Monday, March 26, 2007

Should We Use Medicine To Eradicate Sin?

Three weeks ago Al Mohler touched off a small firestorm among both the secular media and some Christians with his blog post and radio program titled, "Is Your Baby Gay?"

In some of the discussion in the media and the blogosphere, Mohler was misrepresented as having affirmed that science has discovered a link between genetics and a proclivity to homosexuality. Others decried Mohler's suggestion that parents should use prenatal treatment (if and when it becomes available) to eliminate this proclivity through medical treatment.

Clearly, much of the criticism was unfair and distorted what Mohler actually said. He never argued that science has proved the genetic link, and he never specifically suggested that genetic therapy would be appropriate, although his initial blog post did not preclude it. The radio program linked above and his second post clarified how the medical treatment he would support is limited to prenatal hormone therapy, which is not equivalent to hormone therapy. (Personally, I'm unclear on the biblical or ethical rationale for permitting prenatal hormone therapy while condemning genetic therapy, but that's a tangential issue.)

Nevertheless, my mind started spinning in a direction that made me wonder whether any sort of medical treatment for a proclivity toward sin would be appropriate. Before I explain, I should probably quote Mohler's ten summary points from his first post. I think all ten are worth reading. My sense is that the most disagreement has surrounded #9. I'll be focusing on #8. Here they are:
1. There is, as of now, no incontrovertible or widely accepted proof that any biological basis for sexual orientation exists.

2. Nevertheless, the direction of the research points in this direction. Research into the sexual orientation of sheep and other animals, as well as human studies, points to some level of biological causation for sexual orientation in at least some individuals.

3. Given the consequences of the Fall and the effects of human sin, we should not be surprised that such a causation or link is found. After all, the human genetic structure, along with every other aspect of creation, shows the pernicious effects of the Fall and of God's judgment.

4. The biblical condemnation of all homosexual behaviors would not be compromised or mitigated in the least by such a discovery. The discovery of a biological factor would not change the Bible's moral verdict on homosexual behavior.

5. The discovery of a biological basis for homosexuality would be of great pastoral significance, allowing for a greater understanding of why certain persons struggle with these particular sexual temptations.

6. The biblical basis for establishing the dignity of all persons -- the fact that all humans are made in God's image -- reminds us that this means all persons, including those who may be marked by a predisposition toward homosexuality. For the sake of clarity, we must insist at all times that all persons -- whether identified as heterosexual, homosexual, lesbian, transsexual, transgendered, bisexual, or whatever -- are equally made in the image of God.

7. Thus, we will gladly contend for the right to life of all persons, born and unborn, whatever their sexual orientation. We must fight against the idea of aborting fetuses or human embryos identified as homosexual in orientation.

8. If a biological basis is found, and if a prenatal test is then developed, and if a successful treatment to reverse the sexual orientation to heterosexual is ever developed, we would support its use as we should unapologetically support the use of any appropriate means to avoid sexual temptation and the inevitable effects of sin.

9. We must stop confusing the issues of moral responsibility and moral choice. We are all responsible for our sexual orientation, but that does not mean that we freely and consciously choose that orientation. We sin against homosexuals by insisting that sexual temptation and attraction are predominately chosen. We do not always (or even generally) choose our temptations. Nevertheless, we are absolutely responsible for what we do with sinful temptations, whatever our so-called sexual orientation.

10. Christians must be very careful not to claim that science can never prove a biological basis for sexual orientation. We can and must insist that no scientific finding can change the basic sinfulness of all homosexual behavior. The general trend of the research points to at least some biological factors behind sexual attraction, gender identity, and sexual orientation. This does not alter God's moral verdict on homosexual sin (or heterosexual sin, for that matter), but it does hold some promise that a deeper knowledge of homosexuality and its cause will allow for more effective ministries to those who struggle with this particular pattern of temptation. If such knowledge should ever be discovered, we should embrace it and use it for the greater good of humanity and for the greater glory of God.
For the record, I wholeheartedly agree with every point but #8. Frankly, I'd be far more stunned if science could prove that there is no link between genetics and a proclivity to homosexuality (or many other sins, for that matter), than if it does eventually prove that there is a link. But as Mohler says, discovering a proclivity does not in any way excuse subsequent behavior choices.

I know it's taken me a long time to get to it, but here's my point. I'm completely unconvinced that we should use medical treatment to eliminate any genetic predisposition to sin, as Mohler's point #8 suggests we should. What if we could eradicate proclivities to homosexuality and even all sexual sin? What if we could take away physical susceptibility to drunkenness or drug addiction—or even pride and selfishness?

Theologically, I believe that it's impossible that medical treatment will ever be able to eradicate sin. All men are sinners, and that inspired statement will continue to be true. But even if we could eliminate much of it or most of it, would the world be a better place? Would the cause of the gospel be advanced or hindered if more and more people sinned less and less? Would people recognize their need of a Savior if they didn't feel so much like they needed to be saved?

I'm all for less sin in the world. I would be grateful if governments and cultures would foster circumstances that would make the proclamation of the gospel more open and available to all people from all nations, languages, geographic regions, and people groups.

Al Mohler has read more, thought more, knows more, and could articulate far better than I the central issues in this debate. I could be dead wrong. I just wonder if we are really serving the advance of the gospel by advocating treatments that will artificially mask human depravity and need for deliverance.

One more thing. While the media coverage was in high gear, a friend who was having similar thoughts sent me an e-mail. Here's his perspective on evangelicalism's elevation of homosexuality to a particularly distasteful level in relationship to some of our more "acceptable" sins:
Once again, we have a Christian leader singling out homosexuality as a worse sin than others, not admitting, of course, that homosexual sin is only one form of sex outside of marriage . . . in fact, there's a heckuva lot more pre- and extra-marital sex going on than homoesexual sex - perhaps we should fix that gene while we're at it.

