One of the responses that people have towards the practice of homosexuality is that it’s unnatural. These people say things like, “Animals aren’t gay, so that proves that it’s not how God made people.” When I was growing up, this was a very common statement. I think I’ve even heard it preached from the pulpit of a few churches and have heard it stated by many Christians.
As a heterosexual male, it’s easy to understand why other heterosexuals would find this argument convincing. Since homosexuality isn’t natural to us, it’s easy to think we’ve got the high ground in the argument. However, if you really think through the implications of this idea, you’ll find that its got some serious problems.
First off, there are plenty of things that I do or don’t do that many other people consider “natural.” For example, I hate broccoli. I can’t eat it. If you put cheese on it, you’ve ruined my cheese. But many other people love that veggie and it seems very natural to them to eat it.
As you can see, that argument about what’s considered “natural” doesn’t really work unless you are the one determining what is “natural” (which I assure I am not trying to do!).
Yet these are the types of objections that Christians give towards homosexuality and time and time again, I find myself shaking my head. It’s kind of like how Christians used to spend a lot of time trying to debate whether or not people are born gay. To suggest to evangelicals that people were predisposed to homosexuality was to pander to culture and to concede ground to the “liberals.” Yet again, that’s silly. In fact, related to both of these issues, the Feindberg’s wrote,
“Homosexuality is the result of a variety of causes, none of which decisively determines sexual preference. There may be some biological factors which either predispose or contribute to homosexuality, and the home environment is also a significant factor. Still, in cases where all of these elements are present, one will not necessarily become a homosexual.” (Ethics for a Brave New World, 189)
I’d take the Feindberg’s statement one step further. The same is probably true about heterosexuality. There’s plenty that shapes us into heterosexuals me thinks.
Here’s are the two main reason why I won’t use the example of “nature” or “creation” in my argument against homosexuality.
(1) As many sociologists have indicated, the practice of homosexuality is found in the “animal world” (nature). In fact, according to one study, this practice is found among 1500 species (Wikipedia has some references here). On top of this, most will acknowledge that there’s a ontological difference between human beings created in the image of God and all of the creatures on earth. That shouldn’t be an excuse to ignore earth care, but is certainly something to be aware of.
(2) Creation is broken. I’m surprised that this generally conceded Christian doctrine isn’t more influential in our thinking on human sexuality in general. Sure, God’s “invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world” (Rom. 1:20), the apostle Paul also wrote that creation is under God’s curse, which is why all of creation is eager for the consummation of redemption (Rom. 8:20-23).
So next time you hear someone say, “Nature proves that homosexuality isn’t natural,” remind them that this is overlooks both the evidence around us as well as ignores what Scripture says regarding our broken humanity. Or, as the Reformed Tradition likes to remind us: man is radically depraved. Our sinful nature affects everything.
Thankfully, the power of the gospel, by the Holy Spirit, can equally affect and influence everything. So there’s a lot of hope.
I would draw a line of distinction between occurances in nature and natural function. Incest and cannibalism occur in nature. It doesn’t lend moral standing to either. However, the natural function of sex is that it facilitates procreation. I do think that is a valid point of consideration. In other words, I do think there is a valid argument to be made from nature, which Paul makes reference to at the beginning of Romans. I just think a lot of people do it wrong.
Luke, thanks for this. When I hear people say things like ‘God didn’t make people gay”, I think that God didn’t make us pride-mongers, liars, or gluttons either but we seem to accept that just fine.
Didn’t Paul use the word ‘natural’ specifically to refer to heterosexuality, and refer to homosexuality as ‘contrary to nature?’ (Romans 1:26-27)
Joe, your distinction is a bit better, I think, than the typical way the argument is made. However, I think it isn’t the best argument and the whole concept of “natural” and “nature” is so misunderstood or miss characterized that it still seems rather silly to make that your main argument.
Also, I would push back on the statement that procreation being the “natural function of sex” because I think it is reductionistic, IMO.
Cary, the problem I see with this statement (and common misunderstanding) is that it actually completely overlooks Paul’s point in the flow of Romans. Plus, words have contextual meanings and I am quite convinced that the way the argument is commonly used is NOT how Paul is using it.
