Homosexuality: Nature, Nurture and Compassion

Dr. Robert A. Pyne

Homosexuality has become a huge issue in our culture, and we're not just talking about Northern California. Gay rights activists have been making their voices heard throughout the country, and they have been very successful in drawing attention to their cause.

The church has not been able to avoid this issue, as most denominations have been forced to consider the question of homosexual clergy. Many churches have accepted gay pastors, while others continue to face growing political and social pressure to ordain homosexuals. Churches on both sides say that they have made their decisions on the basis of Christian moral principles.

What does the Bible have to say about homosexuality? Perhaps the most often-discussed passage is Genesis 19, which describes an incident that took place in ancient Sodom. According to that account, the men of the city gathered at the house of Lot, asking him to send out two angelic visitors so they could "know" them. It has been argued that this story, which has long been understood as attempted homosexual rape, actually describes a profound lack of hospitality on the part of the Sodomites, who were there merely to interrogate the visitors. In this context, however, the word "know" clearly refers to sexual relations, not interviews (v. 8). While this might not have been the only reason Sodom was condemned, Jude 7 demonstrates that it was a sin for which the city was remembered.

Leviticus 20:13 clearly forbids homosexual practices. It reads:

"If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act; they shall surely be put to death."
Many have argued that to continue to uphold this prohibition would be inconsistent, since the same Old Testament law contains both commandments and prohibitions that we clearly ignore.

For example, we no longer offer the commanded blood sacrifices, and few believers think twice about eating a ham sandwich, no matter what the Old Testament law says. However, this argument fails to consider the fact that certain Old Testament principles are reaffirmed and reestablished in the New Testament, while others are left behind after the fulfillment of their expectation in Christ.

For example, the laws concerning diet and sacrifice are explicitly brought to a close, while the law against homosexual practices is one of many prohibitions that have been carried over into the New Testament.

Romans 1:26-27 is one New Testament passage that speaks clearly against homosexual practices:

For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire towards one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.

Similar statements are found elsewhere in the New Testament, which is very clear regarding a very important point: Homosexual practices are sinful, but sin is not unique to homosexuals. The church has often been guilty of treating homosexuals as lepers, but God reminds us that their sin is really no different than our own.

New Testament Prohibitions

Leviticus 20 clearly forbids homosexual practices, and this Old Testament law is reaffirmed in the New Testament by the apostle Paul, who clearly regards homosexual practice as sin in his letters to the Romans (Rom. 1: 26-27) and to Timothy (1 Tim. 1:9-10). He says essentially the same thing in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11. This passage is particularly helpful because it calls for a high measure of understanding from the Christian community while also recognizing that homosexuality is no different than the other sins from which they had been delivered. Paul writes,

Or do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the king-dom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God.

Some have questioned whether Paul really intended to include homosexuality here, but his statement seems fairly clear. The word translated "homosexuals" is arsenokoi'tai, which quite literally refers to those who go to bed with males. Others have suggested that Paul's reference was only to a particular type of homosexual practice, but there is no real reason to limit his focus. Quite simply, Paul regarded the practice of homosexuality as sin.

When we consider the way homosexuals have been treated by our society, it's easy to see why the term homophobia has become popular. Homosexuality has been treated as a unique and seductive form of perversion, and homosexual persons have been excluded and persecuted by a culture that hypocritically glorifies other forms of sexual sin. A society in which heterosexually promiscuous persons become role models has no right to treat homosexuals with such a profound lack of dignity.

Paul's words to the Corinthians call upon Christians to treat the homosexual as a person who is in need of forgiveness and transformation, but not to treat him or her differently than those who have fallen victim to other types of sin. Since those who are covetous find a place on the same list of vices, few of us (if any) can be excluded. Homosexual practice is sin, but sin is by no means unique to homosexuals. We are all sinners.

Simon LeVay

All who trust in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins can experience the truth of 1 Corinthians 6:11:

And such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul reminds the Corinthians that some of them had been delivered from homosexuality, and that raises a vital question. Is homosexuality like left-handedness, something a little unusual (but not unnatural) that many people are simply born with? If so, then the biblical prohibitions and even promises of deliverance would seem to make little sense. In order to resolve this issue, it is important that we consider some recent scientific studies.

