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bullet"...sexual orientation is not a choice and cannot be altered. Groups who try to change the sexual orientation of people through so-called conversion therapy' are misguided and run the risk of causing a great deal of psychological harm..." Raymond Fowler, executive director, American Psychological Association.
bullet"At-risk adolescents and parents have a right to know that homosexuality is preventable and treatable and the sooner intervention takes place, the better the prognosis." Richard Fitzgibbons, MD; writing for NARTH's web site.

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There is a moral and ethical battle going on between two very different concepts of homosexuality:

Many very conservative Christians and members of NARTH, a small organization of mental health professionals 1 state that: Many very liberal Christians, essentially all professional mental health associations, gays, lesbians, and essentially all human sexuality researchers state that:
Everyone has a heterosexual orientation Most people are heterosexuals; a minority are homosexual or bisexual.
Homosexuality is an abnormal, unnatural, intrinsically disordered, and dysfunctional sexual behavior. Homosexuality is a normal and natural sexual orientation for a minority of humans.
Incompetent parenting (specifically inadequate bonding with the opposite-sex parent) and/or child sexual abuse sets up a young child to seek homosexual relationships later in life. Some interaction between a person's genes and some unknown factor in his or her later environment sets up a child to have a homosexual behavior later in life. This happens before the child is of school age.
Adult homosexuals can be "cured" through prayer, counseling and reparative therapy. Most gays and lesbians can leave the "gay lifestyle." Homosexuality is not a disease or disorder and thus does not need to be cured. All attempts to change a person's sexual orientation have consistently failed.
The purpose of therapy is to cure the homosexual so that they can "walk away from homosexuality" . Therapy is sometimes needed to help the homosexual overcome feelings of self-hatred, internalized from having being raised in a homophobic society.

Within a given congregation, there will generally be people holding both extreme views. Probably the majority of members will hold compromise positions.

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Who is right?

At first glance, both sides of the argument seem to present mutually exclusive points of view. It would seem that either one or neither side is correct.

However, a case can be made that both are right -- at least they are correct with respect to the meanings that they assign to various terms, such as "homosexuality," "cured," "ex-gay," etc. However, because they define certain key words very differently, they can only talk past each other, not with each other. Dialog is impossible. Debates predictably generate a lot of heat and very little light.

The solution is for both sides to decide on a common set of definitions. Only then would they be able to communicate effectively. This will probably not happen for decades, if ever. 

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Why do very conservative Christians say that homosexuality is curable?

There is one overriding factor that shapes their beliefs about homosexuality. They regard it as a behavior, not as an orientation. NARTH teaches that everyone is heterosexual. However, because of events in their childhood, some adults are attracted to homosexual behavior, and become addicted to it. Homosexuality is something that a person does; it is not something that one is. It is an activity, not a set of feelings. Adults fall into three categories, according to what they do sexually:

bulletIf a person enters into a sexually-active relationship with a person of the same gender, both are homosexuals. They are, by definition, involved in the "homosexual lifestyle." 
bulletIf a person makes love with a person of the opposite gender, both are heterosexual. 
bulletIf a person is sexually inactive, then they are celibate. 

The only important item is a person's actions, not their feelings.

Curing homosexuality is accomplished by persuading a person to stop same-sex behavior. There are four ways in which this can be done:

