Homosexuality – The Use of Scientific Research in the Church’s Moral Debate
Stanton L. Jones & Mark A. Yarhouse
The subtext of this work could possibly be re-titled the “The Misuse of Scientific Research in the Church’s Moral Debate”. I think the only real value in reading this book is to get an idea of how far removed some Christian commentators are from the realities of life and what it really means to be homosexual in the 21st century.
Early in the work, the authors state their position. Quoting from Chapter 1 page 11 ‘We believe in being clear about our assumptions and presuppositions, so we confess that we are defending the historic understanding of the church, grounded on the Bibles teaching, that homosexuality is immoral. Let us give away our punch line at the very start: We will show, persuasively we hope, that while science provides us with many interesting and useful perspectives on sexual orientation and behaviour, the best science of this day fails to persuade the thoughtful Christian to change his or her moral stance. Science has nothing to offer that would even remotely constitute persuasive evidence that would compel us to deviate from the historic Christian judgement that full homosexual intimacy, homosexual behaviour is immoral.’
This book is written for a conservative Christian audience who still have not worked out that a homosexual orientation, as such, does not automatically determine a person’s morality any more than heterosexuality does. Morality is a choice, but sexual orientation isn’t. To falsely judge a group within society because they are attracted to the same sex and not the opposite by calling that entire group immoral is not only irresponsible but also in conflict with the teachings of Jesus Christ himself.
Chapter 2 is titled ‘How Prevalent is Homosexuality?’ This seems a strange place to start the argument but not unusual. It has probably been some time now since Queer sociologists and commentators have used Kinsey’s figure of approximately 10% of people being homosexual in their orientation but by introducing this question first, it serves a purpose for the authors.
It gives the impression that we have been deceiving people about our real numbers and secondly by reducing the numbers any requests for equality are not as important as we make out. After all, 2-4% of the population – are they all that important one could conclude. The table on pages 42-43 of 11 different studies in this area does not really prove their point but actually demonstrates how difficult it is to get a definitive number. My feeling is that we will never have an accurate figure until all stigma attached to homosexuality within our society is removed. In the meantime, people who experience fluidity in their sexual orientation and heterosexuals who have same sex experiences sometimes get thrown into the mix.
When referring to scientific research, the authors frequently quote from studies done in the 60s, 70s and mid 80s. Even research from the 1950s is citied. Whilst this research may have been valuable at the time, my impression is that it is now considered dated by most professionals without a bias. Possible causes of homosexuality according to the authors are strong mother/weak father, early sexual experiences with someone of the same sex, sexual abuse and new one for me I hadn’t heard of, that the ‘exotic becomes erotic’. This theory proposes that we eroticise over the gender we are not connected with. So ‘normal’ males will eventually eroticise over girls, but homosexual men eroticise over men because they feel distant and unconnected with other males. An interesting theory perhaps but lacks credibility in the light of those who have only known attraction to the same sex from very early childhood.
When dealing with the various biological theories, the authors point to flaws in the research methodology and the exceptions rather than being able to identify what the research is actually saying to us. That is, there are prenatal factors such as genetic and hormonal influences that increase the likelihood, but do not guarantee, a person will be same sex attracted.
I think Chapter 4 ‘Is Homosexuality a Psychopathology’ is the most offensive. To quote from page 94 of that chapter. ‘The short answer to the question ‘Is Homosexuality a Psychopathology’ is no, if a person were to mean that the answer can be found by a quick look through the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of mental Disorders; Fourth Edition (DSM-IV) of the American Psychiatric Association. Homosexuality is not listed as a formal mental disorder in the DSM-IV, and hence is not a ‘mental illness’. But as we will see in this chapter, answering the question ‘Is Homosexuality a Psychopathology’ is much more complicated than simply checking a manual.’ The authors go on to expand on research done on the mental health of gay men and lesbians. This is where the writing becomes incredibly biased and using statements like ‘the hospitalisation rate for homosexuals is 450% higher that the general population’…. ‘suggesting over 300% increases in incidence of serious personal distress amongst lesbians’…and ‘the elevated rates of depression, substance abuse and suicide challenge the adaptiveness of homosexuality’ reflect the authors very negative impression of gays and lesbians. What is not introduced in this chapter are the possible causes of any mental health issues like rejection by family, societal norms of conformity, religious dissonance and even persecution.
There are large amounts of material from the book that demonstrates it has been written with a strong bias and not relevant to the more informed academic or mental health professional. For example, in the summary of the chapter ‘Can Homosexuality be Changed?’ it says, ‘the research of sexual orientation is intensely debated today. Most of the research was conducted and published between the 1950’s and the 1970’[s, with an average positive outcome of approximately 30%.’ As this work was written in 2000 Spitzer’s recent conclusion that changes to one’s sexual orientation “are probably quite rare, even for highly motivated homosexuals”. It has been estimated that reparative therapists have a cure rate of 0.02% which means a failure rate of 99.98%.
