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This is the opening essay in our series on homosexuality. Here Coleman elaborates on his position that homosexual attraction is disorderly. By voicing that conclusion, he feels he can offer people who experience same sex attraction the opportunity to disconnect from that inclination with integrity and pursue a higher path. -Editor

“Growing up I thought homosexuality was kind of gross, and I just kind of accepted the church’s teaching that it was wrong, although even then I guess I had doubts about it. Then as I got older and went to high school, and then to college, I made friends with a lot of gay people. And I realized they were real people. And not only real people: real good, loving, warm, funny people. I realized that the ones who were in relationships truly loved their partner and were committed to the relationship. And so, yeah, I think the General Church’s stance on homosexuality is wrong. God cannot possibly disapprove of a loving relationship between two people. Love can’t be a sin.”

That quote isn’t from any one person, but it’s a sentiment that I’ve heard expressed again and again by my peers. If you did a poll of people raised in the General Church in my generation, I think you would find that the vast majority of them think that homosexuality is not evil, and that many homosexual relationships are positive and healthy.

The Swedenborgian Church of North America (formerly known as the General Convention of the New Church) has embraced this viewpoint, and performs homosexual weddings and ordains homosexual men and women. But the General Church – the branch of the church that I belong to – continues to teach that homosexuality is wrong, and I continue to believe the same.

There are many reasons for this, and I will touch on a few of them later. But first I want to talk about the sentiment expressed in the quote above. Because the reason people think that homosexuality is a healthy and viable lifestyle is not usually that they see the Writings endorsing it; it’s that they see it that way in the people they know.

But I don’t think the fact that gay people are kind and loving, or even the fact that they can form committed relationships, proves that the sexuality in those relationships is right. I believe that there can be good, kind, loving people, who form sexual relationships in which the sexuality is out of place and harmful. And I want to show that it really is possible to believe that acting on same-sex sexual attraction is unhealthy while still loving the person who has that attraction.

I’m about to make a comparison that will probably offend some readers. I realize that we’re talking about two very different things. But I want to look at the tendency toward pedophilia and compare that to same-sex attraction. Now, pedophilia and homosexuality are two very different things. The enormous difference lies in the fact that in the latter, there can be true consent; in the former, there never is. But there are similarities – pointed out by the leading researchers on the subject, not invented by me – that help show how it is possible to consider an attraction to be unhealthy and still love the person who feels that attraction.

The first thing to emphasize is that when I write about “pedophilia,” I am using that term in its clinical sense of a person being sexually attracted to children – not necessarily to someone who acts on that attraction and abuses children, although this is the way that term is commonly used today. My primary resource for this is Pedophilia and Sexual Offending Against Children: Theory, Assessment, and Intervention by Michael Seto, published in 2007 by the American Psychological Association (APA). The book is a comprehensive overview of the research that had been done up to that point in the area of pedophilia.

In the preface to that book, Seto states that in many ways, pedophilia acts just like a sexual orientation. According to the book, pedophilia in many cases seems to be something that “manifests early in life and directs a person’s sexuality.” It’s a “stable sexual preference”: a person who is primarily attracted to children rather than adults is unlikely to change that orientation, although it may be possible. According to Seto, it can be thought of as an orientation.

In writing the book, Seto lists one of his goals as a hope that people who struggle with these attractions not be thought of as monsters or inhuman, but seen for what they actually are – our neighbors, our friends, our relatives. They tend to be perfectly normal people. At the same time, he wants to make clear that he does not support acting on pedophilia in any form.

I think we have a tendency to create an image of anyone who is attracted to something taboo as somehow “other” than us. Especially when it comes to sexuality, and especially in adolescent years, there is a fear – “what if I could become that?” And so we build up images in our mind of sexual “deviants” as inhuman monsters, as something so removed from our normal experience that we could never become them.

When we actually meet them, though, we discover that they are normal people. We tend to experience cognitive dissonance: here is this normal, friendly, loving person, who I know is attracted to those things that I consider horrendous. There are two immediate knee-jerk reactions that present themselves. One option is to hold the person in even more revulsion than before – here they are wearing this mask of normalcy and underneath there’s a monster crawling! The other option is to cast aside – or bring into serious doubt – all our assumptions about their behavior. Maybe it’s not so bad after all. If this person I love is into that, maybe I’ve misjudged it. Maybe it’s only when it involves coercion that it’s bad.

It can seem like these are the only two options. But there is at least one other option, and I think it’s often a more realistic one: to embrace the person as a whole, but still disagree with this aspect of their lifestyle, even if they see it as good or even as an integral part of who they are. It’s clear to see this as an option in the case of something like pedophilia that is almost universally (at least in modern western culture) regarded as a disorder. A person can struggle with an unhealthy attraction and still be a kind, good person. They may even believe there’s nothing wrong with it. But even if we have compassion for their condition, and see that their heart seems to be in the right place, we do not have to condone their actions, if they do act on those impulses. Those actions are evil.

