For the Treatment of Rash Minds and Stammering Speech



A response to Merton Strommen's article "Not Part of God's Creation"

published in the March, 2003 issue of the Lutheran magazine.


by Tim Fisher



Activists carry signs, and scientists seek knowledge, but the church preaches Christ crucified. Or, this is how it should be. When we loose track of the proper parameters to our public discourse, when we spin our truths, as it were, out of two kinds of incompatible cloth, putting them to uses for which they were never intended, we risk what Scripture calls false witness. This is why I find it such an unfortunate choice, such a precarious choice, for Dr. Merton P. Strommen (in his Lutheran magazine article of March 2003) to follow an assertion that “homosexuality is not part of God’s intention for creation” with a review of the scientific literature pertaining to sexual orientation.

Before I continue, let me be clear. By no means do I object, in a categorical way, to the discussion of the sciences in relation to homosexuality. Certainly, in the service of questions other than “Is homosexuality part of God’s intention for creation?” the sciences may sometimes be helpful. In my view, one such helpful question is “What is good for the neighbor?” That being said, please note that I do not intend to provide an answer in the current work for "What is good for the neighbor?" Attempts at answering that question will come at another time. Instead, my primary reason for closely considering the scientific evidence Strommen’s article has brought to the table of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is to reveal it for its flaws and unsubstantiated claims that contribute to an unjust and hurtful stigma against our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.

From the outset, Strommen seems to acknowledge the hazard of his endeavor, admitting that “scientific research can’t finally answer a theological question.” Using the word “finally” to qualify the word “answer” (he does so twice) initially seems harmless enough. At first it seems merely honest. Yet in truth, Strommen himself has established the context to be “Is homosexuality a part of God’s intention for creation?” and in that context he tries to refute his opponents’ answer while treating the question as legitimate. This is misleading. Both he and his opponents need to come clean on this: the Lutheran church must realize that the scientific research does not, and absolutely cannot, speak to God’s intention. Science will not provide a partial, preliminary, or provisional answer to this question. It’s not that science won’t provide a “final” answer—science won’t provide any answer. The only instrument that can discern the will of God is a theology of the cross. Lutherans are taught that God’s intentions become known to us through God’s revelation in the crucified Christ. God’s intention is revealed in this way and in no other. The cross is both the beginning and the end of our theology.

            By qualifying the theological question as he does, and by marching forward to give what the church must take to be answers of a “non-final” nature (but which he nevertheless implies are answers of a sort), Strommen misleads his readers. He allows his readers to fool themselves with the notion that—independent of any theological discussion, independent of any attempt to discern the Word of God through Christ on the cross—“God’s intention for creation” is somehow yet approachable: in this case, approachable through a review of the scientific literature. In effect, Strommen’s article ends up sounding like the overzealous  prosecuting attorney who blurts out inadmissible statements before the court. The opposing counsel may leap up to shout “objection!” The judge may instruct the jury to strike the irrelevant information from their minds, but everyone in the room knows it is too late. Due process has been tainted.

            With the language of “God’s intention” and “creation” planted in our minds, let’s look at what happens when we plant another kind of seed (i.e. science) right smack dab next to it. In the Lutheran article’s first section, Strommen looks to the sciences to argue against a notion held by some church reformers about heredity. These reformers have contended that a person’s sexuality, insofar as it is inborn, should motivate the church to “revise its teaching” about God’s creation. These reformers are surely wrong. But we must be careful to note that, first and foremost, these reformers are not wrong because their understanding of the science is wrong. (In fact, it’s possible their understanding of science is correct, at least partially.) They are wrong because the fact that a particular human trait is given to us at birth tells us nothing about God’s pleasure or displeasure. My sister Susie, for instance, was born with a congenital heart condition. She lived to the age of one month. I think she suffered, and I know my mother and father suffered in their grief. We know the given-ness of her condition, the situation she was born with, tells us nothing about God’s intention for this child or for my family. The mere fact of being born a particular way tells us nothing about goodness. Our bodies were certainly not born to be ripped apart by doctors. Our hearts were not born to be cut and manipulated by cold, metal tools. Yet we believe these human interventions to be instruments of God’s lovingkindness. Whether we are born heterosexual or homosexual, or whether we choose to be either, or whether society prompts us to be either, all of these measures are completely useless in telling us what is good or bad.

