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.