Friday, July 29, 2011

Christians Changing Gears on Changing Gays

While Michele and Marcus Bachmann seem to have an approach to homosexuality that, at least in part, includes the troubling practice of reparative therapy, forcing gay people to change their sexual orientation through various means that hope to work a miracle, not all Christians, thankfully, regard homosexuality as something that can just be turned off like a light switch. Southern Baptist President Albert Mohler admits in part that sexual attraction is something much deeper than our conscious minds and has to be approached with more nuance than the attitude that permeated the 80s and 90s of trying to pray away the gay, “turn it off” or just change it outright. The trend of opinion towards the use of “change therapy” has other evidence. Focus on the Family stopped funding a group that says that people “unhappy with the same-sex attractions” can be cured. Also, there was a study this year by the Public Religion Research Institute that suggested people in later generations, like my own, are more accepting of gay marriage and associated rights, even if the trend of moral opposition to abortion is similar to previous generations in coexistence with abortions’ legality. Even Exodus International, a group notorious for their practice of reparative therapy in the news, has changed their tone, partly in response, no doubt, to the evidence that homosexuality may be, for the most part, innate, but even if it isn’t, as well as the bullying and pressure many gay teens feel pushing many of them to commit suicide without intervention and support. Christianity is certainly trying to shift its practice to becoming gay friendly, but how successful can it be?

One of the biggest factors to this shift in public relations on homosexuality and its permissibility might have to do with slight declines in church attendance, particularly with fundamentalist or evangelical circles. The combination of young people that disagree strongly with the strong condemnation against homosexuality; suggesting that people who practice it should be treated like lepers; along with many gay Christians or Christians unsure about their sexuality also leaving for fear of persecution makes for an unlikely survival beyond the present generations of churchgoers. All the more “liberal” churches draw in new membership in the gap that’s being made between younger members as well as gay members and thinning the flock of more conservative churches. It’s not necessarily that either of these groups moving on to other churches completely disagrees with the Bible’s position on homosexuality as something disapproved by God in some sense. Both younger generations and Christians who just happen to be gay might still believe it is wrong, but it is the particularly antagonistic strategy many churches still use that feels isolating and therefore pushes attendance down. So instead, preaching about Jesus’ love of even homosexuals is emphasized more, even if there is also the insistence that homosexuality is a sin. In that way, the idea appears to be to draw the people in with acceptance, which would then apparently slowly wear away their resistance to the “truth” that the church still teaches in terms of homosexuality.

There’s also a new approach in psychology that Christians are trying to use, which has a more therapeutic angle to solving the “problem”. It’s called congruence paradigm and tries to harmonize one’s religious beliefs and one’s sexuality. If one believes homosexuality is sinful and is gay themselves, then celibacy can be a solution to the dissonance if the person wishes to do so. If they are bisexual and struggle with homosexuality as a problem, then the solution may be to focus on heterosexual desires instead. There are some issues I see with this, since even if you can’t change someone’s mind about such a thing as the morality of homosexuality, not everyone can do celibacy, for instance. But since the amount of solutions for homosexuality apart from acceptance of it and acting on it in some sense are so limited, the congruence paradigm won’t work as effectively with many patients, since celibacy would remove what is an intrinsic and natural part of the human condition from one’s life. If one is a monastic of one type or another, it’s a different thing entirely to take a vow of celibacy in terms of homosexuality. But laypeople aren’t expected to take things nearly as strongly in terms of devotional practices as monks, so this practice has holes in it even if we just limited it to strictly homosexual people.

If nothing else, the change of attitude at least acknowledges that there are better ways to approach homosexuality from a Christian perspective than the stereotype of hoping God will cure people of their homosexuality. Even if the reparative therapy is still believed by some groups to be a good practice, many people are both shying away from and outright rejecting the efficacy of this method. Accepting homosexuals as people with problems like the rest of us, in terms of the Christian perspective that everyone is “sinful” is already a much better way to encourage engagement and to create a community of mutual support. Until next time, Namaste and aloha.

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