Nature | Disposition | Orientation

In recent history, regarding the topic of sexual orientation, we have often defined such, in the simplest of terms, as an inner (perhaps metaphysical) attractional disposition that, at least romantically, prefers the emotional, psychological, and/or sexual/physical engagement of another. The reason why a particular boy is attracted emotionally, psychologically, and sexually to particular girls (and vice versa) originates from an inner disposition (inclination, propensity, proclivity) that, at least in the view of many, is natural (normal, customary, habitual, non-coerced, established, usual, standard) to the individual. But few thought to ask why this is reality for most until the origin of nature or orientation of homosexuality (and bisexuality and pansexuality) was considered.

There has been a discussion concerning sexual fluidity within at least the last decade, leading some to think that sexual orientation can easily be changed, and granting many conservative evangelicals fodder for advancing gay conversion therapy. But the subject of sexual fluidity belongs to only certain individuals: "Some people are highly fluid, while others are less fluid." (link) One particular conservative blogger provided his readers with a link to the subject of sexual fluidity, as a means of challenging sexual orientation as a fixed nature (because he insists that homosexuality can be "cured" and gays can be converted to heterosexuals), and that led me to ask: Is he insinuating that his heterosexuality is also fluid, that he could change, and become attracted to men? Odd, is it not, that his own sexuality is not so fluid and yet he insists on sexual fluidity?

For many (I think most) people, sexual orientation is a fixed reality: some heterosexuals would never, in any given situation, consider homosexual engagement; while many homosexuals would never, in any given situation, consider heterosexual engagement. But between the two extremes, some people navigate their way through the maze of sexuality or physical/sexual attraction (and do not forget asexuals and pansexuals), and maintain varying ratios of hetero- to bisexual self-disclosed inducement. (In this brief piece I am unconcerned about origins and/or causes.) One man, for example, may be attracted to women 90 percent of his normal activity and men 10 percent; while another man may be attracted to women 80, 70, 60 percent of his normal activity and men 20, 30, 40 percent. Even many self-professed bisexuals differ in their particular ratio.

Can sexual preferences change? First, understand that by "sexual preference" we infer more here than mere sex or the sex act: we incorporate physical attraction (face, body, smile), emotional attraction (tender, strong, shy), and psychological attraction (witty, intellectual, carefree). Consider that pansexuals are not interested in gender identity but are attracted to human beings in a general sense. Consider also that some bisexual men, even those who are primarily attracted to women, are attracted to perceptually masculine men and not feminine-acting men. Consider, too, that some predominantly heterosexual men would engage a man sexually, in some rather seemingly-disinterested and dispassionate sense, if the situation presented itself as convenient for him (e.g., a prison context, encountering a transsexual, or encountering an overtly-feminine guy).

Second, for those individuals who have experienced a genuine (as opposed to a disingenuous and wishful thinking) change in one's sexual preference, such seem to be contextual. For instance, the heterosexual man in prison may allow another male to engage him sexually, yet never repeat the practice when he is out of prison. He was conveniently sexually fluid within that context. Or let us consider a context of trauma. A woman who is brutally raped by a man may discover that she prefers the company and love, and even sexual encounters, of another woman. She experienced sexual fluidity that was contextual. Another example is a woman who is primarily heterosexual but is attracted emotionally and romantically to one woman. (link) (I personally know of this circumstance.) For this individual, she is prone to experiencing limited sexual fluidity, but such does not require us to label her bisexual nor purely sexually fluid.

Albert Schinz, in his The Concept of Nature in Philosophy and Literature: A Consideration of Recent Discussions, confesses that the word and the topic of nature is "one of the most perplexing in the vocabulary of science, art and literature."1 He notes that the Greeks and the Latins laid claim to nature for advocating "their social system of classes of masters and slaves"; the Renaissance used nature to "repudiate the unnatural [not a pun] claims of the medieval asceticism"; the classic philosophers used nature in suggesting that "reason and nature are one to command and discipline human passions"; while Christians appealed to nature "to proclaim equality of all men [except Africans and LGBTQ persons] before God."2 But what do we communicate regarding nature?

In our post-postmodern context we refer to nature, with regard to ontology (being) as a state of existence, the basic character and/or qualities of a living creature, and/or the fundamental distinguishing character or disposition of a living being. (link) To be homosexual by nature, then, is for a mortal to exist in a state of one's (physical and metaphysical) own reality, in contradistinction from his or her heterosexual colleagues, that experientially prefers to be related emotionally (and romantically), psychologically, and physically/sexually with a member of one's own gender. Does any author of the Hebrew or Christian scriptures address and condemn homosexuality by nature? No.

