Biblical Inerrancy and the Religious Right

How errant is the Holy Bible? Considering it’s written by dozens of authors from dozens of different eras, some having phenomenal educations for their time period, others having little, but all being inspired by the Almighty, all of us need to keep in mind that the Bible is not the literal Word of God. It was not dictated verbatim as inerrant truth, but a record of events often written by authors totally unknown. Biblicists and Biblical inerrancy are a very recent enigma.

Prior to the turn of the 20th Century, few, if any, ever considered the Bible inerrant. Furthermore, the patriarchs whom we view as perfect weren’t perfect. Let’s just take one example: Abraham, the Father of Faith.

Here’s a patriarch who I always thought of as perfect in faith in my Sunday school days. How else could such a noble title be given him? He faltered in his faith at least twice.

When God visits Abram and changes his name to Abraham, he’s told his descendants will be as countless as the stars in the Heavens. He takes it in faith, right? Well, not exactly. He gives Sarah the news, and being well beyond her child-bearing years, she gives him her young slave, Hagar, and says take her.

Granted, she was property, and should she bear a child, the child would be the property of Sarah and Abraham, nevertheless, Hagar wasn’t Abraham’s wife. Abraham doesn’t question Sarah, “Where’s your faith? I was promised a son. You’re my wife, not Hagar.” He took Hagar without question. (Gen. 16: 1-4) Odd that with all the fuss over the sanctity of marriage being between one man and one woman, nobody bothers to bring up Abraham never questioning Sarah’s lack of faith. He takes Hagar and conceives Ishmael.

Six years later, God visits again and says the time of fulfillment is at had. Now you and Sarah will have the son of promise. Abraham falls prostrate on ground, but is laughing to himself. Failure of faith, number two. The messengers noted his disbelief and chastised him for his lack of faith (Genesis 17: 17). Abraham and Sarah are both in their 90s, nevertheless, she does conceive Isaac, the son of promise.

My point? Aside from no man being perfect except Christ, the Bible is loaded with troubling little incongruities like this. Some small and subtle, others massive. All Christians take the Bible seriously. Enlightened Christians have never taken it literally. We glean the principles and take them seriously. We take the Bible in faith and realize it has countless flaws from the authors.

It’s like trying to look through a smudged window to view God. Through the cloudiness, however, we get a good enough glimpse to know God as best we can as the Almighty Creator of Heaven and earth. We can see Him, after all is said and done, as the God of love and mercy, sending His only son to pay for our redemption. Those who take it literally seldom take the principles in it seriously, and a completely different image of God appears. A petty, vengeful, jealous, vindictive deity. How arrogantly some misrepresent God.

As fundamentalists fume over homosexuality being the greatest danger of our time, even greater than international terrorism, they miss the point. Of all the 613 laws in the Holiness Code in Leviticus, they ignore nearly everything except the two references to same-sex acts. Sodom and Gomorrah are interpreted to their blind fear of the LGBT community.

Throughout history, scapegoats have been picked to blame for anything and everything. In earlier times it was Native Americans, blacks, Asians, or women. Today it’s the Gay issue that trumps all. Bible abuse continues in these modern times. It’s said that one drowning will grab at straws to be saved from a watery grave. So too with inerrancy of the Bible to justify “those other people” being the cause of modern adversity. There always seems to be “those people” messing up everything. It’s time to begin using more than 10% of our brains and unveil Bible bigotry once and for all.

What the Bible Says about Homosexuality

Preface:

Two generations of progressive clergy have been in agreement that the Bible is silent on the subject of homosexuality as it’s understood today.  It’s always been present in all nationalities, worldwide.  Furthermore, homosexuality has been observed in perhaps 20% of animal species which have been studied. In Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity, Bruce Bagemihl (1999) discusses the homosexual activity that has been documented among 450 different species of animals, showing that it is clearly a ‘natural’ part of sexual diversity.  The reality is that the absence of homosexuality would be unnatural.

To suggest that homosexuality as a “lifestyle” or “choice” is erroneous and the attempts to change anyone’s sexual orientation is futile.  The numerous religious organizations pushing ex-gay programs boast fabricated, inflated successes.  It would seem God is uncooperative regarding any attempts to warp his diverse creation into sterile conformity.  Sexual orientation is set at birth.

Numerous denominations and seminaries may be classified as Biblicists, evangelicals, and fundamentalists.  These old, narrow-minded conservative establishments perpetuate a twisted image of God that is angry, petty, and vengeful.  He’s presented as a Deity who hates everything and everybody (except them).  “God hates sin,” they loudly proclaim.  “Certain people are an abomination, and God is made sick by them, consequently, He has no choice but to send these unrepentant sinners to a burning Hell.”  They allude primarily to GLBT people.

