God and Gays

Since my last post, I have continued to think about David Myers’ book “A Friendly Letter to Skeptics and Atheists.” In particular, I find myself thinking about a chapter on “God and Gays.” In this chapter, Myers suggests that “there is a Christian case for gay marriage.” His arguments are that: (1) Sexual orientation is not a personal choice, (2) sexual orientation is an enduring disposition, and (3) The Bible has nothing to say about an enduring sexual orientation.

I want to be careful about my role in such a discussion. I am a psychologist, not a theologian. So, although I have some personal opinions, I don’t really care to involve myself too much in debates about what the Bible says or doesn’t say. However, as a psychologist, I feel comfortable tackling questions related to human behavior.

I’ve looked into the science of sexual orientation fairly extensively, and I agree with Myers that sexual orientation (which I will define as having to do with the gender to which one is predominantly attracted) largely is an enduring disposition. It rarely changes. In cases where it seems like it has changed, more than likely, the individual really was “experimenting” with different sexual behaviors or perhaps was bisexual to begin with.

The reason why sexual orientation is enduring should be attributed to its causes. There appear to many biological factors that influence an individual’s sexual orientation. These include various genetic, neurochemical, and hormonal influences. To me, the most convincing evidence of this point comes from studies of rats (who also sometimes display homosexual behavior). Some research has shown that if you take a male fetus, during a particularly sensitive period of fetal development, and keep them from testosterone, they are considerably more likely to be homosexual after birth. Likewise, if you take a female fetus during this period, and give them testosterone, they are more likely to show homsexual behavior later.

In a sense, then, I agree with Myers when he suggests that sexual orientation is not a choice. Surely, if you define sexual orientation as I did above, it is not a choice. (If this is, at all in question, and you are heterosexual, try to change the gender to which you are attracted. . . I seriously doubt you’ll become attracted to members of the same sex with a simple choice).

On the other hand, it seems to me that sexual behavior is not completely driven by biology. To me, behavior is under an individual’s control. This is true even if there are strong biological impulses pushing one toward a particular behavior. Surely, individuals often experience sexual drives outside of marriage, perhaps before marriage or toward others besides one’s spouse in marriage. If we were to follow Myers’ line of thought about this, it almost seems that any behavior that involves biology should be considered morally acceptable. Thus, individuals should be encouraged to fulfill any sexual desires outside of marriage if they involve a biological component (which they all surely do). To push this argument even further, there is research showing that individuals who commit violent crimes show a biological predisposition to do so. Given this, should murder be considered morally acceptable? I’m actually not saying that homosexuality should be (or shouldn’t be) considered sinful here. I’m merely suggesting that this line of reasoning doesn’t really make sense.

I actually think I’m in good company here in distinguishing between sexual orientation and sexual behavior. C. S. Lewis once wrote in a letter:

“I take it for certain that the physical satisfaction of homosexual desires is sin. This leaves the [homosexual] no worse off than any. . . person who is, for whatever reason, prevented from marrying. . . Our speculations on the cause. . . are not what matters and we must be content with ignorance. The disciples were not told why (in terms of efficient cuase) the man was born blind: only the final cause, that the works of God [should] be made manifest in him. This suggests that in homosexuality. . . those works can be made manifest.”

I actually think there are three more important problems related to this topic within Christianity. First, Christians seem overly obsessed with homosexuality as being a problem. We have elevated this to be a major topic to focus on and come against, for example, making a major political issue out of gay marriage. However, there is little serious consideration of outlawing divorce, similarly mentioned in the Bible as being against God’s will. I think our focus on homosexuality actually reflects the inability of many people to humbly examine their own faults (which for about 98% of the population, does not conern a dominant homosexual disposition). Perhaps an even greater problem, though, has to do with Christians’ judgments against gays and lesbians and lack of empathy and compassion. If Jesus were alive today, my guess would be that gays and lesbians would be drawn to him because of his acceptance and compassion toward this issue. To the extent that this is not true today, the Christian church has failed to live up to its primary mission of embodying Jesus in the world. Finally, it strikes me as being odd that Christians make such a big deal out of homosexuality when there is so much premarital and extramarital sex occurring within the church and when Christian marriages and families appear to be no better off than non-Christians’. Being heterosexual and married myself, I’d much rather focus my attention and efforts on how to improve marriage and family (especially my own), rather than working myself up inordinately about homosexuality.

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7 Responses to God and Gays

  1. Ani says:

    Okay – my biggest beef with this is that every sin that is defined in the bible seems to be a detriment to either other individuals or society.

    I can see how a monogamous, homosexual relationship would be of detriment to society in the age the bible was written: no procreation. Medicine wasn’t able to keep most children alive past age 5. Clearly, as we enter into this age of overpopulation, homosexuality would be a boon to society. More children could potentially have caring and loving homes.

    I can see how every single other sin is a sin. It negatively impacts the lives of those surrounding the individual or society. I just can’t conceive of a god who believes a man and a woman whom love one another to be more ideal than the love of a man and a man or a woman and a woman.

  2. Dave says:

    Andy’s asked that in order to stir things up I make a comment out of the e-mail I sent him in response to this post. With a mental gulp, here goes!

    I’ve edited a bit to tighten up my writing.

    ***
    You start with three points. As an agnostic, I don’t find the third (that the Bible does not address the issue) especially important. I certainly do recognize that Christianity strongly affects the decisions many people in our country make about sexuality, so much that I grind my teeth nearly to nubs every time I wonder how many people in Africa may have died as a result of the claim recently spread there via the Catholic church that condoms do not protect a person against HIV/AIDS (see http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2003/oct/09/aids). But given a world that’s not entirely Christian, it seems fairest to approach this issue in ways other than content analysis of the Bible.

