Sexual Orientation Discrimination on Campus?

Update October 7, 2016: This post was written in 2014 to address a controversy then facing InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. It has become relevant again in light of a new controversy regarding their standards for staff members. I agree that there are some legitimate questions about how InterVarsity decides which areas of doctrine require a policy, given their generally “big tent” approach to a range of issues. However, I am glad to see them defend sound doctrine, and I am frustrated by unfair claims that this is inherently about discriminating against LGBTQ people. The question is how InterVarsity will move forward in loving LGBTQ students and staff. Some developments in the last few years have continued to give me hope that they can learn to do this well.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at Columbia 8 by David Shankbone

Earlier this month, the California State University system decided to stop recognizing InterVarsity Christian Fellowship as a campus organization. This was far from being the first time that a campus ministry has faced such a challenge. Perhaps most famously, several years ago Hastings College of the Law withdrew recognition from the Christian Legal Society, resulting in a 2010 Supreme Court decision (Christian Legal Society v. Martinez) in favor of Hastings. InterVarsity itself has previously faced a number of challenges at a number of institutions such as Vanderbilt, SUNY Buffalo, and others.

In several of these decisions, such as those involving InterVarsity at SUNY and CLS at Hastings, the controversy specifically surrounded sexual orientation. The school administrators believed that allowing the relevant ministries to maintain their leadership requirements discriminated against gay students. In other cases, such as the recent California State decision, only discrimination with respect to religious beliefs was cited. However, this has not stopped some commentators from arguing that discrimination with regard to sexual orientation was in view. In this piece, I will focus primarily on the sexual orientation aspect, even though it is not always the most important issue at play.

It is commonly argued that holding students to a traditional sexual ethic is really an excuse to exclude gay, lesbian, and bisexual people from full participation in the group. If that were true in an uncomplicated sense, I should have lost my position in 2011 as a leader of the graduate chapter of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship at UNC Chapel Hill. During a meeting that year, I brought up my experience being sexually attracted to people of both sexes.

However, this had no impact on my status as a leader. You see, I was convicted at the time, and have remained convicted, that sexual behavior between members of the same sex is forbidden within Scripture. I was also (and still am) committed to living within the bounds of that teaching.

My experience with the InterVarsity chapter did show that it is indeed possible to uphold a traditional doctrine of sexuality without discriminating simply on the basis of sexual orientation. Those of us who hold to traditional doctrine despite being gay, lesbian, or bisexual are not merely a theoretical construct. We are real people who study at real universities. This point is important for university administrators to consider as they weigh the possibilities for non-discrimination policies.

Unfortunately, however, discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation does exist within the Christian world. I have several friends who have lost positions of leadership or employment within Christian organizations because they were open about being attracted to the same sex. More than one has been a fellow contributor to Spiritual Friendship.

In the cases I’m referring to, my friends were in full agreement with the doctrinal positions of the respective organizations. They were also in compliance with the codes of conduct of those organizations. In several of these cases, the relevant decision makers only found out about my friends’ sexualities as a result of their public defenses of the traditional understanding of sexual ethics.

I used to keep count of how many times I’ve heard about this sort of thing happening. I lost count around eight or ten. This type of discrimination is a common problem in both Catholic and Protestant circles.

Fortunately, my experience at UNC shows that we can do better. There are ways we can continue to uphold traditional doctrine without discriminating merely on the basis of someone’s orientation.

The first and most necessary step is for organizations to be committed to not participate in discrimination simply on the basis of sexual orientation. If “doctrine” really is just a smokescreen for excluding certain people who share the group’s beliefs, values, and standards of conduct, then universities have no moral obligation to respect it.

A second step is for those gay, lesbian, and bisexual people who are already in leadership positions within campus ministries to open up about their experiences. Many such students are quite secretive. This secrecy contributes to the perception that only straight students are welcome as leaders within the organization, making it more difficult to accept belief and conduct standards as legitimate. It furthermore makes it more difficult for other gay, lesbian, and bisexual students to feel safe talking about their own lives in a campus ministry context.

Campus ministries ought to create a climate where student leaders can feel safe opening up about their own sexuality. I know from experience many ways that a Christian group can feel very unsafe. For example, if the experience of same-sex attraction is condemned or if sexual orientation is rarely discussed outside of a political context, opening up is exceptionally terrifying and difficult.

A practical improvement, then, is for ministries to directly bring up sexual orientation in helpful ways. For example, they should work to address the practical needs of the gay, lesbian, and bisexual people within their midst. There are many day-to-day issues living with a non-heterosexual orientation that must be addressed with more than merely “don’t have sex.” I’ve really appreciated the conversations we’re having here at Spiritual Friendship in this regard. In a context where these discussions are already happening, opening up is comparably easier.

It’s not clear to me whether such changes will ever be enough to stop the tide against recognizing Christian ministries with traditional stances. However, I think the changes I’m proposing will help ministries act more justly and better minister to people in a world in need. They should stand on their own as good and proper things to do. Let’s work together to do them.

Jeremy EricksonJeremy Erickson is a software engineer in Wisconsin. He holds a Ph.D. in Computer Science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

94 thoughts on “Sexual Orientation Discrimination on Campus?

  1. Mr. Erickson,

    I am sympathetic to your expressed intentions. However, given the past history of SSA individuals in leadership positions within the Church and broader community using their position to undermine faith and life, I do not think it is so strange to regard their continued presence with some skepticism. The widespread abuse within the Church – mostly perpetrated by SSA individuals – and subsequently covered up by SSA administrators – is ample proof of the damage that SSA leaders can cause.

    • Noah,

      Are you familiar with cases in which these people were open about being same-sex attracted, and had support networks of help for their unique struggles (like all other Christians have)? My impression was that clergy abuse scandals involved people who very much repressed anything to do with sexuality. This isn’t the case in the situations Jeremy is describing — indeed, it wouldn’t be all that uncommon in Christian groups on modern campuses to see a chaste gay leader pursuing a romantic relationship with someone of the opposite sex.

