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Christianity is seriously split along a conservative-liberal divide. The Assemblies of God and United Church of Christ, for example, both regard their denominations to be Christian. Both believe that they are following the Bible as their sacred text. But beyond that, they differ in most theological beliefs and social policies. Major current conflicts within Christianity often deal with human sexuality: abortion access, gender equality, homosexuality, and same-sex marriage are among the most important disputes.

Most very conservative Christian denominations teach that homosexual behavior is condemned by the Bible, is hated by God, is a chosen, abnormal, unnatural lifestyle, and can often be "cured" though therapy. They feel that condemning homosexual behavior and urging homosexuals to seek reparative therapy is an act of love. 

Religious liberals, gays, lesbians, human sexuality researchers, psychologists and psychiatrists generally look upon adult homosexual orientation as fixed and unchangeable. It is seen as normal and natural for a minority of the adult population. They feel that it is homophobia, (i.e. active discrimination against gays and lesbians) not homosexual behavior, that is the actual sin. They regard reparative therapy as useless, dangerous and potentially life threatening. Many gays and lesbians have tried this form of therapy, have inevitably failed to make a long-term change to their sexual orientation, and have become seriously depressed. Some have committed suicide. To condemn a person because of their sexual orientation, and to urge that they seek an impossible cure is seen as hurtful and an expression of hate. Many are concerned at the extensive condemnation of homosexuality by conservative Christian sources. They feel that what they consider hate rhetoric may be triggering some unstable individuals into committing vicious hate crimes: "gay bashing" and even murder. These perpetrators may be motivated by a belief that they are carrying out God's will.

The very liberal and very conservative viewpoints are the ones that receive the greatest press and Internet exposure. But many -- probably most -- Christians take intermediate views. It is very common, for example, for an Evangelical Christian to believe that homosexual behavior is unacceptable, while being in favor of equal employment protection for gays and lesbians. To further complicate the situation, the public's views are in a state of rapid flux.

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Is opposition to homosexuality a form of love?

This position is taken by many conservative Christian churches and large Christian organizations. This is largely based on their beliefs that:

Some fundamentalist denominations go further. They teach that: 

  • Homosexual behavior is particularly evil and offensive to God. It is one of the few sins that will prevent a person from attaining salvation and going to heaven. 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 plainly states this, at least in most of the English translations commonly used by Fundamentalists. 
  • If gays and lesbians are truly saved, God will remove their homosexual feelings and change them to heterosexuals. This belief is largely based on 1 Corinthians 6:11. Some view those who continue to engage in homosexual activities as unsaved and destined for Hell. However, other conservative Christians accept that some gays, lesbians, and bisexuals find it impossible to change sexual orientation.

A logical development from these beliefs is that Christians have a duty, as an act of love, to persuade homosexuals to leave the "gay lifestyle." To do otherwise is to withhold vital information from gays and lesbians. Bob Knight, a spokesperson from the Family Research Council, says that what some call "intolerance," the Bible calls "truth." He continued:

"It's disturbing to see so-called religious leaders tell pastors that they cannot be clear and Biblical because someone may misinterpret it and do something bad...If you stop telling the truth, you stop loving people and treating them with the respect and dignity they deserve. They deserve the truth." He concluded: "These groups are saying, 'If you stand for sexual morality, you're, in fact, a hater.' And that's a pretty hateful thing to say." 1

Focus on the Family, a Fundamentalist Christian organization, is sponsoring a series of conferences throughout the United States. Nine 'Love Won Out' conferences had been held by the end of 2001; they continue to the present time at the rate of a few each year. They teach that if a gay or lesbian accepts Jesus as Lord and Savior, they can expect to be set free from the "homosexual lifestyle." A recent change has been to teach that homosexuality is both preventable and treatable. This agrees with the stance of the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) -- is a very small professional association. But it totally conflicts with statements made by such groups as the American Psychiatric Association and American Psychological Association.

Is opposition to homosexuality a form of hate?

This position is taken by many gays and lesbians, as well as religious liberals, mental health professionals, human sexuality researchers, and some others. This is largely based on their beliefs that:

  • The Bible, and thus God, does condemn homosexual behavior when it is in the form of rape, ritual sex in Pagan temples, prostitution, men molesting boys, or during religious orgies by heterosexuals. However, the Bible is silent on homosexual behavior within a committed, monogamous relationship.
  • Homosexuality is a an unchosen and fixed orientation.
  • Many New Testament passages teach that salvation is open to all persons, whether gay, bisexual or heterosexual. The word "whosoever" in John 3:16 is one example. 
  • Sexual orientation is caused by a mixture of unknown genetic and environmental factors. It is not influenced by various parenting methods.
  • Reparative therapy can motivate bisexuals to seek relationships only with members of the opposite sex. It can convince some gays and lesbians to remain celibate. But it cannot make a long-term change to a person's sexual orientation. One result of the inevitable failure of reparative therapy is often severe depression. This sometimes leads to suicide.

Anti-homosexual sermons, rhetoric and ads are thus viewed as harmful expressions of hate, in the same category as racism, sexism, religious intolerance, xenophobia, etc. 

On the first anniversary of the murder in Wyoming of gay college student Matthew Shepard, some groups supporting diversity and tolerance were moved to complain about what they feel is conservative Christian hatred. At that time, 1999-OCT, Russell Henderson was serving two life sentences after having pleaded guilty to kidnapping and murder in 1999-APR. Henderson was a Mormon, and was presumably motivated by the church's teachings on homosexuality. He has since been excommunicated by his church. 5 Jury selection had begun for Aaron McKinney who is accused of the same crimes.)

