Saturday, November 15, 2008

More Straight Talk On Homosexuality

Proposition 8 Demonstration - 11.8.2008Image by karaface via Flickr
My last post on homosexuality drew more comments than any in the history of my blog.  Interesting...  Some of the comments and a couple of articles I've read recently have prompted me to feel the need to post a little more about this.  I was taken to task by a couple of commenters about my lack of understanding of the lack of choice that homosexuals have.  Of course, I think they're wrong about my lack of understanding.  I'd like to expand on my thoughts concerning what choices and lack of choices we all have.  I think partially in an effort to be sensitive and politically correct, I may have overstated my feelings about this saying homosexuals have less choice than I think they do.  I'd like to clarify where I am on this issue.  But, more importantly, I'd like to talk about why I don't think the "choice" in the matter is all that important. In fact, the attempt by gays and lesbians and their supporters to find a biological cause for homosexual orientation can even backfire, as I will show below.   

Once again, I want to say for the record, I think homosexuals should be afforded full civil rights and be accepted for who and what they are; regardless of how much choice or lack of choice there is in their orientation and in their actions.   

I want to thank Carrie for sending me the link to the OrthodoxyToday.Org article "Judaism's Sexual Revolution:  Why Judaism (and then Christianity) Rejected Homosexuality" I found a lot in that article that I agree with and I suggest that Christians and Jews wrestling with this issue add it to your reading list.  But, I also found a significant amount of the article that I take exception with.  As you read my post, keep in mind I am trying to address this issue not only from the point of view of a citizen, but as a Christian.  Christianity is deeply rooted in Judaism.  As a Christian, I am obligated to strongly consider the traditions of my faith- but not to blindly agree with them.

Judaism Rejected Homosexuality- Why?

Dennis Prager, the author of the Judaism's Rejection of Homosexuality, makes several great points.  First I'd like to talk about the parts of the article that I agree with.  He says that human sexuality, especially male sexuality is utterly wild. Yes, I agree.  Most religions acknowledge that we must constrain or channel our lower natures.  It's what separates us from animals and the striving to control/channel our instinctive drives makes us more god-like and less animalistic.  It's something all of us have to do, men, women, straight and gay.  Men will (and have) had sex with just about everything that moves (and many things that don't move).  Judaism, rightfully so, saw the need to constrain men's sexual activity because unbridled sexual passions are not good for society. Judaism put several restrictions around sexuality, limiting it to a man and a woman and limiting it to the confines of marriage.  In doing so, Judaism rejected male-male sex (there is no mention in Torah of female-female sex), rejected bestiality, rejected incest, etc., etc.  This was a huge step forward and differentiated Jews from the people around them.  Torah (the Jewish scriptures) always promoted life over death,  promoted procreation and promoted family, because family is the building block of a successful society.  The author says that Judaism may have invented the notion of homosexuality because, up until that time, sex was thought only of as penetrator (active partner) and penetrated (active partner).   Sex was something men did to something or someone.  It was not thought of as interactive.  Judaism was the first society to specifically prohibit sex between a man and another man.  The author claims that the Bible is unambiguous in its condemnation of homosexuality.  He says if we're going to affirm homosexuality, we must say Torah is wrong.   Here's where I do not agree.   But, I will say this, the Bible can be wrong.  While I agree that Torah and the Christian scriptures are inspired, miraculous in how much they have right and are the cornerstones of our society, I do not think they are inerrant.   We know more today than the Jewish writers of Torah knew and more than the writers of the New Testament knew.  God is still speaking is the slogan of the United Church of Christ and it's one of the major things that attracted me to the UCC.   Paul said he saw through a glass darkly and I agree with him.  Hopefully, we, thousands of years later, see a little more clearly.  Judaism and Christianity had no concept of sexual orientation as we do today.  Heck, even today, we haven't got it all figured out (as I'll go into later).

