This week, I would like to address the claim that Christians are bigoted towards people with same-sex attraction, somewhat in the same mould as people who thought interracial marriage was wrong in times past. One of the comments I received on my Facebook page for last week’s article implied this:
Just for the record, Australia is somewhat different from the United States in that it has never had any laws prohibiting interracial marriage (sometimes called anti-miscegenation laws). Moreover, the official teaching of the Catholic Church has consistently underlined our common humanity – that we are all made in God’s image and likeness. Pope Paul III was quite clear on this to the colonisers of the New World:
The enemy of the human race [i.e. Satan], who opposes all good deeds in order to bring men to destruction, beholding and envying this, invented a means never before heard of, by which he might hinder the preaching of God’s word of Salvation to the people: he inspired his satellites who, to please him, have not hesitated to publish abroad that the Indians of the West and the South, and other people of whom We have recent knowledge should be treated as dumb brutes created for our service … notwithstanding whatever may have been or may be said to the contrary, the said Indians and all other people who may later be discovered by Christians, are by no means to be deprived of their liberty or the possession of their property, even though they be outside the faith of Jesus Christ; and that they may and should, freely and legitimately, enjoy their liberty and the possession of their property; nor should they be in any way enslaved; should the contrary happen, it shall be null and have no effect.
Pope Paul III, Sublimus Dei – On the Enslavement and Evangelisation of Indians, 29 May 1537.
In fact the Catholic Church has African and Asian saints aplenty, celebrated down through the ages (most of whom I have never heard of, as it happens). These people are venerated for their wonderful example of faithfulness under trying circumstances, and we believe that they are part of the Church Triumphant – those of our church family that are already with Christ in heaven. I merely mention this, because so many people seem to be under the impression that Catholicism equals bigotry.
I now want to talk about same-sex attraction and explain from a biological perspective why the accusation of bigotry does not apply in the same way it applies to race. Having grown up in South Africa under an apartheid regime, I am perfectly well aware of what racism does and how much work the Churches did to bring equality and reconciliation (except for the NGK which was a prominent supporter of apartheid and eventually expelled from the World Alliance of Reformed Churches for that reason).
Let’s say we take a racist person who thinks a male of African descent should not marry a woman of Anglo-Saxon descent. The racist looks at the different physical features (known in genetics as the phenotype) of the African and the Anglo-Saxon and decides that they are sufficiently different to make the two people incompatible as marriage partners. The Christian, on the other hand, looks at the African and the Anglo-Saxon as both being God’s children and therefore a perfectly acceptable match, all other things being equal. The question is – is the racist correct about there being real differences between the two people? Of course he is: and we can find the phenotypic differences reflected in the genetic makeup of the parties. Every time someone has their DNA profiled in hopes of finding out their ancestral roots, they are relying on the presence of ancestry-informative markers. These are single nucleotide polymorphisms – what biologists call SNPs (pronounce that snips), which are typical of certain populations. SNPs are sites in genes where one may have different variations of a particular nucleotide without the changes necessarily affecting the phenotype – although sometimes they can. For example, if a DNA profiler finds the SNP (FY*0) in a person’s DNA, this will usually mean that the Duffy antigen system (a membrane protein found on red blood cells) is non-functional – and this particular SNP is (barring novel mutations) 100% likely to show that the person is of African descent, either wholly or partially. Indeed, the International HapMap Project has created a map of SNPs that can identify haplotypes (sets of SNPs) that can be used to determine geographical origin.
So we can safely conclude that race is not a figment of our imagination, or a human construct, but a phenotypic manifestation of an underlying genetic reality.
What about sexual orientation? Is there any underlying genetic reality to the human phenomenon of same-sex attraction?
