THE TONY CROSS COLUMN
Article No. 144
[for archived material please go to tonycrosscolumn.org.uk]
One of the major assertions by those Christians who oppose the idea that homosexuality is acceptable to God and therefore to the Church is that homosexual practice is a choice. It came out again in a televised debate this last Sunday. Indeed at one stage someone said that homosexuality, as against homosexual activity, is a choice. So I thought it might be a good idea to explore this theme and see where it leads us.
Firstly let me say that I do really believe that what makes us human is that we do have choice - moral, spiritual and in many other ways. I do not believe that we are creatures that are entirely governed by forces beyond our volition. That is very important because without choice there cannot be responsibility or accountability - and I do believe that human beings are responsible to some extent for their lives and that we are all accountable to God.
Having said that I have to add that we should not be carried away with the idea that we have unlimited choice and responsibility. We clearly don’t! We are limited by all sorts of things - heredity, physical disabilities, education or the lack of it, wrong teaching, political forces, and a host of other factors. We each of us are dealt a different hand of cards and it is up to us to play that hand as best we can. I do believe that we all have some element of moral and spiritual choice.
Coming to homosexuality and heterosexuality - it is clear that we all have an element of choice as to what sexual activity we engage in. A man or woman may decide for example to be celibate. Or a heterosexual person may decide to experiment with homosexuality. Or a homosexual person may marry someone of the opposite sex and have a family.
I agree with those Christians who would criticize some heterosexual Christians who indulge in homosexuality, that is - when their natural sexuality is heterosexual. If they cross over to homosexuality in their practice of sexuality just for kicks then that is, I believe, outside God’s purpose. Likewise as a Christian I believe that it is equally wrong for a homosexual to dabble in heterosexuality just for the hell of it. That would be going against their nature. For a Christian sex cannot be viewed as a recreational activity! However in both cases it is possible that there are outside factors that influence the situation. For example a homosexual man may be confused about his sexuality and not be sure what his orientation is. Or he may get married to ‘settle the problem’. Clearly there are cases - perhaps many cases - where there is not so much sin as confusion! We must be wary of coming to hasty judgements!
It is now established to beyond reasonable doubt that we do not have any choice in changing our orientation. That is - a heterosexual person cannot by act of will change their orientation to become a homosexual person. Nor can a homosexual person change their orientation to become a heterosexual person. That option is just not open - it is not something anyone can do by decision of will.
So what about ex-gay groups? The evidence seems to be that a homosexual person (usually a man) may decide that he so dislikes being homosexual (and its consequences) that he undergoes training and treatment to ‘become’ heterosexual. Although he does not become heterosexual he will, in many cases, learn to act as a heterosexual. He will remain a homosexual but will train himself to act as a heterosexual, and practice heterosexuality. That happens. The evidence is however that the deep homosexual longings never fully go away. You cannot change your orientation by willpower or training. So the testimony of people who label themselves as ‘ex-gay’ signifies that they have exercised their will to suppress their homosexual instincts and play out a heterosexual role. Unfortunately it may well have repercussions later in their life. It is not to be advised from the point of view of any future wife, either! To get married after treatment and a so called ‘cure’ is to risk causing real pain to others later on. Meanwhile, of course, some of them fall by the wayside, and return to their homosexual activity.
There is a further aspect of this to discuss before we move on: bisexuality. Apparently there are some people in whom the attraction (physical, emotional and in other ways) to both sexes at the same time is strong. That means they can become legitimate sexual partners (ignoring any moral aspect for the moment) to either a man or a woman - or even to both in the same period. Likewise, of course, a person who is heterosexual or homosexual may make a choice to act in a bi sexual manner. To that extent they are acting ‘out of character’.
We can now turn to this matter of choice more closely. If we do not have any choice in our orientation, then it is obviously right that, whatever our orientation, we should have the opportunity to live a fulfilled life. By that I mean that it is manifestly wrong to just say that all people who have a homosexual orientation should refrain from any homosexual activity. In view of the fact that there is obviously a significant proportion of the population that does have a homosexual or bisexual orientation, it cannot be right to say that they should be forced to remain celibate. Celibacy is another choice - and many fine Christians choose to remain celibate (whether they are heterosexual or homosexual) but it has to be a choice, not a rule applied to all. Enforced celibacy is not a spiritual achievement - it is rather an oppression.
A fulfilled life is seen by Christians as God’s intention for every soul. All the movements against poverty and oppression are aimed at enabling each person to live as fulfilled a life as possible. So it is with sexuality. Each person should have the opportunity to enter into deep and fulfilling relationships with a person for whom they feel love (in which sex will play its legitimate part), subject of course to the laws of the society in which they live.
Indeed, there is considerable evidence that while suppression of the sexual instinct never hurt anyone (although it might hinder the fulfilled life we have talked about above) there is considerable damage and danger if a person represses their sexual instinct. By repression I mean that they feel they need to stifle their sexual desires and needs - usually with shame or embarrassment that they have such feelings in the first place. Repression can be of heterosexual or homosexual feelings. It is the sense of shame that adds the emotional charge to the repression - and thus also ensures that sooner or later there will be a violent reaction in that person when they are forced to face their own desires.
Let us now turn to the Christian aspects of all of this. A Christian believes that God has given us a great gift in our sexuality. It is seen as something precious and not sinful. What we have to do as Christians is use this great gift in a right way. That means that we have to follow the law of Christ in all our dealings with other people. We must not play fast ands loose with such a precious gift as sexuality. It is meant for the most intimate relationships. Hitherto that has been within marriage for the heterosexual person. But what about the homosexual person? There has been no church ceremony for the pairing of gay people in life long commitment. Hence much of the problem in the Churches. The pairing of homosexual people is seen as strange and abnormal. Instead it is really a lovely thing. Here are two people of the same sex who love each other and want to commit their lives to each other before God. Why should they not have a Christian ceremony to evidence what they are doing? Is not that a totally wholesome thing? Is it not a very moral attitude to take?
To summarise: we all have moral and spiritual choices and we are responsible for our own lives and will be held accountable. Orientation cannot be changed at will. It can be suppressed, ignored or repressed. When repressed it causes all sorts of problems in the life of the person - even decades later. Orientation in a person can change. Bi-sexuality is a fact. But it is possible for anyone to decide to ignore their natural tendencies and indulge in what are, for them, ‘non-natural’ sexual activities. For the Christian the health and fulfilment of each person outweighs tradition, however sacrosanct it is. Sex is a gift from God and we need to learn to use it rightly and within the parameters of the gospel.