Judaism condemned homogenital sex because it undermined the normal family unit.  Men having sex with other men were not procreating. They were not producing more Jews (which was very important to Jewish survival).  Society had a vested interest in men having sex within the bonds of marriage.  I'm not going to claim that Jews did not think homogenital sex was an abomination (for both Jews and non-Jews).  I think they did and they condemned homogenital sex strongly.  I'm saying it's important we understand the reasons why they thought it was so wrong.  We reject many Jewish laws and customs because they don't apply to us today and/or because we have a clearer understanding of certain things.   I don't think the Jews had a specific intent to condemn committed homosexual relationships.  I wonder if they even had a concept of what that would be. I think the intent of Torah was to stop men from penetrating everything that moved.  Also, in that society, the rights of the individual were much more subject to the interests of society than they are today.  While I think we have gone overboard in America today  with "individual rights", we have to acknowledge that the balance of the rights of an individual versus the interests of society have shifted more to favor individual rights than past societies did.  And we have to be much more sensitive to the rights of the individual than ancient societies were.

Choosing Life

The overall theme behind Torah is "choose life". This I agree with the author on 100%.  That's why so many Jewish laws separate things that represent life and death.  Meat (death) is separated from milk (life); menstruation (death) is separated from sexual intercourse (life).  It can be argued that since homogenital sex cannot produce life, it is the equivalent of choosing death. I disagree with this assessment though.  For someone homosexually oriented, homogenital sex can be life-giving.   The author claims that men must channel their sexual passions for the good of society.  I agree.  Men running around having sex with any and every thing and any and every one is not good for society (or for individuals).  I think, as a society, and as Christians we have a right, and even an obligation, to promote that which is life-giving.  But, if someone tells me that he is sexually oriented to be attracted to men, how can I make the claim that a committed homosexual relationship is not the best thing for him?  It's not going to produce children.  But, in today's society, is that really important? The last thing we need are more people on this planet.  There are heterosexual couples that choose not to have children.  We don't condemn them and call their marriages meaningless.  Some people choose to remain single, we don't reject them or try to take away their civil rights.  God said it is not good for man to be alone and he created a woman for him. Many say God did not create Adam and Steve, He created Adam and Eve.  That's all true.  But, Adam was physically and emotionally attracted to Eve.  Can we really deny there are men who are attracted to Steve?   Is it better to not give those men a way to channel their sexual and emotional needs into productive relationships?  Isn't that choosing life?

BTW, the article says a lot more really good stuff about the elevation of women by the prohibitions  gainst male infidelity and some other things that I won't go into here.  I do recommend you read the article.
Homosexuality Does Not Equal Sexual Addiction

Before I get into homosexuality versus heterosexuality as sexual orientations and the choice or lack of choice each of us has I'd like to address what I think is a fairly common misconception that hurts the cause of gay rights.  It seems many people, straight and gay, equate homosexuality (particularly male homosexuality) with a promiscuous lifestyle.  I know when I picture a gay rights parade, I picture men (and women) parading around in outrageous skimpy outfits seeming to promote the sexually promiscuous, lewd and dangerous lifestyle so many of us think of when we think of homosexuals.  I don't think this is the average gay man, BTW.  I'm guessing these are a vocal minority of gay people.  But, the image being portrayed when they march through the streets and ask us to accept them is that we have to accept a lifestyle that most of us realize is destructive.  I can understand "gay pride" and the
need for gay people to celebrate who they are, as a kind of backlash against the oppression we place on them.  This is one place where a parallel between gay's being discriminated against and what happened (happens) to black people makes sense to me.  Being a black person who grew up in the sixties and seventies, I really didn't understand "Black Pride" until I was older.  Why should I be proud of something I had no control over?  But, I finally got it later in life.  I am proud of what my people have endured and what I have endured. Not that being black is some sort of accomplishment. Also the "pride" expressed is a kind of "in your face" reaction to the shame society tried to place on us.  I can see why gays would havea similar need to express their "pride". However, I think society will continue to reject the lifestyle of the promiscuous homosexual who does not commit to relationships and puts his and others mental, physical and spiritual health at risk.  And, I think society is right to reject it.  The dangerous lifestyle that many gay men lead is not good for society or the individual and it is not right to celebrate what amounts to a sexual addiction.  While I am all in favor of being affirming of committed monogamous homosexual relationships, that doesn't mean I have to condone or accept as "normal" dangerous and destructive behavior.  We don't celebrate drug addiction.  We don't celebrate alcoholism.  Being accepting of gays does not mean that we have to celebrate or even accept as "normal" sexually destructive behavior.

