Mission Lab

A ‘gay gene’ at last?

September 24th, 2019 / By: Gary Ledbetter | Editor / comments

A report released in late August from a study of nearly 500,000 men is being touted as both the confirmation and denial of a genetic explanation for male same-sex behavior. Rather than establishing one genetic marker that proves determinative in predicting later sexual attraction, the study identified several genes that may have some influence. Estimates of the influence range as high as 30 percent and as low as 8 percent. The men described as “gay” in the study all claimed to have had at least one same-sex experience. Consider that this study is in some way the affirmation of traditional beliefs about morality and personal responsibility.

If this study had proved, rather than just hinted, that there is an aspect of nature to a person’s tendencies, it would not have changed the convictions of those who believe revealed biblical morality. There are any number of things I might do that a culture will not excuse just because it has always been my tendency, as well as the tendency of my father and his father before him. A genetic marker adds no acceptable explanation if society has decided behavior is uncivilized. The discovery of a genetic tendency to racism or rage would not make those behaviors palatable, for example.

But the researchers also walked a fine line. Some articles were quick to point out that no discernable indicator would predict a gay person. In other words, you could not do some kind of genetic intervention on a child in the womb, or abort that child, because you know that he will be attracted to other men. The fine line is, “Yay! Now we know that this is just part of the spectrum of human identity,” and, “But it’s complicated and the genetic influence is not certain to result in same-sex attraction.”

Let’s call the influence 30 percent to be generous, about a third. Environmental factors also play in to tendencies, attractions and behaviors (where you live, details of family life, significant others, etc.). If I can go back to racism, a person who grew up knowing people of only one ethnic group and hearing terrible things about other groups, might have his natural tendencies magnified by ignorance and teaching. A natural tendency and a deprived upbringing make a strong pull on a young person to be a racist. But that doesn’t mean he’s a powerless puppet of these factors, and we don’t usually judge him by those foundational influences; we evaluate him by what he does.

The controversial third leg to this stool—one almost never mentioned in academic studies on homosexual behavior—is the will, the ability of a person to decide if he will do something. Personal responsibility for decisions is out of vogue but even today, in many other behaviors, the decision-making responsibility of an individual is assumed. Consider the way a court parses the motives of an offender before charging or sentencing him. A person who recklessly but accidentally harms another is punished less harshly because his decision was to behave recklessly, not to harm another. A person who intentionally harms another faces a different level of punishment—the law assumes he could have said “no” to this action but instead said “yes.”

Instead of proving that being gay is “a natural part of human life,” as one activist put it, this research supports the longstanding belief that all God’s children have proclivities, are raised by and among sinners and will answer for their own works. These factors, plus my own rebellious will, predictably pull me toward things that offend God and injure me. The transformed life will begin, by the power of Christ, to overcome the wayward will. That newfound hunger for righteousness will move, by an act of will, to change our environmental factors (where we go and with whom) so as to weaken that pull to offend God. Natural proclivities and genetic traits that war against our new desires may remain as thorns in our flesh—we bear them to humble us and show that God’s strength is enough.

“Natural” tendencies are usually bad news. I rarely hear someone say of a virtue (kindness, gentleness, self-control), “That’s just the way I am.” Our fallen nature and corrupting flesh will not point us toward eternal life. I grieve when I hear someone boast in sin.

Don’t get bogged down in the talking points of a culture that will say anything to justify what it has already determined to do. The fact is, all of us are doomed apart from the rescue of a loving Savior. We aren’t eternally separated from God because of any sin except unbelief in God’s only Son. The conversation about the reasons for a person’s sin is not different than our own story. We should listen to what they are saying, parse it by what God has said from the beginning and go back to the good news that can change anyone who believes.