Research & Insights

The Evangelical Anti-LGBT Strategy

The battle for marriage equality may be technically over, but the fight for LGBT rights rages on.  

On March 23rd, North Carolina passed a new anti-LGBT law, overturning Charlotte’s non-discrimination ordinance and blocking local government from passing nondiscrimination laws that would protect the LGBT community. Georgia Governor Nathan Deal recently considered and vetoed a similar bill that would allow religious groups to deny service to LGBT people.

As more and more states consider discriminatory laws targeting the LGBT community, it’s critical to understand anti-LGBT arguments if we are to counter them.

A new study by researchers Jeremy Thomas and Andrew Whitehead suggests that leaders in the evangelical community have developed a strategy for resisting the argument for LGBT equality that sexuality is natural, biological or a genetic component.

The study, published in the May 2015 issue of the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, analyzed 31 articles about homosexuality in the popular magazine Christianity Today. They found that while articles generally fell into one of three categories in terms of describing the origins of same-sex attraction, all of them ultimately framed homosexuality as immoral.

The first set of articles frame same-sex attraction as a choice and a personal preference, specifically one that is the result of sinful behavior. As such, LGB people can be “cured” by embracing religion, repenting and changing their behavior. Because a person’s behavior is a choice, LGB people can be held morally responsible for their actions.

The second set of articles frame same-sex desire as the result of environmental behaviors, such as inadequate parenting of a child or even sexual abuse. This argument suggests that while LGB people are not wholly responsible for their sexual orientation, they are in need of psychotherapy to help repair the damage done by their home life. Again, because LGB people can choose whether or not to enlist the help of a therapist, homosexual behavior is framed as immoral.

The third group of articles takes a physiological approach to sexual orientation, arguing that there is likely a biological or genetic component that influences attraction. These articles typically frame same-sex attraction in terms of “an incurable disorder,” on par with alcoholism.

Although articles in this third group do not suggest that LGB people are responsible for their sexual orientation, they do argue that homosexual attractions are “something to be managed,” typically through abstinence.

The researchers argue that all three frames have been developed by anti-gay evangelical leaders with a goal to persuade everyday Christians of the immorality of homosexuality. 

The authors note that many of the articles “purposefully presented their articles as providing answers to the omnipresent question of how rank-and-file evangelicals should respond to homosexuality. In particular, writers frequently encouraged their readers to think carefully about homosexuality and especially the nuances and pitfalls that the topic might present.”

The authors warn that arguments in support of LGBT rights “will continue to be ineffective due to the ongoing influence of the anti-homosexuality narratives that have been developed and used by evangelical elites and likely by many rank-and-file evangelicals.”

Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion

Jeremy N. Thomas, Idaho State University
Andrew L. Whitehead, Clemson University

Posted: March 29, 2016
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