Thursday, October 14, 2010

Why I think homosexuality is no more of a choice than your skin color

When considering any complicated topic, there are a few different ways I approach it as I try to form my own opinion. In general, I can usually sum up my approaches as:

1) Science/empirical knowledge
2) Logic
3) Personal experience

Where's the bible in this, you might ask? My perception of scripture heavily influences how I look at all three areas above! The text is so rich and so layered that I certainly include it in almost every major decision I make. But you've seen on this blog how I can dive into a passage of scripture and tie myself in knots with in-depth study!

Besides, on this topic (is homosexuality a choice) the bible is silent. So the three points above are what I've used to think about this, and all three approaches lead me to the same opinion.

Quick note before I begin: what I'm talking about here is homosexuality, the sexual and romantic attraction to people of the same sex. I'm not talking about homosexual behavior.

#1 -- Science

This one was pretty easy for me because the studies have been out there for quite a while. I won't cite them or link to them since they're readily available on the internet if you're interested, but there are two that quickly come to mind.

The first is at least 20 years old and was the result of scientists' efforts to better understand fetal development in the womb. Their discovery was that fetuses receive large rushes of hormones from the mother at different points in their development, and the amount of hormones greatly affects the growing fetus. In males, you can even recognize these effects by looking at finger lengths -- if the ring finger is significantly longer than the index finger, then he likely received a large rush of prenatal testosterone. And he's also more likely to be heterosexual. Less testosterone, his fingers are closer in length, and he's more likely to be gay. Sounds like an urban legend but the data supports it.

The second study is on brain anatomy and function. Hypothalamus size has shown to be correlated to sexual preference, and neuroscientists also discovered that gay people use their brains differently when given a mental task. Real-time MRI technology continues to show amazing things every year, and right now it looks clear that homosexual people have brains that look different and work differently from heterosexual brains.

If it's biological, it's not a choice.

#2 -- Logic

Our society has come a long way in dealing with people who used to be seen as "the least of these". Women's rights, minorities' rights, the end of child labor, and on and on... I'm very grateful to live in a country that continues to make a sincere effort to live up to the ideals of our founding fathers (equality and liberty).

But I say with sadness that it is still very difficult to be gay in America. Especially in some areas of the country. The South is notorious for this, and having lived most of my life in the South I can affirm that the reputation has been earned.

I've seen children mocked and brutalized for their sexuality. I've seen teens disowned by their families because they wouldn't "turn straight". I've seen adults cowering in fear that someone might find out about the secret they've been holding inside, terrified, for decades. (See here for a powerful video on this topic).

Who would choose that?

C.S. Lewis used this logic as proof that Jesus' resurrection was real -- he noted that only insane people would give up their lives for a blatant lie, and the disciples were all willing to give up their lives to spread the news of the resurrection. And they weren't insane.

Gay kids are giving up their lives every week in this country. Would they do that if they were faking it, or just to cause trouble?

#3 -- Personal experience

Lab results and news stories are all fine, but sometimes to really dive into a topic you need to put a face to it. A soul to it. You need a friend who is in the middle of the topic, living it.

I have gay friends. Some are single and still searching for a true love; others are partnered and hoping to have the legal right to marry one day. I can't think of any friends who are in a gay marriage, but I do have gay male friends who are currently married to women and are working through this massive challenge.

If they could flip a switch and be sexually attracted to their life partner, and leave behind the temptations to break their vows with men, I'm not sure if they'd do it. Being gay is part of who they are, and to me it's not right to just have them wish it away.

But it brings such turmoil to them on a daily basis. They haven't chosen it, and some of them got married in the hopes that over time the attraction to men would pass. It didn't.

They have faces, and souls, and are some of the most god-loving, respectful men I know. And they didn't choose homosexuality any more than I chose to be attracted to tall brunette women with nice legs and great smiles. My sexual preferences are just part of who I am, and haven't changed since I started becoming aware of them around puberty.

Wrapping it up

You certainly don't have to use my framework of these three approaches to the issue. But if you're starting from scratch and haven't really considered any of this before, you might want to do your own research on the science. You might want to think through the logic of what it means to be homosexual, the price that comes with it, and how Christians should treat them.

And finally, and most important, you might want to be a friend to someone who is gay. God has a way of blowing up our stereotypes and our prejudices one face at a time, and I'm so glad He's done that with me.


Steve H. said...

Interesting thoughts Michael. Do actions or desire create the label? For example, if a man is attracted to another man, but never engages in homosexual he homosexual?

If a man is attracted to and sexually desires a woman who is not his wife, is he an adulterer?


Steve H. said...

Ooops, in the second example I need to clarify that a man is attracted to another woman who is not his wife, but doesn't act on he an adulterer?

Debby said...

I know a woman who is well educated. Quiet. Funny. Kind. A hard worker. Vacations in third world countries where she works for the people there. She is an activist. She is a Christian. She lives the gospel. In a long term (20+ years) relationship. She is gay. She is Cara's godmother.

