|Straight and Narrow?|
Schmidt makes a compelling argument
for SideB that takes into account not only the complexities of the debate,
but also the personal compassion
Schmidt does a better job of addressing SideA concerns than any other SideB author I have read.
Chapter 8... is probably the
most important part of the whole book, and I encourage both SideA and SideB
people to read this bit at least, even if they can't wade through the whole
book. This is where Thomas Schmidt begins to sound like
In short, Straight &
Books to Watch Out For!
Thanks to the dialogue on lesbian-gay issues in the Presbyterian Church (and similar attention in other denominations), there has been an explosion of books on our issues, some good, some bad, some terrible. Probably the worst book to claim some credibility is Thomas E. Schmidt's Straight and Narrow, because it purports to cite serious psychological and scientific literature to portray gays and lesbian in the worst possible light. We have two very long reviews of this book, the first focusing on Schmidt's misuse of the Bible and theological traditions by the Rev. Tom Hanks, Executive Director of Other Sheep, a Ministry with Sexual Minorities and former professor at the evangelical biblical seminary in San Jose, Costa Rica, and the second focusing only on Schmidt's chapter 6 in which he mis-uses the scientific literature, by Cleveland Kent Evans, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Bellevue University in Nebraska. We can only print brief excerpts from these reviews. Please write to PLGC for copies of the complete reviews. A couple of dollars for each review would be appreciated to pay for copying and postage!
by Justin Lee 2/22/98
It is difficult to find a book on homosexuality from either SideA or SideB that seriously addresses the other side's arguments without giving the impression that everything is clear cut and simple. It is for this reason that Thomas Schmidt's book Straight & Narrow?: Compassion and Clarity in the Homosexuality Debate is so refreshing. Schmidt makes a compelling argument for SideB that takes into account not only the complexities of the debate, but also the personal compassion which is due to gay people and which SideB has often been sorely remiss in providing.
As a SideA person reading this book, I found myself enlightened by Schmidt's careful theology and numerous citations. This argument is not based in prejudice or closed-mindedness. It is a very deep and insightful look at the differences between the sides -- differences which go back to a very basic disagreement in theological world views -- and the factors which Schmidt believes make a SideB view more consistent with biblical morality. Although of course I disagreed with some of his conclusions, I couldn't help but respect them.
Schmidt opens with an admirable amount of compassion. He begins the first chapter of his book with a discussion of "faces". He explains that "after the politicians and school boards and courts have shaped public policy, after the denominations have interpreted Scripture and tradition, after the educators and scientists and psychologists have explained phenomena, after the media have tailored everything for mass consumption -- after all of this, people, one at a time, still desire to love and to be loved. Some seek love with members of their own sex." These people, he says, are the faces that he sees as he writes. Although he acknowledges that he is writing to a primarily SideB Christian audience, he expresses the hope that his words may enable them on the one hand to stand up for their views with confidence, but on the other hand to be more compassionate to the *people* involved.
The stage-setting Schmidt does in Chapter 1 should probably be required reading for both sides when these issues come up in a Christian context. Often, we expend all our energy arguing past each other because we fail to recognize that we are beginning with different sets of presuppositions. Schmidt is careful to lay out his views on the Bible and its relevance to moral discussions ahead of time, because it is on this foundation that he builds his argument. A person who does not hold these views would likely find the rest of the book irrelevant. I think that Schmidt also does an excellent job of characterizing a fundamental difference between the sides. SideA, he says, relies more on "stories" and "experience", whereas SideB relies more on "arguments" and "authority". Says Schmidt, "To err in either direction produces exactly the same proud claim: 'I know better than you.' The only difference is that those who pit experience against authority stress *I*, whereas those who pit authority against experience stress *know*. Both claim to serve the *cause* of Christ. Both have lost sight of the *way* of Christ."
Schmidt devotes much of Chapter 2 to something he calls "the invisible rabbi". The invisible rabbi is a mental image he creates for himself when lecturing about the Pharisees; this imaginary Orthodox Jew has the power to shut off his microphone at any time, so this provides him with the motivation to give Jesus' Jewish opponents the best possible defense before discussing their weaknesses. In this tradition, he attempts to explain the most common SideA arguments as well as possible before explaining his objections to these arguments in the rest of the book. Schmidt does a better job of addressing SideA concerns than any other SideB author I have read.
The meat of Schmidt's argument is in Chapters 3-5. Rather than merely debunking SideA arguments and reinforcing the relevance of the so-called "clobber verses", he begins with a very good case for a biblical world view that sees heterosexual marriage as supreme and homosexual relationships as an undermining of (rather than an alternative to) the basic goodness of heterosexual marriage. He then seeks to put the other verses in perspective with relation to that context, and to lay to rest any objections by SideA. He is very comprehensive towards this end, and he addresses at length the vast majority of SideA arguments I have heard, including those made popular by Boswell, Countryman, and Scroggs.
Alas, after all the praise I've given Straight & Narrow?, I must say that I was severely disappointed with Chapter 6, "The Price of Love". This chapter deals with the medical side of sexual acts, and includes some graphic descriptions that made me cringe. It would appear that Schmidt lost his focus at this point and succumbed to the temptation to use emotional appeals rather than logic in making his argument. Gone is the invisible rabbi, and gone are the faces; in their place we have genitalia and disease, lots and lots of statistics, and a very distorted picture of both gay and straight life. I found myself very disturbed by this chapter, largely because of statements like, "Promiscuity among homosexual men is not a mere stereotype, and it is not merely the majority experience -- it is virtually the *only* experience." Schmidt, well aware of the feelings of revlusion which many heterosexuals feel when contemplating male homosexual acts, spends this chapter focusing on those acts and ignoring the experience of lesbians. He claims this is "for the simple reason that homosexual practice is, quantitatively, almost exclusively male." He discusses sadomasochism, bondage, urination and defecation during sex, and child molestation in connection with homosexuality, commenting that these practices occur far more often in the gay community than among heterosexuals. Further, he discusses possible complications of anal sex in graphic detail, ignoring the prevalence of this activity among heterosexuals. He even spends several pages detailing the effects of sexually transmitted diseases, apparently in an attempt to draw a connection between these and the "due penalty" of Romans 1. Schmidt's argument is strong enough without resorting to this kind of emotional tactic, and he really should know better. In my opinion, this book would have been many times better if this chapter had been omitted.
Schmidt redeems himself to some extent in his final two chapters. Chapter 7, [which is online, and summarized in a table on the mulit-varian model] deals with the nature/nurture debate, explaining a number of possible theories for the origin of homosexuality and finally proposing a combined theory which I find very believable. The invisible rabbi is definitely at work here, as Schmidt explores the pros and cons of each theory he mentions. He also manages to avoid the trap of equating any particular origins theory with a particular moral view. Chapter 8 sums everything up, deals with a few leftover questions, and provides some really helpful ideas to Christians seeking to make a positive impact on the world. This final chapter is probably the most important part of the whole book, and I encourage both SideA and SideB people to read this bit at least, even if they can't wade through the whole book. This is where Thomas Schmidt begins to sound like a true Bridger.
In short, Straight & Narrow? is a very informative and interesting book overall. Its author writes with a sense of humor and a scholarly approach that even his biggest critics must respect. This book is a must read for both SideA and SideB. Just skip Chapter 6, and you'll end up with a pretty comprehensive look at the divide from a SideB perspective. :)