Some time ago I swore to myself, and in e-mail witness with my friend and fellow ex-Christian Scientist blogger at Kindism, that I was not going to wade into the extra crazy/weird world of sexuality and Christian Science–I’ve been quite happy to leave this odd topic in their capable hands. Well, I’m going to break that vow–just a little bit. My post today deals with a hot-button (for some) issue: those who are lesbian/bi-sexual/gay/transgender (LBGT) or sometimes generically and somewhat incorrectly lumped together and referred to as homosexual. Bisexual people are not homosexual, by the way, nor are transgender folks. Homosexuality refers specifically to those who are attracted to those of the same gender as themselves.
For what it matters to you who read this post, and for full disclosure so you know my own perspective completely, I am a heterosexual male. Therefore, there is a level of understanding and empathy I can never have, as it relates to the struggles those who are LBGT must deal with day in and day out in a society that still largely shuns and treats them as less than human. I am very much an outsider looking in as far as that’s concerned. But, I’m not here to write about being an LBGT Christian Scientist/former Christian Scientist (I do welcome guest posts if someone does want to write from that perspective).
Christian Scientists to some degree, like to think they (collectively) are more enlightened, tolerant, and loving than many of their more mainstream Christian brethren are. Within the Christian Science community, there are varying opinions regarding LBGT issues, and there is not really an official position on the issue from The Mother Church (well, sort-of-not-really)–I’ll get to that. Many Christian Scientists, if not most, are actually fairly accepting of LBGT folks, or at the very least are indifferent; and there are those who are, like the conservative Christians I love to despise, extremely bigoted against LBGT foks–and many of these bigoted folks occupy a lot of the key positions of power and authority within the Christian Science movement, and therefore are in positions to set the larger agenda. There are also groups of LBGT Christian Scientists.
The official Christian Science Church policy:
The Mother Church has historically gone to, and still goes to great lengths to officially state that they have no official position in regards to the issue of those who are LBGT. In fact, the whole issue of sexuality is an institutionally uncomfortable one, and this discomfort originates with Church founder Mary Baker Eddy herself. She was exceptionally uncomfortable with sexual issues, but I’ll leave discussion of Eddy’s issues to others (Kindism has a number of posts and resources relating to sex and sexuality here). It’s worth noting that Eddy never specifically discusses homosexuality in her writings. The Christian Science Board of Directors (CSBD), the governing body of the Christian Science Church, recently issued a statement regarding sexuality, in answer to the question, “What is The Mother Church’s policy on sexuality and membership?”1 For the most part, it’s as close to a non-answer to a question that I’ve seen in a long time, giving even the most seasoned politician a run for their money in the obfuscating Olympics with this statement. However, if you read between the lines and listen for the dog whistle, they do betray their true feelings. If you’re not heterosexual, you won’t like what you see or hear:
“Of course, our own new birth in Christianity doesn’t mean we abandon the moral demands of human relationships, but it heightens our commitment to expressing purity, love, and chastity within them. In that same letter to the Galatians we read, ‘Brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh‘ (Galatians 5:13).”
(The Christian Science Board of Directors ~ emphasis is mine)
This quote is as close as the Board comes to any sort of definitive answer on what for argument’s sake I’ll call ‘alternative’ relationships (anything non-heterosexual) that you’ll get in their statement. The whole statement for the most part is, to me anyway, extremely obfuscating. However, if you think a bit on the statement from Galatians that is quoted (I’ve noted in bold the pertinent part for your convenience), you’ll get to the objection many Christian Scientists harbour regarding alternative relationships, and I’ll discuss that objection later. It’s sort of a subtle reference, one that you would only see if you’ve marinated in Christian Science for awhile, and taken Class Instruction in Christian Science. You can view the Board’s entire statement on-line here, courtesy of my friend at Kindism.
…a type of strategy of communication that sends a message that the general population will take a certain meaning from, but a certain group that is “in the know” will take away the secret, intended message. …
So no, The Mother Church and its Board of Directors don’t really take an ‘official’ stance on LBGT issues, and I don’t think they ever will. They’ll just dog whistle their true opinions and their real consensus on what they see as the theological position of Christian Science on the issue, like they have here. The average Jane/Joe on the street will see a church that appears welcoming of anyone, and discriminatory towards none. The truth, if you scratch the surface, and you can hear the dog whistle, is somewhat different. I can hear the dog whistle loud and clear.
So, what do the Christian Scientists and their Church really think?
