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Gay marriage, fundamentalism, and the Evangelical mind

I generally agree with Evangelicals Karl Giberson and Randall Stephens, who contend [1]that Evangelicals have to do a better job reconciling their faith with science. And I agree with them that fundamentalists who deny what science is telling us about human origins, preferring instead a literalistic interpretation of Genesis, are badly off course. But then there’s this description of the sort of intellectually respectable Evangelical they prefer:

They recognize that the Bible does not condemn evolution and says next to nothing about gay marriage. They understand that Christian theology can incorporate Darwin’s insights and flourish in a pluralistic society.

That gay marriage point is, ironically enough, a sign that the authors accept, when it suits them, a fundamentalist, literalist approach to Scripture — precisely the thing they condemn! Deciding that if the Bible doesn’t explicitly condemn a thing, then the Bible must implicitly permit is, is reverse proof-texting, one designed to suit liberal ends.

Of course Scripture says nothing about gay marriage. Such a thing was unthinkable in the days of the Bible. The Bible doesn’t say anything about the atomic bomb either. By this logic, “reason” tells us that Christian condemnation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is irrational.

That would be absurd, of course. If Christians condemn the atomic bombings, they do so based on what Scripture tells us about the dignity of human life, of innocence, of war, of justice and mercy. We derive Christian moral teaching about a particular phenomenon based in part on the larger context presented to us in Scripture. That, and in the way the interpretive tradition developed. For example, by Giberson & Stephens’s logic, the doctrine of the Holy Trinity — the central dogma of the Christian faith — must be rationally denied, because there is nothing explicit in Scripture defines it. Do Giberson & Stephen deny the Trinity? I’m sure they don’t, but if not, why not? The Bible says “next to nothing” about the Trinity, after all.

On gay marriage, one has to make all kinds of leaps to reconcile it with Christianity and Biblical moral teaching about the meaning of marriage. Aside from St. Paul’s explicit condemnation of homosexual behavior, there is no way — or at the very least, no easy way — to reconcile same-sex marriage with the Christian moral tradition.

This is not, let me be clear, an argument against legalizing same-sex marriage. That is a different argument. What I’m focusing on here is an argument among Christians, about how we Christians are to interpret our own Scripture and tradition. Giberson & Stephens are making a specific claim about the supposed irrationality of Christians claiming that the Bible opposes same-sex marriage, and they’re saying this is so on the slimmest of exegetical reeds: because Scripture is silent on the specific subject. How rational is this?

They write:


Evangelicalism at its best seeks a biblically grounded expression of Christianity that is intellectually engaged, humble and forward-looking. In contrast, fundamentalism is literalistic, overconfident and reactionary.

To some, and perhaps to our authors here, “the opening of the Evangelical mind” implies acceptance that whenever secular liberalism contradicts faith, faith has to back down. That’s false, simplistic, and a dead end. In the best sense, the opening of the Evangelical mind is in part an opening to truths that come to us through scientific discoveries, not denying them on fideistic grounds, but working intelligently and within the tradition to reconcile them to our theological convictions. Also, the opening of the American Evangelical mind means coming to realize how insufficient it is to open the Bible and expect to completely understand it, without knowledge of context, and without an appreciation of how the long Christian intellectual tradition, from the Fathers and the Councils, to Palamas and Aquinas, through the Reformers, all built on what they had received. In that sense, how humble is it for these Evangelicals to disregard 2,000 years of Christian moral teaching about the moral status of homosexuality and the meaning of marriage to embrace a radical innovation in Christian moral theology that was all but unthinkable, even by the most progressive Christian theologians, 40 or 50 years ago? How literalistic and overconfident is it for them to do so based on the lack of an explicit condemnation of same-sex marriage in the Bible, and to assume that any Christian today who believes same-sex marriage is wrong on Biblical grounds must be guilty of irrational fundamentalism?

Not all latter-day fundamentalists are theologically conservative.

UPDATE: Alan Jacobs reacts [2]. Read the whole thing. Excerpt here:

There’s some truth to this, of course, but — forgive the griping — it’s deeply annoying to me. First, it doesn’t say anything that Mark Noll didn’t say in 1994; and second, the only reason it’s in the NYT is that it flatters the prejudices of the readership. A more nuanced view of evangelicals, like the one Alan Wolfe wrote for the Atlantic some years ago [3], would never run in the NYT.


Of course not. When it comes to religion, closed-mindedness, willful blindness to nuance, and knee-jerk prejudice are considered in certain places and contexts as signs of an open mind.

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41 Comments To "Gay marriage, fundamentalism, and the Evangelical mind"

#1 Comment By J.Random On October 18, 2011 @ 10:44 am

Giberson and Stephens are calling out the ignorance of funadamentalist beliefs about the *science* of homosexuality. The science shows that being gay is unchosen; that it is not mental illness; and that on the whole it cannot be changed. The science shows that gay people can and do have healthy and loving same-sex relationships, and they can and do raise healthy children.

