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Journal of Homosexuality ISSN: 0091-8369 (Print) 1540-3602 (Online) Journal homepage: https://www.tandfonline.com/loi/wjhm20 When Christianity and Homosexuality Collide: Understanding the Potential Intrapersonal Conflict Nasrudin Subhi PhD & David Geelan PhD To cite this article: Nasrudin Subhi PhD & David Geelan PhD (2012) When Christianity and Homosexuality Collide: Understanding the Potential Intrapersonal Conflict, Journal of Homosexuality, 59:10, 1382-1402, DOI: 10.1080/00918369.2012.724638 To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/00918369.2012.724638 Published online: 15 Nov 2012. Submit your article to this journal Article views: 6324 View related articles Citing articles: 25 View citing articles Full Terms & Conditions of access and use can be found at https://www.tandfonline.com/action/journalInformation?journalCode=wjhm20 Journal of Homosexuality, 59:1382–1402, 2012 Copyright © Taylor & Francis Group, LLC ISSN: 0091-8369 print/1540-3602 online DOI: 10.1080/00918369.2012.724638 When Christianity and Homosexuality Collide: Understanding the Potential Intrapersonal Conflict NASRUDIN SUBHI, PhD and DAVID GEELAN, PhD School of Education, University of Queensland, St. Lucia, Queensland, Australia Reconciling sexual orientation with religious and spiritual beliefs can be challenging for Christian homosexuals, since many Christian churches teach that homosexual behavior is sinful. A qualitative study of 10 male and 10 female Christian homosexuals was conducted via semistructured interviews. This article seeks to explore the potential conflict between Christianity and homosexuality faced by the respondents. Participants’ life stories and experiences varied widely. A few respondents were unaffected by the potential conflict between Christianity and homosexuality, however, the majority were affected. Effects included depression, guilt, anxiety, suicidal ideation, and alienation. Implications of the findings for support personnel are included. KEYWORDS Christianity, homosexuality, conflict, interview Attaining a fulfilled religious and spiritual life (if that is something they desire) can be difficult for homosexual people engaging in traditional Christian organizations. This struggle often begins in adolescence, the time when most religious traditions try to nurture (and control) emerging sexuality within the context of religious beliefs (Buchanan, Dzelme, Harris, & Hecker, 2001). Unfortunately for homosexual young people, support and nurture may not be available within their faith communities, leading to distress, and potentially leaving them less able to embrace their sexuality (Barret & Barzan, 1996; Barret & Logan, 2002). Address correspondence to David Geelan, School of Education, University of Queensland, St Lucia, QLD, 4072, Australia. E-mail: email@example.com 1382 Christianity, Homosexuality, and Intrapersonal Conflict 1383 Intrapersonal conflict between Christianity and homosexuality is not a new phenomenon, and there is a developing literature addressing the issue. Rodriguez (2010) offers a good overview of the relevant research. Since the beginning of Christianity, most Christians have regarded homosexuality as morally wrong, which led to the position upheld today by most mainstream denominations such as Catholic, Orthodox, and also most Evangelical Protestant. According to Western religious views of homosexuality, debate about conflict between Christianity and homosexuality is easier to understand by separating the two main themes that are evident in the literature: nature and scripture. Moon (2002) has proposed two ways of defining nature: “natural” (this word emerged from the arguments based on a language of nature which entails different meanings) as relevant to science, to what may be experimentally observed in the natural world, and “natural” as interpreted from a perspective of morality. Similarly, scripture can be distinguished in two ways: “literalism” (word for word truth) and “contextualism” (truth is bigger than human language and must be understood in the context in which it is read, thus, enabling people to determine the greater truth within). Moon further points out that the focus of people debating the scriptures can be categorized as either modernist (those who believe that science brings more truths than what the scripture offers) or fundamentalist (those who believe that the written truths of scripture constitute God’s clear and incontestable will for all times). In recent years, some Christian organizations have propagated a more liberal interpretation of the Scriptures. One such organization is Integrity, which is a nonprofit organization that caters for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex (GLBTI) Episcopalians as well for those who are heterosexual (Integrity USA, 2008). Although Integrity acknowledges that the Bible is used to condemn homosexuality, they stress the idea that Jesus never addressed