Back in the 1990s there was talk that scientists had discovered a gay gene. I thought the problem was that if there was a gay gene, how is it passed on to the next generation? Also, what would happen if a homosexual was tested and found not the have the gay gene? Would the doctor have to explain to him, “I’m sorry, but the tests have come back and you’re not really gay”?
The gay gene hypothesis has now been discredited, Nevertheless, supporters of homosexuality still tend to believe that gays are “born that way” while opponents believe homosexuality is a result of external influences. It is another version of the nature/nurture debate.
I do not believe there is a meta-explanation for homosexuality, that is, there is not one explanation for homosexuality. There is evidence for both sides.
Many Christians believe that homosexuality can be explained by a person’s childhood. Typical of this is What Some of You Were edited by Christopher Keane, (Matthias Media, Kingsford, 2001), which was Christian Book of the Year in 2002. This book contains the accounts of six homosexuals who attribute their homosexuality to childhood abuse and/or emotionally distant fathers. Of course, if all that is needed to become gay is an emotionally distant father, three quarters of Australian men would be gay.
The editors may have not noticed, but five of six of the homosexuals had church backgrounds.
In Us Versus US (Navpress, Colorado Springs, 2016) Andrew Marin published the results of a survey, which had been reviewed by Dr Michael Bailey and Dr Mark Yarhouse, which concluded that 86% of LGBT had been raised in “faith communities”, which in the US usually means Christian churches.
The survey also revealed that 80% of LGBT people still prayed regularly and 76% were still open to returning to the church.
The Christian and gay communities are apparently more closely connected than most people realise. The cover of Us Versus Us reads,
“For decades now, we have found ourselves caught up in a culture war: US VERSUS THEM. The good news: There is no them. Our culture war has been a civil war. US VERSUS US.”
According to a 2007-2008 Barna Group survey, 27% of homosexuals in the US say they are born-again Christians, 58% said they has made “a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important” and 60% said their faith is “very important” to them. We may doubt whether they really are born again and new creations in Christ (I wonder the same the same about many heterosexual Christians), but I find it surprising how considering how badly the churches have treated gays that so many of them still choose to identify as Christians.
Because there are fewer Christians in Australia, I assume the percentage of gays with Christian upbringings would be lower, but two high profile examples are former Assembly of God minister Anthony Venn Brown and Tasmanian gay activist Rodney Croome who grew up in the Anglican Church on north west Tasmania.
If homosexuality can be explained by childhood upbringing and environmental factors, as some Christians maintain, is growing up in a church a factor in becoming gay?
Seriously, perhaps this explains the pain and anger which so many homosexuals have towards the churches. It is not just some marginalised people over there saying they are wrong. Why would they care? It is personal, more likely based on their own experience with being rejected and condemned.
Perhaps, the churches should think of gays as prodigal children, rather than the enemy.
Torn by Justin Lee, a celibate gay Christian, changed my thinking about the causes of homosexuality. He says he has a good relationship with his father, he was not abused, yet he still has homosexual feelings and he does not know where they came from (Justin Lee, Torn, Jericho Books, New York, 2012, p 21, 49, 74-77).
Justin writes how he described his childhood experience at an ex-gay conference which did not go down well, Afterwards, he was approached by a man who said he had a cold and distant father and an over-protective mother, yet he turned out completely straight. He tried to be the best father he could to his son and he is now gay (Torn, p 72-77). Justin also points out that attributing the cause of homosexuality to bad parenting can result in parents feeling guilty when their children turn out to be gay. It supposedly must have been their fault (Torn, p 122).
Justin is celibate. He has never acted on his gay feelings. There is a comic scene where someone quotes Leviticus at him about not lying with a man and he says he hasn’t (Torn, p 122). He believes that the Bible allows for married homosexual relationships and he really is saving himself for marriage. I think his interpretation of what the Bible says about homosexuality is wrong, but I respect his commitment to celibacy and his obedience to what he believes is God’s will. He is an improvement on all the fornicating and pornography watching heterosexuals in the evangelical churches. Yet, many Christians would ignore all the sinning heterosexuals in the church and condemn Justin for sins he has never acted on.
