Prof. Hanko is professor of Church History and New Testament in the Protestant Reformed Seminary.
Some who have come to the defense of current views on homosexuality have made use of a distinction which we must consider in this article.
The distinction is between the actual act of homosexuality and the tendency towards homosexual behavior. The former is the actual engaging in homosexual behavior; the latter is an inborn tendency towards homosexual behavior which does not necessarily result in performing homosexual acts.
The distinction is very common.
John R.W. Stott calls attention to this distinction in an article in the November 22, 1985 issue of Christianity Today. He writes:
Second, we distinguish between homosexual orientation or “inversion” (for which people are not responsible) and homosexual practices (for which they are). The importance of this distinction goes beyond the attribution of responsibility to the attribution of guilt. We may not blame people for what they are, though we may for what they do. In every discussion of homosexuality we must be rigorous in differentiating between “being” and “doing”—that is, between a person’s identity and activity, sexual preference and sexual practice, constitution and conduct.
In Clarion Rev. J. Geertsema refers to a book by Dr. J. Douma entitled Homofilie in which the same distinction is made. Rev. Geertsema writes:
Now it is also known among those who sincerely confess the name of Christ some have had to cope with a homosexual inclination, even until the end of their lives . . . . Just as one can find kleptomania (the urge to steal) among Christians, so one can have people who feel attracted to a person of the same gender. We must not condemn those with a physical and/or mental problem. They need helping support in their struggle against sin; in their struggle to overcome in the way of faith. Let us not forget that many have to carry a burden and struggle with it—just as the lack of a partner can be a burden for a heterosexual single, for a widow or widower, or for someone who has to cope with a broken marriage. The burden may be different, but each has to bear his/her own and to struggle the struggle of faith; and they need helping support.
Referring to the same book, Rev. W. Pouwelse, in another issue of Clarion writes:
Prof: Dr. J. Douma, professor in ethics at the Theological College of the Reformed Churches in Kampen, The Netherlands, gives the following definition: Homophilia is the condition in which people do not have the natural sexual desire but are largely or solely attracted to people of their own sex. Homosexuality is a sexual activity in which sexual acts with people of the same sex take place.
This definition shows that there is not only a distinction, but even a principal difference between the two. The difference can be as great as the difference between fighting against sin or giving in to sin.
In an article which appeals very strongly to the emotions, Christianity Today (August 9, 1985) speaks of a young girl who faced the struggle with homosexual tendencies.
From all outward appearance, Mary (not her real name) is an evangelical Christian. She was reared in a fundamentalist tradition, and holds a degree from a respected evangelical college. Mary believes in the Trinity and acknowledges without reservation that Jesus Christ is the only Savior and Lord. She believes that all people are fallen and can be saved only through God’s grace, She believes the Bible is God’s Word and that Christians should strive to understand and obey it. She studies Scripture and prays regularly.
But unlike most other young Christian women, for as long as Mary can remember, she has had a sexual interest only in other women. Mary has hated herself for most of her life. ‘I don’t want to be gay,” she says, “not because it’s terrible, but because of the discrimination we have to endure. If I knew how to change, I would. I have prayed about it. I’ve sought counseling; people have tried to cast demons out of me.
“God has helped me to see that I’m okay. I can’t believe he wants me to feel the pain and confusion that comes from thinking homosexuality is a horrible sin,” she says. “I realize the Bible teaches that homosexuality is wrong, and I don’t take that lightly. Nobody wants to live in sin. But I’m prepared to accept judgment for how I am living. I’ve gone to God so many times and pleaded with him to take it away. I don’t know what else I can do. “
This distinction between a homosexual “tendency” and an overt act of homosexuality brings up another interesting question: If a homosexual tendency is indeed something with which some people are troubled, what is the origin of it? How does one explain that some people have this tendency and others do not? Where does the tendency come from?
To this question various answers have been given.
At one time homosexual tendencies were considered an illness—although a “mental disease.” But in 1973 The American Psychiatric Association voted to remove homosexuality from the category of mental illnesses, and one does not hear very much of that idea any longer.
Now the great controversy is over the question whether a homosexual is such because of genetics or because of environmental factors; that is, whether one is born with this tendency or whether it is “learned behavior.” John Jefferson Davis writes in his book Evangelical Ethics (pp. 110, 111):
The question of the causes of homosexuality is hotly debated in research circles. It has been suggested that some persons are predisposed toward homosexuality by genetic and chromosomal factors for which they can be assigned no personal responsibility . . . .
Imbalances in the sex hormones have also been suggested as a possible cause for or contributing factor to homosexual behavior. . . .
After citing tests which tend to disprove this, Davis writes:
The clear implication of these results is that sexual preference is predominantly a socially learned response, not an orientation fixed from the outset by genetic or hormonal factors . . . .
Family psychopathology has often been suggested as a possible cause of homosexuality. There is some evidence to suggest that the combination of a domineering mother and a father who is detached or hostile can contribute to this condition. It should be noted, however, that evidence does not appear to indicate that such a constellation of factors is either a necessary or sufficient condition for the genesis of homosexual behavior. Some homosexuals do not have such family backgrounds, and persons with such family pathologies do not necessarily develop homosexual tendencies . . . . One can say, from a biblical perspective, that the genesis of homosexuality is not a matter of “nature” to the exclusion of “nurture,” or vice-versa, but rather a combination of both. Man brings a fallen human nature into a social environment that itself bears the marks of sin, and homosexuality is one of the distortions that can result from that interaction. The Bible has no illusions about the perfection of either human nature or the social environment, but it does hold man morally responsible for the way he interacts with his world.
It is quite obvious from all that we quoted above that if genetic and/or environmental factors explain the homosexual tendency in some people, then, on the one hand, those who have such tendencies are not responsible for their conduct; and, on the other hand, such homosexual tendencies can never be changed. Davis speaks of current views on this matter:
Regarding treatment of homosexuality, it is sometimes argued that such sexual orientations are innate and not subject to change.
This is understandable. If homosexual tendencies are innate, they are to be explained no differently than the blue eyes which one baby has and the brown eyes which another has. A person cannot help having these tendencies any more than he can help having the facial features of his father.
But the question is: Is this the teaching of Scripture? Surely such a view removes all personal responsibility from an individual. He is born a homosexual. That is all there is about it. He cannot help it. He is just made that way. Nothing anyone does is going to change it. But then too one cannot blame him for being that way.
Scripture teaches something quite different.