Changing the Things We Can

James Tonkowich | ReligionToday.com Columnist | Thursday, November 21, 2013

Changing the Things We Can


When Tim Schaefer was sixteen years old he was contemplating suicide. Fortunately someone anonymously telephoned his father, Rev. Frank Schaefer, pastor of the local United Methodist church. The caller told him about his son’s state of mind and added that Tim was gay and worried that his parents would reject him.

According to an article in the Washington Post, Pastor Schaefer and his wife asked their son if it was true. He told them it was. “My wife and I lost it in tears. We hugged him. We told him we loved him so much,” Schaefer told the Post. “To me, this was definitely the proof—he did not choose this.”

Wait a minute. “To me, this was definitely the proof—he did not choose this”? What “this” was “definitely the proof”? That he and his wife cried and hugged him and told him how much they loved him? That the boy was suicidal? If there’s definitive proof here, I missed it.

I admit that the scene has great pathos. It’s a beautiful story of parental love and compassion, a love and compassion I hope I would have in a similar situation. But as to proving something about Tim’s homosexual desires, it’s a complete bust. There is no rational way to leap from “I love my gay son,” to, “therefore He didn’t choose to be gay, but was born that way.”

In fact, there’s good reason to believe—particularly given that Tim Schaefer was sixteen at the time—that homosexuality was not only a choice, but a choice he hadn’t yet made.

Robert Carle recently wrote in Public Discourse about the legislative overreach in California and New Jersey insisting that therapists may only counsel teens to accept their homosexual feelings and desires even if those teen would rather resist those feelings and desires. The article deserves careful reading, but here I want to highlight two studies cited by Carle regarding sexual orientation in teenagers.

The first, the National Health and Social Life Survey done in 1992, he writes, “found that, without any intervention whatsoever, three out of four boys who think they are gay at sixteen don’t think they are gay by the age of twenty-five.”

That kind of flies in the face of increasing societal pressure to assign a fixed homosexual sexual orientation to sixteen-year-olds and even younger children. Leave it alone and in 75% of all cases, it goes away on its own.

The second study reveals more of the same. Carle writes, “The University of North Carolina’s National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health surveyed 10,000 teenagers and found that the vast majority of sixteen-year olds who reported only same-sex sexual attractions reported only opposite-sex sexual attractions one year later.” Carle goes on to say that since no one expected this, the studies have been replicated time after time with “almost identical” results.

Carle also sites Dr. Nicholas A. Cummings, former president of the American Psychological Association and former chief psychologist at Kaiser Permanente in San Francisco. In an article published in USA Today, Cummings, who has a great deal of experience counseling people with same-sex attraction, wrote that the idea that same-sex attraction can’t change has been politicized: “Gay and lesbian rights activists appear to be convincing the public that homosexuality is one identical inherited characteristic.”

“But,” he goes on, “contending that all same-sex attraction is immutable is a distortion of reality.” Some people with homosexual desires can and do change.

Yet without this “distortion of reality,” the claims of gay rights activists become incoherent. That’s the primary reason you and I haven’t heard of these studies before.

If same-sex orientation can change, then gay rights are not the next logical step in the civil rights movement. Gays, lesbians, et. al. do not qualify for special minority treatment. If three quarters of sixteen-year-olds with same-sex attractions have none at twenty-four or even at seventeen, then restricting marriage to one man and one woman cannot be reasonably compared with the ban on interracial marriage.

Today, however, even Christians who hold a biblical view of sexuality agree that sexual orientation is something people are born with, not chosen. This is particularly true of those with gay or lesbian friends or family. The same sort of “Ah-ha” convinces them that convinced Pastor Schaefer. But a rush of good feelings for a child, sibling, or friend is not a careful consideration of the research, which indicates that the “Ah-ha” in most cases is wrong.

And while I’m all for good feelings, compassion, and love for children, siblings, and friends, it’s also wrong to make feelings rather than facts the center of public policy about marriage, family, and the emotional health of teenagers.

Publication date: November 21, 2013

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