In the article’s second section, Strommen claims that same-sex attractions can be changed. Here again, we must wipe from our minds any pretensions, even accidental ones, of divine discernment; for what difference does it make, in terms of sin, and, therefore, in terms of God’s intention, whether or not one is able to change one’s sexual orientation? It makes no difference at all. One’s ability to change tells us nothing about God’s will. A theology of the cross teaches us that if a particular behavior is sinful, it is sinful no matter if we are capable of avoiding that behavior or not. As Paul writes, “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do” (Romans 7:19). To put it another way: even if I were born in such a way that I cannot avoid committing a particular sin, that sin is still a sin for me. When it comes to sinning, none of us can “help it”—the only help is Christ. To be sure, both traditionalists and reformers have plied the scientific and quasi-scientific literature pertaining to “change” in order to make points relative to God’s will. Both groups are wrong on this count. All assertions that gay/lesbian people either can or cannot change their sexual orientation, voiced in the context of  God’s intention, risk perpetuating a debate that muddies the theological waters for the church. (More on this below, where I’ll analyze a specific citation of the “change” literature.)

            In the article’s third section, Strommen discusses whether science has shown homosexuality to be emotionally and psychologically healthy. His conclusion is twofold. On the one hand, he concludes that some gay and lesbian people are “healthy, devout, notable contributors to their church and society, and are satisfied with their orientation.” On the other hand, homosexuality is associated with “psycho-pathology,” where “desire of homosexual males for a boy is to be expected,” writes Strommen, and where homosexuality itself includes a “dark side” which, by strong implication, heterosexuality does not share. It is difficult for the careful reader to reconcile these two conclusions. How can homosexuality per se be good for some and “dark” for others if all of it is against God’s intention? It is too easy to suspect that, for Strommen, what is thought to be true about a subset of gay and lesbian people will inevitably be thought to be true for the whole group of gay and lesbian people as a category. In this article and in his recent book, The Church and Homosexuality: Searching for a Middle Ground, the local observation is too often encouraged to swell into the universal. We should not be surprised at this categorical inflammation, when the local is given the great expanse of “God’s intention for creation” to play around in.

Again, the genetic question is not completely irrelevant to the church’s debate. While we are utterly unequipped to discern God’s intention by looking at the genetic question—and any attempt to prove God’s will by scientific evidence is, from the Lutheran perspective, idolatrous—the church yet needs to be good stewards of the scientific literature, so that we might best speak the truth about the lives of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters and work for what is in their best interest, for what they would have us do to them and for them. Undoubtedly, Strommen shares this mission with his opponents. To this end, let me now turn to a discussion of a number of Strommen’s specific scientific citations.

In speaking to the question of whether or not some people are born homosexual, Strommen calls upon the work of Bailey, whose recent, well-designed study of sexual orientation has found a mere 11-percent rate of concordance between identical twins. Strommen points out that this number is far below the one-hundred percent concordance that some might expect in genetically identical pairs. Strommen’s point is only true in a narrow sense, and is therefore misleading. Geneticists know that there are other factors to being “born that way” than the mere presence of particular genes coding for a particular trait. Indeed, the ways that genes express themselves often do not follow a predictable, Mendelian pattern, wherein a certain gene codes for a certain trait one-hundred percent of the time. Consider the cat, for instance. Feline colors and patterns are genetically determined, yet they sometimes vary considerably between identical twin pairs. How to explain for this diversity? The answer is that being “born this way” involves more than genes. It also involves the way that genes interact with each other after conception but before birth.

If cat coloration reveals this sort of complexity, how much more complex must be human sexual orientation, which involves not only sexual desire but also the immensely powerful, and scientifically opaque, need for love. (The love factor means that humans do not simply “have sex”—they have sexual relationships.) While it is true that the best and most current science supports the idea that homosexuality is not primarily caused by genes per se, neither has science come close to determining to what extent an individual is, or is not, “born that way.” As Bailey’s article makes clear, scientists assume that human sexual orientation is multifactorial—that is,  sexual orientation is assumed to be caused by both genes and environment. This environment may well be the womb. This means that, even with a low concordance rate between identical twins, it may nevertheless be true that homosexual people are indeed born homosexual.