I don't believe it is a choice. She looked into my eyes one day, and she said, "If it were a choice, would I have chosen something that brought me so much pain, something that broke my family, something that made me an outcast virtually everywhere?" I tell you that there was so much pain in her eyes that I knew she was telling me the truth. I've never doubted it since.

Abomination? That's a big word. That's a judgemental word. It's not a word that man should be throwing around. It's God's word. In the end, he will decide who is an abomination, and I think that he's going to have a real problem with the bullies of this world who say spiteful malicious things designed to minimize others and to inflict pain. I think that he will tell them that they are an abomination. And I think they will cry to hear the word applied to themselves.

RedWifey said...

Michael George Wilson, I love you so much! I believe that you are reflecting our savior's desire for ALL to be shown love and compassion. May you be blessed as you tackle such an explosive topic with calmness, love for both sides, logic and reasoning. I'm so thankful that you are my partner and friend! Mwah, Mwah!

Redlefty said...

Steve, that's why I specifically defined what I meant by homosexual at the start of the blog. To me it simply means sexual and romantic attraction to the same sex.

So being attracted to a woman other than my wife doesn't make me an adulterer... it makes me heterosexual. Mostly, anyway. I hesitate to get into topics like Kinsey's scale of sexuality, with many people falling inside the two extremes.

Even if I improve in my humility, I know I'll always be an egoist. It's my bent.

And no matter how hard I try, I will always be an introvert. Even when I get real outgoing for a while, to serve a purpose. No matter how much my behavior screams "extrovert", I know that there's something deeper than the behavior that is the real me.

So in that sense, yes, I do think that sometimes the desire creates the label. I was heterosexual long before I started actually having sex. (Not due to lack of trying, ha!)

Steve, I'm not writing it off and I will continue to ponder this one -- great question!

RedWifey said...

@Steve, I would say, based on Jesus' instructions in Matthew, "Yes". Which is why, if you buy the science (which I do), then at the very core of this segment of the population they are homosexual. So, if your very nature is considered sin, how can you change that? It begs the question is there anyway they can ever be pleasing in God's sight...they are sin at the very core, and I don't believe that for one second.

The thing I do believe is that we are all flawed at the core, and it has NOTHING to do with where we fall on the sexuality spectrum. There is no cure for a sinful nature other than our savior. And as far as I can tell, the gap between His Goodness and mine has been bridged and He loves me unconditionally for forever.

And finally, I believe the distinction Michael is making between homosexuality and homosexual behavior is to address the issue you brought up on the last post about those women who are thrown together and have no other perceived option for the expression of their sexuality. To us, that's a different topic altogether.

Roland said...

Thanks for putting yourself out there. In some ways, a Christan saying gay isn't a choice is akin to a homosexual coming out of the closet.

I agree with you, by the way.

Bob Barbanes said...

Steve H. asks: "If a man is attracted to and sexually desires a woman who is not his wife, is he an adulterer?"

Why, yes! Of course he is.

See how silly it is when we feel the need to apply labels to everyone?

I am a human being. If someone persists is calling me "homosexual"...well, I guess that's their problem, not mine. I don't see myself as "homosexual" in the eyes of God, because I don't believe He "wrote" the Bible. I don't see who I am or what I do as a sin.

I see myself as - warts and all - a pure creation of a God who loves me. I see myself with Him after I die. I am not afraid to be judged by my Heavenly Father; I know he will gladly welcome me back.

If some other human wants to be persnickety and judge me harshly because I don't follow this or that "rule,"...well, again, that's their problem.

*MY* God is not hateful, spiteful, wrathful or vengeful, nor does He "demand" that I love Him. *MY* God loves us all equally. I do not need any book to tell me how to live. I have my God-given conscience, and the fine example set by the Son of God. That's good enough for me. It should be good enough for all of us.

Steve H. said...

I guess I'm in the middle on the "born" gay thing. I certainly agree that some people can be born with a pre-disposition toward same sex attraction (I believe people can be born with a pre-disposition to a number of things). But whether someone is "gay" can be attributed to any combination of factors including biological, psychological, experiential, and emotional.

When people against gay rights say its a choice and people aren't born that way, I respond, "Well its more complicated than that."

When people supporting gay rights say they were born this way and its not a choice, I respond, "Mmmm well its a bit more complicated than that."

Appreciate the discussion

Bob: I think my wife and most wives would disagree with you. They would consider sexual desire for another woman kinda normal and something to joke about...if I acted on it? Oh Dear Lord in heaven ;)

Debby said...

My husband might look at other women, but I don't think he desires them.

Am I naive?

Do happily married men desire other women? Is that really true?

Bob Barbanes said...

Steve, I cannot speak for your wife or any wives since I am neither a wife nor a woman. And okay, it's one thing to look. However, Debby asks a very poignant and pertinent question. Can a "happily married" man be attracted to and sexually desire another woman?

See, while some people might consider that "normal," I suggest that it might constitute being unfaithful.

