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).


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!

  • 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 '20 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. – Phill Sacre Jul 28 '20 at 19:26
  • 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 '20 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. – Mike Borden Jul 29 '20 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 '20 at 15:08

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

  • 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 '20 at 17:48
  • 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. – wildmangrove Jul 29 '20 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 '20 at 18:33
  • 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. – wildmangrove Jul 29 '20 at 22:59
  • 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. – Mike Borden Jul 29 '20 at 23:04

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.

  • Calvin was a paedobaptist. Are you saying that many credobaptist Evangelicals with Calvinist leanings do not necessarily interpret Reformed doctrine as meaning that one's sinful inclinations are there from birth, but rather enter one's being later in life, thus eliminating the perceived contradiction ? – Lucian Jul 31 '20 at 17:07
  • All main faiths, Catholic and Protestant, agree that from birth we are naturally inclined to evil, or sin. We inherently choose evil over good. Nothing good proceeds from our minds naturally. From our moment of conception we are sinful says David. So No, our sinful inclination already exists at birth and is either strengthened or weakened by life experiences. The sinful from birth theology exists in all major Christian beliefs that I know of. There are nuances like are we already guilty of sin at birth, or do we share in Adams guilt. But the premise of sinful from birth is common to all. – Ian Macintosh Jul 31 '20 at 21:21

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