Strommen’s article provides just enough good information about the genetic contribution to human sexual orientation to make a concerned church member dangerous. But alas, he doesn’t stop there. He proceeds to assert that “research to date supports the idea that personal choice and psychological, socio-cultural, religious and biological factors contribute in differing degrees to homosexuality, which develops over time.”  I believe most scientists of sexuality would be too careful to agree to such a statement. They would be quick to point out that the evidence does not necessarily suggest that sexual orientation develops over time. Rather, there is support for the idea that it emerges over time. It seems reasonable to assume that a person’s sexual orientation, emerging as it does over time, is the result of a number of factors. But there is no empirical evidence that suggests specifically what these environmental factors are (see Bailey, Dunne, and Martin, p. 533). Nor is there empirical evidence that suggests when these assumed factors come into play as a child matures. Therefore, it is spurious to assert a developmental model of sexual orientation, and leading researchers do not do so. Instead, they admit the jury is still out.

And scientists of human sexuality would certainly not give any empirical weight to the research Strommen cites (Riehl) in his desperate attempt to show that homosexuality develops long after adolescence (i.e. “after graduation from seminary”). Simply put, Strommen misrepresents the findings of the study. Strommen contends that, of the thirty-five gay/lesbian Lutheran pastors interviewed by Riehl, “half said they weren’t aware of being homosexual until after graduation from seminary.” This is simply not true. Instead, Riehl writes, “Of the thirty-five pastors, seventeen did not come to identify themselves as gay men or lesbians until after they had finished their seminary education” (p. 19, emphasis added). Riehl does not report that these seventeen were unaware of their sexual orientation. Identity and awareness are different issues. Indeed, reading in context, we understand Riehl’s actual point: that many of the participants in the study expressed a “reluctance to admit and accept their homosexuality” until they had become adults (p. 19). This by no means suggests they had no prior awareness of their being different than their peers. Indeed, for many, their awareness was acute.

            In support of his contention that same-sex attractions can be changed, Strommen gives a good deal of credence to a survey of 882 gay/lesbian clients of conversion therapy conducted by Nicolosi, Byrd, and Potts. The members of this author team are among the leading lights in the National Association of Research and Therapy for Homosexuality (NARTH). Generally speaking, NARTH has a very low standing among mental-health professionals and social scientists.[1] The Nicolosi et al study has not been well received, not even by those who otherwise criticize the politicizing of the issue within the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association, the two leading professional organizations (see Beckstead). One of the study’s enormous limitations is that it presented its participants with no definition of “sexual orientation” whatsoever. In a study purporting to investigate whether change in sexual orientation is possible, this is an astounding fault. A related fault is that the survey questionnaires[2] provided no means by which the author team might gauge participants’ understandings of this and other key terms.

Beckstead provides much-needed insight into how important it is to examine clients’ self-understandings of their sexuality. In his study of 50 gay and lesbian women who have undergone conversion therapy, he discovered that when he probed beneath the surface of clients’ claims for shifts in sexual orientation, he found a dynamic that suggested changes in sexual identity, rather than sexual orientation. That is, instead of developing desires for the opposite sex (a measure of orientation), participants developed new ways of integrating their sense of self with what they felt was required by their religious communities and traditions (a measure of identity). Rather than experiencing a change in orientation, they were converted to the ideologies of conversion therapy itself, wherein they redefined themselves, to use a phrase popularized by Nicolosi,  as “heterosexuals with a homosexual problem.” As Beckstead writes, 

This [new] belief system allowed participants to reframe their [same-sex] attractions  . . . as acceptable and natural. These theories also allowed them to disengage from the identity of being homosexual, as long as they did not engage in any homosexual behaviors, and allowed them to externalize the causes of their sexual attractions. This process of self-identification seemed to fit with their needs to believe “gay is not me.” 
 . . .  Participants’ conflicts about their homosexuality became a non-issue because they were able to make attitudinal and behavioral changes and shift their attention from their sexuality to their family, religion, and career. (Beckstead, APA Newsletter)

While this conceptual re-orientation has been shown to provide relief from stigma-related distress for some, it does not constitute a change in orientation. Even one of the reparative-therapy movement’s strongest advocates, Warren Throckmorton (whose work is given a prominent place in Strommen’s book), has admitted that the NARTH study does not necessarily show that change in orientation has occurred. Throckmorton writes: “[T]hese results do not confirm that sexual orientation changes….” At best, the results “can be viewed as a broad assessment of self-identity change” (p. 245). That is, the study’s participants report that they no longer give themselves the label “gay” or “homosexual.” Again, to use the phrase popularized by  Nicolosi, these clients have changed from gay men into “heterosexuals with a homosexual problem.” While this change in the terminology may provide some clients with a measure of psychological relief, it does not evidence a change in orientation.