      Do you have any evidence at all that 20-something gay folks who otherwise “live in the light” are likely to behave in the ways the clergy you’re talking about did?

      • Daniel,

        I would tend to agree with you. But I think the issue I raised is a preeminent concern for many people. And it shouldn’t be lightly dismissed. SSA individuals seeking leadership positions have to be unequivocal in laying out their adherence to biblical morality and condemning the conduct and behaviour of the LGBT community.

      • Yes, but mostly that doesn’t help. Quite the contrary, in fact. Don’t ask, don’t tell is the way it tends to work in theologically conservative denominations and organizations, with the result that in all of them there are many covert (closeted) celibates with SSA. For the most part they do fine — and this is the environment that makes sudden revelations of horrible abuses occur. On the other hand, openness as to one’s “orientation” (hate that word) is most often a positive barrier toward being entrusted with official ministry. It has been in mine. I have 25 years of experience in recognized ministry before moving to another denomination in which I expected to be ordained. I was dropped suddenly from that program, and have never received an adequate explanation. I have been open and honest about my “orientation” – not in-your-face about it, but discussing it whenever it has come up. I’m convinced that was the primary reason I was dropped, and I do know it is the reason I was later dropped from being a Lay Reader.
        I am still content in this denomination, and have been able to find less official ways to exercise the ministry to which I am called, but it remains true that openly ‘admitting’ to SSA does pretty generally result in a disability that secrecy does not. In my opinion, this just won’t do.

      • Part of the problem is that people who are “not ashamed” of their attractions often get miscast as “proud” of their attractions. This is because the Church, as a whole, has yet to REALLY encounter the phenomenon of faithful Christians being unashamed of same-sex attraction without reneging on the deposit of faith.

        Part of the goal of this website, as I understand it, is to provide such a witness — which makes it absolutely essential that we avoid spiritual, moral, and sexual pride.

    • You can’t judge all SSA people based off the actions of a minority of them. By that reasoning, New Atheists who say that Catholics are no better than Westboro Baptists and Ku Klux Klansmen are right because they are both groups Christians. Correlation doesn’t imply causality.

  2. I feel for Ed and agree with both Daniel and Noah. Our position sucks. We’re distrusted by both sides. My experience in ministry is echoed in all three responses. Noah is right in that many scandals have been brought about by ssa individuals and that many, especially in the Catholic Church, hurt the institutions they lead by undermining the faith. However, Daniel is right in pointing out the obvious. The culture of don’t ask don’t tell doesn’t help the situation. Why should anyone go through what Ed describes if they’re being faithful? I suffer this because I am in leadership and many times I feel that being honest about my struggles could help young people in my situation. unfortunately the only example young Christians have of gays is what the media and gay activists portray. We offer them a don’t ask don’t tell culture that breeds dishonesty. I’ve seen men and woman who I really sense are gay, and some whom I know are, date members of the opposite sex in order to fit in. One is even getting married. We all know the pressures of dating when we’re in our twenties and thirties. If you’re an eligible bachelor and not dating people start asking. After a while it gets old and saying ‘ I’m busy with work’ won’t hold up for too long. This is even worse in Christian circles where marriage is almost compulsory unless you’re a Catholic priest or religious. And most people don’t buy the ‘ vocation to single life’ spiel. So anyways, I always wonder what life will look like for the guys at SF and others in ten years. How long can we really do this for?

    • Jose Ma,

      I agree that ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ does not help. I worry though that some of those suffering from SSA who still want to keep the faith are pushing too far in the opposite direction, especially those who insist on identifying by an ‘orientation’. I simply don’t see how that helps, as it raises SSA past other sexual deviancies and fetishes (e.g. BDSM) into an identity.

      What I read on this site worries me a great deal. I believe with near certainty that many who support the general tenets of Spiritual Friendship will one day succumb to their disordered nature, as they move from embracing a ‘gay identity’ within the strictures of celibacy and chastity to one that rationalizes their deviancy as being part of God’s plan. I know that many take issue with some of my other comments, but I generally want to help my brothers and sisters in Christ, and I believe this site and its professed outlook ultimately threatens their salvation.

      • Homosexuality is not like other deviances and fetishes, whether we like it or not. That’s not because of anything intrinsic to homosexuality, mind you — it’s because of the cultural milieu. Most teenagers do not choose whether to call themselves gay or not. They discover “whether or not they are gay” (this is more true of men than women, but somewhat true of both. This is a social construction, yes. But the social construction governs our EXPERIENCE. Words do not mean whatever I want them to mean. If I am predominantly attracted to men, the usage of common language itself says that I am gay.

        This doesn’t mean I have to refer to myself that way — of course not. But it does mean that I (as an 11-year-old) became a cultural football, caught up in powers and principalities of naming, even before I know what sex is. I knew “I was gay”. That was simply the word for kids who felt like I felt. I didn’t choose homosexuality; homosexuality chose me.

        This name-application dynamic is nothing like sado-masochism. It’s similar to other perversions, like necrophilia or bestiality or pedophilia, sure — but none of those perversions have a culturally acceptable framework. None of those perversions make you into a cultural football.

        Since we at SF are footballs, we cannot escape our lot by simply “playing the game” and “picking sides”. The football is not a player in the game. There is no way to be Christian and closeted, without being repressed — not in this environment. That does NOT mean we have to broadcast our proclivities far and wide. And certainly it does not mean that we need to embrace our gayness, as if that which is objectively disordered has something sparkly and beautiful at its core. But it does mean that we need to create an identity somewhere in between “ordinary single person” and “sexually active gay person”. Otherwise, the command to be celibate becomes a heavy burden laid on the back, without any help to lift it.

        Or, in other words, the football is told not to move, and then kicked repeatedly.

      • I actually have a similar fear about approaches that try to fight SSA in ways that go well beyond pursuing chastity. As I’ve written about previously (https://spiritualfriendship.org/2014/08/04/what-i-learned-from-my-ex-gay-days-part-1-my-experience/, https://spiritualfriendship.org/2014/08/07/what-i-learned-from-my-ex-gay-days-part-2-reflections/), I used to take an approach of trying to “overcome” my SSA. During this time of my life, I definitely saw my SSA as nothing more than an affliction, and I was pretty strongly opposed to even using a label like “bisexual.”

