American Psychological Association Website: Answers to Your Questions About Sexual Orientation and Homosexuality
Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe
Compton's Interactive Bible NIV.
The Golden Bough: a Study in Magic and Religion
The Church and the Homosexual
The New Testament and Homosexuality
Pastoral Care of Gays and Lesbians and their Families
Or search Amazon.com for books related to GLBT people and Christianity.
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Comfort and Confidence For a Christian Man or Woman Realizing He or She is Gay
by: Stephen Wakeman
I suffer from recurrent depression. It is a genetic condition that has been in my family for as far back as we can trace. When I am depressed, I am barely able to take care of myself. I sometimes sit in the same spot unable to move, for days, because of overwhelming feelings of despair. The summer of my freshman year in college, I had joined a Christian fellowship in a town near the University in which I was enrolled. I felt that this fellowship was "alive" and I saw the spirit moving there in a way I had never seen before. It had so much I needed, spiritually. Then, I was hit with one of the most severe attacks of depression I have ever experienced.
Like many Christian fellowships that identify themselves with the "Charismatic Experience" this church taught its followers that it is never within God's will that anyone be sick in any way. To be an "over comer," you had to "live by faith" and believe for your healing. When I became depressed, I experienced the laying on of hands, and two sessions of deliverance from demons. The pastor named close to twenty demons as he saw into the spirit world and called them out. Weeks went by and I was still depressed. I lost weight and I was not getting better. Finally, through an elder in the church, the pastor asked me to leave. He thought that since I wasn't getting better, that there had to be some sin that I wasn't renouncing. There was something that I needed to change before I could be healed. He could not have me be a member of his "overcoming" congregation, because I was such a poor "witness."
I tried everything in terms of changing my habits. I prayed for hours, and my heart was earnestly seeking God's help. I had a few minor breakthroughs in my mood, but even these did not last. My body just seemed to be naturally depressed. This was my "default" state of mind at that time. Struggling to try to live up to the church's expectations only made my condition worse. Unfortunately, for me, the fellowship I was forced to leave was the only place I felt could nourish my needs and give me life-saving teaching. They operated in all of the spiritual gifts mentioned in the Bible. To leave it, I believed, meant a sure, slow, spiritual death.
I did leave that church. The only way I could stop struggling and be at peace was to give up my faith, which was deeply entwined in the religious beliefs of that fellowship. It took me years to separate myself from the harmful aspects of their "faith" message. Several times, I tried to go without my medication to "walk in faith." Each time I found myself spiraling into depression. After ten years, I finally came to the realization that I could not change who I was, and that I was never going to return to that church.
Through these "independent" years, God had made it apparent to me in so many little ways that He was still with me. There were little blessings here and there, but nonetheless I was assured of His presence enough so that I had reason to believe that He was beckoning me to continue with him. Obviously, I could not continue along the path I had been following, struggling to be someone that I was not. I had to return to the scriptures and listen to God's voice, that still, quiet voice, and let him teach me about who I am in Christ Jesus.
God had to lay a new foundation, so that my mind and my spirit had an unmovable, unshakeable base on which to grow. During this process, I learned that holiness and righteousness are His gifts to us. That no matter how good we try to be, no matter what we have accomplished, even with the spirit's help, ultimately, God sees us through the one mighty good deed of His son.
I am also the straight parent of a gay son. Since our son came out to us, another member of my congregation felt moved to come out. He and his wife went through a tremendous struggle of their own to find out how they would continue their lives. During this superhuman struggle to maintain their faith, I watched our church try to deal with having my son and my friend as openly gay members. I was astounded at the ignorance, the stereotypes, the embarrassment, and the stubbornness of members, even educated leaders of our congregation. This was a time that my son and my friend and his family needed recognition of the reality they were dealing with so they could be supported, whatever the congregation believed. Our brave pastor held a Bible study and was not afraid to use the name of Jesus and homosexuality in the same sentence. In the end, my friend was asked not to serve communion anymore, something that he had done faithfully for more than 10 years. My pastor was treated so disrespectfully by the senior council members that she resigned. My family and several other families could no longer worship there. I felt deeply for my son and for my friend that they had suffered spiritual bigotry much as I had. Their suffering, however, has been so much deeper than my own. For a Christian man or woman who is gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, being misunderstood or rejected by your church family can be devastating to a person's faith.