Of course, the idea that highly motivated gay and lesbian people can change their behavior has never been in dispute. Elsewhere, Strommen has shrugged off critics (including myself) who have essentially made this same point. In the second edition of his book, for instance, he casually jettisons distinctions between measures of orientation and measures of behavior, lumping these diverse measures under the vague heading “homosexual change” (p. 65).

For Strommen to expect readers of his Lutheran article to properly understand such phrases as “homosexuals were able to change” when he makes no effort to provide a suitable framework for the phrase’s understanding is astounding to me. Strommen cracks open—just a few inches more—the door to misunderstanding, which can only let in further chaos, pain (and yes, bigotry) into the church. In a Lutheran context, we know that little or no benefit accrues when we free ourselves from a behavior but are still bound to the desire to do that behavior. Remember Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5:27-28,  "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart."

What people desire in their secret hearts matters greatly. If it didn’t matter greatly, if it weren’t a crucial aspect of our humanity, then faith would not matter, and so the crucified Christ would not matter. Because Strommen’s article mediates the primary claim that “homosexuality is not part of God’s intention” with the secondary claim that “homosexuals can change,” his tacit surrender to the fact that science has amply recorded changes in behavior but not in desire risks the implication that gay and lesbian persons can will their way--that they can behave their way--to Godly acceptance. This, of course, is works righteousness, and Lutherans condemn it. Strommen would serve the Lutheran community better if he were to admit that both homosexuals and heterosexuals are constitutionally unable to align themselves with God’s intention in the place it matters most—the  heart—and leave justification to God.

Strommen calls again upon Bailey to provide support for the idea that there is an association between homosexuality and psycho-pathology (i.e. depression, anxiety, suicide). Strommen rightly admits that this association is “variously interpreted as to cause.” Yet his admission is much too mild for what the situation calls for. Indeed, Bailey writes,

[S]ome social conservatives will attributethe findings [of higher levels pathology] to the inevitable consequences of the choice ofa homosexual lifestyle. . . .[I]n stark contrast  . . . many people will conclude that widespreadprejudice against homosexual people causes them to be unhappyor worse, mentally ill. Commitment to any of these positionswould be premature, however, and should be discouraged. In fact,a number of potential interpretations of the findings need tobe considered, and progress toward scientific understandingwill be achieved only by eliminating competing explanations.
[emphasis added]


Bailey’s caution puts us on much more solid ground when assessing another piece of “evidence” that Strommen brings to the table: that “the majority of psychiatrists, internationally, still regard homosexuality as a psychiatric disturbance.” The source Strommen cites is an explicitly non-rigorous poll taken by the American Psychiatric Association in 1993, which, for all practical purposes, merely counts non-American psychiatrist noses. Why this poll should seem particularly meaningful to him is unclear. Strommen doesn’t find it important to mention that the majority of American psychiatrists (as well as Norwegian, Danish, and South African psychiatrists, among others) don’t agree with the opinion of their international brethren. Neither do the majority of American psychologists. More to the point, the Association’s poll is merely that—a poll. The information it reports provides no assessment of the current empirical evidence, but rather only measures “the general feeling” (see Hausman, p. 2). As we can see from the Bailey citation displayed above, to the extent that Bailey and his colleagues are right, the non-American psychiatrists are wrong to commit to a general feeling that pathology is an inevitable consequence of a homosexual lifestyle.

Where Bailey is circumspect in his assertions about what science can tell us, Strommen is not. Instead, Strommen tells frightening stories of a “dark side” to homosexuality. From the very sources Strommen cites—from a careful reading of them—it’s clear that it’s premature for the church to commit to institutional support of a NARTH-style form of change therapy, which proceeds from the assumption that gay and lesbian people are pathological. By the same token, it is also premature to say conclusively that no intrinsic vulnerability is associated with homosexuality. Nevertheless, there is a good deal of research that points toward social stigma as a likely culprit in the greater amount of distress felt by gay and lesbian people than by heterosexuals. Unlike the hypothesis that there is some intrinsic pathology associated with homosexuality, support for social stigma as a causal factor for mental distress is growing. For instance, in a review of the relevant literature, Sandfort writes,