In the final chapter ‘Toward a Christian Sexual Ethic’ it says, ’To summarize, the essential claim in the discussions about the prevalence is that the high prevalence of homosexuality , claimed to be 10% or more of the general population, demands revision of our traditional ethic. The best studies, however suggest a prevalence of between 2 and 3%. More importantly, prevalence has no claim on ethic, since Christians commonly believe that some sinful life patterns are very common such as pride while some are rare like bestiality’. And on the following page we read, ‘Even if the homosexual condition of desiring intimacy and sexual union with a person of the same gender is caused in its entirety by causal factors outside the personal control of the person, that does not constitute moral affirmation of acting on those desires. If it did, the pedophile who desires sex with children, the alcoholic who desires the pursuit of drunkenness, and the person with Antisocial Personality Disorder who desires the thrill of victimization and pain infliction would all have a equal case for moral approval of their exploits’ (my emphasis.) One wonders what the authors solution might be for the ‘homosexual condition’ if we are equated with paedophiles, alcoholics and anti-social behaviour and later put in the same basket with schizophrenia, panic attacks, witchcraft and greed.
As a gay man from a strong religious background, reading through this book, I often found myself asking the question, ‘Who are you talking about. I’m not sick, I know I certainly didn’t choose to be gay, I wasn’t sexually abused, my first sexual experiences were with guys because that is the only attraction I had and my homosexuality is not a problem to me’.
I have to conclude that the authors are like many people in conservative religious circles who because of their negative view of homosexuality, are locked away in a world that conveniently separates them from us and they actually don’t know any well adjusted gay or lesbian people personally. The only homosexual people they have contact with are those in their churches who are tormented by the dissonance created by an outdated religious worldview. The rest of us are living normal lives and making a valuable contribution to society.
Book Review by Anthony Venn-Brown
Author of “A Life of Unlearning”
Oh dear. Yet another depressing book based on fake science, or selective misreading of actual science driven by confirmation bias fallacy, that’ll find its way into anti-LGBT+ religious mantra.
No-one any longer believes we should be forcing left-handed children to masquerade as right-handed through forced conversion, a practice that was already dying out in my childhood 60 years ago. The lifelong deleterious consequences wrought by forced conversion of left-handed children have been well recounted in the movie, The King’s Speech and numerous studies, and I personally have taught adult students afflicted with a stutter, that began within months of forced change of handedness as a child.
The belief that sexual orientation likewise can and should be changed emanates from the misguided view, often based on religious conviction, that homosexual orientation is ipso facto an ‘unnatural’ and ‘sinful choice’ made by naturally born heterosexuals. Disbelieving that anyone could possibly ever be ‘born gay’, they argue that people ‘choose’ their sexual orientation as a ‘gay lifestyle’ analogous to buying a fashionable new pair of shoes, or living near the beach. But if you ask a heterosexual person, e.g. a cisgender male, “How do you know you’re straight”? He’ll likely answer, “Because I am attracted to females – sexually to their body, and romantically to their personality”, or words to that effect, and I guarantee you, he will express these sentiments with manifest enthusiasm. A heterosexual male’s penis goes hard for the female, and not for the male. It couldn’t be simpler. The only ‘choice’ in the matter is that of a romantic + sexual companion, perhaps for life. But, if such a man COULD ‘choose’ to be sexually attracted to males, then he ain’t heterosexual – by definition.
I know a great many heterosexual, cisgender men, mostly as good friends, yet while they love me as their friend, the very notion of marrying another male and sharing a bed with that male for LIFE, let alone any part thereof, is entirely repellent to them. They could not be ‘converted’ into being homosexuals, either. They are far too in love with their wives or girlfriends, or actively looking for one, to give the idea a second thought. That is because they KNOW internally, from adolescence when they discovered this, that they want to spend their romantic life with women, not with men, even though they love their male friends like brothers. Their penis goes hard for the body of a woman, and it remains entirely flaccid for the body of even the most strappingly handsome male. Their romantic aspirations are for women alone.
Such is not the case for homosexual people.
As I child, I was exposed solely to heterosexual ‘propaganda’. Every relationship I saw in my family and outwith, every book I read, every film I saw, every work of theatre and dance I attended was based solely on opposite sex relationships. If anyone was free of even the merest scintilla of so-called ‘homosexual propaganda’, it was me. If anyone didn’t want to be gay as a kid, it was me, descending inexorably towards suicide ideation. At age 22, I gassed myself using my mother’s car in a carbon monoxide poisoning suicide, the effects of which remain with me to this day, after unexpectedly climbing out of a month-long coma and months in intensive care. Were it not for my incredibly supportive family and circle of friends, I’d have gone back and done it again. In those days, you see, being gay was proscribed both criminally at law and in ‘proper’ social circles.
I have never liked turnips. It runs in the family. My Dad detested them too. No amount of ‘conversion therapy’ could mitigate our repugnance. In this too, I am aware I am a minority, but there we have it. Every one of us belongs to a minority of some kind or another, because there’s no-one exactly like you, nor exactly like me. That’s the wonder of a diverse humanity.
Nature endows every human being with a sexuality and a gender drawn from a spectrum of sexual desires and gender variants. With the obvious exceptions of sexual attraction towards minors or towards animals, not one of these variants in adults represents any threat whatsoever to a single soul.
Your sexual orientation is something you DISCOVER during puberty. It is never something that you choose. Were it possible to make such a choice, then it is highly unlikely that many would choose to belong to a disliked class, criminalised in over 70 countries, with the death penalty in 10.
Let every person discover their own sexual orientation and their gender identity for themselves, without meddling, however well-intentioned. Let us celebrate with them when they are able to find happiness with another human being, and support them when they cannot.
Everyone is entitled to find someone to love and someone to love them.