The Michael Sam Case: Is Being Homosexual The Same As Being Black?

michael_samLate at night and sometimes in the middle of the night I listen to sport-talk radio as a distraction, so I can sleep. Sports-talk radio is usually inconsequential and it works. Sometimes, however, real life intrudes into Nebraska football talk. That happened this week. In the last few days a University of Missouri football player, who is apparently headed for the NFL, has announced publicly that he is homosexual. This announcement has provoked, among sports commentators, comparisons with Jackie Robinson (1919–72), the first African-American baseball player in the Major League Baseball, who broke the color barrier in 1947. Others, have trouble with this comparison. I’m in the latter group. Homosexuality is one thing, an ethnic group, or a racial designation is something else. The fundamental basis for thinking that race and sexuality are analogous is the assumption that both are equally natural, that neither is a choice.

Some human characteristics are changeable and some are fixed. It is evident that no one chooses to be Caucasian, Asian, or African. No one can change his racial heritage. It just is. He can announce to the world that he identifies with or as another racial classification but that doesn’t change what he actually is. Cultural characteristics, habits, and practices are quite different. One may be born into one culture and by choice and decision change one’s cultural identification, characteristics, and habits. A Frenchman can decide to give up his language and adopt English instead. He can give up French cuisine for German. He may study to become aware of prevailing French assumptions and habits about work and leisure and adopt prevailing Nigerian instead.
Voluntarily changing outlook, habits, and practices, however, does not change one’s racial heritage.

The prophet Jeremiah (13:23) asks rhetorically,

Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots?

It’s a rhetorical question because the assumption is that, no, neither a leopard nor an Ethiopian can fundamental, natural characteristics. As the learned Nebraska Football Coach Bo Pelini often says, “It is what it is.” An even more basic assumption behind the rhetorical question is that there is such a thing as nature or creation, that some things are built into reality such that they are beyond choice and beyond deconstruction. The question is whether homosexuality is one of those human qualities that is beyond choice.

In recent decades our prevailing cultural rhetoric has been schizophrenic on the question of whether homosexuality is a choice. At once we are told that it is not a choice, that it is every bit as “natural” as heterosexuality and because that is obviously and necessarily so, no one’s sexual identity may be challenged, that all sexual inclinations are equally valid because they’re all equally natural. Ironically, to the degree this idea prevails, to the same degree there may be hope for those who think this way since it assumes that there is such a thing as nature. If it can be demonstrated that homosexuality is not just as natural as heterosexuality, then presumably rational people will change their thinking and their rhetoric.

The difficulty is that many of the same people who argue that homosexuality is an innate, natural, trait with which some people are irrevocably born (like a racial heritage) also argue that it is a choice, a volition, a matter of the will. Now, no one chooses his racial designation but we do speak of “sexual preferences.” That implies a degree of choice. The most recent illustration of this phenomenon is the announcement by a Texas politician that she is “pansexual.” The accompanying news story explains:

Being pansexual means that you are attracted to the person, not the gender, and your identification doesn’t box you in. Also, unlike some close-minded people would like to allege, being pansexual doesn’t mean that you’re promiscuous.

This orientation to sexuality renounces nature. It declares that sexual attraction is not innate, that it is chosen. If homosexuality is just as “natural” as heterosexuality then one is naturally, irrevocably attracted to people of the same sex as a matter of biology, as a matter of innate characteristics and not as a matter of choice. If, however, one is attracted to personalities regardless of sex, then we’re not talking about an innate attraction to members of the same sex. This Texas politician is declaring her right to switch teams at will.

After the hosts discussed the Michael Sam story with a local sports writer they took calls. The first call was from a self-professed evangelical, who objected to being implicitly categorized as a bigot by the hosts for continuing to think, on the basis of experience and biblical revelation, that homosexuality is unnatural and a sin. When the hosts pressed him he responded by asking if all sexual choices are permissible how will will respond when it comes to bestiality? The hosts were startled by this. They responded as if it’s not an issue, that they would deal with that when it arrives. Our hosts are behind the times. It’s here boys. Deal with it. As I noted over a year ago:

The UK Guardian reports that “experts” are conflicted over whether pedophilia is a bad thing and whether it should perhaps be “normalized.” According to that same paper, “zooists” are also arguing that animals can give consent and have affection for one another. In case you think this is impossible, Germany legalized bestiality in 1969. They just moved toward banning it again but this has offended “Zoophiles.” As recent social debates have demonstrated, what happens in Europe no longer stays in Europe.

If it’s in the news, it’s no longer a slippery slope. I noted in March of last year that a seminar at Yale University reported that 3% of respondents to a survey acknowledged participating in bestiality. The last survey I read indicated that only about 1% of Americans are actually homosexual, even though the old, discredited Kinsey statistics (that 10% of Americans are homosexual) are still widely believed. If that is so, then there may be as many bestialists as homosexuals. Will our enlightened sports-talk hosts and their supportive callers denounce as bigots those who oppose bestiality?

