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Same-Sex Attraction and Normal


By Eric L. Johnson, director of the Society for Christian Psychology

Underlying our culture’s current debate about gay marriage is the deeper issue of how we as a pluralistic culture ought to define psychological well-being. Though homosexuality was considered psychopathological for centuries in the West, in 1980, as is well known, the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality as a disorder in the 3rd edition of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, and all major mental health associations have similarly concluded that homosexuality should be normalized. Many influences contributed to this change, but one of the most important is the normative power of expressive individualism, the belief in the inherent right of individuals to fulfill the desires they wish and become the persons they wish, so long as others are not harmed. Consequently, many contemporary intellectuals believe that societies should not forbid pleasure-seeking activities among mutually consenting adults. On the contrary, it seems to many to be mean-spirited and even cruel to stand in the way of those who wish to enjoy such activities. Let\’s call this the post/modern position.

Such a position, it is commonly believed, has been bolstered by research that indicates same-sex attraction (SSA) may be based on genetic factors and other biological processes, and therefore many have concluded that sexual orientation differences are just like race and gender differences. If there are biological factors in homosexuality, it is believed, those with SSAs have no control over them, and therefore they ought not to be discouraged from acting upon them. This has seemed to be further confirmed by the widely recognized difficulty that persons with homosexual desires have with changing them. As a result, many have concluded that homosexuality must be regarded as permissible and considered a kind of normal.

The post/modern position makes a great deal of sense to its proponents, and leads them to oppose vigorously the historic position of Judeo-Christian theism that SSA is a disorder. Nonetheless, it has some serious inconsistencies. For one thing, many desires and actions that are universally recognized as disordered are also influenced by genetic factors and other biological processes, including alcoholism, obsessive-compulsive behavior, schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, severe personality disorders, violent behavior, and pedophilia. Western societies understand that such psychological conditions, regardless of their biological influences, are deficiencies, so they encourage people who experience them to seek help and, in some cases, they even intervene by arrest and enforced treatment, e.g., when violence or pedophilia is practiced. Moreover, there are many psychological disorders that are also known to be highly resistant to treatment, for example personality disorders, schizophrenia, and pedophilia. Yet most psychiatrists in our culture would agree that these conditions constitute serious psychological deficiencies. So the possibility of genetic and other biological influences and resistance to treatment cannot be used as arguments for the normalcy or legitimacy of homosexuality.

But let’s consider pedophilia a bit more closely, which most Westerners continue to regard as morally reprehensible, because its expression requires the involvement of those who are incapable of mature consent to such behavior. However, its basis in physiological conditions is also being documented (see http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/11/071128092109.htm), which, if true, would also help to explain its notorious resistance to treatment. Nonetheless, our culture rightly judges pedophilia to be a psychological as well as a moral disorder. On what grounds? Because of the recognition that the expression of such desires is hurtful to the young, irrespective of whether there are biological conditions that contribute to pedophilia. So in this case at least, the mere presence of possible biological factors and resistance to treatment are not considered adequate reasons to conclude that pedophilic desires are therefore legitimate and normal. This is good. But it seems inconsistent for some in our culture to celebrate homosexuality, yet treat those with pedophilia as moral lepers, when the biological predicament of both may be very similar.

But there remains a greater inconsistency in the contemporary position that SSA is normal. Most of its proponents hold to an evolutionary account of human origins. Yet if any model would lead to the conclusion that SSA is disordered and deficient, one would think that evolutionary theory would. Evolutionary criteria for normalcy and disorder would seem to be based on that which promotes reproductive success and the proliferation of one’s genes. Consequently, from an evolutionary standpoint, at the very least, heterosexuality would seem to be the normative ideal and homosexuality would seem to be problematic, to say the least. This would seem to be a fairly serious, largely unacknowledged incoherence at the base of the post/modern attempt to normalize and sanction SSA, due to the conflicting values of expressive individualism and evolutionary theory. Here the Judeo-Christian tradition and evolutionary theory would seem to concur.

How could the proponents of the post/modern position become more consistent? By simply acknowledging that SSA is a disorder. The norms of expressive individualism would prevent viewing SSA as a moral disorder, so its proponents would still continue to support people with SSA expressing their sexuality as they wish. But this at least would be more consistent with their evolutionary assumptions.
However, because of the Bible’s teaching and natural law, Christians believe that homosexuality is also a moral problem, in spite of any biological influences, and are free to do so, because they reject the assumption that morality and the biological are mutually exclusive, for that assumption has no logical basis. All disorders, including moral, are in part biological. We are, after all, embodied; everything has a biological side to it, and a Christian holism is easily able to accommodate such complexity.

