Did Phil Get it Wrong? Is Homosexuality Sin?

Sue Bohlin's picture

In one of the biggest social media flaps since social media was invented, Duck Dynasty's Phil Robertson openly said that homosexuality is sinful. Then the cyber world blew up in a clash of worldviews—the progressive, whatever-floats-your-boat perspective of A&E, the cable network that profits greatly from the Robertsons' TV show, against the traditional biblical view of sin and sexuality. A lot of people think that Phil's old-fashioned morality is not only antiquated but unfair.

Is it? Is homosexuality a sin? If people are born gay, why would God condemn people for being the way He made them? What kind of God would do that?

Let me answer those questions in reverse order. First, how do we know that people are born gay? This idea is a newcomer on the scene of human history, arising only within the past hundred years—maybe only fifty. We "know" it because people keep saying so, and people say so because, looking into the rear view mirror of their lives, many of those who eventually identify as gay recall always feeling different, "other than." According to the spirit of the age, that means they were always gay. Which means sexually and romantically attracted to people of the same sex.

But think about a newborn baby. Is he or she sexually and romantically attracted to people of the same sex? No, of course not. That is an emotional development issue that will arise years down the road. Consider a toddler: how does one find the gay kids in a church or daycare nursery? You don't. But even in toddlers, some temperament and personality differences have surfaced, the kinds of differences that can lead to a child feeling "other than."

Little boys who are emotionally sensitive, artistic and creative, can be uncomfortable around the rough-and-tumble boys who are far more physically aggressive, sporty and relationally insensitive. It doesn't mean they're gay, it means their design, their God-chosen kind of masculinity, is different. They're probably going to feel "other than," and later on someone will label that as gay. It's not.

Little girls who have athletic gifts and abilities, who don't care for pink or dresses or nail polish and are often natural leaders, can be uncomfortable around the girly-girls who are interested in very different things. It doesn't mean they're lesbian, it means their design, their God-chosen kind of femininity, is different. They're probably going to feel "other than," and later on someone will label that as lesbian. It's not.

People are not born gay, which is a constellation of beliefs and feelings about oneself and others that is the result of many interactions with many people over many years. Just like people are not born prejudiced. Or entitled. Or English speaking, for that matter. But all those things can become so entwined with a sense of self that it feels like that's who one is.

Recently, my husband was talking with a new friend who struggles with same-sex attraction. His friend said it was hard growing up in a slender "case" (body type) and so sensitive, and that's why he was gay. My husband pointed out that he, too, had the same body type and was emotionally sensitive, that that was their design. Ray talked to him about the gender spectrum for different kinds of masculinity as God's creation, and his friend absolutely lit up with gratitude. He had never heard that the way God had made him didn't mean he was gay, it meant he was gifted, and he had never heard an "everstraight" like my husband acknowledge that boys and men can live on that end of the spectrum and not identify as gay. There is another way of explaining the feeling of "other than" that honors both the person and the God who made them in a way that has often not been appreciated or affirmed.

But let's turn to the first question: is homosexuality a sin?

It's important to define your terms. What do you mean by homosexuality? Our culture has clouded the biblical perspective of the issue. Do you mean being same-sex attracted? Or do you mean "stepping over the line," actually engaging in same-sex romantic and sexual relationships? What Phil Robertson did, which is part of the firestorm, is to shine a light on what the Bible says: all sex outside of marriage is sin, both opposite-sex and same-sex relationships. Our sex-saturated culture finds that offensive and unacceptable. Sex is seen as a right and a basic need of life, when it is neither.

But the Bible never condemns same-sex attractions, which constitute temptation and not sin. People generally discover, not choose, that they are drawn to the same sex, and there are very good reasons for this. As with all temptations, God says to stand against them and not give into them. It is foolishness to define oneself by our temptations and weaknesses! (Much better to define ourselves the way God sees us, as His beloved child who desperately needs Him.)