Right-wing conservatives have an ill-conceived perception of redemption, grace, inclusion, and the Gospel or “good news” brought by Christ Jesus which was “love thy neighbor”.  It’s a deviant, exclusive, twisted theology which negates the fact Christ came for sinners, to sinners, and ministered to the lost, the sick, and those marginalized by the “righteous”.  He spent little time among the high-class, self-righteous Jews and often criticized their hypocrisy and arrogance.

Conservative denominations believe the scriptures stand alone “sola scriptura”, as the ultimate authority on God.  This concept originated with Martin Luther.  Unfortunately, they go to extremes by deducing erroneously the Bible is to be taken literally as God’s word and is inerrant.  The Bible, therefore, is idolized. They compound the error by misinterpreting and twisting specific scriptures for their own purposes, regardless if it squares poorly with Christian principles.  “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” and “love thy enemy” are abandoned.

Homosexuality is the hot, unifying issue that affords them a common foe and a righteous cause to wage war against.  They display little semblance of Christian conduct.  Their judgments are errant, groundless, and dangerous.  Western demise, economic recession, natural disasters, HIV/AIDS, and even 9/11 have been blamed on the tolerance of homosexuals and abortion clinics.  God has clearly removed his hand of blessing from the US.  Capitalizing on fear and hysteria, their ultimate goal is to gain power, politically infiltrate and control the government, and impose their beliefs on all to save us from ominous evil influences bent on destroying family values, morality, and Christianity itself. Unfortunately, they’re sincere and taken seriously by multitudes over the GLBT issue.  They perniciously twist a civil rights issue into a moral, religious war.  In short, they lie.

The American Society of Psychiatrists removed homosexuality from their list of mental disorders in 1973. The World Health Organization did the same in 1990.

There are over 2,300 verses in the Old Testament alone.  Only six in the combined Old and New Testament mention same sex relations which are misconstrued as negative.  There’s nothing new about Bible abuse.  It’s been used to justify slavery, apartheid, Anti-Semitism, genocide, subversion of women, blacks, minorities and finally, homosexuals.  This theme will only deal with defusing the Bible texts used for gay-bashing.

Genesis 19 (Sodom & Gomorrah)

The destruction of Sodom & Gomorrah had nothing to do with homosexuality and everything to do with repetitive gang rape and the violation of the hospitality code.  It was a violent crime peculiar to Sodom, intended to humiliate all travelers whom made the mistake of staying overnight in the city.  Understand that rape is a crime of violence and subjugation, not passion.  This subversion was carried out by all the men of Sodom upon all male visitors.  Can anyone actually believe, “all, from young to old; every last man”, in Sodom was homosexual?  No population is 100% homosexual, however, the modus operandi of all the men of Sodom was to criminally violate the hospitality code.

Hospitality to strangers was one of many standards which predated Hammurabi’s Code, a Babylonian King who was credited as the first to actually write a code of conduct in Mesopotamia.  Hammurabi’s Code originated circa 1790 BC.  Many of the 282 laws were not original, but existed long before because by 2000 BC, many cities in Mesopotamia had reached populations of 200,000 and codes of conduct were imperative.  These codes predated the Ten Commandments of the Israelites.

One of the mandates was that food, water and shelter were to be afforded to any and all strangers without question.  This didn’t occur in Sodom.  The reasons for its destruction are clearly stated by Ezekiel in Chapter 16: 49-50, “Look, this was the iniquity of your sister Sodom: She and her daughter had pride, fullness of food, an abundance of idleness; neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy.  And they were haughty, and committed abomination before Me; therefore I took them away as I saw fit.”  In other words, they were affluent and could have easily followed the hospitality mandate.  On the contrary, it was their choice to assault all strangers.  The motive viewed by God was contemptuous disrespect.  The act was violence, the abomination was criminal, it was consistent, hence God intervened.

Leviticus 18:22, 20:13

It’s well established and accepted by generations of mainstream theologians that the origin of Leviticus is unknown and has gone through frequent editing throughout the history of Judaism.  None of it was written by Moses or dictated by God. Leviticus took its present form between 555 BC and 538 BC when the Jewish intelligentsia was allowed to return to their homeland by the Persian King Cyrus, after the fall of Babylon.  They found the common Jews mixing with Canaanites and adopting their customs and gods.  They were desperate to restore and preserve the Judaic culture.  The original Priest’s Manual (a very brief Leviticus) was expanded to 27 chapters by adding the Holiness Code.  613 laws were concocted and imposed on all Jews to separate them from the Canaanites and salvage the Jews’ identity, restore monotheism, and make God’s chosen people markedly distinct, separate from the gentiles.  Some of the laws were radical, and harsh punishments were assigned for violations, nevertheless, it worked and was successful in restoring their cultural identity.  Most Jews disregard much of it today, and Christians never adhered to it.