Is Sexuality a Choice?

Here's where I am really going to open a can of worms and I'm sure I'll be accused of "not understanding".   But, please try to hear me out.  There is a significant portion of the gay community and of people who want to gain empathy for the gay community by claiming homosexuality as an orientation, and therefore homogenital sex are not choices. You're either born straight or gay and that's it. The logic seems to be that, if it is not a choice, that we in the straight community should have more empathy and sympathy for the plight of homosexuals.  Therefore it would be a no-brainer to see their homosexual relationships as acceptable.  I don't think the issue is nearly as cut-and-dried as many try to present it.  And, even it if it were, Christians (and Jews?) still wouldn't accept homosexual behavior as normal or moral based on this fact alone. 

I think the reality is that sexuality is much more complex than we have even understand at this point in time. While it seems to be popular now to say that homosexuals were born that way (either due to genetics or hormonal influences), the reality as far as I know, is that just has not been proven.  I don't think it will be proven any time soon.  And, I suggest that is it really not all that important when it comes to giving homosexuals equal rights.

The research I've seen on human sexuality seems to indicate there is a range of sexual orientations.  There are those who are only attracted to those of the same sex on one end of the scale.  And there there are those who are only attracted to the opposite sex on the other end.  In the middle there are many (most?) who could adapt to have sex with either sex.   It may be that people who are actually biologically exclusively homosexual or heterosexual are the exceptions, rather than the rule.  The research of Kinsey is often discussed when talking about this range of sexuality.  A quick Google search turns up many results.  There have been several studies that show many men who identify as heterosexual have had homogenital sex (some of them lots). And the majority of gay men have had intercourse with women.  A four year study of 128 gay men revealed that more than 92% of the gay men had dated a woman at some time and 2/3 had had sex with a woman.  Many gay people have been "successfully" married for many years and fathered children.  Once they come out of the closet, many say they always knew they were gay and simply performed to live up to society's expectations. One could claim they are pressured by society to conform and that's why they were able to grin and bear having sex with women.    I think that accounts for a lot of this behavior.  Social pressures are extremely strong and could enable someone to repress a biological desire to the level of subconsciousness.

But, there are also many gay men who say they could not have sex with a woman.  No amount of social pressure will make them have sex with a woman.  Most straight men (from my own non-scientific survey) will say they could not have sex with a man.  It may not surprise you to find that so many gay men have had sex with women.  The statistic I find surprising though is the number of straight men who have had homogenital encounters.  A survey of New York City men found that among the men who admitted to having sex with other men over 70% identified themselves as straight. I've heard up to 1/3 of boys experiment with homosexual sex.  10% of married men in this study reported having had sex with another man in the past year.  Societal pressure does not account for why straight men would have sex with other men.  Many gay people would tell us these men are simply gay men repressing their true sexual orientation. But, I don't think that's true. The adage "You're either gay, straight or lying." may not be true. Is it possible that most of us are at least somewhat bisexual and choose to suppress one or the other part of our sexuality?  Societal pressure would account for why the vast majority chooses heterosexual relationships and heterosexual sex.   Then, many of those who are are closer to the middle of the range choose to cheat with those of the same sex. A range of sexual orientations rather than a binary either/or sexuality would also explain how some people can pass as "straight" for so many years while some could never even consider it. 

Another thing that a range of sexual orientations would explain is the severity of homophobia, particularly among men.  Is it possible that so many straight men fear homosexuals because, if they were unable to control their urges, they would be engaged in the very same behavior?   Is it possible they are so repulsed by their own repressed urges that they take it out on gay men, violently opposing the a part of themselves they have been taught to hate?

