Science in Christian Perspective
Christian Answers on Homosexuality
Richard H. Bube, editor
Three distinguished Christian leaders agreed to respond to written questions concerning issues involved in homosexuality. Here we are pleased to share their responses with our readers. The participants, in alphabetical order, are Paul E. Larsen, S.T,D., Pastor of Peninsula Covenant Church, Redwood City, California; E. Mansell Pattison, M.D., Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, Social Science and Social Ecology, and Acting Chairman of the Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior of the University of California, Irvine; and John White, M.B., Ch.B., F.R.C.P.(C), Professor of Psychiatry and the University of Manitoba Faculty of Medicine, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.
1. We see a large increase in our awareness of how many homosexuals there are. Has there been an actual increase in the fraction of the population that are homosexual (what is this fraction?) or what other factors have caused this change?
Larsen: Homosexuality appears more prominently in the public consciousness today than previously. Part of this is due to its popularity as a theme in science, medicine, psychology, and literature. The liberation of oppressed classes inevitably turns to the question of freedom for what has been previously called deviant behavior. The medical and behavioral sciences have recently tended to view homosexuality as an alternate lifestyle, rather than a deviancy. Certain homosexual behavior is sociopathic, that is, it derives from social acceptance and even advocacy within the culture. Herbert Marcuse has advocated it as a part of "polymorphic sexuality." It is seen as a revolt against the sociopolitical oppressions of our time. Certain extreme elements in existentialism arid feminism have practiced it as a symbol of revolt against oppression. To this extent, homosexuality is more acceptable in contemporary society and more widely practiced than previously.
Pattison: Probably not. There are no good historical statistics, so we can only make educated inferences. It is reasonable to conclude that the incidence of homosexual character development may vary over time and place with different social child-rearing patterns, which may give rise to differences in incidence. But, this is only conjecture. The historical evidence is more available to suggest that the practice of homosexuality varies widely with social sanctions.
At the present time, in western society, there is increased social tolerance for public homosexual behav mrs. Therefore, we are more aware of the presence of persons of homosexual orientation in our society.
White: Confusion may arise from lack of precise definition of the terms "homosexuality" and "homosexual", A homosexual is a person who has either adopted a homosexual lifestyle or who engages in homosexual avtivity from time to time. A homosexual lifestyte is one in which the sex object is of the same sex, and is chosen either for erotic purposes only or else for both companionship and erotic purposes. Homosexual activity is any activity engaged in for purposes of erotic arousal with a partner of the same sex for a sex-object.
I believe the data are insufficient to tell us conclusively whether the increase in homosexuality is real or apparent, though there can be no question that homosexuals are "coining out of the closet", Epidemiological surveys represent either biased samples (e.g. volunters such as in Kinsey and subsequent sex behaviour surveys) or are subject to unknown errors from faulty self-reporting.
2. Is it valid to distinguish between homosexuality as a "condition" as opposed to a "conduct"?
Larsen: The distinction is important and useful. It follows the traditional theological distinction between sin and original sin. The latter reflects the corruption of the hiosocial heredity of man over which he or she has no responsible control. The former concerns actual conduct over which the individual has a measure of responsibility and control. An individual may have a predisposition to homosexuality. This is the fruit of original sin in which the culpability is quite different from that of overt homosexual seduction.
Pattison: I find it both appropriate and necessary to distinguish between homosexuality as a "condition" and as a "conduct". There are numerous people who have a homosexual disposition who never engage in any type of homosexual behavior or conduct.
White: I would prefer to view homosexuality as a form of behaviour. It is true that there are conditions which may or may not he associated with it. Many people experience some degree of arousal with homosexual stimuli. The degree of such arousal can be measured objectively (e.g. by measuring small changes in penile volume in the male). However the capacity for homosexual arousal should not, in my view be called homosexuality since it may or may not be associated with homosexual practices and is frequently compatible with heterosexual adjustment. On the other hand, because of the associated "condition" (arousability) and because of reinforcement, homosexual behaviour tends to he self-perpetuating.
