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Sex: The Church Vs. The World

Liberals and moderates both inside and outside the Christian churches have a habit of saying, “Why are you conservative Christians so hung up on sex, especially gay sex? You need to get over it.”

To that, I always reply, “To the contrary, it is you who have elevated sex and sexuality to the most important issue in the Church. This is no surprise. You have been formed by a popular culture that has elevated sex and sexuality to the center of our existence. The Church is the only institution left that tries to order sex rightly, to put it in its proper place.”

Well, not all churches. Just the ones that still believe in the Bible. A European reader sends in this screenshot of the schedule for the Church of England, whose bishops are meeting in General Synod now:

 

 

 

The Anglican bishops have declared the church openly welcoming to and affirming of transgendered people, and are considering coming up with a special rite to mark their transition from one gender to the next. That’s right, the Church of England is about to consecrate sex change operations —
and a prelate considered to be a conservative, Archbishop John Sentamu of York, supports the measure [1]. Sign of the times. This is not a church that has any interest in providing an authentic Christian witness to the post-Christian culture. It is only negotiating the terms of its own swift demise.

change_me

Here’s a link to a helpful reflection by Jem Bloofmield, an Anglican blogger [2], reflecting on the Synod and how difficult it is to explain traditional Christian beliefs on LGBT to young people, “and how it prevents them from hearing the Gospel.” Bloomfield is a professor at the University of Nottingham, and begins by talking about the students. Excerpts:

One of the major points of view that I hear is that Christianity is immoral. They don’t use exactly that word: they’re more likely to describe things as “discriminatory”, “oppressive” or “unjust”, but that’s the general gist. There are moral principles of inclusion and justice which are central to their lives, which they see the Church as transgressing. They are used to looking at the media, or at politics, and criticising the misogyny or homophobia they see, and institutional Christianity is no exception. The same disdain for minority groups, the same discrimination.

I mention this because in public discussions of ethics, young people are often stereotyped as selfish and opportunistic, just wanting all the pleasure they can get out of life without taking any responsibility. I don’t think that’s true of my students, and it’s not what makes them suspicious of Christianity. When a lot of young people argue that the Church should be more inclusive of LGBT people, it’s not usually because they want to “get away” with anything, or because they don’t have moral standards. They’re not trying to drag down the general moral tone so their own transgressions can be allowed. It’s because they see the Church’s position as itself immoral, and they think that is a result of its oppressive beliefs.

To be clear, I call Bloomfield’s blog entry “helpful” not because I agree with his conclusions, but because he reveals the stakes clearly. I think we orthodox, traditional Christians have to respect the fact that for people (young and otherwise) who hold these particular views about LGBT issues, the traditional Christian teaching really is immoral. I think their views are morally wrong, of course, but that’s only to say that these views are irreconcilable.

That’s not to say that people are irreconcilable. I believe people on both sides of the issue can live in peace and tolerance — but only if they agree to tolerate each other’s immorality on these issues. People do this all the time, on other issues. The point here is that the LGBT issue really is a deal-breaker for a great many young people.

Bloomfield again:

Another major theme I hear in my university life is that Christianity is essentially about sex. When I discuss the concept of “sin”, as it appears in Milton or Austen, my students almost always assume that word is a synonym for “sex”. “Original sin” is somehow about sex, though they’re usually unclear on how (and to be fair to them, they could read a certain amount of medieval theology and still have that general idea). I have discussed Paradise Lost with students who are convinced that the Bible says Adam and Eve were thrown out of the Garden of Eden because they had sex with each other. This suggests two things to me, on reflection.

Firstly, a lot of young people seem to view Christianity as a rather mucky-minded business, full of people forever going on about sex and who’s having it with whom. Again, this goes against a common stereotype: that young people are continually thinking about sex, and the Church attempts to direct their thoughts towards higher things. In the general attitudes I can discern among my students, it is the other way around: many of them see churches as unhealthily sex-focused organizations.