There is indeed a wall of ignorance that has been built up over thousands of years against our ability to understand and empathize with gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people. When my wife and I first learned that our son was gay, it took me nine months to feel physically comfortable around him, and a full thirteen months of prayer, study in the scriptures, reading books by gays who are Christian, and historical background reading before I was able to understand what the Bible really does and does not say about gays and lesbians. I wish to share some of what I have learned with you so that you can maintain your faith against the attitudes of this world and as you struggle with your own conscience.
It is my hope that what you read here will provide you with comfort and confidence. First, comfort, as you understand God's intention towards His GLBT children has never been condemnation of who you are or the desires of your heart. Second, confidence, as you learn as I did that the Bible, rather than being a condemning book, is a place to go to find out more about who you are in Christ Jesus, and about the power of His free gift given to you, regardless of who you are, because of your faith.
First of all, before you read the Bible to determine what it says about gays and lesbians, you have to understand what we know about sexual orientation, sexual abuse and same-sex sexual activity. You need to understand the limited knowledge the ancient world had of same-sex relationships and unions. You also need to understand the degree to which biology is involved in who we are as sexual beings. All this information is necessary to put truth and misinformation into perspective and to help you to put your approach to the scriptures in an appropriate context.
The people who know the most about gays, lesbians or bisexuals (other than themselves) are the people in the field of mental health. For many years, society sent most people who admitted that they were gay to see a psychologist or psychiatrist to "fix" their "problem." The American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its Diagnostic Manual of mental disorders in 1973. Psychiatrists and psychologists worked closely in therapy with gays and discovered that their sexual needs are identical with heterosexuals in terms of intensity and that their needs for romance and emotional companionship were as deep as that of heterosexuals. The only difference is in the direction of attraction, or orientation. The American Psychological Association no longer emphasizes the need to define gay or straight but rather it defines Sexual Orientation:
The APA states that sexual orientation is not a "choice." No on chooses to be gay or straight. Sexual orientation is about attraction. People may or may not choose to act on their attraction.
Notice how the definition describes a continuum of sexuality. At either end are people who are exclusively homosexual and people who are exclusively heterosexual. Geneticists believe that the population of gays and lesbians has remained fairly constant throughout history at between 2% and 10% of the total population. Same-sex attraction of any kind is so stigmatized in our society that individuals who are bisexual probably do not even allow themselves to consider speaking of or acting on their same-sex attraction. We may never know what percentage of our population is bisexual and in what proportion they are attracted to either sex. The lines of demarcation between, gay, bisexual and straight are not as clear as we would like to think.
In my experience, a man who is truly gay will find the idea of sex with someone of the opposite gender to be distasteful, and likewise a true heterosexual will find the idea of sex with someone of the same gender to be distasteful. At the opposite extremes of the spectrum, there appears to be not only an attraction effect, but also one of repulsion. This is important to consider when we look at same-sex activity throughout history.
Now, for a brief word about sexual abuse: Sexual abuse that occurs between a man and a young boy is often mislabeled as the act of a homosexual. Although the act is technically "homosexual" the perpetrator is more than likely heterosexual in orientation. Here is an excerpt from Victims No longer: Men Recovering from Incest and Other Childhood Sexual Abuse, written by Mike Lew , a therapist working with victims of sexual abuse that deals with this misconception:
Sexual orientation, the physical attraction part, is to the shape of an adult body, male or female, and not to that of a child. Each person, whether gay or straight, has their own preference of body type they find attractive , but mostly these body types are "variations on a theme" of the adult body. This is important to keep in mind when we consider claims of child abuse by the Catholic Church. The church's governing bodies have blamed its child abuse on homosexual priests. It may be true that there are a large number of priests who happen to be homosexual. Some homosexuals may be attracted to the priesthood to avoid being badgered by their family into getting married. Some priests, gay or straight, may act out sexually with a teenager who has an adult body because of sexual frustration and because of the power of their position and the temptation of opportunity. These are crimes regardless of who does them, but sexual abuse of children in the church is committed by sexual child abusers and pedophiles who are more likely to be heterosexual than homosexual in orientation. Pedophiles are individuals who are sexually attracted to children. Gays and lesbians are attracted to adults of the same sex.