These examples would suggest that some gays are “born that way”. On the other hand, according to a 2015 UK survey, 46% of people between 18-24 years described themselves as completely heterosexual, but 58% between 25-39 years and 78% between 40-59 years described themselves as completely heterosexual. It looks like the younger you are, the less likely you are to be completely heterosexual. Unless they started putting something in the water back in the 1990s, the “born that way” argument looks flawed. There are clearly other social and cultural factors going on.
An article “Sexuality and Gender” in the Fall 2016 issue of The New Atlantis says, “There is considerable scientific evidence that sexual desires, attractions, behaviors, and even identities can, and sometimes do, change over time.” (Part One) and “Some of the most widely held views about sexual orientation, such as the “born that way” hypothesis, simply are not supported by science. The literature in this area does describe a small ensemble of biological differences between non-heterosexual and heterosexuals, but those biological differences are not sufficient to predict sexual orientation, the ultimate test of any scientific finding, The strongest statement that science offers to explain sexual orientation is that some biological factors appear, to an unknown extent, to predispose some individuals to a non-heterosexual orientation.” (Conclusion)
When the nature/nurture debate comes up, it is usually in the context of trying to explain the origin of someone’s character or behaviour, but we do not assume that if a person’s behaviour is a result of their nature and they were born that way, that it excuses their actions or they are not responsible for them.
Many Christians believe that we are all born that way, we are all born sinful, yet we are still responsible for our actions and will be judged for them, and it is still our responsibility to turn to God and repent and change.
Some Christians believe that homosexuality can be “cured”. There are ” ex-gay” ministries, like Exodus International, which has had some high-profile failures, such as when two of their founders left their wives for each other. Their critics claim that gay conversion programs and cures do not work at all. However, according to a study of Exodus in Ex-Gays? by Stanton Jones and Mark Yarhouse, 15% claimed to have been “converted” and were now heterosexual and 23% were celibate (Stanton Jones and Mark Yarhouse, Ex-Gays?, IVP Academic, Illinois, 2007, p 369).
In other words, 85% were still gay, if not active.
This is probably not much different from the Christian “success rate” in general, about 85% of those, who express an interest in Christianity or put up their hands at a service and get “saved”, later give up or “fall away”.
- In Torn Justin Lee makes the interesting observation that gay conversion programs do not so much cure homosexuality, rather they actually treat sex addiction among homosexuals. They may become less promiscuous, but deep down, the same sex attraction is still there (Torn, p 91).
Justin also relates how a Christian friend gave him a copy of Playboy in a brown paper bag to cure him of his homosexuality (Torn, p 110). He meant well.
It may happen sometimes, but it is really not Biblical to expect homosexuals to be “cured” of homosexuality and never have any homosexual thoughts ever again, any more than heterosexual men should expect to be “cured” of heterosexual lust and never have any lustful thoughts ever again.
The New Testament says that when we become Christians, we are given a new nature, but we still have our old nature. Paul tells us we need to put off our old sinful nature, put it to death, and put on our new nature in Christ (Romans 6:1-14, Ephesians 4:17-24, Colossians 3:1-17). Paul also admits that he still struggles with sin and does what the knows he should not do (Romans 7:15-25). The real Christian life is not one of never being tempted and sinning anymore, but one of struggling to resist to temptation through God’s grace and finding forgiveness when we fail.
Paul also wrote about he had a “thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:7), some unknown problem,
“Concerning this thing, I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (2 Corinthians 12:8-9)
God did not take Paul’s problem away. Rather, it was an opportunity for Paul to turn to God and depend on His grace and power to cope with it. In the process Paul was drawn into a deeper relationship with God.
If God had taken Paul’s problem away, his life would have been easier, but he would have been worse off because he would have missed out on the deeper relationship with God which came form his suffering.
As Christians, our goal is Christlikeness, a deeper relationship with God, not to have comfortable, happy, successful and easy lives without suffering. These things are often enemies of Christlikeness, drawing our hearts away from God and making us less dependent on Him.
