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Unhealthy debate

"Unhealthy debate" Continued...

Issue: "All heart," July 14, 2007

Next up: Holsinger's "needlessly cruel" 1991 paper. A Washington Post editorial said the paper displays Holsinger's "prurient fascination" with gay sex, paints "all gay men as promiscuous beings," and focuses on sexual behavior that is "in the extreme for both homosexuals and heterosexuals."

Holsinger wrote the paper while serving on a UMC committee that was tasked to rethink the church's position on homosexuality. The paper argues, based on the biologically complementary nature of the male and female reproductive systems, the separation of the human reproductive and alimentary systems, and high disease rates associated with male homosexual sex, that homosexuality is not biologically natural.

Holsinger's paper does not mention the frequency of male homosexual activity, nor does it center on "extreme" sex acts-but rather on the health consequences of anal sex. The language of the paper is clinical, with one exception, and footnoted to peer-reviewed journals and medical textbooks current at the time.

The single exception is a reference to pipe-fittings, which the Post claimed-six pages of medical research notwithstanding-Holsinger used sophomorically to "prove" his case that gay sex is unnatural. The reference merely acknowledges that people have long referred to pipe-fittings as having "male" and "female" parts, suggesting that the naturalness of heterosexuality is so obvious on its face as to have generated a universal metaphor.

Some media have also painted Holsinger as anti-gay because of two votes he cast as president of the UMC judicial council, a term that expires in 2008. A 2004 case involved Ed Johnson, a UMC pastor who denied membership to a man who had repeatedly acknowledged that he was a practicing homosexual.

A UMC bishop overrode Johnson's decision and directed him to admit the man to membership. While the UMC Discipline, a guide to denominational ethics and rules, affirms the "sacred worth" of gays and lesbians as individuals, it also holds that homosexual practice is "incompatible with Christian teaching." In addition, it reserves church membership decisions to local pastors.

Keith Boyette, who has served on the UMC judicial council with Holsinger since 2000, wrote a lengthy concurring opinion in the Johnson case, noting that "contrary to what some will assert, our decision here is not a statement that homosexuals are barred from membership in the local church." Boyette told WORLD that the question was whether a bishop could override the authority of local pastors to exercise the membership discretion given them in the UMC Discipline.

"We were deciding a legal issue," Boyette said. "The [Johnson] decision doesn't say anything like what the newspapers are saying it does."

The second case at issue for Holsinger's detractors concerns Karen Dammann, a UMC minister who admitted to living in a lesbian relationship. The UMC Discipline prohibits "self-avowed, practicing homosexuals" from serving in the clergy. In a complex case that lasted years, a denominational trial jury found that Dammann was a self-avowed practicing homosexual, but refused to impose any penalties. The judicial council found that the church had no right to appeal.

This case "is one where the church is asking for the right to challenge a trial jury when they have nullified the law" as written in the UMC Discipline, Boyette said. "What Jim signed was a dissent that said when a trial jury acts in contravention to church law, the church should have some way to redress that. You have to extrapolate a lot of levels to get out of that that he voted to expel any individual from the clergy."

In keeping with standard practice, Holsinger is not speaking to the press while he awaits his confirmation hearing. But he is speaking to Boyette almost daily, the pastor said: "Jim will have his opportunity in the public eye to state exactly what he does believe. I hope our American system of government will give him that opportunity and not rely on innuendo and creations of media."

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