Recently I read about the latest Christian to have his First Amendment rights trampled by the government in the relentless march to normalize homosexuality. Among the usual christophobics (a word I just made up!) who were commenting on the story was a woman who called the man an “idiot” because “He actually thinks people choose their sexuality.”
Do you follow the logic? She was saying if sexual orientation is caused by genetics, then we have no choice about our sexual desires, so acting on those desires is no sin. This is supposed to be an irrefutable argument against the traditional Christian prohibition of homosexual acts, and by proxy, an irrefutable argument against Christianity.
It’s common for Christians to counter this argument by insisting that homosexuality is rooted in learned behavior, not genetics. Returning to the comment thread at the link above, notice “Mary” who responds by writing “He’s no idiot! Sexuality IS a CHOICE!”
Whether true or not (and the latest science seems to indicate the truth is somewhere in-between) it’s a poor response for two reasons: first, it’s theologically incomplete, and second, it misses an opportunity to get people thinking about what Jesus really did for us all on the cross, and why it had to be done.
Of course Christianity teaches the common sense fact that we’re morally responsible for our choices. Pretty much every religion teaches that. What most other religions don’t answer is the question: Why is sin is so tempting? Why are we more tempted by one particular sin than by another? Why do we choose to do things even when we know they’ll harm us or those we love?
Christianity has a core doctrine which answers all of these questions, a bombshell of an idea that makes Christianity different, which is this: we’re compelled to make bad choices; it’s in our DNA.
We’re compelled to make bad choices; it’s in our DNA.
This is called the doctrine of “original sin.” The name comes from the original sin, the first sin, which according to Christian theology, caused a fundamental shift in human nature. Although most analogies fall short, in this case there’s a nearly perfect parallel. Think of sin as a harmful and addictive drug which alters the chemistry (or genetics) of the mind, causing an irrational compulsion to take more of the harmful drug. And just as addicted mothers often give birth to addicted babies, Christianity explains that the compulsion to sin was passed down from the first sinner to the next generation, and so on and on throughout the generations, right down to you and me.
Does this mean we can’t help sinning? Yes, absolutely. The proof of this is in everyone you know, because of course nobody, not one single solitary person, is or ever has been perfect.
Does it mean it’s unfair or unjust to punish sin because it’s “only natural”? Of course not. Clearly, there must be deterrents to keep us from stepping outside the limits of acceptable behavior, whether we’re born with a desire to go beyond those limits or not. In fact, the more deep seated a sinful desire may be, the greater the argument for limits on that desire. Think of any of the Ten Commandments (or at least the last five if you’re an atheist) and then imagine a society without such limitations, and you’ll quickly see my point.
For a Christian then, the “nature or nurture” debate is a false dichotomy. Every time we sin, we freely choose to do it even though we know it damages ourselves and others. We need to own that. Unfortunately, we can’t always make amends, which is a serious problem if one believes in justice. And it’s an equally serious problem that every choice to sin is motivated by something deep within us, something which makes us want to sin, some warped and twisted thing that we can’t change because it’s in our spiritual DNA, and maybe in our genes.
So it’s not about nature or nurture. It’s about nature and nurture. And this returns us to the second reason why it’s best not to insist that “homosexuality is a choice.” That response ignores half of what Jesus did for us on the cross, and half of why it had to be done. In the name of justice, Jesus sacrificed himself to make amends (atone) for the damage we’ve freely chosen to do that we cannot undo. He also died to heal (save) us from the warped and twisted sinful inclinations we can’t overcome. That’s why you see Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross explained in both ways in the Bible. In some places, it says Jesus atoned for our sins. In other places, it says he saved us. Like nature and nurture, it’s two different things. Two different reasons Jesus took our place on the cross. And two different reasons to be grateful.