Homosexuality and the Bible – Part I

This is the first in a series of articles on the topic of “Homosexuality and the Bible.” However, the series will not necessarily be presented in consecutive blogs.

A Faltering Consensus

The consensus among conservative evangelicals is that the Bible provides the final and authoritative word on all aspects of life. Historically, there has also been broad consistency in how the Bible has been understood and biblical principles have been applied to a variety of moral issues, including homosexuality. However, this consensus seems to be slowly dissolving in the face of seismic shifts in the views of society toward homosexuality and those who engage in homosexual behavior. As society as a whole closely tracks with the downward spiral into the spiritual and moral abyss of homosexual behavior, very explicitly described by Paul in Romans chapter one, the church is following remarkably close behind. Behaviors and lifestyles that would have been broadly condemned as sinful by virtually the entire evangelical community just a generation ago are being increasingly viewed as acceptable and normal.

This naturally raises the question as to how this is even possible when the Bible seems to so consistently and unambiguously condemn such practices, and goes so far as to clearly warn of eternal consequences for those who would choose a homosexual lifestyle. Part of the answer may be related to some of the complexities that have not often been acknowledged or considered (or at least openly addressed in my experience) by many conservative evangelicals. When the hard questions aren’t asked or dealt with sufficiently, God’s people can find themselves ill-equipped to respond biblically when challenged—or they can find their faith shaken when they first become aware of some of the more difficult issues.

Note: Although some may find parts of this article to be controversial, my purpose is to show that an awareness of some of the more difficult biological issues surrounding gender and sexuality do not require us to abandon the historical, conservative evangelical position concerning homosexuality.

A Complex Issue

Perhaps the first complication involves the definition of homosexuality itself. Historically, homosexuality has been viewed as a choice and defined in terms of being a learned behavior rather than being an inherent aspect of someone’s nature . In other words, by definition, in this view, a homosexual is someone who engages in homosexual behavior. It is what someone does, not who someone is.

In this historically-prevalent view, homosexuality is considered to be unnatural, learned and morally wrong. This is consistent with the sense of justice which says that God would only condemn and judge evil behavior—things that we might choose to do, rather than those things over which we have no control – such as our gender, for example. On the other hand, those who may experience feelings of same-sex attraction, but choose to not act upon these urges are not generally considered to be homosexual and of course they are not guilty of sin if these feelings do not go beyond the realm of temptation. In essence, this view presumes that everyone is naturally a heterosexual at birth and that homosexuality is a life-style choice, often thought to stem from homosexual experiences while growing up, either through sexual abuse by older children or adults, or because of curiosity and experimentation.

However, a search of the internet for the phrase, “scientific studies on homosexuality” shows that opinion remains divided on the answer to the question, “Are homosexuals made or are they born?” Some studies seem to indicate that genetics may play a role in sexual orientation and that homosexuality has a biological basis, while other studies suggest it does not or are inconclusive.

For example, when asked if homosexuality was rooted solely in biology, gay gene researcher, Dean Hamer, replied, “Absolutely not. From twin studies, we already know that half or more of the variability in sexual orientation is not inherited. Our studies try to pinpoint the genetic factors…not negate the psychosocial factors” (Anastasia, 1995, p. 43). In addition, brain researcher Simon LeVay has acknowledged that multiple factors may contribute to a homosexual orientation (LeVay, 1996). (NART website)

And there are apparently additional issues that I had never even thought about until doing some research for this series. These do concern matters of physiology and biology, and should at least be taken into account as we seek to develop informed convictions in this matter. Though rare, some people are actually born with what is termed “ambiguous genitalia” which include characteristics of both male and female sexual organs – or internal sex organs of one sex, with external sex organs of the opposite sex. In this situation, at the chromosomal level most are still either males (XY chromosomes) or female (XX chromosomes), with no particular “sexual identity issues”. But in terms of social interaction and personal relationships, such physiological ambiguity can understandably present some very difficult emotional challenges, let alone spiritual ones.