One of the hosts replied to the evangelical, “animals don’t make choices.” That’s fascinating. Despite the rhetorical move from “choice” to “nature” as the preferred defense of homosexual behavior, the host’s first option was “choice.” As I noted earlier (see linked articles above) “zooists” are arguing that animals do choose. The tension created by intellectual incoherence is palpable.

The call from the evangelical was followed by another caller who denounced the first as an ignorant bigot who did not even know his Bible. Here’s a transcript of Brandon’s call:

You gave that guy entirely too much time. I’m an agnostic person. I’m going to lay that out right now. The thing that I would like to see a lot of these Christian people do that are out here bashing people because of their lifestyle and what not is actually crack the book open that they talk about so much and actually give it a read. Because there’s a lot of things in there like “love the sinner and hate the sin” but “treat people as you like to be treated” and a number of other things. The simple fact of the matter is that a person’s decision—it’s not even a decision—they’re born—gay people are born this way. We should just respect the fact that’s how they are. The simple fact is that’s it’s just a part of nature. It’s just a part of humanity, a part of the earth that we live on. There are going to be people who are attracted to people of the same sex. There is nothing wrong with it….

Brandon’s grasp of science and logic is about as keen as his grasp of holy Scripture. To be clear, Scripture nowhere says, “love the sinner, hate the sin.” Our Lord did say, “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-40) just as he said “if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off” (Matt 5:30) and

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.  Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven (Matt 5:17-18)

Do we really doubt that the law says about homosexuality or bestiality?

Brandon, if God is not, if there is not fixed moral order in the universe, then why should we treat Michael Sam with grace and kindness?

Like our hosts, his first categorical option to explain homosexual behavior was “choice” but he corrected himself in mid-sentence. He’s still learning the politically correct way to speak. He’s uncertain whether God is but he knows that homosexuality is completely natural. How does he know? Because the popular media repeat the claim endlessly but on what basis?

Is it really entirely unreasonable to think that homosexuality is a disorder, that it is contrary to nature?

  • Until 1975 the American Psychiatric Association classified homosexuality as a mental illness.
  • Martin Luther King (1929–1968) rejected homosexuality as contrary to nature in 1958.
  • Camile Paglia, a lesbian feminist, has been arguing for years that homosexual orientation and behavior isn’t just like heterosexual orientation and behavior.
  • Michel Foucault (1926–84), the French deconstructionist, argued that homosexuality is a social construct.
  • The American College of Pediatricians in 2010 announced that there is no evidence that anyone is born homosexual.
  • There is no unequivocal undisputed evidence that homosexual orientation is a purely natural (as distinct from nurture) phenomenon.

Nevertheless, people feel free to make public claims that it is and that all reasonable people know it in the same way that all reasonable people once thought that the sun revolved around the earth (geocentrism). There has been a great lot of socially accepted myths, e.g., alcoholism is a disease. Really? Where’s the proof? Really. Where is it? The modern explanation started out as an “allergy.” That embarrassment gave way to the “disease” model. Some people may have addictive personalities but that’s a psychological disorder not a disease but just try to challenge the disease model and see what sort of response you get: a weak argument articulated at many decibels

What is it when million of otherwise rational people believe something to be true that is either uncertain or completely false? It’s a mass social delusion. It happens. In the absence of any evidence, millions of Germans (and other Europeans) became convinced that Jews were the source of their social and economic problems. Millions of Japanese regarded the emperor as a god right up to the point where it became clear that he was only a sad little man who allowed enormous destruction for the sake of a myth. Millions of Chinese regarded Mao as a sort of god, even though he slaughtered millions of his own people. Millions of Russians believed that communism was a wonderful system (despite the murder of millions of citizens) and that life in the United States was dreadful.

Why on earth would people accept and socially support a delusion? The program to which I was listening is from a station in Omaha, Nebraska, which may be the capital of “niceness” in America. The good folk of Minnesota and South Dakota may dissent but the people of Nebraska are arguably the friendliest, most helpful people in America. These are the people who stand to applaud the opposing team, win or lose, as they leave the field. These are folk who will drop their own groceries in order to help you carry yours, where little old ladies offer to help little old men across the street (true story). The worst thing one can say about someone in Nebraska is that he or she is “not nice.”

Nebraskans really, really like you and they really, really want you to like them. That’s the essence of “niceness.” Nothing pains them more than to be considered backwards and if everyone else has decided that homosexuality is natural and socially acceptable, “well,” they say to themselves “we guess that must be right.” The dark side of the midwestern ethos of “niceness” is that it is capable of being dislocated from its original Christian context and re-contextualized in a post-Christian, neo-Pagan context. It’s not an ethic grounded in nature (creation) or  in grace (salvation). It was always a pale shadow of the biblical ethic of love as modeled by commanded by God and modeled by Christ and now niceness demands that people who ought to know better mouth platitudes about the acceptability of homosexuality (even as they shield their children’s eyes from the two burly fellows making out in the the front row of the basketball game).