The answer is both yes and no. Contrary to what popular culture and the ‘born this way’ slogans tell us, there is scant evidence that SSA is genetically determined. However, there is some evidence that there are genetic predispository factors in play. If homosexuality were genetically determined, then there would be 100% concordance between identical (monozygotic) twins; however, recent studies show only between 5.3 and 24% concordance (Bailey, Dunne and Martin, 2000, Bearman and Brückner, 2002); therefore environmental causes are a significant factor. Scientists like William Rice, Professor of Evolutionary Genetics at UCSB, have already confirmed that there is no ‘gay gene’. Some scientists have also postulated that homosexual proclivities have been caused by epigenetic factors – chemical changes to DNA, usually involving DNA methylation. These epigenetic marks are reversible and usually caused by environmental factors. But so far, epigenetics studies on people with same-sex attraction are inconclusive and no clear link has been established. Andrew Gelman, Professor of Statistics and Political Science at Columbia University, kept me amused with his discussion of the dodgy statistics, and his comments have been noted at the science magazine, Nature, which was initially too keen to jump on the epigenetic bandwagon.
One interesting observation that Science has produced, is that the Xq28 chromosome band on the X chromosome and the pericentromeric region of chromosome 8 may have some effect in predisposing males (and not females) to same-sex attraction (Sanders, Marcham and Beecham, 2014). But when we look at what these particular genes do, we find that Xq28 is associated with anxiety disorders, and the pericentromeric region of chromosome 8 is intriguingly associated with signalling in the nervous system. A review of current research at Scientific American notes that:
… Twin studies additionally point to genetic explanations as the underlying force for same-sex partner preference in men and neuroticism, a personality trait that is comparable to anxiety. The research points to childhood separation anxiety as a culturally universal correlate of androphilia in men. This has important implications for our understanding of children’s mental health conditions because subclinical levels of separation anxiety, when intertwined with male androphilia, may represent a typical part of the developmental life course.
So there seems to be a connection between anxiety disorders, nervous signalling, childhood separation anxiety and male androphilia.
Which blends in nicely with my next point: the evidence from psychology. Psychologists who work with male and female SSA people have found significant correlations between childhood separation anxiety, attachment issues with one or both parents, and same-sex attraction.
Dr Janelle Hallman, who specialises in counselling females with (usually unwanted) same-sex attraction, writes the following:
Over the years, I have observed several broad categories in terms of common historic and developmental themes within the lives of women with same-sex attraction:
- A strained, detached or missing bond and/or attachment with mother without an available mother substitute, resulting in a need for attachment;
- The presence of sexual abuse or trauma typically at the hands of a male, or disillusionment and profound disappointment in relationships with males, resulting in a dismissal, fear or hatred of men;
- Few if any girlhood/adolescent same-sex friendships, resulting in a need for acceptance and belonging;
- Gender non-conforming skills and interests often combined with a sense of emptiness or identity moratorium [a crisis state] in lieu of a full and rich identity as a feminine person, resulting in a need for self/identity and gender identity.
While the presence of these elements is not a direct predictor or determinant of female same-sex attraction, they are nevertheless the most common and frequently reported facets of a woman’s story. These elements are sequential in order of development or experience, boast of other associated common themes, and often predispose a girl or young woman to the next sequential element and are therefore interrelated.
Within many of my clients is a deep deprivation of “motherly” love. Absent in their story is a sense of being nurtured and cared for by an attentive and sensitive mom. This does not mean that “mother” was not loving or offering the best to her daughter in terms of emotional support, it means that the girl was unable to take-in, receive or appropriate her mother’s loving intention.
One of my clients was separated from her biological mother at birth and was unable to form a warm attachment with her adoptive mother. Many of my clients report that during the time of their birth or within the first two years of their lives, there was substantial stress, difficulty and chaos in their mothers’ lives due to moves, depression, alcoholic husbands, several other children, undue pressure from perfectionistic family members, mandatory adoption of additional children due to abandonment by or death of relatives, etc., all disallowing the mothers to enter into restful and nurturing moments with their young daughters.
It is also common to hear that a “pre-lesbian” girl was very “close” to her mother because mother “needed her” by depending on her to do the housework, care for and protect siblings, deal with an alcoholic father, be a confidant for mom, while mother hid her self away in bed most of the day. One daughter even had to call 911 whenever her mother was suicidal. This type of relationship is very deceiving in that it holds the appearance of closeness but in essence, totally lacks the actual nurturance and care that the little girl needed.
