"There are two stages in every recovery process: the first is healing; the second is learning."  

Homosexuality: Christian Approaches

Esly Regina Carvalho

[Translated from the Portuguese by Kevin C. Martin.]

From a Christian perspective we can deal with the theme of "homosexuality" from three viewpoints: as demon possession, as a conduct disorder, and as an alternative lifestyle. In this article, will be presenting the three approaches: their conceptual basis, their Biblical foundation, their prognosis and resolution, and a brief evaluation of each position.

Homosexuality and Demon Possession

This first approach perceives homosexuality as caused by demons. It is understood that demons still exist today and their mere existence provides an explanation for many of the problems that people face. "Demonic spirits can invade and live in human bodies... upon indwelling a person, they take advantage of that person... when the demons indwell an individual, the person 'has' or 'is possessed by' demons" (Hammond & Hammond, 1973).

The expression "demon-possessed" seems to have created a lot of confusion through the centuries. In ancient Greece, there was the word daimonizomai, which meant "demonized" or "to have demons," whereas possession had the connotation of complete ownership. This difference becomes significant when the argument of whether or not Christians can have demons is added to the controversy.

Hammond & Hammond (1973) make this observation in order to clarify that even though Christians truly can have demons, they cannot be demon-possessed nor be "owned/possessed" by them since their ownership is already in Christ. Demons in a Christian's life can be no more than "tenants" or invaders that must be confronted and cast out.

According to this approach, the following beliefs are held:

  1. that there are demons;
  2. that they can invade people;
  3. some Christian circles allow the possibility that Christians can also have demons although they cannot be possessed by them), while other groups do not allow this as the "body is the temple of the Holy Spirit" (I Cor. 6:19) and there can be no communion between light and darkness in one person's body.

Hammond (1973) also state that there are also distinct types of demons. They list 53 groups of demons (pp. 113-115) which include spirits of bitterness, rebellion, envy, depression, sexual impurity (which include those of homosexuality), and death. As I commented above, there are circles which believe that homosexuality is caused by the presence of a demon in the person's body. The spirit of homosexuality (or lesbianism) would be the cause of such behavior, therefore the root would be spiritual and not of an emotional and/or psychological origin. Also its resolution must be the result of a spiritual nature. This Christian approach is more common among members of more conservative churches, particularly Pentecostals and those that embrace the concept of "spiritual warfare."

Homosexuality as Conduct Disorder

This is the position most widely held by Christian psychologists and therapists. It holds that homosexuality is caused by childhood trauma(s) which impedes a person's appropriate psychosexual development. Dr. Elizabeth Moberley (1983) states in her book that the individual suffers from a lack of identification with the same-sex parent and that, upon entering puberty, the unsatisfied childhood needs are eroticized, which results in the individual seeking to fulfill these legitimate needs with people of the same gender. This would explain the lack of emotional maturity found in many people that suffer from such difficulties of sexual orientation, since an important aspect of their personality was not fully developed.

Within this approach, homosexual behavior is perceived as sinful, but Collins (1980) makes a significant distinction: the difference between homosexual behavior (where homosexual acts are practiced) and homosexual orientation (where there exists an attraction for persons of the same sex, but there is no practice of homosexual acts; in fact, there are situations where the person rejects such feelings and desires).

Collins recognizes that the practice of homosexual acts is sinful, since the Bible already clearly condemns such behavior (Gen. 19:1-11; Lev. 18:22; Judges 19:22-25; Rom. 1:25-27; I Cor. 6:9; I Tim. 1:9-10. There are four Biblical passages that deal with homosexuality in the context of male prostitution: Deut. 23:17; I Kings 14:24; 15:12; II Kings 23:7.)

On the other hand, Collins states that in no place does the Bible condemn homosexual orientation, although fostering fantasies and homosexual thoughts can lead an individual to commit the sin of lust (in the same way that this occurs with heterosexual persons). This difference is very important for those who counsel individuals struggling with difficulties in their sexual orientation because it offers them a "shelter" from Biblical condemnation during the transition that healing entails.

