In the debate over marriage equality, it is only a matter of time before someone brings up the idea that gays and lesbians should not be afforded rights because they “choose” to be that way. Why should such a “choice” be given governmental benefits when there is an equally valid alternative that already has these benefits? Though government honors individual choices in many other areas – religion being one example – this argument has a lot of power on the Religious Right and in evangelical Christian circles; because it explains the apparent contradiction between gay and lesbian peoples existence and these Christians religious beliefs.
Christianity is a religion which prides itself on the assertion that “all men can come to repentance” if they accept Jesus Christ as their personal savior; that no matter what they have done in their life, they can be cleansed and freed from their bondage in sin. How does this line up with those who are homosexual, since the Bible “clearly” states in 1 Corinthians that homosexuals will not inherit the kingdom of God?
Because gay and lesbian people exist - and have existed since the dawn of time - in order to meld these two seemingly contradictory concepts in their understanding of Christianity (of all men being able to be saved, and that homosexuals cannot go to heaven) evangelical Christianity had to come up with the doctrine that individuals “choose” to be gay. God would not create a being that would go directly to hell because of his/her sexual orientation, so therefore all individuals must be created heterosexual. But for some reason ,a small group decides that they do not want to be heterosexual but instead be homosexual. Evangelicals use passages such as Romans 1 to point out that those who struggle with “same-sex attraction” choose this sinful habit because they have fallen far from God, and only by coming closer to Him can they turn straight again. This is one reason, for example, that reparative therapy – though rejected by all major psychiatric and medical organizations – still sees traction within denominations like the Southern Baptists
Choice theory comes out of what I like to call the “Christian necessity”. We have seen the “Christian necessity” play out in almost every other major scientific issue in the past thousand years – from astronomy, to physics, to evolution, to geology. You see, evangelical Christianity’s animosity towards homosexual people is not necessarily based not upon the text of the Bible itself – but upon their interpretation of that text. It must also be remembered that any interpretation of a text is based upon that individuals preconceptions about certain issues. If an individual feels negatively about gays and lesbians, they will read that view into the passages that deal with homosexual conduct and will by necessity have to take the “choice” theory. On the other hand, those who are gay and lesbian who read the passage will take a different interpretation and will reject “choice” theory. In the end, we must realize that our interpretations are only so valid; that when they fly in the face of science and reason they are, by necessity, wrong. So though choice theory holds great sway in religious circles, it is up to us to show these people the facts, and though changing their view of a divine text will be hard, we can do it.
I will leave you with one of my favorite quotes on the dichotomy that exists between interpretation and truth, from the great Catholic theologian St. Augustine,
‘If anyone shall set the authority of Holy Writ against clear and manifest reason, he who does this knows not what he has undertaken; for he opposes to the truth not the meaning of the Bible, which is beyond his comprehension, but rather his own interpretation; not what is in the Bible, but what he has found in himself and imagines to be there’”