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Causes of sexual orientation

Beliefs of conservative Protestants

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Many conservative Christian authors who have written on homosexuality maintain that sexual orientation is not determined by one's genes. Rather, it is a chosen behavior that is largely determined by the person's childhood experiences. This belief seems to be based on theological influences:

  • Religious conservatives generally regard God as playing a very intrusive role in micromanaging every person's life, from conception to death. They believe that God is present at conception and influences the genetic makeup of the pre-embryo. They also believe that God hates homosexual behavior and considers it an abomination. Thus, to them, it makes no sense that God would intentionally create a genetic structure in the pre-embryo that will be likely to make that person mature as a homosexual. This belief leads some of them to reject genes as a cause of homosexual orientation. On the other hand, they believe that human beings have free will. Individuals can chose to commit moral or immoral acts. Some people choose what religious conservatives conceive to be the immoral lifestyle of homosexuality.

  • A second theological consideration is contained in the biblical verses 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 which is one of the main passages quoted by religious conservatives to show God's rejection of homosexuality. The passage reads:

"Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God." (KJV) 1

Many conservative Christians interpret this passage as stating that sexually active homosexuals will not achieve heaven after death. However, if they are saved by accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior during their lifetime on earth, then God will change their sexual orientation so that they become heterosexuals, and will admit them to heaven after they die. David Griffiths, for example writes: "...homosexuals can be saved through faith in Christ and can know deliverance like other sinners.." 2 They reason that being able to change one's sexual orientation would seem to imply that there is no genetic component to homosexuality; it is caused by one's experience, one's environment.

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However:

  • Most liberal Christians have a very different interpretation of this passage.
  • There is a near consensus among human sexuality researchers and mental health professionals that sexual orientation is not a matter of choice, that it is not changeable, and that it has a strong genetic cause.
  • Religious conservatives often point to studies of identical twins who were separated at birth and raised independently. If one is gay, then the other twin is found to be gay about 55% of the time. They reason that: since identical twins have the same genetic structure, then if homosexual orientation were determined by genes, 100% of the other twins would be gay. Thus they conclude that homosexual orientation is not genetic. This belief appears to be based on a misunderstanding of the roles of genes.
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Signs of change:

Change does not come easily or quickly to faith groups and para-church organizations. However there are some signs of change among religious conservatives concerning homosexuality.

Among conservative religious groups that offer therapy and counseling to homosexuals and bisexuals, there is a division of belief and approach to homosexuality"

  • The Roman Catholic Church teaches that homosexual orientation, and by implication bisexual and heterosexual orientations, are generally fixed, morally neutral, unchosen and discovered by the individual. However, it is a very serious sin for a person with a bisexual or homosexual orientation to engage in sexual behavior with a person of the same sex. Catholic therapy generally do not attempt to change their clients' sexual orientation; they motivate them to remain celibate and to live alone without being sexually active with a significant other for the rest of their life.

  • Conservative Protestant groups still generally teach that homosexuality is caused during childhood, either by poor parenting or by sexual molestation by an adult. However, there is a growing realization among some groups that:
    • Sexual behavior can often be changed if there is sufficient motivation, but that

    • Sexual orientation, defined as feelings of attraction, fantasies, self-identification etc. are fixed in all or essentially all adults.

Gradually these groups are accepting that homosexuals and bisexuals, like heterosexuals, can chose to lead celibate lives. However they cannot change their basic orientation.

The first signs of change are even surfacing in the conservative academia. Rev. R. Albert Mohler, Jr, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. suggested on his blog:

"There is, as of now, no incontrovertible or widely accepted proof that any biological basis for sexual orientation exists. 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. ..."

"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. ..."

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). 3

Dr. Mohler seems to be treating on thin ice with that last statement. He suggests an equality between homosexual sin and heterosexual sin. Some readers might conclude that since some heterosexual behavior is ethically acceptable, perhaps some same-sex behavior is also OK -- perhaps by committed married or civil unionized same-sex couples.

In response, Adelle M. Banks of the Religion News Service wrote:

"Mohler's view, in some ways, could signal a shift away from traditional evangelical thinking on homosexuality, from a condition that is changeable to one that is actually determined by genetics. ... In addition, the idea of genetically altering a fetus -- and which characteristics to alter -- raises deep ethical and theological questions about Christian parents' ability to change a baby they believe was created by God." 4

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References used:

  1. From the King James Version.
  2. David Griffiths, "2.1. Gentiles are lost sinners (Romans 1:18-32)," at: http://4-11.org/ [No longer online]
  3. R. Albert Mohler, "Is Your Baby Gay? What If You Could Know? What If You Could Do Something About It?," Dr. Mohler's Blog, 2007-MAR-02, at: http://www.almohler.com/ (archives section)
  4. Adelle M. Banks, "Mohler Says Gay Gene Should Be Manipulated, if Possible," Religion News Service, 2007-MAR, at: http://www.beliefnet.com/

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Copyright © 1997 to 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2014-SEP-22
Author: B.A. Robinson

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