Reprinted from Straight & Narrow? Compassion and Clarity in the Homosexuality Debate by Thomas E. Schmidt. ©1995 by Thomas E. Schmidt. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515. Another excerpt, this from Schmidt's last chapter, was published by Christianity Today.

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7

THE GREAT
NATURE-NURTURE
DEBATE

t about the age of thirteen I began to notice girls -- or should I say, it was then that I began to notice little else. Twenty-five years later the inclination is a bit more refined, a bit more controlled -- but only a bit. Wherever I am, I notice women, and I notice particular parts of women. I often entertain fleeting thoughts -- at times lingering thoughts -- of how I might enjoy having sex with women I have never met. It is, after all, only natural.

Or is it? Was I born with an inclination to have sex with several different attractive women each day, an inclination that merely remained dormant for thirteen years? Did my father, whose desires are very similar to mine, train me to think about women in a certain way? Am I the product of lifelong exposure to advertisements, films and popular music? Did the trauma of my parents' divorce when I was three, or my mother's actions during my infancy, create in me particular sexual needs and desires?

All of these questions I find genuinely interesting. They are not however, moral questions. Moral questions have to do with the rightness or wrongness of my actions, regardless of the source or strength of my desires. Whatever I may attribute to my genes, or to my parents, or to my culture, none of them can force me, at the crucial moment to turn a glance into a fantasy, or a fantasy into a flirtation, or a flirtation into a sexual act. At that moment my will is involved, and precisely such moments define my obedience and growth as a Christian. However good I may feel about my conduct or however deeply ingrained is my desire to act in a certain way, neither of those factors is the measure of obedience. In fact, more often than not they are measures of self-deception.

This of course is not a fashionable notion today. The overwhelming message of the popular culture, which a thousand films and ten thousand love songs drill into us, is that to find a full life we must seek adventure, drink the cup of passion, follow our heart. "Loving you can't be wrong," the voice croons, "because it feels so right." We want to believe this. We may even get a vicarious thrill from watching it work out happily ever after on the silver screen. But in our better moments, we know otherwise. We know, even without Scripture to tell us, that "the heart is devious above all else" (Jer 17:9), that positive experiences and strong desires can never legitimize immorality. We know it when a pedophile describes his nurturing relationships with children. We know it when an adulterous wife complains of her boring husband. We know it when a pornographer proclaims his rights of free speech. We know it when a stripper rationalizes her exploitation.

Explanations and Justifications

We also know that we cannot justify our behavior by an appeal to our nature. A comic no-good husband in a Woody Allen film says to his wife, "Sure I beat ya -- that's my way -- it don't mean I don't love ya. And I always warn ya first." But there is nothing comic about the growing epidemic of domestic violence, gang bloodshed and interracial strife. Whatever the causes, we cannot excuse violence on the part of a person who claims, "This is just the way I am."

Certainly we want to work at the big picture to reduce the factors that contribute to violence, and certainly we want to work with the individual to encourage self-control. But if in the end the violent person is "Just that way," we lock that person up for everyone's good.

This is not an argument to criminalize or imprison homosexuals, but an analogy to the relation between strong inclinations and moral responsibility. We could easily apply the "Just that way" defense to a number of social problems that may involve deeply ingrained (even biological) causes -- violence, substance abuse, racism, schizophrenia, pedophilia -- but we do not, because we recognize that an explanation for the behavior is not a justification for the behavior.

It is frustrating, almost unnatural, for a violent man to seek an outlet for his rage other than harm to another person. If the inclination is deeply ingrained, he cannot gain satisfaction by other outlets available to him, such as talk or exercise. It is similarly unnatural for a pedophile to seek meaningful relationships with adults, for a substance abuser to face problems with a clear head, for a racist to look beneath the skin. Likewise, it is unnatural for me to be faithful to one woman.

But the word natural in the sense that I have just been using it has nothing to do with morality, and it is the moral sense in which Paul uses natural in Romans 1. We must make this distinction clear and not allow others to confuse the issue by shifting back and forth between meanings. Natural may refer to something that happens repeatedly in nature -- that is, in the world -- in which case we assign no moral judgment to it. Events occur in nature: for example, spiders kill and eat other spiders, including their mates.

But as a moral category natural refers to something that is in accord with God's intention. Actions are good or bad: for example, people sometimes kill and eat other people. But the fact that cannibalism happens in the world -- perhaps in satisfaction of deeply held religious beliefs or peculiar culinary tastes -- does not make it natural in the sense that it conforms to God's will. In summary: that which is natural to human experience or human desire is not necessarily natural in God's moral design.

The reader should understand that this chapter considers the naturalness of homosexual desire and behavior in the first sense, asking simply why it occurs in human experience. I hope to raise the discussion of causation above the smoke of battle caused by confusion on both sides over the word nature where one side proposes certain theories of causation to justify homosexuality ("see how natural it is") and others try to refute those theories in order to preserve their condemnation of homosexuality ("it isn't caused that way, so it is an unnatural evil").

Because I separate the explanation of the behavior from the morality of the behavior, I do not feel a need to prove or disprove any single theory of causation. In fact -- and it may be helpful to reveal this here -- I think there are probably several factors that combine in various strengths to account for any individual's same-sex desires. I will try to show some of the possibilities and limitations of each major theory of causation before proposing what I call a multiple-variant model. As in chapter six, all of the information about causation comes from recent secular professional literature.

Animals and Humans Elsewhere in Time and Place

My distinction between explanation and justification applies to evidence of homosexual behavior in other species, times or cultures. If the investigation turns up little evidence of homosexual activity, the skeptic might argue that there would be more evidence if the researchers or their sources were not homophobic. If, on the other hand, the evidence is plentiful, such evidence has little or no bearing on the moral question. In either case, I find the subject interesting but far removed from the contemporary moral question. Some mammals eat their own young, and some of history's most advanced cultures practiced human sacrifice, genocide or slavery. The highly civilized Greeks made the abuse of boys a way of life. Not that all these practices compare morally to modem homosexuality, but they are natural in the sense that they are observable practices: they occur in nature. The point is that something is not moral merely because animals or people do it.

