Letters to my sister, Part 2

November 9, 2011 | Viewpoints

In this second installment of our three-part series of back-and-forth letters, elderly twin sisters Faith Elaine Linton and Joyce Gladwell continue their conversation on the topic of homosexuality. (See Part 1 and Part 3.)

Back to your presentation on human sexuality. You are clear in your mind that, based on Genesis 1 and 2, homosexuality is not part of God’s original plan.

Let me take your position, and reason with you from there. Consider what I would call the “accidents” of the human condition, which we would both agree are almost certainly not part of God’s original plan. The list is long and varied, and might include many things, ranging from dwarfism and Down’s syndrome to cancer and schizophrenia. How do we treat people with these conditions, and what is our attitude to these people?

If homosexuality is also an “accident” of the human condition, and not what God intended, my concern is this: What is so different about homosexuality that we don’t approach gays with the same compassionate care and understanding that we give to the others on the “accident” list?

You would like all homosexuals to be “cured,” to be changed into heterosexuals. What if they don’t want to change, or if we don’t have the therapies to cure them even if they do want to change? How do we accommodate unchanged gays in society? That’s one of the questions I am interested in.

Thank you for the references you sent me, especially the study by the American psychiatrist, Robert Spitzer. I know you are excited about his study because it offers hope for a cure. However, I must point out the limitations of his results. Yes, his study does demonstrate that some [few] people, given psychotherapy, can make a major shift from a homosexual to a heterosexual lifestyle. However, there is a necessary condition for success: People must be strongly motivated to change.

All the gays in Spitzer’s study had reasons for change. For example, most were Christians who felt that the gay lifestyle conflicted with their religious convictions. Although all were motivated, only a few reported complete change. Most “still struggled occasionally with unwanted attractions.” Spitzer also acknowledges that, apart from his study, “many people are evidently content with a gay identity and have no desire to change.” I think that we will be sharing society with many unchanged gays for a while yet.

If gays are not to have the privilege of socially sanctioned unions, as heterosexuals do, what alternatives do you suggest? Would you impose celibacy on all gay persons? Is that realistic? If you don’t want gays to marry, do you not care that they will be tempted to engage in casual promiscuous encounters? Isn’t that what happens? Hence the spread of HIV/AIDS? Would you prefer that gays live their lives in isolation, without the stability of a socially accepted home life, subject to the risk of mental suffering, even suicide? Is that good for society, let alone gay persons?

If gays are asking for formal unions, what they are asking for is to live faithfully with one partner, to take part in the joys of family life, and to live with dignity and acceptance in society and the church. Gays in the church want understanding from the family group they cherish, their Christian community. What part of this list could you object to? Would you prefer what happens to some gays at the extreme end of the scale: promiscuity, disease, suffering and suicide?

Think, Elaine. Seek wisdom. Ask yourself: What does it mean to create policies for an imperfect world?

We are not yet in the promised new earth of God’s kingdom, so, when we make policies in this life, we may have to settle for less than what we consider ideal. And since we ourselves are still imperfect, the policies we intend for the best may do harm, rather than good. Do you want to be responsible for policies that cause suffering and increase temptation for a significant group in society?

Sorry, I get hot under the collar about this. Let’s change the subject.

The other question I am interested in is: How does homosexuality arise? The quote you gave sums it up nicely: “[W]hile genes play a part, so do socialization, conditioning and self will.”

I am reminded of the single-sex environment of our boarding school days. Remember the teenage “crushes”—romantic attachments—we developed towards other girls. There wasn’t a boy in sight. But we grew up to find heterosexual partners, and we left those same-sex feelings behind once we were out of the hot house of the same-sex boarding school. Could it be that some young people today, who fear they are gay, just need to be reassured that this will pass?

In today’s culture of gay activism, some young people may feel pressured to declare themselves to be gay and to take on a gay lifestyle unnecessarily. Perhaps the staff at our school were wiser than we gave them credit for. They never used labels such as “gay” or “lesbian.” They were wise, in that they tolerated the “crush” behaviour—the jostling for attention, the scraps of romantic poetry—as harmless, temporary and commonplace in a same-gender boarding school.

At the same time, they took stern measures to make sure that those feelings did not translate into homosexual activity. Remember the rules we found so ludicrous: No holding hands, no “mauling or pawing” allowed: no two girls to be in the same cubicle. The prefects were like hawks, making sure the rules were not broken. That way, “socialization and conditioning” to become homosexual did not happen. I am guessing about the other girls, but it was certainly true for us.

I imagine you are beginning to realize how complex this whole area is. Enough for now. Thank you for those references you sent me. They have given me more to think about.

Did you notice that quote in the Scripture Union reading this week, and how well it applies to us? “Together in fellowship we can help each other to avoid being too naïve or too overbearing.”

Your ever-learning sister, Joyce

Elaine’s response

Dear sister:

Your second letter was gratifying, in that you really seem to have considered seriously the responses I sent you. Moreover, you have articulated very clearly some of the practical implications of being gay. You actually stand in the shoes of non-heterosexual people, and think and feel like them and for them. I have never done that.

I am as puzzled as you are that we don’t approach gays with compassion, care and understanding. It seems so clear to me that, from God’s point of view, all deviations from his original plan are the result of sin. He hates every kind of sin . . .
as well as every instance of willful disobedience. At the same time, he feels an enormous pain and compassion for the persons so afflicted—persons he originally designed for intimate relationship with himself. Hence, the unbelievable act of redemption through Jesus.

Of course, I would like all homosexuals to be cured. Anything less would mean denying the power of God and the efficacy of Jesus’ work of redemption. But obviously the sovereign Lord is not about to wave a magic wand and heal everybody just like that. Lots of sin-damaged persons of all kinds have no desire to change.

What affirms my conviction, and gives me hope, is Spitzer’s finding that the ones strongly motivated to change from being gay were mostly Christians. The fact that not all of them were completely changed is in keeping with Christian experience with various forms of sin-damage all down through the ages. We don’t fully understand why yet. We only know that there is sufficient grace for every situation.

About permitting gay marriage, I can see that this might eventually become the solution adopted by many in the church worldwide. But I trust and believe that there will always be a remnant who will faithfully—and against all odds—work and pray assiduously towards the manifestation of God’s compassion, redemption and healing power in every kind of sin-damage, including homosexuality.

Incidentally, remaining celibate has often been a choice made by Christians and non-Christians, for various reasons and because of strong conviction. It is a viable option. Moreover, there is plenty of evidence that that kind of radical choice, which goes against our natural tendencies and desires, can prove enormously productive and fulfilling, morally and spiritually, for those who are called to such a life experience.

Love, Elaine

See Part 1 and Part 3 of this series of letters.

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I am an elder unapologetic lesbian, who on researching Malcolm Gladwell's nationality I accidentally happened on the letters between the sisters on homosexuality and religion. As a Jamaican woman who is a product of a same-sex school system, I totally relate to the debate - in total. How heartened I am be privy to such conflicting but cogent perspectives. I am eager to explore part 3. Thank you.

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