For many Christians, religion is the foundation and centerpiece of their lives and helps them answer some of the “most fundamental questions of life” (Deutsch, Coleman, & Marcus, 2006, p. 593). However, religious beliefs can come into conflict with other aspects of people's identities such as sexual orientation. The purpose of this study was to understand the process by which gay, lesbian, and queer identified individuals with a Christian upbringing resolve conflict between their sexual identity and religious beliefs. Within this purpose, there were four research questions: (a) how do participants define the conflict between their sexual identity and religious beliefs? (b) what personal and contextual factors shaped their efforts to resolve this conflict? (c) what is the process by which individuals resolve this conflict? and (d) how do participants describe their resolution of this conflict?
Although some prior research has focused on the result of the conflict experienced by gay, lesbian, and queer individuals with a Christian upbringing, this study explored a new topic—the process by which individuals resolve the conflict. According to Padgett (1998), researchers should employ qualitative methods when they want to “explore a topic about which little is known . . . pursuing a topic of sensitivity and emotional depth . . . to capture the ‘lived experience' from the perspectives of those who live it” (pp. 7-8). This study utilized a grounded theory approach and included in-depth interviews with 15 participants who were selected using both maximum variation and theoretical sampling. The sample was diverse in terms of age, gender, religious background, and faith identification. Semi-structured interviews lasted from 50 to 105 minutes and took place over a span of 12 months, and transcripts were coded using grounded theory methods of open, focused, and axial coding. Throughout the study, the following techniques ensured trustworthiness: triangulation, peer examinations, member checks, a subjectivity statement, rich description, maximum-variation sampling, constant comparison, and memo writing.
Analysis of transcripts led to three conclusions: a) resolving conflict between sexual identity and religious beliefs is a five-stage process of internal conflict resolution; b) personal and contextual factors affect every aspect of the process of resolving conflict between sexual identity and religious beliefs; and c) faith development and sexual identity development are intertwined and fluid constructions for gay, lesbian, and queer individuals with a Christian upbringing.
Theoretically, this research advances the literature related to faith, sexual identity, conflict resolution, and transformational learning. Practically, it provides helping professionals and social workers with a working model highlighting the process by which gay, lesbian, and queer identified individuals with a Christian upbringing resolve the conflict between sexual identity and religious beliefs. In future research, the five-stage model of conflict resolution should be expanded to include individuals with other religious backgrounds and sexual identities.
Deutsch, M, Coleman, P.T., & Marcus, E.C. (Eds.). (2006). The handbook of conflict resolution: Theory and practice (2nd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Padgett, D. K. (1998). Qualitative methods in social work research: Challenges and rewards. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.