So, what’s the true message behind the dog whistle? Let’s continue, where the buck stops, with the CSBD, and an occasion or two when Board members left the dog whistle at home, and riffed out loud, off the cuff, and well within the hearing range of the average human. About 10 years ago, the CSBD began to embark on a number of town hall-style meetings with Christian Scientists in the field, shortly after a bit of a controversial period within the movement. One of the members of the CSBD at the time, J. Thomas Black, CSB, made a number of directly anti-gay pronouncements at these meetings. If I had only heard this from one source, I’d be a skeptical, but this has come from many first-hand accounts, and I have read a mention of one of these pronouncements that occurred at a meeting at Ninth Church of Christ, Scientist in San Francisco, California on December 3, 2005.2 I have been told that at some of these meetings, people stood up and openly spoke against Black and his comments. Other Board members (current and former) have also made anti-gay statements while acting or speaking in their official capacities. The Church can say all it wants about not having an official position in regards to LBGT issues, but when a Church Director speaks against homosexuality at an official Church-sanctioned event, he/she is speaking on behalf of the Church, and if that’s not the official position of the Church, they’d damn well better get the Directors under control and on-message! Me thinks if the Church really did not agree with Black, some sort of retraction would have been forthcoming and he would have been muzzled. As far as I’m aware, that has never happened. Black succumbed to the ‘illusion’ of death in December 2011.
Within the ranks of those who toil at Church headquarters in Boston, there have been at least two documented cases of Mother Church and Christian Science Publishing Society employees being fired over issues relating to their sexuality. Specifically, I refer to the cases of Christine Madsen, a Christian Science Monitor reporter who was fired in January 1982, and later in the same year, James Ogan, a business and cost analysis supervisor at what was then the Building and Grounds division of the Church.3 Both firings were connected directly (in the case of Madsen) or indirectly (in the case of Ogan) to their sexuality. If the Church has (or had) no official stance regarding sexuality or sexual preferences, then these two individuals should not have been fired under the circumstances they were.
Also, beginning in the late 1960s, articles were published in various Christian Science Church periodicals stating that homosexuality was immoral, and that it could even be healed through Christian Science treatment. They even published testimonies from people who claimed to be ‘healed’ of homosexuality.4 As recently as 1999, the Christian Science Sentinel ran an article by a woman who claimed to have been healed of her homosexuality.5 More recently, in 2004, a Teacher of Christian Science was stripped of her teaching credentials after she legally married her same-sex partner in a ceremony in Massachusetts.6 All of these actions indicate a pattern of officially sanctioned discriminatory attitudes and actions towards LBGT sexuality. The Church can say all it wants about having no ‘official’ position, but their actions clearly state otherwise. Words are meaningless, actions are what matter.
These bigoted institutional attitudes also extend to some Christian Science-affiliated organizations, such as schools and summer camps. For example, Camps Newfound & Owatonna in Harrison, Maine have a policy in place for staff that specifically prohibits, among other things, homosexual relationships.7 As for the other Christian Science Summer camps, I can’t find any mention of homosexuality appearing in any of their on-line materials, just the usual prohibitions against extra-marital sexual relations in general that one might expect.
Principia, both the school and college, until recently, had a well-known history of not admitting openly LBGT students, or hiring openly LBGT faculty or staff, and of summarily expelling or firing those who come out as LBGT, or who were discovered to be so. At one time, even speaking out against this policy was grounds for disciplinary action. It’s worth noting that Principia seems to have toned down its intolerance of LBGT individuals starting with their 2011-2012 catalogue in favour of a stance in its application materials that simply forbids sexual relations outside of marriage (which would mean both heterosexual and homosexual)*–pretty much similar to what I see with many of the summer camps. Now, after much institutional consternation, the policy against LBGT people has been officially rescinded.** Opposition to this policy change remains widespread and strong within the Principia community, and enrolment dipped immediately after the policy change, but returned to previous levels afterwards.
So, while the Christian Science Church and to some extent the Christian Science movement may try to camouflage its bigoted attitudes towards LBGT individuals behind a veneer of acceptance, and/or say that it’s all up to the individual, or some line like that, the truth is different, and it can be easily found. Just check the footnotes to this post, and listen for the dog whistles. Know the truth and it will set you free.
Where does the intolerance come from?
The Christian Science intolerance of LBGT sexuality, as I have come to understand it from my years in Christian Science, attending a Christian Science college, working at The Mother Church, and taking Class Instruction and attending yearly Association meetings, stems from a slightly different and somewhat nuanced version of the general conservative Christian intolerance of such things. Many anti-LBGT Christian Scientists will point to the usual verses in Leviticus that are favourites of other conservative Christian bigots, and that point of view does frame the views of these Christian Scientists, but there is a different shade of gray in-play here as well, and it is connected to a general discomfort among hard-core Christian Scientists with anything sexual or sensual, unless it’s for the purposes of procreation.
“In the human sense of life the multiplication or generation of man takes place through sexual activity. This is the normal outcome of the sex act, however degraded that act has become with some — even with many who abhor homosexuality.”*** 8
(The Christian Science Journal ~ 1980)
My own Teacher of Christian Science taught that homosexual relationships (he spoke specifically of same-sex relationships, I never heard him discuss transgender or bisexual relationships) were based entirely on sensuality and physical dominance, not love. He stated that every homosexual relationship has a dominant and submissive party–I specifically remember him speaking of the ‘butch’ in a lesbian relationship in reference to the dominant party in lesbian relationships. They were immoral, unequal, and therefore unnatural–after all, same-sex couples cannot biologically procreate. How he knew all of this, I cannot say. He never offered evidence. As far as I know, he didn’t personally know anyone in a same-sex relationship, so I think he was buying into a general stereotype many have of same-sex relationships and building a case to justify a general degradation of these relationships to a second-class status. I firmly believe he was framing his own bigoted opinions as facts.