bulletCelibacy decision: A person who is only attracted to members of the same gender can decide to be permanently celibate. This would probably lead to a lonely unfulfilled  life, because there would never be any possibility for a full emotional and physical relationship within a committed partnership. But some gays or lesbians can be persuaded that "God hates homosexuality" and that celibacy is a better life strategy. Many conservative Christians believe that St. Paul teaches that homosexual behavior will prevent a person from attaining heaven after death -- even if they have been saved. 2 Their fate would be an eternity in Hell. A few decades of loneliness while on earth would seem to be a worthwhile investment to avoid endless torture in Hell after death. A celibate person is no longer engaging in homosexual behavior. He is, by definition, no longer a homosexual. They have been cured of homosexuality; they are an ex-gay; they have left the "gay lifestyle.
bulletBisexual decision: A person who is attracted to both men and women -- a bisexual -- can decide to confine their intimate relationship(s) to members of the opposite gender. A bisexual man might be more attracted to men than women. However, he might be able to persuade himself to date only women. The advantages are immense: he/she would:
bulletBe indistinguishable from the majority.  
bulletNo longer fear gay bashing.
bulletNo longer be at risk to being fired from their job.
bulletBe secure in their accommodation.
bulletBe free from being marginalized by other.
bulletBe free to marry and raising a family.
bulletNot be rejected by their friends and family of origin.
bulletBe accepted at their church. 
bulletIf they agree with the interpretation of St. Paul's writings as described above, they would not be automatically consigned to Hell.

Again, he/she would be considered by conservative Christians to have been "cured." She/he is an ex-gay. This option is available only to those who are attracted to both genders.

bulletTrue change: Individuals who are only attracted to members of the same gender will often enter therapy in an effort to develop an attraction to members of the opposite-sex. At this time, Christian ministries offer two methods of accomplishing such a reassignment: reparative therapy and/or prayer. Secular mental health professionals generally do not attempt to change a persons' feelings of sexual attraction in this way; their professional organizations have stated that it cannot be done. If an individual who entered therapy being only attracted to members of the same gender, and exited therapy with sexual feelings towards the opposite gender, then she/he would certainly be considered a success story by a Christian ministry. In practice, this option does not appear to be possible for more than a miniscule percentage of individuals -- if any.
bulletFaking it: It is possible for some individuals who are only attracted to members of the same gender to marry and engage in sexual activity with their spouse. Some lesbians may be able to overcome their feelings of disgust towards male lovemaking for the sake of maintaining a marriage and having a family. Some gay men may be similarly motivated to overcome their similar feelings by fantasizing that they are making love to another man; they may be able to impregnate a woman. However, their feelings, fantasies, and self-identification would remain homosexual. Again, they would be considered by conservative Christians, at least temporarily, as "cured" and "ex-gay." This option appears to be possible only for a small minority of heavily motivated individuals. Gays and lesbians who marry generally do not remain so very long.

Advertisements directed at gays and lesbians and reparative therapy web sites sponsored by conservative Christian ministries generally imply that a true change is possible, and that gays can become ex-gay. But their wording appears deliberately obscure and ambiguous. They don't say exactly what type of change is possible. Some sample excerpts are: Changing hearts, changing lives; There is another way out," "It's not about hate, it's about hope." "walk away from homosexuality" "freedom from homosexuality." "hope for change," "both [were] former homosexuals," "active in the gay community," 

In very rare circumstances, a conservative Christian source will appear to make a definite statement which implies that people can change their sexual orientation. One example is Mike Haley of Focus on the Family. He exchanged letters with writers of the Will & Grace TV show. He received a response and commented: "The letter that I received was very flippant and very disrespectful of the thousands of lives that have been changed from homosexuality to heterosexuality through the power of Jesus Christ." Casually read, this sentence would seem to imply that thousands of individuals with a homosexual orientation have changed their orientation to heterosexual. But what the writer probably means is that thousands of persons with a bisexual orientation who were once involved in same-sex relationships have been motivated by their faith to decide to restrict their sexually-active relationships to members of the opposite gender. Their sexual orientation remains unchanged; they remain attracted to both men and women; they have merely decided to change their behavior -- an option that is open to bisexuals but not to heterosexuals or homsexuals. If we assume that 2% of American adults are bisexual and that half of them develop committed relationships with members of the opposite gender, then probably on the order of 2 million bisexuals have changed their behavior "from homosexuality to heterosexuality." But their sexual orientation was and remains bisexual.

