Friday, May 16, 2014

A Better Conversation about Homosexuality (Part 5): Not about Nature vs. Nurture

     Are people born this way?  Or are they shaped this way by experience?
Photo Credit: McBeth

People often think the "nature vs. nurture" debate is extremely important.  

     For gay-affirming people, the argument for "nature" usually goes something like this.  
1. I was born gay.  I always knew I was different.  I knew from a very early age that I liked girls instead of boys.
2. If I was born this way, then God made me this way.
3. God doesn't make mistakes.  I am beautiful and good as God's beloved child.
4. My homosexual orientation is a good, God-given part of my nature.
5. I can live as a practicing homosexual and still honor the God who made me this way.

     For people who reject homosexual practice in all formats, the argument for "nurture" usually goes something like this.
1. Most gay people experienced some kind of abuse or poor parenting.  
2. Those experiences unfortunately warped the person's sexual desires toward homosexuality instead of their God-given heterosexuality.
3. Acting on those desires is a choice, and the gay person should pray and work for a reorientation to God-honoring heterosexual desires.

    Some people spend a great deal of time and energy trying to prove that homosexual desires stem from either nature or nurture.  However, all of these arguments are off base.

     First, even if someone is born gay, that doesn't mean God made them gay.  Some babies are born with holes in their hearts.  Some people are born missing a finger or a kidney or a lobe of the brain.  Some evidence suggests that even mental illness and alcoholism may be genetically hereditary.  Our world is broken and imperfect.  The fact that a condition is present at birth doesn't mean God desires that for that person or that God planned for them to be born that way.  
     For my gay readers, please hear this clearly: I'm not saying that being gay is the same as having a birth defect.  I'm simply making a point that what IS is not always what SHOULD BE.  That's just a basic logical fact.

     Second, even if homosexuality primarily stems from misshapen nurturing, that doesn't mean much either.  The best science from across the religious spectrum says that sexual orientation is not actually a choice.  Identifying, practicing, or "coming out" as gay is a choice, but the actual orientation itself seems to be beyond our control.  See for example the open letter of apology by the founder of Exodus International - an organization that gained broad support for "re-orienting" LBGT people to a heterosexual lifestyle.  A homosexual orientation seems to be something people acknowledge rather than choose.

     Allow me to reference once again, my own denomination's official statement on this issue.  The statement as a whole is lacking in some parts, but it often hits on some deep wisdom, such as this:

While scientific experiments conducted to determine the answer to questions surrounding homosexual orientation have proven inconclusive, there has been no lack of theories put forth, appealing to genetic, hormonal, or physical properties. Another theory is that disordered family relationships can leave people confused about their sexual identity.  To date, there is no evidence upon which to draw any of these conclusions. We need to be careful about accepting uncritically the so-called scientific findings on either side of the homosexuality debate. Research is still in progress, and much of it is twisted by the personal agendas of researchers. The fact is that there is presently no scientific explanation for why some people are homosexual. As pastoral leaders we do not wait for scientific explanation to determine our pastoral role in this matter. The one thing that we do know from walking with people in a fallen world is that homosexuality is real,and sooner or later we may be asked to respond to serious questions regarding the attitude of the Church toward this important topic.

     In summary, we don't know why some people are gay or lesbian or bi.  The collective scientific evidence is inconclusive.  Also, why they are oriented toward same-sex attraction means absolutely nothing in terms of the ethical debate about gay marriage.  If it's nature, that doesn't prove that gay marriage is OK.  If it's nurture, that doesn't prove that all homosexual practice is wrong.  

If you're arguing for either nature or nurture, you're having the wrong debate.

     The reality is that the WHY is far less important than the WHO.  These are real people with real struggles and real hearts.  Leaving "nature vs. nurture behind" is a small step toward a better conversation with and for real people.

To read more in the "Better Conversation about Homosexuality" series, look here.
Part 1: A Better Conversation
Part 2: 4 Reasons We Need to Talk
Part 3: Not about Orientation
Part 4: Not about Promiscuity
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