In faith traditions, are human sexuality, sexual identity, and orientation matters of "nature" or "nurture"? Why?

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Historically, many widespread faith-based institutions have taken the position that sexual attraction is strictly "nurture," not "nature." This contradicts the prevailing science on the topic, which currently posits that sexual orientation is determined by a complex and unpredictable intersection of genetic, environmental, and cultural factors.

The implications of this position are significant. Because many of these organizations perceive sexual orientation as a choice, there is an underlying assumption that an individual can also choose heterosexuality. This has led to some incredibly dangerous practices. In conversion therapy, which has now been outlawed in many states, an attempt is made to forcibly "reprogram" an LGBTQIA+ individual into heteronormativity. This is an impossible goal, and the process only serves to terrorize and often traumatize the individual in question.

Even when extreme measures like conversion therapy are not taken, the belief that sexual orientation is strictly "nurture"—and therefore controllable—puts LGBTQIA+ individuals in a very precarious position. In the United States, we often evaluate whether a given attribute is a choice to determine whether someone is protected by discrimination laws, and the nurture-versus-choice argument has sometimes been leveraged in this context to sidestep adequate LGBTQIA+ protections.

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Many faith traditions around the world recognize that nature and nurture both play a role in human sexuality and sexual identity. Some lean more toward the “nature” end of the spectrum, focusing on God's creation of male and female with established sexual identities and His ordaining of marriage and its standards. Other traditions allow more room for interplay between the nature of a human being and the explorations that person might make in terms of sexual identity and orientation within his or her environment. Let's look more closely at the some of the particular faith traditions and their beliefs about sexuality. Please be aware that even within a particular faith tradition, opinions and practices may vary widely.

In Judaism, there is a split between Orthodox Jews, who view homosexuality as sinful because of God's establishment of marriage as between a man and a woman, and other groups. Reform Jews and Liberal Jews accept a variety of sexual orientations and identities as natural to the human experience.

Christianity exhibits similar splits. Conservative Christians hold firmly that God created men and women with ingrained sexual identities as male and female and instituted marriage as a heterosexual relationship between one man and one woman. Many conservative groups welcome people with various sexual identities but also identify homosexual practices as sinful for violating the inherent nature of male or female. Other more liberal Christian groups believe that a variety of sexual identities and orientations can be natural to people.

In Islam, sexual identity and orientation is viewed as given by Allah and not to be changed. Some Islamic countries even have a death penalty for homosexual activity, which is viewed as stemming from sin.

Hindus have adopted a wide variety of positions about sexuality and are not at all unified in their beliefs about whether sexuality is a matter of nature or nurture.

Buddhists, too, hold a variety of positions about sexual identity. Some believe that it is wrong to crave any pleasure because that prevents spiritual progress. Therefore, for them, sexuality is not a religious matter. Others think that sexual orientation is part of one's nature no matter what that orientation may be.

We can see, then, that there is no unified belief across faith traditions about whether humanity sexuality, sexual orientation, and sexual identity are matters of mature or nurture.

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