homosexuality during his time. Since Episcopalians have traditionally viewed scripture, tradition, and reason as the three sources of spiritual authority, it is reasonable to use scientific knowledge and personal experience along with God-given intellect to interpret the Bible (Integrity USA, 2008). Dignity is a Christian organization that is organized to unite GLBTI Catholics while at the same time promoting reform in the Catholic Church for the acceptance of GLBTI people as “full and equal members of the one Christ” (Dignity USA, 2008). Dignity views homosexuality from a positive perspective, mainly because they argue that the biblical texts have been misinterpreted by scholars and that contextually the “Bible texts do not address adult, loving homosexual relations as we understand them today” (Helminiak, n.d.). Many homosexual people have felt that they had to completely renounce their Christian identity when they identified as a homosexual. While renouncing religious faith may offer a solution to conflicts for some 1384 N. Subhi and D. Geelan homosexuals, there are some people for whom both their sexuality and their religious faith are important facets of their lives. These people typically experience significant intrapersonal conflict, and are the focus of the present study. Rodriguez (2010) states: . . .the issue of conflict is not just about the clash that can occur between gay and religious identities, but also about the anxiety that arises in a gay or lesbian person experiencing such conflict. (p. 9) Australia provides a logical setting for this study to be conducted because, in Australia, Christianity is the religion with the greatest number of adherents. Christianity is nominated by 69.7% of Australians as their religion when compared to other religions as recorded in the 2001 census (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2006). Despite changing trends, these figures suggest that many gay men and lesbians were raised within some form of Christian tradition. The struggle for those individuals who identify as same-sex attracted are potentially very difficult, especially if the person belongs to one of the mainstream Christian denominations (Yarhouse, Brooke, Pisano & Tan, 2005) or comes from a family that upholds the teachings of these denominations (Newman & Muzzonigro, 1993; Subhi, 2006). It is plausible that a gay or lesbian person growing up in a family with strict and conservative religious beliefs may find himself or herself in a different situation to another homosexual person who is raised in a more religiously liberal family. The aim of this article is to explore the experiences of gay men and lesbians with respect to conflicts between their Christianity and their homosexuality. In exploring the experiences reported, two specific research questions are addressed: 1. How have the respondents experienced and attempted to make sense of the potential conflict between their religious/spiritual understandings and their homosexuality? 2. What have been the personal effects on respondents of the conflict between their religious/spiritual understandings and their homosexuality? REVIEW OF EXISTING EVIDENCE Several studies deal with the potential conflicts that arise between Christianity and homosexuality (e.g., Brooke, 2005; Haldeman, 2004; McMinn, 2005; Shuck & Liddle, 2001; Yarhouse & Tan, 2005; Yarhouse, Tan, & Pawlowski, 2005). Several different approaches have been identified in trying to highlight conflicts that occur between Christianity and homosexuality. Rodriguez’ (2010) excellent recent review in this journal offers a thoughtful overview Christianity, Homosexuality, and Intrapersonal Conflict 1385 of this conflict and suggests ways forward for further research. He reviews the literature around (homo)sexuality and religion more generally, but notes that the majority of the work has been in Western contexts, in relation to Christianity, and with White participants. While Australia is a Western developed country, the present study is believed to be the first of its kind focusing on Australian participants, and therefore offers a complement to the largely U.S.-based literature (with exceptions such as Henrickson ). Adamczyk and Pitt (2009) offer an excellent review of the ways in which religious and cultural factors shape attitudes to homosexual people and homosexuality nationally and internationally. They use hierarchical modeling, with data from the fourth World Values Survey to explore micro and macro effects of religion and cultural orientation. Just across the Tasman Sea from Australia, Henrickson (2007) conducted a major quantitative study, supported by unsolicited qualitative comments, of 2,269 lesbian, gay, and bisexual New Zealanders on a variety of topics. He reported that lesbian, gay and bisexual New Zealanders have been “disaffiliating with Christianity at 2.37 times the rate of the general New Zealand population since 1966” (p. 1). Those who had been raised as