Sexual Orienation (part 3)

 WARNING! This is going to be a long post. It will also be the last post I write on this subject. I will try and respond to everyone who responds to the post, and I will answer any questions, but this will be the last new post on the subject of sexual orientation (at least for a while). Thank you to everyone who has responded and interacted with me on this topic. Some of you interacted here, others on facebook, and still others in conversation.

 All of this started because I have been discussing this topic for years with students in my sociology classes. These students come from all over the world, all over the United States, and various backgrounds and religions. As a minister, as well as a teacher (and all my students know I am a minister) I have tried to approach this subject in a way that people from various backgrounds will feel comfortable sharing their thoughts without feeling judgment and condemnation from me. Part of the college experience is the free exchange of ideas and there are few things worse than a college teacher who does not allow for honest, open discussions. The moment students feel they are being judged and condemned they close down and shut up. So, in order to keep them talking, I have to be careful how I explain my views and beliefs. Once a student stops listening, I can no longer persuade and influence. My desire, in a college classroom setting, is not to win an argument, but to win an audience. Somehow, can I build a bridge between biblical principles and secular attitudes in such a way that students will listen to me, and respect what I say, even if they have a different worldview from mine or disagree with my conclusions? Somehow, by building that bridge, can I be salt and light in their lives? Of course I can’t expect them to respect my beliefs if I don’t first respect their beliefs and so I try hard to listen before commenting. Sometimes this is difficult because sometimes college students believe crazy things (but that’s another post). On my good days I try to live by the principle, seek first to understand before being understood.

With that as a background, here is an approach I have used that has opened up the door for me to further share my beliefs, and on a few occasions, has opened up the door for me to share the Gospel. The question behind all of these posts is as follows: Is sexual orientation a product of biology or society? Ultimately, as a believer, the answer to that question doesn’t matter and doesn’t change the biblical guidelines for sexuality. But that’s way too simple of an answer. Here is my answer, from what I hope is a sociological, biblical worldview, perspective.

The evidence for sociology or biology (nature vs. nurture) is unclear and controversial. People’s biases have affected their research on the topic and so a clear cut answer may not be possible. Chances are it is some combination of both, but even that is debatable. The one thing that is not debatable, and the one thing that seems to have a general consensus, is that people are born with a sex drive.  People are born with a physical desire to have sex and most people find sex pleasurable and enjoyable. Thus the common ground, and a good place to start the conversation, is this: Human beings are sexual creatures. Our desire for sex is part of our physical desires, and these physical desires are God ordained and God honoring.  The bible refers to these desires as physical, or natural, desires. Sigmund Freud considered our physical desires to be part of the id.

There are four basic physical desires. (There could be more than four, but there are least four, and these four are foundational.) These four physical desires are things that people as individuals cannot live without, or things that society cannot live without. These four basic physical desires are: (1) Food. (2) Drink. (3) Sleep. (4) Sex. In other words, if a person doesn’t eat, they will die; if a person doesn’t drink, they will die; if a person doesn’t sleep, they will die; and while an individual may not die if they don’t have sex, society will die if at least two people, somewhere, don’t have sex. (It should go without saying that the only type of sex that perpetuates life is heterosexual, but don’t get ahead of me.)

God created us with these physical desires. In and of themselves these desires are good and not sinful. However, God also designed regulations for each of these physical desires. Even though you were born with these desires, you are not free (from a biblical point of view) to express those desires any way you wish. Satisfying those desires outside of God’s regulations creates difficulties, abuses, addictions, and unhealthy lifestyles. Left uncontrolled, those physical desires, which were meant for good, become destructive to individuals, relationships, families, and societies. The bible has a very clear phrase that describes expressing these desires in an unhealthy way. It’s called “lust of the flesh” (1 John 2:16, KJV). In other words, when left uncontrolled, food becomes gluttony; drink becomes drunkenness; sleep becomes laziness, and sex becomes immorality. The bible clearly calls gluttony, drunkenness, laziness, and immorality, sin. 

