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Homosexual Orientation: A Clear "no" from the Bible and Science

Introduction

It has become the mantra of our time: your genes (DNA) are your destiny. To help to understand the concept of sexual orientation the American Psychological Association (1999) made available the following definition:

"Sexual Orientation is an enduring emotional, romantic, sexual or affectional attraction to another person . . . Sexual orientation exists along a continuum that ranges from exclusive homosexuality to exclusive heterosexuality and includes various forms of bisexuality. Bisexual persons can experience sexual, emotional and affectional attraction to both their own sex and the opposite sex. Persons with a homosexual orientation are sometimes referred to as gay (both men and women) or as lesbian (women only). Sexual orientation is different from sexual behaviour because it refers to feelings and self-concept. Persons may or may not express their sexual orientation in their behaviours."

This is a dangerous definition, because it assumes three sexual natures and sees homosexuality as a normal variant of sexuality.

Attributing sexual orientation to genes appeals to the homosexual community because it counters the argument by the religious groups who assert that homosexual conduct is unnatural. Another reason is that many homosexuals feel guilty about their sexual orientation and if a biological foundation is found to it, it is not their fault. Thirdly by advancing a biological explanation gay rights advocates assert that would it afford homosexuals more legal protection against discriminatory practices. In the fourth place the so- called Christian homosexuals would be able to say to the church in general God made us like this. Homosexuals therefore believe that if there is a gene contributing to sexual orientation it follows that homosexuality is normal and thus worthy of preservation.

Science

Scientific research on sexual orientation has taken many forms and it falls beyond the scope of this fifteen-minute paper to address all the issues. I will, therefore only give an overview of the three most newsworthy research studies and conclude with an answer to the question: Do scientific studies support the existence of a gay gene?

On April 14, 2003, the International Human Genome consortium announced the successful completion of the Human Genome Project – two years ahead of schedule. The press report read: The human genome is complete and the Human Genome Project is over. Most of the major science journals reported on the progress in the field of genetics, but also speculated on how the information would now be used. The one piece of information that never materialized from the Human Genome Project was the identification of the socalled gay gene.

The most frequently cited study was done under supervision of the molecular biologist, Dean Hamer. However this study is under investigation by the federal Office of Research Integrity (USA) for possible scientific misconduct.

Hamer begin in 1993 his search for a genetic contribution to sexual behaviour by studying the rates of homosexuality among male relatives of seventy-six known gay men. Hamer’s results remain controversial to this day. An independent study of gay siblings did not reproduce his results. None of the results, however support the claim that any single gene determines or can determine sexual orientation.

A second study (1991) claiming that there is a connection between homosexuality and biology (genetics) was done by the neurophysiologist Simon LeVay. His claim to fame is that a specific structure in the brain is smaller in homosexual than in heterosexual men (though he has had no evidence regarding the sexual orientation of the women whose brains he examined).

All his research was conducted on the brains of cadavers. Much circumstantial evidence to the sexual orientation of the dead persons is inherent to his research results. Furthermore the homosexual men all died from AIDS, which is known to affect brain structures. His 1993 book “The Sexual Brain” is an effort to popularise his theory that sexuality in all forms is ultimately attributable physical structures of our brains.

Despite all the flaws of LeVay’s work, it has been received as the first proof for a biological base for sexual orientation. By linking homosexuality with science it promotes faith in the expectation that science will soon find the fundamental (gene?) difference between homosexual and heterosexual men. About his own work LeVay said:

It is important to stress what I didn’t find. I did not prove that homosexuality is genetic, or find a genetic cause for being gay. I didn’t show that gay men are born that way, the most common mistake people make in interpreting my work. Nor did I locate a gay center in the brain (as quoted in Byrd, et al., 2001, emp. added).

A new study (Baily & Pillard) has also find no evidence that male homosexuality is influenced by a gene passed from mother to son and scientists do not have much faith in any one study unless other studies find the same result.