The two texts forbidding same-sex acts were intended to keep Jews out of the Egyptian and Canaanite temples of Astarte, Ishtar and Molech.  Male prostitution in pagan temples used and abused underage youths for fertility rites.  Idol worship and wanton, abusive sex was the objection.  Amoral fertility rites in conjunction with idol worship were abhorrence to the rulers of Judea.  This had nothing to do with loving, same-sex relationships in any way.

Ironically, citing the Holiness Code as being God’s law to condemn gays, fundamentalists hypocritically ignore the other 611 laws which clearly forbid eating shrimp, shellfish, pork, or wearing blended knits or polyester clothing, haircuts, shaving or trimming beards, and more.  It also mandates stoning anyone for working on the Sabbath.  Calling GLBT people an abomination libels fundamentalists to their own violations of the Holiness Code, all of which are abominations they flagrantly choose to ignore.  The real issue is obviously homophobia targeted at the GLBT community out of fear, bigotry and power.

Romans 1:21-28

St. Paul is addressing the Christian congregation of Rome.  In Rome, there were those who sought pleasure in any form.  Hedonists were those who lived for pleasure alone.  Rome was known for excesses.  Perhaps any obsessive/compulsive disorders, sexual obsessions, and promiscuity could be criticized here, but St. Paul is writing to the entire Christian congregation of Rome about numerous problems in the congregation.  It pertained to all the members of the Church in Rome.  Heteros can be just as guilty in pursuit of sensual excesses and gratification, and apparently were.  Excesses of any sort were to be avoided as Christians.  “Let your moderation be made known to all men.”  Is Paul condemning anyone in a loving committed monogamous gay relationship?  No.  Is he condemning excesses, vice, and promiscuity of all sorts in context?  Yes.  Was it the norm in Rome?  Probably not in the Christian community, but anything was available for those who cared to stray, and some obviously did.

St. Paul alludes to sex in the pagan temples as irresponsible, exploitive, and hedonistic.  For the fundamentalists who condemn gays for same-sex acts, use caution when pointing fingers.  There have been instances where the very highest fundamentalist preachers and TV Evangelists have been caught in same-sex acts and heterosexual infidelity.  Those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.  The epistle to the Romans must be taken as a whole, in context.

Summarizing the context of Paul’s admonition, he rebukes the Church at Rome for:

  • Refusing to acknowledge and glorify God.
  • For worshiping idols (images or created things rather than the Creator).
  • Being more interested in earthly pursuits than spiritual pursuits.
  • Giving up their natural passion for conventional sex in an unbounded search for pleasure elsewhere (the pagan Roman temples offered anonymous sex).
  • Living lives full of covetousness, malice, envy, strife, slander, etc.

To conclude, it wasn’t only same-sex acts with temple prostitutes that Paul criticized.  It was a comprehensive list of particular problems and vices within the Christian community of Rome.  Let’s take them all in context as unchristian behavior.  Fundamentalists who judge gays using this text should focus on Paul’s admonition against malice, slander, strife, being unmerciful, etc.  Stop the lie that it’s only about homosexuality.

Jude 7

The reference to Sodom & Gomorrah’s “fornication and going after strange flesh” pertains to the first century myth that women had intercourse with angels as referenced in Genesis 6: 1, 2 & 4.  This was exclusively heterosexual interaction between male angels and female earthlings and had nothing to do with same-sex acts.  It was believed that the women of numerous cities besides Sodom were suspected of this also, a secondary factor to Sodom’s destruction, and a contributing factor for the earlier sin flood of Noah’s time.

References:
Homoeroticism in the Biblical World, Martti Nissinen, (Fortress Press, Minneapolis, 1998), pages 91-93
A Commentary on the Epistle of Peter and of Jude, Kelly (Harper & Row, New York, 1969), pages 258-259
First and Second Peter, and Jude, Fred Craddock, (Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, 1995), page 139
Jude, II Peter. Richard Bauckham, (Word Books, Waco, 1983), page 54
The Second Epistle General of Peter and the General Epistle of Jude, Michael Green, (Inter-Varsity Press, Leichester, 1987), page 180
I & II Peter and Jude, Cranfield, (SCM Press, London, 1960), page 159
The Moral Vision of the New Testament, Richard Hayes, (Harper, San Francisco, 1996), page 404

I Corinthians 6:9-10 & I Timothy 1:10

These texts used the word “effeminate” and is misconstrued to be homosexuals.  The word used in the original Greek text is “malakoi” which means “soft”.  In what way was “soft” meant?  Lazy, decadent, cowardly, indecisive, or spineless?  In the first century, Romans considered any man who enhanced his looks in any way to attract a suitor as “soft”.  It was considered vanity and was ridiculed.  More recently, it was considered that first century Roman male prostitutes who exhibited female gestures or mannerisms, who generally bottomed (receptive in male-to-male sex) were considered “soft”.  Adulterers are listed, too.  The relevance today would indicate male prostitution equates as offensively as heterosexual infidelity.  They’re used side by side.  Imagine all the religious right conservative males who cheat on their wives being as equally berated with a young male prostitute who exclusively bottoms.

