I have been asked if Louise is real. Yes, and this was a real letter to her. Shortly after I had gone to my first pastorate out of the seminary, Louise invited my wife, Anna Marie, and me to have Sunday dinner with her family. That was over 50 years ago, and she has been one of our dearest friends ever since.
The last time we visited her she told me what I have related in the first sentence of this Letter. At that time I really knew nothing about homosexuality. I did have some suppositions — quite negative — and had never thought I needed to study it. But her words made me want to know as much as I could learn about it.
When I began reading I soon realized things about myself I now deplore: I was ignorant of the many facts about homosexuality and what the Bible says about it. Without facts I had pre-judged it; I was prejudiced. With little thought I had read into the Bible what I presumed it ought to say instead of reading out of it what it does say. My idea of not needing to study the subject was pure anti-intellectualism. I am now grateful to God that He led me to study.
I read some two score books, most by eminent sociologists, psychologists and theologians. Then I wrote this letter to Louise, reflecting what I now have come to believe is the truth about homosexuality, what the Bible says and what God wants us to think and do about it.
Now I want others to study seriously this matter of such importance to many lives and many churches and denominations. I asked for and received Louise’s permission to share the Letter with others. I pray it may be helpful.
Bruce W. Lowe
A LETTER TO LOUISE
To: Louise, dear friend, beloved of God
From: Bruce, by the immeasurable grace of God, a brother in Christ
Your heavy-hearted words to Anna Marie and me the last time we saw you will always burn in our hearts: “My brother hates God because God made him gay, and he knows he is going to hell, and I do, too, for that is what the Bible says.” I struggled for a response, realizing suddenly that what I knew about gays and what the Bible says about them was very superficial. Anna Marie’s immediate response to you was, “No one will go to hell who puts his faith in Jesus Christ.” How gloriously true! Whatever else the Bible says or doesn’t say, homosexuals are not necessarily going to hell.
I decided to give serious study to homosexuality and what the Bible says about it. Thank God! There was so much to learn about gays and lesbians — and the Bible — that I am so glad to have come to know. It distresses me, though, to realize that most others of our church people do not know these facts about homosexuality and what the Bible really says, and that their thinking, like my previous concept, is based on suppositions, not facts, and on feelings, which, of course, have no place in a thoughtful consideration of facts.
I am now convinced that the presumption that you and your brother have about his condemnation is unjustified. I have written out what I believe is clearly a correct interpretation of pertinent Biblical passages; it is Appendix B to this letter. A correct interpretation is dependent on following dependable principles of interpretation, so I discuss these principles in Appendix A. In the body of the letter I have put the convictions I have come to into ten statements that I believe you and I and your brother and our church families must come to understand about homosexuality and about gays and lesbians. But I know some will never accept them, so I have something I want to say to those people; I have made it Appendix C.
Forgive the length of this treatise, but I didn’t think I could address this matter adequately with fewer words. Also forgive the somewhat academic structure; I felt the nature of my study rather required it. I pray that this will give you some of the welcome insights my study has given me.
One. Homosexuality is an unchangeable nature; it is not a lifestyle choice.
Louise, this is an essential basis for understanding homosexuality. There may still be a few knowledgeable people who do not believe this, but practically all behavioral scientists now accept this statement as a fact. Down through history same-gender sex was universally considered to be acts by (heterosexual) people who had chosen to engage in perverted sex. Advances in the sciences, particularly psychology, in the last 100 years have shown that not all people are heterosexual; some are homosexual, and their homosexuality is an unchangeable nature, not a choice.
The concept of a homosexual nature first appeared in print in Europe in 1869 and in the United States in 1889. Acceptance of it spread slowly over the next 100 years. Freud accepted it and discussed homosexuality rather extensively in the first half of the twentieth century. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) officially recognized it in 1973 when it declassified homosexuality as being a mental illness. The American Psychological Association followed with similar action two years later.
Helmut Thielicke, a theologian conservatives respect highly and quote often, recognized in his work, The Ethics of Sex, written some forty years ago, that at least some gays and lesbians have “constitutional homosexuality,” and therefore we must “accept” the fact that it is “incurable,” that “our attitude toward [it] changes” [his italics]. and that it is “a divine dispensation” and “a talent that is to be invested (Luke 19:13f.).”1-1
Evidence that homosexuality is unchangeable includes: (a) ten thousand suicides each year of young homosexuals unwilling to face life with that orientation; (b) the high percentage of homosexuals who go to psychotherapists desperately wanting to change their orientation, and then (c) the very small percentage of them reportedly being changed after hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars being spent in psychotherapy; (d) the millions of homosexuals who remain “in the closet,” not acting like homosexuals and not wanting anyone to learn of their orientation; (e) the thousands who are reported as coming to pastors and counselors devastated to have to recognize their unchangeable orientation and wanting assistance in dealing with it.
