I was watching a show a few years ago in which one of the main characters was questioning his sexuality. Sheepishly, he asked a friend how he could know if he was gay. His friend responded that if he really didn’t know, he should have sex with a man to see if he likes it.
It’s widely accepted in our age that what defines your sexual orientation is what feels good or right to you. If you’re a man and you’re attracted to women, you’re straight. If you’re a woman and you like women, you’re gay. And so on.
You might be reading and thinking this is all obvious, but I’d like to suggest to you that this is actually less obvious than how Christianity has traditionally understood sexual orientation.
Biblical Christianity begins all discussions about sexuality—including sexual orientation—by first looking to the human body. In other words, Christianity doesn’t start with what a human being feels romantically, but with what a human being is physically.
So where the culture looks at what a person feels as the best indicator of his or her sexual orientation, Christianity looks at the person’s male or female body and its “built in” sexual orientation.
(Are you tracking with me?)
Your sex organs as a man or woman have a biological complement in the other sex. Specifically, the male penis corresponds to one (and only one) other organ: the female vagina, and vice versa. Said differently, the male and female sex organs are sexually oriented toward each other. (Likewise, male sperm are oriented toward the female egg, and in fact, designed to swim, find, and fertilize a female egg.)
This is what I mean by the “built in” sexual orientation of the body: male and female sexed biology is oriented toward the other sex.*
Obviously, the present culture and Christianity see these things very differently. And this matters greatly because, ultimately, it will shape and inform how we love others.
In his book, No Man Is an Island, Trappist monk Thomas Merton writes, “To love another is to will what is really good for him. Such love must be based on truth.”
In other words, real love doesn’t just want what feels good for others but what actually is good for them. And in order to know the difference between what is good for a person, we must remain grounded in reality—in the real world God has made.
The heresy of Gnosticism believed that the spiritual world was the only world that really mattered, and the physical world was insignificant. The early church recognized, however, that this view of “reality” led to two extremes: one was to care for souls without caring for people’s physical needs, and the other was to promote a kind of spirituality that embraced physical licentiousness.
But look to Jesus’ incarnation and this view of reality is exposed as faulty. Jesus revealed God’s great love for our human bodies, as demonstrated through the incarnation, healing people of disabilities and sicknesses, feeding the multitudes, holding and blessing children, touching and healing lepers, eating and drinking with sinners, and most profoundly, being crucified and rising from the dead bodily. Jesus bodily life, death, and resurrection reveals that God cares greatly not just for your spirit, but for your body.
Friends, looking at sexual identity and orientation through this Christian lens does not automatically rightly align our felt sexual desires with our bodies’ God-given biology, nor with Scripture’s revealed truth about sexual integrity. Even so, may we be anchored to and guided by God’s good design as we face our own temptations and as we seek to love others as Jesus loves them.
What do you think? In what ways is the body’s “built-in” sexual orientation a more reliable guide than a person’s (perhaps your own) sexual attractions? In what ways is it less reliable? What am I missing in this brief post?
*It is important to also acknowledge here that a very small minority of people are born with a specific kind of intersex condition that does not fit neatly into either male or female biology. Although this does not change the biblically-revealed reality of God’s original male-female design, it is nonetheless the real experience of people who are wholly and passionately loved by God, and we should seek to be sensitive to them as well.
Want to hear more this week? Check out the latest Becoming Whole podcast; Identity and Orientation Part 2