Struggling individuals have no power over what was done to them as children (which produces the orientation) but they do have power over their acts (practice of homosexual behavior). This gives the client a "safe place" which allows the psychotherapy or counseling to become fruitful. Now the focus of the condemnation is not on who the person is, but on the behavior, over which he or she has control.

Collins (1980) also mentions another difference: He identifies circumstantial homosexuals, those that engage in temporary homosexual activity because their sexual partners of the opposite sex are not available (for example, prisoners or soldiers).

In this approach, a clear, unique cause for homosexuality cannot be identified, but it dismisses the popular idea that it has genetic, biological, or congenital roots (Evans and Collins, 1980: 319).

There are several theories about the development of homosexuality. The one most accepted today by people who work directly with those leaving the gay lifestyle is the one explained above: that there exists a lack of identification with the parent of the same gender (the son with the father; the daughter with the mother), the child does not develop the appropriate sexual role, and when behavior becomes eroticized upon entering puberty, the object of sexual desire remains linked to the need for the approval and affirmation of the same-sex parent.

Collins also notes other possible causes:

  1. father-son relationships where the family dynamics are dysfunctional;
  2. family relationships with histories of distrust, sexual abuse and/or incest, unhealthy bonds of control, etc.;
  3. fear caused by traumatic experiences with the opposite sex (rape, incest, being taught not to trust the opposite sex, lack of interaction with persons of the opposite sex during adolescence, etc.);
  4. conscientious choice of a homosexual lifestyle by persons who want to be "in fashion"; or those who have had a homosexual experience, and become vulnerable for such a lifestyle because they often think that because of having once had such an experience, they must be themselves homosexual or it wouldn't have happened to them.

Homosexuality as an Alternative Lifestyle

It may come as a surprise to Christians in some parts of the world, but the idea of being a Christian and an active homosexual is defended by many Christians, especially in the United States and Europe. Their understanding is that there is no Biblical condemnation for a "monogamous" and lasting homosexual relationship within the context of love and whose counterpart would be heterosexual marriage.

Biblically, the defense depends on the following statements (and here I summarize the position of Scanzoni and Mollenkott, 1980):

  1. Referring to the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, cities that were destroyed by God for their perversions (Gen. 19), (and from which the word sodomy originated); the authors comment that the foci of the condemnation are:
    1. the desire to practice violent homosexual acts with Lot's house guests;
    2. the lack of hospitality to foreigners.
  2. The condemnation described in Leviticus 18:12 forms part of the Code of Law for ancient Israel. If we were to obey all that is contained in it, we would have to prohibit women from dressing in men's clothing, wearing short hair, and having sexual intercourse during their menstrual period, nor would we be able to wear fabrics of mixed threads, nor eat meat which contains blood, etc. The authors of this perspective insist that such rules were given to keep the Israelites separated from their neighbors since many of the neighboring nations' religions included homosexual practices in their fertility rites. As such, the Jewish people were to avoid all type of idolatry and its practices.
  3. The authors Scanzoni and Mollenkott (1980) present a long exposition of the first chapter of Romans, with respect to what is or is not natural: the social context of the age in which the apostle Paul was writing, and the use of certain words in the original Greek whose understanding, for the authors, is quite debatable. The basic idea, however, is that if homosexuality is "natural" for a certain it would be a sin to go against what is natural for the person.

At the same time, Scanzoni and Mollenkott insist upon the need of a conversion experience in order to enter the Kingdom of God, but state that such a decision does not automatically erase the homosexual orientation nor does it miraculously make a person heterosexual. Everyone (gay and straight) must fight against the "old nature."