Numerous studies of the animal kingdom reveal indiscriminate mounting behavior, usually to express roles of dominance and submission, but animals do not engage in long-term homosexual bonding as humans do. [1] Some monkeys and apes mount or fondle each other to the point of sexual arousal, but even this behavior involves numerous qualifications: most important, the behavior does not continue when the individual matures and has a heterosexual option. [2] The consensus of research is that "no evidence has as yet emerged to suggest that any nonhuman primate studied to date would rate a 6 [exclusively homosexual] on the Kinsey scale of heterosexuality/ homosexuality." [3]

Throughout the history of human cultures, no society has approved of homosexuality as we know it today -- long-term relationships of mutual consent between adults. [4] As we have seen, there was a period of time during which upper-class Greek and Roman males alternated between women and boys for sexual gratification, but approval did not extend to sex between adults, to passive partners or to long-term relationships. Elsewhere, until the modern era, many references to homosexuality in the West are probably standardized attacks on alien peoples and not descriptions of actual behavior. The bulk of the historical evidence for same-sex acts comes from the world of monasticism, where men or women were forced into the company of their own sex with no heterosexual outlet. As in the cases of sailors and prison inmates, it is difficult to discern under such circumstances whether the activity results from homosexual desire or the unavailability of opposite-sex partners.

In John Boswell's book Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe, [5] he attempts to prove that a kind of quasi-marriage ceremony between men, a vestige of Roman culture, survived in the Eastern Empire until the early Middle Ages. But at every key point Boswell's argument depends on quotations taken out of context, questionable translations and speculation to fill in very wide gaps between very small bits of evidence. What he has "discovered" is a ceremony of ritualized brotherhood that borrows a few elements from marriage ceremonies. Although homosexuality may have been present in some such relationships, there is no evidence that sexual partnership (or even nonsexual marriage) was sanctioned by the ceremony, the church or the culture. Indeed, the ceremony in question typically includes prayers that the two men avoid "offense," "scandal" and "temptation," words that Boswell construes as a promise between two homosexual men to have sex only with each other. But even granting this and other examples of Boswell's highly colored interpretation of the ceremony, the fact remains that he can find no historical data to back up his interpretation, to support the claim that such ceremonies reflected church or societal acceptance of homosexual marriage.

The scarcity of information extends into the Renaissance, in spite of the desperate attempts of some apologists to seize on the slightest possible inference to suggest homosexuality on the part of several creative geniuses (such as Michelangelo, da Vinci, Marlowe and Shakespeare). Increasing evidence of homosexual behavior coincides with the rise of industrial Europe in the seventeenth century, but there is no consensus about the cause. Was it a delayed development of the Renaissance, the popularization of the notion that man is the measure of all things? Was it reaction against the legalistic restrictions of the Puritans (and later the Victorians)? Was it breakdown of the institution of the family due to industrialization and urbanization? All of these are candidates for a historical explanation, but we must qualify all by the impossibility of tracking change in sexual practices. What guesses we make about the past are informed by studies of influences in the present, and these influences may not have worked the same way a hundred -- much less a thousand -- years ago.

In the present, even those few societies that approve certain forms of same-sex behavior exclude homosexuality as we know it. [6] Some societies approve transgenerational homosexuality, where older members of a group engage in social intimacy and sex with younger members as a rite of passage into adulthood; transgendered homosexuality, where people play out the gender role of the opposite sex (as in the berdache among Native American groups); and most rarely, egalitarian homosexuality, which a few cultures tolerate as a phase primarily between adolescents. Among the major world religions, [7] only Buddhism takes a neutral doctrinal stance toward homosexuality. Hinduism, Islam, Confucianism and Taoism join Judaism and Christianity in prohibiting the behavior. The Japanese have a history of tolerance, due primarily to the Shinto religion, which disdains women as essentially "polluted" (but necessary as vessels of conception). In China and Hindu India, whose people constitute half the world's population, homosexuality is virtually unknown except as a "Western vice."

Of course all of this is not to say that homosexuality does not exist in other times or cultures, nor that human practice always conforms to the official requirements of the prevailing religion. Nevertheless, it does suggest that the extent of practice may vary considerably from place to place and from time to time, and this in turn may imply that culture is one important variable in the formation of a person's sexual identity.

Biological Causation Theories

Much media attention has been given to a number of recent attempts by researchers to associate homosexual behavior with certain brain structures, hormones or genes. Such biological explanations may relate to one another, since brain structures may develop under the influence of hormones, which in turn operate under instructions from the genetic code. The research is only beginning, and the early theories that have garnered much media attention have not yet withstood the crucial test of replication by other researchers. If a Lost Island of Biologic Causation exists out there, separate researchers may have spotted the mountaintops, the jungle or the seacoast, but there is much map work yet to do. For reasons I will describe below, no consensus exists in the scientific community even that the island is discoverable.

In 1991 neurobiologist S. LeVay dissected the brains of thirty-five male cadavers, including those of nineteen known homosexual men who had died of AIDS, and discovered that a part of the hypothalamus in the brains of the homosexual men (INAH3) was on average smaller than that of the other men and the same size as that of women. [8] The study awaits replication, but there are problems with LeVay's finding itself, especially with the notion that it proves prenatal sexual orientation. [9] The sample size was small, and six of the other sixteen males dissected for comparison died of AIDS, which raises questions about their heterosexuality (LeVay had no information on this). It is very possible that AIDS had affected the volume of the INAH3 in the homosexual subjects by reducing testosterone levels during the latter stages of the disease.

If LeVay's result is replicated by another study that includes homosexuals without AIDS, we must still ask if the volume of the INAH3 influences sexual behavior or is influenced by it. We do know that male and female brains develop differently in the crucial early childhood period -- as late as four years -- and throughout life, with social as well as chemical factors affecting such development. [10] If, on the other hand, the hypothalamus does exert an influence on sexual behavior, we must ask about the strength of that influence. Although the hypothalamus affects the sexual behavior of rodents, the particular region of the hypothalamus in question is not clearly related; and even if researchers can establish a relation, we cannot compare human sexual behavior to that of rodents. I hope it is not insulting to rats -- a species I admire greatly in many respects -- to suggest that intelligence, culture, training, experience, moral reflection and the operations of Gods Spirit make human sexuality far more complex than what we might explain by analogy to the secretions of a rodent's hypothalamus.

