In “Speaking of Homosexuality – Discussing the Issues with Kindness & Clarity” (Baker Books, 2016), author Joe Dallas presents the Traditional and Revisionist (his usage of terminology) perspectives and a look at “the pros and cons in the gay debate” with suggested responses.
Dallas defines the Traditional view as seeing that “homosexual acts, like numerous other sexual behaviors, fall short of God’s intention and are therefore sins” and “it (homosexuality) is an unnatural condition God never intended, but which exists as one of the many manifestations of fallen human nature.” As to the Revisionist view, he writes, it “advocates revising our view of Scripture or of morality in general to condone homosexuality.” (p 17)
Dallas wrote the book “to help the reader better understand arguments in favor of homosexuality, and to equip (the reader) to meet those arguments with responses that are accurate, biblical, and compassionate.” (p 17) In the latter section of the book, Dallas presents his interpretations of the verses most typically used to condemn homosexuality. Scripture is key to the discussion, he writes, because “we’re commissioned to learn the truth, live that truth, and express that truth and the Heart (God’s) it reflects, to whoever will hear.” (p 25)
I’ve noted in other reviews of books written by Dallas that he selectively uses outdated information to support his narrative. This is a dishonest practice that Dallas has mastered. He uses old information, often citing studies over 25 years old. He ignores modern and recent findings on human sexuality, and frequently takes quotes out of context while deceptively citing them as though they are current.
In assessing the validity of Dallas’s voice in the “gay debate,” it is crucial to understand Dallas’ background and credentials. I know hundreds of gay people and their families who have counseled directly with Dallas and countless others who have been impacted by his books, presentations and teachings. Though he clearly states on his website that he is a biblical counselor, most former clients believed he is trained and licensed to do therapy work.
[His fees certainly reflect a level of expertise. He charges $100/hr for counseling, $90 on the phone, $50 for four emails, $500 for parents 10 session online support groups, $1,000 for "struggling" men for a two-day intensive session, $1,200 for two days for a couples intensive session.]
Of his past, Dallas writes, “I’d been a staff member with a pro-gay church, an openly gay man, and an activist, identifying as a gay Christian, arguing for the acceptance of homosexuality.” (p 13) There are a few details Dallas conveniently leaves out of the frequent telling of his story. (Source: online interviews with JD)
He grew up in Southern California, and by 8th grade was having sex with boys and girls and using drugs. By the age of 15 in 1971, he was also having sex with adult men. (Source: online interviews with JD)
Dallas, writes he was “on staff with a local gay church and preached that homosexuality and Christianity were compatible, then finally, after six years of self-delusion, repented at 29.” There are a few details Dallas conveniently leaves out of the frequent telling of his story. (Source: online interviews with JD)
Dallas, saved as part of the Jesus movement, had a conversion experience at 15 at Calvary Chapel, Costa Mesa. At 18, he was ordained at Calvary Chapel and worked in the music ministry, did counseling, conducted weddings and funerals, and got married to a woman. As the church began to develop internal problems, Dallas and his wife left for secular jobs.
He got involved in pornography, went to female and male prostitutes, had an affair with a friend’s wife (she got pregnant with Dallas’ child and had an abortion), ended his marriage, started drinking heavily, and had an extended relationship with a man. (Source: online interviews with JD)
In his search for renewed faith, he went to a Metropolitan Community Church (gay-affirming), where he was involved in worship, but not on staff. At the age of 29, Dallas went back to Calvary Chapel, started seeing a Christian counselor, and got interested in Christian counseling as a profession.
Dallas received a Masters in Christian counseling at Vision Christian College near San Diego, a school unaccredited by the U.S. Department of Education (price for this degree is currently $5,400), first intending to work in the field of drug and alcohol rehabilitation. Finding no jobs, he interned at a “little Christian counseling center, which was counseling people who were struggling with homosexuality and with pornography.”
Dallas married his second wife who joined him in ministry work in 1992.
He has had no formal training or degree in the area of human sexuality or therapeutic counseling. He is not licensed by a recognized mental health therapy organization.
A few commentaries before digging into the book, chapter by chapter: most experts in human sexuality recognize a spectrum of natural sexual orientation from homosexuality to heterosexuality, including bisexuality. Though none of us gets to label another person’s sexual identity because it is a personal issue, it is highly problematic, yet simultaneously convenient, when “ex-gays” such as Dallas completely ignore the category of bisexuality (having a natural attraction to men and women).
