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Many Protestants, though not technically or officially Reformed, are nevertheless strongly influenced by Calvinistic theology; as such, they espouse the doctrine of total depravity, teaching that all men are born under the power of sin (Psalm 51:5).

However, a large part of them are also politically active, and I couldn't help but notice that this important segment (ascribing to conversion therapy and associated with the ex-gay movement) also holds to the notion that no one is born gay, trans, etc., but rather, they embrace certain discarded psychoanalytical ideas about the latter being a product of upbringing; in other words, of nurture, rather than nature. Granted, I am not exactly arguing that all sin is inborn, and that no vices are learned or (self)taught, but the (religious) zeal with which they (communally) cling to this opinion seems to border on dogma.

My bewilderment stems from the (apparent or perceived) contradiction between the two views. Am I missing something ? If so, then what ? (Your contributions are greatly appreciated).

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4 Answers 4

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Your statement on Calvinism’s Total Depravity is not correct. The two main beliefs are Calvinism and Arminianism. John Calvin was based on the foundation laid by Augustine and John Wesley on the foundation laid by Arminius.

Both believe in original sin, but Catholicism believes also in shared guilt in Adams sin. Some, mostly Calvinist Protestants ascribe to this as well.

Calvinism teaches Total Depravity like this: Human beings are so affected by the negative consequences of original sin that they are incapable of being righteous, and are always and unchangeably sinful; human freedom is totally enslaved by sin so we can only choose evil.

Arminianism teaches: Deprivation – Human beings are sinful and without God, incapable (deprived) on their own of being righteous; however, they are not irredeemably sinful and can be transformed by God’s grace; God’s prevenient grace restores to humanity the freedom of will.

So both beliefs teach original sin but in very different ways.

However even Catholics teach original sin and this is a driver in infant baptism in that all are seen as sinners, even babies before they consciously sin.

Many churches believe however that God provides power to overcome sin and this includes the various forms of homosexuality. Reformed (Calvinist) churches are less likely to subscribe to this believing we are incapable of ever not sinning.

Arminianism faiths are more likely to subscribe to the belief that Gods power is transforming, and thereby conversion is possible.

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  • While this is a good answer about various denominations's understanding of total depravity and original sin, it does not answer the question: how Christians who hold total depravity also say that "none are born gay". Jun 2, 2021 at 15:18
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Gender, the image of God, and biology

People who say that "I am born gay" are implicitly saying that their gender is rooted within their most fundamental constitution of being a person, namely at the level of what Christians call being made in the "image of God". Since at this level it is correct to say that they cannot change who they are, they then claim that they cannot and should not change their gender, that their gender takes priority even over the biological expression of their gender, manifested in the morphology of their sexual organs. It makes sense, then, that some of them attempt to "fix" their sexual organs to align with what they think as their "immaterial gender" embedded in their personhood.

But many Christians say that God himself determines a person's gender at this most fundamental level, taking the cue from Gen 1:26-27:

26 Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.”

27 So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

Those same Christians hold that:

  • this predetermined gender is embodied biologically at birth as a God-given reliable sign of this gender. Quote from a blog article by Preston Sprinkle (theology professor with PhD in New Testament, author of the 2021 book Embodied: Transgender Identities, the Church, and What the Bible Has to Say) from Part 7—Male and Female in the Image of God of his blog series on Sex, Gender, and Transgender Experiences:

    We’ve discussed three pieces of evidence for this claim: (1) one’s self declaration, (2) the brain sex theory, and (3) the sexed-soul theory. I’ve interacted with some of the salient pros and cons of these views in previous posts. In short, I’ve found all of them to be insufficient defenses of the claim that a biological male, for instance, might actually be a woman from a theological anthropological perspective.

    ...

    1. The body is essential to our image-bearing status

    Not every theologian has agreed with this. Throughout history, many theologians, in fact, said that it’s our rational capacities as humans mark us out as image bearers. But in the last 100 years or so, virtually every Old Testament scholar (and now most theologians) has recognized that an “immaterial” understanding of the image of God goes against the grain of the original context of Genesis 1.[ii]

    ...

    In short, the biblical usage of “image” (selem) and the ancient background of this concept show that humanity’s embodied nature, and not just their immaterial spirit, or soul, or rationality, is an essential part of how we bear God’s image.