A year after the publication of LeVay's study, the research team of L S. Allen and R. A. Gorski reported that a cluster of nerve fibers between the hemispheres of the brain, the anterior commissure, was on average larger in thirty-four homosexual men. [11] Although this part of the brain has no known connection to sexual behavior, some researchers suspect a connection to the fact that homosexual men are much more likely to be left-handed, dyslexic and stutterers -- all factors related to the development of the brain hemispheres. [12] Scientists cannot explore the significance of this finding without replication. The only other study of the size of the anterior commissure in relation to sex got the opposite result. [13] Furthermore, Allen and Gorski's average result disguises the tremendous variation within their sample, which involved significant overlap with the heterosexual group. [14] Finally, their reliance on subjects with AIDS raises the same questions about the direction of the influence as LeVay's study of the hypothalamus.

Numerous studies of current hormone levels in homosexuals have failed to turn up any difference from heterosexuals. [15] Prenatal hormonal secretions have been found to influence later sexual postures among rodents, but they do not have the same influence in primates, and they are much more difficult to apply to the complexity and diversity of human sexuality. [16] The consensus even among scientists who suspect a prenatal or early postnatal hormonal influence on sexual orientation is that the influence is not clearly defined, and it certainly does not cause or determine orientation. [17]

Genetic studies of sexuality made the news following the publication of the twin research of J. M. Bailey and J. C Pillard. [18] Comparing 110 homosexual men who were monozygotic (identical) and dizygotic (fraternal) twins, Bailey and Pillard found that 52 percent of the monozygotic subjects but only 22 percent of the dizygotic subjects had homosexual twins, while the rate of homosexuality among nontwin brothers was 9.2 percent. Comparing 108 women, J. M. Bailey and fellow researchers found that 48 percent of the monozygotic subjects but only 16 percent of the dizygotic subjects had homosexual twins, while the rate of homosexuality among nontwin sisters was 14 percent. [19] Another recent study obtained similar results. [20]

If these rates are accurate, they appear to indicate some kind of genetic association -- about half the time, at least -- since only monozygotic twins share the same genetic material. Nevertheless, as W. Byne and B. Parsons point out, there are several flaws in these studies. There is some doubt about the representativeness of the samples, since the researchers recruited subjects by solicitation through homosexual organizations and publications. Other twin studies contradict Bailey and Pillard's results, including a recent study that found 25 percent monozygotic and 12.5 percent dizygotic concordance. [21] The double rate of dizygotic twins as compared to nontwin siblings makes no genetic sense, since dizygotic twins share no more genetic material with one another than with other siblings. In fact, this result and the high rate of homosexuality among nontwin siblings as compared to the general population point to shared environmental rather than biological factors. [22] And of course, if the cup of concordance is half full, it is also half empty, leaving researchers to wonder why all monozygotic twins do not share a sexual orientation. [23]

Less than a year after the Bailey twin studies, a research team led by D. Hamer published a report of their link of male homosexuality to a small stretch of DNA on the X chromosome. [24] The "gay gene," as it became known in the media, was in reality not a gene at all but an observation that @- three of forty pairs of homosexual nontwin brothers had homosexual relatives on their maternal sides that were traced to DNA markers in the same chromosome region, called Xq28.

The reactions of the scientific community have ranged from cautious optimism (accompanied by calls for replication and extension of the research) to strong criticism. The first problem is the missing theoretical gene itself: millions of base-pairs reside in the Xq28 region, and as yet no gene has been isolated -- if indeed there is only one. The researchers obtained little information from presumably heterosexual relatives, [25] and they provided no control group data, [26] leading to speculation that the gene may occur (how widely?) without being "switched on" (why not?) in the general population. [27] Furthermore, if the determinant of homosexuality is genetic, why did seven pairs of brothers not show it? Was the sample size large enough? Similar theories about depression, schizophrenia and alcoholism have come and gone after further research failed to confirm initial findings. [28]

Finally, correlation between a gene and homosexuality does not equal causation. The gene(s) might, for example, increase the tendency of twin brothers to identify with one another, so that when one becomes homosexual the other is likely to follow suit. [29] Another possibility is a gene that influences novelty seeking, harm avoidance, or dependence -- traits that might interact with the child's environment to encourage certain behaviors. [30] Alternately, the gene(s) might give mothers a tendency to smother their sons -- a phenomenon traditionally associated with "nurture" rather than "nature" theories. [31]

I review here only the more publicized of a number of interesting biological approaches to sexual orientation. The field of research is in its infancy -- even the questions are still in formation -- and results carry unprecedented emotional and political baggage. Columbia University psychiatrists Byne and Parsons offer this summary of their review of the present state of the research:

There is no evidence at present to substantiate a biologic theory, just as there is no compelling evidence to support any singular psychosocial explanation. While all behavior must have an ultimate biologic substrate, the appeal of current biologic explanations may derive more from dissatisfaction with the present status of psychosocial explanations than from a substantiating body of experimental data. Critical review shows the evidence favoring a biologic theory to be lacking. [32]
Nor is it only the scientific community that is slow to jump onto the biologic bandwagon. Homosexuals themselves express concern that isolation of a gene may eventually lead to genetic surgery to "correct" homosexuality, or in the interim, discovery of the genetic trait through amniocentesis and then abortion of the homosexual fetus. It would be an interesting turn of events to see homosexual activists join prolife demonstrators outside family-planning clinics.

But there is another twist already at work that will surprise many readers. That is, a large component of homosexual activists applaud biologic causation theories for their effect on public opinion [33] but are philosophically committed to personal choice as opposed to any deterministic theory, biologic or environmental. Consider, for example, the perspective of Darrel Yates Rist, cofounder of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation:

In the summer of 1991, the journal Science reported anatomical differences between the brains of homosexual and heterosexual men. The euphoric media -- those great purveyors of cultural myths -- drove the story wildly .... Reporters seized triumphantly on the renewed presumption that we humans are not responsible for our sexual choices any more than for whatever else we choose to do, that we are chromosomally driven to everything .... But [LeVay's work], like all such research, is a futile attempt to convince people who intuitively know better that under no circumstances can their children be lured by queer ideas if the urge is not embedded in their brains from birth ....