Conversion to Christianity certainly did transform Dallas’ life of sexual excess and substance abuse. It is far less likely to have altered his innate sexual orientation.
This is the background of the author of “Speaking of Homosexuality.”
Chapter 1 – The Context of Our Conversation. Dallas writes that the context of the conversation between the Traditionalist and Revisionist view is shaped by presumptions, politics, and personal experience.
Dallas clearly states “My position on the wrongness of homosexuality hasn’t budged an inch, nor will it.” He believes his views to be firmly rooted in Christian doctrine. On a positive note, he does well in cautioning readers that there is no “gay lifestyle.”
Dallas states that some Traditionalists have an exaggerated emotional aversion to homosexual acts, commonly called the “ick factor” or “a natural aversion to unnatural behavior.” I often chuckle at the term “unnatural behavior.” What people do with their bodies in mutual and loving relationships, may not be normative in some relationships, but that does not make it “unnatural.” After all, the mouth was made to speak and eat with, yet humans have certainly used the mouth for creative purposes that few of us would label as “unnatural.”
In the realm of politics, Dallas writes, “Some of us see the gay rights movement’s political and social goals as unfair, sometimes even draconian. And whereas many lesbian and gays believe we threaten their sexual and relational freedoms, many of us believe they threaten our freedoms of speech, religion, and conscience.” (p 35) How odd. The desire to gain dignity, fair treatment and equal access to marriage is hardly “draconian.” Attaining those goals does not threaten freedom of speech (people can say whatever they want. In the U.S., the Westboro Baptist Church proves that,) Nor does it threaten to take away the manner in which we express our relationship with God or our personal moral conscience. Equality does however, make it illegal in many venues within the federal government or areas of licensing, to discriminate against anyone, LGBT people included.
A tactic frequently used by people, Dallas included, attempting block LGBT equality, is to incite fear with a threatened loss of “religious liberties.” Clearly, U.S. freedom of speech protections do not apply to a nurse in Ireland, Canadian airwaves, Swedish pastors, or European countries, yet Dallas uses such events as threats that “ominously hint at America’s conceivable near future.” (p 37)
Chapter 2 – To Whom am I Speaking?. Dallas tells his readers to be conscious of the person with whom they are evangelizing, discipling, and reasoning. There are militants – those who accept that homosexuality is normal and view that those who oppose them are “contemptible and should be converted or silenced.” (p 43) These militants “are prone to bullying.”
Characteristically, Dallas cites the ACT UP demonstration in St. Patrick’s Cathedral as one of two examples of militant bullying. Conveniently, he does not mention the date or context of the action. It was 1987, in the midst of the AIDS crisis. Perhaps if 20,436 of your tribe members had died and there had been virtually no Christian response (except from the Metropolitan Community Church) to the crisis, you might understand the need to draw attention to the massive number of deaths and the crisis with demands and a call to action. Dallas calls it bullying.
He goes on to write that “most same-sex-attracted people and their supporters could be described as mainstream” and are not hostile “to us.” “For every Larry Kramer (the ACT UP leader) or Dan Savage(gay talk show host), there’s a homosexual person who’s decent and reasonable.” (p 46) Let’s try this shoe on the other foot. “For every Fred Phelps or Scott Lively, there’s a conservative Christian who’s decent and reasonable.”
Another audience readers need to be aware of is millennials who may not agree with “assumptions about sexuality on which prior generations of Americans were raised haven’t been prevalent in their lives.” (p 47) They likely view homosexuality as normal.
Next, there are Christian Revisionists, as I would be labeled by Dallas. Such people, according to the author, believe the Bible is authoritative yet has been misunderstood on the matter of homosexuality. Finally, there are friends and family members who have a more personal and vested interest in discussions about the intersection of the Bible and sexual orientation.
Chapter 3 – Rules of Engagement. Speak clearly, appropriately, empathetically, concede to what is true (this does not concern doctrine, but is more along the lines of “Christians say hateful things, Christians have been wrong in the past,” and the like). One should recognize and point out diversions (when a Traditionalist talks about homosexuality falling short of God’s design, don’t be diverted by counter “distractions” like LGBT suicide, equality as a civil right, and the high levels of Christians getting divorced).
Chapter 4 -- Born Gay? Dallas presents his four different theories as to why people might be gay; these include: inborn theory, developmental theory (family dynamics and early experiences, like sexual abuse), spiritual (demonic forces), and behavioral choice.
Here may be a good place to make more broad statements about biblical view of human sexuality and historical context. Otherwise, I would need to counter sentences on almost every page written by Dallas.
