Monday, January 01, 2007

A Centrist Christian Approach to the Homosexual Issue

This week I will give you my considered judgment on an issue that vexes Christians: what to think about homosexuality and homosexual practice, in the church and in society. I have thought, studied, and written about this question quite a bit, in this blog and elsewhere. Now I want to lay out a few conclusions, both to clear my head and to invite your comment. Here are my four main conclusions:

The Bible says homosexual practice is sinful.

A small minority of people are born with a homosexual orientation.

The Church can live with homosexual sinners the way it lives with other kinds of sinners.

A free society can accommodate a homosexual minority through approximations of majority institutions.



These four points will be the subject of the next four blogs. I will elaborate what I mean by these conclusions, and why I came to them, during the rest of the week.

Let me say one more word of introduction, though. The problem of homosexual practice is a real problem for anyone who believes the Bible and who believes in a free society. Those who favor wholesale approbation of homosexuality in all its forms and social consequences run up against a stone wall of abhorrence in Scripture. Those who favor wholesale condemnation of homosexuality in all its forms and social consequences run up against the mercy of God for all sinners and the presumption of toleration for all kinds of people in a free society. Hence, Christian centrists must wrestle with the question.

27 comments:

Clay Allard said...

If we were a sensible, humble, and faithful Church, this is where we would have been all along. It is just tragic to me that we have not been able to get here. I think our failure to do so is a sign that homosexuality is only the "window-dressing" issue of what separates us into two warring camps.
So what is the nature of this conflict? I think you summarize it at the end-- one group is wrong, but following the Bible, and the other group is just wrong. It is faithfulness to the Scriptures that is the heart of this conflict.

Brett said...

Gruntled, happy new year! I will look forward to reading your thoughts on this matter. I'm sure you're aware that your first point is hardly universally accepted by Christians. Thanks for providing this forum to discuss this important matter.

Mark Smith said...

My prediction for the week:

LOTS of comments.

Jonathan said...

Was "stone wall" a pun of some sort? Is "abhorrence" a bit strong for, oh, say, six oblique passages? I mean, this wasn't a big theme for Jesus, right?

Looking forward to the posts...

Gruntled said...

I agree with Clay that this issue is symbolic of a larger cultural divide. I don't think it is only window dressing, though because it is also a substantive issue.

Yes, Jonathan, I saw the "stone wall" pun once I wrote it, and decided to let it go in. And I don't think "abhorrence" is too strong a word to use for something described as "an abomination."

Alan said...

This is centrist? Hmmm... You must have a different definition of that word than I do. How do these views differ from the right wing fundies?

clay allard said...

I would commend to Gruntled Alan's last comment. I fear that we have reached a point where polarization has gone so far that the center cannot hold-- one is labeled and pushed to either one side or the other.

Roderick said...

I have no problem with this subject being a topic for the Church but I have a problem with it (along with abortion) being the dominant topics of the Church.

About two months ago I violated one of my rules and I got involved in a political discussion with my holy roller co-worker and of course the subject of the discussion was gay marriage.

She like Mr Weston stated that allowing gay marriage would signal the end of the family and 'Christian' America.

Of course she cited isolated incidents of the so-called homosexual agenda and I countered that the real destruction of the family especially in the African American community is/has already occured. If the statistics are true 70% of African American children are born to single mothers and that substance abuse is a much bigger threat to the African American community than gay marriage.

Of course she got defensive because her son who is addicted to drugs and alcohol has two children with his babies' mama and he is currently married to another woman whom my coworker calls a crackhead.

Furthermore she blames popular culture rather than her son for his situation.

When I brought up the fact that the Bible speaks against divorce and the remarriage of divorced persons who have living former spouses.

So what is your opinion of the cause of the decay of the family, Professor Weston?

Gruntled said...

"She like Mr Weston stated that allowing gay marriage would signal the end of the family and 'Christian' America."

Um, where did I say anything like that?

This is why I am writing multiple posts, carefully.

Roderick said...

Gruntled: The problem of homosexual practice is a real problem for anyone who believes the Bible and who believes in a free society. Those who favor wholesale approbation of homosexuality in all its forms and social consequences run up against a stone wall of abhorrence in Scripture.

Roderick: Please explain why what consenting adults do in the privacy of their own homes a problem for society?

Do you feel the same way about heterosexual adultery or heterosexual fornification?

Gruntled said...

Roderick:

I think you may have missed the "and" in the sentence you quote. See the next post for why homosexual practice is a problem for those who believe the Bible.

Alan said...

"why homosexual practice is a problem for those who believe the Bible."

Um... *I* believe the Bible and homosexual practice is not a problem for me! Again I ask...this is a *centrist* position?!