In the end, science may well discover some way to describe the intricate play of genes and environment that entices any of us to make the subtle choices throughout our lives that lead us to our particular expressions, sexual or otherwise, in a conformity-laden culture. Fine. Ultimately, though, it seems to me cowardly to abnegate our individual responsibility for the construction of sexual desires. Rather, refusing the expedient lie and insisting instead on the right to fulfill ourselves affectionately -- in whatever direction our needs compel us, however contrary to the social norm they may be -- is both honest and courageous, an act of utter freedom. [34]

Of course Rist would not applaud the assumptions or conclusions of this book, and I want to qualify this quotation carefully. Rist contends, for example, that all of us are essentially bisexual, and that heterosexuals hide behind biologic causation to ward off their own homoerotic fantasies. My point in quoting him is to show that discussion of biologic causation is not a simple matter of Tradition versus Science. In my own case, for example, I argue generally for a traditional moral stance, but I am persuaded (notwithstanding the cautious treatment above) that the biologic theories hold sufficient promise to count as one of several probable influences on an individual's sexual behavior. It is the exclusive explanation, sometimes called "biological essentialism," that appears to go much farther than the incomplete and conflicting evidence will allow.

Social Constructionism

In some senses the exact opposite of biological essentialism is the notion that the individual is a vessel waiting for culture and environment to fill it -- a social mechanism as opposed to a biological mechanism. I beg the indulgence of specialists as I choose to generalize in this section; others should note that there is diversity in this approach which readers may discover by following up on my sources. [35]

Social constructionism begins with the premise that sexual conduct is social in origin; that is, people learn sexuality as they learn everything else. Sex differences come with birth, gender differences ("masculine" and "feminine") are entirely a matter of training, and sexual conduct is shaped by social forces. Historically, the evidence for this is in the diversity of sexual conduct and attitudes toward it throughout history and across cultures. Constructionists do not necessarily argue from this that sexual rules are so arbitrary that they can change whenever the people in power change, [36] but neither are such rules tied to moral traditions or universal boundaries. Rather, each culture produces its own limits on change by means of the interplay of tradition, religion, politics and other factors. Homosexuality as we know it -- that is, long-term relationships of mutual consent between adults -- simply did not exist before the nineteenth century, when it was invented by scientists to create a pathological condition out of a rarely practiced behavior (previously known primarily as "sodomy'). The construction of the condition made it possible for increasing numbers of people to identify with it, and eventually to react against its pathological status.

This brief historical treatment enables us to explain how, generally and sociologically speaking, an individual homosexual identity is formed. There are four stages: sensitization, identity confusion, identity assumption and commitment. First, before puberty, everyone thinks of themselves as heterosexual, but some people are sensitized by feelings of marginality (perceptions of being different from others of the same sex, typically "tomboyish" or "sissy"). During adolescence a person may begin to associate this marginality with homosexuality, enduring years of confusion and various coping strategies to deal with negative self-perceptions, diverse sexual experiences, social stigma and ignorance about homosexuality. In late adolescence the individual may progress to identity assumption, a stage characterized by acceptance of homosexuality and extensive social and sexual association with other homosexuals. Finally the individual may experience commitment, a stage that usually continues to develop over a lifetime and involves satisfaction with the homosexual identity, long-term homosexual relationships and free disclosure to nonhomosexuals.

Criticisms of social constructionist theory depend to some extent on the degree to which the particular theorist discounts other factors. Some theorists are quite chauvinistic about the discipline, reducing all truth to sociological terms and reducing people to passive receptacles for cultural influences. As in the case of biological causation theories, then, social constructionism can be deterministic; that is, it can imply that behavior is caused by invisible, impersonal forces over which the individual has no control.

At the individual level, while constructionism might offer a plausible description of the process of homosexual identity formation, the approach seems vague when it comes to the causes behind the process, especially in the early stages. For example, what trips the trigger to cause one person to resolve sexual identity confusion in a certain way? Or to begin further back, why and how does a parent socialize one infant in such a way that gender nonconformity results? Are infants really blank slates on which ideas of masculine and feminine are written by whoever happens to hold the chalk?

Obviously, the sociological answers to such questions often compete directly with biological answers -- and both compete with the notion that individual reflection and will are significantly involved at some points.

Early Childhood Environment

The most common "nurture" theories of homosexual causation focus on deep disturbances in the parent-child relationship during the first few years of life. [37] In the classical psychoanalytic explanation, every child moves toward the parent of the opposite sex, and the inevitable frustration of that desire leads the child to resolve the conflict by turning to the same-sex parent (this is called "Oedipal resolution" and usually occurs around age four). But for prehomosexuals something goes wrong with the relationship with the same-sex parent, and the individual remains in sexual immaturity or incompleteness, desiring the same sex and (often unconsciously) hostile toward the opposite sex.

Not all "developmental" theories employ psychoanalytic language, but all benefit from a massive amount of data that associate adult male homosexuality with the presence in childhood of a distant unavailable and rejecting father and an intensely affectionate, domineering, intimate mother. [38] Alternately, the loss of a parent through death or divorce may disturb the parent-child relationship. Interestingly, in the case of both male and female homosexuals the loss of the father by death or divorce occurs at an unusual rate. M. T. Saghir and E. Robins, for example, found that 18 percent of homosexual men and 35 percent of homosexual women had lost their father by death or divorce before the age of ten. [39]

Perhaps as an outgrowth of such early trauma, the child may begin to manifest cross-gender behavior in the preadolescent years. Although few homosexual adults conform to the stereotypical effeminate male or masculine female, the vast majority (up to 70 percent) describe themselves as having been "sissies" or "tomboys" as children. [40] Interestingly, during childhood those who are perceived as tomboys are generally content to be female, while those who are perceived as sissies typically want to be girls. This is almost certainly due to the fact that culture stigmatizes sissies but not tomboys, and it may in turn help to explain the relative numbers of male versus female homosexuals. The male child in this situation may be socialized as a girl by associating with them, and since the girls grow up desiring boys, so does he. Alternately, he may long for love from men, having grown up being rejected by them.

