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Without carefully and attentively studying the Bible, many people believe they know what it says about homosexuality. However, their answers are inconsistent or in conflict. Some say that the Bible is indeed antigay. Others argue that the Biblical command to “love your neighbor” gives approval of any and all sexual lifestyles and that homosexuality is simply an alternative lifestyle. It is for these reasons that we will use three of the most trusted sources for our article. We start with the Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, followed by the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, and close out with the Baker Encyclopedia of Psychology & Counseling. At the end of the article, you will find two highly recommended apologetic books on the subject that will deal with the arguments presented by those who are pro-homosexuality. In addition, some references and resources will assist those struggling with same-sex attraction and homosexuality.
Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary
HOMOSEXUALITY Sexual relations between people of the same sex. When discussing homosexuality, the biblical emphasis is on behavior, and the verdict is always that it is sinful.
Homosexuality is a consequence of rejecting the created order. The prima facie case against homosexuality in the Scripture is found in God’s creative plan for human sexuality. God created mankind as male and female, to procreate within the context of marriage (Gen. 1:27–28; 2:18–24). This creation order for human sexuality received the endorsement of both the Lord Jesus Christ (Mark 10:6–9; Matt. 19:4–6) and the Apostle Paul (Eph. 5:31). On the surface, homosexual behavior should be recognized as sinful because it violates God’s original plan for heterosexual monogamy.
Against this background of God’s creation scheme for human sexual expression, Paul makes a theological argument in Rom. 1:18–32 that homosexuality is one consequence of rejecting God as Creator and His created order. Paul indicates that both male homosexuality and female lesbianism result from a denial of God. He begins by showing that through rejection of the “creation” (1:20) and “the Creator” (1:25) women “exchanged natural sexual intercourse for what is unnatural” (1:26 HCSB). He adds also that the men “left natural sexual intercourse with females and were inflamed in their lust for one another. Males committed shameless acts with males” (1:27 HCSB). Paul’s argument: Because these people reject God, He gives them over to the desires of their own sinful hearts. In the course of this text, Paul uses several other negative terms to describe homosexuality, such as “uncleanness,” “dishonor,” “vile passions,” “error,” “debased mind,” and “not fitting.” In addition, homosexuality is included here in a serious list of vices that are deserving of death, not only for those who practice but also for those who approve (1:32).
As to modern notions of “homosexual orientation,” a scriptural perspective will view any same sex inclinations at least as harmful as proclivities toward any other sin, as negative consequences of fallen human nature that is inclined towards sin. In light of Rom. 1, homosexual predisposition may also be an indication and outworking of earlier and other sin(s).
Homosexuality is a sin that results in judgment. The first mention of homosexuality in the Bible depicts God’s judgment upon it as sin. It was the outstanding transgression of Sodom and Gomorrah. The severity of the judgment, which came because of homosexuality, indicates the seriousness of this sin (Gen. 19:1–11). Both cities were destroyed as “the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire” (19:24 NASB). The NT commentary on this event is that these two cities were turned to ashes as a matter of God’s holy wrath, specifically because their inhabitants had given themselves to “sexual immorality and practiced perversions” (2 Pet. 2:6–7; Jude 7).
Some pro-homosexual interpreters have claimed that the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was not homosexuality per se, but homosexual gang rape. While it is accurate to say that the men of Sodom sought to rape Lot’s guests, the text does not indicate that the sex would have been acceptable if only the angelic visitors had consented. Also, the fact that God’s judgment came upon two entire cities argues that it was not just the one instance of gang rape in Sodom that was an offense to God. Instead, God’s announced plan to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah before the rape incident occurred indicates that the practice of homosexual behavior in both cities was an affront to the holiness of God. When the homosexuals demanded carnally “to know” Lot’s guests, they were merely attempting again what they had been doing for some time. Lot protested, “Do not act wickedly” (Gen. 19:7 NASB). But long before this, when Lot initially pitched his tent toward the city, we read “the men of Sodom were wicked exceedingly and sinners against the Lord” (13:13 NASB). Again, before the attempted gang rape, God said, “Their sin is exceedingly grave” (18:20 NASB), and Abraham also said they were “wicked” (18:23, 25).
Another pro-homosexual interpretation is that the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was inhospitality, not homosexuality or homosexual rape. An appeal is made from Ezek. 16:49 that Sodom was judged for violating the hospitality code. From this passage, the claim is made of Gen. 19 that the men of Sodom wanted “to know” (yadaʿ) Lot’s guests only in the sense of “getting acquainted with them.” However, yadaʿ is used in a sexual way in the OT at least 10 times, and half of these uses occur in Genesis. Added to this, the context of Gen. 19 argues for the sexual meaning of “to know.” It makes no sense to say that yadaʿ means “acquainted with” in verse 8 where Lot says his daughters had not “known” any men. Certainly they were acquainted with men of the city. But they had not sexually “known” any men.
The “inhospitality” interpreters also point to the absence of any mention of homosexuality in other passages that hold up Sodom and Gomorrah as examples of judgment, such as Isa. 1:10; Jer. 23:14; Matt. 10:14–15; and Luke 10:10–12. There are also several problems with this approach. First, these texts do not exclude homosexuality. In the case of Ezek. 16:49, sexual sins should be viewed as a form of selfishness. Besides, the next verse (16:50) shows that the sin was sexual by calling it an “abomination.” In Lev. 18:22 this same word is used to describe homosexual sins. Most of all, the problem with this view is that the 2 Peter and Jude passages do link the judgment of the cities to the sexual sin of homosexuality, and this does not contradict in any way the other judgment passages. For this reason, those who take the authority of Scripture seriously will reject the pro-homosexual/inhospitality view (Judg. 19:16–24).
Violation of Old Testament law The Holiness Code, which conveyed God’s demands for ordering the life of His covenant people, contained two clear prohibitions against homosexual activity. In a large section on sexual morality which should be viewed as an extension of the seventh commandment, “The Lord spoke to Moses saying … ‘You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female’ ” (Lev. 18:1, 22 NASB). Then later, repeating with 18:22 that homosexuality is an “abomination,” Lev. 20:13 adds, “If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them … shall surely be put to death.”