The effects of social factors on the mental health status of homosexual men and women have been well documented in studies, which found a relationship between experiences of stigma, prejudice, and discrimination and mental health status.[3]


Sandfort’s review also found that


Controlling for psychological predictors of present distress seems to eliminate differences in mental health status between heterosexual and homosexual adolescents.[4]


In this regard, of particular note is a population-based study of 2,917 adults (73 of whom were non-heterosexual), in which researchers Mays and Cochran came to the following conclusion:


[Our] study shows that controlling for differences in levels of discrimination experiences between lesbian, gay, and bisexual persons and heterosexual individuals greatly attenuates the association between sexual orientation and prevalence of stress-sensitive psychiatric disorders and other indicators of mental health difficulties. These findings support the perspective that discrimination has harmful mental health effects for sexual minorities.


In another recent review, Bontempo and D'Augelli report that


Victimization has been found to mediate the association of sexual orientation and suicidality.[5] In a representative study, higher levels of an index of violence and victimization were predictive of suicide attempts.[6] Among lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth, suicide attempters have also been found to be more likely than non-attempters to report prior verbal insults, property damage, and physical assaults.[7]


Even though it is premature to assign a cause to the higher levels of mental distress experienced by gay and lesbian persons, recent research appears to point to social stigma.   

            In the Lutheran article, Strommen’s most egregious scientific error concerns pedophilia. Attempting to demonstrate that gay men tend toward pedophilia, Strommen reads gravely out-of-context. Strommen quotes Dynes’s Encyclopedia of Homosexuality, which states that “Until recently man/boy love relationships were accepted as part, and indeed were a major part, of male homosexuality” (p. 964). Strommen wishes us to believe that pedophilia largely constitutes what in today’s popular vernacular is referred to as “homosexual” desire. Yet when read in context, the Encyclopedia supports no such conclusion. Dynes writes, “The pederast, it should be stressed, has no interest in . . . adult-adult homosexuality; he is normally repelled by adult males” (p. 961). Strommen errs by combining pedophilia, which is sexual attraction to children (male, female, or both), with “homosexuality,” which is sexual attraction to adults of the same sex. (The technical term for an adult who is attracted primarily to other adults is “teleiophile.”) Typically, pedophilia and teleiophilia are not found in the same person—a fact well established by the very sciences Strommen attempts to engage. Cantor, in an excellent, thorough review, writes that


It is long established that both homosexual teleiophiles [people who show attraction to adults] and heterosexual teleiophiles show the same (very low) level of erotic response to stimuli involving children. . . . If one’s primary interest is in adults, it is not in children, regardless of the child’s sex.


In the church’s debate regarding same-sex behavior, we are talking about loving, committed relationships between adults. To equate such relationships with pedophilia is sophistry.

            In an attempt to show that homosexuality is caused, at least in part, by exposure to homosexual behavior at an early age, Dr. Strommen refers again to the Nicolosi et al (NARTH) study. He reports that the participants’ “first homosexual encounter occurred at the average age of 11.” Strommen reports this correctly (but see note below[8]).  He then he goes on to write that “the average age of the people initiating the encounter was 17, an indication that older people introduce young boys to homosexual practices.” Yet the NARTH study reports no such thing. What it does report is that “the average age of the person with whom the participants experienced their first homosexual contact was 17.2” (p. 1077). There is no suggestion whatsoever in the NARTH study that the older children had initiated sexual activity any more so than had the younger. Indeed, other, careful studies (i.e. Savin-Williams and Rind) using non-clinical samples found that the vast majority of study participants (male) reported being aware of their homosexual orientation before their first encounter with an older male. In addition, Spada, in his study of 1,038 homosexual males, reports that

In the case of a [study participant’s] first youthful experience taking place with an adult, it is usually stressed by the [participant] that it was he who made the first advance, he who desired and initiated the encounter, and that no coercion or seduction by the adult took place. (p. 30).

