Tag Archives: Genre: Gender and Sexuality

The Gay Gene Re-Visited

December 2016 Pulse 

In 2014 Alan Sanders, a Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Northwestern University at Evanston, and his team conducted a study of 409 pairs of twin brothers to see if there are some linkages between homosexuality and chromosomal region Xq28.

This study – the largest to be undertaken to date – attempts to validate the results obtained by a study by Dean Hamer and his team of scientists in 1993 at the National Cancer Institute in the United States. Working with only 40 pairs of homosexual brothers, Hamer and his team discovered that 33 pairs (or 83%) had the same sequence of markers in the X chromosome region known as Xq28.

This had led Hamer to conclude that ‘One form of homosexuality is preferentially transmitted through the maternal side and is generally linked to chromosomal region Xq28’.

To their surprise, Sanders and his team – which included J. Michael Bailey, who together with Richard Pillard, conducted the famous twin study – found the same linkages between homosexuality and the chromosomal region Xq28 suggested by the earlier study by Hamer.

Hamer was understandably delighted with the findings of the Sanders study. ‘Twenty years is a long wait for validation’, he is reported to have said, ‘but now it’s clear the original results were right. It’s very nice to see it confirmed’.

However, like the Hamer study in 1993, the Sanders study of 2014 failed to establish conclusively the genetic determinant for homosexual orientation.

Sanders used the same method that Hamer employed twenty years ago in order to replicate Hamer’s study. But this method – known as the linkage method – has been found to be deficient in many ways and it has since been superseded by another method known as genome-wide association (GWA). Sanders himself acknowledged the fact that GWA studies are far more superior to genetic-linkage studies.

Although Sanders was able to confirm the link between homosexuality and the chromosomal region Xq28, the causative or correlative relationship between them is never established, making this finding insignificant. Thus, a number of researchers and scientists such as Neil Risch have pointed out the findings of both the Hamer and Sanders studies are statistically insignificant.

In fact, Sanders himself acknowledged that the findings have not crossed the threshold of significance. He further stated that even though he believes that Xq28 has something to do with homosexuality, a trait as complex as sexual orientation depends on many factors, genetic and nongenetic alike.

Geneticists have long understood that the exact relationship between the genotype and the phenotype is very difficult to establish. The genotype refers to the set of genes in the DNA that is associated with a particular trait, while the phenotype is the actual expression of that trait.

Many geneticists maintain that the relationship between the two is never straightforward and warn against a naïve ‘genetic determinism’ that refuses to recognise the complexities. In fact, many would argue that the genotype typically undermines the phenotype.

With the advance of the field of epigenetics, scientists are beginning to see the importance of the interaction of the genes with their immediate cellular environment as well as the external environment. In addition, intrauterine influences (which includes nongenetic factors) as well as extrauterine influences also play their part.

Life experiences also play a significant role in forging a particular trait, especially one as complicated as sexual preference and behaviour. Experiences that were had in the early stages of one’s personal development are deemed especially important.

As Frances Campaigne of Columbia University puts it: ‘Social experiences throughout life influence gene expression and behaviour, however, early in development these influences have a profound effect’.

The Sanders study has left all these other aspects unexplored and the questions they raise unanswered.

Although science is important in our attempt to understand human sexual preferences and behaviour, for the Christian it cannot have the last word. Thus, even if science is able to discover the genetic basis for homosexual orientation, the Christian cannot on that premise alone conclude that homosexual behaviour is natural and therefore must not be prohibited.

For the Christian, it is the mystery of human sexuality that Scripture reveals that should serve as the basis for sexual behaviour. In our fallen world, supposedly ‘innate’ impulses cannot be indicative of what is natural – that is, what is intended by the Creator – even if the genetic or neurological determinants of these impulses are ascertained.

For the Christian, sexual conduct must be ordered according to the way in which human sexuality has been designed and purposed by the Creator. And according to the Bible, the only legitimate form of sexual activity is between a man and a woman, and the only legitimate context for such activity is the covenant of marriage.

It is in light of God’s design of and purpose for human sexuality that all other forms of sexual behaviour and activity – fornication, adultery, incest, prostitution and bestiality – are not only strictly prohibited, but are also often regarded as abominations.

This means that the meaning of human sexuality is too complex and multifaceted for science to unravel. It has to do not only with biology, but also morality. It has to do not only with impulses and emotions, but also ontology. It has to do not only with the individual, but also and more fundamentally with the ordering of our familial and social lives in a way that is harmonious with God’s design and intention.

