Science, Faith, and Sexual Orientation: Concluding Thoughts

Thank you, Chris, for your gentle and empathic spirit. And thank you for so aptly summarizing the gist of my first essay. You listen well. I now understand why you are so gifted at helping people create healthy relationships!

To clarify, I did not intend to imply that those who seek to honor a traditionalist biblical position on marriage are being hateful or mean-spirited. I simply wanted to note that the faith community’s understanding of a) marriage, and b) biblical wisdom about sexuality has evolved over time, and continues to do so. Perhaps, as the “Reformed and ever-reforming” perspective suggests should happen, the Spirit is continuing to work . . . as some of today’s biblical scholars, supported by psychological science, are leading us to rethink old ideas. Jesus beckoned us to worship God with our minds, which surely means being open—as you have demonstrated yourself to be—to continuing natural and biblical revelations.

Another more minor clarification: You note that I seem “strongly impacted” by the massive shift in public opinion. I am, indeed, concerned that the church’s credibility—and its focus on supporting marriage—has been eroded by its perceived preoccupation with keeping gay people unmarried. But this concern precedes the modern public opinion tsunami, and dates back to a 1993 essay encouraging the church to refocus on the family, and a 1999 essay on “Accepting What Cannot Be Changed.”

You note a valid distinction between “sexual identity” and sexual orientation—a distinction well made by our Regent University psychologist colleague Mark Yarhouse. Someone may feel a same-sex (or other-sex) attraction without embracing a gay (or straight) identity. FYI, I introduced Mark Yarhouse—someone whom I’ve admired for his courage in articulating a minority perspective within mainstream psychology—to Hope College, where he explained this distinction and its significance for some Christians.

Neither of us is surprised that Mark does have his critics, including the gay evangelical therapist-writer Ralph Blair, in responding to his article in Christian Counseling Today:

Yarhouse introduces his “Sexual Identity Therapy (SIT).” Instead of seeking to change homosexual orientation, SIT reframes the person’s identity to bring it into “congruence” with the belief that homosexuality is sinful. “Congruence,” he says, “is achieved when a person is able to identify themselves and live in a way that reflects that identity and is consistent with their principles and values.” So successful “congruence” is identifying with what one’s supposed to believe, not with what one actually feels.

You also note that the “anecdotal evidence of ex-gay ministry leaders recanting past beliefs” is offset by “many good articles in respected journals that elaborate different and valid perspectives.”

You and I surely would agree that “the plural of anecdote is not evidence.” But in this case, the number of ex-gay ministry leaders who have recanted—saying that neither they nor anyone they knew actually had changed (despite their one-time testimonies to the contrary)—is striking. Even more striking is the shutdown of Exodus, the umbrella organization over the various ex-gay ministries, with its leader saying, “I am sorry we promoted sexual orientation change efforts” that led to so much pain, shame, and lost faith.

But what about the careful survey study you mention, by another respected friend of mine, Stanton Jones (Wheaton College provost) along with Mark Yarhouse, published as Ex-Gays? A Longitudinal Study of Religiously Mediated Change in Sexual Orientation. Stan Jones entrusted me with reading the page proofs and to vouch for their integrity as researchers, which I was happy to do. But, as I explained, they really didn’t need anyone to speak for their integrity. Their honesty would never be questioned by anyone scrutinizing their data, which actually showed very few people from all the Exodus ministries willing to be surveyed, and very few of these reporting a 180 degree sexual reorientation.

Ralph Blair had a similar assessment:

The book is based in the claims of Exodus-screened “ex-gay” clients. But during the period of their polling, a quarter of these “ex-gays” dropped out or disappeared. This left 73, of whom 11 are claimed for “conversion”—though the authors admit that one of these has recanted his claim and two others say they still struggle with homoerotic attraction. This brings the “conversions” (variously defined) to 8. Additionally, the “ex-gays” that say they’re committed to chastity are counted as “successful”—though many of these, too, admit to continued same-sex orgasmic fantasies.

Other studies show that people who invest their time, money, and emotions in efforts to change—to stop smoking, to lose weight, to get better grades, to stay out of trouble, to break free of depression—will, when surveyed, often tout the effectiveness of programs that are actually, by objective measures, ineffective. It’s as if there is a need to justify one’s effort and expenditure. That being so, I’m surprised at how very few—virtually nil—participants in Exodus ministries were willing to report a sexual transformation. And knowing that, I perhaps should have been less surprised when Exodus threw in the towel.

To conclude, I offer my thanks to for offering a public platform for this conversation—among people who concur on basic matters of faith, but differ on its implications in today’s world. And thank you, Chris Grace, for your courage and kindness in engaging mutually respectful conversation.


Chris’s 3rd and Final Post: Science and Same-Sex Orientation and Behavior

A friend recently wrote “an argument among friends lies at the heart of our enterprise as Christian scholars. We each aim to give witness to the truth . . .”

As scientists and Christians we are eyewitnesses to God’s Truth. What an awesome endeavor!

We are eyewitnesses to His truth when we study nature as found in the observable created world, experiencing His reality and catching a glimpse of the holy in the everyday things around us—in a loving touch, in the gift of attention, and in the smile of a stranger. 

Yes, even in an argument with a friend.  

We are also eyewitnesses to His Truth as revealed in Scripture, which He supernaturally authored. This Truth is without error or misstatements of any kind in all historical, moral and spiritual teachings.

It is with humility that we are to approach the study of nature and Scripture, knowing that we are not God or without error. In fact, our hearts are deceitful above all else, said the prophet Jeremiah. C.S. Lewis (in the Space Trilogy) referred to us as being “bent”—like the trees in the panhandle of Texas that grow in the direction that the wind is always blowing—curved toward corruption.

God’s Word: The Truth and the Authority

Our insights and understandings must always be grounded in the Truth, His revealed Word. This is what is captured by the phrase, “Reformed and ever-reforming.” It is actually a shortened version of the Latin phrase “Ecclesia reformata et semper reformanda secundum verbum Dei,” which translated means that “The church is reformed and always [in need of] being reformed according to the Word of God. Michael Horton, Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Seminary (and Biola University graduate) notes:

When we invoke the whole phrase — “the church Reformed and always being reformed according to the Word of God” — we confess that we belong to the church and not simply to ourselves and that this church is always created and renewed by the Word of God rather than by the spirit of the age.

Thus, true reformation occurs when we align our values, actions and beliefs with the Word of God – not the other way around. It occurs when we rid ourselves of false beliefs that do not line up with Scripture. The way I see it, it is a reminder to us that Scripture must always counter our bent tendencies that so naturally grow in the direction of the prevailing culture winds.

To remind readers I was asked to participate in this blog because I am a Christian, a social scientist, and I uphold a “traditional” view to the issue of same-sex behavior. In case any may have missed the last decade of unprecedented culture shifts, to actually still believe and advocate for a traditional approach is to go counter to the prevailing winds and risk being on the wrong side of history. However, after much study and prayer and listening to experts, I am convinced that this view is on the right side of God’s Word.

23 Questions about the Truth, Interpretation and Loving Others

By my count David Myers asked 28 questions of me (asking readers to join in as well) in his second blog: Three were about science, one was rhetorical (What shall we make of the gay parenting studies?), one is hard to answer with a 3,000 word limit (Is biology the chicken or the egg?), and 23 were related to the Bible, theology, interpretation, sexual ethics and how we treat others.

As David’s questions remind us, much of our understanding and perspectives, as well as how we treat people, flow from our beliefs and values, from Scripture and our interpretation of Scripture. Because we are committed to the Truth, we both respect and seek to integrate science and Scripture. As integrationists we ask biblical and theological questions because they play a central role in our faith and in our science. With open-eyed wonder and bent-knee humility, we both revel as we get to daily examine that which has been created and authored by God. As David so aptly put it:

As behavioral scientists and Christians, we both begin, I sense, with the assumption that all humans have dignity but not deity. We are fallible creatures. Knowing that some of our beliefs err (we are not God), we hold our untested beliefs tentatively and, when appropriate, use observation and experimentation to sift truth from error. Believing that God has written the book of nature, our calling is to read it as clearly and honestly as we can.

With all do respect and humility as noted above, here is what I believe about same-sex behavior, God’s Word, our interpretations, and the passages that deal with God’s sexual ethics. I will start with one belief that is uncontroversial.

1. Are there any passages or verses in the Bible that approve, affirm or bless same-sex behavior?

The answer is a clear and convincing “No.” There is not a single known passage that approves or blesses same-sex behavior. This is beyond contestation, and it is not controversial.

Author Kevin DeYoung notes

Even the gay Dutch scholar Pim Pronk has concluded that ‘wherever homosexual intercourse is mentioned in Scripture, it is condemned. With reference to it the New Testament adds no new arguments to those of the Old. Rejection is a foregone conclusion; the assessment of it nowhere constitutes a problem.’ There is simply no positive case to be made from the Bible for homoerotic behavior. 

2. Do the Biblical texts that deal specifically with same-sex behavior condemn it unconditionally and call it a sin to be repented of, forsaken and forgiven?

The short answer: Scripture calls us to refrain from all non-marital heterosexual or homosexual sexual behavior, whether loving and monogamous or not.

Any sexual intimacy outside the confines of marriage violates God’s design and is inconsistent with the teaching of Scripture, as understood by Christian churches throughout history. We find the biblical teaching of monogamy in the Genesis account of creation, reflected in the teachings of Jesus himself, and maintained consistently throughout Scripture. Hence, sexual intimacy and the sexual union of intercourse between a man and a woman are intended for a purpose—to join one husband and one wife together into one flesh in the context of marriage (I Cor. 6:16). This God-initiated oneness is clearly recognized and affirmed by Jesus in terms of the marital union of husband and wife (Matt 19:4-6).

These views spring from God’s self-revelation in Scripture—grounding and forming our understanding of sexuality and marriage—and thereby shaping us by His purposes through His Word.

Clearly we will each fall short, and it is only by His mercy, grace and forgiveness that we are inspired and enabled (however faltering) to live out His good and perfect design for us. As we commit to following Jesus through the teaching and plan found in God’s Word, we must strive for sexual purity as well as fidelity in marriage, and in so doing able to give witness to our Lord Jesus Christ.

Here are some issues that need more thought

Now to a few of David’s other questions: He asks, “Why do so many Christians seemingly continue to resist the strength and persistence of biological effects on behaviors like sexual orientation?”

There can be many answers to this question. It may be that many Christians seek to avoid a naturalistic fallacy (the erroneous notion “biological” or “natural” implies moral goodness or acceptance.) Perhaps many believe that the innate effects are not sufficient or compelling enough to morally justify any resultant behavior, as many commentators have frequently implied. Perhaps they feel that with this issue it is still too early to draw any causative statements, given the correlational nature of these studies, the relative newness of the research, and the small sample sizes used in most studies.

In a “Would you have guessed it?” twist, some leading gay activists now wonder why the biology of sexual orientation is still such an issue. They are instead admitting that for them it was a choice (see It’s OK to Choose to Be Gay, and I Wasn’t Born This Way. I Choose to Be Gay)

Why not offer an inclusive pro-monogamy norm? 

One can just as easily ask, “Why offer a pro-monogamy norm at all? Why should anyone stay monogamous (or pure or chaste or avoid pornography) when our biological wiring is so innately wired for sexual novelty? This isn’t a rhetorical question. Over the years there are clear and compelling lines of evidence that have converged showing that men are biologically “programmed” to be interested in sexual encounters with novel females (called the Coolidge Effect.)

Psychologist Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá, M.D. (Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality) ask this:

You want an inconvenient truth? Try this one: Human beings are clearly evolved for sex lives featuring multiple simultaneous sexual relationships. Men, especially, are designed by evolution to be attracted to sexual novelty and to gradually lose sexual attraction to the same partner in the absence of such novelty.

And here is the problem: Concerning innate biological effects – once Scripture is changed to fit the view that Genesis and other passages allow for same-sex behavior, then the sexual ethic of monogamy doesn’t make sense for gay or straight. If God did not design sex for the purpose of uniting one man and one woman into a permanent, lifelong, one flesh union to bear His image together, then Scriptural support for key aspects of this sexual ethic must be jettisoned as well, no longer able to serve as the basis for a cogent argument against monogamy. Says one author:

So why monogamy? Jesus never spoke explicitly against polygamy. The New Testament writers only knew of exploitative polygamy, the kind tied to conquest, greed, and subjugation. If they had known of voluntary, committed, loving polyamorous relationships, who’s to think they wouldn’t have approved? . . . Once we’ve accepted the logic that for love to be validated it must be expressed sexually and that those engaged in consensual sexual activity cannot be denied the “right” of marriage, we have opened a Pandora’s box of marital permutations that cannot be shut.

What then can be used to argue against it? Convention? Tradition? A compelling sense that it is simply wrong to cheat on a spouse, whether same-sex or opposite-sex?

And if the Coolidge Effect is so strong and we are indeed biologically preprogrammed to seek out multiple partners, how and why could we expect someone to stay faithful to a spouse? Isn’t this putting a Pharisaical burden on the backs of people? Some gay activists argue that monogamy is an unfair burden, and instead extol the virtues of being “mongomish.” Highlighting an upcoming film on the topic:

The “traditional” values that have shaped our understanding of love, sex, and marriage are losing their hold on our culture.  . . But despite all these transformations the ideal of a monogamous loving couple hasn’t changed one bit. It’s as if we are held captive to a certain picture of what a loving relationship must be like, which continues to exert a powerful influence on the popular imagination. But why? Where does this ideal come from? Is it inevitable?

Once we go with a biological effects argument in supporting homosexuality, is not the next step to accept polyamorous affairs within all marriages?

Pharisees and Burdens and No Easy Answers  

David asks, Rather than tie ‘onto people’s backs loads that are heavy and hard to carry,’ as Jesus said of the Pharisees, why not offer a positive affirmation of monogamy?  

Here is what (I presume) is being asked: If, as David believes, Scriptural passages that deal specifically with same-sex behavior only describe immoral acts of gang rape, power imbalances, exploitative in nature, etc., and do not take into account the loving, committed, monogamous acts that characterize today’s same-sex behavior, are we then comparing apples to oranges, and thus must set aside the scriptural prohibitions against homosexual behavior because the biblical authors knew nothing about committed, consensual, lifelong partnerships?

It is clear David doubts that a loving God would compel those with same-sex attractions and orientations to follow a sexual ethic that is burdensome and hard to follow, acts over which they have no control or choice. He seeks instead for Christians to proclaim a “single Christian sexual ethic” that applies equally to heterosexuals and homosexuals, i.e., marry or be celibate. His assumption (I think) is that we are to follow God’s plan for marriage (permanent, monogamous unions) in every other way, save the “man—woman” notion. Holding any other standard makes you guilty of being unfair at best and Pharisaical at worst.

If I am not mistaken Jesus leveled this particular “woe to the Pharisee” charge against the religious leaders who held their flocks to impossible standards that are not personally followed by the leaders. 

Matthew 23:4 says:

They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger.

So is the solution simply to remove the burden by allowing (fighting, advocating, voting for) marriage for same-sex couples? Biblically speaking, the only way that this can be accomplished is with an eraser and a pen, e.g., to rewrite or reform Scripture.

Those unwilling to do so are presumed guilty of not lifting a finger.  Why? Because we are cold-hearted? We are homophobic? Unenlightened and uniformed? Bigoted? Are we, once again, like the ancient religious leaders (Pharisees?) hiding behind false teachings?

Serious and condemning charges are implied here. Is this accurate? Is this appropriate?

If so, nearly every Christian, Biblical scholar, non-believer, other major religious followers, and practically every known culture for almost two millennia believed that marriage is only between one man and one woman.

Are traditionalists placing undue burdens on same-sex attracted and oriented people when we claim that same-sex behavior is immoral, and the only option available for them is chastity, not marriage?  Is this demanding too much?

The truth is the New Testament and Jesus consistently call believers to behave in ways that can only be defined as “burdensome” (e.g., “give a blessing for an insult,” 1 Pet. 3:9; “Take up your cross daily and follow Me,” Luke 9:23; and “Do good to those who hate you,” Matt. 5:44) unless we understand that true life and joy and happiness is found in obedience to God’s ways. All of these commands are hard if not impossible – apart from the power of the Holy Spirit (Phil. 2:13).

Perhaps the best thing I can do to answer this question is to point people to authors like Wesley Hill and Eve Tushnet, both same-sex attracted, who make compelling cases for a traditional view of marriage and dispel the assumption of impossible burdens.  I implore you to read Eve’s posts and especially Washed and Waiting and Spiritual Friendship by Wesley Hill. Wesley is a gay Christian who advocates for celibacy because as a theologian he finds the case for marriage between one man and one woman the clear and compelling sexual ethic taught in Scripture.

And the burden is clearly hard for Wesley and Eve and many other celibate Christians. After meeting and speaking with Wesley just one time I found myself both encouraged and humbled, and now pray for him on a regular basis. There are no easy answers. But at least read their story and then decide if these charges of Pharisaical burdens are fair or unfair.

In closing, here are seven pledges that as a follower of Jesus, a social scientist, and a traditionalist I commit to (compiled and adapted from various sources):


  1. I pledge tell everyone the good news of the gospel: Jesus died and rose again, setting us free from the curse of death and sin, and that Christ is the only way to the Father and eternal life.
  2. I pledge to treat all Christians as new creations in Christ, remembering that our true identity is not based on sexuality or self-expression but on our union with Christ.
  3. I strive to be objective and careful when examining scientific findings, when using observation and experimentation to sift truth from error, and when integrating nature and Scripture as clearly and honestly as I can, holding untested beliefs tentatively.
  4. I affirm the biblical mandate that all persons, including LGBTQ persons, are created in the image of God and deserve dignity and respect. I pledge to love my neighbors regardless of whatever disagreements arise as a result of conflicting beliefs about same-sex behavior and marriage. I pledge not to be a Pharisee.
  5. I pledge to guard the truth of God’s word concerning biblical marriage in a way that brings healing to a sexually broken culture and confronts the world when it tries to press us into its mold, telling the truth about all sin, especially the ones most prevalent in my community.
  6. I pledge to ask for forgiveness if I am ever rude, thoughtless, or joke inappropriately about homosexuals. I will extend God’s forgiveness to all those who express brokenhearted repentance, everyone from homosexual sinners to heterosexual sinners, from the proud to the greedy, from the people pleaser to the self-righteous.
  7. I strive to welcome all those who hate their sin and struggle against it, even when that struggle involves failures and setbacks. I will seek to love my neighbor, regardless of their particular vices or virtues.

In short, I pledge to love the LORD our God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love my neighbor as myself.

I know that to make sense of life we must always ask ourselves how our personal narrative is taken up into that of God’s, how our own story should be reformed within His story, not how God’s reality might fit into ours. Only by doing this can we make sense of our past, present and future, understanding that our desires and behaviors are reordered by the more compelling purpose found in God’s plan and in His Word.


Chris’s Response to Most Are Straight, Some are Gay, and Why it is That Way

It has been a joy and privilege to participate in this blog and converse with talented authors and scholars, if only by reading their insightful posts. I have sensed that we are fellow sojourners, each seeking encouragement from being united with Christ, comfort from his love, being like-minded, praying that our love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment. The previous post by David Myers, my conversation partner, reveals that this is his heart as well.

What I Affirm About David’s Position

There is much to affirm about David’s blog post Most Are Straight, Some are Gay, and Why it is That Way. He is an engaging writer, an esteemed author, and a great compiler of psychological science.

He begins with Gallup poll results that illustrate the astonishing transformation of public opinion that we have witnessed in the last few decades on the issue of same-sex marriage.  He seeks for Christians to agree that our teaching of sexual ethics should not simply follow cultural trends, but instead we must turn to biblical scholars as we reengage pertinent biblical wisdom, as well as continue to do good science.

In regards to sexual orientation as a natural predisposition, David covers many of the same studies that I also cite, including those that suggest gay-straight differences, the maternal immune-system reaction hypothesis and a twin study of 409 pairs of gay brothers that show modest orientation links.

I love his statement that “those who aim to worship God with their minds will surely wish to attend both to natural revelation (as we explore God’s “fearfully and wonderfully made” human nature) and to biblical revelation.”

He notes the need to examine Scripture with a spirit of humility, open to the Spirit’s leading, as we seek wisdom on how it ought to be.

David then points to additional Gallup poll data that paints a sobering view of Americans’ emerging take on traditional marriage (it is in disarray to say the least), even though much evidence exists concerning its high value for children, communities, and our overall happiness.

Finally, he asks us to consider what would Jesus do, versus what the Pharisees did, when it comes to healthy relationships.

I am encouraged that David seeks to present a more winsome and biblically authentic spirit that attracts the next generation. He laments the “counter-evangelism effect” that an anti-gay stance has on the irreligious “nones,” the lost and the un-churched. How sad for Christianity to be described as “anti-homosexual” above any other descriptor by those aged 16 to 29.  Even worse is how we are described by anti-religious academics—ugly and mean and hateful—and these are just the start.

He ends his blog by appealing to God’s mercy and kindness. Indeed and amen.

What insights did I glean from David’s post as to ways he is seeking to be faithful to his particular understanding of commitment to the Christian faith?

I can glean from David’s post the strength of his commitment to the Christian faith, and that he clearly worries for the Church and how we are viewed by the wider world. His faith is an inclusive faith, seeking to extend God’s love to all. His heart is with the 3.4% who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, and the (approximately) 3% of the population who experience exclusively same-sex attraction.

He recognizes that in fighting a cultural war, the Church is losing. In quoting another author, he says we must:

Put aside a culture war that has alienated large parts of three generations from any consideration of religion or belief. Put aside an effort that has been a communications disaster, reducing a rich, complex and beautiful faith into a public obsession with sex. Put aside a culture war that, at least over the near term, you are destined to lose.

I gather that David has been strongly impacted by this war and the “astonishing transformation of public opinion,” the massive “momentum of gay support,” the equally striking “enormous generation gap.”

David notes that “our sexual ethics should not simply follow cultural trends, but we must turn to Scripture.”  He stated that we must step back to understand what science is revealing (e.g., what we were asked to blog about) and to reengage biblical wisdom (what Mark Strauss and James Brownson were tasked with—see here)

Concerns and Questions about David’s position

In my first post I used up much space covering what I feel are relevant academic findings, as I tried not to veer too far from the leading question, “What is my understanding of the best findings from the academic disciplines of biology, anthropology, psychology and sociology relative to same-sex attraction, sexual orientation, and sexual behavior for human beings?”

In so doing I avoided delving into biblical and theological issues, leaving such matters to the other conversationalists tasked with such questions.

I have many thoughts on the topic, however, and perhaps in a future blog will outline them further, responding to some of the questions David raised along these lines—matters that we disagree about biblically and theologically.

I will however venture into one such issue that requires clarification. David posits the following:

A newer Reformed-evangelical perspective argues that the church has, once again, misread the Bible, which actually supports a consistent sexual ethic for gay and straight people.

David goes on to say:

For those who embrace a “Reformed and ever-reforming” faith tradition—one that esteems a spirit of humility and is open to the continuing work of the Spirit—this fresh look at Scripture is how it should be. And so it has been across time, as people of faith have changed their minds… In each case, our religious ancestors found proof texts to support their cultural assumptions, and later biblical scholarship led us to read and respect Scripture in a fresh way.

Here is my concern, and the phrase I cannot seem to shake: I keep stumbling over the two words, “once again.”

(Actually, four words if I include “proof texts.” Given space limitations, however, I must save my thoughts on that for later, again seeking not to veer from the leading question.)

In the spirit of this respectful conversation it seems as if the “once again” comment could be interpreted in several ways.

One way to interpret it is by simply ignoring the clause “once again” and reading the statement as “A newer Reformed-evangelical perspective argues that the church is misreading the Bible.” Then we would commence to a discussion around what we believe based on our hermeneutic, God’s consistent and unequivocal paradigm for marriage, sex and oneness in marriage, etc., as Strauss and Brownson have done.

Another interpretation could be this: Those who hold the position that the Bible does not condone same-sex behavior—that the seven passages cited are neither proof texts nor unambiguous in their meaning that homosexual behavior is not part of God’s design or intended purpose—are “once again” wrong. 

My next question would then be: “Once again” as in when?

Are those in the “newer Reformed-evangelical perspective” implying that this is akin to when our religious ancestors pulled out of context passages to justify their racist and sexist views?

Such an interpretation would imply that anyone who believes differently is not just simply holding a counter belief, but they are, once again, committing egregious errors that in due time, after Scripture has been reexamined in fresh new ways, will be exposed as bigoted and homophobic, like the racist and sexist ancestors of the past.

Or am I reading too much into these two little words?

Regardless of what derisive opinions many in the culture may have, we can hold thoughtful, respected, counter beliefs that are philosophically valid, morally acceptable and biblically sound.  This entire Respectful Conversations is based on the very premise.

Even the Supreme Court justices who voted with the majority (see here) on the recent (June 2015) same-sex marriage ruling noted that:

Many who deem same-sex marriage to be wrong reach that conclusion based on decent and honorable religious or philosophical premises, and neither they nor their beliefs are disparaged here.

It is with certainty that they will be disparaged elsewhere, however, and especially if such beliefs are sought to be exercised and lived out in public life or acted on in schools, academe, businesses or other institutions.

Chief Justice John Roberts of the U.S. Supreme Court wrote for the minority opinion:

It is one thing for the majority to conclude that the Constitution protects a right to same-sex marriage; it is something else to portray everyone who does not share the majority’s “better informed understanding” as bigoted.

Justice Alito wrote:

In the course of its opinion, the majority compares traditional marriage laws to laws that denied equal treatment for African-Americans and women. The implications of this analogy will be exploited by those who are determined to stamp out every vestige of dissent.

While we may disagree on the issue of same-sex behavior, I was grateful that David labeled as “derisive” the anti-religious academics who blame young Americans’ declining religiosity on what I assume is meant as a jab by them at traditionalists (e.g., the homophobic, GOP voting, fundamental/evangelicals). Such are scorned for being “extreme, ugly, mean, anti-science, intolerant, anti-abortion, homophobic, racist, sexually repressed and woman-hating, and hating anyone different from them.”

Thankfully I do not recognize anyone I know who personifies the attributes on this list—save the labels “evangelical,” “anti-abortion” and “GOP.”

I am humbly challenged to responded in kind, that is, to call out as “derisive” any who would portray non-traditionalists with hateful words that have no place in respectful conversations, knowing that if unchecked, the ensuing climate will be anything but respectful or conversational.

Areas that were not addressed

In the areas of sexual orientation and sexual orientation change efforts I am interested in scientifically valid findings that both support and run counter to the (now) widely held APA position.

And while not dismissing the importance of anecdotal evidence of ex-gay ministry leaders recanting past beliefs, there are many good articles in respected journals that elaborate different and valid perspectives.

For example, much research (see here) is being done on sexual identity issues, which is not the same as sexual orientation or attractions. Sexual identity is about how we label ourselves—straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual—and may include our attractions, behaviors, values and beliefs. Someone with same-sex attraction may identify as gay and Christian, but could also identify as being a believer in Christ who has same-sex attraction, and not identify as gay. As one researcher notes

For one person the feelings of same-sex attraction may be weighed more heavily. For another person, religious beliefs might play a larger role. For yet another, it all comes down to the actions they have taken. How you identify yourself is a decision based on any number of factors working in numerous and complicated ways.

Thus, for those who seek to identify first as being “in Christ,” they may chose not to make same-sex attraction the defining element of their identity. For those interested, here is some excellent research to explore, including an entire research institute focused on identity issues. (see here; also Yarhouse 2004; Yarhouse & Tan’s Sexual Indentity Synthesis: Attributions, Meaning-making, and the Search for Congruence, 2004Throckmorton; Lisa Diamond 2005; and Micelle Wolkomier’s Be Not Deceived: The Sacred and Sexual Struggles of Gay and Ex-gay Christian Men2006)

Concerning sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE), APA’s current position is clear—there is “insufficient evidence” to support the claims of SOCE. They note that (see here) SOCE has been controversial due to tensions between faith-based organizations and the values held by lesbian, gay and bisexual rights organizations and professional organizations. APA further summarizes that “there are no studies of adequate scientific rigor to conclude whether or not recent SOCE do or do not work to change a person’s sexual orientation.”

Sexual Identity Therapy (SIT), however, does provide a place for clients to examine ways to live and form an identity in light of their beliefs and values (see here). The psychologists who pioneer this approach help clients find congruence “so that their behavior and sexual identity line up with their beliefs and values.”