RightDemocrat said...

I agree with your approach. We need to have a tolerant attitude toward gays and lesbians and yet draw the line at glorification of the homosexual lifestyle. Of course, discrimination in employment or housing must not be tolerated and it is important to vigorously prosecute crimes of violence directed against gays and lesbians.

At the same time, we need to recognize that a society that survives and thrives must be necessary focused on the stable heterosexual family unit. We must oppose gay matrimony because it will help to undermine the institution of marriage.

Alan said...

"We must oppose gay matrimony because it will help to undermine the institution of marriage."

How? Please provide specific examples.

RightDemocrat said...

Gay marriage would further confuse the purpose of marriage and the primary reason for state recognition of marriage - to provide a stable environment for the rearing of children.

Furthermore, the optimal environment for the raising of children is a mother and a father. Many social pathologies can be traced to the absence of such traditional parenting arrangements.

Most same sex relationships, especially between gay men, are not monogamous in nature. By legally recognizing relationships that are often mutually agreed upon as "open", gay marriage would tend to undermine the expectation of monogamy in marriages generally.

I am not against to allowing gay partners to register for purposes of insurance benefits and hospital visitation, but to recognize same sex marriage would be a grave error. The traditional family is unstable enough without bringing alternative lifestyles into the definition of marriage.

Alan said...

If marriage is about child rearing, then to be fair, you should be pushing to outlaw any heterosexual marriage that does not produce offspring. Why single out the gays? If a small minority of heterosexual couples choose not to have children and that's OK, why would a small minority of homosexual couples change the entire universe?

"Many social pathologies can be traced to the absence of such traditional parenting arrangements. "

There is no evidence that children raised by gay couples are any different than those raised by straight couples. In fact, the evidence suggests they're just as healthy and happy as the children of straight couples.

"Most same sex relationships, especially between gay men, are not monogamous in nature."

Some studies say that up to 60% of straight marriages experience some sort of infidelity. In addition, the divorce rate of straight people is 50%. Again, a double standard for gay people. In fact, we should be doing things to strengthen marriage and commitment for both gay AND straight people. Denying marriage for gay people isn't going to help the pathetic track record of straight marriages in this country.

"The traditional family is unstable enough without bringing alternative lifestyles into the definition of marriage."

And just whose fault is it that heterosexual marriage is a shambles? Think carefully about what you're saying... Any straight marriage is OK. If you're in a loveless heterosexual marriage, don't worry. Or for that matter, arranged marriages, third marriages, fourth marriages, Britney Spears' day-long Las Vegas marriage, Russian brides, abusive alcoholic codependents locked in a cycle of violence and despair. Those are all fine. But gay marriage? Nope... THAT will destroy marriage.

Chairm said...

Two men cannot espouse one another. A woman cannot become the wife of another woman.

You might play with gutting these words of their meaning and then substituting some ambiguous meaning of your own, but that demonstrates how the recognition of, and preference for, the social institution of marriage would be undermined.

That is wrong when unmarried man-woman couples claim benefits from such ambiguities and it is no less wrong when SSMers make the attempt to puff-up the importance of same-sex attraction in terms of the special status of marriage in society.

Instead of trying to redefine marriage into something it is not, just define the sort of ideal you have for the homosexual relaitonship type.

Argue how that ideal ought to be accorded a preferential status in the law; and how it ought to be socially esteemed status as an aspirational stage of adult maturity in the lives of all homosexual individuals. Not just among the few who would partake, but among all.

If you can do that much, then, you might be on your way to justifying the replacement of special status for marriage with special status for the ideal you hope to promote for all of society. If that ideal is superior to the marriage ideal (combination of sex integration adn responsible procreation) then make the case that all individuals -- especially those who'd form man-woman unions -- should aspire toward it instead of the conjugal relationship.

Claiming that your ideal is one of many options in caring relationships would just relegate your proposition to the merely tolerated rather than the preferred. And relegated to one item on a menu rather than THE apsirational ideal for all.

José Solano said...


Though I have been attending a Presbyterian Church recently I remain a Mennonite precisely because of the kinds of compromises with sin that Gruntled presents here.

The problem is not about who might be a sinner because clearly we are all sinners. The problem has to do with the justification of sin rather than the confession of sin.

As a Christian one must consider what place the Bible has in determining what one believes. For all the major religions the Bible is central. To this is added the Tradition and the working of the Holy Spirit in the community of the saints. The three must nevertheless be reconciled or you'll get a congregation of people speaking in contradictory tongues. This is actually what frequently happens. Neither the working of the Holy Spirit nor the Tradition can be in outright contradiction to Scripture. There are difficult passages that need to be pondered but there are the elementary teaching that even a child may grasp.

