On being left-handed

My first exposure to someone who openly announced their homosexuality was in college. The editor of the college newspaper wrote an editorial about being gay. He was gay and compared being gay to being left-handed. Being gay was not what the majority of people were (just like being left-handed) and there was nothing he could do about it (just like being left-handed.) The editorial created a firestorm on campus because he was proposing acceptance for an openly gay club.

In the past year, Jonathan Merritt, a Baptist from Georgia,  wrote an article describing an interview with the president of Southern Seminary, Dr. Al Mohler. Jonathan quoted Dr. Mohler as saying to him, “We’ve (Southern Baptists) lied about the nature of homosexuality and have practiced what can only be described as homophobia… We’ve used the choice language when it is clear that sexual orientation is a deep inner struggle and not merely a matter of choice.

At the Southern Baptist Convention in Phoenix, AZ in 2011, Dr. Mohler was asked about that statement in front of the convention messengers. He was asked if he actually used those words. Dr. Mohler responded that he did make those statements. He went on to say, “When I was asked that question, I believe then and now, that we are to speak the truth about homosexuality, but we are also called to minister to even militant groups of homosexuals. The reality is that we as Christian churches have not done well on this issue. If we do not admit that it is to our shame.

Al Mohler got it right both in the interview and in his response to the question. And I applaud him for it!

Homosexuality, as I said in my last post, appears to have no singular cause. For this reason, we can’t necessarily say that a person was born gay nor can we say with certainty they they simply chose to be gay. One is considered physiological, while the other is preferential. Christians tend to believe it is a person’s choice – his or her preference.

Some people do just chose to practice homosexual behavior. However, there is no simple answer for the entire population at large.

Getting to the specifics of what causes homosexuality, though difficult, need to be understood by the larger Christian community. It is not as simple as we may want to make it sound.

I want to share some aspects of the research into the causes of homosexuality that show it’s difficulty. 

Physiological Theories
One area of study focused on the brains of gay men. They specifically looked at the hypothalamus and discovered that the parts of that brain region were different in size when comparing heterosexual men and homosexual men. The areas of the brain that showed differences were the anterior commissure (AC) and the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN). Additionally, the third interstitial notch of the anterior hypothalamus (INAH3) was two to three times smaller in homosexual men then in heterosexual men. The women examined also exhibited this phenomenon.

The very fact that the AC and the SCN are not involved in the regulation of sexual behavior makes it highly unlikely that the size differences results from differences in sexual behavior. Rather, some believe that the size differences came prenatally during sexual differentiation.

Another area of research was done in the neuroendocrine system. Research in this area looked at the interactions between the nervous system and the endocrine system, or the hormones and glands in our bodies.

The basic theory from the neuroendocrine viewpoint is that sexual orientation is determined by the early levels (probably prenatal) of androgen on relevant neural structures. If highly exposed to these androgens, the fetus will become masculinized, or attracted to females.

This type of research was conducted on rats at Stanford. The adult female rats that received male-typical levels of androgens sufficiently early in development exhibited male symptoms of attraction. The same was true in the reverse when applied to the male subjects. The female exposed to high levels of the hormone exhibited high levels of aggression and sexual drive toward other females, eventually trying engage other females in an act of reproduction. In the males, the subject who received deficient levels of androgen became submissive in matters of sexual drive and reproduction and were willing to be a passive partner to other males.

A third focus of research was the gayness of identical twins, fraternal twins, and non-related adopted brothers. They examined how many of the sample population examined were gay and how many were straight. They found that 52% of identical twins were both self-identified homosexuals, 22% of fraternal twins were so, and only 5% of non-related adopted brothers were so. This evidence, repeated and found to be true a second time, showed to the biological camp that the more closely genetically linked a pair is, the more likely they both are to exhibit gay or straight tendencies. Later experimenters found similar evidence in females.

However, socio-behaviorists (and many scientists) are not convinced. This opposing point-of-view believes that homosexuality is the result of environmental factors, not biological ones. Most social theorists see childhood elements as the largest contributing factors to homosexuality. Often they examine childhood play patterns, early peer interactions and relations, differences in parents behavior toward male and female children, and the role of gender constancy in the household.

Social Theories
Two predominant social theorists on homosexuality are David Halperin and Jean Foucault. Although both social theorists, both have largely differing ideas on the environmental contributions to the formation of an individual’s homosexuality.

Halperin believed in Planophysical theory. This theory believes that homosexuality is an error. Halperin was a Freudian psychologist, and places stock in Freud’s idea that homosexuality is derived from a failure to resolve Oedipal issues. Although Halperin has a large following from interest groups such as Christian coalitions, his theory is largely disrespected by the psychological community at large because it provides only a result, not a cause. He fails to produce any scientific evidence. He does, however, provide examples. He postulates that a weak father and strong mother, with an unresolved Oedipus complex will lead to a weak, and then homosexual, son, because the mother has too strong of an image, compared to the weak state of the father. Psychologists argue that this same arrangement would also possibly lead to a stronger son, striving for compensation of his father’s weakness.