        Primarily through an online community, I came to get to know a bunch of like-minded guys. Over time, I noticed that a huge number of guys were changing from that mindset to one that affirmed gay sexual relationships. I never found their theology persuasive, but I did see that they often seemed to be happier and better able to live life. I think that there were dangers in our shared mindset that contributed to this, causing people to believe that they could not be emotionally healthy (in many cases, I quite literally mean “not suicidal”) while pursuing chastity. I think this drove many of them to change their minds about theology. A large number were even driven away from the Christian faith in its entirety.

        Discovering people of the mindset we have here on Spiritual Friendship was a game changer for me. I came to see that perhaps there was hope for an abundant (though not perfect, since we live in a fallen world) life within the framework of traditional sexual ethics. Ultimately I didn’t find anything insurmountable that contradicted biblical teaching or sound theology. I think that what we’re trying to achieve has potential to do much better at helping people live according to sound theology than the miserable failure I’ve seen come from mindsets like the one I used to have. The mindset you’re promoting seems an awful lot like my former mindset, so I’m worried it contributes to precisely the sort of problem you’re trying to avoid.

        This isn’t to say that we’re getting everything right, and I hope that I’m open to correction. However, I think you’ve picked an option that has proven even more dangerous than anything we’re exploring here.

      • I don’t think there’s anything intrinsically “ex-gay” about an approach that rejects a gay identity or “gay” as a self-descriptor. Indeed, before “gay” or “straight” existed, there were surely tons of men and women who married the opposite sex happily despite their attraction to the same sex.

        What’s the difference between these men and women of the past and us? Not our nature, but our culture. It might be helpful to call oneself gay, as an indicator that one’s attractions are accepted (even as a cross), but it isn’t necessary. One might simply say, “I’m attracted to men, and I’m OK with that. Jesus, do with me what you will, help me to follow you wholeheartedly, and keep me free from sin.”

        The harmful part of the ex-gay movement was that it set conditions on God’s sovereignty: “God, I will only believe that you are working with power in my life if I start finding women attractive.” Now THAT’S not letting God be God; it’s like demanding God make us healthy, instead of begging that God make us good.

      • Actually, I think you’re right, Daniel. In my frustration with Noah, I lashed out a bit and wasn’t very careful in what I said. I apologize – that was wrong of me.

        Terminology actually isn’t that big a deal to me, although I think that it can often be tied to shame issues that are a real problem. Your last paragraph is actually much closer to the core of the problem with some ex-gay approaches.

      • Jeremy I agree with you. But I have a question really for all at SF… If scientific developments were to discovery the causes of SSA and how to prevent it, what would you think? Would you support this type of research?

      • Rosa, if we were to make such discoveries, I would find them useful. However, there has been a fair bit of effort on that front, and a lot of false claims from some conservatives that we’ve already found such knowledge. So I’ve become rather skeptical, and would need some good evidence. My tendency would not be to focus on that kind of research at the moment, but I’m not opposed in principle.

      • Jeremy, I think your original critique of Noah’s comment needs no apology. In “You Can’t Be a Virgin Alone,” Noah commented,

        “Fortunately, millions of individuals have overcome their SSA urges through treatment. We should be focusing on expanding those treatments, first within the Christian community, and then in broader society. Through treatment, SSA individuals can escape the chains of depravity, and even – through blessed choice – enter into marriage.”

        In my previous attempts, I’ve found discussion with Noah impossible. Anyone whose theology boils down to “I should just try harder and God will make me straight” is not worth my time. You are much more polite and patient than I am. I wish you the best in trying to engage with a trying perspective.

      • LJ, I figured I should clarify why I felt it necessary to apologize for my response to Noah. I was not saying that I do not find his perspective dangerous. I agree with the thrust of my original response: viewpoints that fight too hard against SSA in ways that go well beyond the pursuit of chastity are likely to lead to negative consequences.

        However, I painted the views I was opposing with too broad a brush, as Daniel quite correctly pointed out. For example, I don’t think that someone’s views are dangerous just because they don’t use the common parlance of words like “gay.” I would never intend to criticize the guys at livingout.org the way I would criticize Noah, even though neither is fond of labelling chaste Christians as “gay.” (I actually have a great deal of appreciation for what the livingout.org guys are doing and how they’re approaching most things.)

        My comment about seeing SSA as entirely an affliction was not written all that clearly, either. Insofar as we’re talking about a desire for sexual activity with someone of the same sex, I do believe that SSA is disordered and could be considered an “affliction” in some sense. However, I don’t think a “woe is me” attitude is a good thing. I think we need to accept that SSA is what it is, and pursue chastity in the midst of that. It’s not helpful to focus on how much better it would be for us to be straight. Nonetheless, I don’t want to sound like I’m saying that there is no sense of “affliction” at all in SSA. As my last post hopefully indicated, I don’t actually think anyone’s (gay, straight, bisexual, etc.) experience of sexuality is free of “affliction,” though I used the wording of “disordered.”

        I think it’s important for me to try to offer honest arguments and not just knee-jerk reactions. In the case of my response to Noah, I made certain stronger claims than I intended, and ended up throwing some people who are not Noah under the bus. I also don’t think I did a great job of acknowledging the actual concerns Noah was raising about potentially viewing same-sex feelings too positively. So I thought an apology was in order for those reasons. However, I hope people do still realize that there are dangers in common ex-gay approaches.

      • “I simply don’t see how that helps, as it raises SSA past other sexual deviancies and fetishes (e.g. BDSM) into an identity.”

        SSA is unlike BDSM and most other sexual deviancy in that it includes romantic love and the unitive qualities of heterosexual relationships. There are gay men who stay together their whole lives so that is where the difference comes in. All other sexual deviancy involve using others for your own benefit or pleasure seeking behavior for the sake of pleasure – homosexuals whose affectional orientation matches their sexual one can have all the same selfless, loving drives as their heterosexual counterparts.

