Born or Made?

Ellen Goodman lambastes the Pope in a recent article (Nature or nurture?) accusing the Roman Catholic Church of backsliding on the homosexual issue. She complains that the dividing line over gay issues has moved since the Pope Benedict XVI has banned sodomites[1] from Catholic seminaries. There are many good reasons to come down on the Roman Catholic Church, but this is not one of them.

Of course there is a sense in which she’s right. The line did move. For over 3,500 years of recorded history every culture has considered sodomy to be taboo, which includes all of the history of Christianity — until about thirty years or so ago. Some cultures (like the Greeks) have more or less tolerated homosexuality, but none has embraced it as a social norm.

Two months before the Stonewall uprising in New York (1969) — generally recognized as the beginning of the modern gay and lesbian rights movement — the United Church of Christ’s Council for Christian Social Action declared opposition to all laws criminalizing private homosexual relations between adults. The council also opposed the exclusion of homosexual citizens from the armed forces. This action constituted a complete reversal of all historic Christian belief and practice regarding sodomy.

In 1972 William Johnson became the first openly homosexual person ordained to the ministry by a Christian church. He was ordained by the Golden Gate Association, a grouping of UCC congregations in Northern California. Johnson has had one of the most effective ministries in modern times. A virtual revolution of views and values has occurred since that time. The line, as Goodman has referred to it, has rotated 180 degrees in most mainline churches. This revolution, more than any other single factor, has resulted in the gutting of mainline Christianity.

But the so-called line didn’t actually move in the Roman Catholic Church. Pope John Paul ordered the issue to be studied, but didn’t issue any official teaching regarding homosexuality. Goodman quotes from some Catholic study materials, but fails to mention that the study documents did not and do not reflect official Catholic doctrine. Of course, many Catholic priests have argued vociferously in favor of sodomy within and without the church, but the arguments of priests do not constitute official Roman Catholic doctrine. Benedict has merely brought the study to a close by issuing an official proclamation. That’s his job. The buck stops there.

Goodman doesn’t have a proverbial leg to stand on regarding the Catholic Church. The Pope decided not to move the Catholic “line” (position) after years of institutional study. It is his job to make such decisions. There is, however, a point to be made regarding the mainline Protestant churches because they did move the line. But Goodman won’t appreciate the point.

History aside, the nub of Goodman’s concern appears to be whether sodomites are born or made. She errantly claims that the research favors the idea that homosexuality is a born trait. The National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) provides extensive research to the contrary.

Friedman and Downey, psychiatric researchers at Columbia University, offered a strongly worded conclusion opposing the essentialist (or genetic) argument: “At clinical conferences one often hears…that homosexual orientation is fixed and unmodifiable. Neither assertion is true…The assertion that homosexuality is genetic is so reductionistic that it must be dismissed out of hand as a general principle of psychology” (2002, p 39).

Yet many national organizations continue to offer the essentialist argument as a guide for law and public policy. No reputable scientist on either side of the political spectrum would disagree with the conclusion of Friedman and Downey. Even the gay-activist researchers themselves who studies have been used by the media to trumpet the message that homosexuality is biologically determined do not support the “born that way” myth.
—A. Dean Byrd, Ph.D., MBA, MPH, from “Born that way” theory

Matt Foreman’s comment that it “doesn’t matter what you do or believe or practice. If you are gay there is no making that better in the eyes of the church” reflects a complete misunderstanding of Christianity. Paul noted that among the Corinthian Christians were former homosexuals. “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). No sin (except the unforgivable sin—Matthew 12:31) is so great that it cannot be forgiven. But the forgiveness must be personally received, which necessarily involves repentance.

