"Homosexuality: The Use of Scientific Research in the Church's Moral Debate" by Stanton L. Jones & Mark A. Yarhouse

Paul F. M. Zahl
Wednesday, June 6th 2007
Jul/Aug 2002

This very important book will strengthen the hand of all who seek to witness within the churches to a traditional ethic concerning homosexuality. It will also blunt the edge on the use of science-or, rather, pseudo-science-to intimidate proponents of the traditional view. This work reveals the face-behind-the-mask of the assault on the classical viewpoint that has come from homosexual advocacy groups both within and without Christianity by unveiling the self-interest that governs and directs the ferocity of their assault.

Jones and Yarhouse demonstrate that the use of "scientific" findings to batter the churches into changing the traditional Christian view is not scientific at all but rather pseudo-science in the service of something else. Jones and Yarhouse establish their case soberly and without polemic. In fact, they write less angularly than many of us who have fought in this particularly heated battle. The Christian community should salute them for the tone they have taken and for the spirit which they have been given. Moreover, their book has golden value for readers of Modern Reformation because its diagnosis of the problem of being human is rooted explicitly in a Pauline-hence an Augustinian, hence a Reformational-understanding of human paralysis.

What Does the Book Say?

This book argues, first, that science should dialogue with religion, and that reason, with the evidence that supports it, helps rather than detracts from our understanding of the Bible. Jones and Yarhouse are not post-modernists. They believe in data and the harmony of that data with the creation of God. They are also honest enough to spell out their presuppositions from the beginning:

Let us give away our punch line at the very start: We will show, persuasively we hope, that while science provides us with many interesting and useful perspectives on sexual orientations and behaviors, the best science of this day fails to persuade the thoughtful Christian to change his or her moral stance. Science has nothing to offer that would even remotely constitute persuasive evidence that would compel us to deviate from the historic Christian judgment that full homosexual intimacy, homosexual behavior, is immoral.

Secondly, the authors discredit the widely held notion that homosexual orientation extends to at least 10 percent of the population. They state that even if the percentage were that high, it would not directly affect Christian moral teaching. That is because Christian moral teaching is not based on polls. But they do demonstrate conclusively that the 10 percent figure is based on faulty statistics deriving from Alfred Kinsey studies of the 1940s and 1950s of men in prison. In fact, when males and females are combined, homosexuality almost certainly characterizes less than 3 percent of the population and is probably lower than 2 percent.

Jones and Yarhouse argue, thirdly, in a chapter entitled "What Causes Homosexuality?" that the best hypothesis for explaining homosexual orientation is "interactional." In other words, environmental, psychological, genetic, and also experiential factors interact to produce a person's self-understanding as homosexual. The authors show that the turn, in recent years, away from a psychological/psychoanalytical theory of homosexuality to a biological/genetic theory reflects a bias in favor of the latter because that would supposedly excuse or vindicate homosexual activity. That argument, so familiar to us now, goes as follows: If biology or my genes determine my orientation, then how can I possibly be held responsible for acting on it? If homosexual is the way I am, then how can anyone-and most especially the God who made me-blame me for acting out of impulses that I had no choice or part to play in creating?

Theologically, the argument comes out this way: God don't make no junk! He made me gay. Therefore, my homosexuality must be a part of his plan. And who is the Christian Church to tell him that what he created is bad? We hear this virtually everywhere. My own denomination, the Episcopal Church in the U.S.A., together with the United Methodists and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), are prone to take this position in official documents, as Jones and Yarhouse note without comment.

Fortunately, our authors see this argument for what it is: Christianity without the fall, theology minus original sin.

Even if the homosexual condition of desiring intimacy and sexual union with a person of the same gender is caused in its entirety by causal factors outside the personal control of the person, that does not constitute moral affirmation of acting on those desires…. At the broadest level all humans are heirs to a predisposition that we have not chosen and that propels us towards self-destruction and evil-our sinful nature. The plight of the homosexual who has desires and passions that he or she did not choose is in fact the common plight of humanity.