Jean Foucault argues, “…homosexuality became because we made it so”. Foucault says that the category of homosexuality itself was only created a mere one hundred years ago, after a German phrase coined some twenty years earlier began to enter into the mainstream. Foucault gives root to the social derivation of homosexuality believing that homosexuality appeared as one of the forms of sexuality, only “after it was transposed from the practice of sodomy into a kind of interior androgyny, a hermaphrodism of the soul”. The theorists believe that the homosexual had been an aberration, and had then become a species, justifying itself with a new word. [1]

Although both theorists represent the major ideas of the socio-enviromental belief, there are three differences in the two theories.

1. The depth of desire. Foucault believed that the depth of desire is only sexual preference, that it is nothing more than superficial tastes and preferences. Halperin contrasts this with saying that homosexuality does go deeper than superficial tastes, and that homosexuality is a psychological condition, with much deeper roots than mere sexual preference.
2. Category definitions. Halperin acknowledged that there are three general categories of people in respect to sexuality: heterosexual, gay men, and lesbians. Foucault groups gay men and lesbians into the all-inclusive term of homosexual.
3. Equality of relationship, Foucault believes that historically, as far back as the Greeks, before the term was coined, homosexuality has always been unequal, differences in race, age, education and social status influencing the ‘superficial’ tastes and preferences of the men influenced. Halperin believes that the relationships are equal. [1]

So there are competing theories of gayness. This makes the issue complicated. It also seems to indicate that both environmental and biological factors are needed.

However, this is the case with much of our behavior:

1. Alcoholism can be related to a genetic deviation. Yet environmental issues are also needed for alcoholism to fully blossom.[2] At the same time we do not excuse the behavior of alcoholics. We understand it. We offer compassion, grace, mercy and forgiveness. But there is also an expectation that people with an inclination toward that behavior understand it, and the environments that cause such behavior. And stay away from those situations. Alcoholism is not simply accepted. At the same time, because of this, alcoholism may never be “cured”.
2. Obesity can be genetic. In 2007, UK researchers discovered a commonly occurring gene variant (FTO) that may explain why some people become overweight while others do not.[3] Obesity can be genetic but there are also environmental factors that result in the consumption of food. The two mixed together can form a toxic combination. I know, I’ve fought it all my life. At the same time, we don’t excuse obesity medically because of the harm it does to the body overall. In fact, many see it as an epidemic that the government must step in and address.

Those who have fought issues with weight understand it is a matter of managing the situations we put ourselves in. It is also requires us to deal with the environmental issues of our past to bring healing for our destructive thoughts and emotions. Obesity is not excused. We do, however, understand it, offer compassion, grace, and mercy. As well, in a genetics sense, obesity may never cured. It has to be managed.

If homosexuality is a combination of physiological and environmental factors, might we offer the same thoughts as above? For sure, there can be an inclination to that behavior. Just because someone may want to engage in that behavior, doesn’t mean they have to, whether it is food, alcohol, or sexual behavior.

At the same time, leaving the gay lifestyle is not easy. Again, there are biological issues to deal with and a lifetime of social and environmental issues to consider.

So here is my conclusion. It is an unnatural behavior. Assuming the issues are complicated, and the research above is correct, being gay in orientation is not wrong. Homosexual activity, however, is. Orientation or predisposition and activity are different. Having an inclination or predisposition toward alcohol is not wrong. Engaging in alcoholic activity is. As well, homosexual orientation may not be able to be cured. But it can be managed.

But what about the animals who exhibit gay behavior? Humans have a much greater capacity to not act on our impulses than animals. Higher order brain development allows us to disengage the behavior. I do not feel that argument offers much in this discussion.

Now, there are at least two issues for Christians in all this. The first is, How will you treat someone who is gay? Will you seek to understand their issues and help them explore a relationship with Christ? Will you treat them with love, respect, and kindness? Will you offer them the same hospitality Jesus did? Or will there be a judgmental and dismissive attitude that arises from a simplistic understanding of the causes of homosexuality?

The second issue is this: What does God say? Does the Bible speak directly to homosexual relationships? Are there any conditions where a homosexual Christian couple, committed to each other, would be exempt from the leanings of Scripture?

We will discuss this in the next few posts.

NOTES:
1. Ryan D. Johnson, “Homosexuality: Nature or Nurture” in AllPsych Journal, April 30, 2003. See http://allpsych.com/journal/homosexuality.html. Note, though this is the only source I cite, this is more of a summary of other sources that indicate similar findings.
2. See http://www.webmd.com/mental-health/news/20040526/researchers-identify-alcoholism-gene
3. See http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/67666.php

David has been a systems thinker most of his life. He has started three businesses as well as designed and developed systems and processes in existing organizations. He has a Doctorate in Leadership and has also done additional post-graduate work in communications.