Thursday, June 30, 2011

lady gaga is right…sort of

The latest DNA research development is fascinating. As exploration inside “Darwin’s Black Box” carries on, scientists are discovering more and more predispositions to behaviors and abilities, both good and bad. Last month it was reported that a regulating gene for obesity and diabetes was discovered at King’s College in London. Apparently, we inherit the gene from both mom and dad. The cell from our mom regulates our metabolism, while the one from dad is switched off in us at birth. The discovery could be a breakthrough in curing Type 2 diabetes. Amazing.

The so-called “fat gene” has been fodder for late-night comedians for some time. But it now seems that certain people may have a propensity for obesity based on genetics. For those of us tipping the scales on the hefty side, this brought a sort of perverse relief. It at least weighed in, no pun intended, on the nature-versus-nurture debate.

Er, sort of.

It turns out that there may be a delicate interdependent dance between environment, behavior and genes.

Last year, Time magazine did a cover story on the burgeoning field of epigenetics. In the 80’s, a Swedish scientist began studying the long-term effects that earlier famine or feast years had on succeeding generations. The article states the question that prestigious preventive-health specialist Dr. Lars Olov Bygren began asking:

“Could parents' experiences early in their lives somehow change the traits they passed to their offspring? To put it simply, the data suggested that a single winter of overeating as a youngster could initiate a biological chain of events that would lead one's grandchildren to die decades earlier than their peers did. How could this be possible?”

That study and others led to the discovery of epigenes. As the article reports,
“…Epigentics is the study of changes in gene activity that do not involve alterations to the genetic code but still get passed down to at least one successive generation. These patterns of gene expression are governed by the cellular material—the epigenome—that sits on top of the genome, just outside it (hence the prefix epi-, which means above). It is these epigenetic "marks" that tell your genes to switch on or off, to speak loudly or whisper. It is through epigenetic marks that environmental factors like diet, stress and prenatal nutrition can make an imprint on genes that is passed from one generation to the next.”

Fascinating. Science seems to be saying that nature and nurture are physiologically entwined. Bad behaviors in parents prior to their children’s conception can predispose future kids to certain diseases and even early deaths. It strikes me as more than interesting that the Bible says God visits
“the sins of the fathers on the children on the third and the fourth generations…” (Exodus 20:5)

I have little doubt that future genetic—and epigenetic—studies will only reveal more and more our propensity toward certain behaviors. Who knows if kleptomania, overeating, sexual orientation, MPD and more will be uncovered in the intense research of those microscopic three-billion base pairs? So as Lady Gaga sings in her gazillion-seller hyper-catchy pop tome,
Born This Way,

“It doesn’t matter if you love him or capital H-I-M,
Just put your paws up ‘cause you were born this way, baby…
…I’m beautiful in my way ‘cause god makes no mistakes,
I’m on the right track baby: I was born this way”

Sounds like you’re destined before you’re even conceived…and to some degree, even by the mere behaviors of your back-to-the-future parents. Is Lady Gaga right?—is it true God makes no mistakes? But what if He wasn’t in the “making” in the most operational sense? Are we to blame God for our cellular predisposition, good or bad? The fact that Gaga’s vocal cords are shaped and stretched a certain way for those powerhouse ultrasonic notes, was that God? Is her self-proclaimed bisexuality from God?

Here’s the big question at the core of Christianity: What if we’re all really,
really flawed?

And flawed all the way down to our DNA? Is that a game-changer in any way? My genetics are broken and I have to wear contact lenses: should I blame that on God? But here’s an even deeper question: If
behaviors—or to some degree even motivations—are triggered by a predisposed gene and we are born that way, does that make them amoral? Because someone “can’t help it”, does that remove any sense of morality connected with the behavior? And does that mean that we’re not responsible?

I think our brokenness—all the way down to our DNA—is part of what Paul is describing as the
flesh. Think about it. Christianity claims that the Spirit of God is in conflict with our natural (genetically predisposed) nature…not because God made us that way, but because we are terrifically broken, all the way down to our genes. The Bible gives us a powerful narrative as to why we’re flawed: a desire—even in a perfect state—to be god rather than be with God. Knowing that we are deeply broken is critical to understanding Christianity; admitting we are deeply broken is the first step to experiencing Christianity.

Call it depravity, call it brokenness, call it sin, but whatever you call it, it separates us from intimately knowing God, apparently because He is perfectly
unbroken. You can’t mix oil and water. Or we’re as different as chalk and cheese, as my U.K. friends say.