Born homosexual? What the studies actually suggest is that persons who experience homoerotic feelings and attractions are not prisoners of their biology. The scientific argument for a biological basis (born homosexual!) for sexual orientations remains weak. LeVay himself says on page 122 of his book, “Time and time again I have been described as someone who proofed that homosexuality is genetic . . . I did not!”

Perhaps Stein in his book, The Mismeasure of Desire: The Science, Theory and Ethics of Sexual Orientation, summarises the whole situation best:

“Biological arguments for lesbian and gay rights fail theoretically, legally and pragmatically. In order to make the case for lesbian and gay rights, strong ethical, legal and political arguments are needed.”

In general then, there is no convincing evidence to support the theory, and that is what it is, that homosexual orientation is linked to biology. There is no science that support a biological (genetic) basis for homosexuality.

The Bible

We have seen above that our very soul is not encoded in our genes (DNA). So now we will turn to the Bible and enquire from the Word of God how we should judge the modern notion of homosexual orientation.

There are five Bible portions that have bearing on homosexuality:

Leviticus 18:22 & 20:18;
Romans 1:24-28
1 Corinthians 6:9-10
1 Timothy 1:9-10

Old Testament sexual morality with regard to homosexuality is directly addressed in only a few Bible portions and assumed to be the case in a few other Bible portions. There is no evidence that the Israelites ever approved of homosexual practices. The attitude towards homosexual practices, as reflected in the Old Testament, is certainly not one of  approval or even toleration. Homosexual acts between females are not mentioned at all, but when committed by males were punished by death. The Old Testament does not differentiate between kinds of homosexual acts; the laws term the offence of homosexual acts simply lying with a male as with womankind.

The key words for understanding Romans 1:26-27 are use and nature. The natural use implies male-female sexual relationships, which is inter alia also the nature which is at stake. This must also be read and interpreted against the larger section of Paul's exhortation (Rom 1:18-32), concerning God's wrath toward the non-believers who had rejected God. Thus, homoerotic terminology used, for both males and females, is based on an allusion to the prohibitions against homosexual acts in the Hebrew Torah. The statement that such acts are against/contrary nature refers to the created order as reported in Genesis. These acts show a disruption or confusion of the sexual intention of God for males and females. This was ordained in creation.

Paul condemns homosexual acts per se whether performed by heterosexuals, bisexuals or innate homosexuals. The homosexual act is indicative of the lust/desire and represents homosexuality as a sin in God’s eyes. It is further an indication of rampant unrighteousness, which includes not only homosexuality but also sexual immorality in general, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness, murder, strife, deceit, etc. Those who practice such things says Paul, are deserving of death (Rom 1:29-32).

The modern notion of orientation does not find any ground in the letters of Paul. For Paul it is clear: the practitioners of such acts are excluded from the kingdom of God. The act defines the outcome. Boswell's (1980:107-117) comments that Paul's reference to homosexual activity is not to stigmatise sexual behaviour of any sort cannot be sustained. His  argument that Paul says nothing about persons who are naturally homosexual is misleading because Paul's condemnation of homosexual acts is all-inclusive.

Paul targets homosexuality in general as a movement away from God's intention for and design of humanity, and thus from godliness. That is why He gave them over, (Rom 1:24, 26, 28) is descriptive of a judicial act of God giving humanity over to judgement for turning away from the Creator.

Homosexuality is, therefore, not a proper expression of sexual relationships but is a perversion of the created nature. Paul's whole argument culminates in all are under sin (Rom 3:9), and to demonstrate that the Jewish Christians, and not just the non-Jewish Christians are culpable before God.

Romans 1:18-32 does not describe the origin of sin itself; Romans 1:18-32 shows how sin runs amok. God does not judge the gentiles for their ignorance, but for acting contrary to the knowledge they should have. The suppression of this knowledge shows itself in idolatry and same-sex intercourse. An absurd exchange of God for idols leads to an absurd exchange of heterosexual intercourse for homosexual intercourse.