And:

At other times, I have discussed the Bible and Christianity with liberal and progressive students whom I expected to veer away from the subject of sexuality and gender in Christianity. On the contrary, they weren’t going to avoid the topic in order to make anyone feel comfortable: for them it was a central question about the faith. Some of them were LGBT themselves, and some of them were not, but nonetheless took it as a first principle that a homophobic religion could not be an option for them. [Emphasis mine — RD]

Notice what’s happening here. These young people cited by Prof. Bloomfield blame the Church for being obsessed by sex, when it is rather they who refuse to consider any of the Church’s teachings or claims for itself because the Church does not affirm their views on sexuality. They cannot imagine that they might be wrong. They have decided in advance, without having confronted a single theological explanation, that sexuality is more important to them than Truth.

Who, exactly, is the obsessed-with-sex party here?

For the record, as someone who has been a practicing Christian for half my life, I have only very rarely had the traditional teaching on sexuality presented at all. Maybe it was different in your church. It seems to me that churches are in general terrified to talk about sex at all, in part because they don’t want to offend others. When people accuse the Christian churches of being “unhealthily sex-focused organizations,” what they’re really expressing is loathing of the church for not approving of something that they’ve placed at the center of their lives.

In any case, how are the churches that have reversed 2,000 years of Christian orthodoxy and affirmed LGBT practice doing? If they were growing, if they were attracting significant numbers of young people, there might be a pragmatic argument for abandoning orthodoxy. But liberalizing on sexuality has done nothing to arrest decline of the liberal churches (for example [3]).

Look, I don’t think that holding the line of Christian orthodoxy regarding sexuality (hetero and homo) is any kind of cure-all for conservative churches. North America and Europe are rapidly de-Christianizing. As I write in The Benedict Option [4]:

There is no other area in which orthodox Christians will have to be as countercultural as in our sexual lives, and we are going to have to support each other in our unpopular stances. We have to understand the rich Christian view of sexuality, understand how the Sexual Revolution undermines it, recognize our own culpability, and be prepared to fight to keep our children orthodox.

Sexual practices are so central to the Christian life that when believers cease to affirm orthodoxy on the matter, they often cease to be meaningfully Christian. It was the countercultural force of Christian sexuality that overturned the pagan world’s dehumanizing practices. Christianity taught that the body is sacred and that the dignity possessed by all humans as made in the image of God required treating it as such.

This is why the modern re-paganization called the Sexual Revolution can never be reconciled with orthodox Christianity. Alas, that revolution has toppled the church’s authority in the broader culture and is now shaking the church itself to its foundations. Christians living the Benedict Option must commit themselves resolutely to resistance and to helping each other do the same.

More:

Is sex the linchpin of Christian cultural order? Is it really the case that to cast off Christian teaching on sex and sexuality is to remove the factor that gives—or gave—Christianity its power as a social force?

Though he might not have put it quite that way, the eminent sociologist Philip Rieff would probably have said yes. Rieff’s landmark 1966 book The Triumph of the Therapeutic analyzes what he calls the “deconversion” of the West from Christianity. Nearly everyone recognizes that this process has been under way since the Enlightenment, but Rieff showed that it had reached a more advanced stage than most people—least of all Christians—recognized.

Rieff, writing in the 1960s, identified the Sexual Revolution—though he did not use that term—as a leading indicator of Christianity’s demise. In classical Christian culture, he wrote, “the rejection of sexual individualism” was “very near the center of the symbolic that has not held.” He meant that renouncing the sexual autonomy and sensuality of pagan culture and redirecting the erotic instinct was intrinsic to Christian culture. Without Christianity, the West was reverting to its former state.

It is nearly impossible for contemporary Americans to grasp why sex was a central concern of early Christianity. Sarah Ruden, the Yale-trained classics translator, explains the culture into which Christianity appeared in her 2010 book Paul Among the People [5]. Ruden contends that it’s profoundly ignorant to think of the Apostle Paul as a dour proto-Puritan descending upon happy-go-lucky pagan hippies, ordering them to stop having fun.

In fact, Paul’s teachings on sexual purity and marriage were adopted as liberating in the pornographic, sexually exploitive Greco-Roman culture of the time—exploitive especially of slaves and women, whose value to pagan males lay chiefly in their ability to produce children and provide sexual pleasure. Christianity, as articulated by Paul, worked a cultural revolution, restraining and channeling male eros, elevating the status of both women and of the human body, and infusing marriage—and marital sexuality—with love.