    I would quibble with your characterizations of biological influences as somehow more robbing us of choice than environmental ones. Of course, all people have genes and environment, and the two change each other in a myriad of fascinating ways, but aren’t the causes we study, whether nature or nurture, probabilistic in nature, nudging us towards certain behaviors or limiting our range of possible behaviors? I also think that environment may influence orientation more than you suggest i (my support: the LUG, or “Lesbian Until Graduation” phenomenon and the concordance rate for orientation in identical twins).

    The way we’ve typed people into orientations since Kraft-Ebbing’s time is laughable simple, when a much more psychometrically valid view would be to consider same-gender and opposite-gender attraction to be independent dimensions of personality, but the heterosexual/bisexual/homosexual trichotomy is deeply embedded in our culture. So … should people given the “homosexual” label be allowed to marry?

    The arguments for gay marriage involve acceptance, encouraging love, basic human rights, the need for adoption, the importance of being able to visit the ER to see the person you love when he or she is sick (a privilege I can take for granted), many historical precedents for same-sex partnerships, and the like.

    The empirical evidence involves the psychological health (quite good) of children raised by same-sex parents (despite what I consider libelous claims to the contrary), the rather enduring nature of orientation (well covered in your post), the self-description of most gay (and straight) people as feeling their orientation as simply a part of who they are, the hormonal evidence that you mentioned, as well as that involving Congenital Adrenal Hypeplasia, finger length ratios, etc..

    I find these so compelling that it seems irrational to me that we have not joined much of the rest of the developed world in approving same-sex marriage.

    Why haven’t we? My answer is the strong influence of organized religion.

  3. Andy, I agree with what you said…”Perhaps an even greater problem, though, has to do with Christians’ judgments against gays and lesbians and lack of empathy and compassion.” We all should not be judgmental about other people’s choices. The bottom line is that we all deserve to be happy and be loved.

  4. dobeman says:

    This is an issue I struggle within myself to square. On the one hand, being a born-again, God fearing, went to church three times a week when I was a kid Pentacostal, I like to believe that I believe everything the Bible says – hence homosexuality is a sin.

    Then again, I have nothing against homosexuals that just want to live out their life quietly. I have gay friends that I admire and respect as parents and professionals. I DO have something against flagrant homosexuals, just as I do Marilyn Manson dressing up like a woman and displaying body piercings.

    I am, at heart, a spiritual capitalist. I don’t think there are enough people willing to mass-support gay spiritual leaders (in major religious organizations) in the long term and if you don’t think it’s right that your pastor is gay…find a new church. It’ll sort itself out.

    But herein, I believe, is where most Christians have a catch…separating those otherwise “just like you and me” homosexuals, from the ones on TV and in the clubs livin’ la vida loca. I don’t care, necessarily, if my kids are around Bob and Steve, the suburban life-partners who drive Toyotas and do yard work on Saturday. It’s the “other” ones I don’t want sullying up the sanctity of marriage.

    But then again…God said “‘So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth.”

    Do my personal beliefs make me lukewarm?

    • RonFCCC says:

      dobeman,

      You say, “I believe … homosexuality is a sin.” But you also say, “Then again, I have nothing against homosexuals that just want to live out their life quietly.” Assuming that by that second statement you mean that you have nothing against homosexuals quietly practicing their lifestyle, I believe your two statements are inconsistent. The reason for that is summed up in two verses of Scripture (NKJV):

      1 John 2:4 “He who says, ‘I know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.”

      If homosexual practice is a sin, then one who persists in that behavior as a lifestyle cannot claim to know Christ.

      James 5:19-20 “Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.”

      To see someone living an admittedly sinful lifestyle that is a barrier to them knowing Christ, and do nothing to attempt to “turn a sinner from the error of his way,” seems to me to be a massive failure of love. A Christian must speak as clearly as possible of the sinfulness of homosexuality, not out of loathing for the homosexual, but out of the love that desires to “save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.” We are called to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15), and neither love nor truth can be neglected.

      So, the issue has nothing to do with whether a person is a “just like you and me” homosexual, or one who is more blatant in his or her lifestyle. It’s not about our comfort level. It’s about doing the often uncomfortable work of speaking truth to people who don’t want to hear it, but who, for their own sakes, desperately need to hear it.

  5. RonFCCC says:

    Thanks for the discussion of the physical roots of same-sex attraction. I find that helpful. And I certainly agree with the need for Christians to seek to understand and love homosexuals. However, when you talk about Christians’ obsession with issues like gay marriage, I think you miss something important.

    For the reasons I point out in my reply to dobeman, if the church does not bear clear witness to the sinfulness of homosexual practice, we fail to act in love toward those who are in, or who may be drawn into, that lifestyle. Legalization of gay marriage inevitably puts society’s stamp of “normalcy” on such relationships. For Christians to acquiesce in legalization while simultaneously proclaiming God’s abhorrence of homosexual relationships at best sends decidedly mixed signals to people who, as you say, may have same-sex attractions but must still decide whether to engage in a lifestyle of fulfilling them. Thus, it seems to me, for the Christians to not speak out against normalizing same-sex marriage in our society is to fail to love those who are struggling with that issue in their lives.

    By the way, divorce and homosexual practice are not comparable sins, since there are legitimate biblical allowances for divorce, but none for homosexuality. Besides, Hollywood stars aside, a person who divorces is presumably not committed to a lifestyle of divorce in continuing violation of God’s commands.

  6. Many thanks for composing “God and Gays | The Quest for a Good Life”.
    I personallywill certainly end up being returning for more browsing and writing comments in the near future.
    I am grateful, Kristal

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