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Religious Tolerance logo

Changes over Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual
topics (GLB) among conservative Christians

Beliefs among Christian
conservatives: past, current, future

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Early examples of change among evangelicals:

  • In the very popular evangelical magazine, Christianity Today:
    • 1981: A cover stated "Homosexuals CAN Change."
    • 1983: Their editor Kenneth Kantzer, admitted that "The evidence is clear that such a turn [from a homosexual orientation to heterosexuality] is often not very successful." He suggested that gays and lesbians still "try to turn from your homosexual orientation." If unsuccessful, he expected them to "exercise self-control...refrain from homosexual practice...and live lives of sexual continence." 1

  • Tony Campolo is a well known conservative Christian sociologist. He and his wife Peggy Campolo are a popular lectur team. He stated in the mid-1980's that the claims of "ex-gay" ministries "always fall through" when inspected closely. He acknowledged that a "biological basis for homosexuality" probably exists and that "cannot expect such a person to change his orientation." Campolo also expects that gays and lesbians should be encouraged to remain sexually inactive. He interprets the Bible as allowing only sexual activity between spouses in opposite-sex marriages.

  • A conference in the winter of 1985/6 brought together leaders from a number of "ex-gay" ministries, including Love in Action, Homosexuals Anonymous, L.I.F.E. Ministries, and Mount Hope. They agreed that their goal was not to change gays and lesbians into heterosexuals. Rather, it was to persuade homosexuals to lead a celibate life. A second alternative would be a parody of a heterosexual marriage in which a man and a woman would live as friends with the possibility of sexual activity in the future.

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Current beliefs about Lesbians, Gays, and bisexuals (LGB):

North America attitudes toward GLBs have been classified into six main belief systems. They range from intense rejection to full acceptance of all sexual minorities. Religious belief, age, and the degree of isolation from GLBs are generally regarded as the main predictor of such beliefs.

  • Among religious conservatives: The Bible contains five or six "clobber" passages clearly discuss same-sex sexual activity. Most conservative Protestants interpret all of them as condemning all same-sex activity whether by men or women, and whether during a "one night stand" or as part of a loving committed relationship.

    The Roman Catholic Church approaches the topic from the standpoint of natural law, and expects its members to limit their sexual activity to those acts within marriage that are open to conception and the creation of human life. The church expect individuals with a homosexual orientation to remain celibate. They expect bisexuals to limit their sexual activities to one opposite-sex spouse if married to a person of the opposite sex, and to remain celibate otherwise.

    Conservative Jews, Muslims, and members of other religions also generally condemn same-sex behavior. As of early 2010, six predominately Muslim countries consider same-sex behavior to be a capital offense. Uganda is considering establishing in the death penalty for sexually active lesbians, gays, and some bisexuals.

    Surveys have shown that American religious conservatives' concern over the attainment of equal rights and protections by homosexuals is greater than even their concern over allowing women access to abortions.

  • Religious liberals: Many liberal and progressive Christians interpret these same six passages as condemning same-sex rape, ritual same-sex activities in pagan temples, same-sex child molestation, same-sex behavior by persons with a heterosexual orientation, and bestiality. Many have concluded that the Bible is silent on both sexual orientation and same-sex behavior within a loving, committed relationship. Liberals from other faiths generally agree.

  • Secularists generally agree with religious liberals. Both primarily derive their beliefs about LGB topics from human sexuality research and studies of the lives of lesbians, gays and bisexuals.

However, there are signs of some gradual liberalization among religious conservatives -- particularly among youth. A major source of change is the result of many gays and lesbians taking a major risk to their physical safety by coming out of "the closet" and going public with their sexual orientation. Increasing numbers of evangelical youths are befriending lesbians and gays, and learning first-hand about the nature of sexual orientation.

A major event happened in 2012 & 2013: For about 30 years, Exodus International had promoted the belief that persons with a homosexual orientation could change and become heterosexual through reparative therapy and prayer. In mid-2012, they stopped teaching that reparative therapy was effective, and admitted that one's sexual orientation is fixed. Further, they found that such therapy can be dangerous to peolple's mental health. In mid-2013, their president:

  • offered a sincere apology for all of the harm that his organization had done to individuals members of the LGBT community, and
  • announced that Exodus International was ceasing business after 37 years of operation. More details.

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What does the short-term future hold?

We can expect that religious conservative will continue to take opposite sides on LGB civil liberties and morality when compared with religious liberal and secular groups and individuals:

  • Most ex-gay ministries will probably continue to follow the theories promoted by:

    • Dr. Elizabeth Moberly, the British, conservative Christian theologian who wrote the book that triggered the reparative therapy movement. 2

    • Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, co-founder and current Executive Director/Secretary Treasurer of NARTH. This is the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, the main professional group that promotes reparative therapy.

    This is because reparative therapy is the only method which is compatible with the evangelical Christian belief that homosexuality is learned, chosen, abnormal, and unnatural behavior that can be changed. The vast majority of psychiatrists and psychologists believe that an adult's sexual orientation is unchangeable.

  • The percentage of psychologists and other therapists who regard sexual orientation as a changeable disorder will continue to shrink. A main factor in this trend will be the continuing lack of studies in peer-reviewed journals that show that sexual orientation can be changed.
  • A growing percentage of psychiatrists and psychologists who are not religious conservatives will continue to accept that sexual orientation is unchangeable. They conclude that attempts to convert client from one sexual orientation to another is fraught with danger, and is unethical.

  • Several state psychological associations in the US have passed resolutions which recommend the prohibition of conversion/reparative therapy on ethical grounds. Similar resolutions have been considered by the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association, but were not passed. The American Medical Association has stated that conversion therapy is no longer recommended for gay men and lesbians. This trend will probably continue.

  • Of immediate concern are situations in which gay and lesbian adolescents are being forced into involuntary, religiously oriented, conversion therapies by their parents and pastors. Sometimes this involves being locked up in a mental institution. The Guardian newspaper from San Francisco studied a new underground railroad and string of safe houses that has been set up for gay and lesbian youth who are escaping psychiatric treatment. Many are being "warehoused" until their 18th birthday, when they attain full adult rights. 3

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Open Hands" (Vol. 2, Number 2, 1986-FALL) Available at http://abacus.oxy.edu/
  2. Elizabeth Moberly, "Homosexuality: A new Christian ethic," (originally published in the early 1980's; reprinted 1997). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
  3. Thomas Mournian, "Hiding Out," San Francisco Bay Guardian,  http://www.sfbg.com/

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Home > Homosexuality & Bisexuality > ReligionChanges among conservatives > here

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Copyright © 2010 to 2018 by the Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2010-MAR-21
Latest update and review: 2018-NOV-22
Compiler: B.A. Robinson

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