Blithely accepting the condemnation of gays on Biblical grounds requires ignoring all that science, just like blithely accepting a six-day creation on Biblical grounds requires ignoring evolutionary science.

#2 Comment By Rod Dreher On October 18, 2011 @ 11:00 am

No they’re not. They say nothing about the “science” of homosexuality. They’re simply asserting that intelligent, open-minded Evangelicals don’t care about same-sex marriage because there are no Bible verses explicitly condemning it. That is a position so far removed from the way actual Christians have thought about moral theology over the centuries as to be irrational, within a Christian context. They fault fundamentalists for reading the Bible literally, but they have no problem with a literalist interpretation of Scripture when it suits their ends.

#3 Comment By meh On October 18, 2011 @ 11:26 am

Rod: In the best sense, the opening of the Evangelical mind is in part an opening to truths that come to us through scientific discoveries, not denying them on fideistic grounds, but working intelligently and within the tradition to reconcile them to our theological convictions.

And what if scientific discoveries don’t reconcile to theological convictions? Eh, with enough interpretation and allegory, we’ll make that square peg fit in to that round hole.

#4 Comment By CDK On October 18, 2011 @ 11:49 am

Science never speaks with a univocal voice, as anyone with a basic familiarity with the history of science knows. Certainly psychology, a questionable “science” at best, is easily subject to political or philosophical agendas indefensible on their own grounds. The idea that one’s sexual tastes are somehow encoded in one’s DNA leads to immediate absurdities, and is actually reflective of how tame our notion of sexual deviance really is. Nobody, for instance, asserts that someone who feels, ahem, especially close to their pet or sibling is genetically predetermined to do so, to say nothing of the kaleidoscope of extant fetishes. Celibacy (of any type) is also sexually deviant; are those who dislike sex so destined from birth? To say that my genes incline me to exclusive homosexuality but also restrict me to heterosexual procreation suggests my genes are rather confused, if not defective. If science announced that the debate between determinism and free will was over, I must have missed it.

“Gay” is an identity, a political identity to be exact. The ancient Greeks and Romans had sex of all kinds and would put our debauchees to shame, but they never had such a word, nor did they need one. “Marriage” no longer exists in modern American society, not in the era of no-fault divorce and social atomization. It’s somehow morphed from a duty into a right, as impermanent as melting ice and increasingly self-referential. This controversy is not the cause of our decline, merely one of its symptoms.

#5 Comment By Charles Cosimano On October 18, 2011 @ 11:53 am

There is, of course, the problem of defining what is rational. What may seem perfectly rational to Christians may very well be utterly irrational to anyone else. And it may even be irrational to them (a line from Tertullian comes to mind).

What is irrational is when Christians think that just because something is rational to them they can expect everyone else to be regulated by it. (A failing shared by non-Christians as well)

In an age of Force, however, what is rational or not is pretty irrelevant.

#6 Comment By Rod Dreher On October 18, 2011 @ 12:00 pm

There is, of course, the problem of defining what is rational. What may seem perfectly rational to Christians may very well be utterly irrational to anyone else.

Well, sure, Charles — and that’s why I said in my post that I’m not trying to make an argument for or against gay marriage. That’s not the point of this post, or of Giberson’s essay. Giberson and Stephens are arguing that it is irrational for Christians to oppose same-sex marriage because the Bible doesn’t mention it. That is an absurd, indeed fundamentalist, point of view **from within the Christian theological matrix.** Nobody but fundamentalists believes you can determine Christian morality solely from a literal reading of the Bible. You typically see conservative fundamentalists taking this crude, anti-intellectual hermeneutical approach, but in this case you have two liberal Evangelicals doing same. Ironic, that.

#7 Comment By genetuttle On October 18, 2011 @ 12:23 pm

While Karl Giberson and Randall Stephens are obviously right in pointing out a worrying disregard for science among so many evangelical fundamentalists, they confuse rejection of intellectually popular causes (e.g. the significance of anthropogenic climate impact) with anti-intellectualism. Though a minority, lots of smart scientists remain skeptical about the data connecting humans to significant climate change or about the economics of significantly reversing the phenomenon.

Other examples used by the authors are more like politically correct social trends that the fundamentalists and many sensible people refuse to go along with.

#8 Comment By Susan On October 18, 2011 @ 12:37 pm

What about slavery? Was it not comparatively late in history that it was condemned by any Christian church? My understanding is that the Quakers would argue that their abolitionist stance was the work of the Holy Spirit. Could that argument not also be made regarding the acceptance of gay marriage?