Just by replacing the words “sinful nature” (or “flesh” in the King James) with “flawed genetics” gives a fresh view to the conflict that Paul expresses in this passage:

I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. Romans 7:18–20 (NIV)

It may be that our “war against the flesh” is exactly that: a conflict with what may seem natural to us. But what may seem natural to us might simply be a blindness to how broken we are. All the way down to our genes. And that may mean the only way to know whether any behavior falls in the “healthy” or “unhealthy” category—sin or not sin—is not whether it simply hurts a fellow human being, but whether it hurts the heart of God and His originally perfect design.

Now that is a game-changer. And modern science may be aiding us more that we realize.

When you follow the (natural) desires of your (broken DNA), your lives will produce these evil results: sexual immorality, impure thoughts, eagerness for lustful pleasure, idolatry, participation in demonic activities, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, divisions, the feeling that everyone is wrong except those in your own little group, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other kinds of sin. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God. Galatians 5:19–21 (New Living Translation…with Workman-phrases in parentheses…)


  1. I pray for Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta and I don't mean that condescendingly either. She is truly just a very confused woman who doesn't know who she is as "Daughter of the Most High" because she's never accepted Jesus as Lord. Rather than using her as a sermon illustration, I think it would be better that we spend time praying for her and others as the Lord says that we are to pray for one another so that we may be healed (James 5:16). I'm not fussing at you, Dave, but I do believe that our priority needs to shift to praying FOR her rather than aligning ourselves WITH anything that she says. She needs Jesus, plain and simple. She needs to experience the power of the Holy Spirit and the change He wants to bring to her life. We should be fasting, praying, and contending for her and others' salvations. That's our job as "Sons and Daughters of the Most High God". We must pray without ceasing b/c as it stands right now, she and many other entertainers do not call Jesus "Lord" and the Bible is very clear about a person's eternal future being apart from Jesus who desperately wants to save her and others.

    In addition, there is a story about a young woman who was allegedly taken to hell by God. She supposedly saw Selena and Michael Jackson there. You can read about it here... or watch the youtube video here...

    I'm not saying this IS true, but if it is, we should be contending for the losts' salvation. He needs us standing in the gap on their behalf. He needs us crying out to Him to bring them into relationship with Him. I don't believe Stefani Germanotta is a lost cause, as no one is, but I do believe it is our responsibility to pray and contend for her and others' salvations.

    Bless you,

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  4. reathonGreat blog. Wish I would have seen this before attending my last small group. Really fits into what we were studying. This would have helped me out in our discussions. Thanks.

  5. Jared Loughner may have been born that way too, but it's no excuse for his behavior.

  6. Really enjoyed this post, Dave. I'm thankful pastors like you are always wrestling with the tough questions to better understand God.

    I want to get practical here for a minute. My problem with the gay marriage debate is this: Drunkenness is legal; adultery is legal (by the way, I love that people like Newt Gingrich and Donald Trump oppose gay marriage because they want to preserve the sanctity of marriage); selfish ambition is legal, quarreling is legal (if not, blogging and cable news wouldn't exist). Religious folks have chosen one issue (gay marriage) to focus so much time and energy.

    It's a civil rights issue. If a church or specific pastor opposes gay marriage, fine. You don't have to officiate gay marriages. But politically, there is no excuse for outlawing gay marriage. Not when dozens of other "sins" are perfectly legal.

    I know many gay people. I've had multiple conversations with them about "being gay." To them, loving someone of the same sex is as natural as you or I loving someone of the opposite sex. (Here is where someone says, "A pedophile loving a child feels natural to him too." But, come on, two consenting adults choosing to love each other isn't even in the same zip code as pedophilia, bestiality, or other sexual dysfunctions that prey on innocents. To suggest otherwise is absurd.)

    To deny gay men and women the same civil rights we enjoy borders on criminal. All these years later, this country reflects on its treatment of women and blacks with shame. Someday, my children and grandchildren will do the same with our generation. Thankfully, they will know I was on the right side of this civil rights issue from the beginning.

    From Native Americans, to women, to blacks, to gays, to Mexicans, to Muslims: If white, heterosexual, Christian men aren't oppressing someone, we're not happy.

    Did God originally intend for homosexuality? Probably not. Practically, the parts just don't line up. But here we are, all these years later, with millions of men and women who want to love and be loved by another person. Who are we to deny them that right?

  7. Great post Dave. I enjoyed reading it and it's pretty funny to view your blog and see lady gaga's face, lol. Have a safe forth of July to anyone who reads this.

  8. I'm in need of a Saviour, right down to my DNA! Thanks for sharing this Dave...peace

  9. Hi Steve (Fuller),

    I appreciate your kind words and I agree: these are tough questions in how they relate to God…and I’m very conscious of the dynamic between never wanting to put words in God’s mouth and my calling as a representative of the Kingdom. It’s very weighty and at times weird. And there always seem to be a sizeable number of issues to wrestle with theologically. This is way too long a response to be a comment, but I don’t want to make a post out of it because of precisely the point you made: I don’t want the Church to be a two-issue movement. I—and you—as ambassadors of the Kingdom of God are bigger than that.

