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Teaching about homosexuality in North American public schools

Suggested topics 4 to 6

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Sponsored link.

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We recommend that a comprehensive course in homosexuality at the high school level involve seven main topics. Topics 4 to 6 involve:

bulletStatements by non-theistic ethical groups, like Humanists, Agnostics, Atheists, etc.
bulletFindings of human sexuality researchers, starting with Evelyn Hooker's pioneering work in the 1950s.
bulletStatements by various professional associations of therapists, counselors etc. concerning homosexuality.

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This essay is currently being expanded

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Definitions of homosexual terms:

Different secular and religious groups and individuals sometimes assign conflicting definitions and meanings to some homosexual terms. This makes dialogue very difficult. It also makes it hard for people in one group to understand talks and articles prepared by individuals from other groups. Students need to be aware of these differences in terminology in order to understand material from various sources.

Generally speaking:

bulletSocial conservatives, conservative religious groups and members, and Evangelical Christian para-church organizations, such as the Christian Coalition, the Family Research Council, Focus on the Family, Promise Keepers, Traditional Values Coalition, etc. may use one definition.
bulletGays, lesbians, bisexuals, human sexuality researchers,  professional mental health organizations, religious liberals, secularists, etc often use a different definition. We list these below under "others."
bulletHowever there is a lot of cross-over usage where one group will often use the definitions of another.
 
Item

Common conservative religious usage

Common usage by others

Comments

Homosexuality is defined as: A sexual preference A sexual orientation Preference implies choice; orientation implies a fixed state.
Homosexuality itself is... A lifestyle A sexual orientation Again, lifestyle implies a choice; orientation implies a fixed state.
Nature of homosexuality A behavior; what one does An orientation, based on one's feelings, sexual fantasies and self-identification. This is an important distinction because it defines who is gay and who is "ex-gay"
Sexual orientation Some define it very broadly to include: bestiality, homosexuality, necrophilia, abusive pedophilia, etc. Comes in one of three types: homosexuality, homosexuality, and bisexuality. By including criminal activity within the definition of homosexuality, the meaning of hate-crime legislation is totally changed.
Role of sex-ed classes which discuss homosexuality May involve the promotion of homosexuality Educates students about homosexuality This involves whether education about something implies its promotion.
Bisexuality Often ignored. Considered one of three sexual orientations. Again, this can determine who is gay and who is "ex-gay."
Legislation guaranteeing human rights. Homosexuals seek special privileges. Homosexuals and bisexuals seek equal privileges. This involves whether homosexuality is an innate trait or a chosen lifestyle.
Cause A chosen lifestyle; an act of rebellion against God and nature. Determined by genetics and perhaps triggered by  environmental factors If homosexuality is a choice, then it is probably changeable. If it is genetic it is more likely fixed.
Homophobia Fear of homosexuality (a rarely used term). Analogous to sexism and racism: either denigration of homosexuals or a desire to limit their rights. Many religious and social conservatives resent the term homophobic being applied to them because they do not fear homosexuals.

Implications:

bulletBy defining homosexuality as a preference or a lifestyle, one implies that it is a choice. By using the term "sexual orientation" one implies that it is a fixed and unchosen trait. It is essentially impossible to refer to homosexuality without implying one's beliefs about homosexuality.
bulletBy defining homosexuality in terms of behavior, then a person with a homosexual orientation who decides to be celibate is considered no longer a homosexual. They are an "ex-gay" and are considered cured of their homosexual behavior; they have left the homosexual lifestyle. So too for a bisexual who decides to restrict her/his sexual activity to members of the opposite sex.

By defining homosexuality in terms of sexual attraction to, and fantasies of, persons of the same sex, then a person with a homosexual orientation who decides to be celibate is still a homosexual; they are simply considered a celibate homosexual. A bisexual who decides to restrict his/her behavior to members of the opposite sex is still a bisexual.
bulletBy enlarging the definition of sexual orientation to include criminal acts such as abusive pedophilia the scope and meaning of human rights and hate-crime legislation is totally changed. This definition is only used by a minority of religious conservatives at this time, and has not been recognized by legislatures, courts, dictionaries, etc.

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Religiously-based beliefs about homosexuality:

Throughout most of the essays in the homosexual and bisexual section of this web site, we have stressed the two extreme positions which are commonly shown in the media.

bulletThe position taken by many social and religious conservatives: They define homosexuality in terms of behavior. They consider homosexuality to be an abomination -- a serious, immoral, chosen, changeable, abnormal, unnatural addiction that is hated by God and is destructive to the individuals who decide to follow that lifestyle.
bulletThe position taken about homosexuality by most social workers, human sexuality researchers, human rights organizations, liberal students and parents, gays, bisexuals, and lesbians, and therapists (with the exception of those therapists affiliated with the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality  [NARTH]): They define homosexuality in terms of sexual orientation -- one's feelings of sexual attraction, fantasies, and self-identification. They view homosexuality to be one of three unchosen, fixed, and morally neutral sexual orientations, which is natural and normal for a minority of adults.

While these two positions do reflect the beliefs of the most vocal activists, there appears to be at least four other well defined viewpoints about homosexuality. Author L.R. Holben describe these in his book: "What Christians think about homosexuality."1 The four intermediate viewpoints appear much less frequently in newspapers, periodicals, during church sermons and on TV. But some of them are held by substantial numbers of Americans and Canadians.