  • The Rev. Steven Baines, spokesperson of the group Equal Partners in Faith, blames anti-gay sermons for at least part of Shepard's death "because his killers had learned from society and places of worship to hate someone who was perceived to be gay."
  • The Rev. C. Welton Gaddy is a spokesperson of the Interfaith Alliance. They are a diverse liberal/mainline religious group that promotes mainstream religious values. He said those who preach intolerance based on sexual orientation are just as guilty of hate crimes as are the perpetrators: "Even if you don't draw the straight line from one word, or one organization, or one act to another act of 'hate violence,' we have all created an environment in which hate violence is easy.

Which "side" is correct?

Many very conservative Christian organizations teach that "change" is possible for homosexuals. They believe that it is an act of love to teach gays and lesbians that change is possible. To tell homosexuals that change is impossible is seen as an act of hate, intolerance, and ignorance.

Religious liberals, gays, lesbians, mental-health professionals, and human sexuality researchers generally believe that sexual orientation in adults is fixed. To help gays and lesbians accept the permanence of their orientation is an act of love. It takes considerable effort for homosexuals to overcome years of societal ignorance and intolerance. To tell homosexuals that they can change their sexual orientation is an act of hate, intolerance, and ignorance.

This conflict came to a head after the 2000-AUG "Love Won Out" conference in  Minnesota. Sen. Paul Wellstone, (D-MN) congratulated homosexual civil rights workers for their opposition to the conference. He criticized Focus on the Family as "divisive and hurtful." He hopes that the future will see "more respect and understanding of one another, not intolerance." John Paulk, a gender and homosexuality analyst for Focus on the Family commented that "Even politicians and elected officials are only giving out a one-sided perspective on homosexuality, and it's coming from a place of ignorance." Aaron Hall, spokesperson for the Minnesota Family Institute commented: "We felt the senator's response was very intolerant. Too often, the senator, as well as the gay lobbyists and special interest groups on this issue, tell people that they don't have a choice."

So, is "choice" possible? At one level, it certainly is. Anyone, whether they have a heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual orientation can decide to become celibate. But this option is not particularly satisfying for many people. A decision to adopt celibacy generally means a lifetime of loneliness, without an intimate partner. Most people are unable to handle this. In Genesis 2:18, God is quoted as saying "It is not good that the man should be alone." 6

The fundamental division of opinion is whether a homosexual (a person who is sexually attracted only to people of the same gender) can enter therapy and emerge as a heterosexual or bisexual, with feelings of sexual attraction to members of the opposite gender. There appears to be no consensus on this point:

  • The few studies that have been done by mental health professionals who are not Evangelical Christians indicate that sexual orientation is fixed for all or essentially all persons. But NARTH, the only mental-health professional association who believes that homosexuality is a curable disorder, has completed a short-term study which indicates that reparative therapy can change a gay or lesbian's orientation.
  • The major mental-health professional associations have issued statements assuring the public that sexual orientation is fixed and that reparative therapy is useless -- perhaps dangerous.
  • The large conservative Christian organizations (Christian Coalition, Family Research Council, Focus on the Family, etc.) all claim that gays and lesbians can become heterosexuals through salvation and therapy.
  • The small conservative Christian ministries who attempt to help gays and lesbians report some success convincing homosexuals to become celibate, but little or no success converting them to heterosexuals.
  • Gays and lesbians themselves generally claim that their sexual orientation is unchangeable. 

No long term, peer reviewed study into the effectiveness of reparative therapy  has ever been published. Nothing can be said with confidence about reparative therapy, prayer, religious counseling or any other form of therapy. Only anecdotal stories of individuals, and the results of small-scale studies are available. NARTH had offered to join with the American Psychological Association (APA) in conducting a detailed study of the effectiveness of reparative therapy. The APA turned them down. A debate over reparative therapy and the changeability of sexual orientation was scheduled as part of the APA's year 2000 convention. However, it was cancelled at the last moment.

It may seem incredible that a condition that affects perhaps 5% of the population has never been studied in detail. Yet, a peer-reviewed, long term study into the ability of gays and lesbians to change their orientation has never been published....and none is likely to be published in the near future.


  1. "STOP THE HATE OR STOP THE TRUTH? -- Is opposition to homosexuality hate speech, or just the Truth?" Citizenlink©, Focus on the Family, 1999-OCT-12. Online at: http://www.family.org/
  2. Equal partners in Faith is a multi-racial, multi-faith national network of religious leaders and people of faith committed to equality and diversity. See: http://www.us.net/epf/ 
  3. The Interfaith Alliance Foundation promotes "the positive role of religion as a healing and constructive force in public life." They seek to "build a revitalized mainstream religious movement based upon active civic participation." Their web site is at: http://www.tialliance.org/ They co-sponsored with the Fellowship of Reconciliation a series of Interfaith vigils against hate violence on 1999-OCT-7. See: http://www.tialliance.org/ 
  4. Stuart Shepard, "Minn. Senator slams 'Love Won Out'," Focus on the Family, 2000-AUG-28, at:  http://www.family.org/
  5. Katherine Rosman, "Mormon Family Values," The Nation, 2002-FEB-25, Page 3, at: http://www.thenation.com/
  6. From the Kings James Version of the Bible.

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Copyright © 1999 to 2008 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2008-DEC-19
Author: B.A. Robinson

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