Christian marriage, Ruden writes, was “as different from anything before or since as the command to turn the other cheek.” Chastity—the rightly ordered use of the gift of sexuality—was the greatest distinction setting Christians of the early church apart from the pagan world.

The point is not that Christianity was only, or primarily, about redefining and revaluing sexuality, but that within a Christian anthropology sex takes on a new and different meaning, one that mandated a radical change of behavior and cultural norms. In Christianity, what a person does with their sexuality cannot be separated from what a person is. In a sense, moderns believe the same thing, but from a perspective entirely different from the early church’s.

In speaking of how men and women of the early Christian era saw their bodies, historian Peter Brown says

the body was embedded in a cosmic matrix in ways that made its perception of itself profoundly unlike our own. Ultimately, sex was not the expression of inner needs, lodged in the isolated body. Instead, it was seen as the pulsing, through the body, of the same energies as kept the stars alive. Whether this pulse of energy came from benevolent gods or from malevolent demons (as many radical Christians believed) sex could never be seen as a thing for the isolated human body alone.

Early Christianity’s sexual teaching does not only come from the words of Christ and the Apostle Paul; more broadly, it emerges from the Bible’s anthropology. The human being bears the image of God, however tarnished by sin, and is the pinnacle of an order created and imbued with meaning by God.

In that order, man has a purpose. He is meant for something, to achieve certain ends. When Paul warned the Christians of Corinth that having sex with a prostitute meant that they were joining Jesus Christ to that prostitute, he was not speaking metaphorically. Because we belong to Christ as a unity of body, mind, and soul, how we use the body and the mind sexually is a very big deal.

Anything we do that falls short of perfect harmony with the will of God is sin. Sin is not merely rule breaking but failing to live in accord with the structure of reality itself.

Read the whole thing.  [4] There is far, far more going on in Christian thought and teaching regarding sexuality than what contemporary young secular Puritans imagine. And there is also far, far more going on there than contemporary church leaders desperate to abandon Christian orthodoxy grasp. The Christian faith is by no means entirely about sex, but neither is sex incidental to it. This is a stumbling block to modern people, no doubt, especially those acculturated to norms increasingly like that of ancient Pompeii [6](and hey, did you see that Teen Vogue is now teaching its young readers how to have anal sex [7]?). To be faithful to the Gospel requires affirming what we have been given, even if the modern world sees it as immoral.

“The first task of the Church is not to make the world more just but to make the world more the world,” theologian Stanley Hauerwas recently said in a UK lecture [8].

“The church is not a secondary political community. It is first and foremost that community that commands our ultimate loyalty, to know when the demonic has raised its head. And therefore, I think we now live in a time when we may be discovering that the church must be a political force that doesn’t first and foremost look to the state as the expression of what will give you justice. As a matter of fact, we must be a people of justice, which reminds us first and foremost that justice is a virtue, and not a public policy, in a way that helps Christians know, even in the time of Trump, now how to go on.”

(This passage starts in the recording of the lecture [9] around the 28:00 mark.)

Hauerwas says that we Christians should stop trying to “deny our difference” with the world, and instead “hope that God has turned us into lean, mean people.” By that he doesn’t mean “nasty” people, but rather people who are willing to suffer for the truth.

Hauerwas, of course, is a man of the left, though based on this interview he did last year with Peter Mommsen of Plough [10], he has not endorsed, or at least not fully endorsed, gay marriage. (And nota bene, Hauerwas criticizes the Benedict Option in this interview, but when I wrote him later about it, he conceded that he didn’t have a clear idea what I was getting at — this was a year before the book came out — and then graciously wished me luck with the project.) In 2002, he wrote these very true words, [11] though I don’t know if he still would endorse them:

Now, when marriage becomes a mutually enhancing arrangement until something goes wrong, then it makes no sense at all to oppose homosexual marriages. If marriage is a calling that makes promises of lifelong monogamous fidelity in which children are welcomed, then we’ve got a problem. But we can’t even get to a discussion there, because Christians no longer practice Christian marriage.

What has made it particularly hard is that the divorce culture has made it impossible for us to talk about these matters–and many of you know, I’m divorced and remarried. It has made it impossible for us to talk about these matters with an honesty and candor that is required if you are not to indulge in self-deceptive, sentimental lies.