#9 Comment By Rod Dreher On October 18, 2011 @ 12:44 pm

Susan, one can make a strong case from Scripture and Tradition that slavery is immoral from a Christian point of view. Interestingly enough, it would be easy to support slavery from a Christian point of view if you adopted the Giberson-Stephens hermeneutic; St. Paul never explicitly condemned slavery, after all, and even encouraged slaves to be loving toward their masters.

It is much, much more difficult to say that homosexuality, much less same-sex marriage, is kosher from a Christian point of view. You can far more easily argue for it from liberal principles than from coherent Christian ones. That’s my only point in this post: not to argue against same-sex marriage, but against the claim that only closed-minded Christian fundamentalists oppose it, and that open-minded, intellectually sound Christians don’t see what the problem is because same-sex marriage is not mentioned in the Bible. It’s a cartoonish perspective, though it does flatter the prejudices of the academy and the editorial page of the New York Times.

#10 Comment By Rod Dreher On October 18, 2011 @ 12:47 pm

To put a fine point on it, Susan, I’m saying that if you are going to make an argument from Christian principles for same-sex marriage, you are going to have to do a lot better than simply saying, “It’s not explicitly in the Bible, therefore there’s no problem believing that.” There is no essential difference between that and saying, “The Bible says everything was created in seven days, therefore there’s no problem believing that.”

#11 Comment By meh On October 18, 2011 @ 12:49 pm

CDK: To say that my genes incline me to exclusive homosexuality but also restrict me to heterosexual procreation suggests my genes are rather confused, if not defective.

Well, why can’t your genes “work” at cross purposes, or be “defective”? The Tay-Sachs gene “works” at cross purposes (aka is “defective”) to all the rest of the genome that’s “working” to live.

#12 Comment By Turmarion On October 18, 2011 @ 1:01 pm

Looks to me that the issue isn’t about gay marriage, but about sola scriptura, the belief of most Evangelicals (the belief of most Protestants, too, but Evangelicals hold it much more zealously and literally). From the perspective of sola scriptura, taken to its logical conclusion, since the Bible indeed says nothing about gay marriage, maybe it’s OK.

The Bible doesn’t explicitly teach the Trinity, either, and it’s not coincidence that various non-Trinitarian or very weakly Trinitarian movements arose and continue to arise in Protestant soil–think the Unitarians, some branches of the various churches in the Sabbatarian movement (most notably the Jehovah’s witnesses), some Pentecostalists, and so on. Even many Evangelical churches are very weak in teaching the Trinity, presumably because it’s not expressed clearly in Scripture. I remember in my youth when I regularly went to a Baptist Sunday school, and one time a teacher said “God understands what we have to deal with becuase He did so too, once.” I thought, “Gee, when was that?” In all the time I went there, this was the only even vaguely Trinitarian statement I ever heard.

As to using literalist interpretation when it suits their ends, my impression is that most Evangelicals don’t have a clear notion of “literal” interpretation since they don’t have a clear understanding of allegory. The Bible means what it says, period, and they’re not aware that an interpretation that says no interpretation is necessary is an interpretation nonetheless.

As to the article at hand, note the following quote, emphasis added: “Mr. Dobson, through his group Focus on the Family, has insisted for decades that homosexuality is a choice and that gay people could “pray away” their unnatural and sinful orientation.” The statement about gay marriage seems to me to be an admittedly awkwardly phrased way of saying that many Evangelicals have an unscientific view of homosexuality. The best science seems to indicate that homosexual orientation is not a choice–a person doesn’t “decide” to be gay. Further, as with most somatic conditions, “praying it away”, barring the occasional miracle, generally doesn’t work. Praying for someone with cancer, e.g., is salutary, but doesn’t mean he shouldn’t get chemotherapy!

Whether homosexuality is “chosen” or not is separate from the issue of its morality. One may think that people are gay as a result of genes or uterine environment or whatever without necessarily endorsing an active gay lifestyle.

In any case, as I said, I think the issue here is about models of Scriptural authority, not about gays or the NYT. The rather confused way of viewing Scripture discussed here is really the norm, I think, among Evangelicals.

#13 Comment By Turmarion On October 18, 2011 @ 1:16 pm

Rod: I’m saying that if you are going to make an argument from Christian principles for same-sex marriage, you are going to have to do a lot better than simply saying, “It’s not explicitly in the Bible, therefore there’s no problem believing that.” There is no essential difference between that and saying, “The Bible says everything was created in seven days, therefore there’s no problem believing that.”

That encapsulates what I was clumsily getting at before. Many Evangelicals don’t really have an idea of “Christian principles”; or at least for them “the Bible” and “Christian principles” are identical. I’ve had conversations like this–as soon as you start asking what the underlying theme or principle of a passage or Scripture in general is, they give you this strange look and think you’re being shifty in trying to wiggle around what the plain Word of God says.