So define homosexuality. If you mean simply feeling "other than" and different, complicated by being drawn to members of the same sex, then homosexual attractions are temptation, not sin. If you mean acting on those attractions to engage in emotionally dependent and/or sexual relationships, then according to the Bible's standards, yes that is sin. Note how God addressed Cain's struggle with feelings and temptations: "Sin is crouching at your door. It desires to have you, but you must master it" (Gen. 4:7). So it really comes down to feelings vs. behavior. The feelings are not necessarily sinful (although sin begins in the mind, where attractions can cross over the line into the sin of lust, regardless of the object of those attractions), but behavior always is. We need to keep homosexuality in the context that God does: pre-marital sex, adultery, same-gender sex, incest, and sex with animals: anything outside the marriage bed (defined as one man and one woman, Gen. 2:24) is sin.

Many people have a faulty concept of a distant, scowling god sitting on his throne looking for people having a good time so he can be mad at them, looking for an excuse to hurl thunderbolts at them for daring to enjoy themselves. The God of the Bible is not Zeus. Jesus corrected many aspects of our misunderstandings of His Father. He is a loving God who put guardrails on the treacherous mountain road of human sexuality. He doesn't condemn people who run off the safety of the road by crashing through the guardrails He put in place; He knows that the natural consequences of running off the cliff are their own discipline. God says, "Don't have sex outside of marriage" because He loves us and knows that sex outside of marriage brings pain to the soul (as well as dishonoring everyone involved, including Him).

God doesn't make anyone gay, but He is full of compassion for those who find themselves with same-sex attractions. He warns us against all kinds of sexual sin because He knows how destructive it is when we violate His intention and design for our bodies and souls. He wants so much better for us.

Comments

Thank you Sue.  We all have a fallen tug toward sin.  That doesn't mean that it is right.
We need to pray for those who struggle with this issue.  It is especially difficult for young men  in high schools where all the emphasis is on sports.  I have two brothers who are very musical and never played football.  They are both very creative.  They never had a problem with any of this because they grew up in a culture that wasn't dominated by the "macho" image of men.  This image does men a diservice.  My father was very masculine.  He loved classical music.  He did a lot of woodwork in his retirement.  He could cook, sew, sing, dance and never played sports.  He grew his own food, froze it and ate it.
He made us fish and chips on Saturday evenings and then apple fritters.  He made donuts, candy and when mom wasn't there he could cook.  Both my brothers cook.  They know what healthy food is because they learned that from my father.  I have my father's collection of classical music LPs.  My dad made doll cribs for all his granddaughters and then made pillows, mattresses and covers and sheets for them. He also made miniature furniture.  
My father was very intelligent.  In the Canadian army during WWII he was selected to be in the signal corps.  He had an incredible memory.  He only had an 8th grade education but he always provided for his family in a job that would not have been his first choice.  He really would have loved to have been a concert pianist and during his retirement he bought an organ and taught himself to play music.  He bought the plans for a summer cottage and put the entire thing up himself without the help of a builder or engineer.  He even wired it for electricity and his building passed inspection.  
Three cheers for creative men who have written operas, the most wonderful classical music in the world, the most beautiful art to be seen by the human eye and have invented some of the most wonderful inventions to make our lives on this earth easier.

Sue Bohlin's picture

What a blessing, Frances, to learn about your father (and brothers)! The beauty and texture that their creativity and abilities have brought to your family--and to the world--is God's gift. LOVE that you can see it!!

Sue - As I'm sure you understand, being "born gay" is not the same thing as claiming that a newborn is gay. Thus asking if a newborn baby is "sexually and romantically attracted to people of the same sex" is either a straw-man or equivocation, but in either case, it is an intentional attempt to deceive the reader. Are babies born right-handed or left-handed? Can't tell when they're newborns? Guess it must not be genetically determined then, eh?
Your essay is permeated by that condescending and hypocritical "love the sinner, hate the sin" tone that Christians can't seem to avoid when writing about gays. "Oh, those poor weak-willed dears. If only they could resist temptation." It's insulting. It's patronizing. It is clear from reading this that you do not personally know anyone who is gay. Perhaps you might want to meet some gay folks before you decide to write about this subject again.
Well, at least now I understand that I'm not gay, just "gifted". Thank God.

