There is a video from the Gay Christian Network that is getting some buzz for the kinds of answers straight Christians in particular said about sexual orientation. Here is the video:
Several people have asked me what I think of the video. I think it’s pretty interesting. Many of the presentations I give at Christian colleges and universities tries to address some of the points raised in the video, although when it comes to research, the wording of questions is important. For example, on the matter of causation, the video asks, “Is being gay a choice?” and 2/3 of the traditionally believing Christians said Yes.
Another question asked is: “Are some people born gay?” You see again a pretty big difference between the two groups. I would say this: That can be a difficult question to answer even if you had an open-ended interview. I can see how you might have dramatic differences between straight and gay Christians (or, in this context, what GCN refers to as Side B and Side A Christians). The point raised at the end of the video is important here: Are we talking past one another? Is “being gay” about attractions, orientation or identity in the minds of those completing the survey? If people are thinking attractions/orientation, then this is really important that we understand that people are not choosing to experience same-sex attractions. If “being gay” is about behavior or identity (in the minds of those completing the survey), then those things are volitional. So when we talk about the complicated area of etiology, it is a really difficult area to answer in a “Yes/No” format.
On the question of change, I think this is really important. According to the video, over 3/4 of the straight Christians said that gay people can become straight. (Interestingly, I may have missed it, but I did not see GCN report what gay Christians said to this question.) This is a huge topic that can quickly become a dividing line for people, and when it does, it almost always reflects the larger culture wars than anything that really reflects the complexity of the research in this area. My own views have tempered following the publication of a seven-year longitudinal study on attempted change, and perhaps I’ll write more about that at a later date.
It was concerning to me that over half of the straight respondents thought that it was sin to have same-sex attractions even when committing oneself to celibacy. This would add tremendous pressure to a gay person to become straight (or to present that way/claim it), as that is the only path–the only outcome–that would be morally permissible according to how this survey findings are being presented. That is in part why I have appreciated the writing of folks over at Spiritual Friendship, as they are exploring this whole area of celibacy and friendships in a deep and meaningful way.
When I first saw portions of the video I thought of a study we conducted on the attitudes of sexual minority Christian undergrads. So this was a sample of just sexual minorities–which we defined as students who experienced same-sex attraction regardless of behavior or identity label (much the same way other researchers have done from within the mainstream). What we reported was that the strength of attraction to the same-sex and to the opposite-sex was related to attitudes toward sexual behavior. For example, sexual minorities who reported less same-sex attraction had more traditionally conservative attitudes towards same-sex behavior. We reported similar findings for sexual minorities who had stronger attractions to the opposite sex. That alone is kind of interesting when you think of what it means to achieve congruence, so that you are able to live and form an identity in keeping with your beliefs and values. The strength of your attractions may figure into that in some important ways.
We asked the question about causation, too, but we worded it this way: “Persons can be born with a same-sex predisposition.” Participants with little same-sex attraction were less likely to agree with that statement than those with higher levels of same-sex attraction. Those with high or moderate levels of attraction to the opposite sex were also less likely to endorse that statement than those with with little attraction to the opposite sex.
In any case, the study I mentioned on sexual minority undergrads at Christian colleges and universities can be found at here. I hope that the folks at GCN will submit their study to a journal and have it peer-reviewed and published, as I think it could be an interesting addition to the larger discussion.
In closing, it is interesting in both of these studies that the reference points appear to have to do with beliefs about causation and change, as well as the strength of attractions (in our study). It has me wondering: What are the sources for a Christian’s beliefs about morality? Is the source research (whether we are talking about causation or change)? Has it more to do with one’s own attractions and how strong they are? Is it one’s reading of Scripture? Maybe that is too simplistic. Even if it is one’s reading of Scripture, is that reading and interpretation influenced in significant ways by other variables, such as research on causation/research on change and one’s own attractions to the same- or opposite-sex? What is the relationship? What should it be?