I have a Christian friend wrestling with the fact that his son is gay. He reached out to me on Facebook, remembering two posts of mine that dealt with this topic in the past, a topic I’m very passionate about. In speaking with him, another thought occurred, a frame of reference for those trying to square their faith with the fact that not all people are born the same. Before I got to that frame of reference, I recapped my earlier posts.
First, I pointed out that some people are born with both sets of genitalia. Not only is gender on a continuum (gender being whether we feel male or female), our physical sex is not even black and white (sex being a measure of our plumbing). People are also born incapable of having children, both men and women. Those of us who see the world through the lens of evolution and genetics have little trouble with nature’s grand menagerie. Those who see the world through a religious lens have a bit more mental calisthenics to perform.
The first of my earlier posts looked at homosexuality from a religious historical perspective. The gist is this: The Bible has different sets of rules in it. There are the rules of ethics, and the rules of survival. The rules of ethics deal with not killing, stealing, and lying. The rules of survival are there because life was tenuous in the past, and populations wavered on viability. This is why Leviticus is full of advice on how to care for dung shovels, what foods to not mix, and other questions of hygiene. And yes, violating these rules was punishable by damnation and death. Little distinction was made regarding punishment.
Whether you believe in god or not, you have to believe in gays. They’ve been around longer than the Bible has (Greek mythology is laced with homosexual relationships, as was Greek society). The fact that the Bible had to contend with homosexuality lets us know that humans were being their grand and diverse selves even back then. Either we evolved homosexuality or God makes a percentage of us gay. I find it interesting that roughly the same percentage of all studied human populations are gay (about 3% – 5%). This diminishes the possibility that being gay is a random choice or is culturally derived. A certain number are simply born (or created) that way.
My second post on homosexuality and Christianity posited evolutionary hypotheses on why a portion of the population might be gay. The assumption that we’re only here to procreate is not backed up by the fact that a good number of people can’t. Or the fact that other species have non-procreating members who are just as vital to the health and survival of the community. The more children a mother has, the more likely her later born sons are to be gay. One theory as to why this is has to do with how mothers’ bodies cope with having this foreign invasion in their bellies. In response to the presence of foreign DNA (the child is only half hers), the mother combats the fetus similar to how we combat transplanted organs. Over subsequent pregnancies, this warfare is ramped up, resulting in hormonal and epigenetic changes in the fetus. Youngest siblings are fighting their first skirmish against a battle-hardened foe.
This is one possibility. It’s also possible that the more kids we have, the less we need those kids to have kids of their own. Not only is nature full of cases of quite natural and God-made homosexuality (over 1,500 species engage in homosexual behavior), it’s also full of non-mating members of populations that are just as crucial to the survival of the species. We don’t rail against the confusion of drone bees. But of course, there’s a reason we care more about our own kids being gay than we care what bees do or need. It’s a selfish reason. My friend doesn’t just want kids of his own, he wants grandchildren too.
Which brings me to the frame of reference that I offered him, one that looks not at the historical religious perspective or any scientifically plausible reasons for homosexuality to persist in all cultures at roughly the same percentage, but a frame of reference for those with a deep and powerful faith in one true God while wrestling with their child’s sexual orientation.
What if being gay is not God’s challenge presented to your child? What if your child is blessed, and God is instead challenging you?
Whose feet did Jesus wash? What was his repeated example throughout the New Testament? The answers to coping with the wide menagerie of the human experience is right there in the Bible, and it doesn’t come from the rules of damnation, but the guidance for salvation.
Homosexuality is not our sin; our sin is the fact that we often react horribly to those who are not like us.
We happen to be winning this long struggle. The country is becoming more tolerant. It’s happening more rapidly than many of us hoped. And as the world gets safer for gays to come out, more parents from a much more religious generation are going to have to cope somehow. They could very well have a harder time coming to terms with their child’s homosexuality than their children did.
If these parents are Christians, perhaps they can see that their child is not in the deepest part of their struggle when they choose to come out. For their child to have come out, to have mustered this courage, they are past the worst of their challenge. They have begun to accept themselves just as nature and/or God blessed them to be. Now they are scared what you will think. Now they are worried how you will handle the news.
When your child comes out, it’s long after they have wrestled with this internally, or with their closest friends, or partners, or in prayer, or in their private journals. Now it’s your turn. Now it’s our challenge. Do we look around for stones to cast? Or do we throw our arms around those we love?
What’s awesome is that we don’t even have to ask what Jesus would do. We know. Our challenge is to be brave enough, Christian enough, to do it.