Christians more typically supported that their religion had been a source of difficulty in their lives than a supportive force. Female participants were more likely to believe in a spiritual force than male New Zealanders. Many of the participants in the Henrickson study had chosen their sexual identity over their religious identity and rejected religious faith. Henrickson concludes, however, that “some LGBs have remained connected their religious traditions which demonstrates their resilience and their unwillingness to abandon faith traditions that have in many instances abandoned them” (p. 9). Schuck and Liddle (2001) found that nearly two thirds of 66 gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals in their research in the United States had experienced conflict between their religiosity and homosexuality. They concluded that the main sources of conflict for these individuals included denominational teachings, scriptural passages and congregational prejudices that resulted in shame, depression, and suicidal ideation. Many respondents mentioned that their religious denomination considered homosexuality sinful, and that homosexual people were viewed as bad. They stated that a few biblical passages were highlighted to condemn homosexuality, and reported being instructed to pray for forgiveness, making them feel alienated in their own congregations. These conflicts have been found to affect homosexual people’s cognitive and emotional wellbeing. Schuck and Liddle (2001) suggested that the most damaging consequence of anti-gay teaching was that many homosexual people expressed the feeling that they had been rejected by God and negatively judged by their religious communities. These authors suggested that the cost of feeling rejected by God and negatively judged by surrounding religious communities is considered to be more profound when it happens 1386 N. Subhi and D. Geelan to adolescents, who are often left with long-term negative emotions such as anger, frustration, and mistrust toward God (Yarhouse & Tan, 2005). It has been suggested that homosexual individuals’ experiences are bound to encompass a continuum of strategies to achieve reconciliation of the conflict between religiosity and homosexuality (Schuck & Liddle, 2001). If the homosexual individual happens to come from a close-knit family with strict and conservative religious beliefs, the possibility of losing their family, belief system, and community is so great it could result in the person attempting to alter his or her sexual orientation by undergoing conversion therapy (Haldeman, 2004), although the success of these therapies (along with how ethical they are) is debatable (Herek, 2003; Worthington, 2004). Those who have had an unsuccessful experience with conversion therapy may feel that they are left with the choice of having to change, challenge, or even abandon their religious or spiritual beliefs in order to meet both their inner-self needs and their homosexuality. If none of the actions taken are able to produce an acceptable (to the individual) outcome, resulting in extreme pressures and stress, a homosexual individual may contemplate or even attempt suicide. There has been evidence linking suicide and homosexual people reporting depression (Kourany, 1987; Kulkin, Chaurin, & Percle, 2000; Skegg, Nada-Raja, Dickson, Paul, & Williams, 2003). At the same time, studies by D’Augelli, Hershberger, and Pilkington (2001) and Remafedi, French, Story, Resnick, and Blum (1998) both found greater suicidal ideation and action in gay men as compared to lesbians, which may reflect the more negative attitude and greater victimization directed toward gay men as compared to lesbians (Pilkington & D’Augelli, 1995). From a more personal perspective, Ford (2001) shared his own experience when he was faced with the possibility of committing suicide after he was unable to accept the possibility of integrating Christianity and homosexuality. This led him to believe that “living my life as a gay man and going to hell seemed much worse than taking my own life while I was still in grace” (p. 79). This issue suggests that religion can play both protective and damaging roles in the lives of homosexual individuals (Yakushko, 2005). Barton (2010) used observation, autoethnography, and interviews with 46 lesbians and gay men to explore the experience of living as a gay person in the U.S. Bible Belt, surrounded by very anti-gay evangelical Christians and the associated cultural messages. Participants reported similar feelings of depression, low self-esteem, and worthlessness to those reported in the present study. Australians would consider Australian society to be much more open and tolerant than Bible Belt society; however, the fact that participants in this Australian study grew up within churches and religious contexts may have meant the attitudes and social codes they experienced were more similar to those described by Barton (2010). Christianity, Homosexuality, and