Given the above, Strommen’s reliance on studies done by Shrier and Johnson (which Strommen says showed that “abused youth are up to seven times more likely to become homosexuals than counterparts who weren’t abused”) seems reckless. Instead of supporting the idea that sexual abuse of boys by men (or older boys) causes homosexuality, the reality of what Shrier and Johnson are attempting to study is likely to be more complicated. For instance, Shrier and Johnson are careful to note that “It should be emphasized that the vast majority of homosexuals do not report childhood sexual experiences . . . .” (p. 1193). David Finkelhor, who is the leading researcher in the area of child abuse, takes great pains in his work to provide what he sees as the proper caveats and nuances, lest his findings should be misconstrued to “increase our culture’s already intense fear of homosexuals” (p. 196). Similar to Shrier and Johson, Finkelhor, reports  solid evidence that “5% of the homosexual men reported childhood sexual experiences with adults. Such a small figure means that childhood sexual victimization can have little to do with the source of most homosexual behavior” (p. 197). One wonders why Strommen leaves such an important caveat out of his article and his book. He goes on to write,

In practical terms, what would be suggested by this connection [between abuse and homosexual orientation], if borne out elsewhere, is not that parents or professionals try to thwart a boy who shows an interest in homosexual sex. Rather, they should make sure that the boy is not under any misconceptions that he “must be a homosexual” as a result of his experience (197-198).


Along these lines, Schneider, Brown, and Glassgold have shown that sensitive, careful counseling for victims of abuse can be very helpful without needing to “bias the client’s response or to prematurely ‘reassure’ the client that he [is] not gay” (p. 268). As might seem perfectly clear in other, less politically charged arenas, a therapy that tries to get to the underlying dynamics of what, exactly, has hurt the abused client psychologically and emotionally, rather than implementing some etiological theory either “for” or “against” a particular behavior, will best bring true relief and resolution. 

In light of the work of  Savin-Williams, Rind, Spada, and others, we must ask whether or not Shrier and Johnson’s participants may already have been gay when they had sex with an older, abusive partner. As Doll points out, gay male adolescents who feel the beginnings of love and desire for males may, more often than their heterosexual peers, find themselves in situations where they can be more easily exploited by abusers. Gay youth often lack the support of their friends, family, and church for their budding sexuality, so it should come as no surprise that such youth might find themselves alienated from the very social institutions designed to protect them. As Doll writes (echoing Coleman), gay youth “may be confused about their right or ability to refuse any unwanted sexual contact” (Doll, p. 861), thus potentially leading to greater incidences of abuse.

Before concluding that sexual abuse is a causal factor in homosexual orientation, another dynamic of abuse that must give us pause is that male abusers are likely to target both those whom are the most vulnerable and those who are effeminate (Harry, 1985, 1989; Groth and Birnbaum). Many boys who, as adults, identify as homosexual fit both of these categories. Research has amply demonstrated that “childhood gender non-conformity,” where boys are seen to be “effeminate” in both their physical attributes and in their interests and activities, is much more prevalent in homosexuals than in heterosexuals (Bell and Weinberg, pp. 74-81). Studies have shown that boys who are labeled as “fags” etc… by other boys will often experience extreme social isolation; such boys are more easily targeted by abusers (see Dimock).

Researchers simply do not know what causes homosexuality. To base church or social policy on speculation and wishful thinking is dangerous. Regardless of how we might construe the data, what is clear is that many of those who are addressing the church on sexuality, Strommen included, need to be far more circumspect when assessing the scientific data. The scientific answers are not nearly as forthcoming as Strommen makes them out to be. No serious, reputable scientist would ever support such statements as “it’s reasonable to expect that the number of adolescents opting for a homosexual orientation will increase” (Strommen, 2003) when science has no clear idea what causes homosexuality in the first place. Such a statement plays to the church’s fear, rather than its prudence. As David Finkelhor writes, “[When] no theory yet exists explaining heterosexual behavior, . . . explanations of ‘homosexuality’ only stigmatize it as a deviant developmental pattern which it may not be.’ (p. 196).

For the church to take part in such stigmatization is most bitter. It is most bitter for the church because we who have accepted Jesus’ call have failed his most simple of directions. “Stay awake,” he tells us, “Pay attention!” The church's traditional stance on homosexuality reminds me of the story the of disciples at the Garden of Gethsemane. How the sediment of sorrow is heavy upon their eyes, their foolish hearts darkened and fallen away to sleep. Just a few paces off, Jesus prays alone. Professing themselves wise, they've become fools—oh, no, they would never forsake the Lord, not once in all their years. Not them. His teaching to them was not in figures, there were no parables to unpack. Just one plain command: Keep watch with me! It seemed inevitable that the priests, and the elders, the scholars—all the ones who carry the Law in the one hand and the sword in the other—should come and take him away. Inevitable, maybe, but again—how bitter! How bitter that while Jesus is seized for trial we are yet scattered, each to our own hiding place of ideological inattention, our little covert from the violent tempest of Gethsemane. In these shadows our eyes are closed, our ears do not hearken, our minds are rash, and our speech is only stammer.




