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FIRST-PERSON: Questions about 1997 paper: an explanation

EDITORS’ NOTE: The following statement was written by Patricia Schoenrade, professor and chair of the psychology department at William Jewell College, and distributed to students in response to a Dec. 6 Baptist Press story about a paper she coauthored about homosexuals in the workplace in 1997. One year after she wrote the paper, Schoenrade became a Christian and her viewpoint on homosexuality changed.

LIBERTY, Mo. (BP)–Today some students have come to me with questions about a paper I coauthored in 1997. The paper was entitled “Staying in the Closet Versus Coming Out: Relationships Between Communication about Sexual Orientation and Work Attitudes.”

As this title does not seem to fit with what many of you know to be my position regarding Christianity and life, I feel that you, our students, are entitled to a little more explanation.

The specifics of the paper are beyond the scope of my purpose here. The gist of the findings is that those who have ‘gone public’ as homosexual have more positive attitudes toward their jobs than do those who have self-defined as homosexual, but have kept that information from others in the workplace. The findings are hardly surprising. Is the article ‘pro-gay?’ It certainly has a supportive tone in that direction. And while the findings probably still hold, it is no longer research that I as a Christian psychologist would choose to conduct.

At the time of that research, I, like many others, believed it was possible to approach psychology value-free. Beginning about a year later, the fallacy of that supposition was gradually made apparent to me. During a period of about a year, a powerful, living God made it clear that He deeply desired our relationship to include all facets of my life. This God could no longer be compartmentalized as a mere component of my life.

As my Creator, He alone knows what is truly best for me. Psychology of religion is a professional area of focus for me, so this message was not one that I embraced easily. I understand what C. S. Lewis means in describing himself as “the most reluctant convert in all of England.”

Opening my life more fully to the influence of my Lord has not changed many of the topics that I cover in the teaching of psychology, nor has it changed significantly the skills I seek to develop in my students. It frequently influences my interpretation of the data before me and the questions I choose to investigate. I have been amazed at how much more integrity the psychology I had studied for years possesses when viewed under the explicit guidance of the Creator!

So my understanding of God’s moral law is informed by psychology as well as by my faith. I do understand the practice of sex between non-married persons to be harmful to our relationship with our God and therefore not something that I can or should encourage. I can and do befriend, respect, and love individuals who support behavior that I cannot affirm. The matter of desire is a different issue; I have many desires that our Creator will warn me against fulfilling, some because they are harmful, some because it is not yet time.

On the all-too-frequent occasions when I ignore those warnings, how grateful I am that His grace intervenes as I cope with the results. We are eternal beings and He is able to shape our desires to His eternal purpose.

I hope these thoughts help to shed light on the incongruity. Thanks to the students who took the time and effort to ask.

    About the Author

  • Patricia Schoenrade