In their book they also cite many studies that have been developed by homosexual persons who are not disturbed or "neurotic." They defend the notion that homosexuality is simply a sexual variation of genetic origin, even though science has still not been able to confirm this. The idea is that homosexual persons go through what they do because they are discriminated by society, and especially by the Church. The authors state that the Church should not discriminate against homosexuals because they are perpetuating myths and stereotypes, or they are "bearing false witness against their neighbor" (Scanzoni and Mollenkott, 1980).

I chose the book by Scanzoni and Mollenkott, Is the Homosexual My Neighbor? to exemplify this viewpoint, but it is not the only book that defends this position. Metropolitan Community Churches, congregations which specifically cater to the homosexual person, state that a place is needed where such individuals can worship God without discrimination since traditional churches do not accept them. They argue that it is possible to be Christian and homosexual, and that there is no need to change one's orientation, but that one should avoid promiscuity and casual sex, maintaining lasting marriage-like relationships with one partner. These churches are generally led by homosexual people and have developed what is known as "Christian gay theology".

Prognosis/Treatment/Cure/Resolution

Let us examine the three positions with respect to their therapeutic aspect or resolution:
  1. The position of homosexuality as demon possession demands spiritual explanations and solutions. A great majority of churches have doctrinal statements that deal with this, although many are not in current use or have been changed in recent years by church leadership.

    Generally, if we consider homosexuality as being caused by from demon possession, the solution would be an exorcism or "casting out of the demon." If the cause is considered spiritual, the cure would also need to be spiritual. The problem is discerning whether the cause is spiritual or emotional, but we know that if it is a spiritual dilemma, then upon casting out the demon, the cure is instantaneous.

  2. In the case of considering homosexuality as a conduct disorder, the considerations are different. It may come as a surprise that the prognosis for changing one's sexual orientation is better than that of the alcoholic. [1] Psychoanalytic studies present a negative perspective according to Freud, but there is a new trend (Nicolosi, 1991) that actively develops "reparative therapy of the homosexual."

    Nicolosi makes an interesting observation. From his experience working with men, he states that there are homosexual men who are not "gay"; these are men who are not satisfied (ego-dystonic) with their sexual orientation and want to change. He contends that "gay" describes a political ideology, a lifestyle; therefore, not all homosexuals are "gay."

    There are many authors, psychologists, and counselors who affirm that a change toward heterosexuality is possible, and others who suggest the healthy option of celibacy for their clients, in the same manner that many heterosexuals also live celibate lives. Many others (Collins, 1980; Nicolosi, 1991; Dallas, 1991), including secular ones, state that change is possible, and a great number of testimonies exist where people describe how they have changed. (Rogers, 1994; Worthen, 1983; Comisky, 1989; Cook, 1985; Payne, 1981; etc.) Christian therapists stress the importance of the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit in this process.

    So we see that in the case of the homosexuality being of emotional and/or psychological origin, the cure then would also be psychotherapeutic.

  3. With regards to homosexuality as an alternative lifestyle, there is no reason to "be cured," since this position argues that it is impossible to change ("Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots?" Jer. 13:23). Why can a person not be a Christian and a homosexual? (Berry, 1981; Clark, 1978; Ellens, 1978). This approach argues that a homosexual person who is involved in mutually faithful relationship with his or her partner is not in sin, and therefore, does not need to change. People who seek psychotherapy should not be encouraged to change, but instead, make personal adjustments and accept their condition as a sexual variation. They should endeavor to live mutually faithful lives with their partner, if such is the case, espousing the Christian virtues of marriage.

Critical Analysis and Evaluation

I would like to make a few observations regarding the three approaches just presented:

With regard to the question of demon possession, the greatest risk is making simplistic generalizations and reductions. One may begin to "see demons behind every tree," explaining everything as the presence of demons. It is important to remember that we are complex creatures, and there are no simple explanations for everything. I do not doubt that there are cases in which a person has been healed through prayer,[2] but it seems to be the exception and not the rule.

It is also important not to attribute everything to external causes to the point that the person feels powerless in finding a solution. Few of the Christians that see homosexuality as "just a demon" accept the idea that there may be other reasons or causes for the problem, but a person with a demon can receive prayer, have the demon cast out, and then continue having symptoms of homosexuality.

