Skip to comments.Research fuels religious debate over homosexuality
Posted on 05/05/2006 12:43:11 PM PDT by DBeers
“Steve,” a married 48-year-old Orthodox Jew from Jerusalem with six children, is proud of his success: After 18 months of counseling, he has restricted his sexual encounters with other men to only once in the last four months. Steve, who is not — in his words — “a biological homosexual,” attributes his restraint to a therapy group that uses religious values as part of the treatment.
As someone who until recently had a long-term male lover and regularly engaged in casual gay sex, Steve — who asked that his real name not be used — says that a few years ago he would not have thought he could stop having sex with men altogether. Now, though, he considers it a goal that is “absolutely in my reach.”
Steve’s therapy group is one of many around the world that aims to help people cope with unwanted homosexual inclinations. Such treatment — known as reorientation, reparative or conversion therapy — has been severely criticized by gay-rights activists and many mental-health professionals who say sexual orientation is generally unchangeable. At best, the therapy is unsuccessful, activists say. At worst, it is harmful.
The scriptures of all three major monotheistic religions — as understood by many in those traditions — condemn homosexual behavior, leaving Christians, Jews and Muslims who have same-sex attractions to choose between their religious values and their sexual orientation. The dilemma has led some psychologists, psychiatrists and religious leaders to break off from predominant psychological thinking and swim against the current of political correctness in their attempt to induce change in patients with unwanted sexual attractions.
The American Psychiatric Association, or APA, removed homosexuality in 1973 from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, known as the DSM. In May 2000, the association stated: “Psychotherapeutic modalities to convert or ‘repair’ homosexuality are based on developmental theories whose scientific validity is questionable. Furthermore, anecdotal reports of ‘cures’ are counterbalanced by anecdotal claims of psychological harm. In the last four decades, ‘reparative’ therapists have not produced any rigorous scientific research to substantiate their claims of cure. Until there is such research available, APA recommends that ethical practitioners refrain from attempts to change individuals’ sexual orientation, keeping in mind the medical dictum to first, do no harm.”
But in 2001, a new wrinkle was added. Robert Spitzer, a Columbia University psychiatrist who had helped spearhead the removal of homosexuality from the DSM, presented a study at an APA conference concluding that “there is evidence that change in sexual orientation following some form of reparative therapy does occur in some gay men and lesbians.”
In his research, Spitzer found that 66 percent of the men and 44 percent of the women had achieved “good heterosexual functioning,” and that 11 percent of the men and 37 percent of the women reported being entirely free of homosexual feelings. His research was based on telephone interviews with 200 people who reported a five-year change from homosexual to heterosexual attraction. Spitzer also found that the vast majority of the interviewees were religious and “highly motivated” to change their sexual orientation.
The study, published in Archives of Sexual Behavior in October 2003, was criticized by some of Spitzer’s peers for using biased respondents. Specifically, 65 percent of the participants had been told of the study by the National Association for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), a secular group supporting the right to pursue change of sexual orientation, or by therapists and ministries devoted to encouraging homosexuals to abandon gay lifestyles. Critics also faulted the report for relying on self-reports and being inapplicable to society at large. “As scientists, we must disbelieve Spitzer’s data because they are so compromised by subject selection bias as to raise serious objections to any claims Spitzer might make about their meaning and generalizability,” wrote Kenneth Cohen, a counselor at Cornell University’s Gannett Health Center, in Archives of Sexual Behavior. Moreover, psychologists Michael Schroeder and Ariel Shidlo presented data at the same APA meeting contradicting Spitzer’s results. Their five-year study on the effects of homosexual “conversion therapies” found that 178 of their 202 subjects failed in such therapies and that most reported suffering mental stress or emotional pain from the treatment.
One of the key problems in determining the efficacy of reorientation therapy is that there is no single definition of sexual orientation.
“Whether one can say that sexual orientation is being changed depends on how narrowly one defines sexual orientation or if it can be defined at all,” wrote Warren Throckmorton, an associate professor of psychology at Grove City College in Pennsylvania, in a 1998 article in the Journal of Mental Health Counseling.
