I recently bought “Help! My teen is gay” by Ben Marshall – and forgot that I had, and it sat in my mailbox for probably a few weeks. In addition to large number of correct statements about salvation provided by Jesus Christ, Ben makes a large number of very simple logical fallacies. It’s also obvious that he understands very little about homosexuality: that’s apparently fine with him. I have wondered why the Church has been so severely misinformed about homosexuality and offered such bad advice, and now I know …They must have been listening to him… or whomever lead him astray from the truth when he wrote the book. Ultimately, his statements will lead people away from Christ, as they have in the lives of men I know. It’s up to men like me, apparently, to lead them back.
One frequent logical fallacy is inferring on the whole a property of the part, and also inferring on the part properties of the whole. Ben relies on such fallacies for his assertions. Another way to think about this problem, which we deal with in science & engineering a TON is of “specific” and “general” solutions. Ben quotes Jeremiah to say that the “heart is deceitful” and “who can understand it”. Perhaps there are some things which lie unperceived in our hearts, but to assert we cannot understand any emotions, any thoughts, I think is outside the realm of realism. As we’ll see later, we are explicitly commanded to do so. Yet, Ben’s conclusion is that “for the struggling teen, this means that there is no chance that he or she can know the reason for the choice to sinfully think about homosexuality.” So, I should mention here that Ben is apparently talking about “lost folks”. Maybe he’s right about lost teens, but what about saved teens? Do they not “struggle”? It seems like maybe he thinks they don’t, as we’ll see later on.
Ben says “the teenager who is dealing with homosexual thoughts and desires can only hope to be saved by receiving a cure that will take care of the heart problem, not just the symptom of homosexuality.” well… yeah, but the problem is for every Christian I’ve met whose eroticized same sex attraction was alleviated as the result of prayer, I know hundreds who’s weren’t. Are some not Christians? Probably. But for the most part, these men have been loving God, loving their neighbor as best they know how. I also want to address this from the general / specific angle. Ben writes “the only hope for the one struggling with homosexuality is to repent of personal sin and believe in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.” Uh.. the need for salvation through Christ applies to everyone. We might as well have struck the phrase “struggling with homosexuality”, and re-titled the pamphlet “Help! my teen is human.” When someone picks up a pamphlet titled “Help! My teen is gay”, from a church ministry, they probably want more than “tell them about Jesus”. I’m trying to imagine the Christian parent who thought, “oh, I never thought of that”.
Ben quotes Proverbs 17:9 to say the heart is deceitful, and then basically ignores any contribution our emotions can make, refusing to even name them. In the practical exercises section towards the end, he lists 8 references to Proverbs, but skips 4:23, “keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life”. I began to get the sensation that Ben heard some lecture he liked, and found what scripture could support it and didn’t take actual observations of actual homosexuality, and the effects of various approaches into account when he wrote this. Well, some of us don’t get the luxury of closing the book on our ‘gay’ like he does when he’s done with this pamphlet. Some of us are stuck with reality.
Another easily recognizable logical fallacy is affirming the consequent. Ben says “Romans 1:18-32 clearly states that homosexuality is the result of mankind exchanging the worship of God the Creator for the worship of the creation.” I’ve already covered that one here.
By reading scripture, or maybe proof reading his own work, Ben could have realized his errors, or at least taken pause from publishing, because his logical fallacies lead him to contradict himself and scripture.
On page 29 he says, “no human can know or understand the heart of any other human”. Yet on page 32 he says “bringing to your teenager the truth that he or she is not alone in this world … will be a relief”. Now, his conclusion is right, but he has asserted that he could not know it. After all, if he can’t know the heart of another person at all, how could he predict what emotion the other person will experience. Ben has stumbled on basic empathy here; I’m not sure he realizes it.
In addition, Ben asserts to the parents that “first and foremost, you need to remember that you did not cause your teen to partake in homosexual behavior. If you find yourself feeling as if you have caused your teen to fall prey to this sin…” and then he comes up with an excuse. Yet, Jesus says “but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” in Matthew 18:6. If Ben is correct, then this scripture from Jesus is apparently not useful in “teaching, training, correcting and rebuking in righteousness”, and now he has a much larger exegetical problem. I take this warning from Jesus very seriously. Apparently, Ben does not.
Now I want to go back to basic emotional competency, because it’s clear Ben has none. Scripture describes what we call “core emotions”: joy, anger, fear, sadness. You might recognize scripture about these, “do not sin in your anger”, “do not be afraid”, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another…” in Romans 12:15. Yet, Ben’s grasp of emotions seems to be “feeling good” and “feeling bad”. In doing work with men over just a few years now, I find it very common that men with eroticized same-sex attractions have trouble distinguishing emotions. Well, ok, men in general have more trouble than women. They use general words like “I feel good”, “relief” or “I feel horrible”, as Ben does on pages 37 and 47. Having the emotional intelligence to say “I feel content”, or “I feel shame” or “I feel sadness” is for the moment outside of their grasp.
