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I Was Born This Way

Posted by Joshua Alexander on

(3 of 3 in this series)

Here are the few remaining defenses of pro-homosexuality theology I have been able to find. I hope that anyone reading this will engage the arguments with intellectual honesty and tenacity. If you’d like to comment feel free, just stay polite. (Note: This post is the third and final installment of a series dealing with homosexuality and Christianity. I encourage you to read the first post and second post before proceeding!)

“Paul only condemned uncommitted or abusive homosexual relationships, not committed, loving homosexual relationships.”

There is no evidence to suggest that Paul did distinguish or would have distinguished between committed and uncommitted homosexual relationships (to say nothing of the fact that many homosexual relationships are not committed). His intent is clearly to support the pattern put forth by God “since the creation of the world.” This language, by the way, echoes Jesus’s words when speaking about marriage as the God-given pattern. As we saw in the previous post, Paul’s language also uses words emphasizing the biological (physical) aspects of homosexuality. There is no need then to distinguish between committed and non-committed homosexual relationships, and again the “loving” part is irrelevant, as is discussed above.

“Lesbianism isn’t forbidden in scripture because the exact language only says ‘man shall not lie with man,’ not women with women.”

If this argument were to succeed, it would be a pyrrhic victory at best, since it defends female homosexuality at the expense of male homosexuality. The main failure with this argument is that it completely ignores Romans 1 where Paul talks about female homosexuality as sinful, instead dwelling on scriptures in Leviticus which prohibit a man from lying “with a man as one lies with a woman.” While it is true that the verse in Leviticus speaks specifically of male homosexuality, the entire chapter is also geared towards men in general. In a patriarchal society it was men to whom the rules were given, but that didn’t mean that women were exempt from those same rules. Rules regarding sexual behavior were generally symmetric, and it would have been redundant to prohibit women from lying with women, particularly in a patriarchal society. On top of this there is the fact that Romans 1 clearly denounces female homosexual relations in addition to male ones, leaving this objection with little on which to stand.

“The culture of Biblical times did not permit homosexuality, and prohibitions of homosexuality are merely cultural artifacts.”

Looking at the time and culture in which the Old Testament was written, homosexuality was not common in that region among the Israelites (when they were obeying), but was clearly practiced and accepted in places like Sodom and Gomorrah (not to bring in Sodom and Gomorrah as an example of homosexuality being punished). In the Canaanite cultures around during the exodus and after, homosexuality was not taboo and was apparently practiced in religious ceremonies, at the very least. In the New Testament culture in which Paul wrote, homosexuality was also common, particularly in the Greek culture (in which Paul spent a lot of time and to whom he wrote many letters). In fact, the term lesbian comes from the name of a Greek island, Lesbos, which was known for its homosexual practices. The implication of this argument is that the scriptures prohibiting homosexuality were written by people in a culture that didn’t accept homosexuality, and their views were merely echoing their culture, but the truth is just the opposite. References condemning homosexual behavior were addressed to highly different Ancient Near East cultures (from Hebrew to Greco-Roman) – nullifying the argument that scriptural passages against homosexuality are culturally bound and inapplicable to today’s society.

Furthermore, we don’t interpret scripture based on what was accepted at the time when it was written. If we did then not only would we accept homosexuality, but we would also accept adultery, fornication (sex before marriage), sex with family members, murder, idolatry, etc. as not being in contradiction to scripture. Interpreting moral commands in such a fashion makes for ever-changing moral guidelines, entirely at the whim of whatever is popular at the time, and for a very poor hermeneutic (interpretive principle).

“Homosexuality was only prohibited in the Old Testament because of the need to reproduce. This was so important that God killed Onan because Onan “spilled his seed.” Now, with lower mortality rates and less of a need for large families to supply a ready workforce in an agrarian culture, the reason for prohibiting homosexuality is no longer relevant.”

This is speculation as to the motive for the Old Testament command and also relies on a poor interpretation of what Onan’s sin was. The story of Onan is told in Genesis 38, where we read that Onan was given his deceased brother’s wife in a practice known as levirate marriage.

In levirate marriage the wife of a deceased brother (or other close relative) was given to a male relative as a wife, in order to produce an heir for the deceased. This both provided for the care and protection of the wife once the child was grown, and enabled the inheritance of land. There is some danger in this, however, because the practice could endanger the living brother’s estate. This danger is mentioned specifically in Ruth 4:1-12, where it is given as a motivation for avoiding such a marriage. The danger stems from the possibility that the man taking a wife by levirate marriage may fail to produce more than one child. Were this the case then while the deceased brother would have an heir, the living one would not!