Same-sex activity occurs between men in prison, sometimes out of sexual frustration, but also as part of establishing dominance. These men do not "become" homosexual by engaging in these activities. These are acts of sexual opportunity and violence, not same-sex attraction. Although sexual abuse can lead to sexual dysfunction in some individuals, most of them return to heterosexual relationships when they leave prison.
A person who is bipolar (manic-depressive) may experience periods of heightened sexual activity and may be more likely to experiment with same-sex activity. This does not make that person gay or even bisexual. The same thing can be said of teenagers experimenting together sexually. Homosexuality is not contagious, nor can it be taught.
There are more than just a few examples of same-sex activity throughout history involving people who are not necessarily gay, or lesbian. In other words, sexual activity that was "homosexual" but was not necessarily the result of homosexual attraction.
The key here is to understand that many people throughout history were motivated by reasons other than their sexual orientation to be involved in homosexual activity. Some of this activity was acceptable in civilized cultures, such as 5th Century Greece (B.C.E.). But from what we now know, the activities referred to in the Bible, involve sexual abuse and rape, ritual prostitution or orgies associated with fertility cults or idol worship, and sexual slavery involving adult males and pubescent boy prostitutes. These represent terrible acts of depravity from the standpoint of any person of faith - gay or straight.
Ancient Greek culture had seen at one time a romantic and sexual relationship between men as a cultural norm. Men would marry women, as was expected, and have children. In addition, men of the upper class would have a male lover. This was particularly true in Sparta, where soldiers (they were one of the most feared and effective armies of their day) went to war with their lovers, and fought alongside them. It is likely that these people were not, in general, homosexual in orientation, because of the large number of people involved. Sparta was a very segregated society with women and men leading very separate lives. Much of the same-sex activity occurred in the absence of women. The Greeks had a very playful sexuality and men felt no shame in being naked in public. We know some adult men and some women expressed homosexual love for each other openly in their writings. What is most depicted in their art, however, is sexual activity between adult males and pubescent youth, were the adult served as mentor in other areas. A youthful body was an aesthetic ideal. This was a sexual outlet for many men of the higher social classes. It was considered more acceptable than frequenting a prostitute and no pregnancy was involved. It was also not considered immoral for an adult male to engage in sexual activity with a teenage boy, because teenagers of the higher classes were considered citizens with social standing much like the adults of today. This form of adult-youth relationship, called pederasty, was usually not long term. When the youth reached adulthood, he usually went on to marry a woman, have children and may have taken on a youth as an apprentice/sexual partner himself.
So was a large percentage of the Greek population bisexual to some degree? If so, what does this say about our own population? This is an interesting question.
Clearly the pederastic relationship of ancient Greece was not the same as a committed adult relationship between two homosexual individuals. First of all, there was no female counterpart to the male relationships. Also, adults in the Greek relationships often had to give gifts to the youth to maintain his interest. It was in part a father/son relationship, except that it involved sex.
Because the Greeks were so open to same sex relationships, gay and lesbian love was openly expressed. The Greeks became aware that some people sought their own sex in a relationship, while others sought the opposite. In explanation of what they saw, they developed their own mythology surrounding their understanding of sexual orientation. Plato referred to the myth of the "androgyne." The Greeks believed that originally, humans appeared as men, women and a third "sex," that consisted of conjoined twins, a spherical shaped being with two sets of arms and legs, with a face on opposite sides of the same head. Some of these - the "androgyne," joined a male and a female body together, while others consisted of two people of the same-sex joined together. According to the story, the gods became angry at the arrogance and pride of humans and separated these twins. Now as individuals, each person on Earth longs to reunite with his or her own original partner. The Greeks, at least, understood the depth of the need for human companionship, gay or straight. Their understanding was limited, however, compared to what we know today, and in common Greek usage, there was no term for "gay" or "lesbian."
There is some evidence that in pre-modern Europe, there were romantic relationships between men (and between some women) that involved church ceremonies resembling weddings of the day. The few examples we know of this occurred in churches, primarily in Mediterranean cultures.