Any child can understand what the Bible teaches about marriage. It is explicitly the relationship of a man and a woman. A homosexual relationship is always condemned as an aberration, an abomination. It is silly to count how many times it is condemned. It's certainly condemned more frequently than having a sexual relationship with an animal.

To compare the abominable act of homosexual behavior with divorce is also silly. Jews routinely divorced under the authority of Moses. Divorce was never seen as an abomination and Jesus even finds at least one ground for divorce, adultery. Homosexuality can be compared with adultery. Both were capital offences under the Old Covenant and both are condemned under the New Covenant.

The Church of Christ cannot condone either and cannot offer membership to anyone that practices and justifies either. You will not be excommunicated because you have an adulterous or other perverse thought. It's when you justify and flaunt your adultery that you must be removed. You are a member of the Church of Christ only when you recognize and repent of your sins. Any denomination that violates this teaching is heretical and becomes apostate. The idea of trying to promote any form of short, or even worse, long lasting homosexual or adulterous relationship is preposterous in Christ's teaching. This is what has happened in the Episcopal denomination and is the direction in which the Presbyterian Church USA is heading. Some of its congregations are already there. There can be no compromise with sin. The Church of Christ must always teach repentance. If the particular denomination has made a compromise with sin it must repent and not take this as a justification to make additional sinful compromises. That is indeed the slippery slope danger.

Alan said...
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Alan said...

"Two men cannot espouse one another."

Ah... thanks for clearing that up for me so concisely. ;)

You describe "gutting" these words of meaning, but provide no evidence or argument to support your position. How my marriage to my husband suddenly makes all other marriages null and void, would be a good place to start if you want to start arguing your point. Otherwise, it's just a semantic argument and one that even a linguist wouldn't make. Fact is, I am married, so your statement has no basis in reality.

Christian said...

And just whose fault is it that heterosexual marriage is a shambles?

You've wrapped an equivocation, and a null question into a straw man.

Null Question: you falsely assume that marriage is a shambles. Fact is that most Americans get married and stay married. Most marriages end in divorce because some people get married and divorced many times. Their lives and marriages are a shambles, but marriage in general is not a shambles. Also fact: children raised by a married couple are statistically more successful, e.g. more likely to hold a job, less likely to end up in prison or the nuthouse, than children whose parents never married. Marriage continues to do society good, despite those that screw up.

Equivocation: Your argument relies on different meanings of the word "Heterosexual." If you meant heterosexual attraction, then your sentence would be meaningless since there's no rule saying that a gay person can't marry someone of the opposite sex. But you have to make us think of heterosexual attraction, since you're trying to imply that heterosexual persons in general are responsible for the failure of a few heterosexual marriages.

STRAW MAN: you pretend that the argument against ssm blames gays for the failure of marriage.

The argument against ssm is that marriage depends on a DEFNITION of marriage as union of man and woman, and that society's purpose for recognizing marriage is to encourage the situation where more children will be raised by a father and mother.

Don't waste our time with talk of blame. Marriage was not designed to punish gays. It has nothing to do with whether someone is gay or straight. A child needs a mother and a father. When we encourage men and women to pair up, we make it more likely that children will have a mommy and a daddy.

Encouragement isn't coercive. If you don't like the idea of marriage, if it doesn't work for you, then don't do it. Don't hijack a program designed to give kids moms and dads, to turn it into some sort of government matchmaker. If you want a government program with the sole intent to regulate your love and happiness, then call it something other than marriage.

Alan said...

"Fact is that most Americans get married and stay married."

Sorry, the 50% divorce rate argues against your definition of "most." At best you get "many" or "some". :)

"Also fact: children raised by a married couple are statistically more successful, e.g. more likely to hold a job, less likely to end up in prison or the nuthouse, than children whose parents never married."

Exactly. And studies show that the same is true for gay couples.

I think perhaps you misunderstood my comment. I was in fact, using precisely the same misguided rhetoric used to argue against gay marriage to make it ridiculous. For example,

"But you have to make us think of heterosexual attraction, since you're trying to imply that heterosexual persons in general are responsible for the failure of a few heterosexual marriages."

And, in fact, the entire argument about gay marriage is how it will destroy straight marriage. That is, those who are against gay marriage are trying to imply that homosexual persons in general are responsible for the failure of a few (now it's a few?? 50% is a few??) heterosexual marriages. Sorry...but you can't have it both ways.
Don't blame us, unless you're willing to blame yourselves.