Again, I’m not saying homosexuality and pedophilia are equal. But I am saying that the fact that someone is a loving, kind, “normal” person does not mean they cannot have unhealthy sexual attractions. This says nothing about whether homosexuality is right or wrong – only that the fact that people we love and care about feel attracted to people of the same sex does not mean that that attraction is healthy.

Nor is this to say that the friendship and love between two people of the same sex is not real. There can be deep and abiding love between two people of the same sex, and there should be. The problem is that for whatever reason – whether it be genes or life experiences or some combination of factors – a relationship that is not supposed to be sexual is sexualized.

Most of us do acknowledge that there are loving relationships where sexuality is completely out of place, and where acting on sexual attraction would be unhealthy. In a blog post from several years ago, I compared homosexuality to brother-sister incest. There are brother-sister couples in the world who declare that they are in love, and have sexual relationships with each other. Now, I would not deny that these brothers and sisters love each other. I would not hate them for feeling sexually attracted to each other. But I would think that their sexuality was misguided and out of place, and that acting on it would be harmful for them, psychologically and spiritually.

The relationship between a brother and sister is not “supposed to be” sexual. We don’t like saying “supposed to” in terms of other people’s personal preferences, but I think in this case we get it – somehow a person has confused sibling intimacy with sexual intimacy. But to acknowledge that there is ever a “supposed to be” in terms of sexuality is to acknowledge that there is some kind of purpose to sexuality. And this is where we can get into disagreements. This is where I believe the New Church comes into it.

The Writings for the New Church teach that sexuality exists for the sake of conjugial love. They also teach that this kind of love can only exist between one man and one woman: Conjugial Love says, “For the conjugial union of one man with one wife is the precious jewel of human life and the repository of Christian religion” (Conjugial Love 457). They emphasize that a man is completely a man and a woman completely a woman (Conjugial Love 46) – and that even friendships between two men or two women are of a different nature than friendships between a man and a woman (Conjugial Love 55:6). Within marriage, the purpose of sex is creation: either the procreation of children in the world, or the creation of “spiritual children,” the birth of new love and wisdom within the couple. And any sex outside the confines of marriage is evil.

“Evil” isn’t a popular word here. Why label it like that? What’s the point? Doesn’t it just stigmatize the people who are engaged in it? It can – but that’s not the point of it. There are plenty of things that the Lord has labelled evil, and I’m grateful for it. The use is that it gives a person the strength to fight through the justifications that come with any temptation. If a person is drawn to pornography, the Lord’s words are his allies: “Whoever looks at a woman in order to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). “Fornication is an evil” (Conjugial Love 452) even though it is not the evil of adultery. A person can hold onto these words as weapons against impulses toward evil and all the justifications that come with them.

I know of people in the New Church who have felt same-sex attraction, and were able to fight against those attractions because they felt they could label homosexuality as evil. That is the use in using that word for it. You might disagree that sex outside of marriage is wrong; you might disagree that truly conjugial love cannot exist between two people of the same sex; but for those who do embrace those beliefs, labelling those attractions as harmful and even evil provides strength to hold out for a marriage between themselves and one person of the opposite sex.

But is this holding out a false hope? Many would say it is: you are stuck with the sexual orientation you were born with. There’s a widely-held belief that orientation is genetic, in the same way that skin color is. Studies have shown some connection between sharing genes and same-sex attraction – but even the twin studies cited as favoring this show at highest a 50% chance that the identical twin of a homosexual person will be homosexual as well. These are people who share identical genes – 100% of them share the same skin colour. Homosexuality cannot be entirely genetic.

There are others who say that even if it is not genetic, orientation is inborn, determined by events in the womb. The truth is, no one really knows at this point. There are studies that show that people who identify as bi-sexual or homosexual are significantly more likely to have been sexually abused as children – but correlation does not prove causation, and someone could say they were abused because they had already started exhibiting stereotypical homosexual behavior. The APA itself does not declare orientation to be inborn:

There is no consensus among scientists about the exact reasons that an individual develops a heterosexual, bisexual, gay, or lesbian orientation. Although much research has examined the possible genetic, hormonal, developmental, social, and cultural influences on sexual orientation, no findings emerged that permit scientists to conclude that sexual orientation is determined by any particular factor or factors. Many think that nature and nurture both play complex roles; most people experience little or no sense of choice about their sexual orientation. (

It does seem to be true that once it has been established, orientation is difficult to change. Programs that guarantee success are misleading people, and there are reports that people have been harmed by orientation-change efforts. But there are other reports that it has been helpful. There is evidence that some people – although it is a minority – are able to move from a homosexual orientation to a heterosexual one. There are others who are able to shift away from a homosexual orientation and abstain from sex altogether. As researcher Mark Yarhouse puts it in this article, it is misleading both to offer extreme optimism or extreme pessimism.

