In a speech at a gay-advocacy fundraiser Sunday, Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg defended his homosexuality in a remark aimed at vice president Mike Pence, a proponent of traditional marriage. Insisting that his homosexual behavior and legal marriage to another man do not contradict his beliefs as an Episcopalian Christian, Buttigieg said:
My marriage to Chasten has made me a better man and yes, Mr. Vice President, it has moved me closer to God . . . If me being gay was a choice, it was a choice that was made far, far above my pay grade. And that’s the thing I wish the Mike Pences of the world would understand—that if you’ve got a problem with who I am, your problem is not with me. Your quarrel, sir, is with my creator.
The claim that “God made me this way” is a common slogan heard from defenders of homosexuality. This high-minded claim seems to place the matter beyond further argument—for what Christian will say that God doesn’t make us who we are? And if he makes some people gay, then we should accept it.
Some Christians respond to this argument with what seems to be the only alternative: by saying that those who identify as gay choose to be gay. This response is usually met with so much derision—“With all the homophobia in the world, who would choose to be gay??”. . . “Did you choose to be straight??”—that it’s seldom helpful.
In one sense, of course, it’s true. If by gay you mean “a person who engages in homosexual behavior,” then God doesn’t make someone gay any more than he makes someone an adulterer, a fornicator, or a man who has relations with just his wife. God doesn’t make people engage in any sexual behaviors. We freely choose all our moral actions—that’s why we can be held accountable for them.
But when most people say, “God made me gay,” they’re talking about attractions (which they consider part of a God-given identity) rather than behaviors. Although, this implies that they’re also talking about whether it’s okay to act upon those desires, since it seems self-evident to most people that we can act according to how we’re made.
In order to make that clear, when someone says that God made him gay, or that he makes other people gay, you should ask two questions:
- Are you saying God caused you (or them) to have attractions to people of the same sex?
- Are you saying God wants you (or them) to act on those desires?
If they answer yes to both questions, the natural follow up is to ask, “Why?”
That is, “How do you know that God causes people to have same-sex attractions and that he wants them to indulge those desires?”
A lot of people will say that God “made them gay” because they have had deep-seated attractions to people of the same sex for as long as they can remember. This appeal to personal experience is so compelling to so many people that Marshall Kirk and Hunter Madsen, in their 1989 “gay manifesto” After the Ball, recommended that homosexual advocates work to persuade the public that “gays are victims of circumstance, that they no more chose their sexual orientation than they did, say, their height, skin color, talents, or limitations.”
But we should be skeptical of the idea that same-sex attractions have a sole biological or genetic origin (the “gay gene”). If same-sex attraction only came from our genes, we would expect identical twins (whom God makes) to have the same sexual orientation in every instance. But twin studies have shown that homosexual orientation is shared among only 20 to 30 percent of twins. This strongly suggests that same-sex attraction must be caused by environmental factors, whether pre-natal (e.g., hormones in the womb) or post-natal (e.g., parental or social conditioning).
The American Psychological Association says, “No findings have emerged that permit scientists to conclude that sexual orientation is determined by any particular factor or factors. Many think that nature and nurture both play complex roles.” Madsen and Kirk recognize this when they give this piece of duplicitous advice in their book:
Gays should be considered to have been “born gay”—even though sexual orientation, for most humans, seems to be the product of a complex interaction between innate predispositions and environmental factors during childhood and early adolescence.
So, science says that God does not “make people gay” in a biological sense. That’s the first way we can respond.
Furthermore, even if God did cause (or permit) something in our biology or upbringing that left us disposed to certain actions, it doesn’t necessarily follow that it’s something to celebrate and act on. It could be something to cure or something to overcome for God’s greater glory.
When Moses told God that he wasn’t called to lead God’s people because he was “slow of speech” (which may refer to a speech impediment), God said in response, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him dumb, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?” (Exod. 4:11). And Jesus said that a man was born blind so that “the works of God might be made manifest in him” (John 9:3).
All blessings and trials ultimately come from God, even if through his permissive will, so it isn’t helpful to dwell on the question, “Did God make me this way?” Just because we have a strong desire, even one we think we’ve felt our entire lives, it doesn’t follow that God wants us to act on that desire. A better question to ask is, “What does God want me to do with this desire he’s allowed me to experience?”
If it’s a desire to do something immoral, then God definitely doesn’t want us to act upon it. A good followup question, then, is, “Are there some desires that we should not indulge?”
When proposing examples to people, I recommend avoiding ones that can be taken the wrong way, such as the innate nature of pedophilic desires. Even though it’s a good example of an inner desire that most people agree we shouldn’t act on (though it’s increasingly being viewed in clinical circles as a “sexual orientation” like any other), most people will just hear you saying that “homosexuality is the same as pedophilia.”
More helpful analogous desires you could mention include the desire to have sex with people besides your spouse, the desire to lie in order to avoid punishment, the desire to drink to excess, or the desire to hoard money instead of giving it to the poor. All these desires may come from deep within us, perhaps for a very long time, but that doesn’t mean that God made us to be a person who does those things.
You can then point them (especially if they are Christians like Buttigieg) to God’s word, which warns us about the results of following specific evil desires:
Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9-10).
In this vice list, St. Paul is not condemning the desire to have another person’s goods, spouse, or body. He is warning of the consequences associated with acts of stealing, adultery, and homosexual behavior (for a response to people who say Paul and the Bible do not really condemn homosexual behavior, click here).
But in the very next verse, Paul provides hope to anyone who feels overwhelmed by the desire engage in these sins: “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.”
The “born this way” identity we should value above all else is the identity we received through being again in baptism (John 3:5). Though disordered desires remain, because of this supernatural birth we are no longer the slave of these desires and they are no longer the source of our identity. Instead, “anyone is in Christ a new creation; [a] the old has passed away, behold, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17).
Image credit: Buttigieg campaign website via Wikimedia Commons.