For readers interested in exploring this area further, scholars who have been engaged in this field for many years present cogent and valid scientific evidence on this topic. For example, a longitudinal study conducted by Jones and Yarhouse meets empirical standards for valid research and uses large sample sizes. Such research was completed with persons seeking to change their sexual orientation by exploring therapy that included religious perspectives. One of these researchers (Mark Yarhouse) serves as an ad hoc reviewer with the Journal of Homosexuality, and chairs the task force on LGBT issues for Division 36 (Psychology of Religion and Spirituality) of the APA. His textbooks on family therapy, psychopathology, and sexuality/sex therapy and several books on sexual identity (see Understanding Gender Dysphoria: Navigating Transgender Issues in a Changing Culture) may be of value.

These researchers note that change is rarely complete or categorical, but it can occur along a continuum, and it does not appear to be intrinsically harmful. Yarhouse summarizes it this way:

  1. Although some people do experience a change in sexual orientation, most experience modest gains, and many share that they continue to have same-sex attractions at times.
  2. It does not appear to be intrinsically harmful to try to change sexual orientation, especially if a person has realistic expectations.
  3. Where people may struggle the most is with unrealistic expectations or messages that they are not trying hard enough or do not have enough faith.

Other research by respected scholars can be found in journals like Psychotherapy and Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, as well as integration journals, such as Journal of Psychology and Christianity and Journal of Psychology and Theology. Many have made insightful, scholarly presentations at the APA and APS annual conferences.

Nicholas A. Cummings, former president of APA believes that the role of psychotherapy in sexual orientation change efforts has been politicized beyond repair. For context, in 1975 Cummings sponsored (as an APA council of representatives) the resolution that stated that homosexuality is not a mental disorder and, in 1976, the resolution that gays and lesbians should not be discriminated against in the workplace. He says:

Contending that all same-sex attraction is immutable is a distortion of reality. Attempting to characterize all sexual reorientation therapy as “unethical” violates patient choice and gives an outside party a veto over patients’ goals for their own treatment. A political agenda shouldn’t prevent gays and lesbians who desire to change from making their own decisions.


What, if anything, did you find out about David that surprised you or caused you to change your view of him?

 There really was nothing David wrote that caused me to change my view of him. I continue to respect his views, even where we disagree biblically and theologically. He too is grieved that Christianity is becoming increasingly irrelevant, alienating and repelling to those outside the Church.

Clearly some in the Church have not modeled love and kindness while holding to the Truth. And while we may disagree about the morality of same-sex behavior and hold views contrary to popular opinion, we must give no cause to being viewed, fairly or unfairly, as hateful or unkind.

The Church is at a crossroads, and our future actions must carefully and prayerfully reflect God’s hope for us—to be united with Christ, like-minded, that our love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment.

We have a long way to go. I take heart in one working relationship that I have recently started that gives me hope. A faculty colleague from another institution was initially wary of my connection to a conservative Christian university and the impending judgmental attitudes she expected of me. She and her wife had recently adopted a young toddler, and she beamed as she showed me pictures. Her fears and concerns were soon alleviated as we worked and laughed together throughout the week. I was relieved and grateful that she did not disparage my sincere convictions that a biblical marriage is one that is between one man and one woman. She did not challenge me, nor seek to change my views, and neither of us experienced the other as hateful, bigoted, intolerant or mean.

We must not forget that respected scholars disagree, and can hold decent and honorable yet differing perspectives.

Science, Faith, and Sexual Orientation: Round Two

My thanks to Chris Grace for his gracious and thoughtful remarks.

Since this is a conversation, I’ll respond in a personal voice, speaking colleague to colleague (and with respect for someone whom I’ve understood to be an exceptionally fine teacher of psychology).

Yes, I do owe you, Chris, for the great privilege of assisting your teaching. Having been your text author for three decades has been an honor, and a keenly felt responsibility. Thank you.

We Agree

Our agreements are several and substantial.

First and more importantly, we both respect, and seek to integrate, science and Scripture. You adopt “an integrative approach to Christianity and science that takes seriously psychological science and upholds the centrality of Scripture.” Your essay embodies that science- and faith-respecting perspective, by sifting science while affirming biblical wisdom. So does your Biola University, which has played a leadership role in hosting conversations about the interplay of rigorous science and biblical faith.

As behavioral scientists and Christians, we both begin, I sense, with the assumption that all humans have dignity but not deity. We are fallible creatures. Knowing that some of our beliefs err (we are not God), we hold our untested beliefs tentatively and, when appropriate, use observation and experimentation to sift truth from error. Believing that God has written the book of nature, our calling is to read it as clearly and honestly as we can.

Such faith-based humility and skepticism helped fuel the beginnings of modern science and supports today’s “Reformed and ever-reforming” faith tradition—a tradition that motivates free-spirited, scientific inquiry . . . which has changed my mind many times. Today’s evidence leads me to believe what I once did not: that, for example,

  • crude-seeming electroconvulsive therapy can be an effective treatment for intractable depression, 
  • the unconscious mind dwarfs the conscious mind, and is smarter than I once thought,
  • traumatic experiences rarely get repressed, 
  • parenting practices have a negligible effect on children’s later personalities and intelligence (though a greater effect on their attitudes and beliefs), and that 
  • sexual orientation is a natural, enduring disposition (not a moral choice).

Sometimes, I’m sure we further agree, science affirms ancient biblical and theological wisdom. Two quick examples:

  • Our faith tradition identifies pride as the fundamental sin—the deadliest of the seven deadly sins. Our science confirms that “self-serving bias” (perceiving ourselves as better than others) is a powerful and often perilous human tendency.
  • Our faith tradition emphasizes the interplay of faith and action. Our science confirms that our attitudes and behavior feed each other.

Second, we both understand that psychologists’ assumptions and values can penetrate their teaching, writing, researching, and practicing psychology (a point also made by psychology’s feminist critics). As you note, “any research, even scientific research, is subject to bias.” When first drafting my psychology textbooks, I posted on my office door C. S. Lewis’ reminder that “We do not need more Christian books; we need more books by Christians about everything with Christian values built in.”

Third, we agree that (your words) “While there is evidence that sexual orientation for men may neither be chosen nor changed, for women it is not as clear.” As Nathan DeWall and I explain in Psychology, 11th Edition, “Sexual orientation in some ways is like handedness: Most people are one way, some the other. A very few are truly ambidextrous. Regardless, the way one is endures. This conclusion is most strongly established for men. Women’s sexual orientation tends to be less strongly felt and potentially more fluid and changing.”

Social psychologist Roy Baumeister (2000) has documented that across time and place, women’s sexuality in other ways, too, is more fluid than men’s. Men’s sexual drive and interests are less flexible and varying. In their pupil dilation and their genital responses to erotic videos, and in their implicit attitudes, heterosexual men exhibit less bisexual responding than do women. Baumeister calls men’s less varying sexuality a gender difference in “erotic plasticity.” In plain English, men are sexually simpler. (And most people who report a strong same-sex orientation are men.)

Even so, most people—male or female—have a well-defined and persistent sexual orientation, and that is a reality that begs for explanation. It is, methinks, also a reality that the church had best face up to.

Fourth, we both, in your words, dispute that “sexual orientation is determined by any one cause or factor.” My understanding is that an interplay of genetic, prenatal hormonal, and brain differences conspire to influence our sexual orientation. You are less persuaded, but—reflecting your science-respecting humility—you are open to new evidence: “Should future findings converge (one way or the other) perhaps more definitive verdicts will arise.”

Ergo, you and I are living and working on the same planet, Chris—both of us rooted in a science-affirming faith tradition that seeks to be open to the Spirit’s continuing work, through new biblical and natural revelations. Moreover, our differences seem not fundamental to our faith. When together affirming the Apostle’s Creed we say nothing about sexual orientation.

We Differ

But this conversation also aims to identify and explore our differences. I write these words on a transatlantic flight after a month in Scotland, remembering the words of Scottish philosopher David Hume: “Truth springs from argument among friends.”

Indeed, argument among friends lies at the heart of our enterprise as Christian scholars. We each aim to give witness to the truth (as best as we can discern it). We welcome others from differing perspectives doing the same. And then we open ourselves to challenge and dialogue. Out of such free exchange, we presume, greater wisdom should ultimately emerge. That is the animating idea of, and of a college.

So, some differences:

1. Is biology the chicken or the egg? You wonder: “Does homosexuality[i] or the biology/biological influences come first? Overall I am of the opinion that it is still too early and premature to render a verdict.” 

We differ, because I am comfortable rendering a verdict: The accumulating evidence persuades me today more than ever that sexual orientation is a natural disposition. The observations of same-sex attraction in sheep, the new genetic evidence from “the gay brothers” study, the accumulating evidence of gay-straight brain and trait differences, the influence of prenatal physiology, and much more adds up to a compelling case that biology matters. (For an expert’s quick and recent synopsis of this evidence, see here.) And that explains why the American Psychological Association has asserted, as you noted, “most people experience little or no sense of choice about their sexual orientation.”

 2. What shall we make of the gay parenting studies? You devote more than half your essay to noting that “77 scholarly studies converge” in indicating that children raised by gay or lesbian parents develop normally, and that “the only four that don’t are dismissed as full of errors.” Such near consensus raises red flags for you. You note some additional studies that call this conclusion into question, notably the much-criticized study by Texas sociologist Mark Regnerus. And you wonder if the well-documented liberal bias of most social psychologists may be influencing what they accept as evidence.