    2. Male and female is correlated with bearing God’s image

    We do not just image God as embodied humans, but as sexed humans. Notice that Genesis 1:27 connects “male and female” with the previous references to “the image of God” and “his own image.” That is, our male and female sexed bodies (images) are in some way correlated with our status as image of God bearers. ...

    ...

    Genesis 1:27 is one of the most powerful, provocative, and, one might say, progressive statements in all of Scripture. Not only are all males (not just kings) said to bear God’s image, but all females as well. The radicality of this truth is intrinsically connected to both our human embodiment and more specifically our sexed embodiment. If sex differentiation is irrelevant here, then the profound elevation of females as distinct from males loses all its power.

  • studies that try to find biological explanation for sexual orientation in DNA or brain are inconclusive. Quote from a 2018 Answers in Genesis article Are Some People Born Gay?:

    Both past and present scientific studies have shown no conclusive evidence that homosexual behavior is biological; and even if there is a biological basis, the researchers themselves admit that it would likely make a relatively small contribution (less than one-third if at all, with the environment and other cultural factors having a much greater influence).

  • we can instead explain sexual orientation at the more malleable psychological layer, the layer which is affected by nurture. Quote from a web article Is Anyone Born Gay? by Christopher Yuan who wrote the 2018 book Holy Sexuality and the Gospel: Sex, Desire, and Relationships Shaped by God's Grand Story and who earlier wrote a 2011 memoir about his journey from same sex attraction to deepening relationship with God:

    The American Psychiatric Association made this statement as recently as 2015: “Some people believe that sexual orientation is innate and fixed; however, sexual orientation develops across a person’s lifetime.” Scientists are far from discovering the factors that contribute to the development of sexual attractions, so it’s untenable and irresponsible to claim that the innateness of sexual attractions is a proven reality.

SUMMARY: Christians believe that when God creates our individual soul He pronounces it good. It makes sense, then, that those Christians believe that the biological embodiment of the our gender is also good and should be the standard for one's gender self-declaration as well as the guide for one's psychological maturing of sexual orientation.

Original sin, image of God, and restoration

But does original sin affects the gender of a person at birth? This is basically your question. The answer is NO, explained below.

First, let's clarify some terms. Original sin has to do with our inclination to sin, influencing our moral behavior to the point that Paul calls us enslaved by the power of sin. A subset of those who believe in original sin also believe in total depravity, meaning that we are utterly powerless to overcome this, needing to rely 100% on God's grace. But despite the pervasiveness of the depravity, it is extremely important to understand that total depravity does not annihilate the image of God (see R.C. Sproul's answer Does the doctrine of total depravity teach that we have lost the image of God?)

Returning back to the group of Christians referred to in your OP, they believe the following:

  1. Gender is predetermined by God, part of a person's "image of God" which is either male or female.

  2. Total depravity doesn't compromise this "image of God" in a person; rather there is this power of sin at work which enslaves us at the moral level (our inclination), not at the anthropological level (our being). Therefore, the biological embodiment of our "image of God" is still good, untainted by total depravity.

  3. To use an informal language, it makes sense then that they don't agree that a person can be "born gay". Rather, they will say that a person is "born enslaved with the power of sin" which can affect one's sexual orientation development very deeply but not deep enough to affect the bedrock layer of the "image of God" within a person.

  4. They, as well as sufferers like Christopher Yuan, don't see same sex attraction in itself as sinful, but as a challenge to win over just like how other people are battling other manifestations of the power of sin such as propensity to anger, laziness, drunkenness, etc.