If we were to change the subject from sexual orientation to food, how would you answer this question: Is a person born a vegetarian, or is being a vegetarian a result of something that happens later in life (a product of society)? Is there something biological about my desire for pies over cakes, or pork chops over chitlins, or is the food I like a somehow a product of societal influences? Maybe the answer is not as clear as I think, but most sociologists would say that we are born with a physical desire to eat, but the types of foods we like, and how we eat, and the manners we learn, and the silverware we use or don’t use, are a result of the socialization process. Our desire for food is biological. The types of food we prefer are sociological 

Why then can we not say that we are born sexual creatures, but how we choose to live out our sex lives—heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality, asexuality—is somehow a result of, and our interaction with, social influences? Society affects our decisions and choices far more than any of us like to admit. Society uses social norms to influence behavior and control the actions of its members. Most people in a society conform to the norm. However, every society has members of that society who will go against the social norms. But even those who go against social norms are still influenced by the norms. In a weird kind of way, rebelling against social norms is a form of conforming to social norms. 

Let’s stop and restate and review: We are born sexual creatures. Our sexual orientation is somehow a product of society. The social norm in all societies at all times has been heterosexuality (because of our human desire to perpetuate life and cultures); and so the vast majority of people in any society will choose to be heterosexual. Every society will have a certain percentage of members who choose to live outside the norm and will choose alternative ways to express their sexuality—homosexuality, bisexuality, asexuality.

The main objection I hear from my students about this approach is why would a person choose to be gay, knowing the discrimination and hardships they will face for that choice? My answer is that people every day, in every society, choose to live outside societies norms, knowing it will lead to difficulty. An example would be being gothic. People are not born goth, but they choose to live that lifestyle, knowing it will cause difficulty and discrimination. People are not biologically born Amish, but they choose to live that lifestyle, knowing they are going against the norm and will never be fully integrated into the broader society. 

How does this idea that we are born sexual, but sexual orientation comes later, stack up to biblical principles? I think it stacks up nicely. I admit there are weaknesses in this approach, but there are weaknesses in other approaches as well.

The main objection I hear from other Christians about this approach goes something like this: “God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve, and so there must be something biological about heterosexuality.” I will admit this is a very good argument, and I don’t have a very good answer. (I am still working through this part.) The best I can do is to throw out the possibility that immediately following creation, before Original Sin, heterosexuality may have been biological (but I don’t think you can be dogmatic about it). But because Original Sin (Genesis 3) damaged all of God’s creation (including us) things are different now (though God and His standards are not different). Because of sin we no longer live in an ideal, perfect world. We were created in God’s image, but because of sin, His image in us has been severely damaged. (Some would say destroyed.) Through faith in Jesus Christ we are recreated in God’s image. But when it comes to sexual orientation, right now the best we can say is that we are born with a sex drive, but how that drive demonstrates itself is based on society, which is also fallen. Furthermore, it would take another long blog to explain, but there is a theological case that can be made that the reason heterosexuality is God’s ideal is because sex (between husband and wife) is an illustration of what it means to be one with Christ.

I think, even though it is not perfect, my approach has three strong points: First, it places all of us (regardless of sexual orientation) on the same level. Everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, was born the same. This means one orientation cannot claim the moral high ground over other orientations and everyone can blame their biology equally. I think this is important because it builds the case that all have sinned and no one who is righteous. (Romans 3). This approach puts us all on equal ground and equally accountable to God for our actions and choices.

Second, it lays a solid foundation to speak consistently about immorality without signaling out any one sexual orientation. The biblical principle about sex is quite simple, and the principle is the same regardless of a person’s orientation. The biblical principle is as follows: When it comes to expressing oneself sexually, a follower of Jesus Christ as two choices, marriage (which the bible defines as one man and one woman), or celibacy. There is no third choice. Regardless of my sexual orientation, if I am pursuing holiness, then sexual activity is limited to marriage only. Any type of sexual activity (regardless of sexual orientation), outside the confines of biblical marriage, is equally offensive to a holy God. In order to experience the fullness of life that the scripture talks about, you don’t have to stop being who you are, or who you think you are, but you do have to live in obedience to biblical principles. Celibacy is a difficult commitment to make, and the bible teaches that only the spiritually mature can make such a commitment (1 Corinthians 7:7-8).

It has been my experience in my discussions with gay and lesbian students that when I explain my views this way, they are very appreciative. Their biggest complaint about Christians is the hypocrisy they see in their lifestyles being severely judged, while the lifestyles of their heterosexual friends are not judged as harshly. Yes, in the church, we say all sin is equal, but in reality, we treat homosexual sins different from heterosexual sins, and that is wrong! My gay and lesbian students may not agree with me, but they tell me they appreciate my consistency, and understand my beliefs without feeling like I have personally condemned them.

A third benefit to this approach is that it stresses learned behavior, and learned behavior can be unlearned. My approach, then, offers hope to people who want to get out of the lifestyle they are living; and what I mean by this is any lifestyle (heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, asexual) that is an abuse of sexual activity. Through the grace of God, and only through the grace of God, you can change your behavior.