The weird world of sex, sexuality, and Christian Science & some concluding thoughts
There is truly a weirdness about Christian Science and sexuality. It’s an uncomfortable relationship that stems from Eddy’s own hang-ups about sex and sexuality. To the true hardest-core Christian Scientist, sex for any purpose other than procreation is absolutely immoral. I have personally known Christian Scientist couples who proudly stated that they hadn’t had sex for many, many years. Principia my friends, can be a weird sexual rabbit hole, and I remember one professor who proudly proclaimed that he and his wife had only ever had sex on a small handful of times in decades of marriage. One other professor and pillar of the Principia community claimed that he and his wife only consummated their relationship once, right after they got married. Principia requires students (most of whom are between the ages of 18 – 25–high hormone times) to abstain from any and all sexual relations outside of marriage. I’m not sure if that includes masturbation or not. If that’s the case, I’m sure almost all students broke the rules then, including myself. I was even chastised by a classmate when my girlfriend and I fell asleep together (no sexual intercourse involved) out on the deck at Eliestoun House, where I was living at the time. Damn those warm Illinois late spring evenings!
If you follow the Christian Science logic as presented by those in opposition to equality for LBGT individuals, since same-sex relationships can not, through the act of sexual intercourse between the partners in the relationship, ever produce offspring, those relationships must be based entirely on a sensual, and therefore immoral foundation. In the extreme, the same is held true for heterosexual relationships that do not produce offspring too. I can tell you, dear readers, that my Teacher (who by the way, has never had children with his wife) and the other hard-core anti-sex/bigoted Christian Scientists have it all wrong, and I speak from my own personal knowledge of family members and friends who are in deeply loving and long-term same-sex relationships. Relationships are not all about sex and procreation, and sex is not all about procreation. To diminish or invalidate anyone’s love is deeply offensive to me. And as far as sensuality goes, it’s a natural part of being human. To suppress that is just plain stupid, and extremely unhealthy. Centuries of religiously motivated sexual repression has caused immeasurable damage to our species, and I can’t help but wonder if this repression isn’t at the root of much of the sexual violence that exists in our society.
So, in a sense, there is sort of not really a bigoted attitude towards LBGT folks on the part of the Christian Science Church or Christian Scientists in general; well, not in the way you’d normally think of it. No, it’s a bit of a different flavour of bigotry, kind of like Christian Science is a different flavour of Christianity, and it’s important to note that not all Christian Scientists hold bigoted views towards those who are LBGT–a very vast number, especially those outside of the United States, do not. All of that said, however, there are plenty of Christian Scientists who truly do hold bigoted views towards LBGT folks. I was taught by one of them, and many are in charge, setting policy, and teaching students in class instruction, Association, and Sunday School. That’s why I can hear the dog whistle loud and clear. I was taught and influenced by many of them, and that ensures that my hearing range includes their frequencies.
* The earliest Principia College Catalog available to me for viewing on-line is the 2009-2011 catalogue. In it, under the Code of Conduct section, Social Conduct subsection, students “…are responsible for: . . .abstaining from pre-marital and extra-marital sexual relations and from homosexual activity . . .” (Principia College Catalog 2009 – 2011 p. 10 ~ emphasis is mine). Subsequent catalogues have replaced the Code of Conduct section with a Community Commitment section, which dropped the specific reference to “homosexual activity”.
**See “From Principia’s Board of Trustees“, a statement issued by the Principia Corporation Board of Trustees regarding a change in policy regarding homosexuals, issued on November 18, 2014.
*** The reference to this article I use comes from “Letter to The Christian Science Board of Directors” by Tom Taffel (December 9, 1997), posted on Emergence International on November 1, 2004. View the entire letter here.
1 The Christian Science Board of Directors. “What is The Mother Church’s policy on sexuality and membership?” Christian Science Journal. February 2014. Print.
2 Taffel, Tom. “Open Letter to The Christian Science Board of Directors.” The New York City Christian Science Group. 14 November 2006. Web. 30 September 2014. <http://www.nycsgroup.com/article.php?artid=23>
3 Fraser, Caroline. “Nothing Has Gone Right Since 1910.” God’s Perfect Child: Living and Dying in the Christian Science Church. New York, New York: Metropolitan Books. 1999. 255 – 256. Print.
4 “Gay People in Christian Science?” The New York City Christian Science Group. n.d. Web. 1 October 2014.
5 Strausbaugh, John. “Healed: They’re Here. They’re Queer. They’re Christian Scientists. Get Used to It.” New York Press. Straus News. 10 July 2001. Web. 1 October 2014.
6 “Christian Science teacher banned after lesbian marriage.” Boston.com. Globe Newspaper Company. 25 June 2004. Web. 1 October 2014.
7 “Returning Staff Application – Summer 2014.” Camp Newfound. Camps Newfound & Owatonna. n.d. Web. 1 October 2014.
8 Bowles, Neil H. “Only One Kind Of Man.” Christian Science Journal. November 1980. Print.