Violation of New Testament ethic In 1 Tim. 1:8–10 Paul discusses the value of the OT law in the present era, if used wisely. It is to be used to judge “sinners.” Then he includes “homosexuals” (arsenokoitai) in his vice list, which delineates those who are “the ungodly.” Also in 1 Cor. 6:9–11 “homosexuals” appears in a similar vice list, and Paul comments that anyone who continues in these sins will not inherit the kingdom of God. Arsenokoites refers to the active partner in the homosexual act. However, in addition to “homosexuals” in 1 Cor. 6:9, Paul adds a second word, “effeminate” (malakoi). Malakoi refers to the passive member in the homosexual relationship. The point is that both passive and active kinds of “homosexual” behavior are sinful, ungodly, and disqualify one from entrance into the kingdom of God.
Forgivable and changeable through Jesus Christ However ungodly and undeserving of heaven any homosexual might be, there is the opportunity to be forgiven, changed, and declared righteous through Jesus Christ. Paul continues in 1 Cor. 6:11 (HCSB) to say, “Some of you were like this.” The Corinthian church evidently contained some former homosexuals who had been converted. Furthermore, Paul adds of them, “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” The homosexual who repents and believes receives the same cleansing, sanctification, and justification as every other believer who turns from sin to Christ.
By Jerry A. Johnson
Evangelical Dictionary of Theology
Homosexuality. Sexual desire directed toward members of one’s own sex. Female homosexuality is frequently called lesbianism, from the Island of Lesbos, where the Greek poetess Sappho (reputedly homosexual) lived ca. 600 B.C. Traditionally homosexuality was the sin for which Sodom was destroyed by divine judgment, hence the popular term “sodomy.” This interpretation depends upon uncertain translation, while Ezekiel 16:49–50 and Sirach 16:8–9 give other reasons for the judgment. The assumption of homosexuality in Sodom dates from the Greek occupation of Palestine, when “the Greek sin” seriously endangered Jewish youth and strong scriptural warning was necessary.
Homosexuality had been condemned in both Leviticus (18:22; 20:13), where it is abhorrent to God, defiling, punishable by death, and in Deuteronomy (23:18), where it is forbidden to bring the hire of harlot or homosexual (“dog”) into the house of God in payment of religious vows, both being abhorrent to God. It is usually assumed that the male cult prostitutes common in heathen shrines but forbidden in Israel (Deut. 23:17), though sometimes prevalent (1 Kings 14:24; 15:12; 22:46; 2 Kings 23:7), were homosexual.
Some hold that tolerance (and institutionalizing) of homosexual prostitution contributed much to the decay of Greek youth and army. Roman law punished it severely as early as the third century B.C., later protecting minors and forbidding the use of premises on pain of death—even by burning. Rome’s concern was probably more military than moral.
Such laws show the practice ancient and widespread. Today, it has been claimed, 4 to 5 percent of white adult males are homosexual, 10 to 20 percent bisexual, the remainder heterosexual; but innumerable gradations must be recognized: a “six point scale” of degrees of homo-, bi-, and heterosexuality oversimplifies the situation.
Early Christian reaction is expressed by Paul: homosexuals will not “inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 6:9–10); because of idolatry God gave the heathen up “to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion” (Rom. 1:26–27). Here the association with idolatry, the unnaturalness of the practice, and the divine judgment that abandons individuals to it (an echo of Sodom?) are all significant. The Sodom story recurs in Jude 7 (“unnatural lust”) and 2 Peter 2:6–7 (“lust of defiling passion”), perpetuating the tradition that homosexuals were under divine ban.
The Didache extends the commandments to forbid corrupting of boys; Athenagoras classes pederasty with adultery. Perhaps influenced by the Roman attitude, Christian canon law laid down penalties ranging from nine years’ penance to permanent excommunication. On the whole, the church treated homosexuality as a sin needing spiritual cure rather than a crime for magistrates to punish—unless linked with heresy, when the punishment was death. Earthquakes threatening Byzantium (“Sodom”) were blamed upon homosexuals.
In Britain from the sixteenth century the law prescribed (though rarely exacted) death. The jurist William Blackstone (eighteenth century) wrote: “Homosexuality, the crime against nature, one which the voice of nature and reason and the express law of God determine to be capital. Of which we have a signal instance long before the Jewish dispensation, in the destruction of the cities by fire from heaven, so that this is a universal not merely a provincial precept.” In the nineteenth century imprisonment was substituted.
In recent decades the prevalence of blackmail and suicide and the difficulties of detection and punishment (“sending homosexuals to prison resembles sending alcoholics to a brewery”) led to reconsideration. Private acts by consenting adults of responsible age without duress are commonly no longer crimes. Some interpret this change as tacit public approval or indifference. Tolerance of homosexuals has greatly increased, within and outside the churches (and within the Christian ministry), largely through (misnamed) “gay” protestation, publicity, clubs, and by uninhibited discussion of the condition’s causes.
Causes of Homosexuality. The attempt to understand causes is very recent, and important to a Christian judgment.
- Since the individual’s earliest sexual curiosity and experience is usually with his own body, then with others of the same sex, a puberty phase of homosexual interest is normal. Some adult homosexual interest may therefore merely be arrested development, due to extreme shyness, introversion, disfigurement, fear of rejection, only-child inability to socialize, or some physical deficiency. This arrested-development explanation makes many heterosexual men treat homosexuals with contempt, as “just kids.”
- Similarly, after normal heterosexual outturning to the other sex has taken place, an unhappy love affair, an illness, pathological fear of the opposite sex, or the like may lead to regression, a return to the furtive but safer relief of early puberty.
- Environmental causes include artificial all-male society in one-sex school, army, or prison; a wrong relationship between, or with, parents, or with any oversexed adult; male resentment, or protest, against aggressive, predatory, overdominating women, or by women against similar men; unfortunate conflict in childhood and/or puberty with relatives, guardians, or teachers who repressed, scorned, terrified, or disgusted the growing mind.
- Constitutional causes include genetic or hormone factors that condition the individual from birth to respond sexually to his or her own sex; there seems no doubt that in some cases the homosexual disposition can be inborn, prenatal in origin, wholly involuntary.