In I Timothy 1:10 the older KJV states “abusers of themselves with mankind” or “sodomites”.  The specific Greek word “arsenokoitai” is used.  There is no reference anywhere to define what this means.  Breaking down the Greek into its root origins, the meaning is “bed”, “alluding to sex”, and “male”, its meaning is unclear.  It’s seldom found anywhere, and other Greek literature that does address male to male relations never uses “arsenokoitai”.  Clement of Alexandria and John Chrysostom, two early Christian writers who wrote about same-sex relations, never used “arsenokoitai” in any of their writings.  The true meaning will never be known.

The Corinthian text in the RKJV actually uses the word “homosexual” which is presumptuous since the word “homosexual” didn’t exist until the 1860s.

In conclusion, the ultimate authority on earth, Christ Jesus, spent three years teaching among the Jews, during which He said much about divorce and infidelity.  On the subject of same-sex relations, however, He said nothing, which ironically, speaks volumes.

___________________________________

* Bagemihl, Bruce, Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity, New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999.

For a light touch, you may want to check out the New York Times article “Love That Dare Not Squeak Its Name,” February 7, 2004.

————————————————————————————-

Gen Q & As from the American Psychological Association

Sexual orientation and homosexuality

Since 1975, the American Psychological Association has called on psychologists to take the lead in removing the stigma of mental illness that has long been associated with lesbian, gay, and bisexual orientations. The discipline of psychology is concerned with the well-being of people and groups and therefore with threats to that well-being. The prejudice and discrimination that people who identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual regularly experience have been shown to have negative psychological effects. This information is designed to provide accurate information for those who want to better understand sexual orientation and the impact of prejudice and discrimination on those who identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual.

What is sexual orientation?

Sexual orientation refers to an enduring pattern of emotional, romantic, and/or sexual attractions to men, women, or both sexes. Sexual orientation also refers to a person’s sense of identity based on those attractions, related behaviors, and membership in a community of others who share those attractions. Research over several decades has demonstrated that sexual orientation ranges along a continuum, from exclusive attraction to the other sex to exclusive attraction to the same sex. However, sexual orientation is usually discussed in terms of three categories: heterosexual (having emotional, romantic, or sexual attractions to members of the other sex), gay/lesbian (having emotional, romantic, or sexual attractions to members of one’s own sex), and bisexual (having emotional, romantic, or sexual attractions to both men and women). This range of behaviors and attractions has been described in various cultures and nations throughout the world. Many cultures use identity labels to describe people who express these attractions. In the United States the most frequent labels are lesbians (women attracted to women), gay men (men attracted to men), and bisexual people (men or women attracted to both sexes). However, some people may use different labels or none at all.

Sexual orientation is distinct from other components of sex and gender, including biological sex (the anatomical, physiological, and genetic characteristics associated with being male or female), gender identity (the psychological sense of being male or female),* and social gender role (the cultural norms that define feminine and masculine behavior).

Sexual orientation is commonly discussed as if it were solely a characteristic of an individual, like biological sex, gender identity, or age. This perspective is incomplete because sexual orientation is defined in terms of relationships with others. People express their sexual orientation through behaviors with others, including such simple actions as holding hands or kissing. Thus, sexual orientation is closely tied to the intimate personal relationships that meet deeply felt needs for love, attachment, and intimacy. In addition to sexual behaviors, these bonds include nonsexual physical affection between partners, shared goals and values, mutual support, and ongoing commitment. Therefore, sexual orientation is not merely a personal characteristic within an individual. Rather, one’s sexual orientation defines the group of people in which one is likely to find the satisfying and fulfilling romantic relationships that are an essential component of personal identity for many people.

How do people know if they are lesbian, gay, or bisexual?