    Plus, I have no desire to defend “religious folks”; Jesus seemed to have difficulty with them as well. But the problem with listing “drunkenness”, “adultery”, “selfish ambition”, etcetera is that, yes, they’re “legal”, but not defended morally by scripture. Matter of fact, they’re admonished. And I agree that the average church could spend more time berating those behaviors (probably at the risk of being branded legalists!) in comparison to homosexuality, but one point is different: those behaviors are not typically defended as “acceptable” behaviors in society, cases in point: Mel Gibson’s drunken rants or Tiger Woods high-count affairs were roundly (and rightly) slammed as immoral in the media. If Cincinnati council deemed “free public orgies on Fountain Square” as morally and legally permissible, I would suspect that would become a top issue for “religious folks”.

    I believe we somehow have to appeal to a higher ethic than the current “as-long-as-it-doesn’t-hurt-anyone-else” and mere “consensual adults”. Adults consent to numbers of things that don’t go beyond their bedrooms, legalized pornography being one of them. But deep down I can’t believe God finds that honoring to his heart and aspirations for humanity.

    And for us pastor-types, I wish it were as simple as just not having to “officiate gay marriage”. Church and culture are uneasy bedfellows; just read Acts. And for those of us who want to reach into the culture with what we believe is the compelling transformative good news of Jesus, that presents challenges in how we’re perceived. “Acceptance” is certainly the new “love”, rightly or wrongly.

    But regarding this as a justice issue, I think that’s a bit simplistic. Justice and morality are always in a thorny knot. For example, why is it illegal for a mother to marry her consenting adult son? After all, now birth control makes it easy for them to not pass on defective genes…and if they wanted kids, there’s always adoption. Most of us would find that morally repugnant, but why? Is it because Leviticus 18:6 imbedded its way into our Judeo-Christian culture? Or does it just seem “unnatural” to us?

    (continued in next comment…)

  10. (…continued from above comment)

    One of my favorite theologians is the Anglican priest/author N. T. Wright. He’s far more articulate—not to mention smarter—than me with this:

    “The appeal to justice as a way of cutting the ethical knot in favour of including active homosexuals in Christian ministry simply begs the question. . . The appeal also seriously misrepresents the notion of justice itself, not just in the Christian tradition of Augustine, Aquinas and others, but in the wider philosophical discussion from Aristotle to John Rawls. Justice never means ‘treating everybody the same way’, but ‘treating people appropriately’, which involves making distinctions between different people and situations. Justice has never meant ‘the right to give active expression to any and every sexual desire’.

    “Such a novel usage would also raise the further question of identity. It is a very recent innovation to consider sexual preferences as a marker of ‘identity’ parallel to, say, being male or female, English or African, rich or poor. Within the ‘gay community’ much postmodern reflection has turned away from ‘identity’ as a modernist fiction. We simply ‘construct’ ourselves from day to day.

    “We must insist, too, on the distinction between inclination and desire on the one hand and activity on the other — a distinction regularly obscured by references to ‘homosexual clergy’ and so on. We all have all kinds of deep-rooted inclinations and desires. The question is, what shall we do with them? One of the great Prayer Book collects asks God that we may ‘love the thing which thou commandest, and desire that which thou dost promise’. That is always tough, for all of us. Much easier to ask God to command what we already love, and promise what we already desire. But much less like the challenge of the Gospel.”

    The challenge for pastors like me—and what I was exploring in the post—is this: what does God have to say about our behaviors, no matter how imbedded in our genes they are? That’s tricky because not everything that seems natural to us is “good” (say, serial marriages), at least in how God views it. And I was attempting to attribute a portion of that to potentially being part of our “fallen condition”…and connect our “broken genetics” with how the Bible may describe “the flesh”.

    I “know gay people” as well, as you said. These are not easy conversations, yet almost always respectful. But all of us, in surrendering to Jesus, will sacrifice huge parts of our lives, desires, opinions, personalities and psyches to Him. There is no worship without sacrifice. For some of us, that may be bigger and different than others…and may be sexual in nature. At least, that’s what I’m exploring in my thinking.

  11. Good thoughts, Dave. I appreciate your perspective as someone who has been wrestling with God questions far longer than I have.

    One final point: Sometimes, I think us liberals get accused of ignoring the Bible concerning issues like this. I disagree. I believe answering the question, "What does God say?" is critical. I'm suggesting the justice narrative found throughout the Bible is more powerful than a handful of verses that seem to be anti-homosexuality.

    Not to put words in your mouth, but I believe it's the same rationale churches like the Vineyard use in allowing women to lead and teach (even though scripture seems clear that isn't permissible).