In some very rare cases there are abnormalities such that there is a male / female mix at the chromosomal level. In less rare cases, the “intersexed” person is either a male or female at the chromosomal level, but primarily have the external genitalia of the opposite sex. In the latter case, even though, again, there may not be a conflict between their chromosomal sexual identity and their psychological sexual identity, there is a conflict between their chromosomal sexual identity and their physical appearance.

Such physiological factors seem to raise some important practical questions:

Biblically, with whom may a person with these congenital defects enter a marriage relationship and engage in sexual relations?

Are such people alone free to choose a partner of either sex?

Or must they marry someone who is of the opposite sex at the chromosomal level, even though they are essentially the same sex at the external physical level?

Or are they required to live a life of celibacy to remain morally pure?

Admittedly, very few of us will never encounter such a person and some may feel it is misguided to bring such rare occurrences into the discussion. However, especially for those of us in ministry, we have a responsibility try to find biblical answers to life’s questions that sometimes turn out to be more complex than we may have supposed. We must be able to give godly counsel to fellow-believers concerning their life-decisions in this area. Perhaps because of my background in science and engineering, as I have pondered this and many other issues in light of the Scriptures, I am frequently reminded of the care required to avoid repeating some of the blunders of the past—as happened with Galileo, for example.

And beyond these cases of physically inter-sexed individuals, there seem to be other situations that also require biblical wisdom and spiritual maturity to handle appropriately. In my experience, there seem to be “degrees” of masculinity and femininity such that these rather subjective areas are not defined by rigid boundaries marked off by our identity as either a male or female (even assuming no physiological abnormalities). Even when chromosomes are not an issue, hormones and other factors seem to be. Some men seem to have more effeminate characteristics and mannerisms, while some women seem to be “less feminine” in any number of ways. And there seems to be an unbroken continuum between the two, such that these characteristics may be more or less pronounced in any given person apart from any personal intent or desire to appear or act in a way that is gender-ambiguous.

When both biological and environmental factors are taken into consideration, it is not difficult to understand how and why some may experience genuine internal conflict and have to deal with truly unwanted sexual urges and temptations. And this is undoubtedly not limited to the issue of homosexuality, but to sexuality in general.

Furthermore, it seems that all of us have different areas of weakness and tendencies toward particular types of sin to varying degrees. Some struggle with anger, while others struggle with honesty. Some struggle with worry, while others struggle with fear. Some struggle with laziness, while others struggle with lust.  And while it is not too difficult for us to sympathize with those with whom we share common struggles, it can be difficult for us to understand how others can genuinely struggle with things that are not a particular problem for us. But the fact is that any struggle in any area can lead to moral failure if we fail to withstand the temptations that inevitably come.

Certainly there are those who simply choose to fulfill their sexual desire in sinful ways that are condemned by the Bible. There is a troubling and growing trend within the more conservative evangelical community that has existed for a long time within the broader liberal church—that of changing attitudes toward homosexuality. This behavior and lifestyle is being accepted on various grounds, including the argument that the Bible does not label as sinful committed same-sex relationships. In the next article in this series I will be looking at the relevant biblical texts to discuss whether or not such a position is biblically defensible.

On the other hand, we need to recognize that difficult genuinely physiological gender-related situations do exist, even though we may them awkward, distasteful or even repulsive. We all know of a few men who don’t exactly fit the mold of what is commonly considered to be “manly.” We all know a few women who are less feminine than others. Yet, during the twenty-five years I have been a believer, I don’t recall some of these particular issues ever being addressed or even mentioned in any context.

I think we have an obligation to both respond biblically to clearly sinful behavior, as well as to provide godly instruction and biblical counsel when fellow-believers experience problems that cannot be merely condemned as matters of choice alone. The sufficiency of Scripture allows us to confidently tackle the tough issues of life with neither fear nor apology. In a future article, I will delve into the matter of ministry to those who have particular struggles in this area.