According to current scientific and professional understanding, the core attractions that form the basis for adult sexual orientation typically emerge between middle childhood and early adolescence. These patterns of emotional, romantic, and sexual attraction may arise without any prior sexual experience. People can be celibate and still know their sexual orientation—be it lesbian, gay, bisexual, or heterosexual.
Different lesbian, gay, and bisexual people have very different experiences regarding their sexual orientation. Some people know that they are lesbian, gay, or bisexual for a long time before they actually pursue relationships with other people. Some people engage in sexual activity (with same-sex and/or other-sex partners) before assigning a clear label to their sexual orientation. Prejudice and discrimination make it difficult for many people to come to terms with their sexual orientation identities, so claiming a lesbian, gay, or bisexual identity may be a slow process.

What causes a person to have a particular sexual orientation?

There is no consensus among scientists about the exact reasons that an individual develops a heterosexual, bisexual, gay, or lesbian orientation. Although much research has examined the possible genetic, hormonal, developmental, social, and cultural influences on sexual orientation, no findings have emerged that permit scientists to conclude that sexual orientation is determined by any particular factor or factors. Many think that nature and nurture both play complex roles; most people experience little or no sense of choice about their sexual orientation.

What role do prejudice and discrimination play in the lives of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people?

Lesbian, gay, and bisexual people in the United States encounter extensive prejudice, discrimination, and violence because of their sexual orientation. Intense prejudice against lesbians, gay men, and bisexual people was widespread throughout much of the 20th century. Public opinion studies over the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s routinely showed that, among large segments of the public, lesbian, gay, and bisexual people were the target of strongly held negative attitudes. More recently, public opinion has increasingly opposed sexual orientation discrimination, but expressions of hostility toward lesbians and gay men remain common in contemporary American society. Prejudice against bisexuals appears to exist at comparable levels. In fact, bisexual individuals may face discrimination from some lesbian and gay people as well as from heterosexual people.

Sexual orientation discrimination takes many forms. Severe antigay prejudice is reflected in the high rate of harassment and violence directed toward lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals in American society. Numerous surveys indicate that verbal harassment and abuse are nearly universal experiences among lesbian, gay, and bisexual people. Also, discrimination against lesbian, gay, and bisexual people in employment and housing appears to remain widespread. The HIV/AIDS pandemic is another area in which prejudice and discrimination against lesbian, gay, and bisexual people have had negative effects. Early in the pandemic, the assumption that HIV/AIDS was a “gay disease” contributed to the delay in addressing the massive social upheaval that AIDS would generate. Gay and bisexual men have been disproportionately affected by this disease. The association of HIV/AIDS with gay and bisexual men and the inaccurate belief that some people held that all gay and bisexual men were infected served to further stigmatize lesbian, gay, and bisexual people.

What is the psychological impact of prejudice and discrimination?

Prejudice and discrimination have social and personal impact. On the social level, prejudice and discrimination against lesbian, gay, and bisexual people are reflected in the everyday stereotypes of members of these groups. These stereotypes persist even though they are not supported by evidence, and they are often used to excuse unequal treatment of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people. For example, limitations on job opportunities, parenting, and relationship recognition are often justified by stereotypic assumptions about lesbian, gay, and bisexual people.

On an individual level, such prejudice and discrimination may also have negative consequences, especially if lesbian, gay, and bisexual people attempt to conceal or deny their sexual orientation. Although many lesbians and gay men learn to cope with the social stigma against homosexuality, this pattern of prejudice can have serious negative effects on health and well-being. Individuals and groups may have the impact of stigma reduced or worsened by other characteristics, such as race, ethnicity, religion, or disability. Some lesbian, gay, and bisexual people may face less of a stigma. For others, race, sex, religion, disability, or other characteristics may exacerbate the negative impact of prejudice and discrimination.

The widespread prejudice, discrimination, and violence to which lesbians and gay men are often subjected are significant mental health concerns. Sexual prejudice, sexual orientation discrimination, and antigay violence are major sources of stress for lesbian, gay, and bisexual people. Although social support is crucial in coping with stress, antigay attitudes and discrimination may make it difficult for lesbian, gay, and bisexual people to find such support.

Is homosexuality a mental disorder?

No, lesbian, gay, and bisexual orientations are not disorders. Research has found no inherent association between any of these sexual orientations and psychopathology. Both heterosexual behavior and homosexual behavior are normal aspects of human sexuality. Both have been documented in many different cultures and historical eras. Despite the persistence of stereotypes that portray lesbian, gay, and bisexual people as disturbed, several decades of research and clinical experience have led all mainstream medical and mental health organizations in this country to conclude that these orientations represent normal forms of human experience. Lesbian, gay, and bisexual relationships are normal forms of human bonding. Therefore, these mainstream organizations long ago abandoned classifications of homosexuality as a mental disorder.

What about therapy intended to change sexual orientation from gay to straight?