        Of course, that sexual bit is a violation of the tenets of many types of Christianity and, hence, it is the focus here. Many positive emotions and traits are inexorably attached to that drive towards unitive (albeit disordered, according to the Church) love. Of course, there will be some who have a differing affectional orientation and, as such, may be able to move completely away (and become ex-gay) but for me and those like me, this isn’t an option.

        If that costs myself or those like me our salvation, then I fail to see the problem, really. I don’t see the appeal in spending eternity bowing before a capricious tyrant.

        On a side note, have you ever stopped to wonder about your own chances, even if saved, if you are right? If God is willing to completely reject and destroy me over something as petty as wanting to fall in love with and snuggle up to another guy, how long do you think you will have in heaven before He grows bored or angry at you too? How long before you break some petty rule and your own salvation is undone on His whim? How long before He simply gets bored of you like a child with some toy? Eternity is such a long time.

      • Nathaniel,

        Your version of Christianity seems to imply that God made the world so that following His rules would make us miserable in this life. That’s simply not true. Many of us here at this website have found following the rules to be deeply and profoundly rewarding.

        I understand that that has not been your own personal experience, and I cannot speak to your experience. But your accusations of a tyrannical and arbitrary God ring hollow in my ears.

      • Daniel

        Allow me to answer your concerns with a hypothetical scenario. Imagine a guy named Bill gives a guy named John a margarita maker for Christmas. John doesn’t drink alcohol but does like exercising in the morning so decides to use the margarita maker to make himself iced smoothies. Upon finding out that John is using the margarita maker to make smoothies instead of alcoholic beverages, Bill becomes enraged because that wasn’t what he intended his gift to be used for and demands that John box up the margarita maker and not use it at all if he is going to use it for something besides making margaritas. Would you say the hypothetical Bill in this scenario is being petty/arbitrary over John’s use of the margarita maker?

        I would and that is the scenario I have been given with the God as taught by my old Catholic faith. If I meet a guy and settle down with him it is sinful because I am not using His gift of sex the way He wanted it to be used. What if I am in love and willing to spend my life with the guy? Doesn’t matter. God is a big baby who will cry big baby tears and throw a tantrum and burn me in hell forever if I use His gift to express that love.

        Hey, if you are bi and went with a lady instead of a guy and it makes you happy, great but realize you were very fortunate to have that option. If you are gay and choosing chastity because you feel that your attraction is empty and exploitative in nature then I have nothing but respect for you. Your chastity is born of a wish to protect others from yourself and that is admirable. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t admire people who choose that path.

        It doesn’t make the law seem any less arbitrary or this version of God seem any less petty to me, however.

  3. Jeremy thank you for your answer. I’m not thinking about psychology here. Nor am I thinking about turning gay people and “convert” them to straight. I’m thinking more about learning how the brain goes from being female to male in the mother’s womb and maybe preventing any disruption of this process… Stuff like that…

    • Eliminating SSA through medical means would be assuming that it is a medical/psychological problem, which is far from clear. If we could make people stop coveting through science, it would not follow that coveting is a psychological disorder. These things are moral disorders — at least until science shows us how they are medical disorders.

      So I would firmly oppose most of such interventions. As I said before, same-sex attraction did not cause people nearly as much misery before it became socially acceptable to act on it. (Cf. Shakespeare).

      • It is far from clear but it is worth trying to clarify the issue. I believe in the future we will be able to tell if it is a medical issue, at least in part. Again I’m not talking psychology but actual physical issue, brain structure or something of the sort. To me it is likely that the moral issue arises after the fact, once a person already “is” gay and has to decide whether or not to act on his/her impulses. But the impulse itself might be entirely biological.

      • Well, I think there is probably more than one potential cause. However unpopular or un-PC it is, I think some people are influenced to become gay partially by child sexual abuse — there is some reputable scientists who are arguing this. In such cases, obviously, we can and should prevent the acquisition of SSA.

        Now suppose it is (for some) epigenetic, a matter of hormones in the womb. In that case, it’s harder — for me, at least — to figure out whether the hormone lack might actually have good as well as bad results. It may be that certain hormone “deficiencies” cause very good results, and one would hate to throw the baby out with the bathwater. I’m very averse to tinkering with nature, unless we know ALL of the results. It reminds me of the use of mind-altering drugs to treat various symptoms of illness: it seems like we are sometimes removing the good along with the bad.

      • Would you say lithium is one of those mind-altering drugs? In any case I think it would be good to know any and all possible medical/biological causes of SSA. I guess I’m not that afraid of “tampering” with nature as you are…

      • It should go without saying that I am of the opinion that we should do everything in our power to prevent child abuse. But I would be surprised if the number of LGBT people decreased much at all even if we were able to eliminate all child abuse.

        Pre-birth medical intervention to ensure specific outcomes of sexual development is an idea that makes me uncomfortable for reasons that I can’t fully articulate.

        For one, if my parents had the option to take a “straight baby” pill, they would have had a different child. He’d probably still have the same name, and he’d likely still look like me, but he’d perceive the world in different ways. This makes me worry that if I had not entered the world with my own sense of otherness, I’d have less empathy for marginalized peoples, and I’d be more of a jerk (I think God has unique ways of giving us limitations to keep us from getting too proud).

        Secondly, if we ended up with the “Christian” ideal – at least in the patriarchy-infused part of evangelicalism that I know best – half of the world would be masculine men with man parts, with the other half being feminine women with woman parts. How would our perceptions and reactions to each other shift if we approached someone’s idea of a uniform ideal of manhood and womanhood? What would our world be like without the color and variety that exists within humankind today?

      • LJ

        I once talked to a guy with Asperger’s Syndrome – a mild form of autism – and over the course of the conversation, the idea of a cure came up. I asked him if there was a cure, would he want it and he said no. I was puzzled, at first, but he explained that his autism, troubling though it was in the social venues of his life, was part of what made him him. To cure it would be to kill him. At the time, I didn’t understand what he met. Now, when discussion of curing homosexuality comes up, I do. Even as recent as my own realization was, this is a part of who I am, for better or worse. Take it away and I am dead – you are left with a similar a very clever doppelganger of me.