At the same time, we Christians have our own contradictions. We often convey a “holier-than-thou” attitude towards others, even though we believe that we are all sinners, and we have so far done an abysmal job of explaining how Christian love of the stranger, the disenfranchised, and the moral leper is compatible with affirming the Bible’s teachings on immorality. Our contradictions are due to many factors, but perhaps the most perverse is the unconscious appeal of focusing on the sins of others, rather than our own. A second, less condemning factor is simply the cognitive complexity of holding high moral standards like those in the Bible while simultaneously loving people who live immorally (the position of God). The first contradiction—due to self-deception and pride—may very well be more reprehensible in the eyes of God than homosexuality is (consider how strongly Jesus reproached the Pharisees!), and it too requires repentance and forgiveness in the cross of Jesus Christ. The second contradiction—due to the limited capacities of our reason—is more simply resolved by trust in the harmonious heart of our loving and holy Creator and Redeemer God.

Yet if any model of humanity would lead to a compassionate stance towards those with same-sex attraction, as well as pedophilia, one would think Christianity would. It teaches that none of us is normal—none of us are the way we are supposed to be. We are all disordered and deficient, for we are all moral lepers. Yet the Bible makes clear that God is especially concerned for the rejected, broken, and sinful (Mt 5:3; Mk 2:15-17; 1Co 1:26-28); the Son of God was himself crucified and forsaken for our abnormality of sin (Is 53). And He came to heal us of our diseases and wants us to work through our difficulties by means of the soul-healing intervention of his life, death, and resurrection (though a growing appropriation of this healing usually takes time). Gay people deserve our respect and love, even if we Christians must interpret SSA as a moral and a biological problem. Let us as a Christian psychological community repent of our sins and believe in this God and his gospel of holiness and love, as we work with those seeking to overcome their psychopathology, whatever it is, in the name of Christ.



  1. Harold Jenkerson says:

    Dr. Johnson,
    Again, you have given us much mental stimulation toward developing a Christian psychology in light of the driving force behind an atheistic and godless psychology.

    In paragraph #1 you have clearly presented a present social commentary that reveals what Romans 1:18-32 is driving at. The DSMMD is the perception of people who perceive life without a Judeo-Christian impact.
    The individual should be free to experiment with life until they find that which brings the most self-gratification. However,this is to avoid the view of the Judeo-Christian concept that the individual is a creative powerhouse that is running out of control with its creative powers due to being disconnected from the divine source which energizes all of life.
    Part of the biblical answer to this “out of control” status in life is the teaching that comes out of the tabernacle dealing with the intimacy of the divine and human. This intimacy is maintained by obeying the teachings of Deuteronomy 6:4-9 in order to maintain a high level of divine focus.

    In paragraph #2 the post/moderm position is not due to the controling group of our society discovering new scientific knowledge about the human physical body, but due to the Christian community failing to present the biblical revelation of humanity’s fallen condition of death. The Christian community cannot fault the world for taking the view which it has. It can only present the biblical solution (high intense focus on the divine which resides with us) and the way (Jesus) into that solution.
    The human genetic condition merely reveals how far-reaching the death impact has distorted the human physical condition. But it does not reveal the impact that the divine can have upon those genetic defects and how God works through and in those genetic defects to order to restore our lives so that they can allow God to fulfill His will and purpose in our lives.
    We are also faced with human psychological and personality genetic defects that have to be viewed in the biblical light.
    The Christian community cannot fault the gay communtiy for its psychological/physical defects for it too is filled with the same, yet at the same time the Christian community is responsible for presenting to the gay community the biblical revelation of the human condition and God’s salvation. As the Christian community knows, the gay community is not going to find “wholeness” and “personal fulfillment” in its lifestyle. Therefore, the Christian community must prepare itself to pick up the broken lives and point them to Christ.
    The gay community is in the same predictament as the abortion community. For the moment it appears that they have a solution to a very real dilemma. But in the end the solution only compounded the problems. The solution in both communities is Jesus, and it is up to the Christian community to show how that solution manifest itself.

    Dr. Johnson, you have presented such a clear picture of the problem from a Christian and biblical viewpoint that it prevents me from responding further to what you have written. However, I want to emphasize that the Christian community has yet to present a biblical foundation for developing a Christian psychology that reveals the problems and the solutions to our dilemmas. That foundation lies in two areas: the creation account of the ontology of the individual in creation, death, and salvation. And how these are dealt with in the tabernacle and all of its accessories given at Mt. Sinai.

    Thank you once again for this article.
    Harold Jenkerson

  2. Nate Collins says:

    Inspiring article, Dr. Johnson… I have sometimes felt overwhelmed by the enormity of the Christian task of engaging the world in the arena of sexual ethics, especially with regard to homosexuality. Part of the difficulty is that there seems to be so few Christians involved in this discussion who are effective in sensitively addressing the issue of SSA in an informed manner. It definitely seems as though a reformation needs to take place in our churches regarding our approach to homosexuality in general, and homosexuals in particular, if it is going to continue to offer an answer that is not only relevant, but particularly meaningful as well.