Elsewhere, and in different times in history there have been instances of same-sex relationships -- most of which where not the expression of gay and lesbian relationships, but the result of trends. In certain dynasties in China, and in some Arab literature, we have examples of what might be considered same-sex relationships. Again, we are probably talking about the majority of the people involved being heterosexual and bisexual, and the activity being the result of some adopted social norm, rather than the expression of homosexual love.
Amongst Native American tribes we have the tradition of the "two spirit people," who may have been transgendered individuals or possibly gays or lesbians. They were given special, usually spiritual, tribal functions. Similar traditions occur in some African cultures.
What I hope you can see from this information is the fact that gays have been with us throughout history, but always in the background, even when large numbers of the population were involved in same-sex activity. Views about same-sex relationships were limited, if they existed at all.
What is important to understand about the scientific theories about the origins of sexual orientation is that scientific theories do not have to be proven to be "valid." The theory that represents our best explanation is the most valid at any given time. Hormones in the womb probably determine the basic sexual orientation. Once the child is born it cannot be changed, not with hormones, not with surgery, not with therapy. It is a part of our identity and it resides in the limbic, or emotional areas of the brain.
Up until the 6th or 7th week of gestation, all children start out with female genitalia, externally at least. Inside, in addition to ovaries or testes, as determined by the genetic sex, rudimentary tubing for both sexes is present waiting for the actions of hormones to determine if a uterus or a prostate is to develop. At this juncture, if the child is genetically male (xy), male hormones may act on the tiny body to change the clitoris into a penis, and the labia majora into a scrotum. Defeminizing hormones then act to break down the female tubing structures. If the child is genetically female (xx), the uterus and vagina develop more fully, but the exterior sex organs remain relatively unchanged as female. Basically what we are saying is that the external human genitalia start out female and remain so unless acted upon by male hormones.
Understanding how hormones affect the genitalia is important to understanding how hormones affect the brain in the developing fetus. Much of what we know about the hormonal basis of human sexual orientation comes from experiences with intersexuals or hermaphrodites. We know how hormones affect the genitalia. We know how to determine the genetic sex of an individual. When someone is born with genitalia that does not match their genetic sex or is ambiguous, there is often a corresponding sexual orientation that is not the "expected" orientation for their genetic sex. For females born with C.A.H. (Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia), a condition in which the adrenal gland produces abnormally high amounts of masculinizing hormones, the clitoris may be enlarged. Thirty-nine percent of women born with C.A.H. grow up to be lesbian or bisexual. What appears to happen is that the hormones that masculinized their genitalia also masculinized their brain.
Hormone related changes in the brain are more complicated than changes in the genitalia. We cannot experiment on living human brains, but we do know that structures in the brains of human females differ in size or shape from corresponding structures in the brains of human males. There has been extensive studies of the effects of prenatal hormones on the mammalian brain and their corresponding effects on sexual behavior (Animal sexual behavior consists of courtship, pair bonding, mounting and "presenting" -- female reception of male mounting). Mammals share brain structures with humans. One area of the brain that changes physically with hormone manipulation is located within the Hypothalamus, in the limbic, or emotional part of the brain. The area has two sides, much like the right and left halves of the brain. The prenatal brain contains both a masculine and feminine side of this structure . By varying the amount of four different kinds of hormones, heterosexual, bisexual (androgynous), homosexual, and epicene type behaviors result.
There are genes that have been traced to homosexuality, and from my experience it runs in families. Bisexuality appears to as well. Many geneticists believe that the number of gays and bisexuals in our world is large enough to preclude this as a genetic "error." There is homosexual behavior documented in over 400 animal species , and this is not just "sexual" activity, but also pair bonding and nest building. Homosexuality is an entirely natural phenomenon.
Another thing I have noticed is the difficulty with which gays, straights, transgendered people and bisexuals can imagine what it is like to feel what the other feels. It is so hard for most straight persons to imagine what it is like to feel attracted to the same-sex. It is as if we are all wearing blinders and can see only "straight" ahead. I imagine this has to do with how deeply emotional and involuntary the drive for romance and sex is in all of us. This explains why, up until the advent of psychoanalysis, the majority of cultures were either completely ignorant of the existence of homosexuals, or thought that homosexuals were simply heterosexuals with some fetish or perversion.
