By Harold MeyersonWednesday, March 21, 2007; Page A15 New York Times
Science is stealing up on America's religious fundamentalists, causing much alarm. Consider the dilemma of the Rev. R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville and a leading figure in the Southern Baptist firmament.
Writing in his blog this month, Mohler acknowledged that " the direction of the research" increasingly points to the possibility that a "biological basis for sexual orientation exists." Should sexuality be determined in utero, Mohler continued, that still wouldn't justify abortion or genetic engineering.
Nonetheless, as Mohler noted in a later blog post, his admission that the data suggest that homosexuality may be as genetically determined as hair color produced a torrent of irate e-mail from his fellow evangelical Christians. Up to now, the preferred theory among Christian conservatives has been that homosexuality is behaviorally induced and thus can be unlearned. That gave added moral weight to the biblical proscriptions of gay and lesbian sex and to the Bible's condemnation of homosexuality as a sin -- though for those who believe in biblical inerrancy, no added moral weight was necessary.
But once you recognize homosexuality as a genetic reality, it does create a theological dilemma for the Mohlers among us, for it means that God is making people who, in the midst of what may otherwise be morally exemplary lives, have a special and inherent predisposition to sin.
Mohler's response is that since Adam's fall, sin is the condition of all humankind. That sidesteps, however, the conundrum that a gay person may follow the same God-given instincts as a straight person -- let's assume fidelity and the desire for church sanctification in both cases -- and end up damned while the straight person ends up saved. Indeed, it means that a gay person's duty is to suppress his God-given instincts while a straight person's duty is to fulfill his.
Mohler's deity, in short, is the God of Double Standards: a God who enforces the norms and fears of a world before science, a God profoundly ignorant of or resistant to the arc of American history, which is the struggle to expand the scope of the word "men" in our founding declaration that "all men are created equal." This is a God who in earlier times was invoked to defend segregation and, before that, slavery.
This is a God whom vast numbers of this nation's self-professed believers (not to mention its nonbelievers, such as I) neither heed nor like very much, particularly the young, who in growing numbers support gay marriage and certainly don't consider gay coupling any more sinful than they do straight coupling. That said, this God still commands millions of followers, among them Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of Old Time Religion, who recently declared homosexuality immoral in an interview with the Chicago Tribune.
Indeed, this God commands so many followers that the initial tendency of presidential candidates who know better was to duck when they themselves were asked last week about the morality of gay sex. Sen. Hillary Clinton, when first asked if homosexuality was immoral, answered that it was for "others to conclude," before righting herself to say that she didn't think being gay was immoral.
Sen. Barack Obama, according to Newsweek, avoided a direct answer three times before coming to his senses and disagreeing with Pace. The spokesperson for Sen.
John "Straight-Talk Express" McCain said that "the senator thinks such questions are a matter of conscience and faith for people to decide for themselves." Such political and moral contortions are hardly confined to presidential candidates.
In Utah, a new law requires school principals to police every student organization to ensure that there's no discussion of "human sexuality" (though experts believe the topic may still come up among teenage students). Lest it seem discriminatory, the statute applies to every student group under the sun, but it is entirely a reaction to the formation of gay-straight clubs at Utah high schools.
There is, however, no ban as yet on high school biology teachers discussing the biological basis of homosexuality, and as the data confirming this thesis continue to mount, that could confront even those of Pace's persuasion with Mohler's conundrum: how to reconcile a God who creates homosexuals with a God who condemns practicing homosexuals to hell? A mysterious God may be well and good, but a capricious or contradictory God can inspire so much doubt that He threatens the credibility of the entire religious enterprise.
After all, there are few American believers who don't profess at least some faith as well in the verities of proven science and the rightness of our national credo's commitment to human equality.
By effectively insisting that God is a spiteful homo-hater, his followers saddle him with ancient phobias and condemn him to the backwaters of American moral life.