- Vicious causes include unbridled sensuality, flagrant exhibitionism, and the mischievous desire to shock; exploitation by the depraved of the young, the timid, the mentally unstable, for carnal indulgence; duress, bribery, or blackmail.
Even so slight an analysis of causes has important consequences. A homosexual tendency arising from psychological, accidental, or environmental influences is said sometimes to yield, as do some other deep-seated disorders, to psychological treatment by enticing the underlying, subconscious cause into full consciousness and self-understanding. Constitutionally homosexual disposition, on the other hand, is probably incurable.
Further, an involuntary predisposition, traceable to psychological distortion, infantile terrors, accidental situations, or congenital factors, whether or not complicated by later unhappy experiences, is obviously not a fitting target for moral condemnation or contempt, but for sympathy. In Karl Barth’s phrase, much homosexual inclination is “a moral malady”; it is no more to be blamed than left-handedness or color blindness. To borrow convenient terms of distinction, it is the recognition of constitutional homosexuality, in men and women, that has moderated Christian judgments in recent years, even when homosexual practice (homosexualism) remains condemned.
A Christian View. This discrimination between condition and conduct is essential to a fair Christian reaction. Homosexual acts continue to arouse disgust. Though ignorance, and fear for the vulnerable, mingle with it, moral repulsion is sometimes a healthy reaction—as that toward wanton cruelty. Aquinas first articulated the age-old intuition reflected in Leviticus, in Deuteronomy (where homosexuality is linked with bestiality as perversion), and in Paul that homosexual activity is essentially unnatural, a perversion of the natural order linking sex with procreation, and so defiance of divine natural law. Society still disapproves, and discovery of homosexual situations involving those we have loved, trusted, and admired does affect our judgment of their character, trustworthiness, and quality. Secrecy and deceit are therefore still necessary. Known homosexual behavior alienates from “normal” society, making relationships more difficult to establish, thus leading to frustration and despair. Though the Sodom argument be abandoned, Scripture reprobates such practices, while Christian love must condemn the use for sensual purposes of another’s body, mind, and emotions if, as seems inevitable in unnatural relations, that degrades and undervalues the partner. Finally, in the constant conflict between flesh and spirit in Christian life, deliberate cultivation of homosexual sensuality can have no defensible place. For all these reasons, homosexual activity is wrong.
But the homosexual condition, until indulged, is innocent and should be cleared of the guilt feeling that may drive into deeper introversion. Like all congenital deviations from the normal, established homosexuality has to be accepted and lived with. The resulting problem is acute, but no more so than for heterosexuals, the widower/widow, the impotent, the single who long to marry and cannot or (through inherited insanity) should not. For all such, prostitution or promiscuity may offer constant temptation, but one to be resisted by the help of God. For neither heterosexual nor homosexual is the situation culpable; but actions to which the situation may incline them remain sinful, as unnatural, degrading, contrary to Christian concern for total welfare of others, inimical to religious devotion and spiritual progress, and no solution to their problem.
But to say this is to acknowledge that the existence and acuteness of the problem challenge Christian compassion and ministry, and call for ever improving sex education in a Christian context. A mature society will recognize prevalent homosexual activity not as “liberation” but as a symptom of moral malaise; an alert church will not ostracize but befriend those whose constitution and circumstances make Christian living harder for them than for most.
By R. E. O. White
Encyclopedia of Psychology & Counseling
Homosexuality. “Homosexuality” means “same or like sexuality” and derives from the Greek word homoitas (likeness, similarity, or agreement). Sexuality is the God-given drive in every person toward wholeness and includes emotional, cognitive, psychological, and spiritual dimensions. This drive is expressed in adult human beings emotionally through intimate communications, physically through touching, and genitally through foreplay and the act of sexual intercourse. Sexuality and spirituality are interrelated in complex and multifaceted ways.
A homosexual orientation is to be distinguished from a homosexual act. A homosexual act is any sexual activity between two individuals of the same gender. A homosexual orientation describes an individual whose sexual drive is directed toward an individual of the same gender. Thus a homosexual orientation involves emotional attractions toward the same gender and may or may not involve homosexual acts. Most sociologists agree that the concept of homosexual orientation was not present in the culture of biblical times (Greenberg, 1988). Most evangelical psychologists believe that most individuals who own a homosexual orientation have not made an initial choice to direct their sexuality toward their own gender.
Homosexual and heterosexual orientations are not mutually exclusive categories. Since the landmark study by Kinsey, Pomeroy, and Martin (1948), psychologists commonly refer to the Kinsey scale to describe a person’s sexual orientation, which can range from zero (0) for exclusively heterosexual behavior (behavior is defined to include dreams and fantasies) to six (6) for exclusively homosexual behavior. Any individual rated at different times in life may demonstrate a shift in orientation. More recently the Kinsey Institute has amplified this finding by describing sexual orientation as multidimensional, situational, and contextual.
Although as many as 40% of males and 20% of females may have had some homosexual experience after puberty, estimates of those claiming a primary or exclusive homosexual orientation range from 1 to 13% for males and 1 to 5% of females. Various surveys disagree on percentages and on methods of defining and measuring homosexuality, but all surveys agree that there are fewer female homosexuals than male homosexuals.
Diagnostic Criteria. Homosexuality traditionally was considered by Western medicine to be pathological and therefore a diagnosable mental disorder. However, in 1973 the American Psychiatric Association voted to remove the general category of “homosexuality” from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. In the DSM-III (American Psychiatric Association, 1980), the category of “ego-dystonic homosexuality” was introduced subsequently as a still diagnosable mental disorder. An ego-dystonic homosexual is one who has consistent and marked distress about having a homosexual orientation. Therefore, according to DSM-III, individuals who are ego-syntonic (those who accept the homosexual orientation with minimum distress) are not mentally disordered.
In describing ego-dystonic homosexuality, DSM-III notes that the individual often has made unsuccessful attempts at heterosexual relationships. Associated features are loneliness, guilt, shame, anxiety and depression. Dysthymia (a chronic, low-grade depression) is often a complicating factor. Given negative cultural attitudes about homosexuality, anxiety, shame, and depression would be expected responses. There is usually mild or no impairment in the ego-dystonic homosexual person occupationally or socially. The primary impairment is interpersonal and sexual.
