The Fault in Our Genes

DNA StrandsIt had to happen, sooner or later. We now find out that, according to an article by Richard A. Friedman in the New York Times, the tendency toward infidelity in some men and women is based on a genetic condition. Friedman states, “We have long known that men have a genetic, evolutionary impulse to cheat, because that increases the odds of having more of their offspring in the world. But now there is intriguing new research showing that some women, too, are biologically inclined to wander.”

There are evidently two hormones at play, vasopressin and oxytocin, that have to do with engendering feelings of trust, empathy, and sexual bonding, as well as pleasure. Genetic variations affect the ability of a person’s brain to process or respond to these hormones. The inability (or lessened ability) to respond to the hormones would affect a person’s ability to generate trust, empathy, and bonding with a mate. That could, in turn, lead to a higher rate of unfaithfulness.

Friedman raises two caution flags: “Correlation is not the same as causation; there are undoubtedly many unmeasured factors that contribute to infidelity. And rarely does a simple genetic variant determine behavior. Still, there is good reason to take these findings seriously.” He goes on to recount experiments with both mammals and humans that demonstrate the impact these hormones can have on feelings and behavior.

What does Friedman believe is the impact of these findings on our moral reasoning? “So do we get a moral pass if we happen to carry one of these ‘infidelity’ genes? Hardly. We don’t choose our genes and can’t control them (yet), but we can usually decide what we do with the emotions and impulses they help create. But it is important to acknowledge that we live our lives on a very uneven genetic playing field. … For some, there is little innate temptation to cheat; for others, sexual monogamy is an uphill battle against their own biology.”

I found this intriguing because this precise argument is used to justify changing our church’s teaching about the acceptability of same-sex behavior. If, as many people believe, same-sex attraction is somehow hard-wired into some people’s brains, we must allow that attraction to be expressed and lived out in same-sex romantic relationships, goes the argument. (I would note that genetic determination of same-sex attraction has not been established by any research.)

It would be a mistake, however, as Friedman notes, to base our moral reasoning on even well-established genetic predispositions. Otherwise, we would end up condoning infidelity and alcoholism, two examples of behavior that appears to have proven genetic roots. As our scientific understanding advances, we could find ourselves upending all sorts of Christian ethical teaching on the basis of genetic tendencies that are uncovered.

If genetic predispositions toward unhealthy or sinful behavior are discovered, I would tend to classify them as part of the consequences of the Fall. In the words of our Confession of Faith, “We believe [humanity] is fallen from righteousness and, apart from the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, is destitute of holiness and inclined to evil” (Article VII). This describes what we call “Original Sin.” Whether the inclination toward evil is due to a spiritual condition or is genetically influenced (or both) in the end doesn’t matter. We all need the grace of Jesus Christ to overcome our tendencies to do all kinds of evil.

Some maintain that the church ought to accept and affirm gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered persons because “God made me that way.” But I do not believe God made any person to live a life of sin, whether it be same-sex attraction, infidelity, greed, anger, or any other condition. If there are biological or genetic factors involved in any of these conditions, they are due to the corruption of human nature, not the original intention of God.

As Friedman points out, we are not playing on a level genetic playing field. Many people have genetic and environmental advantages and disadvantages, from physical appearance to parental nurturing to the presence of birth defects or handicapping conditions to a tendency toward same-sex attraction or problems with anger. In some area of life, we all are perhaps “fighting an uphill battle” against the inborn or nurtured disadvantages that hinder our Christian faithfulness.

That is why we are so heavily dependent upon “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Without his help, it is impossible for us to realize the full human potential that God created us to have, or to be reconciled to our loving Father in the midst of our own sins and inadequacies.

No matter where the fault lies – in our genes or in our upbringing or in our own rebelliousness – the answer is always the same: God’s grace through Jesus Christ can heal and forgive us, restore and reconcile us to himself, and empower us to live as the fully human person God created us to be. Let’s stop using “genes” as an excuse to keep us from being all that we can be in Christ.

10 thoughts on “The Fault in Our Genes

  1. You’re singing my song on this one. I’ve made this point so many times while in discussion with pro-homosexual pastors… and they promptly move on to other arguments. It’s good to know the facts, and realize they actually support biblical teaching on this topic. But we won’t change the minds of those who have already closed their minds. Sad, frustrating, cause for prayer.

  2. Why rely so heavily on the etiology (genes or otherwise) of homosexuality? As best as I’ve learned, it is a combination of nature and nuture. And the sources, at some level, varies from person to person. But the source of one’s sexual orientation is not the point. Nor is it relevant that some subset of gay folks experience a change in their orientation along a continuum over time. What is relevant is that homosexual persons just are. And while change sometimes happen naturally, it typically cannot be forced by a person’s own good intention or by therapy. And the medical science community is quite overwhelming of the opinion that change therapy doesn’t work and in some cases it can be harmful and even deadly. I see no point to and much harm from the Exodus / Restored Hope Network model.

    Why compare a tendency towards fornication & adultery to someone’s simply being a homosexually-oriented person? This really is likening apples-and-oranges. Why compare adultery in general to same-sex behavior within a covenanted same-sex marriage specifically. That is likening rotten-apples-to-perfect-oranges.

    I think you misplace “where the fault lies” when you speculate it may be in the other person’s genes or the other person’s upbringing or the other person’s rebelliousness. The fault is not in gay Christians’ seeking covenanted marriage relationships on their discipleship journey and as they strive towards perfection. The fault is in our self-righteous condemning them for their marriage and our “othering them” and in our devising obstacles to hinder them in their journey towards Christ. But you are correct that the answer — and here I mean answer to our heterosexist sins — is indeed God’s grace through Jesus Christ. I pray that God will heal our church as we persist in the sins of exclusion and discrimination.