4 Comments
  1. Is the “intersexed” individual the exception or is it more common than we realize? Can you give a percentage or guestimate on the number of individuals in the various categories?

    • Van,

      The information below is taken from the Intersex Society of North America website. Since these statistics should be independently verifiable, I am assuming their relative accuracy.

      Based on these statistics it seems relatively rare – which is why I suggested that many of us may never encounter such an individual. But the fact that there are exceptions – and that there seems to be some sort of continuum between masculinity and femininity – suggests we need to figure this out the best we can, of course. On the other hand, we can’t approach the Bible with a hermeneutic based on experiential exceptions any more than we can do so with experiential norms. The Bible interprets life. Life does not interpret the Bible. And although life may get ambiguous at times, I don’t think the Bible does for the most part – it’s usually pretty straightforward – particularly with regard to fundamental issues of morality. So, I’m going to give this my best shot.

      Dave

      To answer this question in an uncontroversial way, you’d have to first get everyone to agree on what counts as intersex —and also to agree on what should count as strictly male or strictly female. That’s hard to do. How small does a penis have to be before it counts as intersex? Do you count “sex chromosome” anomalies as intersex if there’s no apparent external sexual ambiguity?1 (Alice Dreger explores this question in greater depth in her book Hermaphrodites and the Medical Invention of Sex.)

      Here’s what we do know: If you ask experts at medical centers how often a child is born so noticeably atypical in terms of genitalia that a specialist in sex differentiation is called in, the number comes out to about 1 in 1500 to 1 in 2000 births. But a lot more people than that are born with subtler forms of sex anatomy variations, some of which won’t show up until later in life.

      Below we provide a summary of statistics drawn from an article by Brown University researcher Anne Fausto-Sterling.2 The basis for that article was an extensive review of the medical literature from 1955 to 1998 aimed at producing numeric estimates for the frequency of sex variations. Note that the frequency of some of these conditions, such as congenital adrenal hyperplasia, differs for different populations. These statistics are approximations.
      Not XX and not XY one in 1,666 births
      Klinefelter (XXY) one in 1,000 births
      Androgen insensitivity syndrome one in 13,000 births
      Partial androgen insensitivity syndrome one in 130,000 births
      Classical congenital adrenal hyperplasia one in 13,000 births
      Late onset adrenal hyperplasia one in 66 individuals
      Vaginal agenesis one in 6,000 births
      Ovotestes one in 83,000 births
      Idiopathic (no discernable medical cause) one in 110,000 births
      Iatrogenic (caused by medical treatment, for instance progestin administered to pregnant mother) no estimate
      5 alpha reductase deficiency no estimate
      Mixed gonadal dysgenesis no estimate
      Complete gonadal dysgenesis one in 150,000 births
      Hypospadias (urethral opening in perineum or along penile shaft) one in 2,000 births
      Hypospadias (urethral opening between corona and tip of glans penis) one in 770 births
      Total number of people whose bodies differ from standard male or female one in 100 births
      Total number of people receiving surgery to “normalize” genital appearance one or two in 1,000 births

  2. Dave,

    Very good article. I look forward to your discussion on answers we can give for the not so clear situations you bring up. This is not an easy topic.

    Paul

  3. I am a man who is a twin. Even though we share the same parents, birthday and much much more, there is one major difference.

    My twin brother is a homosexual and a pedophile. So why am I bringing this up: I have always believed and continue to believe that my brother’s homosexuality and pedophilia is a matter of CHOICE not genetics. I’ve made this point online and offline on radio, TV and newspaper discussing homosexuality.

    While we were both blessed to be baptised (against our will) in a church, I am honored and blessed now to be a disciple of our LoRD while my twin CHOSE the way he wanted to live.

    No comments necessary. Except this: thank You GoD, for Jesus.


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