The Bible often describes the behaviour that has come to be known as homosexuality. Leviticus describes the sin of homosexuality as a male lying with a male, the lying of a female – that is lying with a male as one would with a female. Paul uses descriptive terminology in Romans 1:26-27 as well:

"For their women exchanged the natural use for that which is unnatural, likewise males leaving the natural use of the female, burned with desire toward one another."

It is, therefore, invalid to assert that the Bible does not refer to homosexuality just because it does not refer to it by that name. When the Bible speaks about homosexual acts, it speaks of homosexuality and implicates homosexual orientation. It may be true that in antiquity monogamous and committed homosexuality did not present itself frequently, particularly among females, but the act of homosexuality defines the content of the relationship, whether one calls it homosexual or by any other name. The modern notion of innate homosexual orientation would have made no difference to Paul's opposition. Paul's criticism does not focus on homosexuals or heterosexuals but more generally on persons who participate in same-sex erotic acts.

The distinction between sexual orientations is clearly an anachronism that does not help to understand Paul's line of argumentation. As pure eroticism, homosexuality was prominent and visual in pre-Christian Hellenism. The common view that sexual orientation was not recognised in the ancient world is problematic, because of the speech of Aristophanes in Plato's Symposium where sexual orientation is clearly intended. Those who claim that something like the modern category of an exclusive, innate homosexual orientation did not exist in antiquity, therefore, seem to be wrong.

Romans 1:18-32 confirms that the Bible portions referring to homosexuality are part of a much larger Biblical philosophy of life that consistently portrays only one model for sexual relations, that between a man and a woman in lifelong monogamous partnership. On the descriptive level, throughout the Bible there is not a single hero of faith that engages in homosexual conduct: no patriarch, no matriarch, no prophet, no priest, no king, no apostle, and no disciple. The Song of Solomon is devoted to singing the praises of committed heterosexual love. Every proverb or wisdom saying refers to heterosexual, not homosexual, relationships as fitting for the lives of the faithful. In short the universal silence in the Bible regarding an acceptable same-sex union, combined with the explicit prohibitions, speaks volumes for a consensus disapproval of homosexual conduct.

A Biblical theology of homosexuality should recognise that the Bible not only denounce homogenitality, but homosexual conduct in all its variations, whether it stems from innate orientation or not. Not the innateness of one's desires or passions guides a person in discovering the truth about human sexuality. Rather the material creation, the physical and observable, the bodily intention and design of humans themselves, guide a person into the truth of the nature of God and the created nature of human sexuality respectively.

The phrase contrary/against nature, as used by Paul is crucial, because it reveals the basis of Paul's condemnation of same-sex relations. Paul's understanding of human nature goes deeper than popular custom – he understands that male and female were created for each other with complementary sexualities grounded in the distinctive observable constitutions of their sexual organs, and that this arrangement has been legitimized since creation only by marriage.

In summary I conclude that Paul is concerned in Romans 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and 1 Timothy 1:9-10 to offer evidence of attitudes and behaviour that represent sin, that is, the distorting effects of godlessness.

Homosexual conduct is one such sin. Paul rebukes what he considers sinful behaviour and call people to repentance. Based on Paul's view of sexual immorality and his understanding of sexual purity, especially his discussion on marriage and celibacy (1 Cor 6:12-7:40). I conclude that Paul would not condone modern homosexual activity any more than he did in his time. It is all summarised in his response to the Corinthian Christians: "Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Should I, therefore, take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never!" (1 Cor 6:15).

In Romans 1:26-27 there is an unambiguous indictment of homosexual behaviour as a violation of God's intention for humanity. All the Scripture portions studied (Rom 1:26-27; 1 Cor 6:9-10; 1 Tim 1:9-10) regard homosexual activity as immoral and to be renounced.

I have shown that there can be no valid appeal made for a third natural sex or alternative sexual orientation within God’s created reality. The socio-historical background and the exegesis of the relevant Bible portions do not support such an appeal to the textual data. Homosexuality should be rejected as an abnormal expression of sexuality because biblical sexual morality is defined by heterosexuality. The attitude to homosexuality is throughout the Bible uncompromisingly negative.