3. Is it meaningful to speak of an individual choos ing either to become or not to become homosexual? If the answer is yes, what do we do with many cases where the individual testifies he/ she became aware of their homosexual tendencies long before any awareness of choice was present?
Larsen: Overt and practicing homosexuality is the product of both voluntary and involuntary forces. Early predispositions to homosexuality tend to be involuntary. But there are certain critical moments of choice, acceptance, and acquiesence which involve true freedom. Eventually, however, this freedom is lost in the vice of habit.
Pattison: Yes and no. Like a great many of our human behaviors, homosexuality as a predisposition develops out of our earliest childhood interactions and socialization experiences. Thus, one does not "choose" to adopt a homosexual predisposition.
However, there is great plasticity in our capacity to change behaviors and dispositions which we have acquired in our childhood socialization. Even so with "choosing" whether to practice homosexuality or not to practice such.
Further, there is a current mythology, popular even in scientific circles, that one cannot deliberately change one's sexual orientation. My careful review of the experimental and observational literature reveals some curious lack of attention to available data. In his original study of male homosexuality back in 1947, Alfred Kinsey pointedly observed that there was great plasticity and a large degree of change in sexual orientation that naturally occurred in his population samples. Sex researchers are just now beginning to again acknowledge a significant capacity for change in sexual orientation.
It must also be noted that there are degrees of homosexual proclivity. Among persons with mild to moderate degrees of homosexual inclination, the capacity to change sexual orientation is high. For those persons with very intense and long fixed homosexual orientation, the probability for change is low.
Therefore, our answer is a qualified and relative one. Many more persons can significantly change their sexual orientation than has been commonly acknowledged. Yet, not all persons have the same capacity or potential for change.
White: Homosexuals do not always mean the same thing when they speak of deciding to become homosexual. Semantic confusion again raises its head. If one thinks of homosexuality exclusively as a condition, then decision is irrelevant. One cannot "decide" to become what he already is, any more than one can decide to have cancer. One can, however, choose a lifestyle on the basis of one's sexual feelings.
4. What is the best current understanding of the cause of homosexuality? Have genetic bases been definitely ruled out/in?
Larsen: It appears that homosexuality has a multiple etiology, that is, it may arise from a number of causes and even be a symptom of quite different problems. Some forms may have a genetic origin; some male homosexuality may result from an overly dominant mother or an overly punitive father. It can result from early homosexual seduction. It can be a part of the existential revolt against all prescribed and predetermined roles. At root it becomes the most obvious symbol of man's rejection of God's will, as Paul clearly state in Romans 1.
Pattison: As I read the evidence, I find it unequivocal, that homosexual orientation arises primarily from early socialization experiences. This may be reinforced or abated by later peer social experience. This is not to say that some genetic influence may not be delineated. But genetic factors alone do not determine sexual object preference. And it is quite fallacious to assume that genetics determine behaviors, because there is no evidence that any genetic factor alone determines any human behaviors. (In contrast, in animals, genetics may indeed determine specific behaviors.)
White: I know of no satisfactory etiological theory. Genetic factors have to my knowledge neither been ruled out nor established. Unusual methodological problems arise for epidemiological surveys (e.g. homosexual parents of homosexual offspring are unlikely to acknowledge their own problem). Environmental factors seem often to play a part but their precise nature and role are disputed.
5. Is there a "natural" sexual state for the human being, or are sexual preferences formed by ex perience in all eases?
Larsen: There is a "natural" state of sexuality for hu
mans if by "natural" one means "in accord with God's intention", This "natural" state is heterosexual inclination, although in the New Testament celibacy seems to be a special calling evidenced by either diminished sexual inclination or successful sublimation.
Pattison: Implicit in this question is the concept of "bisexuality". The original formulation of bisexuality in early psychoanalytic theory has been discredited. A more adequate conception of sexuality must take into account eight variables.
First is a genetic sexual identiy. This is the male XV or female XX sex chromosome pattern. There are aberrant sexual chromosomal Tatterns such as the XXY and XXX patterns and even occasional XYY and XXXYY patterns. Despite much research, there is no clear correlation between sex chromatin patterns and adult sexual behavior.