All major national mental health organizations have officially expressed concerns about therapies promoted to modify sexual orientation. To date, there has been no scientifically adequate research to show that therapy aimed at changing sexual orientation (sometimes called reparative or conversion therapy) is safe or effective. Furthermore, it seems likely that the promotion of change therapies reinforces stereotypes and contributes to a negative climate for lesbian, gay, and bisexual persons. This appears to be especially likely for lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals who grow up in more conservative religious settings.

Helpful responses of a therapist treating an individual who is troubled about her or his same-sex attractions include helping that person actively cope with social prejudices against homosexuality, successfully resolve issues associated with and resulting from internal conflicts, and actively lead a happy and satisfying life. Mental health professional organizations call on their members to respect a person’s (client’s) right to self-determination; be sensitive to the client’s race, culture, ethnicity, age, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, socioeconomic status, language, and disability status when working with that client; and eliminate biases based on these factors.

What is “coming out” and why is it important?

The phrase “coming out” is used to refer to several aspects of lesbian, gay, and bisexual persons’ experiences: self-awareness of same-sex attractions; the telling of one or a few people about these attractions; widespread disclosure of same-sex attractions; and identification with the lesbian, gay, and bisexual community. Many people hesitate to come out because of the risks of meeting prejudice and discrimination. Some choose to keep their identity a secret; some choose to come out in limited circumstances; some decide to come out in very public ways.

Coming out is often an important psychological step for lesbian, gay, and bisexual people. Research has shown that feeling positively about one’s sexual orientation and integrating it into one’s life fosters greater well-being and mental health. This integration often involves disclosing one’s identity to others; it may also entail participating in the gay community. Being able to discuss one’s sexual orientation with others also increases the availability of social support, which is crucial to mental health and psychological well-being. Like heterosexuals, lesbians, gay men, and bisexual people benefit from being able to share their lives with and receive support from family, friends, and acquaintances. Thus, it is not surprising that lesbians and gay men who feel they must conceal their sexual orientation report more frequent mental health concerns than do lesbians and gay men who are more open; they may even have more physical health problems.

What about sexual orientation and coming out during adolescence?

Adolescence is a period when people separate from their parents and families and begin to develop autonomy. Adolescence can be a period of experimentation, and many youths may question their sexual feelings. Becoming aware of sexual feelings is a normal developmental task of adolescence. Sometimes adolescents have same-sex feelings or experiences that cause confusion about their sexual orientation. This confusion appears to decline over time, with different outcomes for different individuals.

Some adolescents desire and engage in same-sex behavior but do not identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual, sometimes because of the stigma associated with a nonheterosexual orientation. Some adolescents experience continuing feelings of same-sex attraction but do not engage in any sexual activity or may engage in heterosexual behavior for varying lengths of time. Because of the stigma associated with same-sex attractions, many youths experience same-sex attraction for many years before becoming sexually active with partners of the same sex or disclosing their attractions to others.

For some young people, this process of exploring same-sex attractions leads to a lesbian, gay, or bisexual identity. For some, acknowledging this identity can bring an end to confusion. When these young people receive the support of parents and others, they are often able to live satisfying and healthy lives and move through the usual process of adolescent development. The younger a person is when she or he acknowledges a nonheterosexual identity, the fewer internal and external resources she or he is likely to have. Therefore, youths who come out early are particularly in need of support from parents and others.

Young people who identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual may be more likely to face certain problems, including being bullied and having negative experiences in school. These experiences are associated with negative outcomes, such as suicidal thoughts, and high-risk activities, such as unprotected sex and alcohol and drug use. On the other hand, many lesbian, gay, and bisexual youths appear to experience no greater level of health or mental health risks. Where problems occur, they are closely associated with experiences of bias and discrimination in their environments. Support from important people in the teen’s life can provide a very helpful counterpart to bias and discrimination.

Support in the family, at school, and in the broader society helps to reduce risk and encourage healthy development. Youth need caring and support, appropriately high expectations, and the encouragement to participate actively with peers. Lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth who do well despite stress—like all adolescents who do well despite stress—tend to be those who are socially competent, who have good problem-solving skills, who have a sense of autonomy and purpose, and who look forward to the future.

In a related vein, some young people are presumed to be lesbian, gay, or bisexual because they don’t abide by traditional gender roles (i.e., the cultural beliefs about what is appropriate “masculine” and “feminine” appearance and behavior). Whether these youths identify as heterosexual or as lesbian, gay, or bisexual, they encounter prejudice and discrimination based on the presumption that they are lesbian, gay, or bisexual. The best support for these young people is school and social climates that do not tolerate discriminatory language and behavior.

At what age should lesbian, gay, or bisexual youths come out?