I submit that a recognition of these basic emotions is a prerequisite to being able to fulfill commands like “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep” in Romans. This is a great description of something called “empathy”, when someone else feels along (the same thing as) someone else; i.e. reflecting their emotions. This entire activity seems to have been dismissed by Ben with his statements about there being “no chance” someone could understand someoneelse’s heart, let alone their own. There are definitely unknown areas in our emotions, but are we entirely unknowable?
Richard Cohen describes in his book, “Coming Out Straight” that he regularly sees an increasing emotional distance between same-sex parent and child. In other words, a child may develop homosexuality as a result of an unhealthy emotional connection with their same-sex parent. This happens when a parent does not empathize with their child. The parents seem “distant”, or “tuned out” to their child feelings. Some researchers have found a lack of empathy from a parent literally causes a feeling of dying in infants. Empathy is that “feeling the same thing as” stuff, that Ben asserts is impossible. Ironically, Ben has already claimed this emotional distance is likely to happen. In fact, according to him, it may be the set up for the parent ever reading this book in the first place! In the opening paragraphs of the book, Ben describes a teen who tells his dad, Jon, that he’s gay. It goes like this, “Jon heard very little after the phrase, “Dad, I think I’m gay.” Jon tried to grasp what was going on, but it was too much to handle. He had no idea what to do or where to turn. Can you identify with Jon? If you can, believe me, you are not alone, This booklet is designed to be a guide for any Christian parent whose son or daughter reveals that he or she is gay.” Check out these phrases, “heard very little” “what was going on was too much to handle”. These are common descriptions of a parent checking-out emotionally, checking-out of empathy, being swallowed up in their own sense of inadequacy, their own persistent sense of failure. Right here in his own introduction, Ben Marshall has defeated his own argument by admitting that the parents of gay teens would have the exact problems that the same psychological researchers he so adamantly denies can know anything find happens, and he is apparently completely oblivious to it.
Ben’s solutions for homosexuality also fails the specific / general test. His instructions for the parent are to ignore that anything other than the child could have caused this, writing of the “sinful heart”, “this condition is not due to some outside force that victimized your teenager in some way. It is because of the passing down of a sinful nature from Adam that your teenager has a tendency to sin in the area of homosexuality.” Now, there are several things wrong here. 1) If we got a sinful heart from Adam, then Adam is the outside force – and so is the parent. 2) Satan lied about God’s nature to Adam. Since there was no sin in the world before this moment, I’m going to label Satan as an “outside force, victimizing your teenager”. And 3) this “you’re gay because you’re a bad thing from the inside” blame is actually what contributes to many men’s origin of homosexuality in the first place. Why?
Homosexuality is, as the author says, the sinful hearts attempt to feel better. But feel better because of what? “Shame-trauma”. Shame is distinct from guilt. Guilt is “I’ve done something wrong”; shame is “I am something wrong”. Guilt is entirely appropriate in a Biblical worldview, and I don’t intend to explain why here. But shame… shame is very different. Ben quotes David as saying “I was conceived in sin”, but David also wrote “I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” Genesis tells us that in our created form as male & female we are “very good” and “made in the image of God”. Specifically, the shame underlying homosexuality tends to be around genderedness. Now, this is predominately pre-Oedipal disorder homosexuality I’m talking about here, but it’s the significant factor in 80% of men’s homosexuality. When a man feels like there’s something wrong with “being masculine” (as distinct from “being feminine”) we call this gender shame. We always encourage men to embrace their genderedness, after all, gender is part of the image of God. More on that later. This is why we use phrases like “man” and “woman” instead of “person” when referring to an individual. This is why we refer to an individual as a “son” or “daughter” of God, not a “child” of God, which Ben does on page 35.
Another major cause of “homosexual” “feelings” is childhood sexual abuse. This is well-known; I won’t go into it here. But, keep in mind that Ben says “your child was not victimized”. In the case of incest, remember Ben says “the parent did not cause the teen to sin”.
Ben’s advice will also provoke some fledgling Christians to leave the Church. Let’s see how that’s unfolded in the lives of men I know. You start with Ben’s recipe that the child admit they feel horrible. Ok. horrible is not a feeling, it’s a “judgement”, but skipping that for a minute. Ben’s instructions are for your child to “twist” their worship back to God … cause you know, fallacy of affirming the consequent, have them think really hard about how God sees what they’ve done, and if you’re at this point, they’ve been taught how Ben sees it, not necessarily God, so I’m not sure how much good that will do. Then recognize your child feels “horrible” and “sorry”, then when they make a true “confession”, “this confession should then lead to a drastic change in the teen’s life. There should be a complete 180-degree change in most areas of his or her life.” Ok, he’s moved on to using “his or her”, so that’s good. But the reality is, Jesus will keep working on us until the day he returns. It’s these kinds of “pray it away” approaches, clocked in spirituality that ultimately drive ‘gays’ out of the Church. When they try this man’s recipe, and it doesn’t work, it will begin to erode their faith. And I’ve met those to whom it has. They aren’t going to get in much of a debate with you. They’ve “already heard it”, “tried it”, and “it didn’t work”. Why? Because the approach they were offered was based on logical fallacies and a near complete lack of knowledge on the subject. Please Church, if you don’t know what you’re talking about, don’t give instructions. Lead to Jesus, great, then let Jesus lead them to me, or help them take the short cut.