Of course, in practice, they, too, have principles that they’ve inherited from the greater Christian Tradition–they just don’t realize that this is the case, and think their beliefs are somehow explicitly taught in the Bible. Thus in effect they have a sort of ad hoc hermeneutic in which the Bible means whatever they’ve been taught it means whether it actually says that or not, and they’re not even aware that their interpretation is an interpretation.

From this perspective, “the Bible doesn’t say anything about X explicitly” is a perfectly logical viewpoint. Usually it’s applied to something a person has a vested interest in or has never thought about. For example, a gung-ho capitalist challenged on the morallity of his ethos, would say, “Well, the Bible doesn’t say anything about free trade!” Likewise, someone who doesn’t have much interest in pro-or anti-gay issues might say, “Well, the Bible doesn’t say anything about it [Translation: It’s not explicitly there, so what do I care?].” I’m inclined to think this latter was the factor in the cited NYT article.

Anyway, for someone coming from a Catholic or Orthodox background, I think it’s not sufficiently understood just how differently Evangelicals view Scripture from Catholics and Orthodox. A good discussion of this is in Harold Bloom’s eccentric but excellent The American Religion.

#14 Comment By MH – scientismist On October 18, 2011 @ 1:25 pm

Fair point about Karl Giberson and Randall Stephens use of scripture.

What struck me about the article was their discussion about evangelicals setting up a parallel culture. Setting up a parallel culture takes a lot of work as you’re creating a walled garden and will spend a great deal of time and energy keeping the outside at bay. But the outside forces won’t be idle, and while you’re fighting to keep the last battle outside, a new one will be brewing to storm your walls.

Frankly the age of the Earth, evolution, and the historicity of Adam and Eve are old news. The new news is the amount of biological determinism present in human nature. While we would like to think of ourselves as able to control our choices and actions, there is mounting evidence that we have less choice than we would like to admit. But the concept of free will and the consequences of choice are central themes in Christianity and indeed our culture.

One example are neurological studies which show that in many situations people act before the conscious brain has a chance to perceive the information presented. Instead the autonomic nervous system acts, and the conscious brain makes up a narrative explaining the actions of the rest of the body.

Another example are the discovery of chemicals which profoundly alter mood and behavior. Lithium and SSRI’s are the big two with their ability to treat bipolar disorder, OCD, and depression. But if the compulsions of an OCD sufferer are out of their control, and then under their control via the introduction of a chemical, what does that say about the nature of will?

Homosexual behavior is also likely to have a strong biological component as it is observed in animals. Google “slate gay sheep” for an interesting article called Brokeback Mutton article about homosexual behavior in rams. In spite of religious texts saying homosexual behavior is a sin, the rest of the culture is starting to view it like being left handed.

So every time Albert Molher writes a blog entry insisting the Earth is ten thousand years old, Adam and Eve were real people, and evolution is false. He’s fighting the last battle and asking people to enter the walled garden with him. Meanwhile people outside the garden see the new battle brewing and aren’t listening to him.

I sort of view Karl Giberson and Randall Stephens as people sitting on the walls of the garden. They’re not likely to convince Molher, and the rest of us are not interested in their walled garden anyway.

#15 Comment By J.Random On October 18, 2011 @ 1:34 pm

I agree fully that you can’t make a case for gay marriage on the mere basis that “the Bible doesn’t say anything about it.”

But I suspect that if the article were about that topic specifically, the authors *could* make a coherent Christian argument for it. (At least I assume as much, because I believe *I* can, and I’m nobody special.)

Out of curiosity, though, Rod — why did you put scare quotes around “science” in the phrase “the science of homosexuality”? Do you reject there being such science?

#16 Comment By Susan On October 18, 2011 @ 1:45 pm

Rod–I can understand that the omission of discussion of gay marriage in the Bible may not be a strong argument for its acceptance in Christian churches. I do think that Galations 3:28 is.

As you said, Paul does seem to accept slavery as an institution, yet (virtually) all modern people view it with repugnance. Is it not possible that Paul’s limitations also include a lack of understanding of homosexuality as an orientation, rather than simply a behavior? And this may be an insight that we moderns, however imperfect, understand? And therefore the proclamation that “we are all one in Jesus Christ” trumps Paul’s limitations on slavery, homosexuality, sexism, etc?

#17 Comment By Jaybird On October 18, 2011 @ 1:52 pm

So every time Albert Molher writes a blog entry insisting the Earth is ten thousand years old, Adam and Eve were real people, and evolution is false. He’s fighting the last battle and asking people to enter the walled garden with him. Meanwhile people outside the garden see the new battle brewing and aren’t listening to him.

Fantastically well-put.