Back on topic, I laugh when I hear someone say that being gay is a choice. I always ask them, "Oh? Did you choose to be straight?" If there is more than a microsecond of pause before answering, it tells me more about that person than I really wanted to know.

Bob said...

Wow, Michael, when you came back to blog-land, you came back strong! You are definitely stirring things up.

Great thoughts here, all. I have to let this perculate a little -- a lot, actually -- before I weigh in.

What confounds me is how your last two posts have elecited such great comments, but there were only two regarding the roles of women in church. Guess that's not as exciting.

Steve H. said...

Sorry Deb, I didn't mean to stir the debate in that direction and I agree with Bob and would suggest at a certain line, attraction can cross into unfaithfulness. My point was in labelling. Gore Vidal (no right winger) once suggested there are no homosexual people...only homsexual acts.

Bob B: I respect your thoughts and as a gay man you have a certain, obviously passionate, viewpoint. But I disagree with your argument about "choosing" hetrosexuality. You would have to admit there is a certain biological argument, and at the very least, reproduction of the species, that lends more credibility to hetroseuality being the "default" setting for our species

Redlefty said...

Roland, thanks as always! You know my bro-love for you runs deep.

Bob B, thank you for being one of the faces of this issue for us here. Changes the whole dynamic of the discussion in a very good way.

Debby, I agree with the others that there is a distinction between attraction and "desire" for another person. I'm attracted all the time, and don't think it's an issue. But I don't dwell on it or do anything to follow up on the attraction. Fortunately I'm not wealthy, famous or particularly good-looking so temptation doesn't come my way often. :)

Steve, there are all kinds of examples in nature of other species displaying homosexual behavior. So the nature/procreation issue isn't so clear-cut, and that type of behavior may indeed serve a purpose, even if it isn't to spawn the next generation.

Steve H. said...


I wouldn't use the actions of animals as an argument. Without being crass, sex "feels" good. Particularly the male of most species to put this tactfully... Ok, my wife's friend's dog enjoys gyrating on people's legs. It became a bit of a joke for us BUT it's an animal, doesn't know any better and it enjoys rubbing its "malesness" up against something warm. But I wouldn't say the dog was "gay" or "bisexual" or use it as an example to explain human sexuality.

Bob Barbanes said...

Steve, my point was only that straight people don't "choose" to be straight; they just are. No choice involved, don't have to think about it. Was it a choice for you?

I would say that anyone who does have to think about whether they chose to be straight, probably isn't, on some level at least, or at least not totally.

My views on this are not passionate. Regardless of what you consider to be a sexual orientation "default" and the correctness you assume it implies, I offer only this: Very simply, in the words of one of the great philosophers of all time, "I yam what I yam."

Roland said...


It's not as simple as using words like attraction or desire. What's more important is what you do or wish you could do or wish you could do if you wouldn't get caught.

I can find another woman attractive, but whether desiring her is okay is dependent on what I mean by that. Finding someone attractive is a pretty low bar. Is she desireable? Do I desire her? For most guys, desiring someone means that you would if you could. But, since it comes down to a bit of semantics...

I have a good friend who looks at the same women I look at. We are both attracted to them, but I look and move on, while he tries to get their attention and talk to them. He points them out and tries to get me to acknowledge that they are good looking, even when I look and am done with it.

He presses it with me because he wants to kid himself that's it's okay to be doing that. If they look at me and smile, I smile back and move on, but he goes and talks to them then gives me some crap about liking them to make them feel good, when it's really all about his ego and lack of a good relationship at home.

Roland said...

My last sentence was badly written. I meant "gives me some crap about liking to make them feel good."

Debby said...

You know, I just read these comments to Tim. I asked him if he was attracted to other women. He said, "I don't know what you mean?" I said, "Do you ever think 'man, I would if I could' I got the same look I get when I ask if my butt looks big. In other words, this question will not be answered. Red? Thanks for livening things up around here.

Hal Johnson said...

Great treatment of this topic, RL. We're a society largely based on fear and mistrust, a society that seems too much about pointing at the "thems."

I'm no bible scholar, but I've read the gospels, and I'll be danged if I ever noted one instance of Jesus condemning homosexuals. Not one.

Jon said...

Thanks for this post and all the comments. I agree entirely that the gospel doesn't give us any kind of licence to condemn people for their sexual preferences, whether these are chosen or biologically determined. Not only is the bible pretty unclear on the subject, even if it wasn't it's pretty clear about loving your neighbour and what that means.

Just two quick points, though.

1. Because something is "natural" that doesn't make it good or acceptable. It's in out nature to be adulterous, and also to be greedy, but we know these things are wrong. Controlling our nature and channelling it is what makes us human.

2. I think the real question is in our view of "sin" in the church and how it should be dealt with. While we pretend we don't most of us have a heirarchy of sins. Things like greed, divisiveness or agression are tolerated even if they do great harm. But for some reason (subject of another discussion) being in a same-sex relationship puts you beyond the pale.

Don said...

I don't believe homosexuals make a choice.....period. You gave great reasons they don't.

I didn't choose to be straight.