  5. There is hope though, once a person is born again:

    • Even though we started with the condition of total depravity God would not let us be tempted beyond what we can bear.
    • The grace of God helps us to overcome the power of sin and through the sanctification process the effect of total depravity should be lessened. Grace of God has the potential to restore our sexual orientation to what God has chosen to give us at conception. In this way, the original goodness of our sexually determined "image of God" within us can shine brightly as God originally intended.
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    @Lucian I believe I have answered your Question completely to resolve the contradiction you perceive. Please provide feedback if more angles need to be covered to make this an accepted answer. Although most conservative mainstream denominations (notably evangelicals) subscribe to this analysis, I word this answer carefully to reflect that not all Christians do, focusing only on the group of Christians identified by your Question. As a side note, Catholics also hold this anthropological view, although their stance is semi-Pelagians, not Calvinist, when it comes to original sin. Jun 2, 2021 at 16:26
  • The main problem with this answer is that what is being (correctly ?) described is logically flawed (to the point of resembling a metaphorical equivalent of Swiss cheese). I was more or less expecting something that would provide a logically flawless (even if potentially incorrect) argument.
    – Lucian
    Nov 25, 2021 at 8:50
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There is no contradiction, once you base your argument on doctrine of the origin of sin in man. Unlike Catholicism and its original sin, which is the sin that every human being is born with after the fall, because of Adam's sin. In other words, it is a sin contracted by us not committed, but still you are born a sinner.

Catechism of the Catholic Church; Section Two: I. The creeds; Chapter One I Believe In God The Father; Paragraph 7. The fall

403 Following St. Paul, the Church has always taught that the overwhelming misery which oppresses men and their inclination towards evil and death cannot be understood apart from their connection with Adam's sin and the fact that he has transmitted to us a sin with which we are all born afflicted, a sin which is the "death of the soul".291 Because of this certainty of faith, the Church baptizes for the remission of sins even tiny infants who have not committed personal sin.292

419 "We therefore hold, with the Council of Trent, that original sin is transmitted with human nature, "by propagation, not by imitation" and that it is. . . 'proper to each'" (Paul VI, CPG # 16).

Protestants do not believe that you are born a sinner, but the concept of original sin is that which Adam committed, causing the fall. From which we are all born with a fallen nature, a corrupted and sinful nature. We are born sinful.

Westminster Confession of Faith; Chapter 6, Paragraph 2

By this sin they fell from their original righteousness, and communion with God, and so became dead in sin, and wholly defiled in all the faculties and parts of soul and body.

London confession of faith 1689; Chapter 6, Paragraph 2

Our first parents, by this sin, fell from their original righteousness and communion with God, and we in them whereby death came upon all: all becoming dead in sin, and wholly defiled in all the faculties and parts of soul and body.

And it is for this reason that we are unable to do good (seek God, or fulfill his commandments; Romans 3: 10,11) and inclined to only do evil (follow the designs of our flesh, of our heart, wherever it lead us; Galatians 5: 19-21)

So according to this doctrine, you cannot be born gay or trans or adulterous or pornographic or liar or murderer or greedy, etc, but you are born with a biased nature to do any of these things to get away from God. And it is only through Jesus Christ that we are freed from the slavery of sin. But until the restoration comes, we will continue to struggle with these sins as well as Paul in Romans 7: 14-25, but we must maintain a life that mortify those sins Colossians 3: 1-17

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  • you cannot be born gay or trans ... but you are born with a biased nature to do any of these things - I was obviously talking about inclination, not deed (e.g., one can be gay one's entire life, without succumbing to the temptation; or trans, without ever undergoing gender reassignment surgery, etc). Either I am missing something (and, if so, then please clarify what precisely that is), or this answer does not address the actual question.
    – Lucian
    Jul 29, 2020 at 17:48
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    But when you refer to political activism (legislation), or conversion therapy. You regulate the law of something tangible or an act. Do not create a law because someone has a tendency to kill, you regulate killing and take care of that person who has that tendency, you do not make it a criminal without committing some act. In the same way you convert from something to something (if you do not succumb to temptation, what should you convert?). Therefore in the original question you are talking about actions, not inclination. As I interpret it. Jul 29, 2020 at 18:22
  • Sorry for the unnecessary confusion; though related, the two are ultimately distinct, and I was simply referring to being born with certain (sinful) inclinations. But sinfulness does not necessarily lack a physiological basis (thus, psychopathy, for instance, is a neurological, rather than purely psychological, disorder).
    – Lucian
    Jul 29, 2020 at 18:33
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    If you think about it, it need not be a contradiction. You can argue that you are born with a sinful nature, you are not necessarily born with a gay or trans nature. But a nature that seeks to defy God at any opportunity it has. If the opportunity is given to commit any other sin that goes against God, they will do it too. So the bias is not necessarily towards being gay or trans specifically, but towards sin. Jul 29, 2020 at 22:59
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    You've made a good distinction in your answer (born sinful and not sinner) and @Lucien has made an apt commentary; inclination and desire always precede an act and are therefore more fundamental. Paul addresses this in the early parts of Romans. Man stopped glorifying and thanking God. Their thoughts became futile. They turned to worshiping the creature rather than the Creator. God gave them over to what they worshiped. It's what Adam did and it's what we all do. Jul 29, 2020 at 23:04
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I can only speak from a UK context, where there isn't a Christian right like there is in the US. But I think the way the church has handled issues of sexuality is similar. In the last 10-20 years, the church here has come a long way in understanding sexuality. Organisations such as Living Out have been set up within the past few years, helping people to put the pieces of the Bible together.