The different statistics about parental loss and acceptance of tomboy status are two indications that development of a homosexual identity in women may not occur as the exact reverse of development for men. [41] Other differences include the high rate of childhood sexual trauma among women who become lesbians [42] and of course the different ways in which women desire and express sexuality (whether these are learned or innate).

The upshot is that in the case of both male and female homosexuals, the problem of nurture may involve a difficulty in reconciliation with maleness. Certainly this is the dominant explanation for developmental theorists in the case of homosexual men, whose desire as an adult is not to be a woman but to identify with a man. Sexual desire is an understandable outgrowth of this intense need, but sexual satisfaction does not meet the underlying need. For many homosexual men the cycle of need, temporary fix through sexual gratification, and deeper frustration sets the psychological stage for obsessive and compulsive sexual behavior, most often in the form of promiscuity.

Critics of developmental theory, like critics of biological theories, point to the inconsistency of research results and to the cases that fail to fit the theory. How do we explain the person whose parents were well-adjusted, who experienced no childhood trauma, who exhibited no preadolescent cross-gender behavior and who nevertheless ends up with (and perhaps remembers nothing but) a homosexual preference? Moreover, is the evidence for early childhood trauma really so overwhelming? It is for the most part based on the impressions of therapists or the distant memories of their subjects, and as such it may be manufactured to fit the theory of the moment. [43] With regard to parents themselves, several scholars have recently chosen the egg over the chicken, maintaining that same-sex parents react to prehomosexual children by becoming distant and ineffectual. [44] Thus developmental theorists themselves may read the same data in different ways. Others may even reread their own discipline: some psychoanalysts have mutinied, arguing that the discipline must be weaned of negative terminology like "Oedipal failure" and "immaturity" in order to make it clear that "one's positive sense of self and capacity for full relatedness are the salient issues, not the gender of one's attachments." [45] In this brave new world not even Sigmund Freud is sacred.

Moral Environment

While it does not compete for space in the current professional literature on the etiology (causation) of homosexuality, the moral environment merits acknowledgment as an influential factor in the formation of individual sexuality. The human conscience is no less real for being rather ambiguous. To some people it is nothing more than a little voice in the back of the head whispering the rules of childhood training -- the last voice heard, perhaps, before one enters the oblivion of passion. To others it is the product of deliberate and mature ethical reflection.

Scripture affirms that the conscience of a Christian is subject to "cleansing" by God's Spirit (Heb 9:14, 22; 1 Pet 3:21), which I understand to mean that God operates in and through experiences to develop a greater facility for moral discernment (see, for example, Col 1:9-10; Heb 5:14).

Some people, through no merit of their own, end up in family or church or educational or marital environments that stimulate and reward moral strength and maturity. Other people recognize their need for such stimuli and choose to place themselves in edifying surroundings, to read good books, to strive prayerfully for growth, to practice goodness. The wise know that righteousness does not develop in a social or spiritual vacuum. They know that conscience is contagious.

It would be a mistake, then, even in the midst of a review of secular etiological theories -- especially in the midst of such a review -- to leave out the influence of conscience in the formation of an individual's sexual identity. If the moral environment of a person sends the message that anything goes, anything just might. Alternately, if the moral environment of a person is shallow and repressive, that person may rebel against rules that seem as empty as the people who try to enforce them. If, on the other hand, the moral environment of a person contains deeply held, lovingly reinforced, reasonably maintained principles to guide sexual behavior, that person is likely to act in accordance with those principles.

Behavioral Reinforcement

Akin in some ways to social constructionist theory, behavioral psychology maintains that we learn about sexuality (and everything else) by reinforcement of experiences. [46] Unlike most psychoanalytic or developmental approaches, behaviorism assigns no values to environment or behavior. It simply observes that people seek to repeat pleasurable experiences and to avoid painful experiences. Whenever reinforcement is immediate, as it often is (either negatively or positively) in the case of sex, it is especially powerful in establishing future patterns of behavior.

Very basic erotic experiences with the same sex may begin in infancy if the child strongly associates the same-sex parent with stimulation of the genitals during bathing or diaper changing. Later, parents may discover a child "playing doctor" and react so harshly that the child associates the opposite sex with pain. Many boys are seduced by men or engage in sex play with other boys and enjoy the experience; some make it the basis of sexual fantasy until they begin to define themselves as homosexual and turn to the behavior as adults. Others of both sexes have negative opposite-sex experiences and mm to members of their own sex for pleasure (this is more common and occurs later in life for women). Others simply lack access to members of the opposite sex.

After some pleasurable experiences with members of the same sex, negative reinforcement in the form of social stigma attached to homosexuality may turn some people back to heterosexuality, or at least to the compromise of bisexuality. But others manage to persist in homosexuality by surrounding themselves with the reinforcements of a long-term companion, a network of supportive friends and a positive self-image.

Behaviorist psychology is subject to the some of the same criticisms as social constructionist theory. More specifically, it fails to account fully for the reasons that one person might experiment in one direction, another in the opposite direction. In addition, it appears to discount will and reflection, reducing human activity to a series of reactions to external stimuli. Partly as a result, behaviorism has developed a notorious reputation, especially among homosexual activists, for its therapy techniques, especially those that accomplish aversion through physical punishment for homoerotic responses. [47]

Excursus: Can Homosexuals Be Recruited?

It is apparent from what we have seen thus far that the formation of a homosexual identity is too complex in most cases to result merely from seduction by a homosexual. Popular fears of recruitment by schoolteachers, for example, may be exaggerated. Still, there is some evidence for concern about recruitment in childhood and early adolescence, and this evidence may be consistent with several of the theories outlined above.

In chapter six I cited data showing that there is a disproportionate problem of sexual molestation of children among male homosexuals. Having been molested in itself does not necessarily have a direct correlation to the sexual identity of a boy. Nevertheless, it is disturbing to find that although under 4 percent of boys are molested by men, a recent major study found that the rate of childhood molestation by men among homosexual or bisexual men was nearly ten times that (35 percent). [48] It is also notable that 75 percent of homosexual men report their first homosexual experience prior to the age of sixteen, as compared to 22 percent of heterosexual men reporting their first heterosexual experienced. [49]

A variety of explanations might account for this. From a biologic or developmental perspective, one might argue that prehomosexual children are more likely to be targets for molestation. From a sociological or behaviorist perspective, one might argue that children who have such experiences are more likely to experience confusion over their sexual identity and later to define themselves as homosexuals. From the perspective of the moral environment, one might argue that a society with an increasingly value-neutral view of homosexual behavior will provide fewer and weaker checks on those who associate early homosexual experience with a homosexual identity.