Regarding St Paul's message at Romans 1:24, 25, 26, 27, 28, Dr. James V. Brownson writes, "Most traditionalists," i.e., those who consider homosexuality an abomination to God, who generally support the failed efforts of gay conversion therapy and oppose the legislation of same-sex marriage, LGBTQ equality and protection rights for LGBTQ persons, "agree that Paul does not have the modern notion of sexual orientation in mind when he speaks of same-sex eroticism [or attractional proclivity] as 'against nature.'"3 He also argues, though, that traditionalists tend to "minimize the emphasis, in Romans 1:26-27, on nature as one's personal nature or disposition." Dr. Brownson continues:
For example, Robert Gagnon says: "Paul is speaking in corporate terms of the sweep of history [nowhere in the text does St Paul indicate such], not the experience of each and every individual practitioner of same-sex intercourse." Similarly, Thomas Schmidt writes: "Paul is describing not individual actions but the corporate rebellion of humanity against God and the kinds of behavior that result." I must confess that I find this argument inscrutable. Romans 1:27 speaks of specific men who "leave behind the natural use of women" and instead engage in sex with other men. It is difficult to see how the focus on corporate rebellion clarifies the text in any way.4
Since the "whole modern concept of sexual orientation and the contemporary evidence of its deeply rooted persistence, both in some humans and in some animals, represent an important range of empirical data about the natural world that was not considered by the ancient Jewish or Christian writers,"5 how should we properly interpret what the apostle writes about nature? For Paul does not seem to advance an abstraction about the nature or disposition or orientation of homosexual persons.6 Consider the following: "Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears his hair long it is a disgrace to him, whereas if a woman has long hair it is her glory, because long hair has been given [her] for a covering?" (1 Cor. 11:14, 15, emphasis added) In what sense whatsoever does "nature itself" inform us regarding the length of hair for men and women? What is nature?



First, consider Samson, of whom an angel informs his mother: "No razor shall touch his head, for the boy is to be a nazirite [one who is consecrated for special purpose] for God from the womb." (Judges 13:5) Should not "nature itself" have informed the mother of Samson that the angel is wrong about allowing the boy to have long hair? Absalom, praised by all for his immense beauty, only cut his hair once a year "when it was heavy on him" (2 Sam. 14:26). Should not "nature itself" have informed him (and others) that he should not have "shamefully" maintained long hair for most of the year?

Second, consider that Paul uses κομάω to refer to man's hair, which is also translated as "tresses of hair" and can refer not necessarily to length of hair as to the style of one's hair; in this case an overtly woman's style. But we are still left with the question regarding nature: How does nature, proper, inform us as to length of hair or that men should maintain a set style of hair and women another? What is his use of nature?7

Dr. Brownson et al. consider that Paul's use of nature refers to that which is natural, in both a personal and a cosmic (universal) sense together, and the personal so-called nature is never divorced from its wider philosophical application. Hence, from all appearances (I am not claiming to know what Paul knew), Paul is using the abandonment of people from God (Rom. 1:21, 23, 25), as well as heterosexual people abandoning their own inner sexual cognizance (Rom. 1:24, 26, 27), to shame believers throughout Rome who judge these people while engaging in the same (Rom. 2:1, 2, 3).

I do, however, think we must insist on referring to the people mentioned at Romans 1:24-32 as, strictly, heterosexual men and women as not in any sense homosexual in orientation. "It is impossible to imagine," explains Dr. Brownson, "how one can 'exchange' something that one does not, in some sense, already possess. Similarly, one cannot 'give up' or 'leave behind' something that is not already in one's possession or nature."8 In other words, a homosexual man or woman does not "exchange" or "give up" a perceived heterosexual sexual inclination for homosexual sexual engagement. The heterosexual, however, at least in this context, could "exchange" and "give up" respectively the typical manner of sexual relations and engage in homosexual sex.

What is "against nature," then, is the heterosexual who, out of excessive lust (or perhaps even out of sexual curiosity), "exchanges," "gives up," or abandons his or her heterosexuality in order to engage in strictly (homo)sexual promiscuity. This is condemned. Moreover, consider what activity, exactly, is condemned: they knew God (Rom. 1:21, 23, 25) but rejected God (Rom. 1:21, 25); they then rejected their own heterosexuality (Rom. 1:24, 26, 27), exchanging heterosexual relationships that included sexual activity for same-sex erotic lust (Rom. 1:24), impurity (Rom. 1:24), degradation (Rom. 1:24) and degrading passions or lusts (Rom. 1:26). Such resembles pagan orgiastic sexuality and in no sense reflects Christian sexual ethics. Here there is no love, no monogamous commitment, but only excessive lust and sexual gratification.

But what we do not discover here is the concept of homosexual orientation. Dr. Brownson concludes that the "absence of such [a perspective] in early Jewish and Christian sources suggests that these Jews and Christians did not recognize even the possibility that persons might be naturally inclined (in terms of their own true nature) toward desiring others of the same sex."9 We recognize that God rejected the people mentioned at Romans 1:24-32; but God rejected them, notes the apostle Paul, because they first rejected the God they knew existed (Rom. 1:21, 23, 24, 25, 26, 28).

That these individuals then rejected their own heterosexual disposition for homosexual lust is not to, ipso facto, condemn all forms of homosexuality in toto. At the first chapter of Romans, when reading and studying this text years ago, I, naturally, asked myself: But what if the homosexual, who longs to love and serve God in Christ also longs to love and to be loved by a member of his or her own gender? Would God reject such a one who trusts in Him by grace through faith in Christ? My answer remains no.

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1 Albert Schinz, The Concept of Nature in Philosophy and Literature: A Consideration of Recent Discussions, in Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, Vol. 68, No. 3 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1929), 207.

2 Ibid.

3 James V. Brownson, Bible, Gender, Sexuality: Reframing the Church's Debate on Same-Sex Relationships (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2013), 230.

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid.

6 "The concept of 'natural law' was not fully developed until more than a millennium after Paul's death, and it is anachronistic to read it into his words." John Boswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century (Chicago: The Chicago of University Press, 1981), 110.

7 John Boswell writes: "Clearly Paul here uses 'nature' in the sense of custom, tradition, or ethical heritage, ignoring (or rejecting) the usual dichotomy in Greek between custom and nature." (p. 110)

8 Brownson, 229.

9 Ibid.