Sexual orientation -- heredity or environment?

Because even a short post about sexual orientation can stir up a lot of feelings, I thought I would add a bit more background to my comments. One book that is very helpful is Sexual Ethics: An Evangelical Perspective by the late Stanley Grenz. Grenz, whom I had the pleasure of sitting down with before he unexpectedly passed away, takes an approach to theology that I find very helpful.

Grenz deals with all the major questions in his chapter on homosexuality. Here is one important question he covers: What seems to drive sexual orientation -- heredity or environment? There are two major camps on this issue. One argues that sexual orientation is hereditary. It comes from some combination of genetic makeup, hormonal levels, and the formation of reproductive organs.

The consensus among scholars is that genetic makeup alone is not sufficient to determine one's sexual orientation.

The other major camp relies on psychological findings to argue that one's environment drives sexual orientation. Influential factors have been shown to include: a possessive mother, a remote and unresponsive father, an early indoctrination with excessively negative ideas about sex, reinforced isolation from the opposite gender, and difficulties in establishing successful heterosexual relationships in adolescence.

The consensus among scholars is that environment alone is not sufficient to determine one's sexual orientation.

The consensus among scholars (medical professionals, psychologists, etc.) and church leaders is that some combination of genetic makeup and environment usually drives one's sexual orientation. In other words, those claiming that people are born with a homosexual orientation are swimming against the current of research, both non-Christian and Christian. By the same token, those who paint homosexual orientation as a set of psychological problems to be solved are also oversimplifying the issue.

The next question... to what extent can one choose one's orientation? Although there may be very strong factors that cause one to prefer the same gender, some element of choice is still part of the process in solidifying one's orientation. Psychologists find that before a homosexual orientation becomes firmly established, there is typically an active acceptance of long-standing inclinations.

For me, the complex nature of sexual orientation stirs up compassion for those who experience conflict or confusion over their own orientation. The church has done a disservice when it has treated homosexual orientation as a simple perversion to be overcome with a simple recipe of accountability and Bible study. I have walked alongside people who have turned themselves inside out to understand and/or overcome their inclinations toward the same gender. Easy answers and social shunning have not worked for them.

True compassion starts with identification. We can all identify with having deep-seated inclinations to behave in ways that are contrary to how God created us to be. The inclinations might be sexual or not. It doesn't matter. Even if you are not struggling with your sexual identity, seeing yourself as intrinsically broken in ways you cannot fully grasp is key to growing in compassion for those struggling with or already having bought into a homosexual orientation.


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