Absolutists are funny. They abhor abortion for any reason, including profound deformities of the sort that preclude anything approaching a normal life – because, after all, who are we to play God and declare any life to be of less value than any other? Why God creates babies who only live for a few days or a few hours is not for us to know. If a child is born with such severe physical or mental defects that she requires full time care throughout her life, the choice to bear this child is not to be questioned. She is understood to be a precious gift from God as is any other child, and part of God’s plan in some way that we don’t understand.
But wait! Infertility, for some reason, can’t be part of God’s plan, and requires human intervention in the reproductive process. Then, if fertility treatments result in five or six or eight babies, it’s a MIRACLE. (Actually, it’s hyper-stimulated ovaries, but never mind.) If the eight babies have medical problems (because, let’s face it, that’s just too many babies for one body to gestate properly), or if some doctor suggests that a few healthy babies would be a better option than a whole litter of sick ones, then suddenly we arrive seamlessly back at the “each baby is part of God’s plan” argument, even though these particular babies exist in the first place only because of human mucking around with massive doses of hormones and extraordinary medical intervention. Still with me?
Even acknowledging that such contradictions exist is commendable. Attempts to explain them away represent the implicit recognition that there is an objective reality, one that beliefs, however strongly held, can’t eliminate entirely.
So it goes with the reality of sexual orientation. Harold Meyerson points out today, with characteristic understatement, that “science is stealing up on America’s religious fundamentalists, causing much alarm.” As the medical consensus that sexual orientation is an intrinsic human characteristic becomes impossible to deny without sounding like a complete doofus, the anti-gay industry finds itself in a difficult position. It must find a way to reconcile the belief that we shouldn’t exist with the fact that we do exist.
Thus, the Rev. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has taken a crack at it. In a controversial essay on his blog, Mohler said:
Christians must be very careful not to claim that science can never prove a biological basis for sexual orientation…The general trend of the research points to at least some biological factors behind sexual attraction, gender identity and sexual orientation.
It’s because of the gay sheep. At the same time, Mohler insists that “no scientific finding can change the basic sinfulness of all homosexual behavior” and that the discovery of such biological factors is merely evidence of “the pernicious effects of the Fall and of God’s judgment.” Translation: The state of being gay is a disease, an example of degeneration of “the human genetic structure.” (So why are the sheep gay? What’d they do? Never mind.) Faced with the prospect of a hypothetical prenatal test that could reveal sexual orientation, Mohler would oppose “the idea of aborting fetuses or human embryos identified as homosexual in orientation” – but would support a hypothetical “treatment to reverse the sexual orientation to heterosexual.”
For making this not particularly earthshaking statement, Mohler got it from all sides. Of course he received angry missives from GLBT people. Describing our existence as a disease and suggesting that we need to be “cured” is nothing new, and we’re frankly sick and tired of it. What is more interesting is the response from the those in the fundamentalist camp unwilling to release their death grip on a belief that seems to be foundational to their being.
In a second essay on the topic, Mohler allows as how he has received “mail that can only be described as hateful” from people who “identified themselves as Christians.” These fellow Christians castigated him for questioning one of their core beliefs: That there is no such thing as sexual orientation.
“Some have written me to say that there is no such reality as a homosexual, only those who perform homosexual acts,” an insistence by which Mohler seems puzzled. It would perhaps be helpful for him to explore the origins of the strong need for this belief. Maybe that would help to open his eyes about why even asking these questions causes some individuals to be “shaken to their foundations.” They are the ones in dire need of pastoral care. They are the ones who end up as the Ted Haggards, and in the endless parade of ex-“ex-gays” who are never spoken of again by the “reparative therapy” industry.
As for Mohler’s assumption that “if a biological marker (real or not) is ever claimed to mark homosexuality in prenatal testing, widespread abortion of such babies might well follow,” the responsibility for that prospect rests entirely on him and his fellow trumpeters of “biblical inerrancy.” It is their incessant focus on, at most, six misinterpreted biblical passages that has led to the current level of virulent anti-gay prejudice among some people who consider themselves to be Christians. Mohler attempts to address this dilemma by appealing to the “love the sinner, hate the sin” meme. He appears here to be genuinely speaking from the heart, but the damage has been done. His words of concern fall far short of the generous, loving and inclusive Christianity he tries to invoke.
Let’s be clear. The gay or transgender or intersex child is not the broken thing that needs to be fixed. These are natural variations of being human. The thing that needs to be fixed, the thing that causes disruption and harm, is an old and misguided prejudice. Those afflicted with this prejudice are so arrogant as to think that part of God’s creation is a mistake, and that we (infallible humans that we are) know better. To make matters worse, we have seen this movie before. Meyerson again:
But once you recognize homosexuality as a genetic reality, it does create a theological dilemma for the Mohlers among us, for it means that God is making people who, in the midst of what may otherwise be morally exemplary lives, have a special and inherent predisposition to sin. Mohler’s response is that since Adam’s fall, sin is the condition of all humankind. That sidesteps, however, the conundrum that a gay person may follow the same God-given instincts as a straight person — let’s assume fidelity and the desire for church sanctification in both cases — and end up damned while the straight person ends up saved. Indeed, it means that a gay person’s duty is to suppress his God-given instincts while a straight person’s duty is to fulfill his.
Mohler’s deity, in short, is the God of Double Standards: a God who enforces the norms and fears of a world before science, a God profoundly ignorant of or resistant to the arc of American history, which is the struggle to expand the scope of the word “men” in our founding declaration that “all men are created equal.” This is a God who in earlier times was invoked to defend segregation and, before that, slavery.
How blind can a person be? In an interview with the Washington Post on Friday,
Mohler said that Christian couples “should be open” to the prospect of changing the course of nature — if a biological marker for homosexuality were to be found. He would not support gene therapy but might back other treatments, such as a hormonal patch.
“I think any Christian couple would want their child to be whole and healthy,” he said.
And here we arrive at the heart of the matter: The belief that by “changing the course of nature,” what can only be called playing God, “Christian couples” would be making the world the way it should be. In this universe, “the course of nature” is wrong, and a child is made “whole and healthy” only through human intervention. How Mohler manages to avoid seeing the irony in his words is a mystery.
One thing that the Rev. Mohler and I agree on completely is this: “Careless thinking will not serve the church well.” Meyerson concludes:
A mysterious God may be well and good, but a capricious or contradictory God can inspire so much doubt that He threatens the credibility of the entire religious enterprise. After all, there are few American believers who don’t profess at least some faith as well in the verities of proven science and the rightness of our national credo’s commitment to human equality. By effectively insisting that God is a spiteful homo-hater, his followers saddle him with ancient phobias and condemn him to the backwaters of American moral life.