Most members of NARTH share the view that homosexuality is a developmental disorder. Adam Jessel, a NARTH member and therapist who has treated Steve, has said he tries to help his clients control their same-sex attraction, rather than to “cure” them. But Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders have diverging doctrine on whether homosexual is an actual disorder and what its causes are.
Several respected scientific findings point to at least some involvement of biology in homosexuality. Among them is a 2005 genome study conducted by the University of Illinois at Chicago that found about 60 percent of gay brothers shared four stretches of DNA that appeared to be linked to sexual orientation. The findings first appeared in the March 2005 issue of Human Genetics. Brian Mustanski, a psychologist in the university’s department of psychiatry and lead author of the study, found the DNA stretches on three different chromosomes in the nucleus of cells of the human male. “There is no one gay gene,” said Mustanski. “Sexual orientation is a complex trait, so it’s not surprising that we found several DNA regions involved in its expression. Our best guess is that multiple genes, potentially interacting with environmental influences, explain differences in sexual orientation.”
Such findings have been used to argue all sides of the issue. Norman Goldwasser, an Orthodox Jewish psychologist who treats patients with unwanted homosexual inclinations at his Florida clinic, said he sees homosexuality as a result of traumatic experiences or dysfunctional family dynamics but also believes that biology can play a role. Goldwasser said homosexual tendencies can be modified or healed “just as other biologically oriented issues [can].” In short, he said that people’s biology need not become their destiny
But while some Orthodox rabbis have characterized homosexuality as a disease for at least some people with same-sex tendencies, the heads of the Conservative and Reform rabbis in Israel reject the concept of homosexuality as a psychological problem subject to change. “Jewish law clearly prohibits eating pork; no one would suggest that someone who has an inclination to eat pork has a psychological difficulty,” said Rabbi Andrew Sacks, director of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly in Israel.
Not all Jews share the same viewpoint. “We don’t see it as a disease,” said Rabbi Kinneret Shiryon, chairperson of the Reform movement’s Israel Council of Progressive Rabbis. “There’s nothing to cure.”
The Roman Catholic Church, in a 1986 letter approved by Pope John Paul II, refers to homosexual inclination as an “objective disorder.” Some Catholics say, however, that the church’s reference to a disorder is meant in the philosophical, not psychological, sense. The letter rejects the “demeaning assumption that the sexual behavior of homosexual persons is always and totally compulsive,” said Father John Francis Harvey, author of the 1996 book The Truth About Homosexuality: The Cry of the Faithful.
Harvey is the founding director of a Catholic support group called Courage, which enlists a 12-step program similar to the one used by Alcoholics Anonymous, or AA, to help people with homosexual inclinations be chaste. By modeling its program after AA, Courage draws a comparison between homosexuality and alcoholism that is widespread among supporters of reorientation therapy. Just as alcoholics can conquer their addiction through will and effort, so too — Courage’s argument goes — can people with homosexual inclinations bring their desires under control.
Similar to the way other organizations look to treat homosexuality, Courage refers to its clients as “people with same-sex attractions” in an effort to portray homosexuality as one of many possible personal problems rather than as a description of identity. “We changed the terminology,” said Harvey, who has a master’s degree in psychology and a doctorate in theology. “We don’t like ‘gay,’ ‘lesbian’ or ‘homosexual.’ We see these as labels.”
Among some major Protestant denominations, including the Presbyterian and Episcopal Churches, there is a split over whether homosexuality really is a psychological problem and whether it can — or should — be treated.
“It’s not viewed as a disorder by the majority of the church,” said the Rev. Jan Nunley, communication deputy at the Episcopal Church, which consists of 2 million to 3 million worshipers in roughly 7,500 congregations across the United States. She added, however, that some member churches do attempt to treat people with homosexual inclinations. The church’s official position is that any religious or psychological treatment for sexual orientation must not be coercive or manipulative.
The Presbyterian Church sees the issue of whether sexual orientation can be chosen or changed as a matter of crucial significance, but says it is a question yet to be settled. However, the pastoral guide for OneByOne, a Presbyterian organization that helps churches reach out to people “struggling with homosexuality,” said that “the homosexual orientation is not chosen and, therefore, is not sinful in and of itself.”