On top of all this, the liberalization of attitudes toward pedophilia and increasing rates of molestation (approved or not) contribute to an ever-larger pool of children who are candidates for influence. Moreover, I have considered only the impact of sexual experience on the young. We must also consider the impact of increasingly widespread and intrusive value-neutral or prohomosexual education.

As the history and comparison of cultures shows, there is not a constant percentage of homosexual people simply waiting to be born into every society, unaffected by discouraging or encouraging factors. To the extent that childhood and adolescent homosexual experience and education contribute to the formation of a homosexual identity, we must take very seriously the influence of those who, in one way or another, recruit the young.

Individual Choice

Some who object to the deterministic extremes of some biological and sociological theorists take the opposite extreme, arguing that orientation is a self-justifying myth and that homosexuality is a choice, pure and simple. As I noted at the beginning of this chapter, there is in fact a moment when an individual must choose whether or not to have sex with another person. There are also conditions under which a person might engage in same-sex acts without being driven by a long-standing or deeply felt desire for such actions. Prison inmates, for example, commonly engage in same-sex acts without considering themselves homosexuals and without continuing the activity after they leave prison and find opposite-sex partners. Adolescents and counterculture types may choose same-sex acts as a dramatic expression of independence, individuality or freedom from authority. Others may experiment out of curiosity or fascination with the forbidden. Some feminists find that the logical conclusion of their rejection of patriarchal culture is to seek fulfillment in all important areas of life, including the sexual, within the sisterhood.

These are some of the most common circumstances in which a person might choose homosexual activity, at least for a time, without having an inclination influenced by biology, socialization, environment or early reinforcement. The truth is that a person who elects to leave the paved road of heterosexual monogamy may find many paths that lead to sexual gratification. Still, I think that we must make a distinction between those who leave the road thinking to find something better out there and those for whom the road is a strange and objectionable place. That is, there appears to be sufficient evidence that some people do not desire physical intimacy with members of the opposite sex, and they do desire intimacy with members of their own sex. Furthermore, some people have known this desire for as long as they can remember.

I hesitate to call this an orientation -- a word I have for the most part avoided in this book -- because for many people the word has come to imply an inevitable, and therefore justified, behavior. In other words, many think that orientation indicates what a person is -- and of course, the argument goes, we must act according to who we are. Thus, in two easy steps, it becomes not only morally justifiable but almost morally obligatory for a person with a homosexual orientation to engage in homosexual activity.

The fallacy here lies in the equation of sexual orientation with being. Whatever Freud and Foucault and most advertisers may think, the desire for sex is neither central nor necessary to anyone's being. [50] It should not control the person. My truck has a four-wheel drive; however, I should not expect to avoid a citation by explaining to the highway patrol that my vehicle was exploring the freeway embankment because I was being driven by my drive! Similarly, when I use the term orientation I mean only what a person desires, not what a person has a right to do, much less what a person is compelled to do as an expression of his or her being.

A Multiple Variant Model

With tedious repetition, proponents of the various etiological theories call for further research to establish a clear link between the data and their theory. This approach may keep the grant money flowing, but it is highly unlikely that enough evidence will appear to establish any one theory at the expense of all others. To some extent each theory depends on unrecoverable information from the past or from the mysterious workings of the human mind. And to some extent each theory is an apple to the orange of another. For example, does evidence that some people have a genetic disposition rule out the possibility that others may be socialized? Furthermore, if one study shows that fifty of one hundred subjects are genetically disposed and another shows that fifty of one hundred subjects are socialized, does that mean that the two theories account for all cases -- or do both theories explain the same fifty?

Perhaps it is inevitable that in reaction to so many unanswered or unanswerable questions, some scholars are turning to combined causation theories. [51] It seems to me that this is not merely a concession to confusion but a fair assessment of the complexity of causation. In other words, if it were possible to set aside the emotion and politics associated with various theories, we would probably find several influences at work in various strengths for any one individual.

So rather than to push one explanation or to rule out another, I will propose a model that treats them equally and sequentially. Such a model necessarily oversimplifies, since variables may vary in strength or direction for any one individual. My purpose is simply to show one way in which different theories might work together. In figure 1 [below], the underlined terms represent theories of influence or causation in the sequence described above. On either side of each theory are specific variables that allow for (right side) or impede (left side) movement to the next category of influence.

In a simple sequential view, each variable allows for movement to the next. Suppose, for the purpose of illustration, that a boy with a biological disposition to gender nonconforming behavior is born in a confused culture that associates such behavior with homosexuality. The boy has a dysfunctional family in which the mother is overwhelming and the father is ineffectual. The boy grows up with no more moral training than is necessary to keep him out of trouble at home or in school. He experiments with same-sex relations as an adolescent and finds pleasure and companionship. As he enters adulthood, he chooses to move to a large city where he can build a life within the homosexual\ subculture.

At any point the introduction of a strong contrary variable might stop the succession. If, for example, the boy was born into a traditional culture, or if his dysfunctional family was exchanged for a functional one, or if he experienced a powerful conversion into a mature Christian community as an early adolescent his adult sexual identity might be heterosexual.


normal biological genetic or
hormonal
difference

         
  clear
gender
roles
cultural societal or
individual
confusion

       
    functional
family
environmental family
dysfunction

     
      responsible moral permissive
or
repressive

   
        negative
experience
behavioral positive
experience

 
          refusal volitional consent
Figure 1. Multiple variable model for homosexual identity formation


I repeat, however, that the model I outline is too simple to account for every case. Levels might be skipped, or one variable might be present in sufficient strength to overcome the absence of others. Another boy, for example, might have no disposition prior to an adolescent sexual experience that convinces him that he is a homosexual. Another might exhibit such a high level of effeminacy from early childhood that all the input of a functional family and a supportive moral environment fail to protect him from the societal assumption (and eventual self-perception) that he is a sissy and therefore a homosexual. Yet another might experience every influence in the direction of homosexuality but finally, at the level of volition, might say to himself, "No, this is simply too dangerous," and choose against it. [52]

The combinations and relative strengths of the variables make for an almost infinite variety of explanations. To apply any one theory to any one individual, therefore, is almost certainly simplistic. The multiple-variant model itself is intended to aid conceptualization, not to explain particular cases, because faulty memory and guesswork about variable strengths will always cloud the picture. Nevertheless, even an admittedly cloudy picture is better than no picture when we consider the powerful drive to understand and accept one's sexual identity -- or to change it.