Second is the primary gonadal sex, i.e. presence of either testes or ovaries. The degree of development of the gonads may be influenced by the sex chromatin pattern. The gonads, in turn, are a source of differing hormones.
Third is the hormonal sexual pattern. Usually, this is determined by a combination of pituitary and gonadal hormonal output. Thus, there is typically a male hormonal pattern and a femal hormonal pattern. But in cases of dysfunction of either pituitary or gonadal excretion, there may be aberrant hormonal sexual patterns at variance with the genetic and gonadal sexual identity.
Fourth are the secondary vestigial sexual organs. In embryonic development, the vestigial uterine apparatus remains as apparently useless hits of tissue in the male; while vestigial testicular structure remains in the female. Thus, in early embryonic development there is bisexual anatomic structure which is decisively resolved in embryo by the influence of genetic and hormonal factors.
Fifth is the external sex organs. Their development occurs in embryonic growth, and is primarily determined by hormonal patterns. Thus, when there is hormonal imbalance or aberration, there may be an apparent (although not real) difference between the appearance of the external genitalia and the genetic and hormonal sexual identity.
Sixth is the sex of assignment. That is, the named gender of male or female. This source of gender identity is critical to self identification and is relatively fixed in the second to third year. It is virtually impossible to change the sex of assignment after the fourth year.
Seventh is core gender identity. This is the internalized sense of sexual identity as male or female. It is acquired in the fourth to seventh years of life. This period is critical ill the development of Trans-sexuality, that is, the person who has all acknowledged body identity of one sex, but a psychological identity as the opposite sax. This is not to be confused with homosexuality, which is an erotic attraction to the same sex.
Eighth is gender role behavior. That is, identification with the cultural norms of expected behavior of a male or female. There is great variation here. One may appropriately identify with behaviors of the opposite sex without any homosexual component, i.e. erotic attraction. On the other hand, some homosexual persons are attracted to role behavior of the opposite sex without sexual attraction-the transvestite.
In sum, the concept of sexual identity is complex. There are a series of interrelated sequences of biological, psychological, and social sequences that eventuate in a sexual identity. Sexual attraction is a consequence of the development of sexual identity. In turn, homosexuality is a reflection of a disturbance in the developmental sequence of sexual identity development.
White: The question of whether a "natural" sexual orientation exists is surely philosophical rather than scientific. The functional relationship between male and female sexual apparatus would suggest a "natural" orientation, provided one views survival teleologieally. I would prefer to urge that at this point Christians accept a revealed purpose for sex and acknowledge sciences limitations.
6. In what sense should homosexuality be regarded as (1) a condition of an individual like his height or eye color, (2) a malfunction of an individual like physical or mental disease, (3) a spiritual rebellion indicating sinful perspectives?
Larsen: The Christian perspective does not permit homosexuality to be viewed as a simple, amoral genetic variant. It is a moral, social, and often psychological malfunction with some analogy to a physical disease. The moral and spiritual wrongdoing is more obvious in homosexuality than in an inflamed appendix. But physical disorders are themselves ultimately linked to the sin of man which has led to genetic weakening, and the loss of resistance to disease.
Pattison: The condition of homosexuality is a developmental aberration in my view. However, it is not necessarily a static and irreversible aberration. In a large number of persons, I believe that homosexuality is reversible.
In contrast, the practice of homosexuality must be assessed as any other behavior in moral terms. As a Christian, I believe that the practice of homosexuality, under any condition, is sinful behavior.
White: Once again everything depends on a definition of homosexuality.
Homosexual behaviour is sinful behaviour.
Homosexual feelings represent psychosomatic malfunction in some degree.
7. Should one expect the consequence of Christian conversion on the homosexual to be transformation into a heterosexual?
Larsen: Conversion does not necessarily mean the loss of homosexual inclinations Conversion does not necessarily mean the regeneration of lost arms and legs, the end of ill temper, heterosexual lust, or laziness. It is accompanied by the 'sealing of the Spirit" which evidences a noticeable moral and spiritual change. This is but an indication of the ultimate perfection of the Christian. There may be a miraculous deliverance. Sometimes, however, homosexuality may be conquered over a longer period. At other times it remains like Jacob's limp. It is no longer practiced, but has been transcended and sublimated in Christian sainthood.