#18 Comment By Mitchell Young On October 18, 2011 @ 1:56 pm

“The science shows that being gay is unchosen; that it is not mental illness; and that on the whole it cannot be changed. ”

Depends on what you mean by ‘unchosen’ — all the twin studies I’ve seen or read about point to a fairly strong ‘nuture’ element in homosexuality. (Homosexuality is the one area where biology is absolutely determinative for modern liberals). Clearly homosexual behavior is chosen to a large degree. And judging from the number of middle aged ‘gay’ men who have conceived kids in the natural way, certainly a lot of men who would prefer to man-loving can get the junk working with a woman.

So the question is, is homosexuality like being lefthanded in that it is relatively benign. I’d say looking at the rates of STDs among male homosexuals, that answer is a resounding no for that half. The case against lesbianism is harder to make, but I would say that society has an interest in getting the fence sitters — and recent metaanalyses have shown that bisexuals may outnumber homosexuals in the US — to fall on the heterosexual side. That, to mean, would mean a society that robustly champions the heterosexual ideal, while remaining tolerant, but not encouraging, of lesbian activity.

#19 Comment By Luna R. On October 18, 2011 @ 2:07 pm

Jesus most certainly DID make statements on marriage in the gospels. He referred to Genesis, and said that a man will leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. I don’t know how the Orthodox churches express this, but in the Catholic church, marriage is called a primordial sacrament, instituted at creation. I think the Evangelical churches are incredibly weak on this stuff, because many of them have no explicit sacramental theology. See Pat Robertson on Alzheimer’s, divorce, and the definition of “death” for that one.

#20 Comment By MH – scientismist On October 18, 2011 @ 2:35 pm

Jaybird, thanks for the compliment. That whole comment just kind of flew out of my fingers.

JohnE, I also owe you a thanks for the kudos on my statement on the motivations and hopes of skepticism the other day.

#21 Comment By grendel On October 18, 2011 @ 2:46 pm


don’t the twins studies show that the likelihood of one being homosexual when the other is, is greater than the likelihood that other twin sharing the first twin’s left-handedness. Yet there is no real argument (is there?) that nurture affects handedness.

as far as getting the junk working goes, lots of straight men in prison get their junk working with other men too. It still says nothing one’s essential orientation.

and, if the prevalence of sexually transmitted disease is an the criterion, lesbian sex is just a-ok?

#22 Comment By Russ Carter On October 18, 2011 @ 2:48 pm

To the extent that Christians are ‘not of this world’ and encouraged to keep their sights towards Heaven it would seem the prudent soul would tread carefully and be less concerned with what his neighbors and fellow citizens are up to and more tending to their own personal salvation.

What ‘others’ do does not affect another’s ‘salvation’…’my’ sins aren’t accrued to anothers’ account.

And since advocating against secular laws based on church dogma is fraught with the potential of ‘judgement’ of others, the sins of pride, and a convenient ‘forgetting’ that christians are required to ‘love those that hate them’ it would seem, if the salvation of your ‘soul’ is more important than what the rest of the non-believers are doing (and getting away with), a thoughtful christian would accept that abortion is not mandated, nor is homosexual marriage (ahem, render unto Caesar…).

Focus on your own soul’s salvation and you’re in pretty safe territory. As soon as you try to impose God’s Laws into a Secular world (with nothing more than ‘…because the Bible telle me so’ as defense) you are likely to err.

You may keep the whole law, yet offend it in one point and you are guilty of all…

Christians should aspire to be christ-like, not just a member of ‘the club’…

Christianity is difficult, forgive seventy times seven, turn the other cheek, give them also your cloak, and love those who hate you…if you can’t cut it on the hard stuff, you can’t point fingers at others and hope to legislate their salvation…

And anytime you are outside God’s commandments, you’re actions will prove fruitless (and socially divisive) and you will be judged accordingly.

#23 Comment By Connie On October 18, 2011 @ 2:48 pm

if you are going to make an argument from Christian principles for same-sex marriage, you are going to have to do a lot better than simply saying, “It’s not explicitly in the Bible, therefore there’s no problem believing that.

But the authors of the article don’t say that?! Maybe they have written elsewhere that they support gay marriage, but this article doesn’t say that. They are criticizing so-called fundamentalists, and arguing that a thinking Christianity requires reason in addition to Scripture.

#24 Comment By Rod Dreher On October 18, 2011 @ 2:50 pm

Out of curiosity, though, Rod — why did you put scare quotes around “science” in the phrase “the science of homosexuality”? Do you reject there being such science?

No, of course not. Science can and does tell us a great deal about human sexuality, including homosexuality. What I reject is the idea that science can definitively tell us the moral status of homosexuality. As the saying goes, you can’t get an “ought” from an “is.”

#25 Comment By J.Random On October 18, 2011 @ 3:44 pm

Ah, good. I agree that science can’t definitively tell us the moral status of anything.