The American Psychological Association itself encourages therapists not to enter therapy with an agenda either of having their client embrace a homosexual identity or rejecting that identity, as reported in a 2009 review of the research on orientation-change efforts. While the authors of that report are skeptical of attempts to change orientation itself – mostly because there has been inadequate peer-reviewed study in the area – they do endorse the idea that a person can change how they identify themselves – that just because they experience same-sex attraction does not mean they have to identify themselves as homosexual. To pressure someone to “embrace their homosexuality” simply because they feel attracted to people of the same sex, if they sincerely believe this is wrong, is as bad as to try to convince someone to commit adultery because they find themselves attracted to someone other than their spouse.

We could get into a wider debate here about religion. It may seem empathetic of me to encourage people who are struggling with homosexuality to get help, some might say, but all I’m really doing is continuing to repress them with my religious dogma. And it’s certainly true that there are people who will refrain from acting on homosexual tendencies because they’re afraid of rejection or condemnation by “the church,” meaning people within the church and especially church leaders. But there are other people who have embraced the teachings for themselves, who sincerely believe that their same-sex attractions are harmful, and want to live in integrity with their beliefs. Some people will argue that everyone who lives by a religious belief is really doing so out of a fear of reprisal, either temporal or eternal. And I admit, both of those factors do come into play in my decisions about my religious life – but they are far from the only thing that motivates me religiously. There’s a world of difference between being compelled by someone else and compelling myself, and my primary religious compulsion is self-compulsion.

I haven’t gone into much about what the Writings say directly about homosexuality. Other people have done that extensively (see this collection from the New Church Thought blog, which includes a number of different perspectives). The teachings about the differences between men and women – and the differences between same-sex relationships and opposite-sex relationships – are more than enough to convince me that same-sex attraction is disorderly, and that acting on it is evil. I don’t expect to convince many who aren’t already convinced. So what is the point of this article? That’s something I’ve asked myself a lot over the past few weeks as I thought about writing it. I guess it’s primarily three things: first, to demonstrate that it really is possible to love and care about people who identify as homosexual and still consider acting on it to be immoral. Second, to encourage those who would jump to either immediate conclusion – dehumanization or complete acceptance – to rethink their reactions.

The third reason I write it is to offer support to those who do struggle with same-sex attraction, and who sincerely believe it to be wrong, and to point to resources that are available. New Church ministers and friends can provide religious and emotional support, and professional counsellors can provide psychological support. The APA’s guidelines ask therapists not to push their clients to identify with one orientation or another, but to let them know the reality of the difficulties they will face, and help them come to terms with an identity that allows them to feel whole. Those who are in this position can look around for a therapist who will not try to get them to change their religious convictions. There are resources available, and there are other people in your position. For more information, I recommend this website (which is a therapy structure approved of by the APA):, and the book Ex-Gays? by Stanton L. Jones and Mark A. Yarhouse1 (summarized here).

In any case, I want the discussion to change. I do not want those in favor of homosexuality to brand all those opposed to it as bigots or hateful. I do not want those opposed to homosexuality to express hatred for homosexuals, or to view them as inhuman. I want us to be able to talk to each other with respect, even though we see things very differently.

Edit: I posted a follow-up to this article on my blog addressing those who ask why I made the comparisons between homosexuality and pedophilia, even though I acknowledged that they were two different things, and even though I knew it would offend some people. That post is here.


1It should be noted that the APA report on orientation-change efforts listed a few problems with Ex-gays?, most notably that it did not study a control group to see if people would have changed without the efforts of Exodus International, and that its researchers were biased. However, neither of these negates the clear evidence that some people can change orientation, even if it’s a minority. Moreover, Yarhouse is a well-respected researcher who has conducted several other studies which have been approved and published in peer-reviewed journals.

Coleman Glenn

Coleman Glenn is a minister in the Dawson Creek New Church. He blogs at

Reader Comments (29)

Coleman- This essay leaves me wondering what you feel would be so dangerous about loving someone of the same sex. You noted that you decided not to draw out specific quotes for the writings about it, and I wonder which ones in particular strengthened you in your perspective. It seems to me that a person could learn to love God, their neighbor and reform themselves regardless of their sexual orientation. In this case, they would naturally take part in the beautiful diversity of humanity.

