Hats off to David Hoekema for having the courage to enter the lions den of the American Philosophical Association (APA).
Hoekema is a Professor of Philosophy at Calvin College. As I discussed here and here , Calvin College is one among several evangelical universities and colleges specifically mentioned in a petition to the APA. As a condition of employment, these institutions require faculty to sign statements of faith that prohibit sexual activity outside of marriage, including homosexual activity. If the APA finds the protest of the petitioners persuasive, the APA would, in effect, slap the academic equivalent of a scarlet letter on these institutions for their alleged violation of the APAs twenty-year policy prohibiting discrimination on the basis of homosexual orientation.
As reported here , the Pacific Division of the American Philosophical Association met this past week in Vancouver where they took this issue up as a matter of business. Professor Hoekema was in a particularly good position to explain the original intent and meaning behind the APA policy, since he had been Executive Director of the APA in 1989 when the policy was adopted. As Hoekema explained in a letter circulated at the meeting:
“It is alleged in a recent petition directed to the Board of Officers of the APA . . . that any such directives [forbidding homosexual sex] regarding faculty conduct violate the APA’s nondiscrimination policy. This allegation is unfounded. The APA’s policy barring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation was adopted by the Board of Officers in October 1989, during my term as Executive Director of the APA. Taking up a matter that had been considered at the Board’s previous meeting and postponed for further discussion and redrafting, the Board adopted a policy that, it was explicitly acknowledged, would demand changes in hiring practices at some institutions but would have no bearing on rules of conduct for heterosexual or homosexual faculty during their terms of employment . More restrictive policies of various kinds were considered and rejected by the Board.” [emphasis added]
The academic philosophers werent exactly persuaded by this appeal to the original meaning or original intent of the APA policy in question: The following motion passed unanimously (only members of the Pacific Division could vote):
Whereas the American Philosophical Association has a clear policy opposing discrimination based on race, color, religion, political convictions, national origin, sex, disability, sexual orientation, gender identification or age; and whereas several institutions that explicitly violate that policy with respect to sexual orientation have recently placed advertisements in Jobs for Philosophers; and whereas more than 1400 members of the American Philosophical Association have signed a petition calling on the APA either to enforce its nondiscrimination policy or to change it; the Executive Committee of the Pacific Division is directed to request that the APA Board of Officers and National Office consider whether the APA (1) enforce its policy and prohibit institutions that discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation from advertising in Jobs for Philosophers, or (2) clearly mark institutions with these policies as institutions that violate our anti-discrimination policy, or (3) publicly inform its members that it will not protect gay philosophers and remove its anti-discrimination policy to end the illusion that a primary function of the APA is to protect the rights of its members.
That it took some courage for Professor to step into that lions den is evident from the reports coming out of the business meeting. Early reports indicated that someone at the meeting had said something about practicing homosexuals, which sent a few academic philosophers scurrying to their laptops with howls of mocking protest.
Kate Abramson , assistant Professor of Philosophy at Indiana University called the distinction between sexual orientation and sexual practice moronic. She found particularly insulting (and moronic) the term practicing homosexual.
[W]hat happened today will actually force the National office to take a stand. What should happen now is that the National board will have to actually take a position, one way or another, about both what is the content of the current policy, and in terms of whether the present policy is to be enforced [w/re content: ought it be understood in such a way as distinguishes ‘sexual orientation’ from —as was said today “practicing homosexual” (OY-both about the ‘distinction’ and the moronic, insulting phrase ‘practicing homosexual’)]
Should the National board vote in favor of discrimination against folks like myself, or take the Murphy et al stand that racism differs from heterosexism just insofar as the former, but not the latter, is beyond the pale of decent behavior— well, we nearly 1500 who think otherwise will just have to take it from there.
James Dreier , Professor of Philosophy at Brown University, then opined:
Oh, and “practicing homosexual” is priceless. I guess it contrasts with “retired”, or maybe “lapsed”. Yes, I used to be a practicing heterosexual, but you know, who has time nowadays?
And Professor Michael Otsuka of University College, London weighed in with this:
I remember being told, when I was an intern on Capitol Hill (and this was 1986 and therefore before he had come out publicly), that when Barney Frank came out, off the record, as gay to journalists, one of them asked him whether he was, in fact, a “practicing homosexual”. His immediate response: “Oh no. I don’t need to practice anymore. I’m quite good at it by now.”
David Hoekema, as it turned out, was the offending philosopher. He went to Vancouver apparently unaware that the term “practicing homosexual” is a no-no these days among academic philosophers.
These initial reactions to the pleas of Professor Hoekema forces upon us a fundamental question: Is the very distinction between sexual orientation and homosexual practice or the use of the term practicing homosexual itself homophobic?
With regard to this question, it is worth noting that this distinction was articulated by the counter-petition , which has been endorsed by so many distinguished philosophers:
We reject the suggestion that there is an inconsistency between the practice in question and the APA’s anti-discrimination policy. Institutions can require their faculty to agree to abide by ethical standards that forbid homosexual acts while not ipso facto discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation. The conceptual distinction between a certain kind of act and a disposition to perform that kind of act is one that no philosopher would fail to acknowledge in other ethical contexts. We fail to see why it should be ignored in this one.
For whatever reason, the counter petition has not been endorsed by the philosophers at Calvin College (with two exceptions) even though the distinction is precisely the one drawn by Professor Hoekema.
Second, whatever discrimination against sexual orientation may have meant in 1989, you can bet that the philosophers wont be persuaded by appeals to original intent or original meaning. Professor Hoekema teaches philosophy of law, so he no doubt is familiar with the notion of a living constitution. Well, we now have a living APA anti-discrimination policy that in all likelihood will not be interpreted in accordance with the original meaning, but in favor of a method of interpretation in which the policy would be read in light of what a reasonable APA member today would interpret the nondiscrimination policy to mean. Or, maybe they can find in the policy a few emanations or penumbras to support a more draconian policy. In any case, these reasonable APA members will no doubt find Professor Hoekemas and Calvin Colleges discrimination against hiring practicing homosexuals to be unreasonable or perhaps less charitably, moronic.
But the legitimacy of the distinction is important for a final reason. If the distinction is illegitimate and the very use of the term homosexual practice is indicative of some sort of homophobia, then Professor Hoekema may also be in big trouble with Calvin College and that institution’s governing body, the Christian Reformed Church.
Professor Hoekema argued in his letter to the Chair of the Board of Officers of the American Philosophical Association that despite Calvins policy of refusing to hire practicing homosexuals neither the college nor the denomination could be charged with homophobia. Heres an excerpt from that letter (which Professor Hoekema has sent to the editors of First Things and to me.)
Those who accept an invitation to join the Calvin College faculty are expected, in light of the mission of the college as a Christian liberal arts institution affiliated with the Christian Reformed Church in North America, to adhere to standards of conduct consistent with that church’s expectations of its members. These standards include refraining from extramarital sexual relations, whether with persons of the same sex or of the opposite sex. Our sponsoring church, acknowledging its past and present mistreatment of gay and lesbian persons, has called on its congregations to welcome them into its fellowship and, in addition, to condemn every sort of homophobic speech and conduct. [emphasis added]
No doubt Professor Hoekema went to the APA meeting in Vancouver hoping to persuade the gay lobby and their supporters in the APA that Calvin College is not at all homophobic, what with their speech and conduct codes and all. But his philosophical colleagues weren’t buying it. Lets hope for Professor Hoekemas sake that the speech codes at Calvin College are less severe than those that would be imposed by the philosophers at the business meeting of the Pacific Division of the APA.
Professor Hoekema, to his credit, doesnt seem to believe there is anything offensive or irrational in the distinction between orientation and practice. Good for him. He also doesnt seem to think there is anything offensive or moronic with the term practicing homosexual. Good for him, again. He also does not believe that the hiring practices at Calvin College, or Wheaton College or Westmont College or Liberty University or Bob Jones University constitute mistreatment of gay and lesbian persons. Good for him, again.
But it is no longer 1989 and it was entirely predictable, or, at least it should have been, that the gay lobby and their progressive supporters would have none of it. Professor Hoekema, decidedly one of the more “progressive” members of the Calvin faculty, got mugged by reality.
Welcome to the culture wars, Professor Hoekema.