But surely the knowledge gained through science can *inform* our understanding of moral issues. And that’s what I think the authors of the article are getting at (poorly) — particularly in that Focus on the Family quote.

Focus on the Family, and many conservatives, refuse to be informed about what science tells us about homosexuality.

Focus on the Family dismisses the science because they can’t reconcile their faith with it. Their faith says sin is an act of “I ought not, but I will”. But the science shows that in fact being gay is more of an “I am” than an “I will”. They don’t have a category for “I ought not, but I am” (an excruciating category for their gay sons, let me assure you). So rather than compromise their faith that being gay is sin, Focus on the Family ignores the science, asserting that no, really, being gay is an “I will,” and therefore an “I will not” (repentance) is the correct response to homosexuality.

#26 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On October 18, 2011 @ 4:42 pm

It is rather amusing that any article Rod posts that relates in any way to homosexuality induces such a large and rapid outpouring of opinion. I admit, I also would like to bring my fellow man (and women) around to MY way of resolving all the confusion I see in everyone ELSE’s utterances on the subject. And once again, I find that Charles Cosimano has something sensible to say. The question “Can anything good come out of Waukesha?” has been answered.

For most of human history, nobody, including those who engaged partly or exclusively in homosexual sex, considered marriage to be of the least relevance to homosexuality. Marriage was about a specific relationship between male and female. Married men had homosexual consorts, soldiers on long campaigns found companionship among their comrades in arms (e.g., Achilles and Patroclus), but wives were something else again. Lesbian relations were of no great concern to husbands, because they did not deposit another man’s seed in a wife’s offspring.

Rod is, accordingly, correct, that the lack of any mention in the Bible is proof of nothing whatsoever. It simply wasn’t on anyone’s radar. The practice of homosexuality was, quite obviously, abhorred in Jewish culture. The penalty of death is not an idle speculation, although it was rarely carried out. In Roman culture, homosexual sex was an expression of power and triumph for one male, and something between degradation and servility for the other. Somehow, medieval European culture emerged with a Judeo-Roman condemnation of the practice, which flourished sub rosa in any case.

I don’t much care what the science of homosexuality is. It is obviously a genetic anomaly, and it pretty obviously appears in every generation. It is neither worthy of being lavished with attention and praise, nor does it merit vigorous suppression. It exists. If our anomalous fellow humans want a marriage license to comfort them, I don’t particularly object. If the majority of their heterosexual fellow citizens don’t care to make provision for one, that’s life. What does the Bible say? Not much, but it does sort of depend on which church you adhere to. What does God think of it all? God knows.

#27 Comment By JonF On October 18, 2011 @ 6:26 pm

Re: . I’d say looking at the rates of STDs among male homosexuals, that answer is a resounding no for that half.

Plenty of heterosexuals get STDs too. Is that an argument for the general immorality of man-woman sex? The real villain is not sexual orientation but promiscuity. No one with get an STD who is in a monogamous relationship.

Re: in the Catholic church, marriage is called a primordial sacrament, instituted at creation.

And I think that wrong, because I don’t think there’s anything sacramental about marriage qua marriage. The sacrament of matrimony is of course sacramental, but that applies only to people after the formal sacrament was instituted and only to those who have availaed themselves of it. Matrimony confers grace on a marriage– but the marriage exists independent of that grace, and certainly no one (I hope) would argue that people not wed by a Christian sacramental rite was in fact unamrried still.
Matrimony is inherently heterosexual. But I am not sure that I agree that secular marriage needs to be.
I regard this distinction as somewhat comparable to that between church governance and secular governance. Both are necessary forms of governance, but the former involves a grace-giving sacrament (consacration or ordination), while the latter, which is far older then Christian ecclesiology, is pretty much whatever we choose to make of it.

#28 Comment By Geoff G. On October 18, 2011 @ 8:46 pm

Of course Scripture says nothing about gay marriage. Such a thing was unthinkable in the days of the Bible.

Well that’s true, as far as it goes. On the other hand, there were, in some ancient societies, fairly well defined same-sex sexual relationships (that admittedly don’t tend to look much like what we see in the modern day, although it should also be pointed out that heterosexual marriage is rather a different institution today as well).

One thing I never see discussed much on the right is the historical context in which same-sex relations are discussed in the Bible. (I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that Mr. Dreher looked at this particular issue in Paul [4])

It’s worth noting that, for much of their history, Jews took pains to define themselves by contrast with their neighbors. Much of Jewish law has the effect of separating and isolating Jews from other groups of people. Take all of the kosher laws. It basically means that Jews won’t be able to eat a meal with gentiles. One could make the argument that a major reason Judaism has been able to survive so long as a minority religion is because much of orthodox Jewish praxis has the effect of creating a ghetto with the intent of preventing cultural assimilation.