Dallas anchors his understanding of human sexuality by asserting that “sexual orientation, then (in the 1st century), was known of and written about in Paul’s time.” (p 203) This is categorically an untrue and impossible basis upon which to build a biblical argument against homosexuality and further, to use the Bible as a text to develop an expertise in human sexuality.
While the refutation of Dallas’ position that sexual orientation was known in ancient cultures is long, I lay the groundwork supporting a more historically accurate timeline and a view of Scripture that is inclusive of LGBT Christians in the first ten chapters in my book “Walking the Bridgeless Canyon.”
Simply put, the same-sex behavior presented in the Bible depicts man on boy sex, sexual excess, and/or lust, or in the case of Sodom, rape. In the context of ancient cultures in which the Bible was written, we always see either an age or power differential between the men and his sex partner.
Two people of the same-sex, of equal social status, in mutually loving, consensual, monogamous relationships were not culturally visible until the early 20th century.
The biblical texts referencing same-sex behavior were written to particular audiences in a particular context of time (14th century BC and 1st century AD). No one in the 1st century could have understood the concept of same-sex relationships. Jesus, though certainly the Son of God, operated as a person within His culture and time. He wouldn't have said anything, either for or against, same-sex couples.
Dallas’ certainty that biblical authors understood and were referring to homosexuality leads him to use the Bible as a text on human sexuality, thereby ignoring what is known by human sexuality experts.
When one’s foundational presumptions are deeply flawed, and do not hold up to historical, cultural, medical, psychological and academic scrutiny, the baseline assumptions, and all that is built upon them are highly problematic, if not completely wrong. These denials of fact, context, and history, along with selective abuse of Scripture, results in dangerous advice and counseling practices.
Back to Chapter 4. Throughout the chapter, Dallas ignores current information about human sexuality, again, characteristically, citing 20- and 25-year-old information as a basis for his beliefs. He gives credence, however, to “the possibility of inborn sinful tendencies” that entered humans after The Fall. (p 67) Not only does the Bible not list “human tendencies” that are sinful “after the fall,” it is highly presumptive to create our own list of behaviors we call sinful, or do not like, or situations we cannot explain as “after the fall.” After all, the birth of children came “after the fall,” as did the splitting of humanity into races presented as good in the final celebration depicted in Revelation.
Chapter 5 – The “Change Controversy.” Dallas discusses the closing of Exodus International, and the nationwide movement to ban reparative therapy for minors. As we’ve come to expect, Dallas ignores what experts on human sexuality overwhelmingly agree on – human sexuality exists naturally across a spectrum from heterosexuality to homosexuality. Homosexuality is therefore not a condition in need of fixing.
He believes, as with alcoholism and addictions, homosexuality can be treated and behaviors altered. This is one of the chapters where I could get bogged down in commenting on each suggested pro-gay argument and the Dallas-suggested Traditionalist response. All the responses are predicated on a belief that homosexuality is not within the spectrum of normal and created human sexuality, and therefore, sinful.
Dallas views any non-heterosexual orientation as sinful. Human sexuality experts and “Revisionists” do not agree with him. For those of us who view homosexuality as a natural orientation, it is both possible and quite easy for us to hold both a high view of Scripture and respect what has been historically been discovered about human sexuality. The Bible is not a textbook on human sexuality and should not be used as such. Simply put, incidences of same-sex behavior presented in the Bible depicts man on boy sex, sexual excess, and/or lust, or in the case of Sodom, rape. In ancient cultures, we always see either an age or power differential between the men and his sex partner.
Chapter 6 – Same-Sex Marriage. Unsurprisingly, Dallas says same-sex marriage is a “risk taken for the preferences of a few adults without consideration of the long term effects on children, marriage and society.” (p 88) He calls marriage equality “a recent redefinition of marriage (that) is another downward step.” (p 88) and “an experiment.” (p 89) The legal battles of Prop 8 and in the Supreme Court were the ideal places to cite evidence that extending equal access to the legal contract of marriage between two people of the same sex would damage children, marriage and society. Compelling evidence was not offered. Marriage equality became the federal law.
The studies Dallas offers to show damaging effects on children in same-sex marriages have been dismissed as misrepresented findings, flawed, or skewed by courts of law. Last year, Harvard University assessed all 72 studies conducted on the effects of same-sex marriage on children. Seventy of those studies showed no negative impact. The two studies Dallas presents are the exceptions.