Michael Sam is sexually attracted to other men. That’s a tragic disorder that is often (though not always) rooted in a troubled family background. I know nothing about Sam’s history and we can concede that some people may be born with a proclivity to homosexual attraction without conceding that such disorder is “natural” in the sense that it is incorrigible or that it should be regarded as having the same status as heterosexual attraction. Homosexuality is not a twin to heterosexuality. Heterosexual behavior is capable of corruption and of being put to the service of sin but there is a difference. There is manifestly a heterosexual natural order, without which homosexuals could not exist. Homosexuality is not reproductive. Homosexual behavior is ever and only sin. Heterosexual attraction is natural and normal and, in the context of heterosexual marriage, heterosexual behavior is good and right.

The incoherence of the popular defense of homosexuality (“it’s a choice” v “it’s natural”) should alert us to what is really happening: a spiritual war against God and creation. The alternating appeal to nature and free choice illustrate how thin the intellectual fig leaf really is.

Christians ought to be gracious, kind, patient but firm in our insistence that there is such a thing as nature (creation). We must continue to insist that there is such a thing as truth and we must continue to gently but firmly articulate that truth, even in the midst of an apparently national delusion that has penetrated to the Heartland of America.

We, who believe that God is, that Jesus is God the Son incarnate, that there is fixed, objective truth must also articulate and demonstrate, however, that there is grace for Michael Sam and for all sinners. Christ died for homosexuals, not that they might continue in homosexuality but that, having been received by God freely and only on the basis of Christ’s finished work credited to them, they might acknowledge their brokenness, their sin, turn from it and be renewed by the marvelous grace and power of Christ. Perhaps grace will find Sam as it has others? He may not know it and he will not likely tell us so, but the truth is that Michael Sam is counting on us to stand our ground, not in order to win a cultural-political fight, but in order to give witness to the objective reality of God’s truth: his holy law and his holy grace.

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    • Benjamin,

      Don’t be so prickly. Lots of people read the HB who, when they see your first comment, will infer from it that you think that homosexuals should be put to death. Your comment was very brief and cryptic. That’s why I tried to give you an opportunity to elaborate, so that perception could be addressed.

      I’m not parsing your words, I’m trying to erase unnecessary barriers to communication. Though what I’m saying about homosexuality may seem common place to you it will not seem so to many readers.

      I’m happy to talk about the Sabbath but this post is about homosexuality. So, why don’t stay on topic?

  1. It’s never been quite clear why “natural” should be categorically opposed. It would seem that the reason is that to concede homosexuality as natural would be to also then admit to its being morally acceptable. But why? Is it really true that whatever comes natural to someone is also necessarily moral?

    So maybe the problem is linguistic. Perhaps what some (but not all) could be getting at is that homosexuality for some is what comes most easily and heterosexuality not so much. This makes some sense, especially if as Calvinists we say that human nature was a casualty of the fall. Do we mean every part of human nature except sexuality? Was sexuality the only aspect of human nature to escape the effects? That seems less than Calvinist. (And curious how we easily allow heterosexual males to be “normal and red-blooded” who have a taste for multiple women–never hear a lot of push back on the idea that hetero men are naturally attracted to women other than their wives. Maybe because nobody is trying to normalize adultery. But if they were, would we really start saying adulterous tendencies weren’t natural as in easily come by?)

    And so it could be that both the drive to portray homosexuality as natural as in acceptable and the drive to deny that anybody could ever be conceived with a fallen sexuality are two sides of the same skewed coin. They each seem to want human life to end up easy. The former seem obvious as to how–someone is gay and it’s fine so let’s just move on. The latter implies something can be more or less easily fixed since it’s a matter of will over nature–get into a therapeutic “make ’em straight” program and fit into the rest of society and move on. But it could be that life is harder than either of those possibilities imply, that someone’s sexuality is broken from the beginning and it won’t get fixed any sooner than it will be moral (i.e. never) and the poor soul just has to muddle through as best he can. Not nearly as inspiring as the two prevailing outlooks, yet somehow much more in keeping with how life actually works.

    ps a theonomist who doesn’t think homosexual behavior should be a capital crime today? Talk about cultural persuasion.

    • Hi Zrim,

      Okay. What I mean by “natural” is “creational intent” or “creational pattern.” Homosexuality is a corruption of the creational intention/pattern. Humans were not intended at creation to have homosexual relations. It is on this ground that Paul singles it out in Romans.

