is being gay a choice?
Early on in my desire to understand what life looked like through the lens of a gay person, I found that my thoughts were very black and white, with no idea of what nuance looked like. Since many of us reading this have also been raised in the church, you may share some of these thoughts and feelings with me. I had no idea of the mountain of preconceived ideas, notions, and beliefs the Lord would need to wade through to add some nuance to my thoughts and words.
This is the second in a short series of posts on these preconceived ideas. You can read the first one here. I said a few sentences ago that some of you may share these same thoughts. But if I am being honest, I know that most of you do share my thoughts. And we can’t change the way we think and believe without being challenged. And if we don’t change the way that we believe, we won’t ever change the way that we live — because our beliefs always get worked out in our actions.
The first of these beliefs revolves around choice.
Is same gender attraction a choice?
Even though I had not grown up in the church, I had been there since my early 20’s, and somehow, I had been trained in the thought that experiencing homosexual desires was a choice and could easily be turned off and on. And if a person had difficulty removing the desires, they merely needed to pray, and God would “heal” them.
Imagine my surprise as I got to know a couple Christians that challenged this idea. It’s been about 8+ years since I first read Washed and Waiting. I remember being riveted to Wesley Hill’s story and my mind began to roll around the idea that being gay, experiencing attraction for the same gender, was not something you chose. At least not something that he chose.
So what about you? What are your thoughts on this topic? Perhaps not “said aloud” thoughts — but the deep, inside ones that govern how you relate to people.
I’m going to share some conclusions I’ve come to, and I’d love your feedback.
I have three conclusions, the first being:
For any given person you have no way of knowing if the same gender attraction they experience is a choice or not.
If you look at research like twin studies (http://www.tim-taylor.com/papers/twin_studies/studies.html), you could make a case for the possibility of someone being born with the predisposition to experience same gender attraction (there is some correlation in the study). You could also make the case that environment has a huge factor (the correlation in the study is not 100%). Call me simple minded, but it just seems like we have no way of saying definitely.
My second conclusion follows logically (at least in my logic) from the first:
Even if same gender attraction was 100% genetic, like other predispositions we are born with, that does not mean it has to determine one’s actions.
This seems to need little explanation of the actual conclusion. Regardless of my sinful predisposition to: sex, greed, food, lust, money, control, etc… I can choose holiness in my actions. Though in a second, we are going to look at why it’s valuable to talk through these.
My final conclusion:
Even if same gender attraction was 100% a choice, it might not be “changeable”.
In fact, according to research published by Mark Yarhouse in his book Ex-Gay, orientation change from homosexual to heterosexual is very rare. As evangelicals, often our definition of change as been an orientation shift. And I believe this has been tremendously damaging to people and relationships.
So why think this through? For me, it was very enlightening to realize that as evangelicals (I have to lump myself in here), we have dug in our heels over the idea that same gender attraction must be a choice or we cannot hold people accountable for their actions. That seems to be false- we are all accountable to God’s holy standard. And we have also believed that if something is chosen, then a person can just “unchoose” it.
Since I only came into the conversation about 10 years ago and without a shred of nuance in my thinking, I sat and cried while reading Yarhouse’s conclusions, thinking of so many people that the church has sent to years and years of counseling to be made straight. We’ve shunned people, demonized their attractions, and held them to a standard that is basically not achievable or biblical.
And by no means am I suggesting that we abandon the historical Christian sexual ethic. But I am suggesting that we examine what we’ve attached to that ethic. And I am also suggesting that we learn to communicate this truth in a loving way.
Early on in my thinking, I was processing aloud these ideas with a friend. She said simply, “Isn’t the goal the same for you and I? We are both to pursue holiness.”
You may be thinking, “my church has never taught that the goal is heterosexuality”. Mine hasn’t either — now or in the past. But it is implicit as we focus on marriage as the best path to godliness, as we question the 30-year-old single person asking if they are just too picky, and we seek out therapy to repair the same gender attracted?
I’m just asking the question.
What if we looked at the person sitting at the table with us and really listened to their story? What if we examined our assumptions and the biases that pop up in our minds, to see if they hold water?
For me, the person sitting in front of me that experiences same gender attraction is just a person. I don’t need to figure out where their desires came from. That’s the Lord’s work in their life. I can listen to their story and pray to understand a bit of their experience and offer to walk alongside them. I can see our common struggle for sexual purity. I can see the same goal of holiness for both of us.
We’ve dug our heels in over the wrong thing, and we’ve hurt people because of it. Let’s do something different.