Is There A “Gay Gene”?
I read an article recently about Pastor Jim Swilley, the pastor of a Georgia “mega church,” announcing that he is gay. Pastor Swilley stated, “I know a lot of straight people think it is a choice. It is not.” He went on to say that he has known of his homosexuality since he was a boy.
Is it true that homosexuals have no choice in the matter? Are people born gay? More importantly, is this really the question we should be asking? We’ll get back to that. I’m not an expert on gender issues and sexual identity. I don’t pretend to be. So, I’m not going to be giving my expert opinions about those things, because I don’t have any. I am simply going to attempt to stick with what the Bible clearly teaches.
The “born gay” argument for homosexuality states that same-sex attraction is natural to some individuals in that it is genetically determined, not freely chosen. It would stand to reason that if homosexuality is genetically determined, it cannot be resisted or changed and, therefore, must be morally permissible. How could it be otherwise? To condemn it would be condemning someone for something that was out of their control. Most gay people say that they’ve been attracted to the same sex for as long as they can remember, just as heterosexuals would say about their sexual preference. So it’s natural to them.
There are two ways that the argument for homosexuality is promoted: first, by pointing to genetic studies related to same-sex attraction; and second, by an appeal to personal experience.
The field of genetics has not discovered a “gay gene.” Many scientists think homosexuality is caused by a complex combination of genes, brain chemistry and psychosocial factors. Consider the following excerpt from the American Psychological Association’s publication, “Answers to Your Questions: For a Better Understanding of Sexual Orientation and Homosexuality“:
“There is no consensus among scientists about the exact reasons that an individual develops a heterosexual, bisexual, gay, or lesbian orientation. Although much research has examined the possible genetic, hormonal, developmental, social, and cultural influences on sexual orientation, no findings have emerged that permit scientists to conclude that sexual orientation is determined by any particular factor or factors.”
In other words, there is no “gay gene.” If science were to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that homosexuality isn’t genetically determined (they already have), gay people would not feel any less convinced that they were born gay. In other words, gay people wouldn’t automatically walk away from their lifestyle on the basis of what a scientist found in a laboratory.
However, if science someday proved that murderers are born murderers in the same way that many gay people believe they are born gay, it would be safe to say that gay people wouldn’t conclude that murder is morally permissible for those who are “born that way.”
What the argument seems to boil down to then is that some gay people believe they were born gay because they are naturally attracted to their sex. The desire wasn’t coerced, or forced, or acquired after years of trying, it just sort of developed as naturally as the ability to walk and talk. “Natural” is difficult to define in relation to sexual orientation, but in this case it seems to mean something like “a development according to natural processes.”
How we discover whether something is natural to us is another matter, of course. I think it’s safe to say that the way most gay people would describe same-sex attraction as natural to them in the same way most heterosexuals would describe it: a deeply felt desire. If this is true, then the “born gay” argument seems to be saying this: homosexuality is morally permissible because same-sex attraction is natural.
This is obviously a silly argument. All of us have natural desires – even deeply felt ones – that should be resisted or even eliminated because they are unhealthy, harmful, or wicked. The fact that it’s a natural desire isn’t a sufficient factor in evaluating the morality of same-sex attraction. I would argue that this calls for an authority beyond us to help us understand which desires are good and which are bad; like say, “The Bible.”
There are only two ways to get around the biblical teaching against homosexual behavior: by gross misinterpretation or by moving away from a high view of the Bible.
The Bible endorses heterosexuality and discourages homosexuality in two ways:
1. The model of the male/female marriage relationship as outlined in the creation account (Gen. 1-3) and supported throughout the Bible; and,
2. By specifically forbidding perversions of this model, including adultery, polygamy, incest, lust, homosexuality, etc. (cf., Lev. 18; Rom. 1).
God loves gay people. Since we all know God loves all people, I don’t think it really necessary to list here a bunch of Bible verses about God’s love for humanity. God doesn’t love labels. He loves people. Whether people are gay or straight, Asian or European, black, white, Hispanic, male or female -He loves people, as they are. One thing that unites us all is that God loves us with a crazy, unconditional love. If God loves that way, then godly people do too.
However God designed sex to be expressed between a man and a woman in the context of marriage. Any other sexual expression is therefore, outside of God’s design. To understand God’s design for human sexuality, let’s go all the way back to the beginning, to the book of Genesis 2:18-25. The Lord God said,
“It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him. The Lord God made a woman, brought her to the man. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.”
We learn a lot about God’s design right in these few verses:
- First, God created sex, and therefore sex is a good thing.
Second, He created humans with gender, male and female, and the suitable complement for Adam was a woman.
Third, sex was designed for man and woman in a committed relationship called marriage. Any sexual expression outside of that design is sinful and ultimately destructive.
