The impacts of religion on the lesbian,
bisexual, and transgender (LGBT)
Prior to Evelyn Hooker's pioneering studies during the 1950s that investigated
the mental health of persons with a homosexual or bisexual orientation, there was a near
consensus in North America among theologians, therapists, the general population, etc. that homosexuality was a mental illness and that same-gender sexual behavior was disordered. Most felt
that same-sex sexual behavior should remain criminalized.
About a generation later, Hooker's studies led to the American Psychiatric Association's
(APA) decision in 1973 to remove homosexual orientation from their list of mental illnesses. Other large professional therapy organizations have since followed the APA's lead. Today, with the exception of one very small conservative group -- the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality(NARTH), all national mental health, social worker, and educational professional associations of which we are aware regard homosexuality to be one of three normal and natural sexual
orientations -- the two others being bisexuality and heterosexuality. This put
some pressure on religious communities to at least review their traditional
position on lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB or GLB) individual rights, protections,
access to marriage, and other issues. Also emerging is an interest in gender identity involving transgender persons and transsexuals.
Psychiatric, psychological and other science-based professional groups are evidence-based. They conclude what is "truth" after examining experimental, interview, survey and other evidence. However, "truth" as viewed by faith groups are often based on a more complex evaluation. Faith groups generally establish and change their policies based on four
How theologians within the faith
group have traditionally interpret the meaning of passages in their holy book -- e.g. the Bible. There are six "clobber passages" often associated with same-gender sexual behavior in the Bible.
The faith group's traditional teachings.
Liberal and progressive religious groups, like the Unitarian Universalist Association, United Church of Christ, United Church of Canada, etc., secular Humanists, other secularists, and the religiously unaffiliated tend to emphasize factors 3 and 4. Some of these faith groups have opened offices of LGBT concern.
Conservative religious groups like fundamentalist and other evangelical
Christians tend to emphasize factors 1 and 2. Most have continued their
anti-LGBT beliefs and policies.
Mainline denominations tend to be split internally with their members using
various criteria and reaching diverse conflicting conclusions.
Progressive religious and secular groups generally accept
minority sexual orientations as normal, natural, unchosen, fixed, and
morally neutral for a minority of adults. They recognize that sexual
behaviors that are unsafe, manipulative, or non-consensual are sinful,
whether done by persons of the same sex or opposite sexes. Most advocate
marriage equality -- making marriage available to
all loving committed couples, whether they consist of a woman and man, or
two persons of the same sex. They are also active in promoting
equal human rights and protections for persons
of all sexual orientations.
Many conservative groups have retained their beliefs that minority
sexualities are abnormal, unnatural, chosen, and -- with some
effort -- changeable. Further, they consider same-sex behavior to be intrinsically morally
abhorrent, regardless of the nature of the relationship. Most took an active
role opposing same-sex marriage, and continue to oppose equal human rights, benefits, and
protections for persons of minority sexual orientations, and their children. In the U.S. -- since the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in mid-2015 -- much of the organized opposition to the LGBT community has shifted to attacks on transgender persons and transsexuals.
Mainline denominations are experiencing a split within their membership
on same-sex marriage and human rights. They are often experiencing divisions among members of different ages -- teens, young adults and seniors -- as well as geographical divisions, and an urban/rural split. The trend is towards acceptance.
One very interesting exception to the above are the Mennonite communities.
They have traditionally been conservative theologically. However, they also have
a long tradition of concern over human rights. Almost alone among the
conservative wing of Christianity, there is an active dialog underway within
their group. If they are able to reach a near consensus in the future, other
conservative denominations may be able to follow their lead.
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