A recent Newsweek cover carried the picture of an infant along with the words, "Is this child gay?" In other words, are homosexuals born or made? Is sexual orientation the result of nature or nurture? To many, the question is irrelevant. Rather than arguing about the causes of homosexuality, they say we should simply accept it and move on. They argue that to identify a cause is to suggest the possibility of a cure, and that detracts from the dignity of the homosexual person.

While our desire is to affirm the dignity of all persons by virtue of their creation in the image of God, it is important that we do address this issue of "nature vs. nurture." If sexual orientation is innate and unchangeable, then it is amoral. If homosexuality is no more of a personal choice than left-handedness, it makes no sense to talk about it as a question of morality, and it would be inadvisable to suggest that somebody try to change their sexual orientation.

A couple of recent scientific studies have argued that sexual orientation is in fact similar to right- or left-handedness in that it results from physiological or genetic conditions. For example, a neuroscientist at the Salk Institute, Dr. Simon LeVay, has argued that homosexuals and heterosexuals have notable differences in the structure of their brains.

Dr. LeVay was driven to study the potential physiological roots of homosexuality after his homosexual lover died of AIDS. One might argue that his presuppositions biased his results, but LeVay's conclusions have made a significant contribution to studies on sexuality, and they cannot be dismissed that easily.

In 1991, LeVay studied the brains of 41 deceased males, 19 of whom were homosexuals. He found that a specific portion of the hypothalamus, the area of the brain that governs sexual activity, was consistently smaller in homosexuals than in heterosexuals. This suggested that there was a distinct physiological component to sexual orientation, confirming his belief that "biology is destiny."

The difficulty with this study is that it becomes a question of the chicken and the egg. Nobody really knows which came first, the difference in brain structure or the difference in sexual orientation. That the size of the brain can change as a result of outside factors has already been demonstrated. One study conducted by the National Institutes of Health found that when people who became blind learned to read Braille, the area of the brain controlling the reading finger actually grew larger. In the same way, in songbirds the brain area associated with mating varies in size according to the season. In other words, the size of specific regions of the brain is apparently not fixed, but dynamic. It can change.

So which came first, the difference in brain structure or the difference in sexual orientation? Is the size of this portion of the brain the cause or the consequence of homosexuality? LeVay is convinced that it is the cause, that biology is destiny, but his data does not necessarily support that conclusion. More studies need to be conducted, but so far there is no compelling reason to discard the biblical idea that homosexuality is in fact a moral issue.


In December of 1991, Michael Bailey of Northwestern University joined Richard Pillard of the Boston University School of Medicine in publishing a study of homosexuality in twins. Their conclusion is that sexual orientation is something one is born with.

Bailey and Pillard surveyed homosexual men about their brothers, and they found some statistics that were rather unexpected. Of the homosexuals who had identical twin brothers, 52 percent of those twins were also homosexual. 22 percent of those who had fraternal twins said that their twin was gay, and only eleven percent of those who had adopted siblings said that their adopted brothers were also homosexual.

Bailey and Pillard attributed the differences in these percentages to the difference in the amount of genetic material shared. Since identical twins have the same genetic code, they are far more likely to share sexual orientation than fraternal twins. In the same way, it is obvious that fraternal twins have more in common genetically than do their adopted siblings.

This study has been understood as a demonstration that homosexuality is genetic, but there are some real problems with that conclusion. First, most published reports did not mention the fact that only nine percent of non-twin brothers of homosexuals were homosexuals. Fraternal twins share no more genetic information than non-twin brothers, yet homosexuals are more than twice as likely to share their sexual orientation with a fraternal twin than with a non-twin brother. Why? Whatever the answer, it is not genetic.

Second, if genetic information is determinative, why aren't the identical twin brothers of homosexuals always homosexual? Bailey acknowledges that "there must be something in the environment to yield the discordant twins" (Gelman 1992), but that answer could just as easily be used the other way. If environment causes heterosexuality 50 percent of the time (in spite of the genetic code), could it not just as easily cause homosexuality 50 percent of the time? It may be true that some degree of physiological "baggage" makes sexual identity a particularly difficult struggle for some persons. However, any genetic predisposition is clearly not so strong as to be determinative. Even identical twins, possessing the same genetic material, do not always have the same orientation.