      I’m discussing it because that’s where the pressure point is just now and where Millennials particularly are tempted to give in to the pressure from the culture. They need resources, someone to stand up and say, “Hey, there are good reasons for not accepting the new predominant social narrative about homosexuality.”

      As I’ve mentioned before, yes, heterosexual sin is sin but and, in a sense, it is contrary to the creational intention (i.e., one man, one woman) but it is not contrary to the creational pattern in the same way. Heterosexual behavior is at least potentially procreative. Men and women were designed to have sexual relations with one another. That is not true of homosexual behavior. That’s a difference that should be observed.

      There’s nothing “easy” about opposing the attempt to normalize homosexual behavior. As far as I can tell, the new narrative, beginning with Stonewall in the late 60s and continuing with the APA’s arbitrary “normalization” in ’75, there has been a growing pressure to submit to an account of nature and sexuality that is false, that is sheer nominalism or better, nihilism.

      I think that nihilism is worth opposing. I’m with Walter on this one:

  2. Dear Dr. Clark,
    Thank you for the article. I find this case disturbing for the reasons you mention and for reasons of employment. Michael Sam is seeking a job in the NFL. Now, because of this announcement if Sam does or doesn’t get the job will affect how tolerant the NFL and all the teams that pass him by or pick him up are perceived on the issue of homosexuality. I think he’s hedging for his job and getting a “pat on the back” for it.
    I also wanted to point out a sentence that should be rewritten. “Homosexuality does is not reproductive. ” Leave out the “does” and the sentience is readable.

  3. Homosexuality is a very, very expensive lifestyle. The CDC estimates the lifetime cost of treatment for HIV is approximately $380,000 in 2010 dollars.

    The U.S. govt. has declared war on cigarettes and obesity because of the cost to our healthcare system. But I can’t remember the last time I’ve heard homosexual intercourse called “risky behavior.”

    Political correctness has made people afraid to question the homosexual lifestyle.

  4. Nathan writes >>>>I find this case disturbing for the reasons you mention and for reasons of employment . . . <<<<

    I agree wholeheartedly with your post. Michael Sam is not just a college linebacker, he's "special." That's why he called a press conference. I think the NFL is going to chew him up and spit him out. That's what happens to players who are "special."

  5. They are comparing Sam to who?

    Not Jackie Robinson. Not the 6-time MLB All-star, the 1947 Rookie of the Year, the 1949 NL MVP, the 1949 NL Batting Title winner, World Series Champ, 2 time MLB stolen bases champ and member of the MLB All Century Team, right?

    Michael Sam is currently the 110th best player on the draft board. Oh yeah, he’s also gay. But just imagine how incredible the 109th best player must be!

  6. Scott, I know what YOU mean by “natural,” and agreed. I’m talking about what others may mean by it, a meaning that may get lost in the vying for cultural triumph. And it’s the way someone might mean, “When I walk into a store, I have to steal something. It’s the first thought that enters my mind, ever since I can recall entering stores. It’s my natural inclination.” Or, “Whenever someone asks me to account for something, I have to lie. It’s the first impulse I have ever had since I can recall conversing with others. It’s my natural inclination.” It doesn’t seem very difficult to imagine people having these natural tendencies, tendencies that are not only contrary to how humans were originally designed to relate but also having more to do with base nature post-fall than with will.

    But it’s also not hard to imagine being able to maintain a moral code that opposes what seems natural, as in, “Sure, so your first impulse is to steal and lie. But we agree you mayn’t, you have to resist it.” “But that’s very difficult, easy for someone whose first impulse is to pay and tell the truth.” “True, but that doesn’t diminish one iota what is morally right and wrong.”

    And I’m not sure singling out homosexuality as a special sin really helps the conversation much. You may be right about Paul’s intent. I’m simply talking about language and what some mean by “natural.” Some mean “natural and thus legitimate” while others mean “natural as in what one is predisposed to.” And I don’t see what’s to be gained by telling someone who honestly reports his natural inclination is x and we say, no it’s not. Huh? I think it’s possible to take someone’s word for what he experiences and still maintain a moral answer he may not like much at all.

  7. I’m blown away by how far the gay movement has gone since the 1970s. Remember when ‘Soap’ and ‘Threes Company’ appeared on TV, in the late 70s? Their gay characters were hugely controversial. I recall my mother, who was born in the 1930s, telling me she first learned about homosexuality after she was married — she had never even heard of it before she was 24! Granted, she was a rural girl from a very cloistered PEI (think: Anne of Green Gables). But, there was a time, not too long ago, when homosexuality, let alone other alternate sexualities, was on the margins of society, barely noticed. Now the gay agenda dominates.

    I think, however, the gay agenda’s dominance will backfire (and, in some ways, already is backfiring). People are growing sick and tired of the strident, in-your-face, bellicose and supremely arrogant voice of gay activists. The more ground they gain, the less credence they have to claim to be victims. Their bully nature is being exposed.

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