Researchers are divided over whether homosexuals as a group (both ego-syntonic and ego-dystonic) are more or less mentally healthy when compared with like heterosexual populations. For example, the landmark study conducted by Hooker (1957) that found no difference in mental health between heterosexuals and homosexuals has since been challenged on a number of points: her subjects apparently were not randomly selected and represented only high-functioning homosexuals (Goldberg, 1992), and the raw data reanalyzed did reveal differences that Hooker regarded as surface only (Fine, 1990). However, other contemporary researchers have shown that homosexuals are not more mentally disordered on average than are heterosexuals (Ross, Paulsen, & Stalstrom, 1988).
In 1987 another shift occurred in the diagnostic criteria of DSM III-R when the diagnosis of ego-dystonic homosexuality (302.00) was removed. Instead, under the category of “Other Sexual Disorders Not Otherwise Specified” (302.90), one type of this kind of NOS sexual disorder is listed as “persistent and marked distress about one’s sexual orientation” (American Psychiatric Association, 1987, p. 296). Through another revision of the DSM, this definition or placement has not been markedly changed.
The International Classification of Diseases (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1992), after defining homosexuality, instructs “record homosexuality as a diagnosis whether or not it is considered a mental disorder” (p. 383).
Evangelical Christians have shown and expressed strong disapproval of the APA decision to remove homosexuality from the category of mental disorders. (Note that homosexuality can still be diagnosed if the person shows marked distress about his or her orientation.) However, many homosexuals are able to function successfully socially, mentally, and occupationally while their dysfunction may be interpersonal, marital, sexual, and possibly spiritual. While moral, ethical, and mental wrongs do at times overlap, they are also distinct categories, depending upon the issues. For example, a person who commits adultery may be morally and ethically at fault but not mentally disordered. Therefore, the evangelical community may do well to address homosexuality not as a mental disorder but as primarily a spiritual and sexual issue that Christians may have tools and power to treat through God’s Holy Spirit.
Etiology of Homosexuality. Research and theory on etiology can be organized into two broad and overlapping categories: biological and environmental.
Biological Theories. In recent years a surge of research has revealed biological factors that are correlated with homosexuality and may contribute to its development. While it is incomplete, controversial, and subject to alternative interpretations, converging evidence strongly suggests that a homosexual orientation is reflected in a person’s physical being.
Research has shown to be incorrect the theory that homosexual men have abnormally low levels of androgens (e.g., testosterone) in their blood, while the levels are abnormally high in homosexual women. However, some patterns of hormone response in homosexual men led to the theory that the brain, and particularly the hypothalamus, a structure in the brain that regulates hormone secretion and is involved in sexual behavior, functions differently in homosexuals than it does in heterosexuals. Such alterations in brain function are known as organizational effects because they are relatively permanent.
During fetal development, hormones influence brain organization. In nonhuman mammals, hormone manipulations at particular stages of brain development can produce inverted sexual behavior (males behave sexually like females and vice versa). For example, injecting a newborn female rat with androgens leads to male-typical sexual behavior in adulthood. To extrapolate to humans from these animal studies is difficult, because sexual behavior is less stereotyped and hormonally determined in humans and because sexual orientation cannot necessarily be inferred from sexual behavior. Studies with humans show that congenital and drug-induced hormone abnormalities that parallel the hormone manipulations that induce sexual inversions in animals are sometimes, but not always, associated with increased likelihood of a homosexual orientation. Confounding the interpretation of these clinical cases are gender identity confusions and contradictions between genetic and physical sex that are not present in the majority of homosexuals. There is only a weak predictive relationship between hormonal abnormalities during fetal development and adult homosexuality.
Direct examination of the hypothalamus in the human brain has revealed two areas—the suprachiasmatic nucleus and the third interstitial nucleus of the anterior hypothalamus—that differ in average size between heterosexual and homosexual men (LeVay, 1991). While these results have not yet been replicated, they are moderately convincing evidence for a biological aspect to homosexuality. However, although the brain’s basic structure is organized during fetal development, there is a degree of flexibility and plasticity for many years after birth. Therefore, whether brain differences associated with sexual orientation are present at birth, are produced from particular environmental circumstances, are the result of feeling, thinking, or acting as a homosexual person, or are some combination of these, is not yet clear.
Other studies have focused on brain function by comparing the performance of homosexual and heterosexual people on a variety of cognitive tasks. This rather implausibly assumes that differences in sexual orientation are associated with more general differences in mental ability. The results are inconclusive.
There have been recent reports of an inherited component to homosexuality, primarily through studies of twins. Identical twins have identical sets of genes. Fraternal twins have 50% of their genes in common as do any siblings. These studies often assume, rather questionably, that each member of a twin pair experiences the same environment, whether the twins are identical or fraternal. Given that assumption, if identical twins are more likely to share a trait, such as a homosexual orientation, than fraternal twins, this is evidence that the trait is at least partly genetic. When twins share a trait, this is known as concordance. Studies show concordance for homosexuality in identical twins ranging from 20% to 52%. Concordance among fraternal twins ranges from 20% to 22%. Similar results have been reported for males and females.
Such results suggest a moderately strong genetic component to homosexuality. However, this conclusion should be made with caution. First, the highest concordance rate is 52% for identical twins. This means that when one twin is homosexual, there is a 52% chance that his or her co-twin will also be homosexual. But there is also a 48% chance that the co-twin will be heterosexual. Obviously genes are not playing a completely deterministic role. Second, the fact that one study reported a concordance of 11% for adopted brothers of homosexual men, who have no genetic relationship, when the population rate of homosexuality is less than 5%, further supports the possibility that environmental, especially familial, factors influence the development of sexual orientation.
Direct examination of genes in one study showed that brothers who are both homosexual had a greater than chance likelihood of sharing a particular region of the X-chromosome (Hamer, Hu, Magnuson, Hu, & Pattatucci, 1993). However, since this study has yet to be replicated and since the researchers did not include heterosexual brothers in their comparison, how this finding fits into our understanding of homosexuality is difficult to ascertain.