There is no simple or absolute answer to this question. The risks and benefits of coming out are different for youths in different circumstances. Some young people live in families where support for their sexual orientation is clear and stable; these youths may encounter less risk in coming out, even at a young age. Young people who live in less supportive families may face more risks in coming out. All young people who come out may experience bias, discrimination, or even violence in their schools, social groups, work places, and faith communities. Supportive families, friends, and schools are important buffers against the negative impacts of these experiences.

What is the nature of same-sex relationships?

Research indicates that many lesbians and gay men want and have committed relationships. For example, survey data indicate that between 40% and 60% of gay men and between 45% and 80% of lesbians are currently involved in a romantic relationship. Further, data from the 2000 U.S. Census indicate that of the 5.5 million couples who were living together but not married, about 1 in 9 (594,391) had partners of the same sex. Although the census data are almost certainly an underestimate of the actual number of cohabiting same-sex couples, they indicate that there are 301,026 male same-sex households and 293,365 female same-sex households in the United States.
Stereotypes about lesbian, gay, and bisexual people have persisted, even though studies have found them to be misleading. For instance, one stereotype is that the relationships of lesbians and gay men are dysfunctional and unhappy. However, studies have found same-sex and heterosexual couples to be equivalent to each other on measures of relationship satisfaction and commitment.

A second stereotype is that the relationships of lesbians, gay men and bisexual people are unstable. However, despite social hostility toward same-sex relationships, research shows that many lesbians and gay men form durable relationships. For example, survey data indicate that between 18% and 28% of gay couples and between 8% and 21% of lesbian couples have lived together 10 or more years. It is also reasonable to suggest that the stability of same-sex couples might be enhanced if partners from same-sex couples enjoyed the same levels of support and recognition for their relationships as heterosexual couples do, i.e., legal rights and responsibilities associated with marriage.

A third common misconception is that the goals and values of lesbian and gay couples are different from those of heterosexual couples. In fact, research has found that the factors that influence relationship satisfaction, commitment, and stability are remarkably similar for both same-sex cohabiting couples and heterosexual married couples.

Far less research is available on the relationship experiences of people who identify as bisexual. If these individuals are in a same-sex relationship, they are likely to face the same prejudice and discrimination that members of lesbian and gay couples face. If they are in a heterosexual relationship, their experiences may be quite similar to those of people who identify as heterosexual unless they choose to come out as bisexual; in that case, they will likely face some of the same prejudice and discrimination that lesbian and gay individuals encounter.

Can lesbians and gay men be good parents?

Many lesbians and gay men are parents; others wish to be parents. In the 2000 U.S. Census, 33% of female same-sex couple households and 22% of male same-sex couple households reported at least one child under the age of 18 living in the home. Although comparable data are not available, many single lesbians and gay men are also parents, and many same-sex couples are part-time parents to children whose primary residence is elsewhere.
As the social visibility and legal status of lesbian and gay parents have increased, some people have raised concerns about the well-being of children in these families. Most of these questions are based on negative stereotypes about lesbians and gay men. The majority of research on this topic asks whether children raised by lesbian and gay parents are at a disadvantage when compared to children raised by heterosexual parents. The most common questions and answers to them are these:

Do children of lesbian and gay parents have more problems with sexual identity than do children of heterosexual parents?

For instance, do these children develop problems in gender identity and/or in gender role behavior? The answer from research is clear: sexual and gender identities (including gender identity, gender-role behavior, and sexual orientation) develop in much the same way among children of lesbian mothers as they do among children of heterosexual parents. Few studies are available regarding children of gay fathers.

Do children raised by lesbian or gay parents have problems in personal development in areas other than sexual identity?

For example, are the children of lesbian or gay parents more vulnerable to mental breakdown, do they have more behavior problems, or are they less psychologically healthy than other children? Again, studies of personality, self-concept, and behavior problems show few differences between children of lesbian mothers and children of heterosexual parents. Few studies are available regarding children of gay fathers.

Are children of lesbian and gay parents likely to have problems with social relationships?

For example, will they be teased or otherwise mistreated by their peers? Once more, evidence indicates that children of lesbian and gay parents have normal social relationships with their peers and adults. The picture that emerges from this research shows that children of gay and lesbian parents enjoy a social life that is typical of their age group in terms of involvement with peers, parents, family members, and friends.

Are these children more likely to be sexually abused by a parent or by a parent’s friends or acquaintances?

There is no scientific support for fears about children of lesbian or gay parents being sexually abused by their parents or their parents’ gay, lesbian, or bisexual friends or acquaintances.

In summary, social science has shown that the concerns often raised about children of lesbian and gay parents—concerns that are generally grounded in prejudice against and stereotypes about gay people—are unfounded. Overall, the research indicates that the children of lesbian and gay parents do not differ markedly from the children of heterosexual parents in their development, adjustment, or overall well-being.