    It is past time for us to look harder at the Bible and realize that the traditional non-affirming interpretation is rooted in ancient homophobia and patriarchy. There is a better way to understand God’s best intentions for homosexually oriented persons that supports same-sex marriage grounded in sound exegesis (I recommend James V. Brownson’s book as the best on this subject). Suggesting that our tradition view is wrong is upsetting so to some, but we’ve been there before on women’s ordination etc.

    Of course good conscientious Christians can reach different conclusions on this matter which is not a fundamental tenet of orthodox faith. I pray for tolerance and grace with each other as we move forward as one denomination that will never be completely of one mind on this matter. I do wish to see our Book of Discipline changed with respect to same sex marriage so that clergy currently penalized and lay currently stigmatized can pursue their conscience in this matter. At the same time, I do not want clergy who agree with the current prohibitions on same sex marriage to be forced to do them either just because some of their colleagues will want to do them.

  3. Using ‘genes’ as an excuse for Christians to sin is no different than ‘the devil made me do it’.

    1. I agree. And this third way is capitulating to sin and denial of Bible’s authority. John Wesley would countenance that idea for one half second before eliminating those of that ilk from Methodism’s membership rolls. L

      Louise Parker

  4. Very well said! This whole idea of fitting the Gospel to the nature of man takes the “Good” out of the “News.” A church that redefines marriage to suit the sinner has actually changed the definition of sin. I have always found that sin is that which is outside the will of God. It is also rightly defined as “willful disobedience to God.” If we bow to the forces that are outside God’s will in one little area of life we open the doors to being an organization that allows anything to happen or willfully be done without restriction. Sin is sin, and sin that is specifically so defined in the Scriptures is truly an abomination to the Lord. Organizational legislation cannot protect anyone from the judgment of a loving God. The forces at work in our once great spiritual power house of a church want people to trade Great Joy in this life for no joy in the life to come. The old folk song ‘Little Birdy’ has a phrase that goes “We have a short time to be here and a long time to be gone.” What do we want? A short time of pleasure and a long time in the hands of a jealous God? God loves us but love without correction is no love at all.

    We are all in the same place: We are who we are, and our first self is outside God’s family with no hope of entering that family with the self that is ours. But God, in his love, opened the doors of the Inner Sanctuary, allowing us to enter into the very presence of God, and he even paid the entrance fees by the sacrifice of his only son on the cross of Calvary. If we accept that gift of free salvation we can enter into a deep, personal relationship with God. This acceptance of his free gift carries with it the responsibility to crucify our inner self so as to empty ourselves (including all the sinful ways that our genetically empowered self has given us) so the Holy Spirit can totally fill us with himself, providing us with the will of God and the strength of God to do his full will and the power of the Holy Spirit to turn our backs on our sinful ways and move forward in the strength of God to a full life that will continue into the life to come.

    What we are may be a result of our genes, but these are only a part of what we have become because of the selfish pursuits of our first parents. God empowers us with the spiritual strength to become what he has designed us to be. Our great church started out with a knowledge of the ways of God who has provided for us a Way, called in Scriptures the “Way of holiness,” which built our church to its former greatness. That Way is still open to us and it is the way to win spiritual battles. Our Lord took the Hebrew tribes out of Egypt in order to bring them into the Land of Promise and that land can be ours today. See this as a spiritual battle, not an organizational bickering, and let us open our doors to the Spirit of God so that, like Jesus in the Temple, he can cleanse our church of its wickedness and it may become the powerhouse that our Lord designed Methodism to be.

  5. (Jude 4-8) For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Je’sus Christ. I will therefore put you in rememberance, though ye once knew this, how that the Lord, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed them that believed not. And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day. Even as Sod’om and Go-mor’-rha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication and (going after strange flesh), are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire. Likewise also these filthy dreamers defile the flesh, despise dominion, and speak evil of dignities. (Titus1:15,16) Unto the pure all things are pure; but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even in their mind and conscience is defiled. They profess that they know God; but in works they deny Him; being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate. ( I can’t understand the subject of this content! If YOU read and live in God’s word (THE BIBLE), you will know and understand what is God’s plan for ALL OF US! Why is there a discussion on accepting ANYTHING against the word of God? Love the sinner, not the sin!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! We as Christians are tasked to teach the gospel and what is expected of us as God’s children. ALL OF US, EVERY HUMAN BEING ON THIS EARTH THAT GOD GRACIOUSLY GAVE US LIFE ARE A CHILD OF GOD! If you can’t or won’t accept and follow God’s word and expectations for your life, you are a person of the world not God so you follow in your own ways, which are the ways of Satan. The Bible plainly says this if you read it and learn what God’s word says and means! What the church is excepting that is against the word of God is also of the world, the Bible also says this will happen. God knows everything, from the beginning to the end.) On a church website this shouldn’t even be a discussion!

  6. You have done a masterful job of explaining. I fought these problems till I was 40 years old. It was only because of a faithful wife, and the help of Jesus. I was able to turn my life around.

  7. It is so refreshing to hear these arguments. I have so often talked about these exact things with pastors on the other side of my thinking. Like some of you have said, they generally change the subject. I have a son who is a recovered drug addict. It is understand that the tendency to addiction is in the genes ( an inherited tendency). That does not give him an excuse to use drugs. At one time, he made the choice to give in to this tendency. He now has chosen not to but it is a constant struggle. He can take nothing stronger than Advil for pain and I pray he never has to have major surgery. Did God create him that way? No. Being born with these genes that affect our behavior is a result of the fall and we have to make the decision to draw our strength from God just as we do to avoid any sin.

    1. Great comment Angie! We all have to make that decision to avoid all sin and follow God’s laws & words. Methodist churches everywhere ~ get ready for the law suits.

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