Biological research has revealed some intriguing correlates to a homosexual orientation, but an understanding of any causal relationship between biological factors and sexual orientation is still primarily speculative. Nevertheless sexual orientation appears to be reflected in, if not caused by, our biology.
Environmental Theories. In theory, environmental factors that could influence homosexuality include everything from diet, climate, and environmental toxins to culture, parenting, and personal values. In practice, environmental theories and research on homosexuality has focused on the latter group.
Operant conditioning theorists proposed that homosexuality results from the reinforcement received from pleasurable homoerotic experiences, particularly if they precede pleasurable heteroerotic experiences or if heteroerotic experiences are unpleasant (for example, in cases of incest or sexual abuse).
Another learning explanation for homosexuality involves classical conditioning principles. Early-maturing males become sexually awakened at a time when they interact primarily with other males, thus pairing sexual readiness with males rather than females and leading to homosexuality. Later-maturing males (presumably the majority) become sexually awakened at a time when these desires are paired with females.
Such learning theories for homosexuality have been largely discounted. The assumption that homosexuals mature earlier than heterosexuals has not been substantiated. Pleasurable homoerotic experiences can occur in the absence of the other sex (ships, armies, prisons, camps) without leading to an adult homosexual orientation. The Sambia of the New Guinea highlands have institutionalized exclusive homoerotic activity for all males from ages 7 to about 22, yet once they are married, 95% of these men become exclusively heterosexual in behavior and orientation (Stoller & Herdt, 1985). This occurs despite both the reinforcement of presumably pleasurable homoerotic experiences and pairing sexual awakening with males rather than females.
Sigmund Freud argued that male homosexuality reflects prematurely arrested psychosexual development, caused by a domineering mother and/or a weak or absent father, possibly also with an abnormally close mother-son relationship. This theory influenced the direction of research on homosexuality for many years. Later researchers explored female homosexuality and broadened the scope of factors that could arrest psychosexual development to include a variety of negatively stressful events, such as poor parenting, abusive parenting, broken homes, or inadequate role models. These can prevent children from resolving power and dependency needs and leaves them with a sense of personal inadequacy and dissatisfaction. In many of these theories, an element of confusion during a critical period of gender role learning, caused by poor relations with the same-sex parent, sexual abuse, early homosexual seduction and/or self-labeling as homosexual, or by a feeling of inadequacy in one’s expected gender role, predisposes a person to homosexuality.
The difficulty with much of the evidence on which these theories are based is that the homosexuals examined were those who had sought psychoanalytic counseling. Homosexual persons who seek psychoanalysis are not necessarily representative of all homosexuals, most of whom do not. As well, much psychoanalytic research is based on retrospection, adults remembering and reflecting on their childhood experiences. Such memories are constructed and interpreted in light of current circumstances, and while the process can have therapeutic value, it is not a reliable method of collecting data to support theories about the etiology of a homosexual orientation.
A major study out of the Kinsey Institute (Bell, Weinberg, & Hammersmith, 1981) used a large, nonclinical sample of homosexual persons. While again these data were retrospective, the researchers tried to overcome some of the inherent problems by approaching questions by several different routes. Homosexuals and heterosexuals of both genders were asked about the personalities of their parents, parent-child, parent-parent, and sibling relationships, gender conformity, peer relationships, early sexual experiences, self-esteem, and childhood, adolescent, and adult sexuality.
Perhaps the most significant finding of this study was the lack of support it provides for many of the traditional psychosocial theories of homosexuality. For example, the researchers found no significant differences between homosexuals and heterosexuals in personality of and relationship with their mothers or in the personality of their fathers. There were few differences between the groups in type and amount of early sexual experiences. Subsequent investigations by other researchers have provided mixed support for these findings.
Differences that did emerge, such as homosexual males having poorer childhood peer relationships with their fathers, who tended to be relatively cold and detached, were not large. Nevertheless, several other studies have confirmed this observation. Some investigators conclude that colder, rejecting fathers play a causal role in the development of homosexuality in males; Bell, Weinberg, and Hammersmith (1981) argue that innate childhood behavioral and personality differences in homosexual males cause fathers to respond negatively to their sons. By far the largest difference between homosexuals and heterosexuals was gender nonconformity. That is, homosexual persons were from their earliest recollections consistently less interested in the activities that others of their sex enjoyed, and they perceived themselves as being less masculine (males) or feminine (females) than did their same-sex peers. All the other factors examined were relatively unimportant in comparison with the strong and persistent gender nonconformity of the homosexual participants.
This gender nonconformity among homosexuals from early childhood has supported by several other studies, both retrospective and prospective. This does not mean that all homosexuals behaved in gender-atypical ways during childhood or that all heterosexuals conformed. It also does not imply that male homosexuals would prefer to be female and vice versa. In fact, homosexuals have a gender identity consistent with their physical sex. Nevertheless, the consistency of this observation has led several researchers to argue that sexual orientation and gender identity are loosely linked and that there is an inborn tendency toward a particular sexual orientation that manifests itself in childhood as gender-atypical behavior.
The research on gender nonconformity should be interpreted carefully. There is the potential to reinforce demonstrably false stereotypes of homosexual men as effeminate and homosexual women as butch. As well, if gender nonconformity is seen as a causal factor in homosexuality rather than a predictive one, pressure from those who fear homosexuality may inappropriately force children into rigid gender roles. Gender-typical behavior is culturally defined, an acknowledgment that researchers themselves generally fail to make.
At present, researchers have not found any environmental factors that consistently predict and possibly cause homosexuality. The link between gender nonconformity and homosexuality, although it is difficult to interpret, does suggest the value of cautiously exploring the relationship among gender identity, gender role, and sexual orientation.
Evaluation of Etiologic Theories and Research. The biological research on homosexuality has had slightly better success in finding links to homosexuality than has the environmental research. This may reflect the fact that biological researchers have physical substances to observe and measure, whereas environmental researchers face the added challenge of measuring and comparing complex concepts such as parent-child relationships and quality of sexual experiences.