Personally, I believe this is because the two conditions can coexist: although the demon is cast out, emotional scars from the past still persist. It is important to take this into account, as many believe that if they return to, or continue having, homosexual impulses and attractions, then they "are not saved" or they "lost their salvation" or that prayer did them no good. There are things which take time to heal: that is the way it is with most emotional problems. Those that continue having problems after receiving prayer and/or freedom from demons should consider the possibility of seeking counseling with a Christian therapist or become part of an ex-gay ministry in order to resolve the emotional and/or psychological aspects.

With regard to the third approach, it is important to make the observation that many of the authors who defend the position of being Christian and homosexual are themselves in this situation. We must consider whether or not they are seeking to justify their own condition? Two basic questions must be honestly addressed: (1) Do the Scriptures condemn homosexual practices? (2) Can science definitively prove that a change in sexual orientation is impossible?

In addition to these questions, one may also consider the fact that the number of homosexual couples who remain in a monogamous relationship for life is minuscule. Nicolosi (1991) describes a study conducted by McWhirter and Mattison (1984) in which they wished to prove that homosexuals were able to maintain lasting relationships. The authors, themselves a homosexual couple -- one a psychologist and the other a psychiatrist, after a long search found 156 couples whose cohabitation had lasted between one and 37 years. Two-thirds of those who responded to the study had begun the relationship with the expectation of mutual fidelity. The results demonstrated that of the 156 couples, only seven had remained faithful to each other. Of these seven couples, not one had lived together more than five years. "In other words, it was impossible to find one homosexual couple that had maintained sexual fidelity for more than five years" (Nicolosi, 1991:111).

Conclusion

I would like to share a bit of my experience on this matter. In all my years of psychotherapeutic experience (most of it in Brazil where I am originally from), the only clients who have come to me for the purpose of changing their sexual orientation, without exception, have been Christians. Many non-Christian homosexuals have sought my counsel as well, but not for that purpose. Maybe the Holy Spirit that lives within the Christian makes one seek to live more in accordance with the Word of God.

I have seen change in several people, men as well as women, but I confess that in general, they did not receive much help from the Church. Many sought my help because they feared (with good reason) that if the pastor found out, they would be thrown out of their church. They were seeking Christ's grace, not the Church's condemnation.

In the past few years, I have seen many pastors' attitudes in regard to homosexuality begin to change, and I have also seen them sincerely seeking to better understand these people's situation. I have seen Christian counselors who honestly want to understand more, in order to offer better help. Those clients I have treated have not been healed overnight. Months, and at times years, of counseling took place, but the overall results were very positive: almost all of them have married, something that for them was totally out of the question at the onset of their recovery process. (It is important to note that marriage does not cure homosexuality and should never be sought as such. And that being married does not mean they are cured either, since anyone can lead a double life, as Sy Rogers so well puts it. However, these were clients for whom marriage was a very remote although desirable goal.)

There were several common factors in each case:

  1. Each possessed great motivation to change, an enormous desire to leave their homosexual orientation behind.
  2. They each held a firm commitment to invest their time in the counseling and recovery process. They did not miss sessions. They struggled with their problems steadfastly, even with all the pain that they faced many times when recalling the past.
  3. They had an active prayer life.

I believe that there are basically two stages in any recovery process: the first is healing -- evaluating past experiences, many times reliving them in order to let go of them; performing "emotional surgery of opening infected wounds", applying the "alcohol" of the Holy Spirit, and sewing them up so that the scars can heal in a healthy way. One must analyze the past experiences and relationships with parents and family members. What behavior models were incorporated? What behaviors were reinforced by the parents? It is hard work which requires patience and perseverance. There are no magic cures, but there is healing.