From the most conservative to the most liberal, these have been called:

bulletAbomination: Homosexuality is a profoundly immoral behavior whether it is in the form of casual sex or within a loving, monogamous, committed relationship. It is to be condemned and perhaps criminalized. Homosexuals are driven by lust and are intrinsically unable to enter into meaningful, long-term, faithful, loving relationships.
bulletChange is expected: Homosexuality is a broken, disordered condition. Gays and lesbians can be easily healed by being converted to heterosexuality through prayer and/or reparative therapy.
bulletCelibacy is expected: Homosexuality is a fixed condition for all, or almost all, gays and lesbians. They cannot change their sexual orientation. God, religion and society expects them to remain celibate throughout their lives.
bulletMarginally acceptable: For those gays and lesbians who are unable to convert to heterosexuality and cannot remain celibate, the least awful option is for them to enter into a committed same-sex relationship. They can never attain the intimacy and unity that a heterosexual couple can. But at least in a committed relationship, they are not likely to be involved in promiscuity.
bulletEquality: Homosexuality and bisexuality are fixed normal, natural sexual orientations for a minority of adults. Both same-sex and opposite-sex behavior can be moral or immoral, depending upon the safety of the act and the nature of the relationship. Persons of all sexual orientations should enjoy the same rights and protections. They should all be allowed to marry the person that they love and to whom they are committed.
bulletLiberation: The morality of all sexual behavior -- same sex or opposite sex -- should be primarily based on its ability to generate joy, love and emotional growth. It is secondarily based on procreation. Lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and their supporters have a special role to liberate society and the church sexually from its historical fear and loathing of sexual behavior. The Bible's six "clobber passages" as they are traditionally translated into English and interpreted by conservative theologians, do not reflect the will of God.

More information on the diversity of viewpoints.

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Positions held by various faith groups:

There are on the order of 1,500 denominations, new religious movements, para-church organizations in North America. The vast majority identify themselves as Christians. Similarly, about 75% of North American adults consider themselves to be Christian. However, there is no consensus on exactly what criteria a believer or faith group must meet in order to be considered Christian. Some of the more liberal Christian groups are quite inclusive, accepting any group that considers itself Christian to be part of that religion. But many conservative Protestant denominations consider only fellow fundamentalist and other Evangelical denominations to be truly Christians. The Roman Catholic Church considers Protestant and Anglican denominations to be not "churches in the proper sense." Some theologians consider Christianity to be more than a single religion. Rather, they suggest that it is two or more religions which share the name "Christianity" and the Bible, but which differ on many other beliefs.

Christianity outnumbers each of the smaller organized religious groups in North America by a factor of 50 or more. Thus, the relationship between homosexuality and religion in the U.S. and Canada is almost entirely the relationship between homosexuality and Christianity.

bulletReligiously liberal groups, like the United Church of Christ, United Church of Canada and Unitarian Universalist Association have resolved the "homosexual issue."  The denominations work towards equal rights for gays and lesbians; they welcome homosexuals as members; they ordain them as clergy.
bulletMainline denominations, like the Presbyterians and Methodists are experiencing major internal conflict over the issue. Disagreements are deep and appear irresolvable, at least in the short term. There is a great deal of impassioned debate and little dialog. Fault lines within the denominations may appear on many levels:
bulletYoung people may take a more liberal view; older members are often more conservative. 
bulletThere are often geographical divisions, with north eastern groups being liberal and southern groups being conservative. 
bulletAn urban/rural split is also common.
bulletA major split is often between those who view homosexuals as a group, and those who personally know a gay or lesbian as a close friend.
bulletReligiously conservative groups, like the Southern Baptists, the Assemblies of God, and other Fundamentalist and Evangelical Christian denominations, have also resolved the issue. They work towards maintaining special rights for heterosexuals, defeating hate-crimes legislation that would protect gays and lesbians, and promoting legislation to prevent homosexual marriages or civil unions. Many denominations consider homosexuality to be a special type of sin. Some teach, on the basis of 1 Corinthians 6:9, that gays are prohibited from inheriting the Kingdom of God (heaven). They refuse membership and ordination to sexually active gays and lesbians. They have no expectation of changing their policy in the future.

In theory, "there should be at least one place where people who experience same gender attraction can expect justice & respect and that’s in a conservative Christian church." 1 They teach that all people are sinners. Thus, gays and lesbians should be accepted with open arms as fellow sinners. However, in practice, it does not necessarily happen. 

Justice and Respect, a conservative Christian group addressing the homosexual issue comments: "Tragically, the knee jerk reaction of 'shooting our wounded' is never more apparent than it is with SGA [same-gender attraction] and these people who most need a sense of Christian love and community often receive the least. We ...made our offer of love very conditional. It's time we stop tolerating our own unChristlike behavior...It is time to become Jesus to the hurting ..." 1

Many gays and lesbians remain partially or completely in the "closet". They often view the church as the last place that they would want to "come out", because of quite valid expectations of rejection and homophobia. This is a Catch 22 situation, because the most effective way of changing a heterosexual's beliefs about homosexuality is for them to befriend a homosexual. 

 

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Site navigation: Home > Conflict > Homosexuality > Religious impact > Teaching > here

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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. L.R. Holben, "What Christians think about homosexuality: Six representative viewpoints," Bibal Press, (1999). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store.

  2. "Evelyn Hooker, PhD," at: http://psychology.ucdavis.edu/
  3. Cited in David G. Meyers & Letha Dawson Scanzoni, "What God has joined together? A Christian case for gay marriage," HarperSanFrancisco, (2005-JUN), Pages 140 to 147. This is based on a proof version of the book; the page number may be changed in the final published copy. Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store.

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Copyright © 2005 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2005-MAY-8
Latest update: 2005-MAY-9
Author: B.A. Robinson

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