A Pre-Birth Determination?

By Lynne Duke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 18, 2007

Pity the poor fetus. There's a lot coming its way. And now there's talk on a conservative evangelical blog of a hypothetical hormone patch that an expectant mother might wear to eradicate her fetus's natural gayness.

The patch, the biological determinism: It's all conjecture, for now. But it hit like a theological IED when it turned up earlier this month on the blog of the Rev. R. Albert Mohler Jr., one of the leading voices of the 16 million-strong Southern Baptist Convention. He blogged on these issues under the appropriately provocative headline: "Is Your Baby Gay? What if You Could Know? What if You Could Do Something About It?" In his postings, he raises the possibility of a biological basis for homosexuality and prods his flock to think about how it should respond.

At a time when homosexuality in the military has reemerged as a flash point, causing presidential candidates to deflect and dance gingerly around the topic, Mohler has taken up the debate about the origins of homosexuality in a way he ad mits has roiled many in the Christian right.

For seeming to contradict a basic tenet of anti-gay thinking -- that homosexuality is a lifestyle choice, not a state of nature -- Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, was inundated with e-mails from readers who castigated him, he said on his blog Friday.

And for expressing his approval of a hypothetical prenatal intervention to change a baby's sexual orientation, he was verbally attacked by gay-rights advocates. Some of them likened him to the Nazi doctor Josef Mengele for seeming to advocate the manipulation of nature to "basically wipe out gay people," said Wayne R. Besen, founder of Truth Wins Out, a group that fights efforts to convert gays to heterosexuality.

To quiet the storm, Mohler's blog on Friday attempted to more fully explain his thinking, sparked by an article by Tyler Gray, entitled "Is Your Baby Gay?," in the March issue of Radar magazine.

"My purpose in writing my previous article was, in the main, to draw attention to a very real threat to human dignity that lurks as a possibility on our horizon, a possibility explicitly described in the Radar magazine article," Mohler wrote. "This is the possibility that, if a biological marker (real or not) is ever claimed to mark homosexuality in prenatal testing, widespread abortion of such babies might well follow," a prospect he denounced.

In an interview on Friday, Mohler said that Christian couples "should be open" to the prospect of changing the course of nature -- if a biological marker for homosexuality were to be found. He would not support gene therapy but might back other treatments, such as a hormonal patch.

"I think any Christian couple would want their child to be whole and healthy," he said. "Knowing that that child is going to be a sinner, we would not want to make their personal challenges more difficult if they could be less difficult."

On his blog, he said "Christians must be very careful not to claim that science can never prove a biological basis for sexual orientation. . . . The general trend of the research points to at least some biological factors behind sexual attraction, gender identity and sexual orientation."

Indeed, some scientific research suggests homosexuality may stem from biological influences including genetics and hormones. A 2006 study published in Proceedings of the National Academies of Science concluded that homosexuality in some men may be a result of an immune response in a mother's womb if she has previously given birth to one or more boys. Earlier studies revealed a genetic variation that might influence homosexuality.

On his blog, Mohler wrote that the search for a biological cause of the "disorder" could also lead to a "cure." In the interview, however, he distanced himself from the "therapeutic language of a 'cure' " and spoke instead of "salvation through Christ." Homosexual behavior is sinful, he said, whether based in nature or nurture.

The Rev. Rob Schenck, a pastor and member of the Evangelical Church Alliance, which he said is probably the most conservative of the evangelical groups, applauded Mohler for launching a dialogue.

But, he warned, "this is such a delicate and risky conversation to have for a number or reasons . . . We're going to have to be extremely prayerful and careful about making any decision to tinker with a child's genetic or biochemical construction. We may be awfully close to violating the sanctity of that child's life and their integrity as a person."

Mohler has "touched the third rail of the radical religious right's view of homosexuality," said the Rev. Bob Edgar, executive secretary of the National Council of Churches, which represents 35 denominations and 45 million congregants.

"What he said lends credence to the fact that it's God's creation. His brothers in faith would be more surprised than liberals with his comments." Ironically, Mohler's musings on these subjects were based on an article in an irreverent pop culture magazine. Gray, the article's author, said he was "not real happy" with the way Mohler used his writings.

"You can't just pick the parts that you like and say, 'I'm going to use this to say that I would be okay with a treatment that would eradicate homosexuality,' " said Gray, whose article raised the prospect for hypocrisy among conservatives and liberals faced with choices about the sexuality of their unborn children.

Mohler's missive has had a "chilling and frightening effect" on the homosexual community, said Harry Knox, director of the religion and faith program at the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights advocacy group. "My word for [Christian conservatives] is they should be more focused on repentance for the sins they have committed against homosexuals than on manipulating the next generation of the unborn."

Besen said Mohler's musing are akin to calling for a "final solution" for gays.

"It's the first time I've ever used such a term, and having a family background that included the Holocaust I don't take that lightly," said Besen, author of "Anything but Straight: Unmasking the Scandals and Lies Behind the Ex-Gay Myth."

"However . . . if you follow what he said there would be no gay people in the future."

Homosexuality is a "huge challenge" to Christianity, said Mohler, referring, in part, to the Rev. Ted Haggard, former president of the National Association of Evangelicals, who was forced to step down last November because of a gay sex scandal. And the Rev. Lonnie Latham, a member of the executive committee of the Southern Baptist Convention, was embroiled in a gay sex scandal but was found not guilty of having solicited sex from another man.

"In our churches and in our families there are people struggling with homosexuality and for a long time this was kind of hidden," Mohler said in the interview. "It is no longer hidden, and the fact is we've got to be coming up with genuinely Christian responses to Christians who are in this struggle."

Asked if he perhaps was moving ahead of the science on homosexuality's origins, Mohler said, "I don't think it's that far off. The battle for human dignity is already here."

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