  3. Leah Miller says:

    Throughout most of this article, you are describing how homosexuality is some type of pathology and that it is something that is immoral and needs to be overcome, yet in the final paragraph, you still say that gay people deserve our love as Christians. I agree with you completely on the fact that gay people deserve our love and respect, but I do not agree with you on saying that Christians “must interpret same-sex attraction as a moral and biological problem.” As Christians, we must LOVE each other. It is not our place to decide who is immoral or who has a pathology. The Bible can be interpreted in many ways, and it must also be taken into account the time in which it was written. Yes, I am a Christian and I read the Bible and Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior, but do I follow the Bible completely and blindly? Of course not. No one does. There are a plethora of rules and guidelines in the Bible that are not followed any more, yet it seems some Christians are deciding which ones to have problems with… in this case, homosexuality. As I said before, I am a Christian, but I am also a lesbian, and I find it extremely offensive and absolutely absurd that you would consider my sexual orientation a pathology and something that I need to “overcome.” I don’t want to overcome it. I will not spend the rest of my life miserable because the Bible can be interpreted to say that same-sex relations are “immoral.” I have grown up a Christian and was raised by a family that taught me to love one another and not be the ones judging others or condemning them because that’s God job. I do not believe that the God I love and have a relationship with would want me to spend the rest of my life alone and/or miserable by spending it married to a man. I plan on remaining a faithful Christian throughout the rest of my life and I also plan on spending the rest of my life with another woman, once I find her.

    And in response to Mr. Jenkerson’s comment: “As the Christian community knows, the gay community is not going to find ‘wholeness’ and ‘personal fulfillment’ in its lifestyle.” I read that and my jaw just about dropped to the floor. I have felt more whole since I came out to myself, my friends and my family than I have my entire life. And I feel that my coming out has brought me closer to Jesus, not farther away, which has brought me much personal fulfillment. And when I find the woman I end up spending the rest of my life with, I can only imagine how much for fulfilled and whole I will feel.

    I hope you take some of these thoughts into consideration, and also the fact that there are a lot of gay Christians out there, that it’s not just me. Thank you for your time.

    • Carlisha says:

      Leah, I would like to challenge you for a minute if you don’t mind. You said “I do not believe that the God I love and have a relationship with would want me to spend the rest of my life alone and/or miserable by spending it married to a man.”

      Do you believe God cares more about your happiness or your holiness?

      You claim you are a Christian, however you contradict your beliefs by first addressing what the bible says about homosexuality and the resisting what the bible says about homosexuality (“I don’t want to overcome it”) God does love you but just because we have his love, does not mean we have his approval. To be Christ-like means to die to yourself and the things we desire in place for Him to have His way with us. By refusing to address homosexuality in the Word of God, and resisting the transformation the bible and the holy spirit should have in you, you are resisting God himself- the very God you love. I will pray for you by name. That you will know the truth and that it will set you free! blessings- Carlisha Sloan

  4. As a psychotherapist with christian values i do not believe the christian community is adressing the issue of homosexuality in a holistic point of view, i respect the point of view of the professional organizations on homosexuality but i entirely disagree on normalization, since normalization should only be a individual choice of the person and not a collective world of view. Many of my clients and church members know that God dissaproves Homosexuality but how to help and explain when the person experience SSA since childhood and cannot determine the root of the cause. Even so there are many theory’s for explanation of SSA and each case needs to be considered individually the focus should be a relationship with Jesus and the Holy Spirit and deal with Homosexuality as a secondary approach, since it could take many years for a significant reduction of SSA, however when the church validates Homosexual behavior it fails to deliver the message of a redemptive experience in the person that reach his entire being (including identity and sexuality) is very difficult to armonize a God Obedience relationship and a Homosexual Active Sexual Life since True relationship with God will require sexual purity as well. In my case i use two approaches: How to Avoid Homosexual Development in a Child (Early Same Sex Parent Bonding) and Homosexuality Revisited (Understanding the Root and Internal Psychodynamics of Homosexual Development) so the church could be more gracious, patience and tolerant with the Individual who struggle with Homosexual Attractions and wants to surrender this lifestyle to God, like many thousands have already achieved but not to validated Christian with a active/open homosexual lifestyle (i am specific in open and active since the Christian Believer may in occasions experience relapses but does not want to continue embracing a Homosexual Lifestyle).

