Epistemological Frameworks, Homosexuality, and Religion: How People of Faith Understand the Intersection between Homosexuality and Religion

Article excerpt

The intersection between homosexuality and religion has been the topic of some debate in social work discourse (Berkman & Zinberg, 1997; Cornett, 1992; Jones, 1996; Parr, 1996; Van Soest, Canon, & Grant, 2000). Van Soest (1996) suggested that Hunter's (1991) epistemological framework of conflicting orthodox and progressive worldviews is an appropriate vehicle for understanding the controversy. In light of calls for dialogue on the topic (Canda & Furman, 1999; Van Soest), this article addresses the controversy from an orthodox perspective.

It is important to note that this article does not represent an attempt to disparage the experiences of gay men and lesbians, who continue to experience discrimination in many venues; nor does it represent an implicit argument for the restriction of gay and lesbian narratives. Rather, I argue that the range of views should be increased, that the scope of diversity should be widened. As other observers have suggested (Haynes & White, 1999; Van Soest & Garcia, 2003), we need to work toward a balanced and inclusive profession that is more demographically representative of the increasingly diverse society we are called to serve.

EPISTEMOLOGICAL FRAMEWORKS AND HOMOSEXUALITY

Any discussion of demographics raises the issue of worldviews. The insights of Kuhn (1970) and other philosophers have led to general agreement that individuals understand reality through a discrete cognitive framework or worldview. At the heart of Hunter's (1991) nuanced work is the belief that contemporary society is characterized by "impulses" toward two macro-level worldviews, which he calls orthodox and progressive. These epistemologically based worldviews inform individuals' understanding of who they are and how they should live.

Orthodox believers, or as they might self-identify, people of faith (French, 2002), derive key components of their value systems from an external, transcendent authority (Hunter, 1991). Various orthodox populations include Christians, Hindus, Muslims, and others who affirm the historic mainstream tenets of their respective traditions. These believers are sometimes referred to as conservatives because they conserve and live by their understanding of transcendent truth.

In this article, I focus on the relationship between Christianity and homosexuality due to the salience of this spiritual tradition in the United States. This focus should not be misinterpreted as an implicit argument for some type of Christian exceptionalism. As implied earlier, the inclusion of an array of traditions in the profession's discourse is the central point. Accordingly, Christianity is used as proxy to represent a family of underrepresented spiritual traditions.

Traditionally, Christians believe their values are derived from a sovereign God as revealed in the Bible and interpreted by the community of believers (Colson et al., 1994). Because these values are transcendent, believers do not have the option, at least in principle, of picking and choosing which values they follow based on the prevailing cultural winds. As Stark (2003) noted, this belief in culturally transcendent values led to the conclusion that slavery was immoral, even though this conclusion contradicted contemporary norms.

Values commonly affirmed by Christians include relationships that affirm the dignity and worth of human beings (Maton & Salem, 1995), concern for people who are poor (Clydesdale, 1999), diversity (Smith, 2000), and sexuality expressed in monogamous male-female dyads. To expand on the latter value, all human beings have inherent dignity and worth because they reflect the image of God. Gay men and lesbians are no more and no less animated by human turpitude than others. The ethos is egalitarian. All are invited to join the Christian community, and, as an expression of their relationship to God, all believers are called to exhibit Christian values. …