Pattison: Not necessarily. I have seen no instances where Christian conversion has somehow automatically changed sexual orientation. Quite the reverse. In my recent study of Christian exgays, we found that change in sexual orientation came gradually as these Christians developed a Christian way of life and developed Christian maturity.
White: Conversions I have observed have never changed homosexual orientation or feeling, though they have at times been associated with changed patterns of sexual behaviour.
8. Is there some intrinsic reason why a lifelong commitment of love between two homosexuals is impossible? If it were found to exist, should it be broken up on Christian grounds as sinful?
Larsen: The Covenantal understanding of human relationships which underlies all that the Scripture teaches makes a lifelong homosexual commitment an act of continued disobedience to God. Such a relationship is obviously preferable to homosexual promiscuity. But grand theft is preferable to armed robbery, and that does not make it an acceptable moral option. Even from a psychological perspective the rejection of one's own sexual form represents a blocking of an area of reality that can never be construed as healthy or normal.
Pattison: This question revolves around the concept of love. Love should not be confused with eroticism and lust. All of us love people without eroticism or lustour parents, our relatives, our children, our close friends. There is 00 reason why "love" should not exist between persons of the same sex.
On the other hand, a life-long love commitment involves other variables. I can think of many examples of life-long love commitment which is immoral or destructive. For example, a sadomasochistic marriage may endure for many years in which the loving wife is regularly beaten by her loving husband. In parent-child incest there is long-standing intense love relationship between the partners. In these instances, the presence of mutual love does not justify the nature of the relationship.
Therefore, I find no necessary justification of an erotic relationship between homosexual partners based on the ephemeral appeal to "love". Further, I personally do not accept the concept of a Christian homosexual marriage. On moral grounds, I find this a contradiction to the normative biblical view of marriage as between man and woman.
White: I know of no intrinsic reason preventing a lifelong commitment of love between two persons of the same sex. However, while both love and commitment would mitigate its sinfulness, the relationship would still be wrong.
9. Within the framework of evolution, homosexuality appears to be an aberration. Is this a valid perspective?
Larsen: Unless one is attempting to derive ethical norms from evolutionary theory, the idea has little more than a fortiori value. The attempt to wed evolutionary naturalism to a natural law ethic is, in my opinion, a futile exercise.
Pattison: I do not find this proposition intellectually appealing. Why appeal to evolution? It seems an unnecessary speculation beyond verification on scientific grounds. From a sociological point of view, however, I would propose that homosexuality is a social aberration that is ultimately dysfunctional to the perpetuation and maintenance of a viable society.
White: (See 6 above). There are those who would suggest that homosexuality is an evolutionary norm protecting the race from the dangers of overpopulation. As you can see, one can argue whichever way one wishes with an evolutionary model.
10. Is homosexuality something like alcoholism, i.e., a condition and a practice originally chosen, then proceeding to the situation where the original choice is lost, finally leading to a "cure" that requires total abstinence?
Larsen: The analogy is inexact. Homosexual inclination may not be originally chosen. There are inevitable critical moments of free choice as in alcoholism. Freedom is lost through reinforced habit-formation. Unlike alcoholism, total abstinence from homosexual acts is practiced not simply to avoid new habituation, but because chastity is always a Christian imperative.
Pattison: No. Quite the reverse. As one develops psehosocia1ly, a person acquires more capacity to alter one's sexual object choice and is less constrained by early socialization. Further, a cure does not involve abstinence from sexuality, but rather the capacity to respond appropriately to a heterosexual object.
However, promiscuous heterosexuality is no more morally or psychologically desirable than promiscuous homosexuality. Many homosexual persons attempt to prove they are heterosexual by engaging in heterosexual sex behavior. This is a superficial and fleeting maneuver doomed to failure. Mature heterosexuality involves the capacity to sustain a committed love relationship with one partner.
White: I believe that alcoholism and homosexuality have some common behavioural features and that probably total abstinence is the only solution for many (if not most) homosexuals. There are, however, exceptions.