What can people do to diminish prejudice and discrimination against lesbian, gay, and bisexual people?

Lesbian, gay, and bisexual people who want to help reduce prejudice and discrimination can be open about their sexual orientation, even as they take necessary precautions to be as safe as possible. They can examine their own belief systems for the presence of antigay stereotypes. They can make use of the lesbian, gay, and bisexual community—as well as supportive heterosexual people—for support.

Heterosexual people who wish to help reduce prejudice and discrimination can examine their own response to antigay stereotypes and prejudice. They can make a point of coming to know lesbian, gay, and bisexual people, and they can work with lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals and communities to combat prejudice and discrimination. Heterosexual individuals are often in a good position to ask other heterosexual people to consider the prejudicial or discriminatory nature of their beliefs and actions. Heterosexual allies can encourage nondiscrimination policies that include sexual orientation. They can work to make coming out safe.

When lesbians, gay men, and bisexual people feel free to make public their sexual orientation, heterosexuals are given an opportunity to have personal contact with openly gay people and to perceive them as individuals.
Studies of prejudice, including prejudice against gay people, consistently show that prejudice declines when members of the majority group interact with members of a minority group. In keeping with this general pattern, one of the most powerful influences on heterosexuals’ acceptance of gay people is having personal contact with an openly gay person. Antigay attitudes are far less common among members of the population who have a close friend or family member who is lesbian or gay, especially if the gay person has directly come out to the heterosexual person.

From “Sexual orientation and homosexuality” article by the American Psychological Association.

Review

A review by Jim Manchester:

People have said that the very best stories make you feel unsettled.  They demand thought and prompt action.  Grant West has achieved that in his debut novel, AD 2040: Clear and Present Danger, Triumph of the Religious Right.

The novel takes our world and turns it inside out.  In it, the earth’s population is and always has been gay and lesbian.  Admittedly or not, ten percent are straight, bisexual, or transsexual, and as such, compose a “Queer,” deviant minority; a startling, unsettling alternate reality.  HIV/AIDS still has a devastating grip on society with infection rates as high as 25 percent in developed nations;  total domination and decimation in under-developed, third-world countries.  In this alternate reality, the straights, of course, are blamed for the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

The United States has gone through an economic and political collapse and allowed extreme fundamentalism to take over a provisional government as it tries to recover.  Heterophobia runs rampant in a society dominated by martial law.

West introduces us to some colorful and endearing characters.  A religious leader named the Reverend Elder Troy Mason claims to be the nation’s religious authority, but instead of being a beatific figure who inspires diversity, tolerance, and personal spiritual empowerment (as does a real-life friend of almost the same name), Mason has manipulated himself into political power where he directs a governmental plan of ethnic cleansing and purging of heterosexuals.  I was ready to like Mason because of the name similarity and because he is gay, but the comparison of him to Adolf Hitler is no exaggeration.

West injects a straight couple into the mix who try to live normal lives.  They, too, are religious people.  The Reverend Gary Fall and his wife, Lillian, serve a small Christian congregation in one of North Carolina’s urban centers that believes that it’s okay to be straight when the rest of the world is proud and determined to be gay.  I was ready to dislike Reverend Fall because of the name similarity to the late Jerry Falwell of the Liberty Alliance.  Again, I was mistaken.  He is much more like a compassionate senior pastor I greatly admire.

Other characters surface such as a dear uncle who rides in a Pride parade and is amazed to find that he is marginalized because of his conventional religious belief.  A physician and his husband lead an effort to make sense of the terror of HIV and heal broken spirits as well as afflicted bodies.  Gay and lesbian in-laws struggle to accept their straight children.  Other quaint gay couples open their homes to people in need despite the fact that such hospitality could be viewed as treasonous.

The challenges that Gary and Lillian face mount up quickly until they face a struggle for survival.  When their lives become almost too much to bare, several enlightened gay couples come to their rescue.  The ultimate survival of the Falls depends upon being able to trust people who may not seem all that trustworthy on the surface but who prove to be guardian angels.

Grantham West’s masterful interweaving of biblical scholarship to expose the twisted, hate-centered Bible abuse of arch-fundamentalist preachers and teachers is refreshing.  He shows how such discussions can become a part of everyday encounters and how firmly-rooted attitudes can change as a result.

Can you escape the wrath of God???I hated the first chapter.  It terrorized me.  Luckily, I trusted Grant West enough to keep reading.  By the third chapter, I was hooked.  From that point onward, it was a compelling, intriguing read.  By the time I got to the seventh chapter, I refused to put the book down – even to eat or sleep.   AD 2040: Clear and Present Danger, is just that compelling.