I don’t see the gay parenting literature at the heart of the church’s culture war over sexual orientation—which rather centers on matters of biblical interpretation, the reality of sexual orientation, and the human longing for belonging and intimacy . . . and the related issues of same-sex marriage and the full citizenship of gay people in the culture and the church.

That said, I would, for two reasons, put my money on children’s tending to flourish when co-nurtured by two parents who are enduringly committed to them and to each other (regardless of parental sexual orientation).

First, there is considerable evidence to support this, and it’s not just the from the APA. The American Academy of Pediatrics (2013) reports that what matters is competent, secure, nurturing parents, regardless of their gender and sexual orientation. The American Sociological Association (here), in a lengthy Supreme Court brief, concurs: Decades of research confirm that parental stability and resources matter. “Whether a child is raised by same-sex or opposite-sex parents has no bearing on a child’s wellbeing.”

Second, this finding fits the larger conclusion, amply and suprisingly documented by behavior genetics research, that parental nurture—or, more generally, the “shared environment effect”—has surprisingly little influence on the development of children’s traits. Even adopted children tend to share personalities and aptitudes more akin to their biological than adoptive parents (while benefitting greatly from adoption in other ways). In “the largest twin study of same-sex sexual behavior” the contribution of shared environment (including parental influence) to men’s having same-sex sexual partners was zero—0.0, in fact (Lángström et al., 2010).

3. What does it mean for us, as you admonish, to “speak the truth in love?” Yes, let’s aspire to speak the truth in love. And we can further agree that “Love does not mean that all things are acceptable. Love does not preclude upholding a standard. The New Testament does not define love as acceptance of a behavior that transgresses God’s moral law.”

Your admonition, Chris, helpfully takes us to the heart of the issue. Might “the truth” include the reality of sexual orientation and the human need to belong?

And does “God’s moral law” prescribe a different sexual ethic for gay and straight people? Or does biblical wisdom, as unpacked by a new generation of evangelical biblical scholars (such as James Brownson for this website), imply—given that it is “not good for the man to be alone”—that a single, covenantal sexual ethic can apply to all God’s children?

Some Questions for Further Discussion 

Finally, for our further conversation—or for anyone else who would care to chime in—here are some questions stimulated by your essay.

1. Nature and nurture. If, as you seem inclined to believe, nurture (environment) rather than nature shapes sexual orientation, what specifically are the environmental influences? A distant father? An overbearing mother? (Those Freudian ideas, embraced by reparative therapists, seem pretty well discounted.)

2. Why do many Christians resist a biological explanation of sexual orientation? Given the reality of sexual orientation—its strength and persistence for most people—does the nature versus nurture explanation of sexual orientation fundamentally matter? If persistent sexual orientation were instead a matter of, say, imprinting, would that somehow be more congenial with Christian sexual ethics?

3. If bias influences psychological science (as you and I agree), might it also influence biblical and theological interpretation? Believing that a) there is a God, and b) it’s not us, isn’t our religious thinking also subject to test, challenge, and revision? Shouldn’t it, like science, be ever-reforming? As gay evangelical Ralph Blair notes in his new synopsis of the modern history of Christian thinking about sexual orientation (here), publications that today are vigorously objecting to same-sex marriage and touting sexual reorientation ministries were, in the past, using the Bible to justify racial segregation and opposing interracial marriage. (Thankfully, this is not the entire Christian history, as the church also helped lead the abolition of the slave trade and the Civil Rights movement.)

4. What, specifically, does affirming “dignity and respect”imply? Again, we agree that “All persons—whether straight or LGBTQ— are created in the image of God and deserve dignity and respect. Regardless of our disagreements, each of us should seek to love our neighbor with kindness and respect.” So, does affirming dignity and showing respect include supporting the fundamental right to marry (and the more than 1000 ancillary rights, from hospital visitation to inheritance, associated with marriage in the federal register)? Does it mean equal employment opportunity at our institutions? (Should they add “sexual orientation” to their nondiscrimination policy statements?) And is it possible to affirm a gay or lesbian person’s dignity while judging what is part of their identity to be a moral failure? As Martin Marty “wrote after the murder of Matthew Shepard, “by now we must know that the attempt to love sinners while stirring hate about the sin, which, after all, has to be done by those called sinners, contributes to the atmosphere in which crime occurs.”

5. Why not offer an inclusive Christian pro-monogamy norm? To repeat the questions at the end of my target essay: Rather than tie “onto people’s backs loads that are heavy and hard to carry,” as Jesus said of the Pharisees, why not offer a positive affirmation of monogamy? Why not stand up for healthy relationships that satisfy the human need to belong within covenant partnerships? Rather than advocating a sexual double standard for straight people (marry or be celibate) and gay people (sorry, you must be celibate), why not proclaim a single Christian sexual ethic? Why not yoke sex with faithfulness? Why not seal love with commitment? Why not foster a conservative, marriage-supporting positive argument: that the world would be a happier and healthier place if, for all people, sex, love, and marriage routinely went together?



American Academy of Pediatrics. (2013). Promoting the well-being of children whose parents are gay or lesbian.

American Sociological Association. (2013, February 28). Brief of Amicus Curiae American Sociological Association in support of respondent Kristin M. Perry and Respondent Edit Schlain Windsor. Supreme Court of the United States, Nos. 12–144, 12–307.

Baumeister, R. F. (2000). Gender differences in erotic plasticity: The female sex drive as socially flexible and responsive. Psychological Bulletin, 126, 347–374.

Lángström, N. H., Rahman, Q., Carlström, E., & Lichtenstein, P. (2010). Genetic and environmental effects on same-sex sexual behavior: A population study of twins in Sweden. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 39, 75–80.

[i] The science we’re debating seeks not to explain “homosexuality” but rather everyone’s “sexual orientation”—much as scientific studies of handedness, by comparing left- and right-handed people, are about everyone’s handedness.

Science and Same-Sex Orientation and Behavior: Is the Evidence Really That Neat and Tidy?

As a professor of social psychology trained as a scientist and a Christian who seeks to stay involved and relevant both in my discipline and in the Bible and theology, I owe much to my colleagues and fellow professors. This includes David Myers (my conversation partner) whose 1st edition introductory psychology textbook I used when teaching my first course at Colorado State University in 1986. I have required the purchase of this textbook every year since, now in it’s 11th edition. I am convinced that there is not a more interesting and engaging textbook, and thus with a clear conscience, I require my students to buy this very expensive book, knowing it is worth every penny. I have almost 700 students in class a year, multiplied by almost 30 years of teaching. David may not know me, but he does owe me. A lot.

By way of introduction I came to Christ in college after hearing the gospel for the first time in my dorm room, and around that time I happened to change my major to psychology. I was thrilled to come across a book by Carter and Narramore called The Integration of Psychology and Theology. Here began my experience and connection with an integrative approach to Christianity and science that takes seriously psychological science and upholds the centrality of Scripture, along with the historic traditions of the Christian Church. While both psychology and Christianity address the human condition, I learned the importance of relying on Scripture to provide the greatest insight into our human condition, and to help build a proper understanding of the human mind and behavior—our emotions, motivations, disorders, memories and sexuality—the ways we strive by virtue of being tarnished by the fall, and the ways we thrive by virtue of the redemptive work of Christ. Later, other colleagues challenged me to ask what I can do and how I can live so as to anticipate, embody, and foreshadow a portion of the Kingdom as a psychologist—into my heart and life. I have been challenged to examine the aspects of psychology that can be reshaped so as to better reflect the Lordship of Jesus, and the aspects of my heart that need to be transformed into his image. Integration is more than a mere academic exercise. It is enthroning Christ as King in every aspect of creation and every sphere of human endeavor, finding expression in our hearts and our conduct.

Science done well—by scholars committed to objectivity and free from obvious bias and political agendas—produces the best findings, which are then published in peer-reviewed academic journals.

Here are some findings that I find noteworthy relative to this blog topic. Many of these findings are also accessible to the non-scientist in books like Myers’ Psychology, 11th Edition, Worth Publishers textbook and Mark Yarhouse’s Homosexuality and the Christian.

Same-Sex Orientation

There are a number of findings in the scientific literature related to brain, genetic and prenatal influences that have swayed many toward a biological explanation of sexual orientation (e.g., see David Myers, 2010.) Such convergence and consistency in findings “has swung the pendulum toward a biological explanation” for scholars like Myers, who also notes, “if environmental factors influence sexual orientation, we do not yet know what they are.” Other researchers and scholars do not dispute that biology plays a role, but question how big of a role it actually plays. (e.g., Mark Yarhouse’s Homosexuality and the Christian, and Stan Jones and Yarhouse’s Homosexuality: The Use of Scientific Research in the Church’s Moral Debate)

While there is evidence that sexual orientation for men may neither be chosen nor changed, for women it is not as clear. Lisa Diamond notes that for women the question of sexual orientation is more likely a matter of conscious choice and not an irresistible urge, related to affection and bonding (see here). Myers notes that sexual orientation appears to be part of a package of traits where gays (and lesbians) fall between those of straight men and straight women. These may point to biological influences, which also include such things as fingerprint ridge counts, birth size and weight, age of onset of puberty in males, handedness, and relative finger lengths. For other differences (e.g. occupational preferences, gender nonconformity, physical aggression and walking style), arguments for nurture influences do have merit, given what we know (or don’t know) about the origination of complex phenomenon like preferences, nonconformity and aggression.

There are other modest biological influences that may be linked to differences, such as the finding that hypothalamic cell clusters are smaller in women and gay men than in straight men, and gay men’s hypothalamus reactions are more similar to straight women. Critics rightly point out that it is unclear if this is a cause of homosexuality or a result of homosexuality (a point Myers makes as well, e.g., Psychology, 11th Edition).