Banning same-sex relationships keeps your members from involving themselves in one aspect of gentile society in the ancient world. It’s like circumcision (Jewish men were instantly recognizable in an ancient gymnasium): it becomes a marker of membership in a separate group and a means of preserving a separate identity.

#29 Comment By Geoff G. On October 18, 2011 @ 8:55 pm


To say that my genes incline me to exclusive homosexuality but also restrict me to heterosexual procreation suggests my genes are rather confused, if not defective.

The science on this is complicated, but suffice it to say that there are means of promoting a particular set of genes without directly passing them on to offspring.

“Gay” is an identity, a political identity to be exact.

It certainly started out that way (hence the appropriation of the word). I’m not at all sure that it’s really a political identity any more in most cases. Moreover, I can absolutely say that it’s not an identity that the person who uses it chooses; it’s rather an identity used to describe an objective fact about one facet of that person.

To wit: a Catholic priest who’s a very old family friend told me he was “gay” (his word) a couple years ago, and that he had finally come to recognize that that particular label described a part of his personality.

Was he making a political statement by telling me this? Of course not. Does that mean he’s running off to live in the Castro and start hitting the baths? Absolutely not. Was he going to move in with another man and start a same-sex relationship? No; he respected his vow of chastity.

All it meant was that he recognized an attraction to members of the same sex and used the word “gay” to describe that state of being.

#30 Comment By M. On October 18, 2011 @ 9:36 pm

I recall Rod having this same conversation around half a dozen times, with the same specious objections from commenters and the same patient and cogent rebuttals from Rod.

Is there a way, in order to advance the debate, rather than go over the same ground with new (or stubborn) interlocuters – to put links to representative articles on major issues including typical objections and replies? That way Rod could, while still being a journalist and writing about the trascendent via the topical save his valuable time by commenting then linking to the issue on his sidebar and directing those with nothing new to say to the original.

Rod’s time is very valuable to me and I can’t help but see him as one of the most important commentators in the US. He has a wonderful, personable and engaging style in his interactions but there are limits.

#31 Comment By MX On October 18, 2011 @ 11:32 pm

is homosexuality really as cut-and-dry as activists have tried to portray it? as a male it’s simple to know who you’re attracted to, but a lot of people seem to have the idea, founded or not, that bisexuality/non-innate lesbianism is more common among women.

it’d be interesting to have more studies on the differences between male and female sexuality and attraction, instead of the general assumption in these debates that homosexuality comes about in the same for both sexes.

#32 Comment By Andrew On October 19, 2011 @ 3:54 am

What does science say about homosexual behavior?

“In a major Canadian centre, life expectancy at age 20 years for gay and bisexual men is 8 to 20 years less than for all men. If the same pattern of mortality were to continue, we estimate that nearly half of gay and bisexual men currently aged 20 years will not reach their 65th birthday. Under even the most liberal assumptions, gay and bisexual men in this urban centre are now experiencing a life expectancy similar to that experienced by all men in Canada in the year 1871.”

Citation: [5]

The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention report that men who engage in homosexual behavior are 860% more likely to contract a sexually transmitted disease (STD), increasing up to 500% their risk of contracting HIV/AIDS. Men who have sex with men “have large numbers of anonymous partners, which can result in rapid, extensive transmission of STDs,” the CDC warns. “Control of STDs is a central component of HIV infection prevention in the United States; resurgence of bacterial STD threatens national HIV infection prevention efforts.”

See CDC’s factsheet on homosexual sex and the risk of HIV at: [6]

Who is it here that said that homosexual behavior provided a happy and healthy relationship? These are only a few of the many statistics that show, scientifically, that homosexual behavior is comes with enormous heath consequences which make smoking and alcoholism look benign in comparison. There is nothing healthy about this behavior, and science confirms it.

#33 Pingback By A Different Type of Fundamentalist » First Thoughts | A First Things Blog On October 19, 2011 @ 8:44 am

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#35 Comment By Chad Rushing On October 19, 2011 @ 11:46 am

I have not had a chance to read through all of the comments yet, but I wanted to recommend the following article. It pretty much settles the issue of what Christianity and The Bible has to say about the same-sex marriage issue:

Homosexuality and the Mystery of Christ

“Again, Paul’s use of Genesis 2:24 indicates that, while the marriage of Adam and Eve provides a type for future marriages, it was in fact derived from the archetype of the union of Christ and the church. And while human marriage and sexuality began with creation and will eventually cease (Matthew 22:30), the union of Christ and the church was foreordained before the creation of the world and shall continue forever. Therefore, a human marriage is a reflection of Christ and the church. It has been this way since Adam and Eve. Although the union between Christ and the church is not a sexual relationship, the church is portrayed as female, and as the bride of Christ; likewise, we have established that Genesis 2:24 refers to marriage between a man and a woman. This in turn means that relationships that deviate from this pattern – that are adulterous, homosexual, religiously mixed, and so on – are incapable of properly reflecting and honoring the union of Christ and the church, and thus they are also inherently inferior, defective, and sinful.”