The text in Genesis is clear that Onan didn’t want to produce a child that wouldn’t be considered his, so he deliberately avoided producing such an heir for his brother. The sin in this case was not the spilling of semen but the callous attitude towards his deceased brother and his wife. The spilling of semen simpliciter seems to have been of very little consequence in the Old Testament. While it did produce temporary ritual uncleanness, it by no means is ever elevated to something worthy of death.

The broader question remains of whether the motivation for prohibiting homosexuality in the Old Testament was merely to increase reproduction because of the need for survival. Again, this is pure speculation as to the reason behind the command, and it overlooks several important issues. First, it seems completely contrary to common sense to make homosexuality a capital offense when it would be easier just to force the homosexual to marry and procreate. Killing off those capable of reproduction certainly isn’t the best of way of growing a population. Second, the sin of homosexuality is listed among several other sexual sins condemned not for their inability to lead to reproduction (most of them could and would), but because of their moral repugnance. It is special pleading to insist that the prohibition of homosexual behavior should be taken out of context in order to justify this objection. Third and finally, this objection overlooks the New Testament prohibitions entirely, though much of the New Testament was written to Greeks and Jews not living in an agrarian society with a great need to reproduce. With no evidence in its favor and several strong points against it, it is hard to take this “Onan the Barbarian” objection seriously.

“Homosexuals are born gay, because homosexuality is genetic. In cases of male identical twins where one is gay, the other is gay up to 70% of the time.”

This argument (from FTBTMS) is flawed on multiple levels. Perhaps most amusing is that even if the claims it makes were true, it wouldn’t help show that homosexuality is genetic. In fact it calls genetic determination of homosexuality into question. There are two reasons for this. The first reason is that if homosexuality were genetically pre-determined, in cases of male identical twins where one twin is gay, the co-twin should be gay nearly 100% of the time. If the co-twin is gay only 70% of the time, this may indicate a genetic correlation but not genetic determination. This difference has been ignored and indeed scoffed at by gay groups, but it is significant because it is genetic determination that is the issue in question. I find it quite likely that there are some genetic effects operating in the formation of a homosexual orientation. But this is clearly not a sufficient cause of homosexuality, and I suspect it is not a necessary condition either.

The second reason that this argument wouldn’t show homosexuality is genetic is that the studies involving gay twins do not eliminate environment as a cause of homosexuality. One study (Bailey and Pillard, 1991) has found that in cases of male twins where one twin is gay, the co-twin will be gay 52% of the time for identical twins, 22% of the time for fraternal twins and 9.2% of the time for non-twins. While this data may be consistent with a genetic correlation, it is also roughly consistent with an environmental correlation, since twins are generally subjected to more similar environmental conditions, and identical twins markedly so. Thus it is possible that a correlation between the sexual orientations of twins could result almost entirely from an environmental effect, meaning that the twins became gay well after they were born. What would be needed to help remove the environmental factors would be a twin-study where identical twins were raised in separate and different environments, and even better would be a study that also contrasted these data with those raised in very similar environments.

Another problem with this argument is that, to the best of my knowledge, the 70% statistic is made up. The strongest correlation of which I am aware is from the study mentioned above, which has not been reproduced. It is theoretically possible that this is merely a gap in my knowledge and research, so I am willing to investigate studies substantiating this claim further, should someone provide them.

Genetic arguments are generally abused in discussions of homosexuality, though I believe the abuse is usually unintentional and springs from a media-reinforced misunderstanding of genetics terminology. Behavioral genetics in particular often causes a stir, because it attempts to connect behavior to genetics using methods subtler and less definite than the methods of Mendelian genetics. Consider that in behavioral genetics all of the following statements can be approximately true:

  • Such and such a behavior “is genetic”
  • There are no genes that produce the behavior
  • The genes associated with the behavior are found on such and such a chromosome
  • The behavior is significantly heritable
  • The behavior is not inherited

Contradictory as these statements may seem, they are coherent because of the subtle differences in the way the terms are used. For instance, heritable behaviors are behaviors that may be influenced by heritable genes. This doesn’t mean the behavior itself is inherited. The genes that influence the behavior may be known well enough to locate them with specificity, but this doesn’t mean that they cause the behavior.

Consider the behavior of basketball playing. It is possible that basketball playing is genetic and heritable, without it being inherited or the direct product of genes. Certain genetic traits such as extra height, hand-eye coordination and competitiveness may work together with environmental factors such as a “sports family” mentality and a strong basketball program in an area to strongly influence an individual to play basketball, but that is no guarantee. I have a friend who is 6’ 5”, athletic, great with his hands, and comes from a family that likes sports. What does he do? He plays a mandolin, and doesn’t like basketball at all.