At the risk of beating a dead cliché, “God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.” Homosexuality is a departure from that design, because God did not create sex or marriage to be a same-sex relationship. Since homosexuality violates God’s blueprint for sexuality, it shouldn’t be too surprising that when the Bible speaks about homosexuality it describes it as a sinful departure from God’s will for us.
Leviticus 20:13 says:
“If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them
have done what is detestable.”
Romans 1:18, 26, 27 says:
“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness…Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.“
There is not one example where homosexuality is mentioned in the Bible where it is condoned. Because it is outside of God’s design, it is always described as sin. 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. (I Cor. 6:9)
Those who practice the homosexual lifestyle learn sooner or later that it’s anything but gay. The truth is that the median age of death for the homosexual male is 38 and for lesbians it is 45. This shorter life span is no doubt due to the following risks associated with homosexual behavior:
They are more likely to face chronic, potentially fatal liver disease (infective hepatitis) which increases the risk of liver cancer. They put themselves at risk of contracting AIDS, which, in spite of medical breakthroughs still eventually kills everyone infected.
Those who practice homosexuality have a high frequency of fatal rectal cancer. They have a much higher than average incidence of suicide-six times as high as that of heterosexual men. Between 25 and 33 percent of homosexual men are alcoholics while the national average is less than 7 percent.
Does this sound like a comfortable, healthy, desirable lifestyle? I don’t think so. In fact, as I look at these statistics I remember the warning of Proverbs 14:12: “There is a way that seems right to man but in the end it leads to death.“
When man sinned in the Garden of Eden, many of mankind’s natural drives turned selfish, wicked, harmful, unhealthy, and so on. Further, the fall of man into sin wreaked havoc on the natural order, resulting in birth defects, deformities, diseases, and so forth. So now people are born with serious maladies, deformities, handicaps. Some children contract terminal illnesses and die untimely deaths. Others experience a lifetime of suffering. Some are mentally handicapped or mentally ill.
We come into this world imperfect physically and morally/spiritually. It could be argued that it is not fair that these people suffered such ravages of the natural order. It is not a child’s fault that he/she is born deaf or blind. But it is a fact that, marred as our world now is through sin, some people are born with greater challenges, more miserable maladies, and more intense moral challenges than others.
It’s possible then, just possible, that the same distorted natural order that produces people who experience chronic pain, or depression, or deformities, or die untimely deaths, or suffer from sexual addiction could produce others with sexual tendencies counter to God’s ideal. Everyone who wants to follow Jesus will have to, by his grace, resist temptation and radically alter certain tendencies. No doubt some are saddled with greater challenges than others to overcome.
Some gay people dedicate their lives to Christ and become straight, with varying degrees of difficulty in making the change. I don’t doubt or underestimate the massive life-restructuring that is necessary for some to become straight. But at the same time I will not deny the power of God to change lives!
Sexual temptation is perhaps the hardest to fight, but God’s promise is real. He will strengthen us so that we can win over any temptation, and always provide a way of escape. We all struggle with weaknesses; this is true for everyone who wants to follow Christ. Paul says in I Corinthians 10:13,
“No temptation has seized you except what is common to man.
And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond
what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will
also provide a way out so that you can stand
up under it.”
When it comes to same-sex desires, this does seem to be a very powerful tendency. Can God transform it? Sure He can! There are stories of that happening, as people pursue God and Christian counseling, that God actually changes whole tendencies and preferences.
My own experience with sinful tendencies is that He has not taken all my fleshly proclivities away. What He has done is given me strength to face them, as I am honest with God, honest with other supportive friends, as I flee tempting situations, and then trust God to be faithful. It’s actually in that weakness that spiritual growth happens, as we learn what it means to rely on God, as we learn what it means for him to be our strength.
There is no “flip of the switch” to change any of these temptations or weaknesses. If there was, we would all flip the switch. With people who feel an attraction to their own sex, they must do the same as the person who fights heterosexual temptation, a hot temper, urges to steal, kill, cheat and lie. This must be confessed to God as we walk daily before Him, leaning on His Holy Spirit to help us live overcoming lives.
It appears that our society has come to a point where if one holds that homosexuality is immoral or if one does not support gay marriage, he is often considered ignorant, mean, or “homophobic.” There is a social tyranny to this issue that is extremely troubling. If we were talking about harming others for their sexual preferences, that would be one thing, but to disagree philosophically and Biblically and be put down for it is quite another.
Getting back to Pastor Swilley, I don’t doubt that he has felt a natural inclination to sin in this way. I personally have had a natural inclination towards heterosexual immorality, gluttony, and pride, to name a few. These are all lifestyle sins and God considers my sin the same as Mr. Swilley’s. Frankly, I don’t know enough about Swilley to comment much more except to say, if he has admitted to being tempted in this way, that’s one thing. If he’s advocating or pursuing the homosexual lifestyle, that’s entirely another thing. God has also called Mr. Swilley, myself , and every one of us to forsake what is natural to fallen people.