When will we as Christians get off our high horses and actually take objective stances on the issues of the day, make well-thought out stances that reflect Christ-likeness, and show grace/charity/love to the world?
Well, there's some food for thought. I'm surely not settled on this one, and I'm interested to hear your thoughts.


Kent Brandenburg said...

I agree with you. In addition to an unbiblical solution, it seems to subtly endorse the biological cause. Does this imply at least to the world some Divine design ambiguity? Shouldn't we just assume we aren't homosexual due to obvious design attributes: 1) The Incompatible plumbing, and 2) Impossibility of reproduction.

Ben said...


Are you sure we agree? Maybe I just need to clarify what you're saying. I deny that there can ever be a biological cause for sin, but I would not deny the possibility of a biological proclivity. Frankly, I think that all sorts of biological proclivities toward all sorts of sins are likely. But proclivities do not in any way excuse behavior.

In think your point about Divine design oversimplifies the issue. The Fall transformed human nature in a way that introduced all sorts of sinful inclinations (lusts, to use a biblical word) that push us toward choices that conflict with with God's image. I believe that homosexual lusts are one of these, but I certainly wouldn't put it in a distinct category from all the rest.

Keith said...

I know that you are, overall, supportive of Mohler's position. Even so, I think it's worth pointing out that Mohler never claimed that medicine could eradicate sin. He just indicated that God can use physicianns and medicine as a means of grace.

While homosexuality is no more difficult for God to forgive than any other sin, its consequences are often more severe and difficult to deal with for those inclined toward it. Therefore, I think we should rejoice, and see it as grace, should physicians find a way to alleviate or reduce temptation toward this sin.

What? Should we sin (or turn our backs on helping those enslaved by temptation/proclivity to a particular sin) so that grace may abound? God forbid.

Physicians, and all Christians, should be working to turn back the effects of the fall. We cannot change hearts -- only God can do that -- but we can do good in a way that God can use as a means to change hearts.

We aren't talking about removing sexual desire -- something God created as good and which can be sinlessly satisfied in marriage. We are talking about a desire that has no means of sinless fulfillment.

Therefore, I think the Golden Rule easily answers the question at hand. We are to do unto others as we would have done to ourselves. So, ask yourself, even if you were able to resist the pull of some temptation with the supernatural help of the Holy Spirit, wouldn't you rejoice to learn that there was something you could do to even remove the agony of the temptation? And, if you're a Christian, wouldn't you see that something as wonderful grace?


Kent Brandenburg said...

Isn't homosexual proclivity at most speculation? We have indwelling sin, yes, but I don't get a Scriptural concept of some kind of prenatal tendency toward one particular sin anywhere in the Bible, and so-called science with a bias toward finding excuses, ignoring obvious design, isn't going to prove it to me.


Keith said...

"All creation groans"

Ben said...


Thanks. I hope to interact. I figured you'd offer something thought-provoking.


I'm certainly not arguing that science has proven anything, and neither has Mohler. I'm also certainly not arguing that prenatal proclivities offer any kind of excuse for sinful behavior. But none of that was the point of the post.

As I said in my original post, the point is to raise the question as to whether we should use medical treatment to eliminate predispositions toward any sin. Since you don't seem to be agreeing with the hypothetical basis for my questions, I don't think you're really agreeing with my conclusion. You're agreeing with something else.

Don Johnson said...

Hi Ben,

I think that I don't agree with the notion of biological proclivities, so the question becomes moot.

The model for looking at this, in my view, is taste. Just as we can develop a 'taste' for certain foods, we can develop a 'taste' for sexual activity. They do speak of sexual appetite after all.

Some might think my notion bizarre, but there are people who have a taste for human flesh, no? Did they have a proclivity for that or did they develop it by following lust in certain ways? I would suggest the latter.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Tim Terpstra said...

While it is true the source of all sin is passion outside of God's control and purpose, the attractiveness to different sins widely vary. It seems as if the attraction to the sin of homosexuality is not just tasting, for one has to taste to first develop desire. There might be an assortment of influences including biology. We just don't know, and that is ok. What the Bible does point us to is the ultimate cause, and ultimate solutions.

Robbie Glazner said...

I am not sure that the Scriptures rule out a proclivity to sin. I take literal Rm 6:12-14 "Do not let sin reign in your MORTAL bodies... sin shall not be your master because you are under grace, not the law." My point is:
1) According to OT theology sinful disposition is pre-natal (Ps 51:5, 58:3, Isa 48:8, etc).
2) That prenatal sinful disposition has affected our physical as well as spiritual makeup...the WHOLE MAN. There is an irreversible unity to the material and immaterial makeup of man in this life.
3) If this point is true, there is no need to argue against a sin-stained genetic structure as all sin has some tie to this body. Who am I to say that all sin is a learned deviation? Especially since I seem to have it from the womb.
4) But as I stated at first I rest on rm 6:12-14, sin does not have to reign in my body, not because of proper hormonal balancing, but because there is grace!

Tim said...

Hey u still in Virginia? Say he to Steve T if you are.
Don't you think there is agreement that we have a proclivity to sin, but the unanswered question is to a specific sin? I would argue based on observation and experience, yes - but that maybe impossible to prove biblically.

Keith said...

"not because of proper hormonal balancing, but because there is grace!"

But can grace provide the knowledge and wisdom to aid in proper hormonal balancing?

Grace is the solution to death as well as sin (all death being ultimately the result of sin). So, should we neglect oncology because grace is ultimately the cure for cancer? Or, should we view oncology as part of God's grace?