If homosexuality is not purely a consequence of "nature," does that mean that homosexuals have simply chosen their sexual orientation? Multiple testimonies strongly suggest that it's probably not quite that simple. It's also too simplistic to say that it all depends on a person's childhood environment. Our upbringing can certainly have a powerful effect on us, but its effects are not absolute. Humans are complex creatures, made in the image of God. It isn't easy to identify "causes" of our behavior because we are more than the products of our environment or the expressions of our genetic code. We have more dignity than that, and we have more responsibility.

An Eclectic Approach

Psychologists often trace one's sexual orientation to early child-hood experiences, noting that homosexual persons frequently come from families in which one parent is conspicuously absent, uncaring, or abusive. While there is undoubtedly much to appreciate about this approach it is important to realize that we are not merely products of our environment. Though we may have unique struggles or successes in part because of the way we have been raised, environment is no more determinative than physiology. It is best to assume an eclectic approach and to say that people become homosexual (or heterosexual) through complex processes that involve biological, environmental, and volitional factors. Some persons may enter life with a certain amount of "baggage," while others may pick it up through early childhood experiences. Others may be profoundly affected by things that happen later in life, or they may be simply experiencing the consequences of their own choices. Whatever influences may contribute to one's homosexual desires, the decision to act on those desires is clearly one's own. Since the Bible does not forbid temptation--only action--personal responsibility remains absolutely critical. That brings us back to the biblical standard.

Masculinity and femininity are to be expressed in relationships between men and women, and homosexuality is improper in part because it seeks wholeness apart from the complementary responsibilities of men and women in the image of God. Homosexual practices are sinful according to the Bible, but they are not to be treated differently than other forms of sinful behavior, for everyone is in need of forgiveness and personal transformation in Christ.

It should be noted that sexual sin, whether it be homosexual or heterosexual, frequently presents a particularly difficult struggle for the believer--a struggle that should not be waged alone or without some form of accountability. It is, however, a battle that can be won. To refer once again to the words of Paul,

And such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God.

People who are caught up in a lifestyle of homosexuality can find both forgiveness and transformation in Jesus Christ. It is absolutely vital that they also experience forgiveness and transformation in the local church. May we as Christians be ministers of God's grace toward homosexuals as we point them toward the new life that we ourselves have found in Jesus Christ.

© 1992 Probe Ministries International

For Further Reading

Bailey, Derrick S. Homosexuality and the Western Christian Tradition. New York: Longmans, 1955.
Classic work on Christian attitudes, suggests alternative biblical interpretations that have been used ever since to support homosexual practice.
Boswell, John. Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980.
Frequently cited work on Christianity's treatment of homosexuals, argues that harsh treatment is relatively recent historically.
Coleman, Peter. Christian Attitudes to Homosexuality. London: SPCK, 1980
Well-documented and thorough treatment, opposing Bailey and Boswell.
Gangel, Kenneth O. The Gospel and the Gay. Nashville, Tenn.: Thomas Nelson, 1978.
Popular analysis of homosexual movement with sound biblical exposition.
Gelman, David. "Born or Bred?" Newsweek (24 Feb. 1992): 46-53.
Excellent survey of current opinions on the subject.
Goldberg, Steven. "What Is Normal?" National Review (3 Feb. 1992).
Critical evaluation of the study by Bailey and Pillard.
Lovelace, Richard F. Homosexuality and the Church. Old Tappan, NJ:Fleming H. Revell, 1978.
Highly recommended for sensitivity and biblical insight.
"Twins Born Gay?" Family Research Report (Jan./Feb. 1992).
Critical evaluation of the study by Bailey and Pillard.
Ukleja, P. Michael. "Homosexuality and the Bible." In Living Ethically in the '90s. Ed. J. Kerby Anderson. Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1990.
Ukleja, P. Michael. "A Theological Critique of the Contemporary Homosexual Movement." Th.D. diss., Dallas Theological Seminary, 1982.