Of course, I do not expect for any non-Christians to agree with the above excerpt, but all professing Christians should without reservation.

#36 Comment By david morris On October 19, 2011 @ 12:21 pm

The premise of the authors argument that the Bible doesn’t say that homosexuality is wrong is ludicrous. There are numerous instances, and I would be happy to list them if there is any argument there. If you don’t believe in the Bible, that is a whole different deal.
I also don’t see the relevance of the morality of homosexuality being predicated on whether one is born with it or if it is a choice. We are all born in sin. Christ can save us from whatever sin(including homosexuality) and help us over come it in our lives.

#37 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On October 20, 2011 @ 12:21 pm

Andrew, there may well be more to the studies you cite than this, but in all fairness, we should recognize that a great deal of the health risks cited relate to promiscuity. From that perspective, gay marriage, with both partners faithful to their vows, should cut those huge disparities to a tiny fraction of their current size.

Chad, I frankly don’t buy that at all. I find more meaning in the teaching that marriage of a man and a woman reunites the complete image of God (Genesis 1:27). The divine problem with homosexuality is that it unites two copies of the same half. How heavily that should weigh on individual decisions concerning individual lives is another matter. But the church as the bride of Christ is a rather hazy concoction. Jesus certainly didn’t talk about it.

I think MX is on to something. Are individuals uniquely and irrevocably “gay”? Maybe some are. Maybe some aren’t. Maybe at an age when post-pubscent males are fixated on the hips of their female classmates, some eyes get fixated on a male set of hips and never shift back. The hormones are not terribly precise. If you were in a dark room with a naked human, you might have feelings you would never have if you could see exactly what kind of body you were with. But the IDENTITY that someone “is gay” may be considerably overhyped.

#38 Comment By Robert On October 24, 2011 @ 8:39 am

Sir: I know this is rather late, but I’ll comment anyway. Let me address your statement that “evangelicals have to do a better job of reconciling their faith with science.” You say that those of us who believe in a literalist interpretation of Genesis are badly off course.

Lon Solomon, senior pastor of Mclean Bible Church in northern Virginia recently began a series of messages on Genesis. I urge you, and others who think like you to visit their website “Mcleanbible.org” and listen or watch the first three sermons on the subject. You will see that the SCIENTIFIC” case for a literal interpretation of Genesis is very strong and stands up well to Darwinism and other theories put forth by others. After watching/listening, come back and tell us again that literalists like myself have to do a better job reconciling my beliefs, or do others have to do a better job reconciling theirs.

Thank you.

#39 Comment By Andrew On October 24, 2011 @ 4:26 pm


“A far-ranging study of homosexual men published in 1978 revealed that 75 percent of self-identified, white, gay men admitted to having sex with more than 100 different males in their lifetime: 15 percent claimed 100-249 sex partners; 17 percent claimed 250- 499; 15 percent claimed 500-999; and 28 percent claimed more than 1,000 lifetime male sex partners.”

Citation: Alan P. Bell and Martin S. Weinberg, Homosexualities: A study of Diversity Among Men and Women, p. 308, Table 7, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1978.

Homosexuality cannot be anything but promiscuous. It is an absurdity to say that homosexuals can remain monogamous, and if you read their own writings, they are opposed to monogamy.

Homosexual author Gabriel Rotello writes: “Gay liberation was founded . . . on a ‘sexual brotherhood of promiscuity,’ and any abandonment of that promiscuity would amount to a ‘communal betrayal of gargantuan proportions.'”

Citation: Gabriel Rotello, Sexual Ecology: AIDS and the Destiny of Gay Men, p. 112, New York: Penguin Group, 1998 (quoting gay writer Michael Lynch).

This issue is very clear. Homosexuality is inherently promiscuous and inherently unhealthy. It is also very obviously unnatural and opposed to all principles of biology, not to mention religion and morality.

#40 Comment By Trevor On October 25, 2011 @ 1:34 pm

I’m always wary of when somebody says that we should alter Christian teaching to accommodate whatever “science” tells us, as though science were a monolithic enterprise and not a collaborative, and usually contradictory effort from various individuals of variable skill. Science can never be definitive or wholly accurate, and it would be a mistake to bend just to fit with the “in crowd”.

I’m not a literalist, but if you compromise constantly just to stay in fashion, all you do is erode whatever authority was previously granted to tradition to the whims of popular thought.

#41 Comment By cynthia curan On March 8, 2012 @ 8:04 am

Actaully, the socal issues are address more often in writings outside of the bible. Evangelicals are against abortion but there is nothing in the New Testment. Evangelicals have adoptive some of the socal issues from Catholics.