It is worth noting at this point that not even the experts which have done twin studies and genetic analysis of homosexuals have construed their research to support the idea that homosexuality is genetically determined. This point is reflected in the fact that the APA has revised its position regarding the causes of homosexuality, as is reflected in their brochure “Answers to Your Questions for a Better Understanding of Sexual Orientation & Homosexuality”:

There is no consensus among scientists about the exact reasons that an individual develops a heterosexual, bisexual, gay or lesbian orientation. Although much research has examined the possible genetic, hormonal, developmental, social, and cultural influences on sexual orientation, no findings have emerged that permit scientists to conclude that sexual orientation is determined by any particular factor or factors. Many think that nature and nurture both play complex roles….

For more information on how genetics is used to study homosexuality, research the work of psychiatrist Jeffrey Satinover and check out this article at First Things about science and homosexuality.

“Homosexuals are born gay and…”

Arguments from genetics form just one part of a larger “argument” that I’ll call the “Born Gay” argument. I use quotes because I’ve never heard anyone actually turn this into a real argument, just so many jumbled thoughts that they think function like one. It is often injected into arguments as a sort of trump card, the importance of which is supposed to be understood by everyone but is actually understood by no one. Being born gay is used to justify claims that gays are unable to change orientation, that they don’t choose their behavior and that their lifestyle is moral. In fact, even if it were true that people are born gay, this fact would fail to support any of these claims. Let’s examine the claims one at a time.

It is simply a non sequitur to claim that being born gay implies that gays can’t change their orientations. It is possible that, even if humans have a default sexual orientation at birth, it is nonetheless malleable after birth. From a genetics standpoint, the genes we are born with are not always the exact genes we die with, because of a small amount of genetic drift as our cells replicate. Furthermore, remember that behavioral geneticists look for genetic influences over our behavior, not genetic determination of our behavior. From the standpoint of brain physiology, it has been discovered that there is significant flexibility in brain physiology. This flexibility, called neuroplasticity, can be and has been exploited by behavioral therapies to produce marked changes in both brain physiology and behavioral patterns. Finally, the existence of former gays who were “truly gay” and changed not only their behavior but their feelings as well stands as a counter-example to the claim that being born gay precludes the possibility of change.

What about the claim that gays were born gay and hence didn’t choose their behavior? This claim actually muddies the water significantly, because it excludes other possibilities and uses imprecise terminology or ways of thinking. The imprecision comes because of the difference between feelings and actions. Whether being gay is a choice or not depends on whether we are talking about feelings or actions. If we are talking about actions, then there is little question that gays choose to engage in homosexual activities. The alternative would be compulsion against their will such that they had no say in the matter, which clearly isn’t the case. This isn’t to say that gays aren’t influenced by their feelings (who isn’t?), but that they still had a choice regarding their actions. If instead we are talking about feelings then I, along with many Christians, am perfectly willing to grant that the homosexual doesn’t choose to be attracted to members of the same sex.

With this distinction between feelings (or if you prefer, orientation) and actions it is now possible to eliminate the false dilemma between being born gay and choosing to be gay that we just encountered. If we grant (only) for the sake of argument that gays are born gay, then that leaves us with three broadly logical possibilities regarding how they were born. The first possibility is that a gay was born with same-sex attraction only, in which case they didn’t choose the attraction but did choose to engage in homosexual behaviors. The second possibility is that a gay was born with homosexual behaviors only, in which case they didn’t choose their behavior but did choose their same-sex attraction. The third possibility is that they were born with both same-sex attraction and homosexual behavior, in which case they chose neither.

I hope it is clear that these three possibilities are not equally likely. A baby would not be born engaging in any homosexual activity or even engage in homosexual activity at a very young age. This would eliminate both the second and third options, leaving us with the possibility that gays are born with same-sex attraction and then later choose homosexual activities. I believe this is the most that the “Born Gay” argument could hope to establish, even granting for the sake of argument the possibility of gays being born gay, which seems unlikely.

Finally, we turn to the question of the “Born Gay” argument in relation to morality. Unfortunately, being born gay does nothing to establish that living in the homosexual lifestyle is moral. Claiming that a lifestyle is moral (or at least isn’t immoral) because one was born with an innate tendency is committing the “Is – Ought” fallacy, a type of non sequitur. In fact, people are born all the time with varying degrees of psychological tendencies that we consider immoral when acted upon. Consider those who have a predisposition to rage or alcoholism. Does innate tendency excuse abusive behavior? What of those that have a predisposition to pride, stealing, or marital unfaithfulness? Each of these tendencies can sometimes exert a nearly irresistible pull on an individual, but we nevertheless consider these behaviors sinful – even if they appear to harm no one. We do not think it unreasonable, in fact, to ask them to refrain from such behaviors their entire lives.

