"Is Homosexuality a Choice?" is Not the Right Question

Note: This is part of a series on Christianity and Homosexuality. See the introduction and first installment.

“Do you think I just woke up one morning and chose to be gay? Why on earth would anyone choose to be scorned and outcast, to face the prejudice, to be disowned, to give up the ‘perfect’ wedding and the ‘perfect’ kids? It would be so much easier if I were straight, but I can’t just turn it on and off like flipping a light switch.”

We’ve all heard objection before, on television, in the movies, or in real life from friends, family members or perfect strangers. It’s very powerful rhetoric. It has at least one problem. The human mind is an exceedingly complex thing, and the motivations for identity-shaping decisions are among the most inscrutable. In other words, people choose to do all sorts of things that are not apparently in their self-interest. “Do you think I would just choose to be a Muslim/Mormon/Pagan/Atheist in a society where that’s frowned upon? It would have been so much easier to remain a Protestant.” “Do you think I would just choose to become a communist in a family of capitalists?” “…a drug addict?” “…a career criminal?” “…a servant to the poor in Calcutta?” I’m not likening homosexuals and drug addicts — so let’s not play that game. I’m saying that people do all sorts of things with adverse consequences for all sorts of reasons. To express our independence, to spite our parents, to give society the middle-finger, to express anger, to express hatred, to identify with a favored victim group, to draw closer to a loved one, to run away from a loved one, do distract ourselves, to numb the pain, and even to destroy ourselves. Why does a person choose to become a suicide bomber?

But sometimes poor arguments are offered for true propositions. The basic point is correct: No one simply chooses to become any of those things. But that doesn’t mean they bear no moral responsibility for what they have become, and it certainly doesn’t mean they have no responsibility for what they become henceforth.

Now, don’t respond yet to what I wrote in the above paragraph, because you don’t know where I’m going with this. Let’s do something difficult: Forget for a moment that we’re talking about homosexuality. Bracket that question. I want to make a very simple but powerful and important conceptual distinction — and then, in the next post, return to the homosexuality question. I am going to claim: We should not be considering whether homosexuality is a free choice. We should be considering whether it’s voluntary. I’ll share my answer that question in the next part of this series — and the answer may surprise you. [Read more…]