    I have a Christian friend who knew he was gay for 20+ years, but he didn't date men because he was trying to honor God. He fought his natural desires for a long time. Then, one day he woke up and realized he wanted to share his life with someone. He wanted to love and be loved.

    Ultimately, his sexuality is between him and God. I simply don't want to live in a world where you or I (or the government) has the authority to deny him the right to marry a consenting adult of his choosing.

    Hope you're well.

  12. Thanks, Steve. And all is well here.

    We certainly agree on these two things: What God says is critical…and that justice is an issue all throughout scripture, both personal and systemic. I’ve gotten in trouble with folks on that one ( and I’ve taken some heat in the past on racism issues, debt relief, global responsibility, and others based solely on what I believe scripture has to say. But I’ll have to agree with N. T. Wright in the above comment on this as a “justice issue”.

    Even if one takes out the verses in Leviticus, Romans and 1 Corinthians, there is an articulated sexual ethos throughout scripture and one that Jesus comments on in his discourse on divorce based on the Creator’s design. I think our fallenness has created dysfunctions throughout our psyches and physiology; what we do with them—however difficult it is—is the issue.

    I would recommend William Webb’s insightful book, “Slaves, Women & Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis” for the cultural questions. Even if you don’t agree with his hermeneutic, it will stretch you. I have no interest in denying anyone their rights; my concern is more with the Big “C” Church, what we do with the good news and with what I believe God says about sexuality. I can’t control the culture, but I have a responsibility to instruct the Church. Believe me, the Church has a lot more problems with sexual immorality than just the same-sex issue. Nevertheless, all sexual immorality, no matter what size and shape and however consensual, is a serious issue based on Paul’s (and I believe Jesus as well) argument of design and the fact that sexual sin has different consequences, hence his saying that it’s a sin against our own body with different ramifications based on our being a temple of God’s very own Spirit. That’s obviously aimed at “re-birthed” people. Apparently, not all sin is equal, at least in weight and consequence. I’d be a fool to not instruct people in that.

    Anyway, enough said on all this from my point of view. At this juncture in my life, I truly only want to love people into the Kingdom, however inept I am at that. I’ve discovered that love is both simple and difficult. That keeps me busy enough.

  13. Wow, fantastic dialog Dave and Steve. I value you both for your respect and candidness with one another.

    Dave - spot on bro'! Excellent!

    Steve - I honor your being an advocate for gay-identified individuals. Your heart is huge! One thing for you to consider brother: God defines what love is and HOW we are to love one another. Yes?

    Jerry Armelli

  14. Dave said:
    "Call it depravity, call it brokenness, call it sin, but whatever you call it, it separates us from intimately knowing God, apparently because He is perfectly unbroken. You can’t mix oil and water."

    This is an issue that I regularly wrestle with considering the fact that God did mix with our brokenness (and I am sure God is powerful enough to actually mix oil and water). God did not remain separated from humanity but rather became human. You can't mix with a broken humanity anymore than actual becoming a broken human. All this to say, are we truly depraved and separated from God or are we actually carrying within us our Creator's image and constantly being bombarded by God's attempts to interact with us... we have just become blinded to it. As a French proverb says, "The last discovery a fish will make is water." We often miss that which is right in front of us.

  15. I also wanted to point out something regarding the LGBT issue and scripture.

    Often, the "natural" argument derives from the Adam and Eve narrative in Genesis 2. However, when read a little more carefully (i.e. without simply finishing the story in our heads because we have known it for so long), it seems as though God doesn't actually have a specific partner ("helpmeet" in the KJV) for Adam. Instead, God parades all of the animals in front of Adam so that he could pick a suitable partner for himself.

    After Adam failed to find a partner amongst all the other created on Earth, God decided to fashion one out of part of Adam himself. Did God, seeing that God's first inclination (that Adam could pick a partner from that which had already been created) was mistaken, ask Adam... or did God simply learn what Adam was attracted to and design woman to match?

    To me, this suggests that God does design our potential partners with a certain amount of purpose. It further suggests that God takes into account how we are hardwired. However, God does seem to care that it is a mutually beneficial relationship... something that cannot take place between and adult and child or a human being and an animal with no ability to give what we would consider intent. Also, the example of a son marrying his mother is a poor one I think because it still would be a relationship out of balance. The mother is in a position of power over her son. Relationships must be mutual.

    Of course, the example of brother and sister/close cousin is tougher to refute. 8^)
    I think there we fall to cultural standards and the potential effects upon their progeny (no birth control is 100% effective).

    Anyway, I appreciated your heart as you approached this issue. I also love N.T. Wright, but I think it is hard for someone who has not felt oppressed to define if an issue is an issue of justice or not. I would assume that most LGBT theologians would consider it a justice issue along the lines of the Civil Rights Movement.