      • LJ,

        What does being straight have to do with being masculine? Many gay guys are quite masculine, and many straight guys quite effeminate. Even if there is a gifting in this style of variation, which is plausible, that doesn’t mean that the sexual attraction to people of the same sex is (in itself) a gifting. The Catholic Catechism says that that part is a “more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil”, which isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement. Why couldn’t we have sexual and attitudinal variation within genders without having same-sex sexual attraction?

        (I take your point, though, about SSA making people less proud, and more empathetic. I think I would be a pompous ass without my thorn in the flesh — some might think I’m a pompous ass anyway!)

      • Daniel,

        Sidestepping the discussion of the Catholic Catechism, about which I know next to nothing, I am aware that gender expression and sexual orientation are far from perfectly correlated. Although, anecdotal experience makes me think that the stereotypes are there for a reason, even if they are often wrong. My perspective comes from the part of Christendom where they’re all about journeys into [the let’s go cut down some trees, play sports, and shoot bears in the woods kind of] manhood. So for the people I know who’d want such a pill, they’d want it to erase all variation in sexuality _and_ gender expression that doesn’t fit their existing notions of “Biblical” “Manhood” and “Womanhood.” Honestly, I doubt they could tell the difference if it hit them on the nose.

        Nathaniel,

        Have you seen Andrew Solomon’s TED talk entitled “Love No Matter What”? It made me think, and gave me an intriguing perspective on the questions we’re discussing here.

      • I see, LJ, you’re objecting to the “Wild at Heart” brand of manhood. That understanding of manhood is very trendy right now, but it doesn’t have a very storied history. I expect the demands that other men fit into that narrow definition will cease soon, since Christian manhood generally reverts back to a notion that is much more open and fluid. But sure, if that’s the only notion of Christian manhood on offer, it’s silly.

        Variants of Christian manhood that have nothing to do with that ideal can be found in Augustine, Francis, John of the Cross, Thomas More, John Henry Newman, Jonathan Edwards, and so on. I don’t think gay guys hold a monopoly on the job of correcting the excesses of hyper-masculinity.

      • Daniel: I don’t quite follow your reasoning. When you say “assuming [homosexuality] is a medical/psychological problem, which is far from clear”, do you mean it is far from clear that it is a problem or far from clear that it is a medical psychological one?

      • Well, at various other places in this comment stream you have acknowledged the possibility that some forms of same sex attraction are “epigenetic”and a “matter of hormones in the womb.” Actually what data we have (references available upon request) suggest it is a probability that some forms of “homosexual orientation”(or,as you put it below, “some people..definitely turned on mostly or exclusively, by people of the same sex”) are caused by those factors.

        If that is the case, it must be a medical issue, since if one wishes to intervene in these processes–brains, hormones, and neurotransmitters, whether in a fetus or in a born person–one can only do so “medically”. (This usually means chemicals, electric devices and surgery, though I include psychotherapy as a “medical” intervention; MRI scans have shown brain changes after successful cognitive-behavioral therapy for panic disorder. Thus I make no categorical distinction between the psychological and the medical. Which intervention one uses is generally determined by some combination of what is most likely to work–quickest, longest, cheapest, with fewest side effects.)

        Maybe I’m missing a philosophical distinction here, but it seems to me that, granted the premise of significant brain involvement in some SSA, any intervention to change that SSA (as opposed to changing behavior) would have to be medical. [Obviously one can change some behavior in non-medical ways, eg by imprisoning persons and forcibly preventing (some of) their acts.]

      • I didn’t mean to imply that one should “remove” moral problems. One should overcome moral problems. Whether they are removed is the decision of God, not man.

    • If the rabbits and cane toads of Australia are any indication, we should tread carefully before we tamper with the way things are to such a vast extent. Assuming there is some medical reason for homosexuality (I know it is inherent to me but I am not sure where it came from – this assumes, for the sake of argument, that it is medical in cause), who is to say it doesn’t serve some natural purpose that is helpful to the species in some way? I am speaking purely from the venue of scientific reasoning, cutting away all the theological stuff. Such a radical treatment might have unforeseen consequences down the line.

      • Well then I’m alone… It is ok. I still think we should pursue such research to pin point why is there SSA. That on the first place and secondly pursue ways yo prevent it. And I think such research is inevitable and it will happen one way or another. Of course I don’t think it will happen over night, but it will happen.

      • I agree that we should investigate the causes of homosexuality. Some of those causes could justify certain treatments, if they are truly medical causes. But I don’t think we should eliminate SSA genetically or epigenetically, certainly not unless we are VERY clear that it is the only trait being eliminated.

      • Rosa

        I get where you are coming from and, while misguided, I believe you speak from a place of love. I am gay and, while I may not see myself as being chaste in that, I pray that my young cousins and any kids my sister eventually has are heterosexual. I wouldn’t wish what some LGBT have gone through on anyone, hell or no hell.

        That said, if it exists in the world then God has allowed it to exist for some reason. Or nature, barring that. What if homosexual relatives are beneficial to kids? A gay uncle who cannot have children of his own has more time to dote on and teach his nieces and nephews, for example. There maybe benefits in being LGBT that we simply won’t notice until they are gone and it is too late.

  4. If I were pregnant and new there something not going as planned and I could do something about it I would. My child will not have certain traits but he will have his unique traits and gifts and problems. He would still be a unique human being and he wouldn’t miss any traits that are not there to start with.

    • If something was wrong with the pregnancy, sure. But the question is what constitutes something being wrong with the pregnancy. So, for example, I would not consider the tendency toward intense anger to be something biologically “wrong” with adults, and I would not consider in-utero treatments to avoid such intense anger appropriate. Why not? Because I think there are probably good traits that go along with bad traits. A child born without those good traits would still have unique traits and gifts, sure. But he would not have all of HIS unique traits and gifts.

