Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Homosexuality, Orientation, and Choice

During the hurly burly of the summer of 2008, I managed to read this article, which details a recent study on the neurophysiology of homosexuality. Obviously, the researchers in question are interested in doing more research, and make no definitive claims about causality between orientation and brain structure. But that there is a seemingly meaningful correlation between gay male brains and heterosexual female brains is nonetheless fascinating. That a similar correlation exists between lesbian brain structure and the structure of heterosexual males just adds to the sense that there is in fact something real at work here.

As my own denomination prepares to plunge once again into the fray over the ordination of gays and lesbians and the gay marriage issue, the continuing witness of objective neurobiological research like this makes the assertion that homosexuality itself is a choice seem more and more tenuous. On the radical left, there are many "queer" activists who are utterly unwilling to accept that homosexual orientation is not something chosen. On the fundamentalist right, homosexuality is declared a "lifestyle choice," something analogous to being drawn into a cult, and from which you can be deprogrammed.

Both of these perspectives don't seem to reflect the reality of homosexual orientation, and are instead rooted in an existing bias. The "choice" that gays and lesbians face has very little to do with orientation itself. It has more to do with the way that they respond to their orientation. Individuals who tend towards same-sex attraction have to find a way to respond to that orientation...and it is there that Christendom needs to determine what responses are permissible within a Christian moral framework.

If you've read my previous blogging on this issue, you'll know that I reject the two extreme positions. I reject the idea that any and all expressions of human sexuality are acceptable in the eyes of God. Here, I part ways with the radical left, which asserts that morality is contingent and essentially meaningless. Sexual behavior that is predatory or radically self-seeking is inherently sinful. It tears not just at the fabric of society, but also represents a radical violation of the love ethic, which is itself an expression of God's nature. I apply that standard evenly to heterosexuals and homosexuals. If you act sexually in ways that treat another child of God as an object, you sin, and God will hold you accountable.

I also reject the position that holds that homosexuality is inherently sociopathic, that any and all same-sex interactions are automatically evil. Here, I am explicitly rejecting the position of Biblical literalism. That does not mean that I reject Holy Scripture as the rule of life and faith, but that I understand it's authority in a radically different way.

From the core principles of scripture, I hold that either celibacy or covenant relationships are acceptable ways to set boundaries around our sexuality. As not all of us are called to celibacy, covenant relationship is a more viable approach. Those covenant relationships allow us to express our hardwired sexuality freely within their boundaries, and give us the moral basis for stepping away from destructive and disrespectful desire. That moral core is something that Christians should apply to all human relationships.