Jones and Yarhouse see the turn in the 1990s toward biological theories to explain sexual orientation as being so attractive to nontraditionalists because such theories appear to refute the traditionalists who are thought to believe that homosexual orientation is merely a choice. But we never said that. From Romans 3:23 to Step One of the Twelve Steps in Alcoholics Anonymous, we simply observed that the human problem is beyond choice. The human problem is a problem of bondage, to which the only effective solution must come completely from outside the situation. This is what we understand the gospel of Christ to be: a solution extra nos. The Good News is entirely beyond and outside ourselves. (On this vital point, see Rod Rosenbladt's brilliant tract Christ Alone in the Alliance's Today's Issues series, available online at

Fourthly, this book faces head-on the question of whether homosexuality is pathology. The authors' starting point is the 1974 American Psychiatric Association (APA) vote to remove homosexuality as a pathological psychiatric condition from their Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which is the official reference book for diagnosing mental disorders in America. Jones and Yarhouse report, again without an edge, that the APA vote circumvented normal channels because of explicit threats from gay rights groups to disrupt APA conventions and research.

They then discuss the elevated statistics of distress among homosexual persons, a statistic which is irrefutable whether it is due to the condition itself or to society's rejecting attitude toward the condition. They also review the evidence of promiscuity in the gay lifestyle and even among committed gay couples. The statistics shatter the myth of sexual monogamy among committed homosexual couples. And they conclude that the "clear evidence of relational instability and promiscuity among male homosexuals must figure as problematic for Christians." Fortunately, the authors exempt no one from such problems: all-Christian heterosexual married couples, non-Christian gay couples, all-fall, can fall, and do fall.

The book deals next with the question of whether homosexuals can be changed to heterosexuals. The authors admit that there are few confirmed cases of orientational change. They take their stand, theologically, on 1 Corinthians 6: 9-10: "Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were." That is what some of you were. The Apostle Paul indicates that some homosexual persons are no longer such. Jones and Yarhouse want to say that as long as there is even one case of a change-and there are such cases, although few-then we cannot abandon the possibility. But the core issue here is this: "The church's stance on homosexual behavior requires only that individuals be able to refrain from homosexual action and find a life of fulfillment in God's own provision in meeting their personal needs and not that they necessarily be able to become heterosexuals."

Finally, Jones and Yarhouse offer a five-part synthesis of Christian sexual ethics that is valuable and also uplifting to readers. This discussion may be the high point of the book. It consists of an ethic of obedience, by which we submit to the revealed will of God; an ethic of loyalty, loyalty to the recorded will of Jesus in the New Testament; an ethic of principle, for the most fundamental purpose of sexual intercourse is that it "was made by God to create and sustain one fleshedness in a male-female married couple"; an ethic of caution, not only on account of HIV and unwanted pregnancy, but also because sex before marriage increases, without one statistical shadow of a doubt, the likelihood of divorce after marriage; and an ethic of virtue, by which Scripture urges us to develop in self-control, trustworthiness, faithfulness, and purity.

This five-fold ethic of sexuality contributes significantly to the content of the book. Moreover, for Reformation-minded readers, it will be "a lamp unto our feet," for it takes very seriously that one empirically verifiable Christian doctrine, original sin. As the authors say,

Christians must … remember that because we are fallen, we are inclined to deceive ourselves, to rationalize-after the fact-the wrong behaviors to which we have committed ourselves. . . . [I]t is essential that we strive to pursue righteous living even when we do not understand it because it can be that in that state when we have been freed by God from the most egregious of our sinful behavior patterns that our moral vision will be clear enough for us to be more able to form true ideas.

Could Puritan theologian John Owen have said it better?

DoesHomosexuality: The Use of Scientific Research in the Church's Moral Debate have any defects? Well, there are one or two eccentric footnotes, such as the one concerning the Levitical prohibition against sexual intercourse during the menstrual period. And the book could be more appealing graphically. Because of the importance of its findings, this book should be in hardcover. But it is an overwhelmingly fine book, a book which I wish to send to leaders in my own denomination. "Lord, open the King of England's eyes!" (William Tyndale).

Wednesday, June 6th 2007

“Modern Reformation has championed confessional Reformation theology in an anti-confessional and anti-theological age.”

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