Dallas, when questioning the possible effects of same-sex parenting, writes “if intense lobbying from gay advocacy groups could produce something as profound as change in the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) diagnostic manual, we have to view their other (and lesser) statements and decisions regarding homosexuality with a certain skepticism.” (p 94) I cover this APA decision-making process to drop the designation of mental illness from homosexuality over a long period from 1955 to 1973 in Chapter 4 of my book WTBC.
It is a gross exaggeration to label that process as “intense lobbying.” It was basically four or five activists, along with some deeply closeted gay therapists inside the APA, who simultaneously and separately pressured the APA to recognize and act on research first presented in 1956 that revealed those with a homosexual orientation were therapeutically undifferentiated from heterosexuals. When that research was buried and later uncovered in 1972, the small group of activists demanded that the APA listen to them and take action to remove the designation of mental illness off homosexuality.
Again, Dallas uses comments from gay activists out of context and conveniently neglects to place those comments in a time frame. Words spoken in 1993 appear as if they are opinions of activists today. Dallas does this in his other books as well. It is a well established pattern of his writings.
One section of this chapter on same-sex marriage gave me quite a chuckle. Dallas postulates the “usual” pattern of gay married couples is “open marriages.” “Heterosexual husbands, take a cue from non-monogamous gay men (that) open marriage can be fun.” (p 99) Heterosexuals are doing quite “well” on their own with respects to infidelity. According to recent studies 23% of husbands and 19% of wives in heterosexual marriages are unfaithful. I don’t think the gays made them do it.
Chapter 7 – Homophobia, Hate, Hypocrisy, and Harm. Dallas spends too much time parsing the word “homophobia” as REALLY meaning a psychological fear. His defense that conservative Christians are not “phobic” is meaningless and quite silly. Though the word may not be true to its Latin roots, overtime, it has come to mean a dislike or prejudice against gay people. And yes, that dislike and prejudice is real.
Dallas also builds the case that Traditionalists are not “haters” and should resist the title. Personally, when I speak, write or present, I never use the terms “haters” or “homophobics.” I think I can confidently say the same of others who engage in these dialogues in higher levels especially in Christian circles.
Chapter 8 – Gay Christians, Chapter 9 – Sodom, Chapter 10 – Homosexuality and Leviticus, Chapter 11 – What Jesus Did and Didn’t Say, Chapter 12 – Paul and Romans, Chapter 13 – Paul and Arsenokoites. “To practice homosexuality is to behave outside clearly prescribed, God-given boundaries. That can’t be right, and if a Christian is limited by right living, then gay and Christian are incompatible.” (p 125)
Again, when one’s foundational presumptions are deeply flawed, and do not hold up to historical, cultural, medical, psychological and academic scrutiny, the baseline assumptions and biblical interpretations that are built upon them are highly problematic, if not completely wrong.
It would be a tedious and repetitious exercise to go through each of Dallas’ statements and suggested answers to posited gay-affirming responses presented over the next 100 pages and six chapters of his book. How do you briefly engage beliefs that are so fundamentally flawed and skewed?
Throughout the six chapters, Dallas frequently cites statements by Matthew Vines from his book God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships. In the spirit of full disclosure, I have served on the board of Vines’ Reformation Project since its inception. We teach together and our theological statements on sexual orientation and gender identity as they intersect the Bible are seamless.
Dallas attempts to present an accurate version of Vines’ theology and fails. Typically, Dallas’s rendition fails to relay Vines’ views or simplifies them, frequently even making them sound foolish. Conversely, Dallas’s suggested responses are presented as the truth from God.
Chapter 14 – When It’s All Said and Done. Dallas writes The “unreasonable, extravagant, aggressive opposition we see today to the Traditional view on human sexuality” is the result of “truth which confronts hearts” and “the Holy Spirit conviction (that) makes them (those who affirm LGBT Christians) uncomfortable with what truth has exposed.” (p 229).
Perhaps pushback against the Traditional view comes from those who likewise respect biblical authority in an elevated call to read Scripture in context with academic integrity that engages what is known about human sexuality?
Joe Dallas is not an expert in human sexuality, in fact, he is an uncredentialed counselor. His counseling training was gained within an unapproved program. He frequently cites out of date information, neglects what is known, and skews other studies. How then can one engage a subject with “kindness & clarity?”
These are complex discussions that deserve attention to context, history, the culture, original meanings, and understanding who the intended audience was. In other words, challenge what you believe to be true using good exegetical skills and see what you come up with.
And please, do challenge what Dallas presents as truth. His foundations are academically, historically, socially, medically, and even biblically quite shaky.