Thus we can’t base a discussion of the morality of homosexuality merely on how someone was born. In order to consider the morality of the homosexual lifestyle, we must have a coherent system of objective normative ethics – in other words, we need to have a consistent ethical system that applies to everyone and is binding. For Christians this is of course the ethical system that follows from the truth of the Christian worldview, so we return to the point that homosexuality is sinful. Of course, the primary problem for any person who is not a Christian is the same – sin in general, and the separation from God that sin causes. And we really are born this way!

“Romans 14:16— if I know gay couples that give glory to God with their whole lives, including their romantic relationships, it is hurtful and offensive for me to have someone speak of homosexuality broadly as wrong.”

This objection is mistaken for three reasons: it misinterprets Romans 14:16, it is circular (it assumes what it is trying to prove), and it consequently ends up being hurtful. Romans 14:16 by itself says “Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil….” The reasoning here is that since gay couples supposedly give glory to God with their romantic relationships, speaking against them would be letting a good thing be spoken of as evil. This interpretation falls apart when the verse is situated in the proper context. Even finishing the sentence (by including verse 17) and including the previous one (verse 15) makes it obvious that this passage isn’t talking about approving of sin,:

“If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”

Eating and drinking? How does that apply to a discussion about the morality of homosexuality? The book of Romans was written to Christians in Rome, some of whom were Jews, and some of whom were Gentiles. Consequently they had very different religious backgrounds. A look at the extended passage of Romans 14 reveals that Paul was addressing the Romans regarding the observation of holy days and dietary restrictions, which would have been very different between the two groups. The primary point of this passage is thus similar to 1 Corinthians 10:23-33, wherein Paul exhorts the Corinthians to protect one another’s consciences regarding dietary restrictions. In both passages, the principle is that the one with the weaker conscience should be protected, lest they be pulled into sinning.

Take, for example, the matter of alcohol. Drinking alcohol is not prohibited by scripture, and yet there are two groups of people today in whose presence I would not drink alcohol (not that I regularly do anyway). The first group are Christians who have a moral belief that alcohol is wrong, based on their traditions and not on the word of God. Even though I view this position as mistaken, I would not consume alcohol because they will view me, as their Christian brother, to be sinning.  It is not their disapproval that matters, but the fact that they may thus be encouraged to violate their own consciences. The second group are those who have struggled with alcohol addiction in the past. It is not appropriate for my freedom regarding alcohol to place temptation in front of someone who has been enslaved by alcohol. The end result in both cases is the same; if a person understands that eating certain foods is not sinful, the person whose conscience is not restricted should not use his or her freedom in such a way as to cause others to stumble or offend their own consciences, so that “what is for you a good thing [your freedom of conscience] be spoken of as evil.Thus the passages above never related to approving of things that are sinful, such as homosexuality.

Two other problems are apparent in this objection’s reasoning. First, it demonstrates a level of circularity, by assuming what it attempts to prove. It is assumed from the outset that homosexual relationships give glory to God, and hence are not sinful. The correct order of reasoning would be that, if God has declared such relationships sinful (and he has), then they are neither pleasing to him nor inherently glorifying to him (though of course God will ultimately use all things for his glory). Second, if Christianity is correct, then the loving thing to do is not to approve of homosexuality, but to maintain the biblical standard. It’s like insisting that a doctor just “skip the discussion” of whether or not a patient has cancer, and for them to instead to just approve of that person, cancer and all (with no “painful” treatment). If the person actually has cancer, that’s about the least loving thing a doctor could do, despite the fact that it is easier and doesn’t rock the boat.

Conclusion

We have seen that scripture is unequivocal when discussing homosexuality, and all challenges to the obvious biblical position regarding homosexuality are based not on serious attempts to discern what God has said, but on rationalization in defense of rebellion. There are, nevertheless, many sincere Christians who are genuinely confused on these issues. The above responses should serve to adequately rebut many of the typical claims of the pro-homosexuality theology movement, and can be especially useful in educating Christians who are a part of that movement.

When interacting with secular homosexuals (or anyone who is secular), however, I find it more useful to focus on the generic problem of sin and the solution to this sin problem that can found in Jesus’ atonement for us on the cross and his subsequent resurrection. In other words, it is more useful to focus on the truth of Christianity than it is to focus on the sinfulness of homosexuality. In fact, homosexuality may just provide the bridge point someone needs in order to be motivated to examine the claims of Christianity on more than a superficial level. Where the opportunity to introduce the Gospel is present, it is quite foolish to argue with a secular person about any particular sin. Don’t win the battle only to lose the war!

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