I think it would be better to used the concept of what God intended or what is considered a healthier way of living versus a natural vs. unnatural argument.
In other words, the concept of “natural” in the folk-theology use seems at odds with how Paul uses it. Furthermore, the fact remains that homosexuality is still a “natural” part of our broken nature… so the argument doesn’t stand well when interacting with others from differing views…
I think there are better approaches…
Luke, I agree that many today may use the word ‘natural’ in a way Paul was not using it, but my point is that Paul used it. Most Bible translations render it ‘natural.’ Paul is clearly speaking of homosexuality, and in this – perhaps his longest passage on it – he uses the word 3 times! So my point is that I have a hesitation banning a word from the discussion when it seems to be Paul’s go-to word on the subject!
Perhaps a better answer is to more clearly define our words, but shouldn’t we let Scripture set our terms on any subject, and trust that God has a reason he used the words he used?
Yep, debating over “natural” desire or inclination is a lost cause. However, I do think the physiological aspect, while I agree that it shouldn’t be main point, is worth mentioning in the overall discussion.
Also, you’re right that it is reductionistic. However, most people I have the conversation with are naturalist, secular humanists, etc. I just find it to be an argument that has some traction even in their worldview.
Anyhow, good thoughts.
Thanks for the thoughtful response, Cary.
First off, I would want to make sure that everyone knows that I’m not making an argument that anyone should “ban” the use of a word. My point is that the issue is much more complex than the typical argument that is offered by some of my fellow conservative evangelical thinking types. In fact, I think their argument actually backfires.
However, I would also push back on your assumption towards whether this is Paul’s “go to word” on the subject. I still think there’s a bit more to the contextual useage of phusis in Romans 1:26ff. There is an overall point that Paul is trying to draw out that Reformed folks see as emphasizing a broken nature (i.e., sin nature and total depravity). So when we use the word “natural” or “nature” like it is commonly used, I think it’s misleading and in opposition to how Paul actually uses it.
That’s why I’m suggesting a better way to engage the core substance of the issue by avoiding the simplistic use of a word or two without going into more explanation about the concepts behind them. We do that for many other subjects on a regular basis. For example, most Calvinists are moving away from using the term “Limited Atonement” because it doesn’t really communicate the concept we are trying to explain.
At the end of the day, one can hold to a “traditional” (I would argue biblical) perspective on human sexuality and not use the “nature proves it” argument without a lot of clarifications, explanations, and nuances.
Nature is broken… we need Jesus… all of us.
Thoughtful post Luke!
Paul is clear in his use of nature in Romans. He is pointing to the sexual complementarity of male and female directly by the use of and regarding sexual organs. Hence Paul writing giving up or leaving the natural use isn’t referring to the animal kingdom or “nature” but what is the created order of the use for such parts as being natural. He similarly does this in Romans 2:27 where he uses the same word of nature to describe circumcision as being unnatural and uncircumcision being natural. Displaying both Paul’s knowledge of how he is using the word natural as relating to what is created norm and that which is against the created norm and demonstrating that he is not using it to describe cultural/customary practices or norms (i.e. Roman society). I beg of you to challenge me on Paul’s use of natural from 1 Corinthians 11. I double dog dare you!!!:) Please do yourself a favor and read it first. It will give you a fighting chance!!!
Not that complex. Paul is bypassing your argument of brokenness by going back to Genesis in his discussion. Showing how it was meant to be. Just like Jesus did when confronted with divorce for the only marriage bed undefiled. He brought it back to Genesis.
I don’t doubt that at all. But you seem to have missed my point 🙂
This has to do with which arguments I would use when engaging people who identify as LGBTQ. Not other Christians and their exegesis.
Then I would suggest doing what Jesus did with Nicodemus and others. Started with earthly things then went to heavenly. Being translated: natural then spiritual. John 3:12, Matthew 16:1-4, Luke 12:54-56. From someone who God empowered to leave homosexuality, I assure you, natural is a very important starting point.