Therapy and Healing Programs: Trick or Treatment?

Strategies for helping individuals to alter homosexual behavior or orientation differ according to the opinion of the counselor about whether homosexuality is in itself a disorder and, if so, what theory of causation applies. In the past twenty years the official stance of the American Psychiatric Association has changed from the position that homosexuality is a mental disorder, to the position that it is only a disorder when the subject does not want it, to the position that it is never a disorder. [53] Most of the current literature and education focuses on the need to help homosexuals embrace their sexuality and cope with homophobia. [54] Counselors now cooperate with schools and businesses to provide (often compulsory) sensitivity training against heterosexism. Increasing numbers of therapists join homosexual activists to proclaim that homosexuality is immutable, that so-called change is a myth or a temporary and cruel imposition on the lives of a few vulnerable individuals. [55] Some within the American Psychiatric Association are now calling for an official ban on reparative therapy. [56]

Against this pressure, many secular therapists persist in offering help to clients who wish to change. Leadership in this endeavor is supplied by the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), founded in 1991 by prominent psychiatrists C. W. Socarides and B. Kaufmann. Researchers who have conducted follow-up studies report success rates of 30-50 percent for long-term significant change in behavior or orientation. [57]

For example, W. Masters and V. Johnson conducted a study of fifty-four men and thirteen women who expressed a desire to convert or revert to a heterosexual orientation. [58] Therapists chose candidates for their apparently high degree of motivation and for their accompaniment by an understanding opposite-sex partner who could serve as a support during the transition period. The treatment format consisted of an intensive two-week program followed by periodic follow-up over a five-year period. The client couple worked with a man-woman therapy team who focused on nonjudgmental identification and explanation of the influences that had led to the client's homosexual behavior. The therapists then worked to reduce these influences within the context of the clients' value system and to encourage heterosexual function on the part of the client couple. About 20 percent failed during the initial treatment period, but the five-year follow-up revealed no more than a 30-45 percent total failure rate, much lower than even Masters and Johnson had expected. [59]

Behavioral therapy, consistent with the behaviorist theory of causation, involves immediate negative reinforcement of homosexual responses in the client and positive reinforcement of heterosexual responses. In the early days of behavioral therapy, the former technique, also known as aversion therapy, sometimes involved physical punishment These methods proved ineffective and were abandoned, although they live on in the graphic accusations of revisionists that compare therapy to Auschwitz. [60] Modem behaviorist techniques involve trained accomplices, visual stimuli, role-playing, assertiveness training and a variety of verbal and nonverbal reinforcement techniques on the part of the therapists themselves. [61]

Another strategy for therapy finds such efforts to replace same-sex function with opposite-sex function misplaced and actually counterproductive, since the essential problem is an arrested development that renders the client unable to relate to the same sex in appropriate ways. [62] In this strategy the client must work on identity formation with a same-sex therapist to reestablish the long-detached identification with the same-sex parent and to develop appropriate, nonsexual same-sex friendships.

Client motivation is of course a major factor in all success reports. Other positive variables include youth (under thirty), anxiety over the homosexual condition, recent onset of homosexual activity, some heterosexual experience, lower level of effeminacy in men or masculinity in women, higher education level, loneliness and desire for marriage and children. [63]

Christian therapy programs borrow much from secular therapy techniques (especially psychotherapy) and from recovery programs like Alcoholics Anonymous. An example of this multifaceted approach is the Spring Forth Ministry [64] in Cincinnati, which involves a six-month to two-and-a-half-year program of small group (no one-on-one) counseling, personal history disclosure, personality inventory, twelve-step support groups, and repeatable courses on family systems and Christian thought. After hearing director Hal Scholl's moving story and description of his program at a recent conference, I was quick to ask the obvious question about success rates. He responded candidly that the dropout rate is high. In fifteen years, about twelve hundred have persevered through the program; but for every one who stays for the duration, twenty drift in and out. On the other hand, he noted that the success rates are similar to those for chemical dependency programs.

During the ensuing discussion among conferees, a profound statement on the subject of success rates was made by one conferee, a former homosexual now ten years out of the lifestyle. He explained that "homosexual activists want to convince not only the public but themselves that change never occurs, because if I exist, each of them must be haunted by the possibility that they, too, might find the power to change."

Despite the accusations of critics that Christian ministries to homosexuals are led by unprofessional manipulators who make grandiose false claims for the success of their methods, I think the fair-minded observer will conclude otherwise. As numerous books by ministry leaders show, their focus is on changed behavior, they are honest about the probability of ongoing temptations, and they recognize that growth is a lifelong process, not a quick fix. Of course they accentuate the positive and give examples of success (including themselves), because they are trying to offer encouragement to struggling people. They do not provide "scientific" statistics on success rates, but I am not sure that it would mean much if they did. Skeptics might counter any attempt to provide numbers of people who change their behavior with the accusation that such people are lying or that they are damaging themselves by repressing their orientation. Similarly, skeptics might counter any attempt to provide numbers of people who change their orientation with the accusation that the change is not permanent, not complete or not verifiable by client self-reporting (which is the result of brainwashing) or counselor impression (which is the result of wishful thinking).

These kinds of accusations are also leveled against respected secular therapists, and the accusations allow revisionists to propagate the non sequitur that since reparation has not been empirically verified (according to their impossible standards), reparation is a myth. [65] It is an easy step from that point to call for the marginalization or criminalization of anyone who attempts to perpetuate the myth by effecting change -- especially if they do so in an "unprofessional" manner.