A few, after psychotherapy, report successful change. It is believed that most of these are not true homosexuals, but because of some trauma in childhood they adopted homosexual traits; with these, psychotherapy can often do away with the results of the trauma and lead the person back to his or her natural heterosexuality. The results of extensive psychotherapy with homosexuals who desperately wanted to change their orientation have been studied, and several books document the disheartening lack of success of their time, money and efforts. In 1998 the APA adopted a position opposing any therapy designed to change a person’s sexual orientation. The APA President stated, “There is no scientific evidence that reparative or conversion therapy is effective in changing a person’s sexual orientation. There is, however, evidence that this type of therapy can be destructive.”1-2
Scientists and sociologists do not know what causes homosexuality, just as they don’t know what causes heterosexuality, but virtually all are convinced that whatever the cause, it is unchangeable. Homosexuals are homosexual by nature; it is never something they choose.
Two. All people are created in the image of God. The homosexuality of gays and lesbians, created by God, is good and not evil.
This is the second essential basis for coming to a right understanding of homosexuals. If I can say God made me as I am, a heterosexual, then homosexuals can say God made them as they are. If God made them that way, that way is good. If I am created in the image of God, homosexuals are created in the image of God. And if God has a purpose for every life, the lives of homosexuals have a God-given purpose. Then refusing to accept and affirm them in the same way we affirm others would be trying to thwart the purposes of God. Can we draw any other conclusion?
Some church people who are not accepting of gays and lesbians may say that homosexuality is an aberration of nature and that God doesn’t want it, just as he doesn’t want a child with Downs Syndrome because of the limitations it places on that child throughout life. But homosexuals have no physical or mental limitations, and there is nothing about the homosexual that can be defined as an aberration.
Some accept it as unchangeable but say it is like the predisposition to alcoholism — that a person with this predisposition is not to blame for having it, but since acting on it can lead to much destruction in many lives, the person is responsible for not acting on it and, if he becomes an alcoholic, needs to recover from it. New Testament professor Jeffrey Siker considers this analogy “not only useless but dangerous.” First, he says, the damaging effects of active alcoholism are readily apparent, but the APA ceased characterizing homosexuality as a disease “because there was no clinical evidence that homosexual activity resulted in any more destructive behaviors than was the case for persons engaging in heterosexual activity.” Further, we recognize that alcoholics need to “recover,” but homosexuals find nothing in their nature that they can change or need to recover from. Finally, alcoholism is a disease triggered by the act of drinking; the focus is on the act of either drinking or abstaining from drinking. Homosexuality is not an act, it is a nature. It is unfortunate that heterosexuals often focus on same-gender sex when they think about homosexuality, but — and this is why the analogy is dangerous — “to do so is to miss the point of the larger context of the relationship. It is to dehumanize and depersonalize gays and lesbians, caricaturing them only in terms of their sexual activities rather than seeing them as whole persons with lives that include more than sex.”2-1
Dr. Siker says a better analogy is in the first Jewish Christians and their acceptance of the Gentiles. Jews considered Gentiles as unclean, polluted, idolatrous, and sinful — the same revulsion many church people feel for homosexuals. Before Gentiles could be accepted as Christians, many thought, they must first repent of being Gentiles, become Jews and obey Jewish laws such as Sabbath-keeping and kosher food; then they could become Christians. Like the Gentiles, homosexuals do not need to repent of being such; they just need to be accepted.2-2
Another analogy would be the left-handed person, created that way, different from others, but whose difference is in no way an aberration or predisposition and whose personhood is the same as that of others. There is no reason for not admitting that the homosexual is simply made in the image of God as is every other person. The only reasonable statement is that homosexuality is God-given and, therefore, with a God-given purpose. We should embrace gays and lesbians and mutually help one another achieve the purposes God has for us all.
Three. The homosexual is just as normal a person as a heterosexual and should not be thought of in sexual terms.