I think this view of sexual orientation as a range rather than a binary thing explains a lot.  But, it is unpopular among heterosexuals because we don't want to believe we could become the very people we've vilified.  And, it's unpopular among homosexuals because they want to claim they cannot control their behavior.  As I said earlier, the fact is we all have to suppress some urges. It's part of living in a civilized human society.  We also have to suppress urges for our own good.  We have so much food that we are literally killing ourselves by eating too much.  We have to overcome laziness to get up off the couch and exercise.  And, even us heterosexuals have to control our sexual urges.

Am I saying homosexuals could simply choose to be straight or only to have straight sex?  Absolutely not!  I said I think there is a range of sexual orientations.  I don't think that that we choose our orientation.  I do think though that no matter what our orientation, we do have to choose our behavior.  For most of us, we can easily choose heterosexual sex and relationships.  We're nearer to one end of the scale and it's and easy choice. And, when make that choice, we have an acceptable outlet for our urges.  So, there is an incentive to act heterosexually.  However, for those on the other end of the scale, they cannot make that choice as easily. They could, with some struggle, commit to a heterosexual relationship.  But, there are greater homosexual urges in them.  It would be more difficult for them to channel their actions into a heterosexual lifestyle.   I think these are the "success stories" from ministries like Exodus Ministries.  It explains Annie's brother-in-law who, after leaving a gay lifestyle, has been married for 30 years.  At the other end of the scale, there are some who are so far on the homosexual side of the scale that living a heterosexual lifestyle is not even possible.  No amount of struggle is going to allow them to lead a heterosexual lifestyle.  I think the idea of a range of sexual orientations with most of us falling somewhere between the two extremes explains a lot.   

Why "No Choice" is Not the Holy Grail

Even if straight people were to accept the idea that homosexual orientation is not a choice, it is not the holy grail many seem to think it is.  A recent blog post by Albert Mohler "Is Your Baby Gay?  What If You Could Know? What If You Could Do Something About It?" does an excellent job of explaining why.  And, I've had many conversations (from both sides of this argument) that show why many will reject homosexuality as an "alternate lifestyle" even if science proves that people are born gay. 

The argument of  Mr. Mohler and many Christians is this.  Just because you are born with an orientation doesn't mean you  have to give in to it.  We are all tempted into many types of sin and we have to struggle with them. I've had this conversation with many heterosexual people.  We know we have to wrestle with many temptations every day, including sexual temptations. Alcoholics cannot take a single drink for risk of falling back into an excessive, destructive lifestyle.  Heterosexual men must channel their seemingly innate desire to roam into a single partner.  Homosexuals claiming that they must have sex with others of the same sex is not convincing for many people.  If homosexuals rights advocate rely solely on the fact that homosexuals have no choice but to have homosexual relationships I think they are making things more difficult for themselves.

Far from being a holy grail, the discovery of a genetic or hormonal cause for homosexuality could lead us back to days when homosexuality was thought of as a psychological disorder- only worse.  Now, it would be seen as a medical disorder, perhaps treatable by gene therapy, a hormone patch worn by the mother or (heaven forbid) abortion.  This could lead to an increase in abortions (probably slight) and to homosexuals being encourage to submit to treatment.  Those pushing to find a biological cause for homosexuality, I think should really be careful what you ask for.  Martin Navratilova saw this when she heard about the research on "gay rams" and how scientists were trying to determine if they could change their sexual orientations.  And  PETA has called for an end to the sexual testing of the "gayness"of sheep.  If we find a biological cause for homosexuality, the search for a "cure" will come hot on its heels.
Why Choice Doesn't Matter