In his book The Plausibility Problem Ed Shaw argues that it is a mistake to equate godliness with heterosexuality. He writes that “some of the most godly people that I have ever known are those who have experiences same-sex attraction.” (Ed Shaw, The Plausibility Problem, IVP, Nottingham, 2015, p 98)
To be clear, he is not talking about practising homosexuals who say they are Christians. Rather, he means those with homosexual feelings, but who choose to obey God and be celibate, rather than act on them. To do this requires greater dependence on God, His grace, strength and forgiveness. Ed says,
“Nothing has given me more childlike dependence on God than my same-sex attraction – and, after all, that’s what being a Christian is all about, according to Jesus (Mark 10:15). I so often don’t know how I’m going to stay sexually pure; I am so acutely aware of the weaknesses that could lead me into scandalous sin tomorrow, that I’m forced to depend on God in prayer. It’s my same-sex attraction that has again and again made me recognize the fiction that I can live an independent life without God’s help. Same-sex attraction and godliness do mix: in fact the spiritual chemical reaction they produce (if I can call it that) is very powerful indeed.” (The Plausibility Problem, p 101-102)
I was a single celibate heterosexual Christian for many years, so I think have some business advocating greater obedience and dependence on God through singleness and celibacy. However, it is hypocritical for married heterosexual Christians to expect gays to make a sacrifice in obedience to god which they are not prepared to make themselves, and expect them to remain celibate.
Both sides need to repent of the underlying problem of idolatry. In Romans 1 Paul writes how the human race worshipped the creation or created things instead of God who created them (Romans 1:25). Next, he is condemning homosexuality (Romans 1:26-27). It was only a few years ago that I understood the connection, how he got from one idea to the other.
In his book What’s So Amazing About Grace Philip Yancey writes about Mel White, a Christian ghost writer who has written for Billy Graham, Jerry Falwell and others, and his struggle with homosexuality,
“Despite these guilt feelings Mel finally concluded that his options narrowed down to two: insanity or wholeness, Attempts to repress homosexual desires and live either in heterosexual marriage or n gay celibacy, he believed to certain insanity. (At that time he was seeing a psychiatrist five days a week, and at a hundred dollars a session.) Wholeness, he decided, meant finding a gay partner and embracing his homosexual identity.” (Philip Yancey, What’s So Amazing About Grace, Strand Publishing, Sydney, 2000, p 164)
In his autobiography A Life of Unlearning Anthony Venn-Brown, a gay former Assembly of God minister wrote about “my desperation to find someone to make me feel complete.” (Anthony Venn-Brown, A Life of Unlearning, New Holland, Sydney, 2004, p 270)
Both these Christians have apparently made the mistake of assuming wholeness was found in homosexuality, rather than his relationship with Jesus (Colossians 2:10). This is idolatry, trying to find in something created the sense of wholeness, meaning, value and purpose that we are supposed to find in God.
Of course, everybody is guilty of this, not just homosexuals. Our churches are full of idolatrous Christians who find their wholeness and value in their marriages, families, careers and possessions.
Rodney Croome said about his expectations from the church, “I was a serious young man looking to understand more about the faith of my ancestors, to be uplifted spiritually, and to find the solution to the conflict between who I was and who I was expected to be. I found none of these.”
Rodney Croome is not the first person to feel disappointed and frustrated with the church.
Since so many homosexuals grew up in the church, it would suggest the church is doing something wrong. Before church leaders condemn homosexuals, they should see much of the existence of homosexuality as a consequence of their own sin and failure to preach the whole good news and proclaim that Jesus fulfils our deepest emotional and spiritual needs and makes us whole, and any alternatives, which seek to do this, even heterosexuality and happy families, are idols. If they had, then those who grew up in the church experiencing homosexual temptations, would have been more likely to turn to Jesus for the strength to resist their temptations and to find their identity and wholeness. If they had, there probably would not be so practising homosexuals.
But that would mean confronting the rest of the church about their idols too.
To be concluded.