Well, there you have it. Congratulations! You have made it to the end. I am still a work in progress, my thoughts are subject to change, and I reserve the right to later admit I was wrong. But I would be interested in your thoughts and opinions and questions about what you have read. 

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12 thoughts on “Sexual Orienation (part 3)

  1. Well Im glad you are even interested in caring and sharing.
    Funny, the food connection you mentioned is one of the things that really hit me during some of my early conversations with my loved one.
    I have had a strong conviction to unlearn (as you put it) some of my own sins first.
    I have also learned how difficult it is to practice what I preach.
    I would even say impossible in my own strength.
    If only we could just hit the trash button and delete the ugly things we have allowed into our minds and body.
    Of coarse we can be forgiven (thankyou Jesus) but we still have the consequences.
    Good wrap up!!
    Thanks so much!!

  2. Well thought out, well said and well written. Homosexuality, as a desired and accepted norm in our society, is just one of many social maladies and sinful behaviors that have become accepted as the norm. Sexuality as a whole, in all forms, has become so distorted and abused it is barely recognizable as the wonderful gift God gave us. We are all guilty, including the church, of propogating this social problem, along with many others. Sexual depravity has been one characteristic of every society and people who have ever died, because it kills the stength of the family, and strong families are essential for strong societies.
    Praise God there is hope an ultimate victory in Christ.

    • Thanks Rick. Thanks for being my friend. All my regulators have been serviced and 2 of my 3 tanks have been hydroed (sp?). Waiting on warmer weather to go diving. I love the pictures you post on facebook.

  3. A very good approach, Kevin. By now all the argument is cliche, but this is fresh. Your students are most fortunate to have you as their professor.

    There is one question I would like to pose. Evolution favors a diversity in genetic material. When two are homosexual the genetic vectoring ends there. I am wondering what the response is from adherents of evolution?

    • Hey Reece, I have wondered the same thing about evolution. Anything I would say would be speculation. You are more an expert on that subject than me. My guess would be they would see it as a mutation, or as a nonimportant oddity, just like homosexual behavior in the animal world.

      Maybe in some strange way, an evolutionist might view homosexuality as a higher form of sexuality that will become more dominant as we advance in technology to the place there heterosexual sex is not necessary to reproduce because all reproduction takes place in a laboratory where parents can design their own child. (Sounds like a sci-fi movie, doesn’t it?)

      Following Herbert Spencer’s “social-darwinism” I would guess some evolutionists would say to just leave homosexuals alone and to themselves, and they will eventually die out. (Remember, Herbert Spencer coined the term “survival of the fittest,” not Charles Darwin.)

      Again, these are just a few guesses at what an evolutionist might say.

      What’s your guess?

  4. Great posting, Carla and I have delt with this matter alot lately and we are saying the same thing. Thanks for all you do for the kingdom. Mark

  5. Kevin, I stumbled upon your blog yesterday from a post on FB. I find your posts interesting and thought-provoking. I appreciate that. I also find it interesting because you have a perspective, from teaching in a secular college, that most of us don’t.

    The post that I am responding to is the one that caught my attention the most. I would like to interact with you about it. First of all, I am still trying to absorb your idea of sexual drive being innate and orientation being largely determined by society. I’m struggling to determine if this position is coherent: logically, biblically, biologically, and sociologically.

    If I understand you correctly, you are proposing that human beings are born sexual creatures (with a sexual drive), but our orientation is a product of society. That would mean that as far as sexual orientation is concerned, at birth we would be clean slates, having no biological tendency to go one way or another. It would be like: I’m hungry – my first meal could be an orange, goat meat or rice. You also propose that the widely verifiable fact that the vast majority of cultures in all eras have opted for heterosexuality would be due to “our human desire to perpetuate life and cultures”.

    This is where I have my first problem. Putting biblical teaching aside for a moment, concern for reproduction is probably not the cause of heterosexuality. I would propose that pleasure would probably be a predominant motive for sexual orientation in general rather than reproduction. The perpetuation of the species and the culture would probably be a better argument for bisexuality (do what you want to do with whomever you feel like it and then have heterosexual sex for reproduction). I believe that the fact that the overwhelming majority of cultures choose to have heterosexuality as the norm, regardless of religion and other cultural inclinations, is a strong argument for heterosexuality being biological instead of sociological, even though in and of itself it can not be proof.