July 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAlanna

One of the problems for Christian churches generally is the tradititon that has long held the view that all references to whoredom and adultery mean exactly those actions we associate with human sexuality. Yet the surprising thing in reading Swedenborg is that this particular interpretation simply does not appear. The men of Sodom, for instance, are not condemned for what we think of as homosexual rape, but that they represent the evils of self-love, and self-love is the key feature of the proprium that is at the centre of his work. Consequently, adulteries and whoredoms represent evils and falsities, and these all have to do with the unchanged state that wishes to ascend to higher things on its own terms.
I think it is so important to keep one's eye on the ball here, in the different interpretations Swedenborg offers. It is quite liberating to feel how an understanding of the Bible has little to do with sexuality in itself. We should remember that the human marriage represents the Divine marriage, but it is not it. It gives us in human terms the closest way of understanding the alliance between good and truth which, in the celestial realm, swap places.
If a problem exists at all, it is in the notion of a same sex marriage, since symbolically this cannot in itself be fruitful, and the nature of the trinity is what is reflected in the marriage. Consequently, the issue seems to me to be one of perspective and emphasis. From a spiritual perspective, I suspect that there are far more serious problems to deal with, such as establishing a deeper sense of the right relation between heaven and earth, or the inner and outer person. Our links with other people are always somehow involved in that exploration, but ultimately we stand alone before the Lord, and I somehow suspect that my sexual orientation will have little to do with that encounter. "What have you done with your life?" I am not sure that being gay or straight will figure so much in the answer, as the dreadful scrabbling around in my mind to find some memry of any good I may have done, or declined to do.

July 1, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterkarl birjukov

I believe the Bible makes it abundantly clear that homosexuality is spiritually harmful. One of the prohibitive laws handed down to the Hebrews is "Man shall not lie with mankind, it is ABOMINATION". Swedenborg references this law in his writings, as well as revealing 'arcana' concerning 'correspondences'.

In one of Swedenborg's 'Memorable Relations' the angels related to him how the "co-mingling of a husband's seed with that of an adulterer was HEINOUS". How much more "heinous" must the abuse of man's seed in parts that correspond with hell? Can angels co-exist in heaven with confirmers of such practices?

If God cannot change his order, and he created male and female to mirror himself, how can we be blessed in the Lord if we pervert this order? Can spirits who exhale a profane sphere (forged through deeds done in the body), co-exist with angels who believe that marriage is holy based on it's pre-eminant USE of procreating a heaven from the human race?

Lastly, I congratulate Coleman Glenn for his excellent article that strikes a balance between "Woman, where are thine accusers?" and "Go, and sin no more".

July 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterFrank Maiorano

I agree with all you wrote Karl. Thanks for voicing it.

July 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAlanna

Thanks for sharing your thoughts as it is impossible to have a conversation about charged topics unless people are willing and able to say what they actually believe.

I'll lead off with a criticism because I think it needs to be said that comparing homosexuality with pedophilia is a poor analogy for precisely the reason you offer, and it is made worse because gay men have long and without warrant been burdened with the stigma of pedophilia. To compare the two is divisive and will not, in my opinion, make someone of homosexual orientation want to carry on a conversation.

I am one of those people you quote at the beginning of your article, and I guess it all seems to boil down to "Authority". Who do we grant authority to tell us what is right and wrong, You cite two primary forms of authority, the Writings and the APA (and other APA like organizations). The impression I got from your article about the APA's stance on homosexuality is of an organization that is standoffish on the topic. I think it leans significantly more to the "acceptance" end of the spectrum than the above article puts it. Quoting from the same pamphlet you link to the APA says, "Despite the persistence of stereotypes that portray lesbian, gay, and bisexual people as disturbed, several decades of research and clinical experience have led all mainstream medical and mental health organizations in this country to conclude that these orientations represent normal forms of human experience. Lesbian, gay, and bisexual relationships are normal forms of human bonding." There are many other sentences in there that express this same idea.

I think a fairly literal reading of the Writings leads one inexorably to the conclusions you reach in this article, and that is where the discussion should remain. I choose a more liberal interpretation of the Writings more along the lines of what Karl wrote above. Otherwise this discussion could easily veer off into the minutia of which numbers need to be taken literally, and which need interpretation e.g. occupations acceptable for women.

I guess the only other thought I have about homosexuality is that with the other things we collectively label as evil there is clear harm caused to another person or being by taking the "evil" action. Lying, cheating, stealing, etc, all harm others. Staying with a sexual theme I believe pornography is evil for its objectification of others and its reduction of real thing (a loving relationship) into a fantasy.

July 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEdmund Brown

I think the comparisons to incest and pedophilia are at least interesting analogies, in that both of these, like homosexuality, are attractions that can be dealt with in different ways. Even if a previously single person is acting on these attractions, which might in a general or societal way be considered damaging to the institution of marriage, those actions are not destroying one particular marriage.

One important distinction for me is that I don't think it's at all fair to compare homosexuality to adultery, as some people (in comments on your blog article and in conversations on this topic) seem to. In adultery, you are already married and committed to a real live person and you are breaking your promise to that person and sabotaging your regeneration as a couple. I see that as an entirely different and worse category, specifically forbidden in the Ten Commandments and addressed in Conjugial Love, whereas New Church stances on homosexuality seem much more based on varying interpretation.

I'm still not sure what exactly I think about this topic, but I appreciate that it is being discussed here. Thanks for helping us to look at the uncomfortable disconnect between implications in the Writings, and figuring out how to treat real, loving, wonderful people.