The critical issue regarding homosexuality in the church has little to do with homosexuality per se, but everything to do with repentance. First, understand that Christianity is for Christians, and Christians are necessarily forgiven and repentant sinners. It is not sin that keeps people from Christ, it’s a lack of repentance that God cannot countenance. This should be clearly understood by all Christians, but is too often misunderstood by Christians and is widely misunderstood in contemporary society. Again, the issue is not the nature of any particular sin, but the change in the heart of the sinner that leads to revulsion of sin—all sin.

From a Christian perspective it doesn’t matter whether homosexual orientation is genetic or learned. Because of the Fall (or what is sometimes called “original sin”) sin is the natural condition (orientation, proclivity and/or tendency) of all human beings from birth. Critical to this issue is the biblical teaching that sin is the natural condition, but not the original condition of humanity. The purpose of Jesus Christ is to restore the original condition. The issue is not about the nature of homosexuality, but the extent and effect of sin and the power of Jesus Christ to subdue it.

The destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. established the fact that Christianity is not about the nation or the race of Israel. Christianity is not about genetics, but faithfulness. The birth, life and death of Jesus Christ established that the power of God is greater than the power of the flesh (genetics). In Christ regeneration produces power over the flesh, over natural orientations, proclivities and tendencies. God trumps genetics. In Christ, Christians rise above their natural tendencies to sin and live in their original tendencies to faithfulness and holiness—not all at once, of course, but over time.

There are only two considerations pertinent to the issue of sin—any sin: 1) Can it be forgiven? And 2) is the sinner repentant (growing in grace and godliness, living according to the desires of Jesus Christ rather than the desires of self)? Being a Christian requires that each question be answered with an unqualified yes.

All sin involves natural tendencies, proclivities and orientations. But the power of Christ through forgiveness and regeneration overcomes our natural tendencies, proclivities and orientations and provides Christians with godly tendencies, proclivities and orientations. This is what makes the gospel of Jesus Christ “good news.”

[1]Using the term “sodomites” helps to frame the issue in the traditional biblical perspective. Much of the battle is won at the point of terms and definitions. That’s why they call it “gay,” and why we should refuse to do so.

3 comments for “Born or Made?

  1. John Hood
    December 10, 2005 at 7:35 pm

    Very well stated. Overcoming any sin really is about acknowledgement, humility, repentance, and sanctification. How easy to understand, but how unwilling we are to comply.

  2. December 14, 2005 at 10:24 am

    “who studies have been used by the media” (whose studies [?])

    There is a grammatical problem here the way you have worked in Foreman’s quotation: Matt Foreman’s comment that it “doesn’t matter what you do or believe or practice. If you are gay there is no making that better in the eyes of the church” reflects a complete misunderstanding of Christianity. Note: The first period does not follow a complete sentence. It would be better to say, Matt Foreman has commented that it “doesn’t matter what you believe or practice. If you are gay there is no making that better in the eyes of the church.” Foreman’s comment refelcts a complete misunderstanding of Christianity.) How about a block quotation for 1 Cor. 6:9-11?

    You have rejected a classical theological term–“original sin” as problematic but have introduced another problem by using “natural” which can have various meanings. You are confusing your reader here, as I see it. To say the original condition of man was not sin is no argument against the doctrine of original sin. I think the use of “natural” is just as problematic because one could argue that sin is not natural–it is unnatural or contrary to man’s original created condition.
    Why not simply define “original sin”? You have to define “natural” in any case, so why is it a bigger problem to define “original sin”? The point is that Adam’s sin was the original sin, and we all share in it. Why is that such a barrier to the understanding?

    The paragraph beginning “The critical issue regarding homosexualty. . . ” is a problematic for this reader. Homosexuality is sin and it is “contrary to nature” (Rom. 1:26-27) The refusal to repent is the compounding of sin. Unbelief is sin–a violation of the covenant–a despicable condition in the face of our gracious God. Sin is lawlessness–wanting to do things on our own terms instead of on God’s terms.

