parishioners to understand the contemporary issues in Christianity that are related to sex, and for thoughtful individual readers interested in the various controversies around sex-related ideas. It will stretch your understanding. ...I think it will move readers toward finding a common ground, or at a minimum will help inform their own thinking about these important issues in churches and how those issues are dealt with within society. For the practitioner, it is an invaluable resource for informing one about sticky issues that Christian patients bring to counseling regularly. For this reason (and for others I’ve mentioned), I highly recommend the book."

EVERETT L. WORTHINGTON, JR., Ph.D., Commonwealth Professor Emeritus, 
Department of Psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University

"...Sutton takes these three themes (different ways of thinking about scripture, different criteria for deciding what is moral, and different persons within different church cultures) as a way to explain why thoughtful Christians arrive at different moral conclusions within the domain of sexuality... if we can understand each other then we can reason with each other (or at least respect each other). Perhaps a house can be a place where disagreement occurs in the context of unity.  Perhaps Christian brothers and sisters can disagree without being divided."

Professor Rod Bassett, Wesleyan College

"Dr. Sutton examines morality and sexuality with a scholarly but accessible book. It will keep your students thinking and pondering their framework and philosophy for morality and sexuality as they face complex issues in current events"

            Professor Jennifer Ripley, Regent University

Where has the book been used?

A book Study in Church Study Groups, An Undergraduate Psychology Course on Integrating Faith and Psychology, Seminary Courses on Ethics and Morality.

Where can the book be purchased?

      An eBook or Paperback can be purchased from the Publisher wipfandstock
      And other bookstores including Amazon, Barnes & Noble and iTunes

Are FREE copies available for instructors & reviewers?

     The publisher (wipfandstock ) provides a FREE copy to book reviewers and course instructors.  
See the Exam & Reviewer choices below the picture of the book on the publisher’s website. (wipfandstock )

Are there additional resources?

            Yes. There are three additional resources.

1. Website for the book

2. Online blogs with over 50 posts on related topics in the news

3. An inexpensive discussion guide on AMAZON for 99 cents


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