The debate, I think, will be over whether sexual orientation is more like skin color or more like Parkinson’s disease. We are coming to understand more and more each year that sexual orientation–all of it, yours, mine, whether it be towards a member of the opposite or same sex–has some genetic foundation. The question then is what to do about it. For years, religious groups that argued against same sex practice said it was fundamentally a choice; now many of them are recognizing that in fact orientation (and the drives that stem from it) are more deeply rooted than that.
This simple fact, of course, must impact biblical interpretation, and should in theory change the way we argue over the matter. (I’ll point you, once again, to Kim Frabricius’ exposition entitled Twelve Propositions on Same-Sex Relationships and the Church)
But for those of us who argue for more inclusive positions for our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, we can’t assume that because we had that matter right we’ll win the day. Some are going to argue that we ought to use various therapies to remove homosexuality from the human condition. In fact, some are even beginning to make that argument today. Here is Roman Catholic priest Rev. Joseph Fessio, editor of Ignatius Press, Pope Benedict XVI’s U.S. publisher:
“Same-sex activity is considered disordered,” Fessio said. “If there are ways of detecting diseases or disorders of children in the womb, and a way of treating them that respected the dignity of the child and mother, it would be a wonderful advancement of science.” (from an AP Article linked at chicagotribune.com, free registration required)
Fessio is commenting on a recent article by Dr. Albert Mohler, the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, who raised these sorts of questions on his blog (entitled Is Your Baby Gay? What If You Could Know? What If You Could Do Something About It?).
Mohler is clear that he himself is dead set against abortion or gene therapy to reverse orientation (of course, he thinks liberals wouldn’t be so against it), but would consider perinatal hormone treatment if it would do the trick. Here are his ten points to end his essay:
Christians who are committed to think in genuinely Christian terms should think carefully about these points:
1. There is, as of now, no incontrovertible or widely accepted proof that any biological basis for sexual orientation exists.
2. Nevertheless, the direction of the research points in this direction. Research into the sexual orientation of sheep and other animals, as well as human studies, points to some level of biological causation for sexual orientation in at least some individuals.
3. Given the consequences of the Fall and the effects of human sin, we should not be surprised that such a causation or link is found. After all, the human genetic structure, along with every other aspect of creation, shows the pernicious effects of the Fall and of God’s judgment.
4. The biblical condemnation of all homosexual behaviors would not be compromised or mitigated in the least by such a discovery. The discovery of a biological factor would not change the Bible’s moral verdict on homosexual behavior.
5. The discovery of a biological basis for homosexuality would be of great pastoral significance, allowing for a greater understanding of why certain persons struggle with these particular sexual temptations.
6. The biblical basis for establishing the dignity of all persons — the fact that all humans are made in God’s image — reminds us that this means all persons, including those who may be marked by a predisposition toward homosexuality. For the sake of clarity, we must insist at all times that all persons — whether identified as heterosexual, homosexual, lesbian, transsexual, transgendered, bisexual, or whatever — are equally made in the image of God.
7. Thus, we will gladly contend for the right to life of all persons, born and unborn, whatever their sexual orientation. We must fight against the idea of aborting fetuses or human embryos identified as homosexual in orientation.
8. If a biological basis is found, and if a prenatal test is then developed, and if a successful treatment to reverse the sexual orientation to heterosexual is ever developed, we would support its use as we should unapologetically support the use of any appropriate means to avoid sexual temptation and the inevitable effects of sin.
9. We must stop confusing the issues of moral responsibility and moral choice. We are all responsible for our sexual orientation, but that does not mean that we freely and consciously choose that orientation. We sin against homosexuals by insisting that sexual temptation and attraction are predominately chosen. We do not always (or even generally) choose our temptations. Nevertheless, we are absolutely responsible for what we do with sinful temptations, whatever our so-called sexual orientation.
10. Christians must be very careful not to claim that science can never prove a biological basis for sexual orientation. We can and must insist that no scientific finding can change the basic sinfulness of all homosexual behavior. The general trend of the research points to at least some biological factors behind sexual attraction, gender identity, and sexual orientation. This does not alter God’s moral verdict on homosexual sin (or heterosexual sin, for that matter), but it does hold some promise that a deeper knowledge of homosexuality and its cause will allow for more effective ministries to those who struggle with this particular pattern of temptation. If such knowledge should ever be discovered, we should embrace it and use it for the greater good of humanity and for the greater glory of God.
One fundamental appreciation and two fundamental objections. He’s right about remarking that all human beings are made in the imago dei and must be treated as such. That’s helpful. And he’s right that our ethical landscape is about to be challenged with the new gene detection and treatment options on the horizon. We need more work done in this area.
But the rest of the argument isn’t consistent with that. Are we going to treat all of our orientation more like skin color or like a disease? Is our sexuality deeply something about who we are? The problem with this argument is that it isn’t consistent: if orientation has biological roots, the moral options for appropriate exercise of practices related to that orientation must be fairly offered. You can’t say that there is a morally appropriate route for fulfilling your God-given sexuality if you are straight, but not if you aren’t. The moral rules must apply equally; the must be able to be universalized. But Mohler falls into the argument that we mustn’t do that. And he does so because he falls back on an assumption of biblical condemnation of homosexual practice that is actually debatable. (Again, see above Kim Fabricius). Far better would be an extension of the biblical sexual mores towards homosexual partners, blessing unions and promoting monogamy among faithful couples and their growth into productive, mutually caring families. This would be to universalize the biblical teaching on human sexuality in a way that recognizes that the biblical authors didn’t write about same-sex relationships as we know them, but condemn what we all (should) condemn: gang-rape, pederasty, etc…
Second, this idea of treating away an innate human condition like sexuality is repulsive. This was experimented with in human history before with disastrous effects. I recognize that Mohler is against gene therapy and abortion for this matter, but how long until the next guy pushes this line further toward the abyss?
For what its worth, if I have a gay or lesbian child, I’m going to love him or her and encourage him or her to have a full, meaningful, grace-filled life, including one hopes a lifetime of happiness with a loving partner.