“This is who I am.”
In 1993, I grounded my coming-out narrative in this forthright declaration — and I meant it in every way. “I didn’t choose being gay,” I reasoned. “I’m born this way!”
I was wholly convinced my sexuality was the core of who I was — not simply what I desired or did. It felt like I finally had discovered my true self. My heart and friends affirmed this, as did the world around me. “This is who I am. I am gay.”
Sexual orientation seemed self-evidently true. But what truth did it reveal?
Should we simply accept sexual orientation as the way things are, as the only terminology to describe enduring and unchosen same-sex attractions? Or should we step back and critically assess this idea in light of God’s truth about who we are? Honestly, we cannot begin to understand human sexuality until we first start with “theological anthropology,” meaning what God thinks, and reveals, about who we are.
The modern concept of sexual orientation originates from the discipline of psychology, which is rooted in a secular understanding of anthropology that rejects original sin (for a critical assessment of “sexual orientation,” see Rosaria Butterfield, Openness Unhindered, 93–112). For example, the idea that same-sex sexual orientation is only a disability (that is, a natural consequence of the fall, like deafness), and not a moral consequence, is dangerously close to the ancient heresy called Pelagianism, a denial of original sin, condemned by the church in the fifth century. In today’s world of infinite shades of grey, sloppy ambiguity on biblical sexuality is essentially flirting with heresy.
The American Psychological Association provides this definition for sexual orientation:
Sexual orientation refers to an enduring pattern of emotional, romantic, and/or sexual attractions to men, women, or both sexes. Sexual orientation also refers to a person’s sense of identity based on those attractions, related behaviors, and membership in a community of others who share those attractions.
Gay neurologist Simon LeVay explains that sexual orientation is “the trait that predisposes us to experience sexual attraction” (Gay, Straight, and the Reason Why, 1). In an international human rights document, it is defined as a “capacity for profound emotional, affectional, and sexual attraction.” Elsewhere, the American Psychological Association describes these attractions as generally unchosen. Thus, sexual orientation conveys a capacity for unchosen and enduring sexual and romantic desires, and this predisposition has been relegated to a new category of personhood.
Unfortunately, we have pigeonholed ourselves into this secular and humanistic paradigm of defining selfhood through sexuality. We think there is no other option. However, when there’s a choice between a biblical framework and a secular one, should not Christians favor the biblical over the secular? And might God’s word provide us a better framework for understanding the capacity to experience unchosen and persistent sexual and romantic desires toward the same sex?
Yes, it does. That framework is called sin.
I am not saying that the capacity to have same-sex attractions or temptations is what theologians call “actual sin” (sinful thoughts, desires, words, and actions). However, the concepts of “original and indwelling sin” fit every description of a same-sex sexual orientation. Original sin is an unchosen condition, and indwelling sin is a persistent pattern of sinful desires or behaviors. Why try to reappropriate and redeem a term when a working biblical framework already exists?
Some today say that sexual and romantic attraction for people of the same sex is rooted in the image of God, not the fall — and that it’s therefore good or even sanctifiable. This stems from the misunderstanding that “being gay” includes appreciating same-sex beauty. However, if we broaden sexuality to include non-sexual and non-romantic appreciation for beauty, then everybody would be gay. That is as nonsensical as it is unhelpful.
However, if acting on same-sex sexual and romantic desire is sin, then there’s nothing neutral or sanctifiable about it. These desires stem from the fall, not the image of God. Sexual sin always involves a moral component. Same-sex attraction finds its genesis in original sin. And let’s be crystal clear: there’s nothing neutral or innocent about original sin.
With same-sex attractions, the problem is sin. But for Christians, our God has not left us without the answer.
Whatever Way You Were Born
But aren’t people born gay? Listen to the media and pop culture, and it seems to be a fact science has unquestionably proven. However, of the numerous studies conducted to investigate the potential biological and environmental factors that may influence the development of same-sex attractions, nothing yet has been conclusive.
The American Psychiatric Association made this statement as recently as 2015: “Some people believe that sexual orientation is innate and fixed; however, sexual orientation develops across a person’s lifetime.” Scientists are far from discovering the factors that contribute to the development of sexual attractions, so it’s untenable and irresponsible to claim that the innateness of sexual attractions is a proven reality.
In spite of a lack of evidence, the belief persists that people are born gay and that makes it okay. Yet, for Christians, innateness doesn’t mean that something is permissible; being born a sinner doesn’t make sin right. We must point people to a far more important claim: Regardless of what was true or not true when you were born, Jesus says that you must be born again.
It doesn’t matter whether you think you were born an alcoholic; you must be born again. It doesn’t matter whether you think you were born a liar; you must be born again. It doesn’t matter whether you think you were born a porn addict; you must be born again. It doesn’t matter whether you think you were born with any other sexual sin struggle; you must be born again.
Very Good News
When we are born again (through God’s word, 1 Peter 1:23, and by his Spirit, John 3:5–8), the old has gone and the new has come — we’re a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). We’re able to hate our sin without hating ourselves. Our sexuality is no longer who we are, but rather how we are. We put to death our old self so that Christ can live in us (Romans 8:13; Galatians 2:20; Colossians 3:5). The effect of sin is so pervasive, so complete, so radical, that complete rebirth must occur for anyone to enter the kingdom of heaven (John 3:3).
Whatever our sinful condition upon coming into the world, we need a total transformation — the kind that only our God and Creator has wonderfully made possible by grace through faith in Christ (Ephesians 2:4–10). This isn’t a message just for the gay community, or only for those who experience same-sex attractions. This is a message for everybody: you must be born again. And he is the one, according to his great mercy, who causes us to be born again (1 Peter 1:3).
And this, dear friends, is very good news.