There are studies showing that shared sexual orientation is higher among identical twins than among fraternal twins. However, as Myers makes clear, “because sexual orientations differ in many identical twin pairs, especially female twins, we know that other factors besides genes are also at work.” These could include the experiences not shared with the other twin, e.g., the unique or novel experiences of individuals. A rigorous study using the twin registry of Sweden (see here) found only 7 (out of 71) pairs matching for homosexual orientation (among males). From this study genetic influences are modest at best and perhaps secondary to environmental influences.

Concerning prenatal influences, altered hormone exposure may contribute to homosexuality, and men with several older biological brothers are more likely to be gay, possibly due to a hypothesis called the maternal immune-system reaction.  However, a 2002 study in American Journal of Sociology (see here) found no support for this hypothesis.

 In seeking causative links concerning the development of sexual orientations the American Psychological Association (APA) notes, “there is no consensus among scientists about the exact reasons” that someone develops an LGTBQ orientation, and “no findings have emerged that permit scientists to conclude” that sexual orientation is determined by any one cause or factor(s). In other words, both nature and nurture are at work, and APA then notes, “most people experience little or no sense of choice about their sexual orientation.”

A major issue with biological influences is they cannot actually posit causality— does homosexuality or the biology/biological influences come first? Overall I am of the opinion that it is still too early and premature to render a verdict. Should future findings converge (one way or the other) perhaps more definitive verdicts will arise.

Children with gay or lesbian parents

In 2005 APA declared (see here) that there was “not a single study” showing that children of gay or lesbian parents were disadvantaged compared to children from mother-father homes. They identified

77 scholarly studies that met our criteria for addressing the wellbeing of children with gay or lesbian parents. Of those studies, 73 concluded that children of gay or lesbian parents fare no worse than other children.

 The other four? They “have been criticized by many scholars as unreliable assessments of the wellbeing of LGB-headed households” since they “took their samples from children who endured family break-ups, a cohort known to face added risks.” More on this in a moment.

 APA sums it up this way:

This research forms an overwhelming scholarly consensus, based on over three decades of peer-reviewed research, that having a gay or lesbian parent does not harm children.”

 Not a single study showing the opposite effect?

This type of consensus raises an antenna for me. It feels too neat, too tidy, and a little too fresh. Malcolm Gladwell (in the book Blink) tells the story of Evelyn Harrison—a foremost expert on Greek sculpture—seeing a newly discovered ancient kouros (marble statue) for the first time and having “an instinctive hunch” that something was amiss. Another expert also sensed something off when seeing it for the first time and the only word he could think of was “fresh,” not a word usually associated with ancient antiquities. Not surprisingly the kouros was later determined to be a fake.

When I read that 77 scholarly studies converge, and the only four that don’t are dismissed as full of errors, the word that comes to mind for me is “Really?” This seems unusually tidy for our social sciences.  Who would call into question so many studies finding the same thing, something so . . . fresh?

Is it really so neat and tidy?

He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that. John Stuart Mill, On Liberty (1859/2002)

Are there perhaps other explanations for such an overwhelming scholarly consensus and convergence? I have some suggestions. What follows is not intended as an attack on social psychology or any other fields of study, and in no way do I call into question the credibility of my conversation partner. He is known as fair, thoughtful, balanced and careful, and has done much to improve our understanding of human behavior and the human condition. The following simply gives me pause as I process it, as I hope it does you as well.

What if there are some articles published in leading, peer-reviewed journals that challenge the APA claims above, finding that children do best in married mother-father homes? What if numerous well-respected scholars do not find the evidence as overwhelming and consensus-forming as APA would have us believe?

In 2001 two sociologists from USC (Judith Stacey, endowed chair in contemporary gender studies and Timothy Biblarz, past chair and currently Professor of Sociology and Gender Studies) examined more than 20 studies (see here) that compared gay with straight parents and called into question previous reports that downplayed differences. They write, “most research in psychology concludes, somewhat defensively, that there are no differences at all in developmental outcomes between children raised by lesbigay and heterosexual parents.” In contrast to the APA conclusion, they “explore findings from 21 studies and demonstrate that researchers frequently downplay findings of differences regarding, in particular, children’s gender and sexual preferences and behavior that could instead stimulate important theoretical questions.”  

“Somewhat defensively” they say. Now that is irony—sociologists calling a group of psychologists defensive.

Then in 2012 things really got interesting.

First, Sociologist Mark Regnerus conducted research on the impact of a child with same-sex parents, publishing this population-based study in Social Science Research (see here). He contacted over 15,000 young and early-middle-aged adults to ask about their childhood, including whether at least one of their parents had been involved in a same-sex relationship. He found significant differences in 25 of 40 outcomes between adult children of married opposite-sex parents and adult children of mothers who had a same-sex relationship.

To say it generated criticism and controversy is an understatement. His research was disavowed by his department chair at the University of Texas-Austin, and the American Sociological Association called his conclusions “fundamentally flawed” and “cited inappropriately” in efforts to diminish the civil rights and legitimacy of LBGTQ families. A gay rights activist filed a misconduct complaint against him (which after an investigation the University of Texas-Austin rejected). Numerous scientists raised concerns to the editor criticizing Social Science Research’s peer review process, and journalist John Becker sued the University of Central Florida, where James Wright, editor-in-chief of Social Science Research, worked.

At least 18 social scientists defended the study, and Christian Smith (Professor of Sociology and Director of the Center for Social Research at the University of Notre Dame) has described the public and academic reaction as a “witch hunt” that clearly exposes an unfair double standard.

Is the vitriolic criticism warranted? 

Also in 2012 Loren Marks (Professor at Louisiana State University College of Human Sciences and Education) published in Social Science Research (see here) a thorough examination of the APA “not a single study” assertion, and 59 published studies cited by the APA to support it. Marks examined homogeneous sampling, the absence of comparison groups, comparison group characteristics, contradictory data, the limited scope of children’s outcomes studied, paucity of long-term outcome data, and lack of APA-urged statistical power. The conclusion? The APA assertions are not empirically warranted.

 A little too neat and tidy? A little too fresh?

Could bias be playing a role in dismissing alternative perspectives?

Respected social psychologists from the University of Pennsylvania, Rutgers, NYU, Stockholm University, the College of N.J., and Arizona State (none who identify as conservative or Republican) have gathered strong research evidence suggesting that social psychology is not a welcoming environment for traditionalists or conservatives. They published their findings in Behavioral and Brain Science stating “the collective efforts of researchers in politically charged areas may fail to converge upon the truth [emphasis mine] when there are few or no non-liberal researchers to raise questions and frame hypotheses in alternative ways.” They focused on different ideological groups (conservative vs. liberal) because “the departure from the proportion of liberals and conservatives in the U.S. population is so dramatic.” They note that while this is not a threat to the validity of most studies, it “causes problems for the scientific process primarily in areas related to the political concerns of the left—areas such as race, gender, stereotyping, etc.” They ask: “Might a shared moral-historical narrative in a politically homogeneous field undermine the self-correction processes on which good science depends?”

Just to be clear: I do not believe that most of the studies in the area of same-sex attraction, sexual orientation, and sexual behavior are flawed or erroneous.

However, any research, even scientific research, is subject to bias. Far too often researchers are able to find what they are looking for, thus reflecting their initial biases. This becomes even more problematic when popular culture is also strongly (if not vehemently) biased in a particular area. Charging bias, let alone proving it, is not for the faint of heart. I am not implying that there is intentionality or maliciousness in play, or that we should start an inquisition and burn (or even ignore) the data.  

But, that being said, what do many on the other side of the aisle, some leading non-traditionalists, think about this?

Many observers are not shocked when told that anthropology, sociology, and psychology are arguably among the most left leaning, liberal fields of study in academia. Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist at the University of Virginia, studies how morality and emotion vary across cultures. He worries that the field of social psychology is like “a tribal moral community” that suffers from a statistically impossible lack of diversity. His talk (see here) to a gathering of a thousand social psychologists involved a brief polling experiment to illustrate political leanings. There were 80% to 90% that described themselves as liberal, or left of center; 2% as centrist or moderate; 1.5% as libertarians; and three (!) conservative, or right of center. Not three percent—three actual people out of 1,000. This is 0.3%, or a ratio of liberals to conservatives of about 800 to 3, or 266 to 1. Follow-up studies (see here) confirmed these numbers, and found graduate student populations even less diverse.

How do some highly respected psychologists react to this? Daniel Kahneman, the 2002 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Economics and Professor of Psychology Emeritus at Princeton University called the writing on this topic a “Great piece, perfect for Edge — a real service.” Paul Bloom, Professor of Psychology at Yale University, commented “nobody wants to be part of a community where their identity is the target of ridicule and malice.”

In a May 2015 Scientific American article, “Fixing the Problem of Liberal Bias in Social Psychology” (see here) the author noted

We should care about any evidence of bias influencing how we conduct or evaluate research. And if we deny even the possibility of such a bias, without reference to empirical investigation, then we will have failed as responsible scientists committed to the pursuit of truth. And ironically so, given that another of the most important lessons from social psychology teaches that we are in no position to evaluate the objectivity of our own decision-making.

And here is another troubling possibility: Scholarly research papers may be reviewed differently depending on whether they are considered to support liberal vs. conservative positions. Lee Jussim, professor of psychology and chair at Rutgers University, studies topics like bias, social perception and social reality. He submitted a paper (see here) that was originally written

as if it tested the ‘conservatism as motivated social cognition’ theory implying that conservatives are much more biased than liberals… We found the opposite: That liberals were much more biased than were conservatives. We could not get this published. So we reframed the paper to test a ‘dual process’ theory of political ideology, removed all mention of liberals being more biased than conservatives (although the data is right there for anyone to see), and the paper is now in press.