Intrapersonal Conflict 1387 THEORETICAL CONSIDERATIONS Trying to understand a person’s internal experience is a challenging process. The construction of the inner life is unique to an individual (Kelly, 1955); this is influenced by the way in which the individual construes the context of the experience and by the environment, which creates meaning for the individual. Mahoney (2002) says “meaning reflects a basic human need for order, relationship and hope whereby these needs are satisfied by being actively sought, co-created and nurtured” (p. 749). In other words, meaning is constructed as a person works to establish an understanding of a situation. Meaning is capable of being a latent variable affecting our cognition, emotion, behavior, and psychological responses (O’Connor, 2003). In seeking to understand gay men and lesbians’ experiences more fully their religious and spiritual lives cannot be denied. Parents’ religious and spiritual beliefs are thought to have a direct influence on the way they raise their children regardless of age and life course effects (Myers, 1996). In order to provide support to gay men and lesbians who have experienced, or are currently experiencing, conflict in daily life between their Christianity and their homosexuality, a better understanding of the potential conflict needs to be obtained. Although experiences are unique to individuals and their surroundings, understanding the means by which others have confronted such conflicts would be useful in guiding those who are dealing with such conflict. It can be argued that the disorder that arises from internal conflict is a necessary element in the development of all complex systems such as human beings (Mahoney, 2002); however, such disorder can lead to both positive and negative outcomes for individuals. Mahaffy (1996) explores the use of the concept of cognitive dissonance, initially developed by Festinger (1957), to explore the ways in which 163 lesbians reconciled their Christian background with their sexual identity. Cognitive dissonance occurs when a person holds two (or more) different, incompatible beliefs at once. A wide variety of different strategies are used to reduce or address the dissonance. Mahaffy identifies internal, external, and nonexistent dissonance, and notes that different religious backgrounds tended to lead to different levels of internal and external dissonance, and to different strategies for addressing the dissonance. Strategies identified in Mahaffy’s (1996) study included leaving the church community, changing religious beliefs, and finding ways to live with the dissonance. Similar strategies for dealing with the potential conflict between Christianity and their sexuality were observed in the present study. Rodriguez (2010) uses the concepts developed in his earlier work (Rodriguez, 2006; Rodriguez & Ouellette, 2000) of identity conflict and identity integration. Conflict is defined as follows: 1388 N. Subhi and D. Geelan I defined the term “conflict” as the tension that can arise between a gay or lesbian Christians’ sexual orientation and their religious beliefs . . . In hindsight, however, the issue of conflict is not just about the clash that can occur between gay and religious identities, but also about the anxiety that arises in a gay or lesbian person experiencing such conflict. (p. 9) Drawing on work by Shallenburger (1996, 1998), Rodriguez (2010) also talks about identity integration, a process by which gay men and lesbians discover and evolve in their spiritual identities. The process of coming out to self and others is a key event in this ongoing journey, but it marks only the beginning of the process of integration. Drawing a stronger distinction between religion and spirituality, and ascribing religious opposition to homosexuality to the former is another part of the process. Shallenberger (1996, 1998) also explores the processes of questioning, reintegration and reclaiming in relation to spirituality on the part of gay men and lesbians. Rodriguez (2010) also addresses the use of cognitive dissonance theory, however he states (following work from Cooper and Fazio  and Jones ), that cognitive dissonance theory remains: “methodologically vague and difficult to operationalize [which] makes cognitive dissonance theory undesirable for use in research studies conducted in this area” (Rodriguez, 2010, p. 13). The area on which Rodriguez is focusing, however, is psychological research, specifically large-scale studies with a quantitative bent, and we feel that the concept of cognitive dissonance as used by Mahaffy (1996) remains useful for making sense of the qualitative data gathered in the present study. METHOD Respondents This research study involved 20 homosexual respondents comprising 10 male and 10 female respondents living in the Brisbane City area and surrounding suburbs. At the time of interview, the respondents’ ages ranged from 20 to 51…
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