Science in Christian Perspective
E. MANSELL PATTISON, M.D.
Professor and Vice-Chairman
Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior
University of California, Irvine
preceding article by Campion and Barrow presents a positive Christian response
to the current controversies about homosexuality within our society at large and
within specific Christian communities. To it I must add my dissatisfaction with
its scientific inaccuracies, but also report on my personal observations that
support their thesis.
Incidence and Prevalence of Homosexuality
To begin, the authors suggest that homosexuality is rising in prominence, which seems to imply a greater incidence and prevalence of homosexuality in our society. To be sure, the prominence of homosexuality is more manifest, but that does not necessarily mean that more persons are becoming homosexual (incidence), or that more persons in the population are homosexual than in the past (prevalence). It is extremely difficult to obtain accurate demographic figures for deviant behavior in a society. In his massive review of the world history of homosexuality' Arno Karlen1 cautions against glib historical generalizations. For although social views and social acceptance or rejection of homosexuality have varied with time and culture, we have little objective data upon which to judge whether the incidence or prevalence of homosexuality does change with cultural mores. I suspect that it does, but the general limits of change are obscure.A Deviant Stereotype Second, the authors, unwittingly it seems., perpetuate a deviant stereotype. That is, they plead for a recognition and extension of Christian love toward "homosexuals." Although they point out that if we take one piece of behavior-homosexuality-and make that behavior the label for the person, we violate personal identity, the authors perpetuate the error in their title. As Sagarin2 points out, there is no such thing as a homosexual, but rather a wide range of persons with variations in their sexual identity and orientation. Thus if we are to follow the authors' proposals for Christian love we must replace the stereotypic label of "homosexual" with the real persons who experience a homosexual orientation. The Development of Homosexuality Now several caveats about the development of homosexuality. I concur that our scientific evidence strongly supports a psychosocial etiology for homosexuality3. However the child is probably not bom with either homosexual or heterosexual affinities, but rather the capacity for eventual sexual differentiation. We do know that gender identity can be changed early in life, and that distortions of gender identity result from early child experience before the age of four. Thus the notion of inborn heterosexuality does not seem to fit well with the facts.4 Even more important, however, is the fact that sexuality orientation and sexual activity is rooted in and reflects one's gender identity. Put simply, homosexuality is not basically an issue of genital sexual experience. It is not a sexual problem at root, but an identity problem. The person of homosexual orientation tries to find identity through homosexual activity. Thus it is not surprising that such persons develop a homosexual 'life-style". Consequently, the person who changes from a homosexual orientation to a heterosexual orientation may have achieved little if anything in terms of personal development, if his identity is still centered around sexuality.
If we understand that the development of homosexuality is an attempt to compensate for missing elements in the acquisition of identity, then it follows that sex education, or lack of it, probably has very little to do with the development of homosexuality. Good parent-child relations, solid gender identity, acquisition, and unequivocal development of self identity are the preventative measures against homosexuality.
In their attempt to transmit a view of personal responsibility, the authors over-emphasize the notion of "free-will" and the choice of homosexuality. All of our behavior is determined to some extent, just as we have degrees of freedom to choose in different social contexts, states of consciousness, knowledge, etc. It is
It is a gross overstatement to say that homosexuality is chosen when we realize that it grows out of the murky antecedents of infancy, childhood, adolescence and young adulthood.
I have given only a few examples of what I feel are very weak sociological and psychological analyses of homosexuality, in which the authors have continued to muddy the waters of understanding, which I have detailed elsewhere.5Some Personal Experiences Nevertheless, I find myself agreeing with their conclusions and proposals based on recent experiences I have had with groups of "ex-gays". Heretofore, conventional wisdom and available clinical research data have suggested that to change homosexual orientations and activities was difficult at best and accomplished only through tedious, long-term, intensive psychotherapy. It seemed that "treatment" approaches had little to offer except for a very select few.
I am happy to report that some exciting and intriguing events have occurred over the past five years. Across the country in various places, Christian men and women have achieved successful changes in their homosexual orientations, their life-styles, and achieved major emotional and spiritual growth. As a result, much like Alcoholics Anonymous, small cells or groups of "ex-gays" are now offering counseling within the context of a nurturant Christian community, with apparent success. Although I plan to publish later a series of scientific studies on this process, I should like to share some preliminary observations.
1. Based on my personal intensive interviews, I am convinced that these persons were of a classic homosexual orientation and that there has been a profound and fundamental change in their sexual orientation.
2. In all persons I have observed, they first became Christians, began to develop a pattern of spiritual growth within which they came to view homosexuality as non-acceptable and sinful, and as a result of their spiritual growth changed their sexual orientation.
3. In all instances, the growth of their personal identity and selffhood preceded and produced a change in sexual orientation.
4. In all instances these persons were all intimately involved in a guiding, sustaining, and disciplining Christian community which was critical to their growth into a new being.
of these observations is tremendous, for it suggests that homosexual
orientations are indeed amenable to profound change and it highlights the
importance of the Christian community for such a process. In conclusion, the
Christian approach suggested by these authors is viable and I have seen it
successfully at work in the lives of people.