Fresh and tidy it may be for some, but for others it is much too murky. At such a time, and perhaps there has been no greater time than now, we must demonstrate a proper tentativeness. Just this week new questions are being raised about replication problems in psychology (see Science, August 2015). The scientific account is still in its early stages. Though there is a dramatic and unprecedented shift of popular opinion on topics related to same-sex attraction, orientation, parenting, behavior, etc., scientists must continue carefully and thoughtfully to pursue good, unbiased scholarship, if only because respected researchers still disagree.

The High Calling of Science, and the Higher Calling of God

I concur with professional mental health organizations like APA that call on their members to be respectful of clients and sensitive to their “race, culture, ethnicity, age, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion” and to eliminate biases based on these factors.

We as Christians also have another, higher calling. We are told to speak the truth in love. Love does not mean that all things are acceptable. Love does not preclude upholding a standard. The New Testament does not define love as acceptance of a behavior that transgresses God’s moral law. True biblical love means to support, exhort, and admonish each other with genuine care and concern in the corporate pursuit of Christlikeness. Secular state definitions and laws will always change, but the truth of Scripture does not.

In conclusion, I love being a scientist, and I am proud to be a Christian trained as a social psychologist. But I know that while science may describe what occurs in nature, it says very little about how we ought to live in light of this.

This I do know: All persons—whether straight or LGBTQ— are created in the image of God and deserve dignity and respect. Regardless of our disagreements, each of us should seek to love our neighbor with kindness and respect. We must commit to the timeless and unchanging teachings of Scripture in a way that brings healing to the hurting or broken, and draws those with whom we journey closer to the good news of Jesus Christ.

Most Are Straight, Some Are Gay, And Why It Is That Way: The Science and Future of Sexual Orientation

The U.S. Supreme Court has decided, but what do you think: Should same-sex marriages “be recognized by the law as valid, with the same rights as traditional marriages?”

In 2015, a record 60 percent of Americans told Gallup, yes; only 37 percent said no. This flip from the 37/59 percent split a decade earlier (and from the 27/68 percent split of 1996), represents an astonishing transformation of public opinion. This momentum of gay support will likely continue as gay friends and relatives continue coming out, and as attitudes follow behavior (with same-sex marriage now the law of the land).

Equally striking is an enormous generation gap. Averaging across surveys, support for same-sex marriage runs about 40 percent among Americans over age 65 and nearly 80 percent among those ages 18 to 29. I am unaware of another social issue about which older and younger Americans so dramatically disagree. Today’s millennials and their grandparents live in different social worlds. Together with changing public opinion, the generation gap is forging a new social reality. Generational succession is destiny.

And should “homosexuals . . . have equal rights in terms of job opportunities?” From 1978 to 2008, the number telling Gallup yes, skyrocketed from 56 to 89 percent.

Whatever our own opinions, perhaps we Christians can agree on two things:

1)     Our teaching of sexual ethics should not simply follow cultural trends. Rather than put our finger to the wind, we should put our nose to the Bible, aided by scholars who can help us discern its wisdom for our time.

2)     Public opinion surveys are like a car’s speedometer: they don’t drive the car, but do tell us how fast we and the traffic around us are moving. Today’s cultural traffic motivates our stepping back to understand what science has discerned about sexual orientation, and also to reengage biblical wisdom pertinent to human sexuality.

Sexual Orientation: The Numbers

European and American surveys, administered to random samples and with anonymity protected, indicate that about 3 to 4 percent of men and 2 percent of women report exclusively same-sex attractions. To explore sexual identity, Gallup asked 121,290 Americans: “Do you, personally, identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender?” Yes, answered 3.4 percent. (For detailed citations regarding these and other findings in this essay, see my Psychology, 11th Edition, Worth Publishers.)

Does disapproval of homosexuality decrease it? On Facebook, the percent of men who publicly express a same-sex preference is 3 percent in tolerant California and 1 percent in disapproving Mississippi. Yet our culture’s increasing acceptance of same-sex relationships has not been accompanied by a notable change in the proportion of straight and gay people.

And consider this: conservative, religious Southern states generate more than average Google searches for sexually explicit content such as “gay sex” or answers to “Is my husband gay?” The number of Craigslist ads by men seeking “casual encounters” with other men is likewise at least as large in less tolerant states as in more tolerant states. And in African countries, where same-sex relationships are generally illegal, the gay–lesbian prevalence “is no different from other countries in the rest of the world,” reports the Academy of Science of South Africa.

The bottom line: whether a culture (or church or school) condemns or accepts same-sex unions, heterosexuality prevails and homosexuality persists.

Sexual Orientation is a Natural Disposition

Multiple lines of research converge in indicating that our sexual orientation is something we do not choose and, especially so for men, cannot change.

Postnatal environmental influences are unknown. Sexual orientation has no known environment influences. Contrary to what Freudians and kindred reparative therapists have assumed, same-sex attractions appear not to be the result of child abuse or molestation, or a distant father and domineering mother. If distant fathers engendered gay sons, then shouldn’t boys growing up in father-absent homes (and in modern times with more absentee dads) be more often gay? (They are not.)

Having followed this research closely for several decades as a reporter of psychological science, what advice could I give to a young couple wondering how they can shape their newborn’s sexual orientation? My simple answer: I haven’t a clue. In the biggest behavior genetic study, the home environment’s association with sexual orientation was zero. So let us “judge not” parents for the sexual orientation of their children. And let us love our children as they are.

Same-sex attractions are displayed by many animal species. A first clue that sexual orientation is, instead, a natural, biological phenomenon comes from the several hundred species in which same-sex sexuality has been observed—from gorillas to grizzlies, from flamingos to owls. Among sheep, some 8 percent of rams shun ewes and seek to mount other males. Homosexuality, like heterosexuality, is part of the natural world.

Gay brains and straight brains. Neuroscientists have discovered several gay–straight brain differences. One, observed in post-mortem hypothalamus tissue, made people wonder: Does this brain difference help explain sexual orientation? Or do people’s sexual experiences leave fingerprints in their brains? Further research suggests that the brain difference is more cause than effect. It appears very early in life, and it is present in those male sheep that display same- versus other-sex attraction.

Male and female brains, and gay and straight brains, also respond selectively and automatically to various sexual stimuli, including sex-related scents. Thus, surmises researcher Simon LeVay, “Gay men simply don’t have the brain cells to be attracted to women.”

Genetics and sexual orientation. What causes the brain differences associated with sexual orientation?  Is it genes? Prenatal influences? Or both?

We’re formed by more than our genes. Genes get expressed in environments, rather like a tea bag expressing its flavor only in hot water. But genes matter. Although not inherited in the straight-forward way of eye color, twin and family studies confirm that sexual orientation is influenced by genes—many genes having small effects. One recent genomic study of 409 pairs of gay brothers identified sexual orientation links with parts of two chromosomes, one maternally transmitted.

But why, given that same-sex couples do not naturally reproduce, would “gay genes” exist in the human gene pool? Several studies have found that 1) homosexual men tend to have more homosexual relatives on their mother’s than on their father’s side, and 2) their heterosexual maternal relatives tend to produce more offspring than do the maternal relatives of heterosexual men. Perhaps, then, suggests a “fertile females theory,” the genes that dispose women to be strongly attracted (or attractive) to men—and to have more children—also dispose some men to be attracted to men. Thus, there may actually be reproductive wisdom to genes that dispose some men to love other men. Perhaps, then (contrary to the common presumption that “homosexuality is not what God intended”), sexual diversity is part of the biological wisdom of God’s creation?

Prenatal influences. Experiments with some animals, including sheep, reveal that prenatal hormone exposure can alter postnatal gender traits and sexual orientation. In humans, prenatal sex hormones during the second to fifth month control the brain’s sexual differentiation. Female fetuses most exposed to testosterone, and male fetuses least exposed, appear most likely to later display gender atypical traits and same-sex attractions.

And here’s a repeated who-would-have-guessed finding: Men who have biological older brothers are more likely to be gay—about a third more likely for each additional older brother. Researcher Ray Blanchard and his colleagues speculate that the maternal immune system may be responding defensively to substances produced by male fetuses—with antibodies that affect the developing brain.

Gay–straight trait differences. These biological factors combine to also produce a number of gay–straight trait differences in things ranging from spatial abilities and fingerprint ridges to non-right-handedness, gender nonconformity, and occupational preferences. An example: Although men and women have equal overall intelligence, they differ, on average, in a few specific abilities. Straight men tend to be more skilled than straight women at mentally rotating objects. Gays’ and lesbians’ skills are intermediate. Such trait differences—part of the complex reality of sexual orientation—are not moral choices. 

Sexual Orientation is Enduring

We have all heard claims of people who, thanks to therapy or an ex-gay ministry, are said to have done a sexual U-turn, from actively gay to happily straight and married. And we have all heard stories of gay people who, hearing such stories, have sought change—only to end up depressed, suicidal, or in broken marriages.

Leading mental health associations—psychiatry, psychology, social work, pediatrics—have cautioned against sexual reorientation therapy. “Efforts to change sexual orientation are unlikely to be successful and involve some risk of harm,” declared the American Psychological Association’s governing body in a 125-to-4 vote.

Moreover, there is a growing list of ex-gay ministry leaders who have recanted their testimonies—the so-called “ex-ex-gays.” The best-known ex-gay poster person (including a Newsweek cover) was John Paulk. Once the manager of Focus on the Family’s Homosexuality and Gender Division, and board chair of Exodus (the umbrella organization of ex-gay ministries), Paulk, now an ex-ex-gay, says, “Today, I do not consider myself ‘ex-gay.’ . . . I do not believe that reparative therapy changes sexual orientation; in fact, it does great harm to many people.”