Outside of Christ we’re all sinful, and that means we all have a strong pull toward things outside of God’s will for us, whether it’s a hot temper, jealousy, slander, gossip, materialism, pornography, drunkenness, spiritual pride or a gambling addiction. Every one of us has life struggles with sin, strong magnetic pulls away from God and toward sin. Having an orientation toward something sinful or wrong doesn’t legitimize our yielding to or walking in it.
The Real Question We Should Be Asking
The question isn’t really: Is a person born gay? The way they were born really has nothing to do with anything because our choices, not our temptations, are what define us. We’ve already established that some were born with hot tempers or with a greater sex drive than others. Who hasn’t had a child to lie to them and manipulate them? All of us are born needing a new nature, and we receive it by yielding ourselves to God and His gracious provision through Jesus Christ His Son.
Listen again to Paul:
Paul describes both outer struggles, persecution and the like, and this inner struggle he had which he describes as a thorn in the flesh, something that Satan used to torment him. We don’t know if it was a sin struggle, an emotional struggle, or a physical struggle, because he doesn’t tell us. It could have been any of these. Three times he prays fervently for God to take it away, and each time God said no, and then a final word:
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made
perfect in weakness.”
Struggles are not enjoyable, but the deeper the struggle, the greater the opportunity for God to be strong in our weakness. When God allows a thorn in the flesh, when God allows a struggle, even as we pray for him to remove it, maybe the most gracious thing He can do is to not remove it, so that this profound growth can happen.
We Need To Take a Close Look At Our Own Lives
Many folks seem to believe the Bible classifies sin, and that the sin of homosexuality is listed as being worse than other sins that we can commit. But this is really a misinterpretation of Scripture. If there were a list of sins from worst to best, then at the top of the list would be pride or arrogance–the belief that my sin doesn’t move me as far from God’s holiness as your sin does.
The Bible clearly teaches that all of us have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God. It states that this world is in its current depraved state because each of us have given in to sinful desires, and are therefore totally dependent on the grace of God.
In First Corinthians 6, Paul says,
“Don’t fool yourselves. Those who live immoral lives, who were
idol-worshipers, adulterers, or homosexuals, will have
not share in his kingdom.”
And then he says:
“THERE WAS A TIME WHEN SOME OF YOU WERE JUST LIKE THAT….
but now your sins are washed away…You’re set apart for
God, and He’s accepted you because of what the Lord
Jesus Christ and the Spirit of God have done for you.”
Paul acknowledges here that practicing homosexuals in the church were able to find freedom from the practice and that Christ gave them a fresh start. So, healing/change is possible. As with any addiction, sexual or otherwise, homosexuality will not just go away because the homosexual wants it to disappear. It requires confession, repentance, healing, and accountability. The way out is not easy. If it were, more would have chosen it. But it is possible!
Years ago an article was written in the Times of London, entitled, What’s Wrong With the World?, the author was grappling with some of the things that make the world a bad place. British author and Christian spokesman G. K. Chesterton wrote a letter to the editor following that piece, saying: “I noted with interest the article that you published yesterday entitled, ‘What’s wrong with the world?’ I felt compelled to write and tell you: I AM.”
G. K. Chesterton
Chesterton was right! We – you and I – not just homosexuals – are what’s wrong with the world! All of our lives are affected by sin…and all of us are equally in need of God’s redemption. The ground is level at the cross. Each of us is no better than any other sinner, and we have to be humble enough to realize this if we are to act compassionately toward homosexuals in the world who like us desperately need to experience the Love of God.
(John Stallings is a leading award-winning Southern Gospel music composer of numerous classics such as: Learning To Lean, Love Grew Where The Blood Fell, Touching Jesus, One Day I Will, You’re All Invited To My Mansion, Blessing After Blessing, Light The Light, Angels Camping All Around Me, God’s Gonna Do It, and many more. His songs have been recorded by many well-known Gospel artists, including The Blackwood Brothers, The Speers, The Stamps Quartet, J.D. Sumner, Wanda Jackson, Del Reeves, Wendy Bagwell, Roy Rogers & Dale Evans, among many others. His singing career was launched at the age of six in a citywide revival at famed Soldier Field in Chicago, and he began preaching at the age of sixteen. John was Nashville’s prestigious Dove Award recipient in 1977, and many other awards over the years. He’s also a veteran pastor, evangelist, church-planter, and travels internationally with his wife, Juda, as singing evangelists. They reside in Altamonte Springs, Florida. John’s twin-daughters, Mary Alessi and Martha Munizzi, in addition to co-pastoring churches with their husbands, are both award-winning Gospel recording artists and songwriters in their own right. John’s blog, Wisdom and Wit of John Stallings, is a featured column here on Spirit Life Magazine.)