Both classes of research should be evaluated in light of several concerns and assumptions, some specific to one class, some true for both. The biological research in particular is reductionist, viewing human sexuality as a mechanical, biological phenomenon. It is also individualist and does not meaningfully incorporate relationships and cultural context. The media interpretations of this research are particularly guilty of treating biology as basic and not subject to influence by environmental factors.
Behind both types of research usually lurks the assumption that homosexuality is abnormal in more than a statistical sense. Even if we take for granted that a homosexual orientation is abnormal in some sense, explorations into the etiology of abnormal conditions are most legitimately done based on a good understanding of the normal, healthy condition. Yet we do not have such an understanding of the development of a heterosexual orientation. This is a significant weakness in etiological research.
Biological and environmental researchers often carry the assumption that theories that apply to males also apply to females, or they ignore female homosexuality. Also ignored is the possibility that different people might become homosexual for different reasons or by different processes. Finally, interpreters of the research tend to assume that people are more easily able to overcome through therapy traits that are environmentally caused than those that are caused by biological factors.
Homosexuality most likely results from a combination of biological and environmental factors. Certainly the two cannot be meaningfully separated. The environment alters our biology, changing available nutrients, altering brain connections, neurochemistry, hormones, and so on. People perceive and interact with the environment through their bodies. That researchers find biological correlates to homosexuality is not surprising. That environmental correlates have not been as easy to find is more surprising, but as mentioned this may be due to the relative complexity of these factors.
Treatment Approaches. Based on the theory that homosexual males suffer a hormonal imbalance, researchers have tried injecting homosexual males with the male hormone testosterone. This treatment increases sex drive, but orientation remains stable. Thus hormonal treatments so far have consistently failed.
Using behavioristic principles of reward and punishment, researchers have tried administering shocks to males for sexual responses to same-sex pictures. This kind of experimental treatment has also failed to have any permanent effect on orientation.
One noted behaviorist documented one case of a homosexual male changing orientation to heterosexual over time (Wolpe, 1969). The goal of therapy was to enhance assertiveness and independence; the resulting change in orientation (stable after a four-year follow-up) was unplanned and surprised the psychotherapist.
Traditional psychoanalysts have and continue to treat homosexuals with the goal of developing a heterosexual orientation. This treatment approach is based on the theory that the same-sex parent of the homosexual person failed to nurture and to bond appropriately with the child. This failure causes the child to then grow up with a sense of personal inadequacy and unresolved dependency and power needs. A primary mechanism for healing is a relationship with a same-gender therapist that over time compensates partially for the lack of adequate same-sex parenting. The therapist also teaches and models for the client appropriate boundaries, assertive skills, and self-care skills. Critical for successful treatment is working with a same-sex therapist and keeping the relationship nonerotic. Reparative therapy began in theory with the observations of Freud and continues to be amplified today by such theorist-practitioners as Nicolosi (1991) and Moberly (1988).
Practitioners of psychoanalysis have done extensive research and follow-up studies to determine the success of reparative therapy. For example, MacIntosh (1994) surveyed 285 psychoanalysts who analyzed 1,215 homosexual patients. The change rate was reported at 23%, with the rest not experiencing change but reporting that the therapy was significantly helpful to them in other ways. A similar change rate (27%) is reported in Bieber (1962). In follow-up studies, the change rate does drop but not drastically. Thus approximately 25% of those entering reparative therapy emerge with a stable reorientation. Possibly some of these 25% also still suffer from homosexual yearnings or urges.
In the last fifteen years, another promising treatment approach is being developed by Christians; some are formerly homosexual (Comisky, 1989; Foster, 1995) while others specialize in healing prayer (Payne, 1988). This approach has similarities to the psychoanalytic treatment previously discussed, with an additional focus on the healing power of God and the Holy Spirit as the primary mechanisms for change.
Like the psychoanalysts, these Christian reparative therapists believe that homosexuality began when dysfunction (sin) of the individual’s parents affected the child’s ability to grow into health. A breach in relationship with the same-sex parent (abuse, neglect, abandonment [see Abuse and Neglect]) may cause the child to “defensively detach” from that parent, thus hindering proper gender identification. Similar problems in the opposite-sex parent, the unhealthy marriage of the parents, prebirth traumatic events, and/or abusive peers are also viewed as potential sources of wounds that may cause homosexuality to develop.
This treatment approach involves an in-depth study of God’s creation, the purpose of God for the world, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and his love for all persons, and a study of the character of God and the person of Jesus Christ. It also includes understanding the events of childhood that caused the homosexual orientation to develop, forgiving the persons who perpetrated the wounds, and seeking God’s healing for the events or ongoing circumstances that caused woundedness. Events that are repressed (forgotten) are brought to light by the Holy Spirit in God’s timing. Healing prayer from Christians who are friends or pastors and psychotherapy with a Christian therapist are both recommended to bring about the desired change in sexual orientation.
Proponents of the Christian reparative approach report that the success of this treatment varies according to the depth and type of homosexual involvement experienced, the kind of Christian social support system that is available, the age of the individual, and his or her level of social skills. Much of the information available about the success of this treatment is anecdotal in nature. However, many people report that over time, even after a substantial amount of healing has occurred, that homosexual urges will persist. Most believe that despite this problem, they have a high degree of life satisfaction because their lives include marriage, children, and a heterosexual relationship.
Other major schools of psychotherapy (Rogerian, Gestalt, family-systems, cognitive, strategic) do not offer specific treatment programs to change homosexuality. However, their principles can be used in the context of reparative therapy (psychoanalytic or Christian) in that understanding the client thoroughly (Rogers), accepting his or her feelings as real and purposeful (Gestalt), examining the influences of the family system (system therapy), correcting faulty cognitions (cognitive therapy), and changing the environment to facilitate change (strategic and behavioral) can all be helpful therapeutic responses in helping the homosexual client.
Biblical Considerations. Most theologians agree that God’s intention for healthy human sexuality is heterosexuality. This can be argued both from the design of the male and female genitals and from the creation account (Gen. 1:27–28; 2:18–25). God created Eve as a helpmate to Adam and commanded them to procreate. When man and woman are joined into one they become more like God since each kind of sexuality (male and female) reflects the image of the Creator. This link is perhaps the reason for the intricate connection between sexuality and spirituality.