After 22 years with the ex-gay ministry Love in Action, and 11 years on the Exodus board, John Smid reported, “I’ve never met a man who experienced a change from homosexual to heterosexual.”

The British evangelical organization, Courage, once aimed to assist those struggling with “the clear biblical prohibition of homosexual practice.” No longer. Acknowledging the harm done by its fruitless sexual-reorientation efforts, Courage (now succeeded by became a place for “gay and lesbian Christians who are seeking a safe place of friendship in which to reconcile their faith and sexuality.”

In 2013, Exodus shut down, with its long-time leader, Alan Chambers, declaring

I am sorry for the pain and hurt that many of you have experienced. I am sorry some of you spent years working through the shame and guilt when your attractions didn’t change. I am sorry we promoted sexual orientation change efforts and reparative theories about sexual orientation that stigmatized parents. . . . More than anything, I am sorry that so many have interpreted this religious rejection by Christians as God’s rejection. I am profoundly sorry that many have walked away from their faith and that some have chosen to end their lives.

This sad history brings to mind Reinhold Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer: “O God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things which should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.”

Reformed and Ever-Reforming

If these are the facts, what then, as Christians, should be our response?

Those who aim to worship God with their minds will surely wish to attend both to natural revelation (as we explore God’s “fearfully and wonderfully made” human nature) and to biblical revelation.

As beautifully illustrated by the exchanges, scholars are debating the biblical wisdom regarding same sex partnerships, much as earlier generations of biblical scholars debated anti-Semitism (in the pre-Holocaust years), interracial marriage, and women’s ordination.

Among the Bible’s 31,103 verses, only seven explicitly mention same-sex behaviors (and none of those discuss same-sex covenant partnerships). That leaves scholars to interpret Scripture’s moral wisdom, based also on what else it has to say about marriage and human relationships.

Arguing for the traditionalist position, Robert Gagnon explores The Bible and Homosexual Practice; Kevin DeYoung asks What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality?; and my respected psychologist colleagues Stanton Jones and Mark Yarhouse include biblical wisdom in their discussion of Homosexuality: The Use of Scientific Research in the Church’s Moral Debate.

A newer Reformed-evangelical perspective argues that the church has, once again, misread the Bible, which actually supports a consistent sexual ethic for gay and straight people. Recent books include Jack Rogers’ Jesus, the Bible, and Homosexuality: Explode the Myths, Heal the Church; James Brownson’s Bible, Gender, Sexuality: Reframing the Church’s Debate on Same-Sex Relationships; William Stacey Johnson’s A Time to Embrace: Same-Gender Relationships in Religion, Law, and Politics; Mark Achtemeier’s The Bible’s Yes to Same-Sex Marriage: An Evangelical’s Change of Heart; Ken Wilson’s A Letter to My Congregation; and David Gushee’s Changing our Mind.

For an interesting example of the conversation between these two camps, see the civil debate between Mark Strauss and James Brownson (here).  Or see Kevin DeYoung’s “40 Questions for Christians Now Waving Rainbow Flags” (here) and answers by a gay graduate of a Reformed-evangelical seminary (here).

Ergo, this much seems true: without echoing the culture’s increasing acceptance of recreational sex, faithful Christians are reassessing and discussing the Bible’s moral wisdom about covenant, same-sex partnerships. They are debating if there should be a single sexual ethic for all (gay and straight), or a different ethic for those naturally disposed to love someone of their own sex.

For those who embrace a “Reformed and ever-reforming” faith tradition—one that esteems a spirit of humility and is open to the continuing work of the Spirit—this fresh look at Scripture is how it should be. And so it has been across time, as people of faith have changed their minds about marriage—from practicing arranged marriages to favoring romantic choice; from assuming polygyny to mandating monogamy; from viewing marriage as inferior to celibacy to seeing it as an equal calling; from assuming male headship to preferring mutuality; from shunning interracial marriage to welcoming it; from disciplining divorced people to welcoming them into our faith communities. In each case, our religious ancestors found proof texts to support their cultural assumptions, and later biblical scholarship led us to read and respect Scripture in a fresh way.

So, What Should Christians Do?

In a 2015 survey, Gallup found that two-thirds of Americans now regard “sex between an unmarried man and woman” as “morally acceptable.” Six in ten say the same about “having a baby outside marriage.” In a University of Michigan survey of American high school students, two thirds agreed that “It is usually a good idea for a couple to live together before they get married in order to find out whether they really get along.” Only about one-third agreed that “Most people will have fuller and happier lives if they choose legal marriage rather than staying single or just living with someone.”

But we have massive evidence indicating that

  • humans do live fuller and happier (and healthier) lives if married,
  • children fare better in households with married parents (even after controlling for income and race), and
  • communities with high marriage rates experience less crime, educational dropout, and poverty.    

These findings fit well with what we have learned about the human “need to belong.” We are social animals. We—all of us, whether gay or straight—flourish when deeply connected with others in close, enduring, mutually supportive relationships. We were not made to be alone.

Having shared the facts as I see them, might I now be granted permission to venture a conclusion—one I offered in A Friendly Letter to Skeptics and Atheists? Should we, as Christians and Christian educators,

put on our social radar screens the concerns that Jesus had on his? What would Jesus do? Rather than tie “onto people’s backs loads that are heavy and hard to carry,” as Jesus said of the Pharisees, why not offer a positive affirmation of monogamy? Why not stand up for healthy relationships that satisfy the human need to belong within covenant partnerships? Rather than advocating a sexual double standard for straight people (marry or be celibate) and gay people (sorry, you must be celibate), why not proclaim a single Christian sexual ethic? Why not yoke sex with faithfulness? Why not seal love with commitment? Why not foster a conservative, marriage-supporting positive argument: that the world would be a happier and healthier place if, for all people, sex, love, and marriage routinely went together? . . .

Those of us who support an inclusive pro-monogamy norm can take heart that more and more people see the welcoming of gay people into monogamy—into marriage—as a positive trend while also seeing declines in teen pregnancy and increases in teen abstinence as positive trends. Marriage nevertheless is in trouble. With the marriage rate having declined, with most first marriages preceded by cohabitation, with 39 percent of American children in 2006 born outside of marriage, and with pornography a bigger business than professional football, there is surely a need to refocus on the family. Alas, rather than focus on getting and keeping people married, the church is diverting its energy into keeping gay people unmarried. One is reminded of senior devil Screwtape’s advice (in C. S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters) on how to corrupt: “The game is to have them all running about with fire extinguishers whenever there is a flood.”

Finally, some answers to our editor’s questions: Why have I taken this position? And what is at stake?

With Letha Scanzoni, I wrote What God Has Joined Together: The Christian Case for Gay Marriage, in response to my calling as a Christian scholar—which is to, as best I can, discern and give witness to truth. Reading the science of sexual orientation persuaded me that most evangelicals were misunderstanding sexual orientation. And reading the new biblical scholarship persuaded me that my former understanding of the Bible’s supposed condemnation of loving, same-sex partnerships was a misreading of Scripture. As a person of faith, a science writer, and a marriage proponent, my urge was simply to feed pertinent information into the church’s respectful conversation.

I did so (and do so here) mindful that a great deal is at stake, including our efforts to honor biblical wisdom and also to spare the church from the counterevangelism effect of the its widely perceived anti-gay stance. From their analyses of the increasing number of irreligious “nones,” researchers Robert Putnam and David Campbell have discerned that “intolerance of homosexuality” is proving to be “the single strongest factor” in alienating today’s youth and young adults from the church. Writer Amy Sullivan has observed that the church’s anti-gay public image “has been devastating for the image of Christianity.” When the Barna Group polled Americans ages 16 to 29 on what words best describe Christianity, the top response was “anti-homosexual.”

In more derisive words, here is how anti-religious academics explain young Americans’ declining religiosity:

The ascendancy of the extreme fundamentalists/evangelicals, and their grip on the GOP, has meant that the ugliest, meanest, most anti-science, most intolerant side of Christianity—anti-abortion, homophobic, racist, sexually repressed and woman-hating, and hating anyone different from them—has become the public face of Christianity. In states where they have enacted their hard-right agenda, the polls show a huge backlash from Millennials and young people who are much more tolerant of gays, other races, and much more pro-science and feminist in orientation. These young people have not switched to more liberal Christian denominations, but left religion altogether.

Writing to fellow conservatives, a friendlier David Brooks advises, “Put aside a culture war that has alienated large parts of three generations from any consideration of religion or belief. Put aside an effort that has been a communications disaster, reducing a rich, complex and beautiful faith into a public obsession with sex. Put aside a culture war that, at least over the near term, you are destined to lose.”

Might a more winsome—and also biblically authentic—spirit attract rather than repel the next generation? I think of the spirit expressed in a nineteenth-century hymn that the Reformed-evangelical ethicist Lewis Smedes used as the title of his 1999 essay on same-sex partnership:

There’s a wideness in God’s mercy, like the wideness of the sea;

There’s a kindness in God’s justice, which is more than liberty. 


(This essay will be co-published by the Christian Educators Journal, 2016.)

Topic #3: Biology, Anthropology, Psychology, and Sociology (September 2015)

Conversation Partners:

  • Christopher Grace, Professor of Psychology & Director, Center for Marriage and Relationships, Rosemead School of Psychology, Biola University
  • David Myers, Professor of Psychology, Hope College

Leading Question: “What is your understanding of the best findings from the academic disciplines of biology, anthropology, psychology and sociology relative to same-sex attraction, sexual orientation, and sexual behavior for human beings?”