July 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

Dear Anonymous,

Swedenborg himself described hell as an 'adulteration' of goods and truths. Many New Church people consider perverting God's order by anti-conjugial behaviour, adultery. There are different degrees of adultery which Swedenborg details in his book, Conjugial Love.

All adulterations of the Lord's good and truth are the causes of hell in general and in particular. Salvation is predicated on our 'turning back' to the Lord's order. Disorder has it's appeal, but it leads to "spiritual death".

July 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterFrank Maiorano


I heartily agree with everything you said except one non-Swedenborgian stance. You said:

"And any sex outside the confines of marriage is evil."

What about the compassionate teaching on pellicacy which, while not recommended, is not evil either.

Premarital sex for the purpose of variety or conquest is wrong, But what do you say to people who are young and cannot marry yet? Isn't it compassionate to allow them sexual release in the context of heterosexual sex?

What do you say to young men in China and India which are moving towards a gender balance? What if they visited prostitutes because they could not find a wife? Even if they have conjugial relationships as their ideal goal? Would they be evil, and would the prostitute that cater to them be evil?

The Tanakh (Old Testament) does not prohibit or punish prostitution, and it does not equate it to adultery. It does censor a woman indulging in harlotry and pretending to be otherwise (Deuteronomy 22:21). Judah sentenced his daughter-in-law Tamar to death because he thought she had surreptitiously committed fornication or harlotry. He is act of going to a prostitute is not censored. She would not have been censored if she had been an ordinary prostitute ("zonah" in the Hebrew Bible). She would have been censored if she were a temple prostitute (Qadesha, Deuteronomy 23:18).

Looking at the Old and New Testament, adultery is defined by the status of the woman and not the status of the man, unlike the modern mushy definition. Swedenborg is in line with the Bible on this. For instance, if a married woman and and unmarried man have sex, BOTH are guilty of adultery unlike modern woolly-headed definitions that make the woman guilty of adultery because she's married and the man guilty of simple fornication because he is not. Also, according to the Bible and Swedenborg, sex between an unmarried woman and a man, married or otherwise, does not constitute adultery whether it hell-bound (as n the case of sex for variety or conquest) or morally neutral (sex for release when marriage is not possible).

We do no good by trying to be more "righteous" than the Bible or the Heavenly Doctrines. In doing so, we leave out the sanity and mercy that underlies God's Word.

You may be embarrassed by what the Bible says, or by what Swedenborg says or what I have said above. But prove to me that I am un-Biblical or un-Swedenborgian in my assertions.


July 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRoger Noah

I meant "gender imbalance" not "gender balance" in my last post.


July 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRoger Noah

Thanks, Coleman, for - as Frank said - a very balanced presentation on many of the issues involved in homosexuality.

I am not a theologian, and I can't back up my point of view with extensive quotes from the Word, but in regard to Karl's post I think the fact sexual immoratily is representative of spiritual evils is key. It is precisely because these sexual evils are representative (or correspondential) that they are so dangerous: spiritual things derive their permanency and continue in existence because of their connection to things in the natural world. There is power in ultimates - ultimates being the ultimate, worldly, bodily expression of what these evils correspond to. If there were not ultimate expression of these spiritual evils, these spiritual evils would die away.

So, it is vitally important that our sexual behavior be Scripturally pure. We are providing the foundation or basis for the union of good and truth, the union of the Lord and His Church, on the spiritual plane - not just for ourselves, but for the world and for the heavens.


July 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterFreya

Edmund expressed my views so well that I'm not going to elaborate much. However, I will add that I am especially in favor of gay marriage, both because of civil rights issues involved and also because it provides the opportunity for gay people to publically affirm their commitment and be supported in that commitment by the community. The stability and emotional growth afforded by a life-long commitment forged in consent shouldn't be denied to same-sex couples because some heterosexual people think it is wrong. Any particular church can choose to perform same-sex marriages or not as that church sees fit.

Roger- I am astonished that you think a married man having sex outside of marriage is not adultery. That view comes from a warped culture that believed women were the property of men and that the crime of adultery had to do with "stealing" something that belonged to someone else, rather than betraying another human being and your solemn vow to them. Thank goodness we've evolved beyond that.

Literalism in reading scripture, that is, fundamentalism, is to me, another manifestation of the materialism of our age. It's materialism about the Word. It is hard for me to understand how someone raised Swedenborgian can be a fundamentalist of any kind.

However, let me end by saying, what do I know? That little phrase has been very helpful to me in recent years, reminding me that my understanding of God's will is very limited, though hopefully growing. I trust His plan is perfect for each one of us.