One looks in vain for a statement by a conservative Christian ministry like: "John Doe or Mary Roe were once attracted only to members of the same gender. But through therapy and prayer, Jesus helped them change and develop a permanent attraction to members of the opposite gender.

Faced with the low (or zero) success rate at changing persons with a homosexual behavior into heterosexuals, Tim Wilkins, director of CROSS Ministry, Raleigh, N.C., blamed his clients for their lack of effort. He responded: "Millions of people every year go on diets and weight-loss programs. Some of them lose weight, some of them gain it back. We have to ask the question: Does the diet fail, does the weight-loss program fail or is it the failure of the client to do what it takes? I think it's the latter."

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Why do very liberal Christians say that homosexuality is fixed?

Mental health professionals, gays, lesbians and others generally refer to sexual orientation rather than sexual behavior. Orientation is much more complex than behavior. It includes a person's:

bulletSelf-identification as a bisexual, gay, heterosexual or lesbian.
bulletFantasies of sexual activities.
bulletSexual feelings of attraction towards other persons, towards males or females or both.
bulletActual erotic and sexual activity with others.

Gays, lesbians, therapists, religious liberals, etc. typically feel that:

bulletA person's adult sexual orientation can be predicted in early childhood. 
bulletThere is no known way to change an adult's sexual orientation. Breast amputation, castration, aversion therapy, electric shock treatments, frontal lobotomies have been tried in the past, without success. Unethical professionals still try the less violent of these methods today.
bulletA homosexual who decides to remain celibate is still a homosexual, because his self identification, fantasies, longings, feelings of attraction, etc. are still homosexual.
bulletA bisexual who decides to confine his relationships to the opposite gender remains a bisexual.
bulletA homosexual who becomes attracted to members of the opposite gender through therapy, prayer or any other method either does not exist, is temporarily deluded.
bulletA homosexual who enters into a marriage relationship can expect that the relationship will be of short duration.

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Individual who achieves: Beliefs of very conservative Christians Beliefs of very liberal Christians and others
Celibacy decision Cured of homosexual behavior; an ex-gay A lonely homosexual with no hope of a intimate, committed relationship.
Bisexual decision Cured of homosexual behavior; an ex-gay Still a bisexual, but concentrating on the opposite gender.
True, permanent change Cured of homosexual behavior; an ex-gay Nonexistent, or at most phenomenally rare.
"Faking it" Cured of homosexual behavior; an ex-gay A homosexual trying to behave as a heterosexual, but whose relationship will soon fail.

And, within their own definitions, both extremes are correct in their beliefs. 

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Related essays on this web site:

bulletHomosexuality - is it a choice or a fixed orientation?
bulletWhat causes sexual orientation?
bullet"Ex-gay" newspaper ads
bulletLesbian/gay terminology
bulletConclusions by professional groups, and researchers
bulletConflicts within Christianity over homosexuality
bulletPolicies of 45 denominations and religions about homosexuality
bulletWhat the Bible says about homosexuality
bulletReparative therapy

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  1. The National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) has a web site at http://www.narth.com (Even though its domain name is a ".com," NARTH is a non-profit agency).
  2. 1 Corinthians 6:9 
  3. Mark Kelly, "Oppose sin, but love sinners, ex-homosexuals tell Baptists," a news release from the year 2000 Southern Baptist Convention, 2000-JUN-14. See: http://www.sbcannualmeeting.org/sbc00/news.asp?
  4. Mark Kelly, "God's love key to healing, freedom former lesbian tells SBC pastors," a news release from the year 2000 Southern Baptist Convention, 2000-JUN-14. See: http://www.sbcannualmeeting.org/sbc00/news.asp?
  5. Mike Haley's comment is quoted in Stuart Shepard, "'Will & Grace' letter causes flap," Focus on the Family, 2000-AUG-9 at: http://www.family.org/cforum/fnif/news/A0012515.html  

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

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Copyright © 2000 to 2002 incl., by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2000-JUN-8
Latest update: 2002-JAN-6
Author: B.A. Robinson

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