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Homosexuality isn’t a disease to be treated

By Janine Warrington

In anticipation of the Spokane Pride Parade next month, I would like to address a misconception that I have encountered in my church.

I recently had a conversation with my friend about why I support gay marriage as a Christian. He listened thoughtfully before responding. “But it’s not just about orientation,” he told me, “it’s about sex addiction.” He argued that men crave sex and that when they act on same-sex attractions, it is an effort to satiate this desire. After he had made a few more claims about members of the LGBTQ+ community, I asked him where he was getting his facts. He admitted that he didn’t have any references beyond his own “intuition.” My friend’s understanding of homosexuality is not uncommon within the realm of evangelical Christianity.

The Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health states that:

Sexual activities and relationships with members of one’s own sex are not considered signs or symptoms of sexual addiction. Sexual addiction, as well as some problematic sexual behaviors, is not defined by the type of sexual act or the gender of the sexual partner. Out-of-control sexual behavior is defined as sexual behavior that is acted out compulsively, with preoccupation (before and after the act), and without regard for the consequences.

Same-sex attraction is not a sign of sex addiction or any other sexual health issue. So, where does this idea that homosexuality goes hand-in-hand with sexual and psychological disorder come from?

Over time, traditional teachings and interpretations of Scripture have evolved from an understanding of same-sex behavior as sinful, to same-sex attraction as sinful, to same-sex attraction as an illness. In many Christian circles, homosexuality is seen as a sin in the same way that pride or greed or lust is. Since these attitudes are contrary to righteousness, God can help us turn from our prideful or greedy or lustful ways. Given these understandings of Scripture and human nature, one can see how Christians arrived at an understanding that homosexuality is not of God, and that through prayer and petition, members of the LGBTQ+ community could turn away from their gay ways.

This understanding has manifested itself in the development of conversion therapy, or ex-gay ministries. The largely influential global Christian ministry Focus on the Family holds that, “Many who experience homosexual temptations and impulses are responding to the Gospel message that unwanted same-sex attractions can be overcome. And as they seek pastoral and professional psychological counseling, they find that change and transformation are, indeed, possible.”

The story of Luis Javier Ruiz, survivor of the Pulse club shooting, has been in the news this week. Ruiz claims that he is no longer gay, after having found God. “Going through old pictures of the night of Pulse, I remember my struggles of perversion, heavy drinking to drown out everything and having promiscuous sex that led to HIV. My struggles were real! The enemy had its grip, and now God has taken me from that moment and has given me Christ.” Stories like this one perpetuate the idea that homosexuality is something that can be cured.

The problem is, this simply isn’t true.

Testimonies such as this one can be misleading. Often, when someone comes out as an “ex-gay,” they mean they have turned away from gay behavior, even though they are still attracted to members of the same sex. Author and activist Justin Lee says that failing to clarify what we mean when we say someone is “ex-gay,” is dangerous. “These ex-gay testimonies are usually intended to bring hope, but they end up being used as weapons against gay people…. It wasn’t good enough to abstain from sexual behavior, their friends would tell them. They had to become straight.”

It is also misleading because in his statement, Ruiz conflates homosexuality with substance abuse and promiscuity. These are not necessarily related. Plenty of straight people engage in heavy drinking and casual sex, and plenty of LGBTQ+ people abstain from both.

So, to my friend and to all my other brothers and sisters in Christ, let’s be clear about what homosexuality is and isn’t. It is not a disease to be treated or cured, and it is not something that goes away with prayer and petition. It is a natural orientation that some individuals are born with and it exists independently of other factors, such as sex addiction.

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About Janine Warrington

Spokane native Janine Warrington received her Bachelor of Arts in religious studies from Gonzaga University in 2017 and their Master's in divinity from Candler School of Theology at Emory University in 2021. Areas of interest include the history of evangelical America, sexual ethics, LGBTQ+ advocacy, and Scripture studies. They now lives in Atlanta where they work in public theological education. Outside of academia, Janine enjoys cooking, yoga, Broadway musicals, and bothering their younger sister. Pronouns: She/Her/They.

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