"The argument against ssm is that marriage depends on a DEFNITION of marriage as union of man and woman,"

Funny, I thought marriage depended on a covenant, not a definition. ;)

"If you don't like the idea of marriage, if it doesn't work for you, then don't do it. Don't hijack a program designed to give kids moms and dads, to turn it into some sort of government matchmaker."

Now that's a straw man. I was able to find my husband very nicely without government assistance, thank you very much. Straight people are the folks benefiting from government sanctioned marriage, so this argument is meaningless. You start arguing against the 1083 federally granted rights given to straight people based solely on the basis of their lifestyle choice and I'll begin to think you're serious about that last point. ;)

Chairm said...

Alan, I appreciate the smiley.

* * *

You describe "gutting" these words of meaning, but provide no evidence or argument to support your position.

Marriage, the union of man and woman. Gut the sexual complementarity and you get the union of two persons.

Spouse, husband, wife, conjugal, and so forth would also gutted of their meaning to fit the vague notion of the two-person relationship.

Marriage has a unique status. It is preferred to other types of relationships. To equate the homosexual relationship with the conjugal relationship, you begin by calling the former the same name as the latter. But this is false equivalence.

Perhaps you see this as enriching the words. I see it as removing their scriptural (and reasoned) meaning for something else that is not scriptural and is ill-reasoned. The substitution is based on a very different view of the nature of human sexuality than the one that combines man and woman. And yet you would apply that view to all conjugal relationshps.

That would abolish the meaning of marriage, or at least abolish the recongition of marriage by the Church. Calling the substitution, marriage, doesn't really disguise the switcheroo.

How my marriage [i.e. read homosexual relationship] to my husband suddenly makes all other marriages null and void, would be a good place to start if you want to start arguing your point.

Did I say null and void? Nope.

A good place to start, Alan, is to read the comments of others with much greater care and without the antagonism that seeps through when your fundamental assumptions are challenged.

I realize that such antagonism is a natural human reaction, but please attempt to respond with what is actually said rather than what you would like to read into my comments.

Fact is, I am married, so your statement has no basis in reality.

Okay, I believe that you believe that you are married to another man.

Doesn't make for a good argument, on your part, but it is clear that you seek to change the meaning of words to suite your beliefs.

At some point, in the discussion of the SSM issue, people on all sides (myself included) are prone to the same error.

The Scripture does not describe the homosexual relationship as conjugal.

Alan said...

"A good place to start, Alan, is to read the comments of others with much greater care and without the antagonism that seeps through when your fundamental assumptions are challenged. "

You proceed from a false assumption.. Antagonistic? Not even a little. This was (frankly, before the crew from your blog arrived) a pleasant discussion. I don't, for a second, believe I have, or even could change anyone's mind, nor was that my goal. And it still isn't. Now, unfortunately I'm in the position of simply responding to folks who want to "fisk" my comments.

Perhaps I'm more terse in my commenting style than some, but I figure since I'm already generally too long winded, a little brevity (occasionally) isn't a bad idea. :) But, please don't mistake that for antagonism.

But in any event, that's a clever way to avoid responding to my question. You not only avoid an answer, but you're able to attempt to make me look unreasonable at the same time. Nicely done. ;)

"Doesn't make for a good argument, on your part, but it is clear that you seek to change the meaning of words to suite your beliefs."

Well, I'm afraid we're at an impasse then, since you're statements such as, "Marriage, the union of man and woman." do not make for a good argument either.

Changing the meaning of words? Not at all. But even if that were the case, I don't see it as a bad thing sometimes. "All men" used to have quite a different meaning in 1776, for example. Also "marriage" has had a great number of meanings over the millennia, I might add, just ask Solomon. :)

Christian said...

You start arguing against the 1083 federally granted rights given to straight people based solely on the basis of their lifestyle choice

Please clarify:

Is it being "straight" that you see as a "lifestyle choice," or is it being married that you see as a lifestyle choice?

The 1083 applies to married families.

There are a good number of straight people who are not married, and some gay people who are married, and these take the 1083. Perhaps you should familliarize yourself with the laws regarding marriage before you set out to change them.

Chairm said...

Alan, in your own words, you misstated the bit from my comment that you quoted. You did that prior to asking your question based on that quote.

It is an example of misreading and of injecting into words what is not actually there.

I'll repeat my request. Please restate in your own words what I said in that bit you quoted. As it stands, you have misread, plainly.

* * *

You requested an example of how a word is gutted. Marriage at its core entails the complementarity of the sexes. Perhaps removing that core would not constitute a gutting, by your standards.

But in the case that it does ...

I doubt that even in your reading of Scripture, that Eve could have been another man. Maybe I am wrong on that point.

If not, then, perhaps you think this core of marriage was jettisoned sometime between the Adamic Covenant and the New Convenant?

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