Traditional beliefs of British and American culture have worked against our society's ability to understand people with different sexual identities and orientations. Unfortunately, some people have even gone to scripture with the sole purpose of validating their own narrow understanding of God's creation. Many problems we have with sexuality came to us by way of Victorian England. In 1885, a few years after psychoanalysts first noted patterns of orientation in men and women (and first coined the term "homosexual"), Queen Victoria was asked to sign a criminal law amendment that included penalties for homosexual and lesbian conduct. She crossed out all references to lesbianism, stating "female homosexuality does not exist."
In a similar way during her reign, political power was used to outlaw any hint of sexuality in literature and daily life. It was recommended that women working in sweat shops be given bromide to drink to help prevent them from experiencing sexual sensations while using their pedal-operated sewing machines. All sexual content was removed from a complete volume of Shakespeare's works published at the time. It was even considered impolite to say the words "breast or leg" in front of company when serving chicken. "Breast" was referred to as "bosom," and "leg," was referred to as a "second wing." For many years, doctors were unable to discuss women's genitalia with their patients. Is it any wonder that the sexual function of the clitoris was unknown until Master's and Johnson's work in 1966? As a result of this tradition many people in our country today continue to find it difficult to discuss their own sexuality.
I lived in France when I was between the ages of 11 and 16 and I noticed a significant difference between how French people and Americans deal with sexuality. To see a film containing full frontal nudity (male and female), and what would be considered R-rated sexual language content here in the U.S., the French age restriction was 13. On the other hand, to see a mad-slasher film (like Friday the 13th, for example), the age restriction was 18, and was strictly enforced. The French are able to talk about sexuality in a way that many Americans are not. I have a popular comic from Paris that was published during the mid 1970s which featured a gay couple talking about their life. It is a humorous look at their life, but the comic is not mocking homosexuals. The couple was able to talk about their relationship in the strip as any straight couple would. The French have the language for it, because they are allowed to talk about it. The only comparable media item like this (Will and Grace) did not come out in the U.S. until the year 2000.
Today in the U.S., mentioning you are gay can stop a conversation. Sometimes a person may want to reserve judgment because of scriptural issues. Another reason may be that many of us are visual symbolizers. This term comes from Language Pathology. Although it refers to the way some of us get meaning from text, it also has to do more generally with how we assimilate new concepts so that we can actually put language to them. As visual symbolizers, roughly 90% of us need 3 or more visual examples of a concept before we are able to combine the examples into something we can assimilate and talk about it. For a heterosexual man with "traditional" values who has had little chance to interact with gay men, this initial stage of putting together the concept of what "gay" means can be disturbing. Such a person has to assemble all the pictures he has in his mind to be able to put language to the concept of what it means to be "gay." Chances are the only pictures he has to draw on are from inaccurate jokes and stereotypes and most of the visuals he has created have to do with gay sex, or at least his own imaginings of what gay sex is like. This is a real problem. This person, who by tradition has little ability to talk about his own sexuality, can only approach a conversation involving the word "gay" with images in his head that most gay people themselves would be embarrassed to talk about. This person will probably not be able to talk to you about who you are until he or she experiences other, more healthy examples of the term "gay."
I should also mention the impact that John Boorman's film "Deliverance" has had on the American male psyche. It is the story of a group of Atlanta businessmen getting lost on a hunting trip who end up getting raped at shotgun-point by two brothers who live on an isolated island in a swamp. The men are out hunting, doing a very American, heterosexual activity, and what happens to them has become every American male's worst nightmare. With the advent of the AIDS crisis in the 80s and 90s, the rape act of this film and the threat of HIV infection, a terrible, distorted and predatory image of what "gay" men are like has been planted in the minds of many Americans. If you study sexual abuse, you will find that the two brothers in this film resemble many perpetrators in behavior and in situation. The author of the screenplay's intentions was probably not to misrepresent homosexuals, but to tell a harrowing story.
Copyright © 2003 by the author