    I do like your emphasis in approaching the issue of how our sexuality is expressed by demonstrating that the biblical principal is either celibacy or sex in marriage – anything outside of that, whether it be premarital or extra-marital heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual in orientation is sin (it would be hard to say the same of asexual based on this argument). But then you would have to take it a step further and deal with the issue of defining marriage or else two homosexuals legally married could argue they are not in sin. Actually, this last situation does lead us to the conclusion that our sexual orientation does matter, not just where we express our sexuality (in marriage).

    In closing this long comment, let me ask you as a sociologist: is it accurate to say that historically homosexuality has manifested itself in a significant way only in decadent cultures? That is, great cultures that had peaked and were decaying.

    • Hey Ken,

      Thanks for your thoughts and insights.

      What I am proposing is a possibility that a person’s sex drive is biological, but their orientation is sociological. And it is only a possibility. There are people who argue both sides of the issue, and right now the science is unclear. Although it seems to be leaning toward sexual orientation (all sexual orientations) being biological. Ultimately, what I am proposing may be proved wronged. If that happens, I am ok with it.

      I stumbled upon this proposal accidently. I haven’t read anything by anyone who states it exactly like a state it. There are some who believe that all our behavior is sociological and that we all are born with a “clean slate.” It’s known as behaviorism. There are others, of course, who see everything we do as biological because we are nothing but animals acting on instinct. Those are two extremes. Most people fall somewhere between those two extremes. I lean more toward behaviorism.

      In discussing this issue with college students (many of who are gay, or have close friends and family members who are gay), I was trying to find a way to deepen the conversation and steer it away from “people being born gay,” which is what most of my students think. The problem was, if I said people were not born gay, some would challenge me and want to know if I thought people were born heterosexual. This was a trick question. If I said “yes” people were born heterosexual, then they would ask why couldn’t people be born homosexual as well. Eventually I had to admit that if I thought I was born heterosexual, I had to allow for the possibility of someone else being born homosexual. I did not want to make that concession (and I still don’t). Thus, saying all people are born with a sex drive, but orientation comes later, avoided that trap and was something everyone could agree on; and from there the conversation could continue. I am not dogmatic about it. I admit there are some flaws, but I do believe it is a better way to approach the subject.

      To me, in my opinion, your argument for saying heterosexuality is biological because most cultural has adopted it, doesn’t make sense because as soon as you bring culture into it, at that point it is sociological. But again, I’m not dogmatic about it. I just think if you believe heterosexuality is biological, you also have to allow for the possibility of other sexual orientations being biological as well.

      From a biblical standpoint I don’t think it makes any difference. If people are born homosexual then it is because of sin and the human race is no longer perfect. It would be analogous to people being born with a predisposition to alcoholism and drug addiction. However, among Christians I may be able to say that, but in a secular environment the moment I equate homosexuality with a disease, at that moment, I have lost an audience. Does that make sense? And so I avoid that argument at all cost. I think the easiest way to talk about the subject is to say we are born with a sex drive and then orientation comes later.

      Your closing paragraph is interesting and is difficult to answer from a sociological perspective. You are asking for a sociologist to make a moral judgment, and most sociologists would tell you that questions of morality are not sociological questions. Those are philosophical and theological questions. (Of course, as a theologian, I think the answer is yes; but in order to convince a sociologist you would have to quantify “decadent” and then do research to find causal relationships.)

      Now, I do know this, homosexual activity has been a part of most cultures throughout time. However, the label, “homosexual” is a relatively new label that has only been in existence for a hundred years or so (and the same is true for the labels heterosexual, bisexual, and asexual). In other words, in the biblical city of Corinth, many people (mainly adult males) would engage in homosexual activity, but they would not have identified themselves as homosexuals. (They would not have identified themselves as heterosexual either.) They would identify themselves as sexual creatures who had all kinds of sex for pleasure and reproduction. (Historically, I think you can make a case that part of the reason the Roman Empire fell was because of her gross immorality of which homosexuality was a part.)

      Other cultures have used homosexual activity as a rite of passage for boys. But again, they would not consider themselves homosexuals. For example, there is a culture in New Guinea who for centuries has performed a ritual in which young boys perform oral sex on older men in the belief that eating semen will make them more masculine. In that culture, this would be considered normal and not homosexual. I know that sounds strange, but there are strange customs all over the world.

      I hope I answered your questions. Thanks for asking.

  6. Pingback: President Obama and Same-Sex Marriage | Floods of Justice

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