Archived Sections, Commentary

Answering Merton Strommen, Part 1

The homosexuality debate continues

In defense of the current consensus scientific understanding of homosexuality
Charles R. Peterson, MD
Merton Strommen’s Counterpoint article in the January MetroLutheran is titled “In defense of the traditional understanding of homosexuality.” [Note: the title to Strommen’s piece was created by the editor]. It is
important to understand that “traditional” means that homosexuality is a “disorder” instead of a normal variant of sexual desire. The normal variant understanding has been the consensus scientific view of homosexuality for over
25 years. In medical diagnostic terminology, “disorder” means that homosexual persons have a pathologic abnormality — or are “sick.” It logically follows that treatment, if not a “cure,” should be recommended. This is implicitly
what Strommen and the dissident small minority of scientists he represents want the scientific premise of homosexuality to be. They feel policies should be based on this premise.
The important question is not whether homosexual orientation in some persons may spontaneously or with effort change. Rather it is how many homosexual persons (excluding bisexuals) feel a need to try change therapy and how many of
these experience success to be “happy” — with a celibate life or a lasting opposite-sex marriage. All evidence indicates such success is rare. Even Spitzer, the most credible source Strommen quoted, came to this conclusion.
Outside of special conferences, almost all ELCA members have not known of any homosexual persons with such experience of success. Yet Strommen wants this rare reality to be the scientific cornerstone of ELCA policy. Therefore, the
logical question is whether very rare success is a reasonable premise on which to base any institutional policy.
The practical effect of this premise is that it ends up being an effective way of making most homosexual persons who grew up in the church want to leave. It also makes those homosexual persons of integrity who are in the church in a
committed same-sex relationship feel treated as less trustworthy and capable than those who are celibate (with eligibility for ordination as the symbolic evidence). This double-standard policy is based on a double-standard premise
for which there is no empirical scientific evidence.
Whatever else such a “traditional” stance means, it is not consistent with consensus scientific evidence, logic, and ethics, which is the reason there was a change in the ?traditional? biological premise and consequent medical
institutional policies over thirty years ago. For the church, it is difficult to understand how Strommen’s “traditional, scientific” stance should be seen as “welcoming” to all homosexual persons, as the task force claims the ELCA
should strive to be.
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Peterson is a retired internist who has co-authored critiques of how some scientists and theologians misrepresent the current scientific understanding of
homosexuality in church-related discussions. These critiques can be accessed at http//
Peterson lives in Edina and Nisswa, Minnesota