Evelyn Hooker, who taught psychology at UCLA, conducted the “…very first investigation into whether or not homosexuality was an illness that examined a population of `normal’ gay men — men who were not residents of mental hospitals, prisoners, or distressed patients in therapy [common subjects of study at that time], but ordinary people living ordinary, if closeted, lives….In 1956 Hooker presented her findings — that no psychological differences existed between homosexual and heterosexual men — before the annual meetings of the American Psychological Association.”3-1
But do not most heterosexuals have the very narrow view that homosexuality means engaging in sex with a partner of the same gender? That is a gross distortion. The homosexual has all the interests and concerns in life that a heterosexual has. Whatever importance sex has for the heterosexual, it has the same importance for the homosexual — no more, no less. The best definition I have read of a homosexual is that he or she is a person who falls in love with someone of the same gender. What made me, a heterosexual, fall in love with a person of the opposite gender? I can’t say — it is just some innate characteristic of my makeup. In the homosexual, that characteristic works differently for some yet unknown reason, and the falling-in-love process is directed at the same gender. But it is a true falling in love. It isn’t a sexual thing for them any more that it is for heterosexuals.
While some homosexuals are sexually lustful and promiscuous, the percentage may actually be lower than that of heterosexuals. The pornographic industry, estimated at up to one hundred billion dollars a year, the gentlemen’s clubs, the brothels, Internet pornography, etc. are all supported by heterosexual lust. That industry annually lures two thousand teenage girls into prostitution in the city of Dallas alone.3-2 Homosexuals have little interest in any of that widespread industry. Every fifteen minutes in America a heterosexual rapes a woman; homosexuals don’t rape women or kidnap young girls or give birth to babies infected with AIDS. If we look at a heterosexual man or woman and do not immediately think of sex, then when we look at a gay or a lesbian, we should not immediately think of sex. They are people like us with the same needs and concerns, problems and failures and successes and sorrows and joys that we have, plus lots of problems that we do not have. What is a homosexual act? Examples: a gay man walking his dog or a lesbian fixing her supper.
Four. Several passages in the Bible speak of same-gender sex. In every instance, the Bible is talking about heterosexuals who, filled with lust, have become sex perverts. The Bible says nothing about innate homosexuality as we know it today or about people who are homosexuals.
Until the late nineteenth century, as already mentioned, the concept of homosexuality was totally unknown. No Bible writer knew of homosexuality, so no Bible writer could have said anything about it. When the Bible speaks of same-gender sex, it is always talking about heterosexuals who are given over to such lust that they commit lustful acts. There cannot be anything in the Bible that says anything about (unknown) homosexuality or homosexual people or acts by homosexuals.
No one questions the Bible’s condemnation of sexual lust, and today that would be whether it was homosexual or heterosexual. Some want to say that same-gender sex acts are condemned by the Bible, and it doesn’t matter by whom they are committed. No, lustful same-gender sex acts are. Heterosexual sex acts are also condemned by the Bible whenever they are lustful, but that doesn’t mean all heterosexual sex acts are condemned. It is the lust that is condemned, not an act. If we recognize that opposite-gender sex can be either lustful and evil as in rape or be moral and beautiful as between loving spouses, we must recognize the possibility that same-gender sex can be moral and beautiful, as well as lustful and evil. (This is discussed further in Eight below.) The Bible says nothing about homosexual people being sent to hell.
Five. The burden imposed on homosexuals by society is a great evil. We should stand in revulsion against, and do all we can to oppose, the prejudice, the hatreds, and the condemnation of a society that make the homosexual’s life so difficult. Can Professor Stein be correct about America?: “The evidence is overwhelming that the United States is a society where there is a strong fear and a deep hatred of lesbians and gay men. This hatred and fear are manifested in discrimination and oppressive laws and social practices.”5-1
The lynching of Blacks has almost passed, but not the lynching of gays and lesbians. Some 100 hate-crime murders of gays and lesbians are recorded in the U.S. each year. Most receive little press. An exception was Matt Shepard — beaten and tied to a fence to die in Wyoming because he was gay. Shortly afterwards, gays and lesbians all over America received faxes, emails and phone calls saying, “Matt Shepard is dead; you may be next.” Two such murders have had books written about them. A man walking in a wilderness area in Pennsylvania observed from a distance two women camped there, and they were holding hands. He walked back to his truck for his rifle. One of the women survived his shooting and wrote the book, Eight Bullets.5-2 (For the other book, see Six below.) Gays in a major city complained to the police that it was not safe for them to walk in their neighborhood. The police didn’t believe them but finally had plain-clothes officers walk there as decoys. The officers, mistaken for gays, were attacked by men with baseball bats. Twelve men were finally arrested for homophobic attacks in that one neighborhood. An article in our paper a few days ago told of a man asking where the nearest gay bar was; he said he wanted to shoot some queers. A few minutes later he did. Such things are happening everywhere in America, and gays and lesbians live in constant anxiety about these kinds of hate crimes.