Now that I've spent all this time talking about choice, I'll tell you why I don't think it matters all that much.  First of all, I don't know that we'll definitively ever prove that people are born with a set, binary sexuality because I don't think people are born that way.  Even though sexual orientation is not chosen, I think there is way too much evidence that how we choose to express that orientation is possible for many people.  Sexual orientation is not an either/or thing.  It's not "gay, straight or lying".  It's a point on a continuum.  Secondly, while I think that non-choice does boost the case of the homosexual in justifying his behavior, it's not the holy grail that some see it as being.  Heterosexuals can cite many "temptations" that we must overcome.  Even for the truly biologically 100% homosexual, it could be argued that this is a birth defect and/or that celibacy is "God's will" for his life.  Christians, like Mohler, can still see homogenital sex as aberrant, sinful behavior, a temptation to be overcome.   Furthermore, suppression of certain sexual urges is necessary for everybody.

From a civil POV, I think we need to look at sexual orientation as a none-of-your-business thing. Homosexuals should have the same rights as heterosexuals because, from a civil point of view, there is no reason for them not to. Society is not going to collapse if a percentage of us lead a homosexual lifestyle, even if it's by their own choice.  We don't need any more people.  So the "be fruitful and multiply" driving force is pretty much gone.  And, from a choosing life point of view, which should be of the most importance to Jews and Christians, now that we understand that there are different sexual orientations, we should respect that.  Some are going to get "life" from homosexual relationships.  It's the way they are.  It's better to encourage monogamous homosexual relationships and to give gay people socially acceptable, life-giving outlets for their desires than to drive them into a dangerous lifestyle that is actually the equivalent of death to them.

So, that's what I think.  What do you think?


originally published 04/26/07

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Don said...

I have learned so much on the subject since 2001. Like you, I find that the conservative, fundamentalist Christian bases his/her stance on homosexuality on fairly shaky ground. Our own experience forms so much of what and how we believe on the subject. Even the few references to homosexuality in the Bible must be approached with care to see the overall picture and intention of the author, as you so well pointed out in your post. To those of us who have a gay son or daughter, you have approached the subject with love and objectivity, and for that, I am grateful. Our beliefs about homosexuality are better defined by the lives that we live and how we love our fellow beings than by any doctrine or verse in the Bible.

Brian said...


It's been an "interesting" journey for me. I wanted to get to this point a long time ago but my religion held me up until I read the book "What The Bible Really Says About Homosexuality" that really set me free to explore how I really felt about the issue instead of what other people told me I had to feel because of what the Bible says.

I have to confess to a certain amount of homophobia also. But, in my heart, I've always wanted to see homosexuals treated as equals. I'm glad to see that attitude spreading, even if a lot of Christians are still resisting it.

Don said...

I did a little research into the subject for myself recently and found that the Hebrew Bible has one verse (in Leviticus)prohibiting homosexuality: Lev. 18:22 and its punishment in Lev. 20:13. I think we HAVE to look at why this was a prohibition in ancient Israel.First it is embedded in a collection of laws that prohibit planting two kinds of seed in the same field and wearing garments made of two kinds of cloth. Today we don't worry about those matters. We recognize that some of these prohibitions as the laws of an ancient culture that we are not bound to follow (if we see the laws of Leviticus as human products). Why then should we single out one of the laws as the "law of God". These laws tell us more about the ancient culture than they do about God-inspired prohibitions. IMO, the prohibition on homosexuality should be seen as a cultural thing dealing with a struggling group of people who were trying to establish themselves in a "foreign" land. They needed to increasing (multiply)their numbers for their very survival and homosexuality was a distraction, a distraction which did not help achieve that goal. I still struggle with my son's likestyle today. I see my son to be one of two young men in a committed relationship to one another for four years now.Yet I have another son who has just divorced his second wife and will, most probably, soon marry a third. How is that better that the situation with my gay son? Life is a journey with twists and turns and challenges of all sorts.

Brian said...


I could not agree with you more. The Bible says very little about homosexual sex. And, the Leviticus verses are placed smack dab in the purity codes, most of which supposed Bible literalists ignore literally every single day. To pick the homosexuality prohibition as being from G-d for all time and not pick the shellfish one or the planting two seeds in a field one shows our cultural bias, not what G-d's will necessarily is/was.