It would be interesting to apply the same logic to Alcoholics Anonymous (which, incidentally, refuses to keep statistics). Statistics may be useful to measure observable events, but they are notoriously imprecise in measuring human wills, thoughts and desires. However frustrating this may be, especially to some social scientists, it is not legitimate to conclude from our inability to prove one thing (complete change from homosexual to heterosexual orientation) that we have proved something else (the impossibility of at least substantial change).

The testimonies of real people whose lives have changed suggest that the distinctive of the Christian counseling approach is power and the Person through whom it is offered. There is a crucial point in therapy where a counselor must attempt to instill strength in the client to take the insights gained in therapy out into the real world. Support groups often help, but there are moments when every person must face temptation and opportunity without other people around to lean on. In the Christian perspective, the ultimate Counselor is always present with the offer of power, forgiveness, hope -- and even a healthy model of fatherhood.

I have been greatly impressed by the counseling insights of several Christian writers and the loving spirit in which they communicate their wisdom. They write with the authority of counseling experience -- in some cases personal homosexual experience -- and as a result their words are alive with hope. The primary purpose of my book is to treat the moral question, and I would do injustice to these other writers by repeating in brief what they communicate more powerfully in detail, especially through real-life stories. I will simply draw attention to the distinctive features of the books I consider the best, with the hope that my brief comments will aid the reader in choosing a more specific direction for further reading.

Leanne Payne's The Broken Image [66] stresses the role of specific kinds of prayer to produce forgiveness and relational hearing. The book emanates a true healer's loving insight and substantial experience. I had the unforgettable experience of meeting Payne on a park bench in Oxford, England, before I knew the significance of her work. Within minutes I was aware that I was in the presence of an extraordinarily deep channel of God's love. I was prepared by that two-hour conversation to be impressed by her book, and I was not disappointed.

Andrew Comiskey, who acknowledges Payne as a primary influence, wrote one of the most popular books on homosexual healing, Pursuing Sexual Wholeness [67] Comiskey, himself a former homosexual and now a married father of four children, heads the Los Angeles-area Desert Stream Ministry. He offers a refreshingly honest account of his own journey, and he focuses on support and accountability within the Christian community for the person who is making a transition from homosexuality.

Coming Out of Homosexuality, [68] by Bob Davies and Lori Rentzel, is notable not so much for insights beyond those of Payne and Comiskey as for its thoroughness and readability. Davies found help for his struggle with homosexual desires through the San Francisco Love in Action ministry fifteen years ago and is now executive director of Exodus International; Rentzel has worked with Love in Action since 1977. Their book contains a wealth of practical details on coping with temptation, dealing with the past, forming healthy friendships and considering marriage.

I will make brief reference to a few more helpful books. Michael Saia's Counseling the Homosexual [69] offers many of the insights of the books described above, with a somewhat more theological flavor. J. R. Cavanaugh's Counseling the Homosexual [70] gives a Roman Catholic perspective and stresses the importance of therapy to reduce guilt and to encourage heterosexuality. G. J. M. van den Aardweg's Homosexuality and Hope [71] stresses the roles of hope and faith for the person in transition. Finally, I recommend How Do I Tell My Mother?, [72] the moving autobiography of Jerry Arterburn, written while he was dying of AIDS and supplemented by his brother Steve, who runs the New life Treatment Center in Laguna Beach, California.

Conclusion

So I end the research portion of this book as I began it, with a survey of recent literature. The contrast between the books just mentioned and the revisionist literature summarized in chapter two is significant and it leads to a recommendation.

Revisionists repeatedly stress the importance of personal stories over abstract theories. Although I maintained earlier, and I repeat here, that we should not separate story and theory, I will grant the separation for the moment. Compare stories. Consider the most articulate accounts of experience on each side of the moral debate. On one side, read the story of Mel White or Gary Comstock or Robert Williams, along with the prohomosexuality argument of experienced pastor/psychiatrist John McNeill. [73] On the other side, read the story of Andrew Comiskey or Bob Davies or Jerry Arterburn, along with the argument for homosexual healing of experienced pastor/ counselor Leanne Payne. At the very least, linger in a bookstore long enough to read the last two pages of each book.

Here you will have an "apples and apples" comparison -- people long out of the closet alongside people long out of the lifestyle. No theorists like me writing from up in the ivory tower, but people who have spent considerable time down in their self-described dungeons, either of homophobia or of homosexuality. I submit that any sensitive reader, regardless of his or her position on the moral issue, will discover by reading these books in close sequence a marked difference not so much in the quality of the arguments -- leave those to the ivory tower types for the moment -- but in the qualities of the writers.

I will be more specific. In the first group of writers there is an unmistakable whine of victimization running through the narrative; in the second group there is an equally unmistakable psalm of release. The first group burns with rage; the second group glows with peace. In the first group the writer is invariably the hero; in the second group Jesus is invariably the hero. The first group openly proclaims the will to power, the spirit of self-actualization, the god of this age; the second group openly proclaims the will to serve, the Spirit of Jesus, the God of the age to come.

Can the pain of the writers justify the first set of qualities? To some extent, perhaps. Can deceivers or the self-deceived fake the second set of qualities? To some extent, perhaps. Are there other books out there yet to be written by irenic, humble homosexuals? I expect so: the movement is young. Are there other books out there written by homophobic conservatives with lousy attitudes? I am afraid so: the movement is old. Finally, is it really an "apples and apples" comparison to set the experience of resistance to cultural norms over against the experience of accession to cultural norms? Perhaps not: perhaps these different kinds of experience force us back to abstract and complex questions concerning the relative importance for Christians of the acquisition of Justice and the renunciation of power.

And so the words of experience, like the theories of causation, leave us with difficult and perhaps unanswerable questions. In the meantime we are left to consider the best words we can find on both sides of the issue and to discern, with Gods help, the spirit within them.

Having reached my own conclusions about the available words on the subject of healing, I end this chapter with what I consider some of the best words, from among the last published words of Jerry Arterburn. These words mark the final transition for one man, but they may apply prophetically to all who facilitate healing among homosexuals:

Only God knows my future here on earth. I do not concern myself with how many days or months or years are in His plan. I only know I would rather live one day as I am today than for eternity the way I was....

For me, during these difficult times of struggle, as each day grows darker, a new dawn draws closer. That closeness to the God I love gives me a superhuman peace and sensitivity that keeps me filled with hope for a new and better day. [74]


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