Lady Gaga (Stefani Germanotta) speaks for millions in her song “Born This Way,” when she declares,
I’m beautiful in my way,
‘Cause God makes no mistakes
I’m on the right track, baby
I was born this way (Streamline/Interscope/KonLive, 2011)
The song is a hodgepodge of pluralistic affirmations, but its dominant message is unmistakably sexual, which Gaga’s music video makes explicitly clear (viewer discretion strongly advised):
No matter gay, straight, or bi
Lesbian, transgendered life
I’m on the right track, baby
I was born to survive
“Born This Way” is a pop anthem of Western culture, a musical declaration of sexual independence. But it is not revolutionary, like Queen’s “We Will Rock You” or “We Are the Champions” from a generation ago. Gaga (a name inspired by Queen’s “Radio Gaga”) is singing a mainstream manifesto, a dominant cultural belief about self-identity: I am my sexuality (my sexual desires and self-determined gender identity), I am beautiful, and I was born this way.
As Christians, how do we respond? This question is crucial. And for many of us it is not abstract, but personally painful. For not only do we live daily engaged in a war of resistance against our own sexual brokenness, but people very precious to us have anguished and struggled over disordered sexual orientations and desires and, not seeing change, have embraced this manifesto. And in our biblical convictions they often hear an unloving rejection of who they believe they are as persons. What do we say to them?
A Loving Affirmation of True Personhood
The first thing we say without hesitancy is that we really do love them deeply. And God, who is love, also loves them deeply — deeper than they (or we) comprehend (1 John 4:8; John 3:16).
And we do love them for who they really are as persons. But who they are fundamentally is something far greater than their sexual experience, as prominent and at times dominant as that can feel. They are glorious creatures uniquely made in God’s image as males and females (Genesis 1:26–27).
Though Christians are accused of holding bigoted and inhumane beliefs about sexuality, this is not true. Our view of sexuality is rooted not in fear or self-righteous prudery. It is rooted in our high view of human dignity as God’s image-bearers. That’s why we do not believe that sexuality defines humanity, nor do we believe humanity defines sexuality. Being human, and thus made in the likeness of God, is so noble a thing that God alone reserves the right to confer the definition of our true personhood. We do not say with Lady Gaga, “I’m beautiful in my way.” We say, “I am beautiful in God’s way.” To the degree that we abandon God’s way, we abandon our beauty.
We Were Born Broken
This then leads us to say something about our personhood that is not beautiful: We are broken image-bearers. There is a profound truth in the statement, “I was born this way,” but not in the sense that Lady Gaga means. In myriad ways, we were all born broken (Romans 1:29–31). We are not “on the right track, baby,” we are off the tracks.
Our sexuality is a particular witness against us that something is wrong with us (Romans 1:26–27). We all know this (Romans 1:32). The spectrum of human sexual brokenness is broad, covering almost everything imaginable, even if unspeakable, since almost everything that can be sexually imagined, experienced, and practiced beyond God’s design has been imagined, experienced, and practiced by people since times ancient. That’s why the sexual prohibitions cataloged in Leviticus 18 are so specific: They were the (often literally) familiar sexual practices of the peoples of Canaan (Leviticus 18:24). And this list is not exhaustive. Some things simply shouldn’t be said (Ephesians 5:12).
But they are said. And done. We are reminded daily that all the sexual practices in times ancient are practiced today. This sexual brokenness is not beautiful. Our brokenness is not beautiful and none of our manifestos can make it so. Calling our brokenness wholeness does not make it whole. It only affirms the disintegration of our true personhood.
For our brokenness is part of the curse from the fall and fueled by our indwelling sin (Genesis 3:16–19). Our deepest brokenness is not our defects, but our defiance against God, our desire to be our own god. This sin infects and affects our whole being, making us “children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3) who participate in “unfruitful works of darkness” (Ephesians 5:11).
We were born this way: broken. What we need is to be born again (John 3:3).
God Makes No Mistakes
This is where we have abundant hope to offer. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son” who came “into the world [not] to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him (John 3:16–17). He came to pay the penalty for our sin, to provide the power for us to once again walk in the freedom of faith in his word, no longer slaves to sin-induced brokenness (Romans 6:17). He came to save us from the way we were born and give us new life.
“God makes no mistakes,” that is true. Not one of us is a mistaken creation (Acts 17:26). But it is a mistake to infer from this, as Lady Gaga does, that all our various sexual inclinations are gifts from God. For that’s not what God says. God makes no mistakes, so we must listen to him.
That is the path of life. That’s what a Christian does: We listen to God the Father who says of Jesus, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him” (Mark 9:7). And only Jesus has the words of eternal life (John 6:68), the truth that can set us free (John 8:32).
Whoever really wants to be on the right track, whoever wants to be truly beautiful, whoever wants to be born into a “newness of life” (Romans 6:4) must believe in the God who makes no mistakes. We must trust his promises to redeem us and make us happy more than we trust the promises that our sexual preferences, orientations, or imaginations make to us.
Better Than the Way We Were Born
Jesus does not promise that if we believe in him all our broken inclinations will disappear in this age (though he promises this in the age to come). But he does promise that if we will deny ourselves, pick up our cross, and follow him, we will save our lives (Luke 9:23–24).
This was not a popular invitation when it was offered, and it is not popular now. Lady Gaga’s manifesto is. But not all ways that seem right lead to life (Proverbs 14:12).
Though our biblical convictions might sound like unloving rejection to a loved one, they are not. What’s not love is to simply let a loved one gain the world and lose his soul (Luke 9:25). There is a better way to live than the way we were born.