Straight and Narrow?

Compassion and clarity in the homosexual debate

Thomas E. Schmidt
InterVarsity Press, 1995

The gay marriage issue came to a head in 2004 in Massachusetts, and played a prominent role in the presidential election campaign that year. Eleven states, including Ohio, put gay marriage bans on the ballot, and all passed. Most analysts believe that some more conservative voters only voted because of the ballot issues, and that most voted for Bush over Kerry while they were at it.

We have quite a polarizing issue here, and there are several questions for the Christian about this issue. First, we need to know what the research really says about homosexuality, the nature of the phenomenon. Christians should have some interest in the theological analysis of homosexuality, as well. The Christian response to homosexuals should certainly not be hate.

Schmidt has written an excellent book discussing many of these issues. The first chapter introduces the writer and his background in this area. The second outlines some arguments that so-called revisionist Christians make affirming homosexual practice and revising the traditional position. This is quite interesting, and seems to be done fairly. Surveys I have seen suggest that these arguments are commonly supported by younger Christians.

Schmidt continues with an argument that the traditional nuclear family is the focus of sexuality in the Bible. Departures from this behavior such as adultery and homosexuality oppose the stable family situation and so are prohibited. It's an excellent exposition, which should be of interest to the Christian. It would not, of course, be of great interest to the non-Christian, except as a means to better understand the Christian position.

However later on Schmidt addresses the science in some excellent chapters which should be of interest to everyone. Chapter 6 discusses the prevalence of homosexuality. According to Schmidt, Kinsey was the first to attempt to measure this quantity, and said that 10% of people had had a period in their life in which they were exclusively homosexual, but 4% of men (and 2% of women) maintained that orientation throughout their life. Unfortunately, Kinsey interviewed many people in adult entertainment zones and prisons!

So how could we find out the truth about the prevalence of homosexuality? It's really pretty easy--numerous well designed and executed studies exist in this country, Britain, the Netherlands, etc. Their agreement is much more striking than their disagreement. The bottom line is that about 1% are exclusively homosexual, with incidence in men about twice that in women. The rest are bisexual, or have had occasional homosexual contact. The total which have had any same sex experience at all is significantly less than 10%. It is of course germaine to public policy debates to know whether we are talking about 30 million Americans or 3 million when we enact legislation.

Schmidt then launches into a survey of research into homosexual practices. It is well known that the promiscuity of the homosexual community was instrumental in launching the AIDS epidemic in the 1980's in this country, but many assume that is history, and we are now in an era of responsibility and relative monogamy. Unfortunately, that's not really the situation, and for public health reasons alone it is necessary to understand the reality. It's an interesting and somewhat dismaying analysis to this reviewer.

Many problems such as substance abuse, depression, and suicide are acknowledged to occur in greater numbers in the homosexual community. Schmidt points out that the revisionists attribute this to "homophobia" but that fact doesn't point to any easy way to change people's attitudes or improve the mental health of homosexuals. Some other interesting statistics concern pedophilia. Although less than 2% of male adults are homosexual, about 35% of pedophiles are. Also, homosexual pedophiles molest many more children than do heterosexual ones. Although it is unlikely that any random male homosexual is a pedophile, there is an association between male homosexuals and pedophilia.

Chapter 7, titled the great nature-nurture debate, is important and very well done. This also can be downloaded through the IVP web site. Schmidt discusses urges and desires, morality, and choice. He also reviews the pertinent scientific studies, which have mixed results but which are all consistent with a more complicated model of homosexuality than simple "gay gene" or "pure choice" approaches. The difficulties of determining the causes of complicated human behavior are well presented.

What are the implications of this situation? The civil rights argument for gay marriage depends on some kind of genetic determinism which is certainly at odds with the facts. Certainly the large percentage of bisexuals in the gay community creates problems for this model as well. Choice is implicit in the very name of this group, which doesn't fit into a model of monogamy very well either.

In the final chapter, Schmidt reviews his conclusions and suggests some Christian responses to the homosexual issue. He addresses the issue of homosexual orientation, and concludes that although several factors may contribute to a homosexual orientation, there is substantial choice involved in homosexual activity. And although it can be difficult to change any kind of sexual orientation or practice, some change is possible, especially in behavior, for those who want to change. Schmidt concludes with brief discussions of whether sexual orientation can be a sin, and of celibacy, and then with a letter to a homosexual friend.

In this brief summary of topics you doubtless haven't gotten the tone of the book. Schmidt identifies himself as a member of the class which has committed the bulk of the sexual sin throughout recorded history, heterosexual males. He has compasion throughout: even the most conservative Christian should know that there is nothing about homosexual activity or orientation that is beyond God's forgiveness.

But the reported research and the copious references are the strength of the book to this reviewer. We need to understand the true nature of homosexuality as best we can, humanly speaking, to avoid talking nonsense. Unfortunately a lot of that has been spoken by both sides in the debate. If you are at all interested in this topic, I urge you to download the available chapter and read it. The book itself can be obtained for a discount on its $14 list price, and is certainly a bargain.

Page last updated February 21, 2005
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