Bailey, J. M. (1999). Homosexuality and mental illness  Archives of General Psychiatry, 56, 883-884.


Beckstead, A.L. (2003). APA Newsletter, 19:1.


Beckstead, A.L. (2002). Review of studies on sex reorientation therapy. Online source:

Beckstead, A. L. (2001). "The process toward self-acceptance and self-identity of individuals who underwent sexual reorientation therapy." Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Utah.


Bell, A., Weinberg, M., and Hammersmith, S.K. (1981). Sexual preference: Its development in men and women. Indiana University Press: Bloomington.


Bontempo, D. and D'Augelli, A. (2001). Effects of at-school victimization and sexual orientation on lesbian, gay, or bisexual youths' health risk behavior. Journal of Adolescent Health, 30, 364–374.

Bontempo’s citations (renumbered):


1. Garofalo, R., Wolf, R.C., Wissow, L.S. et al. (1999) Sexual orientation and risk of suicide attempts among a representative sample of youth. Archives of Pediatric Adolescent Medicine, 153, 487–493.


2. Hershberger, S.L., Pilkington, N.W. and D'Augelli, A.R. (1997). Predictors of suicide attempts among gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth. J Adolesc Res, 12, 477–497.


3. Russell, S.T. and Joyner, K. (2001). Adolescent sexual orientation and suicide risk: Evidence from a national study. American Journal of Public Health, 91, 1276–1281.


Cantor, J. (2002). Male homosexuality, science, and pedophilia. Division 44 Newsletter, 18:3. Online source:


Coleman, E. (1989). The development of male prostitution activity among gay and bisexual adolescents. Journal of Homosexuality, 18, 131–149.


Dimock, P. (1988). Adult males sexually abused as children: Characteristics and implications for treatment. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 3(2), 203-221.


Doll, L. et al. (1992). Self-reported childhood and adolescent sexual abuse among adult homosexual and bisexual men. Child Abuse and Neglect, 16, 855-864.


Dynes, W., editor. (1991) Encyclopedia of homosexuality. Garland: New York.


Finkelhor, D. (1984). Child sexual abuse: New theory and research. New York: Free Press.


Groth, A.N. and Birnbaum, H.J. (1978). Adult sexual orientation and attraction to underage persons. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 7, 175–181.


Hausman, K. (1993). U.S. psychiatrists' views on homosexuality differ from colleagues' in other countries.  Psychiatric News (Sept 3) 2, 21.


Harry, J. (1989). Parental physical abuse and sexual orientation in males. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 18, 251-261.


Harry, J. (1985). Sexual orientation, a destiny. Journal of Homosexuality, 10, 111-123.


Mays, V. and Cochran, S. (2001). Mental health correlates of perceived discrimination among lesbian, gay, and bisexual adults in the United States. American Journal of Public Health, 91, 1869-1876.


Nicolosi, J., Byrd, A.D., and Potts, R. (2000). Retrospective self-reports of changes in homosexual orientation: A consumer survey of conversion therapy clients. Psychological Reports, 86, 1071–1088.


Riehl, C. (2000). Pulpit Fiction: Lives and perspectives of gay and lesbian persons serving in the ELCA’s ordained ministry. Currents in Theology and Mission, 27:1, 14–29


Rind, B. (2001). Gay and Bisexual Adolescent Boys' Sexual Experiences With Men: 
An Empirical Examination of Psychological Correlates in a Nonclinical Sample. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 30:4.


Sandfort, T.G. et al. (2001). Same-sex sexual behavior and psychiatric disorders: Findings from the Netherlands mental health survey and incidence study (NEMESIS). Archives of General Psychiatry, 58, 85–91.


Sandfort’s citations (renumbered):


1. Brooks V. (1981). Minority Stress and Lesbian Women. Lexington, Mass: DC Heath.


2. Meyer I.F. (1995). Minority stress and mental health in gay men. Journal of Health Social Behavior, 36, 38-56.


3. Bradford J., Ryan C., Rothblum E.D. (1994). National Lesbian Health Care Survey: implications for mental health care. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 62, 228-242.


