Many of the recent denominational statements on the topic of human sexuality make a clear distinction between being aware of having same-sex attractions, and engaging in same-sex erotic activity. Examples:

  1. The 1980 statement of the American Lutheran Church said,

    We believe it appropriate to distinguish between homosexual orientation and homosexual behavior. Persons who do not practice their homosexual erotic preference do not violate our understanding of Christian sexual behavior.

  2. The early draft of the 1993 version of the Catechism of the Catholic Church said, "Homosexuals do not choose their condition. For most of them it is an ordeal."
In contrast, it is not too hard to find on the web condemnations of "homosexuality". As in condemnations of having the orientation. The point of contention between the two camps is what is to be said of the celibate homosexual: do they exist? do they need to achieve "orientational conversion"?

So my question, for those who agree that there is a distinction, is how and when did such a distinction come about? Can it be found in treatments of the church fathers? Or is it a relatively modern distinction, coming about after seeing homosexuals in the community?

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    Homosexuality, in its modern sense of the word as a sexual orientation, is a complex phenomenon that involves romantic/sexual attraction to or sexual behavior with members of the same sex. The "how" part is probably a no-brainer, because everyone knows that you can't control how you feel; it just happens. However, you can control how you express your emotions. Some people willingly channel their emotions through socially agreeable behaviors; some people don't, seeing there is no justifiable reason to.
    – Double U
    Jul 6, 2013 at 12:51
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    I'm sorry, you misread the question. I'm talking about how a distinction in teaching came about.
    – pterandon
    Jul 6, 2013 at 12:58
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    I think it is a war between traditional beliefs and scientific discoveries that are directly opposed to traditional beliefs, which some people erroneously equate as being a war between science and religion.
    – Double U
    Jul 6, 2013 at 13:15
  • There's a Wikipedia entry on this: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Christianity_and_homosexuality
    – Chelonian
    Jul 6, 2013 at 15:22
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    The question should really be when did they get grouped together? The Bible doesn't really talk about sexual orientations of any sort - what it cares about is whether you act on your sinful desires or not.
    – curiousdannii
    Mar 19, 2014 at 3:28

1 Answer 1


In Catholic teaching, I believe the distinction was always there, although I am sure the idea of what sexual orientation actually is has developed along with our understanding of the subject in general

Like the distinction between instinctive lust/desire and indulging in it mentally or physically, so the distinction with homosexual attraction and indulging in it.

The catechism draft you quote (I have no idea how authentic it is, but that's not important) does not really shed any light on this question - A person may not choose to have homosexual attractions, anymore than a person chooses lustful attractions. This does not mean that the sexual orientation is born-in. In fact, from my lay-person-intensive analysis of the literature of the subject, we are pretty certain that sexual orientation, although biology plays a part, is not fully (max 50%) determined by biology.

SIDE NOTE pornography shows us "nicely" how malleable our sexual orientation is. the kind of things that a person can be conditioned to get turned on by, would scare the crap out of them before they get into it.

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