Sue Bohlin's picture

Sorry you took offense, John.

But I had to smile at your comment, which I've heard before, about actually meeting some gay folks before writing about this subject again. Would that include the friends who have lived with us (in the past and currently), to whom I give vetting rights before publishing anything I write on the topic? Whose insight and understanding are extremely important to me?

Human seksuality and seksual identity is primarily but not exclusively formed through the influence of fluctuating testosterone levels produced by the mother and also the foetus on the foetal brain during certain critical stages in foetal brain development. Epigenetic factors play a prominent role too. To be short some (about 8%) babies are born gay, bisexual, transseksual and probably every other flavor on the continuum of human sexuality.
In religious terms this means that: yes, God made 'them' so. It is not a choice any person is able to make - or probablly would make - and it most definitely is not a reversible 'condition', rather it is an inextricable part of what defines this person as the man or woman he or she is. Deny that and deny their existence.
Maybe this is entirely different in your neck of the woods but every other place inhabited by our species, human babies are very rarely to ingage in romances and sexual adventures, whether they are gay or heteroseksual or other. I mean very, very rarely. A definitive seksual identity usually develops way before puberty though. Definitive means permanent, which means unalterable or unchangable, ever..
But I agree with the implicit contention that obsession with sex and most of all obsession with other people's sex isn't at all healthy.

Sue Bohlin's picture

Thank  you for writing.

You make a number of confident-sounding statements with no citations to back them up. I'd be very interested in seeing the research and the evidence for these claims.

Your assertion that sexual identity is not changeable is simply not true. Not only did the Minnesota study (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1557267) demonstrate that as people mature, sexual orientation changes in a sizable number of youths, but I personally know people whose attractions and identity have changed significantly. They will say, "I used to be gay and now I'm not."

God's word says we are "fearfully and wonderfully made." That includes a lot of fluidity in the area of how we see ourselves and others.

Dear Sue,
Your citation of the Minnesota study doesn't prove anything other than what most biologists and researchers on human sexuality have been saying for a long time: human sexuality is fluid, but as adolescent changes begin to slow down in the later teen years, sexual orientation and identity become more stable.  It doesn't prove that sexual orientation changes, it just proves that sexual orientation can be uncertain for many youths as they navigate the difficult years of sexual and psychological formation that occur during adolescence.
Granted, there is a component of socialization to human sexual identity, but that is not the same as sexual orientation.  Sexual orientation is about one's sex attraction while sexual identity is about how one interprets one's sex attraction in light of cultural, political and social influences.  It's not my place to question the experience of the individuals you mention who say the "used to be gay."  If they were and now no longer believe they are, then so be it.  But psychology and sexuality are both profoundly influenced by factors that have nothing to do with socialization and/or "choices" about giving in to sin.
You asked another commenter for citations regarding research around in-utero hormone exposure / deprivation and sexual orientation.  I place a few links to peer-reviewed studies exploring this link, which has been researched pretty extensively to-date.  The fact is that hormone levels play a huge role in human development at all stages of life and differente levels of those hormones can result in profoundly different biological and psychological pathways to development and maturation.  By extension, this leads to very different outcomes in terms of sexual orientation, sexual identity, personality, and predisposition toward certain psychological states such as depressiveness, anxietizing, obssissive fixations, etc.
Point being, there are no simple answers to the complexities of human life.  God is a complex God, who created a complex world, and filled it with complex creatures.  Don't dismiss that complexity because it forces you to confront challenging moral questions that are easier to live with when we just shut our eyes and cling to blind legalism.
 
http://dx.doi.org/10.1111%2Fj.1467-9280.2009.02279.x
http://dx.doi.org/10.1016%2Fj.yfrne.2011.02.007
http://dx.doi.org/10.1016%2Fj.yfrne.2011.03.001
http://dx.doi.org/10.1016%2FS0031-9384%2801%2900564-9
http://dx.doi.org/10.1016%2Fj.yhbeh.2006.06.011

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