July 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda

I would hesitate to say that sexual immorality is synonymous with spiritual evil since it begs the question as to the nature of influx and correspondences. I would recommend anyone to read the explanation of the birth of Asher in this regard in the Arcana which is all about delights, and how necessary these are to the whole process of regeneration. Swedenborg carefully distinguishes between heavenly and earthly delights, in that delight is seen as a necessary ingredient of affection. Yet in comparing the two, he says that in comparison, earthly delights, and he means all of them, are as nothing in comparison and ‘indeed are foul’.
This word ‘foul’ is applied across the board to all earthly delights, and yet they are a means by which we move step by step from an external to an internal position in the process of regeneration. What we find in this process is not a judgementalism on the part of the Lord, but rather a gradual bending towards himself of all things through the things we have with us. After all, when we consider the nature of the Hebrew people, a thoroughly external tribe with very little going for them spiritually, yet that very externality is what makes them fit for purpose.
It seems to me that this simple fact is often overlooked by commentaries on these types of topic. Any movement in the regenerative process involves leaving something behind that could act to baulk it, and this is something represented by Lot’s wife. What we find is that it is not merely our sexual proclivities that might possibly be a block, but love of money, or self-esteem, or the regard of others, and a legion of other things, and it is these that Swedenborg refers to much more often. Sexual immorality has more to do with individual intentions, whether this is being used to pursue these other ends or not, and this can happen in what is regarded as a normal relationship between a married couple. The notion of a gay sexual act, for instance, is far less repugnant than that of a violent drunkard who insists on his marital rights, despite protests, yet there is little recourse or censure in law of the latter. I wonder how less populated the world would be if every child were born from a happy marriage in which children are desired.
On the matter of a gay marriage, I would say that a bond existing between two people needs to be acknowledged for legal reasons and not spiritual ones. Calling it a marriage goes to show how far we have receded from what the origin of a marriage represented so long ago. How many people today, I wonder, are aware of this representation when they get married. And let’s not forget what Swedenborg says about the Koran, that it is a spiritual book, divinely inspired, for a people for whom a marriage to a single partner was culturally repugnant. Should we not marvel at the wisdom of the Lord, and his mercy that rejects nobody, whatever their inclinations, and what a complex thing it is this love that drives us all, and gives us a taste of the real thing in small part, in whatever form.

July 2, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterkarl birjukov

Thanks for your article Coleman. I can see that you are turning to the Lord in His Word for your understanding of the subject. He is the only one who can draw our minds into a true understanding of this issue.

July 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRopemake

Thought from Person:

I'd like to thank Coleman for what I think is a very well written piece - clear in its purposes and fair in its tone.

The piece of the article I found most valuable is what Coleman identifies second as one of his three purposes in writing. This is the issue of thinking about the truth of a behavior/idea apart from individual people who express the behavior/idea. In conversations about homosexuality, I get very tired of any kind of argument that begins with: "I know a gay who..." This approach to the issue is important only in staying in touch with the fact that this discussion effects real live people. But appealing to what we observe in any one person is terrible science and a poor way to search for God's will. Working from individual examples is used by both "sides" in these conversation and offer no light on the subject. But, as I think Coleman suggests, the people we know have a massive impact on our thinking.

My experience happens to be that I find openly homosexual people more abrasive and challenging than people who are sexually attracted to the same sex but choose not to identify themselves as homosexual or act on the inclinations. Does this experience put pressure on my ability to think clearly about the issue? Certainly. And I don't pretend to myself that my ability to rationally and objectively think is strong enough to avoid being heavily influenced by the actions and thoughts of others. However, I still work to free myself from this kind of "thought from person" so that I can consider the issue more clearly.

July 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBrian

Science, Religious Text and Literalism.

I have a bias against the way much social science is done. (And I admit that this is a problem for me). However, I do think that the scientific side of this conversation needs to be seen for what it is and what it is not. Science can (try) to measure what is happening externally but any opinions or ideas about those measurements must be informed by an unsupportable assumption. This is ok. I don't begrudge someone an opinion about numbers but it needs to be seen for what it is. Two examples: the DSM (for clinical practice of mental health therapies) used to call homosexuality a disorder and now calls it "normal." New research has been done, however, I think the change of designation is mostly change of opinion from which people interpret the research. Over half of America is "overweight" while only 2-7% are "homosexual" and yet the first is considered by most to be a health epidemic while the second is considered to be "normal." Certainly, each of these designations have more specific underlying criteria and justifications, but for my money, all of these still boil down to assumptions made by the given researcher and cannot possibly be justified by measurable numbers. Which leads to conclude that the entire discussion, if we are to speak in any terms of "ought" or "good and evil," must be a religious discussion. No other source of knowledge presumes to speak in these terms.

And thus for the New Church Perspective on the subject, we must give close attention to the method of discovering, or at least searching, for authoritative (and actionable) knowledge. Within the various groups of individuals and organizations which associate themselves with the New Church movement, we find divergence of opinion on the issue of homosexuality and on the issue of what and how and where to find authoritative knowledge. As should be clear from my earlier statements, I am uninterested in arguments based on science or the individual people we know as adding to our knowledge of "right" and "wrong." But I am very interested in discussion of valid or best approaches to sacred text.

