In 2011 when Lady Gaga released her hit ‘Born this Way’, not only did it top the charts worldwide, it was also hailed by Elton John as the ‘gay anthem of our time’.1 And it is not hard to see why! She sings that it doesn’t matter if you’re gay, straight, or bi, lesbian or transgender, you’re on the right track baby, because you were born this way.
This thinking is not unique to secular pop. The Christian song writer turned gay rights activist Vicky Beeching wrote:
‘For those of us who believe in a Creator, we honor that Being by respecting the way they designed us and by allowing our uniqueness to shine.’2
The logic of both Beeching and Gaga is the same and consists of two points. Firstly, you did not choose to be gay or straight; God made you that way, so don’t be embarrassed or ashamed of who you are. Secondly, as God made you this way you are free to live out your sexual desires.
We don’t choose the hands we are dealt
Before I offer my critique of the ‘born this way’ mindset I do want to acknowledge that I think there is something helpful here. We do not choose the hand we are dealt. We don’t choose our culture, place of origin, the colour of our skin, our gender, or our physical features. Neither do we choose who we find sexually attractive.
Yes, attractions can change and develop over time. Some people who are same-sex attracted can develop attractions towards the opposite sex.3 Sean Doherty and Rachel Gilson are examples of this.4 However, this is not the case for everyone and if you deny that you are ‘born this way’ then it can you lead you into a lot of trouble. There are, tragically, many examples of men and women who enter into heterosexual marriages when they have limited sexual attractions towards their spouse. They often end up crashing out of this marriage. This hurts not only them, but also their spouse and any children they have from the marriage. For many years I pretended that I was ‘heterosexual’, but it didn’t matter how hard I tried, it always felt like I was wearing a mask and living a fake life.
The hands that people are dealt in life do not qualify or disqualify anyone. The good news is good news for all.
This led me to a dark place of shame. Jesus doesn’t seem to care about the hands people have been dealt. He heals the servant of a Roman soldier (Luke 7:1-10). He heals the blind eyes of a Jewish man (Mark 10:46-52). He offers eternal life to a sexually broken Samaritan women (John 4:1-42). As the gospel goes out in Acts, it is offered to men and women (Acts 17:4), Jews and Gentiles (Acts 2:47, Acts 8:26-40), the poor and the rich (Acts 3:1-10, 13:4-12). The hands that people are dealt in life do not qualify or disqualify anyone. The good news is good news for all.
But we choose how to play them
However, cultural movers like Lady Gaga and Vicky Beeching don’t just want us to accept that we have these sexual desires, they then want us to go out and live out these sexual desires. It is this part of the ‘born this way’ thinking that I can’t agree with, and I have four reasons why.
Firstly, yes, we don’t control the hands we have been dealt, but we do choose how to play them. I am white, male, and same-sex attracted. This is the hand I have been dealt. But how should I live out this hand? In each category, I have choices to make. I could decide that my skin colour makes me superior to others, or I could acknowledge that all people have been made in God’s image and are thus of equal worth and value. I could embody the elements of ‘toxic masculinity’ that have made that phrase so infamous, or I could choose to follow the example of the God-man Jesus and choose to serve rather than oppress those around me. I have a choice about how to live out these elements of my identity. In the same way I have a choice about how to live out my sexuality. The hand we have been dealt does not determine how we should play it.
The hand we have been dealt does not determine how we should play it.
Secondly, “born this way” advocates reduce human beings down to their sexual desires. They claim that if you have exclusive sexual desires towards someone of the same sex as you then you must act on them. I have friends who think that celibacy is not just socially weird, but actually harmful. But is there really any evidence of that?5
Reducing human beings down to their sexual desires puts us on the same level as domestic animals. No one is surprised when an unneutered male dog goes wild when it smells a female dog on heat. It is an animal! But do we humans really have no control over how we live out our sexual desires? Just because we feel something do we have to act on it? A man may want to have sexual relations with a woman, but if the woman doesn’t return the feeling, then if he acted on his desires, it would be wrong. Has the #MeToo movement taught us nothing! Surely, it has at least taught us that not all sexual desires should be acted upon.
Human beings may not be able to choose their desires, but they do have the choice how to act on them. Our ability to make choices and to be held accountable for those choices are part of our God-given glory.6 We are not animals, but divine image bearers. We have no control over the hand we have been dealt, but we do have a choice over how to play it.
Thirdly, ‘born this way’ does not acknowledge the complexities of the human condition. It assumes that if you are born with certain qualities, or desires, then they are naturally good. But not all desires are naturally good. Selfishness is natural to me. Now selfishness is not all bad, one does need to look after oneself, but the problem arises when that’s all I want to do at the expense of the good of others. Then you have people who struggle with anger management. That anger may feel very natural, but does it necessarily mean it’s good?
Fourthly, Jesus meets people where they are at, but he does not expect people to stay there. He accepts all people, but he does not approve of all behaviours. As he went preaching from town to town, he called people to ‘repent and believe’ (Mark 1:15). And Paul’s teaching in Colossians is clear, there is certain behaviour that needs to be ‘put to death’ and others that need to be ‘put on’ (Colossians 3:1-17).
‘Born this way’ is helpful because none of us have chosen the hands we have been dealt; however it is also flawed. We don’t choose the hands we are dealt but we do choose how to play them. The path has not been predetermined, and neither are all the desires within us naturally good. Jesus accepts all people, but he does not approve of all behaviour. We should accept the reality of our sexual desires, but once we have accepted them, we then need to decide how to live in the light of them.
And God helps us all the way through
One of the many joys of the Christian faith is that we don’t have to make this decision alone; God helps us play the hand we have been dealt. He knows the cards; he knows the best way to play them, and he is guiding us as we make our moves. Every person who acknowledges that Jesus is their personal Saviour and Lord has been filled with the very Spirit of God. This Spirit which now fills us, is the same Spirit that raised Jesus Christ from the dead and so he is perfectly able to give life to our mortal bodies (Romans 8:9-11).
I have that Spirit within me. So even though I am a man, and I exclusively find men attractive, I’m able to live in a manner that will please God. I acknowledge these sexual desires, but I choose not to be defined by them and instead live a single and celibate life. Alone, I think I would find this path impossible, but with God, nothing is impossible!
- Lynn Neary, ‘How 'Born This Way' Was Born: An LGBT Anthem's Pedigree’, NPR. Accessed 18 December 2021.
- Vicky Beeching, Undivided: Coming Out, Becoming Whole, and Living Free from Shame (William Collins, 2019), p.264.
- https://www.livingout.org/resources/stories/19/sean-and-gaby , https://www.livingout.org/resources/podcasts/24/meet-the-authors-13-rachel-gilson
- John Stott, The Cross of Christ (IVP, 2009), p. 120.