  5. Eric Johnson says:

    Thanks to Leah for your honest reply. I appreciate your concerns and agree that we cannot set ourselves up as judges of one another. However, your response made me think you have less confidence in the Bible than is warranted. Christianity has always recognized that the Bible is inspired–that it is totally God’s word as well as the writings of the prophets and apostles. It is a sort of miracle in that way. Therefore, its teachings must be accorded a degree of trust and respect higher than we can trust the desires of our own hearts. The Bible tells us that we are sinful and blind in certain key respects, especially in moral and spiritual matters. We need the Bible to shed light on our moral and spiritual path. Most Christians recognize that many of the Old Testament commands relating to religious practices and civil laws are no longer binding on Christians, but the New Testament teachings are still authoritative, and it is quite clear, even to many gays, that homosexuality is considered immoral there (and therefore a pathology, from a Christian standpoint). I have no right to judge anyone, but God does, and Christian love can also be shown by our caring enough to challenge each other to live more by God’s standards. I know I’m no better than you; I am condemned by those standards as much as anyone. My only hope is in Christ’s perfect salvation, and I have found considerable healing from attraction to sins that I used to enjoy without guilt. I realize it would be hard to resist some of the desires in your heart, but we all have to do that to some extent, guided by God’s Word, and in the long run, I am confident that your joy will be much greater as you live in harmony with God’s loving and holy intentions for us.

  6. David K. Allen says:

    Toward a Christian Psychology.

    God knows each individual prior to conception. At conception, a spiritual sensory communicative relational enactment with God constitutes our “being”, unfortunately, in and of lost communion grace relationship. Humanity experiences existence in natural creation grace, herein configured to be the consequence of Adam’s fear and consequent survival need projective identification, receiving God’s mercy in a re-projective identification enactment, enabling repression of the loss into unconscious mind structure. Unconscious loss arousal, instinctive, intuitive,”you will surely die” evocation, fear, compensatory need, activated in faulted desire and defense, constitutes conflicted emotional relational need. Humanistic subjective analysis initiates qualified clarification, albeit in second cause secular philosophic and psychoanalytic unconscious/conscious relational, emotional logic. Ontological, epistemological structural fault,evoking conflicted relational enactments with primary care other(s) may cause problematic sexual identity. Constant in the universal personal, original, ancestral, cultural, linguistic sin unconscious/conscious system reside controlling elements of loss, fear, need, desire, and defense.

    Scripture contains clarification of the primordial ontological restructured relational need. Salvation reality constitutes a “new creation”, enabling restored communion grace relation with God in Christ of the Holy Spirit. Relational emotional logic inherent to “being born again” interpenetrates personal, original, ancestral, linguistic, cultural sin pathology, and beyond, reconstituted in the redeemed unconscious/conscious construct. Sanctification occurs with exposure in a dialectical relational emotional process reconstituting the personal original negativity into the redeemed unconscious stability with GodJesusHolySpirit. Cognitive, analytic, and behavioral therapeutic counseling combine to heal.

  7. Angel Estrada says:

    First things first, I am not very old. I am still a teenager. I have read this article, and the comments posted below it. I must agree with Ms. Miller, homosexuality is not a condition to be overcome. I have studied this issue for a while, and have read many people’s opinions on the subject. Keeping with the general theme of this page, I see few reasons why a homosexual person can’t have a relationship with God. I am not a Christian, and am not afraid to say so, but I have been raised by a Christian family. You say that God doesn’t approve of SSA, but what no one seems to notice is that the people in the New Testament don’t seem to be very good Christians. There is no way to definitely tell whether or not they were persecuted for their sexual orientation alone, or because of other transgressions against God.

  8. Eric Johnson says:

    Thanks for sharing Angel. There is of course so much complexity surrounding this issue nowadays. For Christians, the Bible’s teachings about homosexuality, especially the New Testament, have a special authority and are supposed to guide Christian reflection and practice. That’s because it claims to be God’s word, not just an ancient text written by humans, which we can overturn if we want. People who are not Christians will not consider the Bible authoritative, but our Society is seeking to articulate a Christian psychology, so in our understanding of conditions like SSA we want to take seriously the Bible’s teachings. You rightly remind us that all Christians fall short of God’s holy standards, including the people in the early church. But Christians don’t want to just accept that fact–we want to continue working on our lives in the power of God’s grace, so that more and more we live according to God’s design. Thanks for contributing!

  9. Jansen Dowel says:

    Mental illness is something that is highly contingent on culture and “personal values”. This is hardly scientific. It also fails to recognize people as individuals.
    A more realistic criteria that, in my opinion, justifies the use of the words “mental” and “illness”, would consider whether a condition causes the individual distress or disability. I don’t think homosexuality meets either of these criteria. And neither does pedophilia.

  10. Breanna Sholtz says:

    One thing that may be important to think about is there are many mental illnesses in which, by very definition, will show neither distress or disability. Conditions such as Antisocial Personality Disorder are examples of this.
    There are multiple routes that psychologists use to identify abnormality -mental illness -and the causing of disability and distress is one of them; however it’s disadvantages are such illnesses as this.

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