I have ideas about methods and approaches to reading sacred text. I have opinions on the spectrum from strict literalism to lose and flexible interpretations. But enlightenment from the Word will rest on the individual reading.

One idea I love from the New Church is that if we read the Word and believe in the Lord we will see the truths which must be the truths of our faith and life (TCR 621.3). This idea is wonderfully personal (does not involve being told by others how we must think) and it directs us to an objective physical text to be studied under the guidance of the Lord.

Its not that we can't be served by the work of other people, in collecting together and digesting teachings from scripture, its just that enlightenment happens individually.

"Therefore everyone, even at the present day, who, whilst reading the Word, approaches the Lord alone, and prays to Him, is enlightened therein." (Lord 2)

However, the process of being enlightened is far from automatic when we open the bible. Our own agendas and biases will easily block the light of the Word as long as we hold on to them. Learning to read with an increasing open and teachable mind is an art, perhaps the greatest art to which we can attain (certainly not one that I have mastered). But as a practice, we can learn to insist (always) on the fallibility of our own understanding of a subject.

My greatest concern is that we take a bias, look for its confirmation in the Word, and then change our approach to the Word in order to support our preconceived bias. (For example, demand that the Word be read literalistically or allegorically merely to allow it to say what we are already committed to finding in its pages).

But the Heavenly Doctines urge us to work toward the understanding of knowledge for the purpose of usefulness. Reading the Word for the purpose of remain forever in confusion misses the point. (See SS 61 and AC 1472). So we have to work towards understanding what the Word is teaching us, so that our lives can be informed by it, but at the same time we need to protect against our tendencies to find ourselves, rather than God, in the pages of the Word.


July 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBrian

Thanks Coleman.

I'm pretty sure I agree with everything you said. I especially love your last paragraph. I think that expresses my feelings on the matter very nicely!

I very much believe that people are born with inclinations toward homosexuality. The Heavenly Doctrine says that we are inclined to evils of EVERY kind. And it is important to remember to call an evil an evil so that we remember to shun it. I could compare it to any number of evil inclinations I have, and am happy to have people dislike the evil in me, but I would still like to be loved for the good in me! Just as I hope to love the good in people but that doesn't mean accepting their every action.


July 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAlison

So let me see if I got this right:

1. You open with a sentiment, one that I sympathize with 100%, and set out to show how it's misguided.

2. You start off with an analogy that you fully admit is a terrible, inadequate analogy, and that you fully admit that the people in your target audience will find offensive--and you go right on ahead and base your argument on it anyway.

3. You label same-sex attraction as "evil," which I believe is the major sticking point between people like me and people like you, but never actually explain why you feel justified using that term--except that thinking of same-sex attraction is evil helps people 'overcome' it, which is a tautology.

4. And the only studies that you can bring in that fully back your own argument (not just kind of half-back it) are by your own admission, biased and poorly designed junk studies.

This argument wasn't convincing the first hundred times I've heard it and it's not now. I expected better from you, Coleman.

July 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRobin Wright

(Coleman is travelling for a couple more days, so I will take his absence as opportunity for me to butt in.)

In my universe of thinking, you are doing a poor job of reading Coleman's piece. I attribute this to the fact that you disagree with his conclusions, which makes it extremely difficult for anyone to fairly read an opposing view. So I understand and I don't begrudge your disagreement with his conclusions or his methods. But since I am a fan of clear reading, thinking and writing I will attempt to back the fact that I think his piece is quite fair. Convincing you of his conclusions when you were not convinced the first 100 times is not my goal.

1. Yup. I think his goal was to start us off on common ground. I think there are very view under 40 who have not dealt with some version of what he describes in his opening statement.
2. I read Coleman not as using pedophilia as an analogy but as a comparison. He admits that they are two completely different things. If you actually read what he is saying, you will find that he makes no effort to smear homosexuality by association with pedophilia. The two are distinct issues and he leaves them distinct. I figure that he was aware that many people might react to the proximity of the two in the same article and attempted to work against this by making clear that he sees them as different. His point, as I read it, is merely that people we like and admire can have tendencies that we don't condone. We maintain this dissonance on many other issues, and thus the fact that we find practicing homosexuals to be nice people implies nothing about whether or not homosexuality is valid. He also mentions incest, and I would add heterosexual extra-marital lust as well as any number of non-sexual issues.
3. For most purposes "evil" is a religious term. He links to other doctrinal articles which argue the religious validity of applying the term "evil." The fact that Coleman then turns to explaining the possible value in applying the term is not a lazy way of establishing its validity, it is simply another purpose. He acknowledges that his purpose in this article is not focused on making the doctrinal case (although he does make one argument in this regard - one you probably reject).
4. Coleman's article doesn't admit that these articles are biased or junk. But he does note that they are criticized for lack of control group and also for the bias present in the sources of funding. This is actually my strongest point of disagreement with your comments. It is to the credit of this piece that it cites current research and admits to its weaknesses. For me, the article is stronger because of its careful tone. What Coleman didn't point out is that finding an unbiased study of any kind on an issue as politicized as this one is near impossible. The APA claims that homosexuality is a "normal" and "positive" variation of human sexuality. This is a claim that cannot possibly be defended scientifically without dramatically narrowing the definitions of "positive" and "normal" from common English usage and even then, these claims are non indisputable. The APA also publishes that "to date, there has been no scientifically adequate research to show that therapy aimed at changing sexual orientation (sometimes called reparative or conversion therapy) is safe or effective." In fact, there has been research demonstrating that SOCT can be safe and effective. The APA chooses to imply that this research is not scientifically adequate. Bias on all sides, in all directions and as far as the eye can see. Social science cannot give us a study by an impartial researcher so the red herring of imputation of bias should be thrown out. The main difference is whether or not these biases are acknowledged. Coleman gets a point in my book for acknowledging the criticism, but this criticism does not offer sufficient merit to reject a study with which you disagree as "junk".