There may be no greater trauma in a girl’s life developmentally, than one that interferes with her primal relationship with mom. Mom is not only the first bond and attachment for a little baby girl, but is also the relational object with whom this little girl will form her first sense of self and eventually rely on to complete her identification process as a female. If a little girl experiences disruption in this most primal and ideally ongoing essential relationship, it will not only create a need in her for the by-products of such a relationship, such as affection, touch, suckling, eye to eye gazing, etc., but will affect all future attachments as well as her developmental process of identity formation.
Similarly, Dr Joseph Nicolosi, who works with same-sex attracted males, has some fascinating comments about the family dynamics between fathers and SSA sons. Read it all at Fathers of Male Homosexuals, a collective clinical profile.
In my own observations with SSA people who are friends of mine, I have found the female family situations to have involved these factors: sexual abuse by close family members or neighbours, absent or deceased fathers, distant, alcoholic or drug-dependent mothers and even SSA women who have suffered from a generationally iterative attachment deficit due to a grandmother’s early death. I’m not saying it’s necessarily the parent’s fault. Sometimes, as Hallman notes, the child is ‘unable to take-in, receive or appropriate her mother’s loving intention’. I have limited experience with male homosexuals, but one friend of mine, who is now ex-gay, lacked an affective relationship with his biological parents during the early stages of his development, as he was adopted out and lived in institutional care during his infancy before being taken into a loving foster home – and was then sexually abused during his teenage years by his male teachers. Public homosexuals like Milo Yiannopoulos also draw attention to being sexually abused during the crucial adolescent years, the fifth stage of Erik Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development. We can see that, together with the effects of the Xq28 gene which may predispose a male towards anxiety disorders, a problem with parental attachment during Erikson’s 0-23 month stage can have a life changing effect and send him down a path of psychological adaptation to these unfortunate events by seeking attachment in a ‘father substitute’, or for a lesbian, a ‘mother substitute’.
The question then for us is, how do Christians behave towards SSA people? Obviously further rejection of SSA people by Christians is going to feed in to the already existing perception of rejection; the constant accusations of homophobia and bigotry are merely the manifestation of the Rejection Meme writ large upon an uncaring society. On the other hand, Christians have to be faithful to the Gospel – which means that we do not see same sex ‘marriage’ as being a solution to the gay person’s attachment issues. Primarily we see marriage as something oriented towards providing children with a natural link with their biological parents, which I have spoken about previously here, and that changing the definition of marriage will have societal consequences which do not just affect people who are same-sex oriented.
Christians have another option altogether. We think that same-sex attracted people can find ultimate fulfilment in Christ, who loves them with an all-encompassing love. We would like to invite more gay people to get to know the person of Christ, because a living and active relationship with him is just that – living and active! Christ is not just a historical figure, but a person who gets intimately involved in our lives, once we open the door to him. If you are a lesbian who is somewhat repelled by involvement with males because of past abuse, get to know the Mother of Christ – she is the ultimate and ideal mother (Rev. 12:17) and I can personally attest that she has accompanied me gently and lovingly through many trials. These things are not well explained theoretically, but if one opens one’s heart even the smallest amount to the possibility of relationship with God, the Holy Spirit will find a way in through the smallest of cracks and fill your soul with His illumination and love. We also need to send a strong message to heterosexual Catholics: do not use insulting, demeaning or unloving language around SSA people. This is a hard course to steer, because even the mere suggestion that a person with SSA might not be ‘born this way’ can trigger a strong emotional reaction and be perceived as a lack of acceptance. I have discovered this through experience because there are people who now find it difficult to talk to me because of my strong views on this, and will do anything to stay in their comfort zone.
Lastly, I would like to let gay people in Australia know that we in the Catholic Church have an active support ministry for same-sex attracted people (Courage) and for their families and friends (EnCourage). If you would like more information on either of these groups, please get in touch with me and I will refer you to the appropriate person.