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Theology Is More Practical than You May Think

May 9, 2012

For several posts, I’ve been mostly talking about concepts–vital ones, indeed, but unapplied to “daily life” issues.  Today I want to connect them to at least one practical issue of  life: reactions to being gay or lesbian, or anything other than “normal” (whatever that is) heterosexual.

Now this affects us all, one way or another.  For more people than we like to admit, especially teens, it is literally a life-or-death matter.  For a larger number (in the millions, no doubt, just in the US) it is highly charged emotionally.  I refer to both those who are LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transsexual) and to the circle of family and friends around them.  (I’ll now use the term “gay” as shorthand to cover all related categories.)

The ways people react to someone who is gay comes from a number of places.  Here, let’s just consider some factors that orient around religious views.  Most Christians take at least their conscious beliefs about the morality of sexual behavior from the Bible, directly or indirectly.  (Many have probably never even read, let alone studied the few biblical references to it.)  Now, the Bible does say quite a bit about sexual behavior, but relatively little about homosexuality.  Thus, much of the discussion about the Bible and being gay centers around those few passages where it is mentioned, sometimes labeled abnormal and/or sinful.  I won’t discuss them here, as they have been so heavily discussed in many places…. The various issues and angles on that are easy to find.

However this is important: I don’t believe anywhere within biblical remarks on homosexuality is there any real discussion of the causes.  Paul in Romans addresses it obliquely where it is added to a list of sinful things that he presumes are chosen behaviors, or things God eventually “gives” one “over to” (as a result of prior evil).  Suffice it to say, for here, that the Jewish and Greek-influenced Jewish/Roman cultures of Paul and other biblical authors had apparently not  examined much what is really going on with same-sex orientation or confused sexual identity–at least the authors had not.

In fact, it wasn’t until nearly the mid-twentieth century that even “modern” science and modern culture started asking deeper questions, doing surveys, and looking a bit deeper.  Soon it emerged quite clearly that sexual orientation is established early in life, possibly genetically or somehow physiologically before birth, and that the directing forces are complex and even now poorly understood.  But there is a big however….  Critical earlier assumptions we found wrong, for example, that the dynamics of family relations can generally explain becoming gay…. Related to this is the idea that through psychotherapy one can change orientations. 

Of course, another implication of this is that one or both parents may be “at fault.” Seems likely, doesn’t it, that this is the kind of thinking that drives many Christian leaders to preach (or write, etc.) to parents about “correcting” any signs of questionable sexual orientation or “normal” gender mannerisms or interests — like the pastor heavily publicized recently via a video recording of his sermon?  Even without such fear-based and ignorant direct messages, many parents take it on themselves to feel guilty or like failures if a child of theirs becomes gay.  Why? Because of wrong assumptions growing mainly out of beliefs propogated within Christianity or other religions. 

When I was studying marriage and family counseling in the mid to late 70s, and then practicing, it was still commonly held that therapy could change orientation.  This was even among non-religious psychologists and other professionals.  Being gay was still considered a pathology (designated so in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the time.)  So, had the highly influential Christian faith of America been key in such beliefs and postures toward homosexual orientation, as well as behavior? Does it still? A resounding “Yes” to both.

Fortunately, a lot of the research that began before the ’70s and has continued on and been more specific and detailed, has debunked the homosexuality-can-be-changed assumption.  I’m not claiming, by the way, that there are not some exceptions, at least from a given individual’s point of view, or that of some therapists.  That is precisely because sexuality and sexual conditioning is so complex and varied that it is dangerous to make any absolute statements.   This fact makes it all the more absurd and damaging to claim what so many Christians do about things like homosexuality being a choice, or it’s being changeable via whatever means (conversion to Christ, repentance, “reparative therapy,” “biblical counseling,” etc.).

Indeed, theology has incredible practical effects–personally, socially, and in other ways…. This is just one area among many that could be singled out in which teachings that have been passed down for 2000 years or more tend to strongly resist updating, regardless of the authority suggesting it (extensive data, alternate biblical interpretation, etc.). 

What experiences have you had in relation to these issues? What have you observed that maybe wasn’t directly personal, related to practical effects of “theology” (religious beliefs) in this area?

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