July 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBrian


I want to respond to your last comment on the term "evil" being applied to actions that harm others.

You mention that we are talking about what is "collectively" called evil. I know that is what we are talking about, but I find it to be a fairly unsound way to determine right and wrong. Throughout history people have collectively called homosexuality evil. At other points in history, including the current one, people have collectively called it "good" or at least, non evil. Even today, it can be celebrated as marriage in some countries while punished by death in others. (I point this out mostly for my own sense of sanity, not because your point was based especially on collective wisdom).

Your argument is a common one and one that holds a lot of sway in my mind, especially when considering the civil/legal implications of homosexuality. I do think it is a useful short hand, in considering what is evil, to consider whether it is harmful to others. However, I think this is not a sufficient method in itself.

A couple examples: A heavily narcisitic person will not necessarily harm those around him and can in fact be quite entertaining, but I would still call this an evil. The easiest place to find harm done, is the person himself by cutting himself off from quality relationships with other people.
I think is very difficult to satisfactorial establish that pornography is evil based on its harm to others. The people making it are often conscentual and there are many many people who will argue that it is a fine and healthy in moderation. Prostitution is treated similarly by many people. Both of these industries have severe negative consequences in some of their forms, but the most consistent argument against them is in harm to the individual who is "using" them. And even here, the harm is not necessarily observable from the outside or subjectively from the inside.

The book Conjugiual Love speaks about true married love and lascivious love looking exactly the same from the perspective of someone caught up in lust but completely opposite from the perspective of someone who is deep in true married love. I think this is the nature of all evil... when we are caught in the evil, it looks and feels good and it can generate endless arguments to justify itself. I don't think that preachers, John Stewart, Glenn Beck, Barak Obama, myself, or society as a collective whole can tell the difference with any reliability because we are all subject to the same distortions in our heads which come out of the evil things we love.

There have been times in hostory when we've considered slavery or the roman circus to be acceptable. Our collective wisdom has no trouble getting around the harm-to-others rule when it wants to. (It is amazing to read some of the justifications for slavery which argue that it was good for society, for the slaves and for the slave owners)

The practice of homosexuality (or anything) may be harmful to those involved or to society as a whole without us having any ability to recognize it. I can suggest possible reasons if you like, but that is beside the point, and likely to be distracting.

One more example. GMO foods may have adverse, unknown health impacts. This is the view taken by the European Union. However, this hasn't been proven and the US chooses to allow GMOs on the market. By now, very few American's have not regularly ingested GMOs. We may have lost our ability to do any kind of longitutinal studies. It would be basically impossible to connect any upticks in cancers or other diseases back to GMOs if this kind of causation actually existed.

Once anything is in the air that we breath, in the water we drink or in the way we think as a society, it is pretty well too late to actually asses possible damage.

three disclaimers -
1. This does not negate the fact that people can also overly fear changes, and linger too long on suspicion of anything different.
2. I think it is a great disservice to this conversation when it is assumed, implied, said, or infered that those condemning homosexuality are (or think they are) superior to people practicing homosexuality or experiencing same sex attraction. In my view, evil is messing with all our heads, and the fact that I do not experience strong same-sex attraction is not to be credit nor does it give me any justification to feel superior to those who do. When I say that I believe homosexuality is evil it is in the context of believing that all of us are constantly dealing with myriad evils. Its an error for those who oppose homosexuality to think that they are superior and it is an error to assume that people who oppose homosexuality do think that they are superior.
3. I'm arguing and disagreeing. But this doesn't mean that I don't continue to respect you and the many people who are looking at this issue differently than me.


July 4, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBrian


Swedenborg clearly states that evils come from hell and not from the individual. The problem occurs when we persist in evil and 'identify' with it, we then make it our own. We must recognize evil before shunning it! Evil does NOT want to be recognized, much less labeled- an "abomination". Judging others for the sake of 'ego' is just another evil that must be shunned. Judging evils for the sake of salvation is our duty!

July 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterFrank Maiorano
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