If God did intend for humans to be heterosexual, does this mean that homosexuality and/or homosexual acts are sinful? Most theologians agree that homosexual acts committed by heterosexuals are wrong and that all heterosexual and homosexual acts that are promiscuous are wrong. However, because in the last 150 years the concept of a homosexual orientation has emerged, a concept that apparently did not exist in biblical times, some theologians posit that homosexuality as expressed between two homosexuals who are committed partners (therefore, not promiscuous) are not sinning when they joining themselves emotionally, sexually, and spiritually.
Five other biblical texts are often cited as God’s condemnation of homosexuality: Genesis 19:1–26, the story of the destruction of Sodom; Leviticus 20:13, a part of the Holiness Code to maintain the people of Israel as separate from pagan cultures; Romans 1:24–32, Paul’s description of Greco-Roman pagans; and 1 Corinthians 6:9–11 and 1 Timothy 1:8–11, both texts in which the apostle Paul lists various sins that are incompatible with living the Christian life.
On the basis of other biblical texts, the sins of the Sodomites have been interpreted as arrogance, greed, indifference to the poor, hypocrisy, social injustice, and sexual immorality. The Sodomites threatened to rape the strangers. Any kind of rape—homosexual or heterosexual—is clearly sinful and clearly violates a person’s emotional, physical, and sexual boundaries. One can clearly argue that the sin of the Sodomites was wanton violence and violation of the hospitality law to strangers and is likely not speaking about persons who claim homosexual orientation.
Similarly the Leviticus Holiness Code also notes that having sex with a woman who is menstruating is likewise “an abomination,” and therefore applying such a text to those who claim homosexual orientation also seems misdirected. The Holiness Code was likely written to keep the Hebrews from copying Egyptian or Canaanite practices that may have involved child sacrifice, idolatry, sexual perversion, and other social injustices.
The homosexual activities described in Romans 1 are likewise not those within loving committed partnerships. Rather, Paul is describing pagan, Gentile practices, same-sex religious rites to the goddess Aphrodite that were perverse and sadomasochistic and that sometimes involved frenzied public castration and human sacrifice. Understanding this background, it is easy to see Paul’s strong condemnation of this kind of homosexual act.
The other two Pauline texts, from analysis of the Greek words malakoi and arsenokoitai, seem to refer to prostitution by and corruption of young men, a practice known as pederasty. For a detailed explanation of this practice of pederasty in the classical world see Boswell (1980). To combine these two words and to translate them as homosexual as has been done in some translations is inappropriate.
After the exegesis of these passages that reference homosexuality, note that the only evidence suggesting a homosexual orientation within a committed relationship is sinful would be the inference from the passage in Genesis. Jesus never spoke to the issue of homosexual acts, and he did not address the issue of homosexual orientation.
Some people argue that homosexuality is not sinful because it occurs in nature. However, whatever is a part of natural creation is not therefore automatically good; for example, cannibalism occurs in humans and in a variety of animal species, but we do not therefore declare cannibalism to be good. Nature does not teach us about good versus evil.
The term homophobia refers to fear of homosexuality. That fear can take many forms: fear that homosexuals will destroy society and families, fear of being perceived as homosexual, fear of sexual arousal to homoerotic stimuli, fear that one’s children will be influenced to choose a homosexual lifestyle, fear that homosexuality is somehow contagious (Scanzoni & Mollenkott, 1978). Homophobia is widespread in North America; it is often manifested in intense hostility, even violence, toward homosexuals and any who appear to be sympathetic with them. In this context it is perhaps not surprising that people are often deeply dismayed, depressed, or fearful when they discover their homosexual orientation. Self-loathing and suicide occur at much higher rates among homosexuals than among the general population.
Homophobia is not the same as the belief that homosexual behavior is morally wrong. The former is an emotional response that manifests itself in un-Christian acts of denial, rejection, discrimination, contempt, hostility, or violence toward homosexuals. The latter can be a principled position based on one’s faith or religious doctrine and does not prevent relating to homosexuals in loving, supportive ways.
Given the complexity of the issue of homosexual orientation and given biblical considerations, the evangelical Christian community will do well to exemplify a Christlike response to homosexuals. To offer hope for healing and acceptance of brokenness that is not to be healed on this earth is the most Christian response. Contributing to the polarization between the homosexual community and the Christian faith will be counterproductive. Listening to the experiences of homosexual persons, engaging homosexual persons in dialogue, and presenting the gospel as good news with love and hope are Christlike responses to this issue and to individuals who wrestle with or desire to accept their homosexual orientations.
By C. Rosenak and H. Looy
Today there are many questions about homosexuality as it relates to the Bible and Christians. What does the Bible say about homosexuality? Does genetics, environment, or traumatic life experiences justify homosexuality? What is God’s will for people with same-sex attractions? Does the Bible discriminate against people with same-sex attractions? Is it possible to abstain from homosexual acts? Should not Christians respect all people, regardless of their sexual orientation? Did not Jesus preach tolerance? If so, should not Christians take a permissive view of homosexuality? Does God approve of same-sex marriage? Does God disapprove of homosexuality? If so, how could God tell someone who is attracted to people of the same sex to shun homosexuality, is that not cruel? If one has same-sex attraction, is it possible to avoid homosexuality? How can I as a Christian explain the Bible’s view of homosexuality? IT IS CRUCIAL that Christians always be prepared to reason from the Scriptures, explaining and proving what the Bible does and does not say about homosexuality, yet doing it with gentleness and respect. Andrews will answer these questions and far more. Who Should Read HOMOSEXUALITY – The BIBLE and the CHRISTIAN (1) Anyone struggling with same-sex attraction (2) Anyone trying to leave a homosexual lifestyle (3) Any churchgoer looking for an apologetic tool on homosexuality (4) Any pastor looking for a tool to better counsel those struggling with same-sex attraction or leave a homosexual lifestyle
The claim is that in 1946, theology, history, culture, and politics led to a biblical mistranslation of catastrophic proportions. Supposedly the 1946 movie is a revolutionary documentary that chronicles how the misuse of a single word in 1 Corinthians 6:9 changed the course of modern history. The 1946 Movie says that their research was “a journey which unveils the mystery of how theology, history, culture, and politics led to a Biblical mistranslation, the man who tried to stop it, and the impassioned academic crusade of the LGBTQIA+ Christian community-driven to discover the truth. More than 45,000 churches today still preach that homosexuality is a sin, citing biblical references that condemn “homosexuals.” 1946 Movie asks, ‘What would change if churches discovered the truth — the word “homosexual” was added to the Bible in 1946 by mistake?’ Was it added by mistake? Andrews, author of 170+ books in THE 1946 PROJECT, will investigate this claim and see if the filmmakers discovered the truth or created their own truth.