There has not been a lot of reorientation therapy in the Presbyterian Church, said Kristin Johnson, executive director of OneByOne. The conservative wing has largely sufficed with voicing negative views of homosexuality, while the liberal wing sees no reason to advocate changing a drive it sees as “healthy and normal,” she said.
The Southern Baptist Convention rejects biology as a possible factor in the formation of homosexuality, instead pointing to environmental factors such as family dynamics and sexual abuse. Citing NARTH President Joseph Nicolosi, it says that because homosexuality is a condition — not an identity — that a homosexual person simply does not exist.
Muslim theologians, meanwhile, tend to see homosexuality as environmental, although some Muslim and Arab medical professionals are open to the possibility of biological factors.
While homosexuality is not a “normal behavior,” its causes have yet to be determined with certainty, said Dr. Hossam E. Fadel, chairman of the Islamic Medical Association of North America’s ethics committee. Fadel said some Muslim clinicians in North America provide reorientation therapy. But in other parts of the world, Muslims and Arabs may be too frightened to either come out as gay or seek treatment to reduce their same-sex attractions.
It is quite rare for Arabs to seek treatment for homosexuality, said Dr. Issam Bannoura, director of the Bethlehem Mental Hospital in the West Bank. Bannoura classified homosexuality as untreatable abnormal behavior but not a disorder. “For such cases they don’t go to doctors in Arab society. It’s a great stigma for them,” he said.
Regardless of whether religious leaders and mental-health professionals view homosexuality as biological, genetic or both, those who support reparative therapy all agree on one thing: Some people can alter their sexual orientation.
As for “Steve,” he said that while he doesn’t know if he will be able to completely stop his homosexual behavior or come to terms with his attraction for men, he continues to believe that change is possible. “The will is greater than anything else in the world.”
Lengthy. Lots of info & links...
I guess being captured and held prisoner in Iraq has given the girl who wrote this a lot to think about!
The Gay lobby will fight any designation of homosexuality as a 'disorder' because that implies a 'cure' is possible.
"Our best guess is that multiple genes, potentially interacting with environmental influences, explain differences in sexual orientation.
Best guess? That sounds scientific.
That is what they have been fighting all along that IT IS a "disordered" state.
quote "the homosexual orientation is not chosen and, therefore, is not sinful in and of itself"
So I guess people born with the need to kill people aren't committing a sin either since they didn't choose to be born with the need to murder people.
Steve is right.....
The will is greater than anything else in the world.
By the grace of God we can overcome anything!
LOL -the false premised voodoo science was actually introduced just prior to the "best guess" throw away when Mustanski stated: "There is no one gay gene, Sexual orientation is a complex trait,"
Actually, NO gay gene or genes have been identified -he implies there are some. Additionally he declares that there is something he can not identify and or measure termed sexual orientation" and goes further by terming his faithful belief in the existence of sexual orientation" a trait (Trait: an innate genetically determined characteristic or condition)...
I get confused whether homosexuals want to believe they don't have a choice and we should just accept them or it is a choice and our children should choose homosexuality.
According to most Christians, no, they're not... unless and until they act on that need. Note the quote. "The homosexual orientation is not chosen and, therefore, is not sinful..." It doesn't say "The act of homosexual fornication is not chosen and, therefore, is not sinful..." They're saying you can't choose to whom you're attracted and so won't be held accountable for that... but you can choose what to do about your attraction.
Put another way, since fornication between any two people is sinful, being attracted to another person of the same sex is just as sinful as being attracted to a person of the opposite sex to whom you are not married.
You don't sin, according to the popular view, until you actually commit a sinful act.
Of course, Christians with this view aren't familiar with Matthew 5:28. Those that are realize that all lust (heterosexual or homosexual) is sinful, that all of us are guilty of it, and that we all need God's forgiveness.
Is consistency really that difficult to ask for? Yes, I know these issues can be different but if you can imagine sex roles being biological, is it that difficult to imagine that sexual orientation might also be biological, or vice versa?
Well put. It is part of the curse. It can be washed by the blood of the Lamb.
Please also note that I personally believe that behavior is a product of nature and nuture, which has implications that neither side likes.
I don't know of any "natural defects" that leave the victim 100% able in every aspect of mental cognition and physical health except one odd preference. If you could give me another example I might change my mind.
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