4.  Frable D.E., Wortman C., Joseph J. (1997). Predicting self-esteem, well-being, and distress in a cohort of gay men: the importance of cultural stigma, personal visibility, community networks, and positive identity. Journal of Pers. 65. 599-624.


5. Herek GM, Gillis JR, Cogan JC. (1999). Psychological sequelae of hate-crime victimization among lesbian, gay and bisexual adults. Journal of  Consulting and Clinical Psychology 1999;67:945-951.


6.  Meyer I.H., Dean L. (1998). Internalized homophobia, intimacy, and sexual behavior among gay and bisexual men. In: Herek G.M., ed. Stigma and Sexual Orientation: Understanding Prejudice Against Lesbians, Gay Men, and Bisexuals. Thousand Oaks, Calif: Sage Publications, 160-186.


7.  Herek G.M., Gillis J.R., Cogan J.C., Glunt E.K. (1997). Hate crime victimization among lesbian, gay, and bisexual adults. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 12, 195-215.


8. Otis MD, Skinner WF. (1996). The prevalence of victimization and its effect on mental well-being among lesbian and gay people. Journal of Homosexuality, 30, 93-121.


9. Ross M.W. (1990).The relationship between life events and mental health in homosexual men. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 46, 402-411.


10. Rotheram-Borus M.J., Hunter J., Rosario M. (1994). Suicidal behavior and gay-related stress among gay and bisexual male adolescents. Journal of Adolescent Res., 9, 498-508.


11. Safen S.A., Heimberg R.G. (1999). Depression, hopelessness, suicidality, and related factors in sexual minority and heterosexual adolescents. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 67, 859-866.


Savin-Williams, R. C. (1997). And Then I Became Gay: Young Men’s Stories. Routledge, New  York.


Spada, I. (1979). The Spada report. Signet: New York.


Shrier, D. and Johnson, R. (1988). Sexual victimization of boys: An ongoing study of an adolescent medicine clinic population. Journal of the National Medical Association, 80, 1189-1193.


Strommen, Merton P. (2003). Not part of God's creation. The Lutheran, March, 2003, 24-25.


Strommen, Merton P. (2001). The Church and Homosexuality: Searching for a Middle Ground. 2nd Edition. Minneapolis: Kirk House Publishers.

Throckmorton, W. (2002). Initial empirical and clinical findings concerning the change process for ex-gays. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 33:3, 242–248.



[1] For instance, NARTH's past president, Charles Socarides (whom Strommen cites in his book as a “leading psychiatrist”), was expelled from the American Psychoanalytic Association for lying to a Colorado court of law about the APA’s official position regarding homosexuality. Note well: it wasn’t merely the APA that concluded that Socarides was lying; the State of Colorado came to the same conclusion. Another high-profile NARTH mouthpiece, Jeffrey Satinover, is the same Jeffrey Satinover who popularized the notion of the spurious “Bible Codes.” Because NARTH is of such low standing in the scientific community, most of its research—what little it has done—has been self-published by vanity presses. For instance, the journal Psychological Reports, which published the Nicolosi et al study discussed by Strommen, is a pay-for publication.

[2] Completed forms were mailed anonymously to the lead author, Joseph Nicolosi.

[3] See Sandfort’s  sources 1–9 (re-numbered)

[4] See Sandfort’s source 11

[5] See Bontempo sources 1–3 (re-numbered)

[6] See Bontempo source 1

[7] See Bontempo source 2

[8] Although Strommen reports this information correctly, it is unlikely to be true. Nicolosi et al write: "[Sixty percent of] participants said they experienced homosexual contact when they were a child; [forty percent] said they did not. The average age of the participants' first homosexual contact with another person was 10.9 yrs. (Mdn=10.0)" (p. 1077). Given this data, it is unlikely that the average age of fist homosexual contact of all participants was 10.9. Since the median age of first contact is 10, and since a full 40 percent reported having no homosexual contact during childhood, it is most likely that Nicolosi means that of the 60 percent who experienced any homosexual contact, the average age of first contact was 10.9. Of course, in terms of rates of child sexual abuse, either reading of the data is disturbing. But in terms of establishing the etiology of homosexual orientation, which is the implied use to which Strommen puts the NARTH data, one needs to ask what might have caused a homosexual orientation in the 40 percent who had no childhood homosexual contact.