The belief that one is born with certain biological inclinations toward particular lifestyles and behaviors continues to grow in our culture today. This most frequently arises when discussing the issue of homosexuality. People continue to embrace the homosexual lifestyle after lengthy struggles to live differently, coming to the conclusion that this is who they are and how they were made to be. They were born this way.
The Christian community has typically responded to this claim with a resounding, “No you’re not.” Biological or genetic dispositions, or “gay genes,” have never been found and so people cannot claim such a justification. The human design for heterosexual relations is defended. Nurture, rather than nature, is thus the ultimate cause for susceptibility to homosexual desire and behavior. Or so the argument usually goes. Not that this is a bad argument, nor without some merit. What concerns me is the Christian’s fear of the “I was born this way” argument. They should not be. My answer to this line of argumentation is, quite frankly, “Maybe they were.”
Now, before I continue let me make a couple of qualifications. First, I am not writing with a primary interest in the scientific dimension to this conversation. There are very technical elements to what will be discussed as it relates to both the pure as well as social sciences. These I do not dismiss, nor do I find that they have any conflict with what is presented here when examined within a biblical worldview. My interest is simply in speaking to this question from a more theological perspective than scientific. Hence, much that could be discussed will not. Second, I am writing primarily with a Christian audience in mind. My interest is in helping Christians understand how the Bible addresses these things. Someone who is not a Christian will find less weight to my argument because they do not submit to biblical authority. If someone who is not a Christian were to read this, which I welcome and invite (as well as their critique), my expectation is not that they would necessarily agree with me but that they would recognize that Christianity does have a clear response to such questions and challenges, an answer that is plainly consistent with their message, agree with it or not. I would also hope and pray that they might recognize the hopefulness of the Christian message. If someone does find themselves without hope, drowning in the ocean of their struggles and addictions, Jesus does have an answer for you.
First, there are certainly other examples of lifestyles that the Christian would understand to be “sinful” that appear to have biological links. Take alcoholism/drunkenness for example. The Bible clearly condemns drunkenness and the debauchery that accompanies it as acts of the sinful nature. People who practice such lifestyles, we are told, will not inherit the kingdom of God. And yet, technological advances have allowed us to see that chemicals within the human brain can have a direct influence on an individual’s chances of becoming an alcoholic or abuser of alcohol. Even links to ethnicity have been discovered. Native Americans are two to three times more likely to become abusers of alcohol than Anglo Americans. Currently no credible research has produced a link biologically to the homosexual lifestyle. Nevertheless, if one were to be discovered, it would obviously not be the first time that a lifestyle that Christians maintain to be “sinful” was found to be so. The Christian response to a lifestyle such as homosexuality must be able to hold up against the “Nature” argument as well as “nurture.” It has to with other lifestyles.
Second, we find that the Christian doctrine of sin and fallenness does not conflict with this at all. The Bible teaches that all human beings are born with a sinful nature. They do not simply grow into sinners, they are born as sinners. There is nothing in the Bible that conflicts with the absolute severity of sin’s impact on humanity, even to a genetic or biological level. The Bible makes it clear that sin has ravaged us. If we are indeed born this way, why would there not be evidence of this?
Third, the Christian message powerfully responds to what one is to do about this deeply engrained sinful nature. For those of us inclined to particular sinful lifestyles, homosexuality the example that has been primarily examined here in this discussion, the question of why or how change is supposed to happen is certainly at the forefront. How is one supposed to be something other than who they are? How can God expect something different from them when this is who they are? What do you do when you are born this way? Jesus’ answer is clear, direct, and unique: you have to be born again. The Christian message, the good news, is that God radically, supernaturally, miraculously transforms us. The whole point of the gospel is that he changes you. This is how you become something you are not: through the radical transformation and rebirth that God brings through faith in Jesus. The gospel is not hampered by the claim that you are born that way. The gospel seems to assume that anyways! That’s why Jesus tells Nicodemus in John 3 that he has to be born again. Moreover, once that rebirth has occurred in the life of a person, God provides a community of other Christians to encourage and challenge them to live out the new life they have found. One would expect to grow in this new life just as one would grow physically from birth. The temptations may never disappear but a Christian now has the power through the Holy Spirit to live this new life as one who has been recreated spiritually.
To summarize: sin has without question wreaked havoc on the human person, even on a biological/genetic level at times. The Christian doctrine of sin, however, finds no conflict with this, informing us of our depravity even from birth; nor does the Christian gospel, revealing the opportunity for rebirth, miraculously and supernaturally. Therefore, to the claim that we are born that way, we must agree that we most certainly are. Fortunately for us, God’s work is a work of rebirth.