In a word, human sexuality is too profound a reality to be left to science alone.

Dr Roland Chia

Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor for the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity.

Women In Ministry

October 2014 Pulse

On 14 July this year, the General Synod of the Church of England voted to allow women to become bishops. This decision, which was made some twenty years after the Anglican Church ordained its first women priests in 1992, has finally and completely overturned centuries of tradition.

The Synod’s decision must of course be approved by Parliament in November before it becomes official. Speaking to the BBC before the historic vote, the Most Rev Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury said that to the public, the exclusion of women is ‘almost incomprehensible’.

Be that as it may, the role of women in the Church has been and still is subjected to much debate in contemporary Christianity. Complementarians (or traditionalists, as they are sometimes called) have long argued that the ordained minister is the representative of Christ. Since Christ was male, so the argument goes, the ordained clergy who represents him must also be male. According to this view, a woman can never be said to be an ‘image’ (Greek: eikon) of Christ.

This is the teaching of both the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches. In a 1994 Apostolic Letter entitled Ordinatio Sacredotalis (Priestly Ordination), Pope John Paul II declared that the ‘Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful’.

A year later, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI), then Prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, issued a statement which insisted that this ‘teaching require definitive assent’ because it is ‘founded on the written Word of God, and from the beginning constantly preserved and applied in the Tradition of the Church’.

There is a profound sense in which the ordained minister does represent Christ, especially in the celebration of the Eucharist. The question has to do with how the Church should understand this. In what sense is the clergy the representative of Christ? And does this representation require the ordained minister to bear a bodily or biological resemblance to Jesus?

As we have seen, traditionalists’ answer to this question is unequivocal: the ordained minister must bear a physical resemblance to Jesus (i.e., he must be male because Jesus was male). But is it not perhaps more theologically sound to argue that the minister represents Christ orally and not physically? Thus, in the celebration of the Eucharist, the celebrant represents Christ by repeating his words of invitation, that is, by serving as the mouthpiece for the risen and ascended Lord.

The ordained minister can represent Christ because he or she is created in the image and likeness of God, of which Christ is of course the perfect exemplar. This fundamentally means that ordained ministers represent Christ in their humanness, not in their gender. This view is further supported by the orthodox understanding of the Incarnation, according to which the eternal Word took upon himself fallen human flesh in order to bring salvation to all humans, male as well as female. If this argument is basically sound, it follows that the Church should never exclude women from the ordained ministry!

The question of the role of women in the ministry is also debated among evangelicals, some of whom argue that women should be excluded from ministry – especially leadership roles in the Church – on biblical grounds. Complementarians have customarily appealed to 1 Timothy 2:12 as the biblical basis for excluding women in the teaching ministry and in leadership.

While Paul this passage does prohibit women from teaching and exercising authority, many scholars are of the view that his instruction is directed only at the church at Ephesus where the young Timothy served as pastor. In giving this instruction, Paul uses the indicative instead of the imperative verb. This suggests that the instruction was purposed to address a specific problem that had arisen in the Ephesian church. As Stanley Grenz and Denise Kjesbo have rightly argued, the present indicative indicates that ‘Paul is not voicing a timeless command, but a temporary directive applicable to a specific situation: “I am presently not allowing”’.

Furthermore, while Paul speaks of ‘a woman’ in the passage, many scholars think that he is in fact referring to a group of women. These women were probably influenced by false teaching and were eager to promote it in the Ephesian congregation. This is probably why Paul alluded to Eve, who was deceived by the serpent in the Garden (1 Tim 2:14).

It is also in this context that Paul’s instruction that women should not have authority over men should be understood. This is not a universal injunction that categorically prohibits women from assuming leadership roles. Paul gave this instruction because he specifically wanted to stop the group of gullible women, who, having been corrupted by false teaching, wanted to usurp the authority of the rightful leaders of the Ephesian church.

The NT clearly teaches that every member of the Body of Christ is given spiritual gifts and therefore has a role to play in the Church. This suggests that women must also be allowed to exercise their Spirit-endowed gifts, including the gifts of teaching and leadership. It is only when believers use their gifts to serve one another that the Church, as the community of the Holy Spirit, is able to fully carry out the mandate Christ has entrusted to her.

Dr Roland Chia

Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor of the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity.