Science in Christian Perspective



Fuller Graduate School of Psychology
Pasadena, California 91101

From: JASA 29 (
September 1977): 108-109.

I find this article quite distressing. It helps to assume that the authors did not intend a scholarly work but rather something in the nature of a sermon, still, the quality of scholarship is sometimes claimed and certainly an article on a topic as important as this can afford to be evaluated in terms of scholarship. In this respect I find a great deal that is inadequate.

Fact vs. Opinion

If the authors were content in remaining in the discipline implied in their subtitle, "A Biblical Perspective on Homosexuality and Its Healing," I would have then had questions as to the qualty of their biblical theology and exegesis, but would not be in a place to make such evaluations. Even if they had stayed with their "we believe," "it is our opinion," etc., it would have remained an expression of their views. However, they choose to incorporate psychology and medicine as substantiations for their beliefs and frequently use such words as "facts." For example, they say, "Even though the facts concerning the state of homosexuality and its etiology he before us . . ., in spite of the reality that the medical and psychological community has a great many differing theories at present with respect to homosexuality, and that few feel that we are in a place where we really understand it. The authors, themselves, in something of a contradiction, have noted that there are differing points of view.

This fluctuation between dogmatic presentation on the one hand and a statement o opinion of the authors on the other hand can be seen in the difference between the two sentences they use to define the goal of the article,

... to define the problem of homosexuality and recommend a treatment. The article is not an attempt to systematically present research findings with regard to the issue of homosexuality, but rather to share our perceptions as practitioners of the basic issues involved as well as a general treatment methodality for change.

Sharing perceptions and defining the problem of homosexuality are qualitatively different. They certainly have their right to share their perceptions and have done so quite well. However, their defining of homosexuality in the absence of any careful and scholarly presentation of the many difficulties with such a definition leaves much to be desired.

Genetics and Psychology

Their treatment of genetics and homosexuality is a case in point. To dismiss this as " a myth" shows considerable lack of knowledge of the scientific enterprise and scholarly work. This is even more evident to me in their treatment of psychology. "Social learning theory" is treated as if it were a unitary theory and highly correlated with their Christian beliefs on this issue. However, social learning theory is not a homogeneous theory, even in the loose sense of the word, but is a collective term for a number of differing "microtheories" of learning that have varying strengths and weaknesses. Obviously, an eclectic collection will have many inconsistencies and none is more evident than the question of "will" or "choice," a topic that has not been very acceptable in psychology in general nor learning theories in particular, the authors' claim notwithstanding. Indeed, their thoughts that "conditioning" occurs in the development of homosexual behavior, might easily lead to the thought that the way to treat homosexual behavior is through "de-conditioning" procedures, but this is given no prominence apparently or even a place in the authors' considerations o treatment. Most psychotherapists who work under the general model of "social learning theory" would not feel in the least comfortable with the authors' position on homosexuality either in terms of definition or treatment. The use of value-laden terms such as "indulge," "weakness," "wrong doing," and "sin' is antithetical to the position of most learning theorists and outside the assumptions or propositions of learning theory, yet the authors make no attempts to point this out nor attempt an integration.

In a related way, they press an outdated form of the heredity versus environment issue; they pose it in terms of genetic factors versus social learning as the etiology of homosexual behavior. While this question still remains one of considerable interest in psychology, it is no longer "either-or" but rather an increasing knowledge of the complex interrelationships between the two, the way each interlaces with the other and serves as a trigger for the other, in a complicated intertwining. The authors seem to have no understanding of this.

Responsibility,and Guilt

In many other ways their paper lacks the quality of careful and systematic work with the ideas presented, their interrelationships, their implications, etc. For example, they say that "parents of homosexuals also must accept their responsid; without guilt." The question of the interrelationship of the ideas of "responsibility" and "guilt" is not explored nor elaborated.. It seems quite clear that the authors feel that guilt and responsibility go together for at least some aspects of the homosexual's work with himself. Still, even there, it remains unclear whether the homosexual is or is not responsible for his past homosexual behavior, and at the very least, there is no exploration of this difficult question. In another area, the question arises as to whether psychology has any part to play in their view of the treatment of the homosexual. Clearly, they see the basis of treatment to be that which has been very much a part of the evangelical church rather than the psychotherapist's office. Why a homosexual should come to a psychotherapist at all is left unanswered. One might guess that if they were consistent in their position, they would not accept a referral of a homosexual (and charge fees) but rather refer him on to an appropriate church.

Here, of course, the authors depart from social learning theory b a distance of a few light years. There is no social learning theory of which I am aware that talks about this kind of treatment for homosexual behavior, yet the authors omit any mention of this or any attempts to integrate the two together.

A Disturbing Tone

In general, the tone of the paper seems to be that the authors have a certain position with respect to what is the appropriate way to treat homosexuality, and have presented this, but have borrowed here and there, in a superficial and eclectic way from some aspects of

Their defining of homosexuality in the absence of any careful and scholarly presentation of the many difficulties with such a definition leaves much to be desired.

social learning theory to support their views, ways which on closer look are not justifiable. Beyond that, there is a quality of presentation, a tone of the paper that is disturbing. Upon reading the title, I had expected that there would be some considerations of the way in which homosexuals are alienated and pushed away by so many aspects of our society, including the church, and that there would be some appeal to close the gap. Instead, there seems to be a dogmatic presentation which, in my judgment, would have the effect on homosexual people with whom I have worked of alienating them even further. There is a quality of chauvinism, paternalism, and put-down. A reader might well end up feeling that the authors are much more interested in sweeping sin and compromise out of the church than in relating to homosexuals.