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Epistemological frameworks, homosexuality, and religion.

I am an old time social worker (Bryn Mawr, MA 1940), retired since 1985, but am still interested in our world and our work and an avid reader of professional journals. Recently I have been troubled by some issues generated by the Faith-Based Human Service Initiatives and also by the HIPPA legislation (I am a volunteer in a medical facility). The July 2005 issue was written for me!

I did not enjoy being scolded by David Hodge and found his article lacking in historical perspective, only to find my concerns shared by Jerry Marx and Fleur Hopper. And my fears about HIPPA were well articulated by Kay Kuczynski and Patty Gibbs-Wahlberg. So, thank you for your well-balanced journal.

Belle Parmet


I found David Hodge's article, "Epistemological Frameworks, Homosexuality, and Religion" extremely troubling as well as disingenuous. I would be tempted to laugh it off, if the repercussions were not so serious for our historically secular, but religiously tolerant society. Citing Hunter, Hodge states that "people of faith are significantly underrepresented in the centers of social power." While this once may have been true in the United States, since the election of George W. Bush to the presidency and the accompanying rise to power of the conservative right in both houses of Congress, this is no longer a plausible claim. We still live in a country where Christians are a majority and there is a concerted effort by evangelical activists to desecularize the country and turn back the gains of the gay rights and women's movements.

A recent example of the growing power of evangelical activists was that in June, the Montgomery County Board of Education in suburban Maryland settled a lawsuit over sex education in the county's public schools, brought in part by PFOX (Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays), branch of a national network of "ministries" that claim homosexuality is a chosen and dangerous lifestyle and that through "reparative therapy" a gay person can be turned straight--into an "ex-gay."

PFOX won a restraining order in May and successfully halted the country's new sex ed curriculum, intended, among other things, to promote tolerance toward gay people by treating homosexuality as natural and benign. This unfortunate ruling will only increase the pain and suffering of sexual minority youths in that school district, and is not an isolated incidence of the growing ability of Evangelical Christians to portray sexual minorities in a pejorative and pathological manner.

As a psychotherapist, I work daily with sexual minority clients who have been traumatized by evangelical parents who rejected them on the basis of sexual orientation and by" reparative therapies" that have failed to cure them of their homosexuality.

Hodge incorrectly asserts that there is a hegemonic reaction among people of faith to homosexuality. Since an increasing number of religions sanction same-sex partnerships and some now ordain lesbian and gay clergy, the illusion that all people of faith, or even a majority of people of faith, feel antipathy toward sexual minorities is unproven.

During these dangerous times, it is ever more important that the social work profession not retreat from its historic position of advocating for disenfranchised individuals and groups and not allow a group of conservative Christians to try and turn the tables by claiming that they are actually under siege, expressing the same specious views that white supremacists in the south voiced during the early days of the civil rights movement.

Michael Shernoff, LCSW

New York, NY

I write with regard to the article entitled, "Epistemological Frameworks, Homosexuality, and Religious" (July 2005) by David R. Hodge. As a former fundamentalist Christian, I understand that Hodge effectively presented much of what I and my family believed regarding the cultural political struggles between those who support equal protection of gay men and lesbians and those who believe that society should actively discourage homosexuality. As a social worker, I am disturbed by the manner in which Hodge framed his argument.

At first reading, I believed the article to be addressing a real problem in the social work profession--the fact that so little is said regarding this conflict between religiously based disapproval of homosexuality and our profession's commitment to working toward ending discrimination and oppression of gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people. However, it soon became apparent that this article had only the appearance of an objective claim, in the seemingly selective use of evidence supporting only the view of those who are against homosexuality. In addition, the lack of attention to a solution firmly grounded in social work values caused me to become suspicious of the author's intentions. It seemed to me that the author was advocating for the position that the profession of social work should tolerate within itself viewpoints and activities that are diametrically opposed to the general spirit of the social work profession. Hodge carefully argued his point, claiming that Christians and other people of "orthodox" worldviews are by virtue of their religious beliefs, marginalized and disadvantaged. He then proceeded to frame his argument in a manner that would conflate tolerance for diversity with tolerance for engagement in discriminatory activity. By labeling as discrimination the screening of faculty members at social work schools for discriminatory attitudes and beliefs against gay men and lesbians, Hodge attempts to equate this alleged "discrimination" with the active political and social discrimination that gay men, lesbians, and transgender people suffer. I felt that I was being subtly led to conclude that I must choose a side, rather than work harder to find a solution that would remain consistent with social work values.

The first error is that Hodge never clearly defines the types of discrimination that is occurring. He simply acknowledges that both gay men and lesbians and people of faith are subjected to discrimination. He then collapses social status, cultural capital, earning potential, political power, and social privilege into "the knowledge class." By grouping all these categories into one "class," Hodge effectively obscures the fact that the current administration and legislation overwhelmingly reflect the views of the "people of faith," resulting in legalized systematized discrimination against gay men and lesbians.

If we analyze Hodge's claim that people of faith are a marginalized people, we quickly see that this certainly applies only to certain contexts within the broader context of American society. If it is true that the knowledge class is truly privileged in terms of power, and that this class dominates the "marginalized" people of faith, then how is it possible that several states have passed amendments barring domestic partnership and marriage for same-sex couples, effectively privileging the heterosexual families, or that Lawrence v. Texas was won by only a small number of votes? How is it also possible that the "people of faith" were successful in their lobbying to have PBS remove a children's show that had a gay family in it, while PBS was allowed to run the Christian cartoon, "Veggie Tales"? Such political power serves as evidence against Hodge's claim that orthodox Christians are marginalized and disempowered to the same degree as gay men and lesbians.

Hodge mistakenly ignores the political violence and oppression that members of the Christian Right have historically and currently inflict on gay people, first, by attempting to pathologize this entire class of people; then, to deny them the ability to be full participants in American society. Hodge, attempting to provide evidence for his claim that "Christian organizations generally base their interactions on the biblical record that affirms the personhood of gay men and lesbians as God's imagebearers," cites the policy of Focus on the Family regarding homosexual individuals. However, no mention is made of the fact that Focus on the Family not only actively promulgates bad science and advocates for sexual reparation therapies, but also actively spreads misinformation meant to perpetuate the worst stereotypes of gay men and women, and was party to an amicus brief filed on behalf of the state of Texas defending the criminalization of homosexual activity. I believe that Justice Kennedy, writing for the majority, perfectly articulated the incoherence of the State of Texas's position: "When homosexual conduct is made criminal by the law of the state that declaration in and of itself is an invitation to subject homosexual persons to discrimination both in the public and in the private spheres." ...

Becoming a social worker is to embrace and to be committed to the ethics and values of the profession. If our personal beliefs cannot be allow us to practice in accordance with those values, then we are nothing other than ideologues, perpetuating the very social injustice against which we believe we are fighting

David Harrison

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Author:Parmet, Belle; Shernoff, Michael; Harrison, David
Publication:Social Work
Article Type:Letter to the editor
Date:Oct 1, 2005
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