Homosexuals do not have the natural protection of the law that others have. There are nationwide laws against discrimination on the basis of race and national origin, but only one-fifth of our states have laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation — there is no federal law. The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld laws in two states making same-gender sex illegal. A Dallas judge gave a light sentence to a murderer explaining that the victim was only a homosexual. What encouragement is thus given to gay-bashers! The hatred gays and lesbians encounter, added to the psychological problems most face in accepting their homosexuality, make many of them live in an ever-present milieu that borders on trauma.
Psychotherapist John J. McNeill writes,
Many problems… make a positive adjustment to a [homosexual] life extremely difficult. Among these difficulties can be enumerated the agonies of remorse and self-torture over what typical homosexuals feel to be their immoral desires, whether these arise from conscious identity with the condemnations of Church and society or from neurotic conflicts within themselves; their openness to blackmail and other forms of intimidation; their status of being outside the normal protection of the law; their necessity continually to conceal what they frequently believe to be their true identity from public view, with the added threat that accidental revelation could result in loss of their job, expulsion from school, dishonorable discharge from military service, loss of future security and job opportunities, loss of friends and the respect of family and dependents. Still other problems involve their propensity to sexual promiscuity [because they are] divorced from a complete and healthy interpersonal relationship; and the resulting tendency for sexual desires indulged in, but never fully satisfied, to occupy a disproportionate place in their life. Above all else, there is the very real threat of ultimate loneliness to one to whom all the normal structures of society – marriage, children, dependents, etc. – are closed. It should be noted, however, that all these negative aspects of homosexuality are not due to homosexuality as such, but are the results of both society’s and the Church’s attitude to the homosexual. All these rather common aspects of homosexual life can effectively paralyze all initiative, result in a feeling of inferiority, and lead to an emotional breakdown which could make social adjustment impossible.5-3
All of this hate is a sickness in our society that comes from ignorance about homosexuality. Our society must become informed, enlightened about it. Those who are involved in discussions in denominations and churches about it must study it and not speak from ignorance of it and the result of ignorance: prejudice.
Six. Homosexuals are being sinned against by our churches. Like our society, our churches need to change.
“Kill a Queer for Christ”
I added the italics, foolishly; what italics are needed for such a statement. In your small town you probably have not seen that cleverly alliterative bumper sticker. For you and me it is unbelievable, unreal. Sadly, it is very real.
The thinking shown in the bumper sticker and the position of many churches and their pastors abets the crimes against gays and lesbians. Peter Gomes, Professor of Christian Morals at Harvard, says, “The combination of ignorance and prejudice under the guise of morality makes the religious community, and its abuse of scripture in this regard, itself morally culpable.”6-1 He relates this:
In preparing for her novel The Drowning of Stephen Jones, based upon the true story of a young gay man tossed from a bridge to his death by a group of young gay-bashers, author Bette Greene interviewed more than four hundred young men in jail for various forms of gay-bashing. Few of the men, she noted, showed any remorse for their crimes. Few saw anything morally wrong with their crimes, and more than a few of them told her that they were justified in their opinions and in their actions by the religious traditions from which they came. Homosexuality was wrong and against the Bible. One of those interviewed told her that the pastor of his church had said that homosexuals represented Satan and the Devil. The implication of his logic was clear: Who could possibly do wrong in destroying Satan and all of his works? The legitimization of violence against homosexuals and Jews and women and blacks, as we have seen, comes from the view that the Bible stigmatizes these people, thereby making them fair game. If the Bible expresses such a prejudice, then it certainly cannot be wrong to act on that prejudice. This is the argument every anti-Semite and racist has used with demonstrably devastating consequences, as our social history all too vividly shows.6-2
When the funeral of Matt Shepard (above) was held, a Baptist preacher from Kansas with sympathizers from several states were there marching in front of the funeral site with placards reading, “God Hates Fags” and “Fag Matt in Hell.” It is some consolation to know that the people of the town formed themselves into a wall between the marchers and the family, and when the marchers began to cry out their messages, the people sang “Amazing Grace.” (“Fag,” short for “faggot,” originated several centuries ago in Europe when people who had engaged in same-gender sex were burned at the stake.)
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© Bruce W. Lowe, 2001
Bruce Lowe is a graduate of Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas (1936) and of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas (1946). He married Anna Marie in 1944; they have two sons and two grandsons. His ministry included the chaplaincy during World War II, pastorates in Louisiana, and teaching Bible at Louisiana College, Pineville. He left the ministry in 1966 and worked until retirement in the Office for Civil Rights of the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Anna Marie Lowe is a graduate of Henderson State University in Arkadelphia (1946) and attended Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. She has been the church organist or pianist in churches and missions since she was eleven.