"Homosexuality Getting Worse"
“Homosexuality Getting Worse” at the Religion and Culture Web Forum
Peale, Norman Vincent. “Answers to Questions.”
Look Magazine, December 11, 1956.
Don’t let the title confuse you. The Religion and Culture Web Forum, at the Martin Marty Center for the Study of Religion at the Divinity School at the University of Chicago, has hosted a discussion forum on Rebecca Davis’ recent essay, titled “’My Homosexuality Is Getting Worse Every Day’: Norman Vincent Peale, Psychiatry, and the Liberal Protestant Response to Same-Sex Desires in Mid-Twentieth Century America.” An excerpt from the essay is posted on the forum (the full essay is available in Gilpin and Brekus’American Christianities) with responses from Kathryn Lofton, Amy DeRogatis, and me.
In this essay, Davis reflects on a rare archival find: a file of over a hundred letters written to Peale in response to his advice, published in his nationally syndicated newspaper column, to a young man who asked for advice about homosexuality. The year was 1956. Here is the request and Peale’s response from the column:
Peale, of course, was the well-known pastor of Marble Collegiate Church in New York and an influential contributor to the genre we would today call self-help spirituality. Peale was one of many postwar liberal Protestants who brought therapeutic insights from the disciplines of psychiatry and psychology into Christian spiritual practice. The letter writers who responded to Peale advice, as Davis shows, offer a remarkable picture of the lived experience of men and women who struggled to makes sense of their same-sex attractions during the postwar years. Davis’ essay insightfully analyzes these letters and traces the ambiguous influence of Protestant therapeutic culture on both conservative and liberal views of the moral value of homosexuality.