The second aspect is that of learning. When the root causes of the past have been discovered, and the healing process has been initiated, the person is ready to progress in the psychosexual development that was previously arrested. One must "learn" to be a man or a woman, as all of us have learned: watching others around us, imitating healthy models, being around people that can help with this. One must learn to relate with people of the same gender through the bond of friendship, Christian love, and not through the eros of the past. One must discover the mystery of the opposite sex. There is much to learn.

I believe that psychodrama has been quite useful in this process because it allows people to learn their new roles in a helpful, safe environment. I remember a case where the fellow wanted to learn how to invite a girl to go to a movie for the first time, or a lady that had to learn to dress as a woman and develop her femininity. J.L. Moreno once observed that people get sick in a group (the family), and therefore must get well in a group as well. I have discovered the importance of the Body of Christ in these situations.

Group psychotherapy sometimes reflects this reality. Brothers and sisters in the Church have also been able to offer their contribution. I remember a pastor who readily became an example for many young men who were leaving the homosexual lifestyle, and another who was not afraid to show them affection, give them hugs, and offer them his friendship as part of his sincere love for Christ. Perhaps what still moves me most is the pastor who was with a dear brother who discovered that he had AIDS after leaving a homosexual lifestyle. This pastor remained with him up to the doors of Heaven, and would not allow anyone else to commit him to God's hands when the Lord came to take him home.

I hope these words will help you to reflect upon this subject with sincerity, but I also ardently desire that they lead you to take a position of compassion towards those who suffer because of their sexual orientation. No one can reach the "stature of the perfect person" of Jesus Christ (Eph. 4:13), without the grace of God. The truth is, all of us need redemption.

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Notes

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  1. Personal conversation with Sy Rogers, ex-president of Exodus International, 1989.

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  2. Feitosa, R. (1979) Coisas da Vida, television program produced by New Life Ministries, transmitted in Brazil by the former TV Tupi. Available in Portuguese through Exodus International. It contains an interview with a Christian man who was healed in this manner. (Originally published in Portuguese (1988) and Spanish (1993) and translated into English by Kevin C. Martin)

References

(Some of the references are made to the translations of the English book in Portuguese or Spanish.)

Berry (1982), Clark (1978) Ellens(1978), "The Christian Homosexual," CAPS Bulletin.

Collins, G. (1980) O Aconselhamento Cristão (Christian Counseling). Sociedade Religiosas Edites Vida Nova: São Paulo.

Comiskey, A. (1989) Pursuing Sexual Wholeness: How Jesus Heals the Homosexual. Lake Mary, FL: Creation House.

Cook, C (1985) Homosexuality: An Open Door? Boise, ID: Pacific Press.

Dallas, J. (1991) Desires in Conflict: Answering the Struggle for Sexual Identity. Eugene: Harvest House Publishers. (Eugene, Oregon, 97402)

Hammond y Hammond (1973) Pigs in the Parlor.

Moberley, E. (1983) Homosexuality: A New Christian Ethic, James Clarke: Cambridge, Inglaterra. James Clarke & Co. Ltd; 7 All Saints Passage, Cambridge, CB2 3LS, England.

Nicolisi, J. (1991) The Reparative Therapy of the Male Homosexual. Northvale: Jason Aronson, Inc. (Jason Aronson Inc, 230 Livingston St.; Northvale, NJ 07647, USA).

Payne, L. (1981) The Broken Image: Restoring Personal Wholeness through Healing Prayer. Westchester, IL: Crossway Books.

Rogers, S. (1994) El Hombre en el Espejo (The Man in the Mirror) Exodus Latin America, Box 26202, Colorado Springs, CO 80936, USA.

Scanzoni y Mollenkott (1980) Is the Homosexual My Neighbor?

Sall (1975) Faith, Psychology and Christian Maturity.

Worthen, F. (1984) Steps Out of Homosexuality. New Hope Ministries.

For further information about ex-gay ministries contact:

Exodus North America

Exodus Latinoamérica (for materials in Spanish)

Copyright © by Esly Regina Carvalho. All rights reserved.

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