by Rev. Jim Lucas, Chaplain — Gays In Faith Together
Why would anyone choose to be gay?” I’ve heard this rhetorical question repeatedly and consistently in my conversations with hundreds of people who are gay. In fact, the very idea that we might have chosen to be gay seems absurd to us.
Why would we want to see our parents cry and grieve the loss of their dreams for us? Why would we risk alienation from our families, harassment from our classmates, rejection by our friends, excommunication by our churches, and firing from our jobs?
Why would we choose a life in which we will be denied a wedding, all the social support that follows, and the over 1,000 legal protections that married couples take for granted? In short, why would any sane person choose a life with so much suffering and discrimination?
Still the myth endures. I recently read the results of a survey showing that over 40% of Americans believe that people choose to be gay. And the myth has consequences. A local public official told me that most of his constituents who oppose marriage (or even civil unions) for same-sex couples tell him that they believe people choose to be gay. They reason that if people choose to be gay, then they could choose not to be gay—and fit into the heterosexual pattern of the majority of society. So why extend the legal support heterosexual couples enjoy to people who apparently choose to rebel against traditional family values? The logic makes sense, except for one big problem: it’s based on the false assumption that people choose to be gay.
You’re not yet convinced? In the name of truth and love, then, explore this issue more thoroughly. Here are three ways.
First, research what psychology professionals and church leaders are saying. You will find that the major professional organizations such as the American Psychological Association state, based on scientific research, that people do not choose their feelings of romantic and sexual attraction toward the same sex. (Visit the APA site: http://www.apa.org/pubinfo/answers.html.)
Similarly, nearly all the major denominations, including the Catholic Church and a great number of Protestant churches, have officially adopted study reports that agree with this assessment based on extensive pastoral ministry with people who are gay. This includes conservative churches here in West Michigan like the Christian Reformed Church and the Reformed Church of America.
Second, ask some people who are gay. Do you think you don’t know anyone who is gay? Check your phone directory or the Internet for local support/advocacy organizations for gay people and their families. Call or email them, and tell them you are doing some research.
Third, consider your own feelings of romantic attraction. If you are married, think of the love you have for your spouse. Or think further back to the time when you first began to recognize those wonderful new feelings toward persons of
the opposite sex. Remember your heart racing on that first date? Remember the thrill of hearing your beloved say, “I love you”? Did you choose these feelings? Of course not. You simply felt them, realized them, and longed to express them. It’s the same for people who are gay.
Well, it’s not exactly the same because those of us who are gay are keenly aware that most of society considers our feelings sick and disgusting—and perhaps even sinful. So most of us do everything we can to suppress these feelings and change them. We choose to be heterosexual. But it doesn’t work. Think about it. If you are heterosexual, could you become romantically attracted to members of the same sex just by choosing to do so?
What about all the claims you have heard of gay people changing? In my twenty years of research on this question, I have found that people claiming to change fall into one or more of three categories:
- They changed their sexual behavior but not their feelings of attraction. They used to have gay sexual relationships and now are celibate or heterosexually married. They continue to long for a partner of the same sex, although they may be trying to suppress this longing.
- They changed the way that they identify themselves. They used to call themselves gay, but they now choose by faith to call themselves heterosexual, even though their feelings have not changed. The reasoning sometimes goes like this: “I cannot be gay and a Christian. So I’m not gay. Sure, I have to struggle with these temptations, but I’m going to assert my true identity as heterosexual.”
- They are bisexual in orientation and previously chose to focus on their same-sex attractions in same-sex relationships. Now they are choosing to focus on their opposite-sex attractions. They previously called themselves gay and now call themselves heterosexual, but they always experienced feelings of attraction toward both men and women.
“But wait,” you might be thinking, “God condemns gay people, and God wouldn’t condemn people for something they didn’t choose. So people must choose to be gay.” It was this sort of reasoning that led the Christian Church to excommunicate Galileo for stating his belief that the earth revolves around the sun. The Bible clearly shows that the sun revolves around the earth, they argued, and so Galileo’s scientific evidence must be wrong. Eventually the Church came to understand that it had interpreted the Bible incorrectly. A similar change has been taking place in Christian churches in the last few decades. In fact, a number of Christian churches (including the three mentioned above) have adopted official statements agreeing that God would not condemn gay people for an orientation they did not choose and cannot change.
Once we know that people do not choose to be gay and cannot change, we ask public policy issues in a new way. For example, is there a compelling moral or social reason for denying to gay people the sort of loving relationship (marriage) that heterosexual people treasure, including the support of the larger community, which is so valuable to the success of a relationship? That question is beyond the scope of this article. And no doubt we will arrive at various answers. But let’s at least begin with a common understanding of the facts about being gay. Our commitment to truth, to the Bible, and to God demands it.
After graduating from Calvin College and Calvin Theological Seminary, Rev. Jim Lucas served as pastor of a small Christian Reformed congregation. Since 1992 he has been providing pastoral care and advocacy for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Christians. Rev. Lucas is currently ordained in the United Church of Christ (UCC), a member of Plymouth UCC, and a Board Certified Chaplain with the Association of Professional Chaplains. He serves as the chaplain of Gays In Faith Together (GIFT) in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He also serves as a staff chaplain for Spectrum Health, and he enjoys living in the Newberry Place Cohousing Community.