'I was born this way' countered by MBTS prof.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP) -- Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary professor Alan Branch has a friend whose brother explained his decision to embrace a homosexual lifestyle by stating, "I have a male body, but I have a female brain. That's why I'm attracted to men."

Branch, professor of Christian ethics, classifies that pronouncement as a version of the increasingly common argument that homosexual acts are morally legitimate because homosexuality is "hard-wired into who [some people] are from birth." As Branch sees it, the argument has been articulated in settings as diverse as the halls of academia, the lyrics of pop singer Lady Gaga and casual family conversations.

The need to equip Christians for countering that spurious notion is why Branch wrote his latest book "Born This Way? Homosexuality, Science, and the Scriptures," published by Weaver Book Company, basing the title on a Lady Gaga song.

The book, which has drawn an endorsement from Midwestern President Jason Allen, seeks to help pastors and churches understand contemporary scientific research on homosexuality from a Christian worldview perspective while standing firm on the biblical teaching that homosexual behavior is a sin.

"The prevalent claim 'I was born this way' is over-simplified and does not fit the evidence to date," Branch told Baptist Press in an email.

"Biological and genetic factors have a contributing factor towards the development of a homosexual identity, but they are not completely determinative," he noted. "The big point is that homosexuality is not a trait like hair, skin or eye color. Establishing this basic fact will help in the articulation of a clear Christian ethical stance regarding the morality of homosexual behavior."

Three key contributors to the misguided "I was born this way" argument, Branch writes, are:

-- Psychiatrist Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), who helped pioneer the idea some forms of homosexuality are innate;

-- Twentieth-century sex researcher Alfred Kinsey, who popularized the falsehood that 10 percent of males are homosexual; and

-- The American Psychiatric Association, which succumbed to political pressure in 1974 by removing homosexuality from its catalog of mental disorders in the "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual."

An important tool for countering the argument that homosexuality is innate and therefore morally acceptable is the concept of "brain plasticity," Branch writes, the notion that brain structures and functions change in response to choices and activities.

Like pornography use has been demonstrated to alter a male's response to women, repeatedly acting on homosexual desires may ingrain such desires in a person's brain, developing new neural pathways and making them feel "natural," he argues.

Biological and genetic factors contribute to same-sex attraction, Branch writes, but do not predetermine how a person will respond to such attraction. Among his conclusions:

-- "While prenatal hormones are essential for gender development in the womb and ... some real problems can develop when" hormones are not secreted correctly in a mother's womb, "the born-this-way argument that prenatal hormones unalterably fix same-sex attraction has not been proven."

-- No definite link between brain structure and homosexuality has been demonstrated, but there have been "intriguing findings" regarding the differences between the brains of homosexuals and heterosexuals.

-- Studies of identical twins suggest "a genetic contributing factor to homosexuality may be at work."

-- "While there have been some intriguing discoveries regarding DNA and homosexuality, as of yet no evidence confirms a simplistic born-this-way argument." Even if a so-called "gay gene" were discovered, its presence would not uncontrollably compel a person to act on same-sex attraction.

Rather than intimidating Christians, scientific research should help them develop a compassionate, pastoral response to those with same-sex attraction, Branch writes, noting the difficulty in most cases of completely eradicating homosexual temptation.

"We must face the current data with honesty, but also with discernment. Movement on a continuum of orientation change is possible for some, but it is not as easy or as frequent as many of us evangelicals would wish. The majority of research clearly indicates an attempt to change sexual orientation is a daunting task and a rare occurrence," he writes.

Yet those realities do not trump Scripture's insistence, Branch argues, that "it is possible for homosexual behavior to be something in which a person once participated in the past, but no longer does so" by virtue of God's saving and transforming grace.

For some with same-sex attraction, following Christ will entail singleness and godly celibacy, he writes. For others, it will entail heterosexual marriage and combatting occasional same-sex temptations while yet others will marry a person of the opposite gender and be freed altogether from same-sex temptations.

"Each of these options is consistent with Christian sexual ethics," he writes.

Through every aspect of Christians' response to homosexuality, Branch argues, "serious debate" must not be "short-circuited by the vacuous claim, 'I was born this way.'"

David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally.
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