Should gays be put in jail?

Dr. Warren Throckmorton

Should gays be put in jail?

Given the moderating attitudes towards gays in the United States, I imagine most evangelicals would say no, gays should not go to jail on account of private consensual conduct. Such conduct falls under freedom of conscience and no matter what  evangelical churches teach on the subject, people should not lose liberty over that freedom. Furthermore, most people are coming around to the view that same-sex attraction is not a choice, even if behavior is. Thus, the Supreme Court got it right in Lawrence vs. Texas when the high court struck down laws against homosexual conduct.

However in many countries in Africa and the Middle East, homosexuality remains a criminal offense. One American supporter of those laws is Sharon Slater, director of Family Watch International. Ms. Slater has said that she does not believe in violence toward gays but supports nations who impose lengthy prison terms on homosexual conduct. In my view, being put in jail is violence; Slater disagrees and refuses to oppose such laws

This coming weekend, the National Association for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality is having their conference in Phoenix, AZ. NARTH is a favorite go to organization for religiously conservative organizations, such as the Family Research Council, Focus on the Family and Scott Lively's Defend the Family International. NARTH's materials and articles provide foundation for the view that homosexuality results from poor family relationships, thus requiring treatment and not acceptance. FWI's Slater uses NARTH's materials to defend the notion that African nations, such as Uganda, should not relax prison sentences for proven gays. And for that NARTH has invited Slater to speak at their conference.

NARTH claims to be a scientific organization with no position opposing criminalization of gays. However, Slater is not a scientist and has no expertise in anything except lobbying foreign governments not to recognize the freedom of conscience for homosexuals.  

As a Christian, this bothers me. I don't think governments should regulate private consensual behavior. I certainly don't like it when Christians in Islamic lands are not free to engage in private worship in church or state their beliefs. I think Christians should be thankful for the freedom to speak and act in accord with conscience even when that allows conduct  Christians might otherwise oppose. 

NARTH's inclusion of Slater in what is supposed to be a scientific conference raises concerns about the credibility of NARTH as a scientific group. In addition to Slater, NARTH has invited Michael Brown to speak in a plenary session. Brown is a charismatic minister with no scientific training in sexuality. He will be there to outline threats he perceives from allowing gays to advocate for their positions. 

Many evangelicals are warned to fear mainstream groups like the American Psychological Association over ideological differences. However, it is clearer now than ever that the small group of mental health professionals in NARTH are promoting the other side of the culture war. On this issue, the APA has incorporated evangelical concerns in recent years. However, NARTH has moved more toward the culture war polarization as is indicated by their choice of presenters.