11. How much relative effort should be spent by a Christian in getting a homosexual to cease homosexual practices, as compared to helping him/her develop a lifelong homosexual love re lationship (if such is possible-see S above)?
Larsen: There is no limit to the earnest effort to be expended to the ceasing of homosexual practices. If therapy helps the client to see the importance of lifelong covenants as the only truly satisfying relationship, it may be of interim value. But to encourage a lifelong homosexual commitment would be to deny the person the chance of real healing in the biblical sense.
Pattison: This question touches on a major issue of Christian social concern at present. Because homosexuals have been ostracized and discriminated against, they experience low self-esteem. Thus, one attempt to gain self-esteem is to replace Gay is Bad, with Gay is Good. It is tempting to support this effort at self-esteem.
But, I believe this effort is misguided, for it reinforces 'a homosexual life style that is only halfredemptive. I strongly urge that churches actively support Christian homosexuals to totally divest themselves of the homosexual life style and gay scene.
My research data on ex-gays strongly supports our view that the Gay is Good scene is a halfhearted compromise. And it fails to open the homosexual person to participation in personal nonerotic loving relationships with persons of both sexes within the Christian Community.
What we have found is that the iIia/or factor producing change in homosexual orientation in a sample of ex-gays, was the healthy maturing experience of loving Christian relationships with both men and women in a Christian context, where they experienced mature love without erotic expectations, requirements, or demands.
Therefore, when the Christian community supports the Gay is Good concept, we are in fact depriving our homosexual Christian colleagues of the very opportunity for growth, maturation, and change, which is possible within the Christian community.
Finally, I find no biblical justification for the support of any type of homosexual relationship.
White: I cannot accept lifelong homosexual commitment either on moral grounds or as a practical possibility. Without the buttressing of social convention it is foredoomed to failure, but should be discouraged not because it is impractical, but because it is wrong.
12. What is the prescribed course of action for a Christian homosexual who wishes not to be a homosexual?
Larsen: A Christian homosexual must profoundly reflect on the question of Jesus to the paralyzed man, "Wilt thou be made whole?" This wish to change needs to be ritualized in some formal covenant in which there is clear accountability and opportunity for renewal within the Christian community. In many instances, the knowledge of the problem should be confined to a small but healthy community of accountability. The homosexual should then seek the counsel of a qualified and effective Christian psychotherapist. If there is no Chris tian therapist available, then one should be sought who believes homosexuality is a curable deviation. Heterosexual marriago must never be undertaken as a therapeutic device. The development of authentic spirituality as well as a life of broadbased interests are vital to real healing.
Pattison: Based on our experience with ex-gays, the most important factor is to provide loving experiences for homosexuals within the Christian community where they can grow in Christian maturity and learn to develop themselves as mature persons.
They should be encouraged not to participate in homosexual lifestyles, but to engage in manifold Christian centered activities.
They should not be pushed to change their sexual feelings and attractions. Rather, they should be encouraged to develop non-erotic loving relationships. Where possible, I believe that whatever change in sexual orientation will occur, will come as a consequence of maturing wholesome personal relationships within the Christian community.
In conclusion, I should like to state that my prior pessimistic attitude toward change in homosexual orientation has been drastically changed in the past four years as a result of my personal research on change in homosexuals who have become Christian and become active participants in supportive Christian communities.
I would like to urge our churches to openly welcome our homosexual Christian colleagues into fellowship, and provide the type of nurtnraot discipleship which I have observed to have such profound impact.
White: A Christian homosexual wanting not to live as a homosexual needs
a) The understanding and help of a Christian experienced in the temptations and social implications of his problem.
b) Expert assessment and advice on the advisability (in the individual's case) of behavioural methods of sexual reorientation.
c) To accept lifelong sexual abstinence if sexual re orientation is not possible.
d) An entre into warm and intimate Christian fellowship, ideally of a kind that accepts him/her, for what he/she is.
Such fellowship must provide on-going emotional and spiritual support and the sense that the homosexual member is a contributor to the fellowship, and not merely a lame duck.