    Can regeneration be said to be a matter of “spiritual genetics”?
    “Natural” stands in contrast to “spiritual.” Because sin entered the world through one man, nature has been tampered with–man is now dead spiritually speaking–he is no longer a spiritual man in his present natural condition. God, subsequently, interjected his grace via the covenant. The man who submits to the terms of the covenant and believes the promise is a “spiritual” man by virtue of regeneration as per Genesis 3:15. He has a new nature–a spiritual nature, as opposed to a fallen fleshly nature which continues to “dog” him throughout his life (Rom. 7:14-25). He is commanded to put on the new nature created after the likeness of Christ (Ephes. 4:22-25; Col. 3:10-15). This involves moment-by-moment choice on his part. Sanctification, accordingly, is ongoing and occurs as the believer through the law dies to the law (despairing of all self-help schemes, trying to be justifiied bythe law, etc., and having his confidence in the “flesh” destroyed) and learns to rely upon the Spirit with the result that the law is fulfilled in him and the fruit of the Spirit is manifest (Rom. 7:24-8:14; Gal. 5:16-25).

  3. Administrator
    December 14, 2005 at 12:15 pm

    Dave,

    Thanks for your comments. They are significant and well said.

    The grammatical matter involving the use of a sentence fragment within the quotation is intentional. I like the way it reads. Speaking of grammar and style, if you haven’t read Joseph Heller’s book, Something Happened, you should. Theology aside, its a work of grammatical art. If you are a stickler for proper grammar you may not like it because Heller breaks every rule, but does it beautifully.

    I have rejected the term “original sin” in order to relate the reality of sin to the natural condition of humanity because people try to justify homosexuality by calling it natural. Indeed, according to Scripture homosexuality is contrary to nature. The word Paul uses in Romans 1:26 is phusis, which literally means that conception cannot result. Homosexuality is unnatural because it denies the purpose of (natural) reproduction.

    I’m not aware of anywhere that Scripture speaks of “original sin.” I’m not denying the concept, but trying to get at it by using the language of the unregenerate man. Scripture speaks of two human natures: the new man and the old man, the higher nature and the lower nature.

    But this is exactly the point that is denied by the unregenerate. For them, man’s nature is the lower nature or the old man only. Cognition of a higher nature is not available to the unregenerate. The point I was trying to make is that man’s unregenerate nature, the condition into which people are born is sinful. It is not God’s intention that people remain in the state into which they are born.

    The excuse that “God made me that way” is true in that God allowed Adam to fall into sin and attributes Adam’s sin to every child born since Adam. God did allow it. But as Scripture teaches, that is not the whole or final truth of the matter. God has allowed sin into the world in order to magnify His grace and mercy through His Son, Jesus Christ. The purpose of Jesus Christ is the eradication of sin and the reestablishment of the original or regenerate nature that is in harmony with God. Yes, from this it can be argued that God must be a megalomaniac. And if God were merely human that would be true. But God is not merely human. He is also perfectly divine. As you know, God cannot be fully understood apart from the Trinity.

    This issue of human nature is not about merely praying a prayer or walking an aisle, but about altering the very nature, constitution, structure, condition and behavior of humanity as a whole. I’m trying to suggest that if genetics justifies the (lower) natural condition of people and their sinful behavior, then the power of God through regeneration alters the genetic code as well as their behavior. God changes the human will—desires, tendencies and orientations. And if the will is dependent upon genetics, then in order to change the will, God also changes the genetics. In other words, homosexuals cannot hide behind the science or the mystery of genetics. The fact of genetics does not change the moral character of human behavior.

    The relationship between will and genetics is hypothetical at best. But if sinners want to talk in terms of genetics controlling the will, then we can talk about God altering the genetics. Both are equally hypothetical. More important, both are outside of the limitations of scientific discovery. Our task is to define the issue biblically. That’s all we need to do because all the homosexuals have done is define the issue scientifically, apart from Scripture.

    I’m not suggesting that the Bible is opposed to science. It’s not. But it is opposed to Godless science.

    Phil

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