Bibliography. A. Comiskey, Freeing the Homosexual; Pursuing Sexual Wholeness; J. Drakeford, Christian’s View of Homosexuality; E. Hurst and R. Kinney, Homosexuality: Laying an Axe to the Roots; C. Keysor, What You Should Know about Homosexuality; H. Kimball-Jones, Toward a Christian Understanding of the Homosexual; R. Lovelace, Homosexuality and the Church; R. Moss, Christians and Homosexuality; L. Payne, Healing of the Homosexual; L. Smedes, Sex for Christians; G. Van DenAargweg, Homosexuality and Hope; J. White, Eros Defiled. Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003). Evangelical Dictionary of Theology: Second Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001). Baker Encyclopedia of Psychology & Counseling, Baker Reference Library (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999) THE 1946 PROJECT: The Supposed Mistranslation of “Homosexual” In 1 Corinthians 6:9 (Cambridge, OH: Christian Publishing House, 2021). HOMOSEXUALITY – THE BIBLE AND THE CHRISTIAN: Basic Bible Doctrines of the Christian Faith (Cambridge, OH: Christian Publishing House, 2016).
References and Resources
SCROLL THROUGH THE DIFFERENT CATEGORIES BELOW
BIBLE TRANSLATION AND TEXTUAL CRITICISM
BIBLICAL STUDIES / INTERPRETATION
CHRISTIAN APOLOGETIC EVANGELISM
TECHNOLOGY AND THE CHRISTIAN
CHURCH HEALTH, GROWTH, AND HISTORY
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American Psychiatric Association. (1987). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM-III-R). Washington, DC: Author.
Bell, A. P., Weinberg, M. S., & Hammersmith, S. K. (1981). Sexual preference: Its development in men and women. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Bieber, I. (1962). Homosexuality: A psychoanalytic study of male homosexuals. New York: Basic Books.
Boswell, J. (1980). Christianity, social tolerance and homosexuality. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Comisky, A. (1989). Pursuing sexual wholeness. Santa Monica, CA: Creation House.
Fine, R. (1990). Love and work: The value system of psychoanalysis. New York: Crossroad.
Foster, D. (1995). Sexual healing: God’s plan for the sanctification of our lives. Nashville, TN: Mastering Life Ministries.
Goldberg, S. (1992). When wish replaces thought: Why so much of what you believe is false. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus.
Greenburg, D. F. (1988). The construction of homosexuality. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Hamer, D. H., Hu, S., Magnuson, V. L., Hu, N., & Pattatucci, A. M. (1993). A linkage between DNA markers on the X chromosome and male sexual orientation. Science, 261, 321–327.
Hooker, E. (1957). The adjustment of the male overt homosexual. Journal of Projective Techniques, 21, 17–31.
Kinsey, A. C., Pomeroy, W. B., & Martin, C. E. (1948). Sexual behavior in the human male. Philadelphia: Saunders.
LeVay, S. (1991). A difference in hypothalamic structure between heterosexual and homosexual men. Science, 253, 1034–1037.
MacIntosh, H. (1994). The attitudes and experiences of psychoanalysts in analyzing homosexual patients. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 42, 1183–1207.
Moberly, E. R. (1988). Homosexuality: A new Christian ethic. Cambridge: Guernsey Press.
Nicolosi, J. (1991). Reparative therapy of male homosexuality: A new clinical approach. New York: Aronson.
Payne, L. (1988). The broken image: Restoring personal wholeness through healing prayer. Westchester, IL: Crossway.
Ross, M., Paulsen, J., & Stalstrom, O. (1988). Homosexuality and mental health. Journal of Homosexuality, 15, 131–152.
Scanzoni, L., & Mollenkott, V. R. (1978). Is the homosexual my neighbor? San Francisco: Harper & Row.
Stoller, R. J., & Herdt, G. H. (1985). Theories of origins of male homosexuality. Archives of General Psychiatry, 42, 399–404.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (1992). ICD-9-CM: Code book of physician payment. Alexandra, VA: St. Anthony.
Wolpe, J. (1969). The practice of behavioral therapy. New York: Pergamon.
For Further Information
Evangelicals Concerned, Inc.
311 E. 72nd St.
New York, NY 10021
Evangelicals Concerned is a national organization dedicated to assisting homosexuals and churches to better understand homosexuality and the good news of God’s grace and peace. Supporting responsible, monogamous homosexual partnership for gay and lesbian Christians, this organization offers help through meetings and publications. A quarterly literature review on religion and homosexuality is free upon request.
P.O. Box 2121
San Rafael, CA 94912
Exodus International is clearinghouse for smaller, local, nonprofit ministries to persons who desire Christian support and help in their efforts to change their homosexual orientation. The organization provides information on support groups as well as resource and reference materials. It also sponsors a yearly week-long conference to equip and encourage those individuals who minister to homosexuals.
P.O. Box 7881
Reading, PA 19603
Patterned after Alcoholics Anonymous and the 12-step program toward recovery, Homosexuals Anonymous is a national clearinghouse of support groups for those struggling with the issue of homosexual orientation. It incorporates Christian belief but is marked by a more general style of spirituality.
National Association for Research and Treatment of Homosexuality
16542 Ventura Boulevard, Suite 416
Encino, CA 91436
NARTH consists largely of psychoanalytically oriented therapists who view homosexuality as pathological for psychological reasons. Currently the association is actively working to counter the movement among psychiatric and psychological organizations to make the practice of reparative therapy for homosexuals unethical.