Unfortunately, I think many in previous years held to traditional Christian ethical beliefs without really holding to other fundamental Christian beliefs (e.g. total depravity) - the morality became divorced from the theology. What you ended up with was a kind of Pharisaism where sexual sin such as this was seen as particularly bad. It was much more common in the mid-20th century to see homosexuality as something that was chosen, and many church leaders have simply inherited this view without thinking through how it fits with theology.

This is why, for example, in Tim Keller's review of Matthew Vines' book, he says:

And when I see people discarding their older beliefs that homosexuality is sinful after engaging with loving, wise, gay people, I’m inclined to agree that those earlier views were likely defective. In fact, they must have been essentially a form of bigotry. [My emphasis] They could not have been based on theological or ethical principles, or on an understanding of historical biblical teaching. They must have been grounded instead on a stereotype of gay people as worse sinners than others (which is itself a shallow theology of sin.) So I say good riddance to bigotry. However, the reality of bigotry cannot itself prove that the Bible never forbids homosexuality. We have to look to the text to determine that.

I think this is what has happened over the past 10-20 years. Many organisations and churches who own the name "Christian" have been shown that, although they may claim to hold to views such as total depravity, do not think it through when it comes to issues of morality.

I should add that I think this is a sensitive and complex area because different people have different views. For example, in the UK, the Core Issues Trust do not describe what they do as conversion therapy, but they believe that it is sometimes possible for someone to undergo change in their attraction. And having a strong view of sin (e.g. total depravity) I don't think is totally incompatible with believing that aspects of our desires, including sexuality, are a choice. But I don't think that's exactly what you were asking!

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  • it is sometimes possible for someone to undergo change in their attraction - I also believe that it is indeed sometimes possible for homosexuals to be turned into heterosexuals, dead people to be turned into living ones (Luke 24:5), water to be turned into wine (John 4:46), and wine into blood (1 Corinthians 10:16); yet no one in their right mind would deduce from the latter three miracles that death, water, and wine therefore do not possess a physical, material, or biological basis, as, for whatever utterly mysterious reason, they somehow seem inclined to think of the first...
    – Lucian
    Jul 28, 2020 at 16:34
  • @Lucian male and female have a biological basis. I'm not sure about the whole concept of "orientation", which is why this is complicated. This article "Against Heterosexuality" I thought was quite helpful - firstthings.com/article/2014/03/against-heterosexuality - at the end of the day we are men or women. Jul 28, 2020 at 19:26
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    The human voice and the human body's upright position also have a biological basis. But if a specific portion of the brain is afflicted, stammer ensues, despite one's vocal cords being physically intact; and if the inner ear is afflicted, drowsiness ensues, making one feel as if on a rocking boat cruising on a stormy sea, despite the fact that one's body is technically standing upright. Now, both the brain and the inner ear are also physical realities; it is not entirely clear why one would so vehemently or adamantly deny that something similar might also hold for gays or trans as well...
    – Lucian
    Jul 28, 2020 at 21:07
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    We have to be careful not to assume that "born a certain way" = "approved by God". We are all born with flesh subject to death and that is not what God has approved. Our adoption as Sons will consummate with the redemption of our bodies. Jul 29, 2020 at 13:01
  • @MikeBorden: Correct, that is yet another logical fallacy; but, just as one does not deny that humans are born mortal, so also one should not (automatically) deny that some might be born with various other issues either.
    – Lucian
    Jul 29, 2020 at 15:08

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