      To use a coarse metaphor, it’s like this: suppose we found out tendencies to rape were biological. Then we could take future potential rapists and remove their testes at birth. Surely the boys would still have unique and wonderful characteristics, but they would also be denied unique and wonderful characteristics. Even if it made their lives easier or prevented potential rapes, it would not be worth it.

      • That’s a very bad example and you known it.

        If I were pregnant with a baby boy and I new that he would not successfully develop a male brain and I could do something about it I would. Would it be at the expense of some other traits? Sure but to me it wouldn’t matter

      • Here I risk being inconsistent, but while I’d be wary of a pre-birth treatment to eliminate trans* development (or Downs syndrome, or Aspergers, etc.), I think we cross a line talking about conditions that cause great harm to others. If there were some way to reduce sociopathic tendencies, I’d find myself aligned with Rosa in that area. (I’m still not sure how we got from the horrible rape example back to trans* babies, though).

      • It is a medical condition, I wouldn’t call it a disease. The ethical problem exist for people that already have SSA. I would get treated if being pregnant to try to make my child whole. To give him a brain that matches his body.

    • Yes, and the Catholic Church, for one, opposes such actions. The only justification for amputation (of body or mind) is the good of the patient, not the good of society. The only moral question here is: “What is the impact of the removal of the biological traits that predispose a person toward same-sex attraction on the personality?” We don’t know the answer to that question. Until we do, we must err on the side of not tampering with nature.

      I don’t deny that there are phenomenonal straight poets, but would Shakespeare have been the poet he was without the particular constellation of affective traits that manifested themselves in (among other things) his attraction to the young man of the sonnets? I don’t know. Can you take away Wilde’s queerness without making him less Wilde? I don’t know.

      I don’t deny that the goal is to completely surrender one’s tendencies toward sin and have them die out. But it seems to me that the fight to surrender them is precisely where spiritual growth comes. If a child were born free of all such propensities, that child would be incapable of understanding grace. So what makes this particular propensity worth forcibly removing?

      • Yes. the Catholic Church does. But It is absolutely different to castrate a man than to give you child wholeness of body and mind. The Catholic Church wouldn’t go against that, I’m certain. Their are plenty of poets that do not suffer SSA. So poetry, painting etc etc, all arts and all sciences would survive. That’s for sure.

        I find that it would be immoral and unethical to not give a male child his whole male brain and desires in the name of preserving poetry.

      • Sorry, Rosa, but I must agree with Daniel on this point. Gay men [quite often, if not always] have a male gender identity, i.e. a male brain. People who were born with a male body and a female brain, or vice versa, are transgender. Of course, people who are transgender can be bi, gay, or straight, but that’s beside the point. I am a gay man, and I do not have a non-male brain. There is no point in defining “male” in a novel way; it does not help you to make your point in these discussions.

  5. Guys, I don’t know about you but I already know there is research that has determined that men with SSA have brains that are structurally different than men without SSA.
    And also I’m talking about the hypothetical that we can do something about SSA in the womb. My point is that if there is anything I could do for my baby boy I would.

    • I am quite aware of that research, and do not deny its findings. However, the fact that my brain is structurally different than that of my straight doppelgänger does not mean that my brain is not male.

      • Rosa,

        I will allow that my comments, up till this point, have somewhat simplified the matter. The problem is that the characteristics the studies you mention ascribe to “gay men” largely don’t apply to me — so I get really puzzled. I didn’t prefer dolls to balls, I didn’t adopt feminine ways of thinking or talking, I didn’t do any of this stuff. In other words, I think the studies are looking at broad generalities, which don’t always apply “on the ground”.

        Likewise, in ancient Athens, I highly doubt that 50%+ of men were deprived of androgens in the womb, and yet 50%+ of men engaged in homosexual relationships. So something more is going on. There are multiple causes for homosexuality. Stuff in the womb might have some impact on it, I believe that. And maybe that stuff could and should be corrected for, if we understand the full situation and can clearly see how there is a biological abnormality. But there are normal variants in adrogen/testosterone presence in the womb, and these variants shouldn’t be jettisoned in the effort to make our sexual desires perfect.

  6. Daniel,

    I have never said that science, as of today, has all the answers. What I’m talking about is the hypothetical situation that there is an answer and that we can effectively prevent SSA, at least in some cases. If I lived in such a time and I could indeed prevent my baby from experiencing SSA I would. Without hesitation I would.

    BTW, I don’t think that 50% of men in ancient Greece experience SSA. I think homosexuality was a chosen way of live for most of these people. But I’m not sure where you get the 50% number anyway.

    • Study ancient Greece and Rome. You’ll see that “beautiful boys” were always considered as attractive and tempting as beautiful women. There was no indication that this sort of attraction was only experienced by the minority of men.

      Indeed, that fact serves as a warning to those in our society who say that “you can’t turn people gay”. It’s pretty clear that homosexual activity can be made appealing to pretty much anybody, given the right circumstances. Orientation essentialism is nonsense.

      • Exactly. Most men in ancient Greece did not experience SSA but had homosexual activity. I’m talking about what I consider a medical condition: SSA.

        And I agree with you: you can have homosexuality without SSA, if you think about homosexuality as the behavior and I am afraid we are back to discussing terminology… Really don’t want to do that!

      • Huh? “SSA” is same-sex attraction. Anyone male who finds another male attractive experiences SSA. Most Greek males experienced SSA — that’s not even debatable, if you look at the literature of the period. It was not, and is not, a medical condition.

        Now, there may be a medical condition — call it hypoandrism — that involves a child being “shorted” sex-specific characteristics, and that makes it more likely for that child to experience SSA when they grow up. If there is such a condition, it might be worth treating, sure (if there was an effective way). But hypoandrism is not the same thing as same-sex attraction.

  7. All this speculation about what “medical conditions” I may or may not have leaves me feeling cold. You all can carry on without me.

    But as far as the notion that people can be “turned gay,” I’m going to need to see proof of that before I’ll give it a second thought. That notion has become so embedded in the anti-gay hysterics of the most vocal culture warriors that I find it difficult to separate the concept from that context. Never mind that I’ve seen absolutely zilch in terms of evidence for it in modern studies.

    Now, I will readily grant that if the stigma against same-sex sexual activity were completely removed, more people would be likely to experiment, and we’d see just how many people are bi/flexible; I suspect we’d be surprised at the number. This does not mean that all of those bi people would be gay, simply that they were not previously aware of their bisexuality and thought of themselves as exclusively straight. But this in no way means that a permissive culture has “turned them gay.”

    • Your second two paragraphs read, to me, like “orientation essentialism” — the view that gayness exists in nature, not as a social construction built upon a real phenomenon (same-sex attraction). I haven’t read much to support the notion of essentialism, but I’m open to any information you might provide.

      The point about prenatal medical conditions shouldn’t be mistaken as a judgment on a person. For example, I myself am the third son of my mother — considering the “older brother effect”, it’s likely my same-sex attraction was at least somewhat impacted by my womb conditions. If some study came out that said that the older brother effect is offset by mothers who eat enough (say) potassium, I would encourage my wife to eat more potassium. That would not be an indictment on my own nature or existence. Rather, it would simply be an acknowledgement that I could have been *more* myself if my mother had been more healthy.

      (This is all wild speculation, but I’m just trying to make the point that there’s nothing dehumanizing about saying a person’s embyonic environment affected them in adverse ways).

      • Daniel: not all that wild. There is non insignificant evidence for the older brother effect–as long as the older brothers were carried in the same womb.

        But I’m curious. If you would not consider prenatal treatment for the tendency to intense anger appropriate “because there are probably good traits that go along with bad traits”, why not the same standard for prenatal treatment of homosexuality? There may be good, not even particularly sexual, traits that go along with same sex attraction(s).

        This is more than academic for me as I myself have a tendency to intense anger. It is associated with anxiety and generally takes verbal forms, but has gotten me in trouble with friends and has not helped in my profession. Yet it goes along with an intensity of emotion that fuels my creativity and causes me to stand up against injustice.

        So I take Prozac to give myself, my workmates, and my friends relief from my sometimes almost contagious anxiety (as well as from my less frequent, but sharp, tongue.) Also I can then get the paperwork on my job done.

        Then I go off the Prozac to have an imagination and feel more intensely–including sexual feelings, even without actions. (It took Prozac for me to understand how importantly sexual energies are–even when one is celibate, as I am at this point.)

        Which feels like/is the “real me”: the one on Prozac or the one off of Prozac. The best answer I can come up with is “a combination of both.”

        So I agree with you on that, Daniel. I would not have wanted my pregnant mother to take the anti-anger pill. In what way would you have been *more* yourself if your mother had been “more healthy”; might, in other ways you’d have turned out less yourself?

      • Oh, when I was writing about anger, I meant if we were talking about a child who naturally (pre-womb) was disposed toward passionate behavior, but who we could “treat” in utero so that that passion went away. And if homosexuality is like THAT, then any treatment of it would seem awful, in my view.

        But if homosexuality sometimes arises from non-normative chance events in the womb, and these events seem to be caused by something unhealthy (as Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is caused by something unhealthy), then treatment — if effective — could be defended.

        As for the “more myself” comment, that brings up questions of normative personal identity. I take it for granted, myself, that the characteristics of the undamaged sperm and egg, combined properly, create the closest manifestation of our ideal personalities as we could imagine. Anything that happens in the womb to distort that ideal is undesirable. So I think, for example, I’m naturally passionate, but I’m not sure I’m naturally gay/bisexual — it depends on the etiology of these things, which is unknown.

        But if anger WERE that way — if, for instance, people developed passionate natures because of traumatic births — I would fully advocate avoiding traumatic births in an effort to remove this unnatural characteristic. It seems to me that one’s true personality is worth disencumbering from any accretions that accrue to it through the rough and tumble nature of this world.

    • Yes. Daniel said it precisely: The point about prenatal medical conditions shouldn’t be mistaken as a judgment on a person.

      Nothing more to add!

    • Apparently I’ve committed the terrible sin of using the three letter word where only the three letter acronym is permitted, leading to not a small amount of misunderstanding. I’m done here.

  8. All I can say to those that fear that SF and the ideas it espouses are dangerous to our salvation is the following: SF is life saving. For some of us it’s one of the few places in our lives where we feel understood. Some of us were going down a path of self loathing. A path that was built by the theology that we grew up with. We were told that we were demon possessed, that our feelings were unnatural and never to be spoken about. If God did not change us it was because we did not believe enough. Straight Christians take a lot for granted. They can’t understand how painful it is to have to constantly hide your feelings. It’s not about flaunting your sexuality. Do straights flaunt their sexuality when they talk about this or that cute guy or girl? Or when they show affection? If I am to live a faithful Catholic life I have to give up a lot that is normal in most people’s lives. SF has helped me work those feelings out. What most of the traditional Christian world was offering sucked. Bad. They didn’t want to deal with us.They wanted to make us go away either by ‘changing’ us or telling us that our feelings were incompatible with God. So many left the faith. And guess what? Many of them are living happy and emotionally healthier lives than ever before. God still tugs at their heart and many feel the draw to come back. But what would they be coming back to? A life of lies and shame? SF is doing heroic work. They want to change that paradigm. A life lived honestly can lead to salvation, and I thank SF for helping me find a better way. I could’ve been that repressed gay guy that turned into an alcoholic and looked for anonymous sex while trying to keep the ‘ faithful Christian’ facade. honestly I sometimes think that many conservative Christians prefer that guy to the flamboyant gay guy trying to get closer to God. Anyways, I’ve said enough. To the haters out there, God love you!

    • Amen!

      Somehow, I doubt your articulate and thoughtful comments will convince those couple of people who keep returning and spreading their false ex-gay gospel (to protestations that they’re not ex-gay despite having every one of the talking points down pat). But thank you for sharing anyway. God bless!

    • I am in complete agreement with you. I really value this space for those reasons, even if I do get a bit annoyed with what sometimes comes across as whitewashing issues or naivete (I’m usually proved wrong by reading the comments!).

      I also have to say one of the reasons I appreciate this space is seeing the genuine respect and compassion the writers here have for those who don’t seem to appreciate its importance. Just as in the secular world, all too often some of the comments here from non LGBT/SSA Christians come across as entitled and intrusive (if not outright homophobic), but I love how people like LJ are consistently compassionate, firm and respectful in their responses. Certainly learned a lot!

  9. This debate sends a chill down my side, guys. It reeks of those who would argue about black people being naturally less intelligent or more promiscuous. Personally I think all Catholics should be sterilised to prevent their superstition from spreading, it has biological causes, didn’t you know? Let s talk about it. This is beyond the pale.

    • Do you think that it’s offensive to say of ANY group that they are, on average, less [fill in the blank] than any group? Is it offensive to autistics to say that they are, on average, less socially adept than other people? I’m just trying to figure out the ground rules here.

      To say that some negative trait is biologically heritable or biologically acquired is not to say anything bad about the person who holds that trait. In a Christian worldview, rather, we say that this person is a uniquely flawed jar of clay out of which the love of God can flow freely. Of course, it is extremely common for people to find their identities in their disability, which means that any comment which says their disability is bad offends them. But we, as Christians, have our identity in Christ. “We carry about in our bodies the death of Christ so that in our bodies the life of Christ may also be revealed.”

      My same-sex attraction is clearly a moral disorder, insofar as it directs me to sinful actions. But it may — or may not — also be a physical disorder. If it is a physical disorder, it would still be, in some sense, a blessing: since it would be the death of Christ in my body, and enduring it would be the way God chooses to reveal the life of Christ through my body.

      • I don’t think homosexuality is a sin — certainly not. Is it a moral flaw? Insofar as it’s an inclination toward an objective evil (same-sex sex), yes. Insofar as it’s an attraction to people, no.

        Is it a physical flaw? I don’t think so, and I’m personally resistant to the claim, but I wouldn’t exclude the possibility. I’m trying to be fair to Rosa, who is clearly entering the discussion in good faith, and who has viewpoints that diverge from the majority view here.

    • Yes, I have to say it certainly comes across – yet again – as the usual sort of queer antagonism I’ve come to dread: ‘I as a straight person with my disorders can exist as I am, but you with yours shouldn’t’. It’s more than a bit worrying.

      • Sorry biscuit appear,

        I have bipolar disorder and believe me I would rather not have to deal with it. I would much rather there would be a cure for my own brokenness. So please do not judge.

      • No problem. My wife gets confused and thinks I’m straight sometimes too, but then a cute guy walks by and both our heads turn, and … well, gosh.

      • And I do take a cocktail of medications daily to keep my brokenness at bay. Successfully thanks God. There was a time when I romanticized my condition thinking that plenty of very smart people show some sort of mental inadequacies. Then I realized I was being silly and being intelligent had nothing to do with mental problems. Again I would rather God take this away from me and He is, as long as I take my medication I’m fine.

      • Thanks for replying Rosa. Like I said, I just found it worrying because I’ve repeatedly heard this conversation within the church community I’ve become part of. However, I suppose if there’s a space for this discussion, it would be here. I wasn’t trying to judge you, simply voice my own response.

        Different people do have different relationships with their brokenness, but sometimes it feels like the church community is only ok with you if you have a particular one, which more often than not isn’t based on especially sound or orthodox theological principles (and I mean in the general case, not specifically related to sexuality/gender). But that is my own experience coming through, obviously.

  10. Excellent post–total accordance. One possible typo though….
    “I was convicted at the time, and have remained convicted, that sexual behavior between members of the same sex is forbidden within Scripture.” Did you intend to write “convinced” ?

  11. Excellent post.

    The ensuing discussion reminds me again of the problems associated with focusing on SSA as a kind of malady. In my view, the church ought to spend less time trying to root out same-sex attraction and spend more time questioning the Freudian cultural assumptions that obsess excessively over sex and that tend to view all interpersonal attraction through a lens of genital-erotic desire.

    Men ought to be attracted to each other. In fact, men ought to be able to appreciate the physical attractiveness of another guy, just as they ought to be able to appreciate the physical attractiveness of women. Our culture wrongly assumes that these activities must necessarily find their supreme expression in a desire for sexual intercourse. I just don’t see why that has to be the case. Perhaps a better response to these issues may lie in attacking these false cultural assumptions.

    Besides, I tend to think that we have a certain obligation to present ourselves as attractively as possible. If we’re to abstain from smoking and excessive drinking out of a religious concern, why shouldn’t the same logic lead us to eat more kale and exercise more regularly?

    I think it’s time for the church to stop fetishizing some 1950s view of masculinity (e.g., Piper, Driscoll, etc.) and consider something that’s a bit more Christian. Our current approach owes more to Freud than to anything found in Scripture or in the Christian tradition. Perhaps then we can recognize that SSA is not some kind of curse; in fact, it’s a fairly natural part of how most men are wired (although it may exist in various degrees).

  12. Wow this is good stuff. I feel like a found an oasis in a desert.

    Years ago, when I was a young Christian man being crushed under the weight of the shame and horror of having SSA, I’m not sure how I would have reacted to being told that I would not simply be delivered from it. It was everything I hoped for, and there were no wise voices to explain what my struggle was really about, to reset my expectations. Not even through all the counseling, books, and programs I did.

    Now, after years of anger at God, years of sin/rebellion, and in the midst of a struggle against sexual addiction, I love the message of faith and obedience here on SF. Your insight, Jeremy, that the impulses within the SSA struggle are not wholly irredeemable, insofar as we sift-out the admiration and holy love for those of the same gender, it’s a simple, profound truth that unlocks the prison of self-hatred and shame.

    Jesus is our faithful redeemer as we die to our sin day by day, and hopefully with the help of a compassionate body of Christ. Facing the future with hope is something I had lost long ago, but finding it again is…well, words fail me. Thanks.

  13. Pingback: More On Coming Out Part 1: How I Got Here | Spiritual Friendship

  14. Pingback: More On Coming Out Part 2: How Open Should You Be? | Spiritual Friendship

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