For gay Christians who I know and love, I wish we as Christians could come up with some way to help them, like we need to help one another, to avoid the sexual wilderness in which we live. That’s a worthy task. I probably sound like a conservative on these matters, not because I’ve got some deep animosity toward gay people, but because I don’t know how to go forward given the current marriage practices of our culture.

I bring Hauerwas up here only to point out that even when I disagree with him on a point of theology, or applied theology, he has a real seriousness about what it means to be the church in the world. In one of his UK lectures, he said that “the Church embodies the witness of an alternative reality, the people of God, telling the world to come home.”

Yes, there are some of us small-o orthodox Christian who hate gays. Shame on them. But there are many others who wish gays no harm, but who sincerely believe that fidelity to the truth we have been given in the Gospel  is — recalling historian Peter Brown’s discussion of the pre-modern world — to at one level embed ourselves in a cosmic matrix that gives coherence and meaning to all of life. Hauerwas is entirely correct that Christians (conservative and otherwise) can’t talk persuasively about homosexuality and marriage because we can’t talk persuasively about sexuality and marriage, period. But that doesn’t make the orthodox position wrong! It means that we have to figure out how to talk about it and (more importantly) live it out in a world that radically rejects the metaphysical understanding of the pre-modern era. To most people today — including poorly formed Christians — there is no inherent meaning in the natural world. God is not immanent within it. Everything can be fractured, fragmented, negotiated, and revalued according to individual desire.

If that’s how it’s going to be with the church, then we are not going to survive. Hauerwas, an Episcopalian, has said that American Christianity is going to disappear, because it has been assimilated into liberal modernity. Excerpt:

I believe we may be living at a time when we are watching Protestantism – at least the kind of Protestantism we have in America – come to an end. It is dying of its own success. Protestantism became identified with the republican presumption in liberty as an end reinforced by belief in the common sense of the individual. As a result, Protestant churches in America lost the ability to maintain the disciplines necessary to sustain a people capable of being an alternative to the world. Ironically, the feverish fervency of the religious right in America to sustain faith as a necessary condition for supporting democracy cannot help but be a strategy that insures the faith that is sustained is not the Christian faith.

More Americans may go to church than their counterparts in Europe, but the churches to which they go do little to challenge the secular presumptions that form their lives or the lives of the churches to which they go. For the church is assumed to exist to reinforce the presumption that those that come to church have done so freely. The church’s primary function, therefore, is to legitimate and sustain the presumption that America represents what all people would want to be if they had the benefit of American education and money.

Let me try to put this in a different register. America is the exemplification of what I call the project of modernity. That project is the attempt to produce a people who believe that they should have no story except the story that they choose when they had no story. That is what Americans mean by “freedom.” The institutions that constitute the disciplinary forms of that project are liberal democracy and capitalism. Thus the presumption that if you get to choose between a Sony or Panasonic television, you have had a “free choice.” The same presumption works for choosing a President. Once you have made your choice you have to learn to live with it. So there is a kind of resignation that freedom requires.

More:

But Americans do not have the ability to acknowledge that they have not chosen the story that they should have no story except the story they choose when they had no story. As a result, they must learn to live with decisions they made when they thought they knew what they were doing but later realized they did not know what they were doing. They have a remedy when it comes to marriage – it is called divorce. They also have a remedy regarding children – it is called abortion.

The story that you should have no story except the story you choose when you had no story obviously has implications for how faith is understood. The story that you should have no story except the story you choose when you had no story produces people who say things such as, “I believe Jesus is Lord – but that’s just my personal opinion.” The grammar of this kind of avowal obviously reveals a superficial person. But such people are the kind many think crucial to sustain democracy. For such a people are necessary in order to avoid the conflicts that otherwise might undermine the order, which is confused with peace, necessary to sustain a society that shares no goods in common other than the belief that there are no goods in common.

So an allegedly democratic society that styles itself as one made up of people of strong conviction in fact becomes the most conformist of social orders, because of the necessity to avoid conflicts that cannot be resolved.

Such a view has devastating effects on the church. For the church does not believe that you should have no story except the story you choose when you had no story. Rather the church believes that we are creatures of a good God who has storied us through engrafting us to the people of Israel through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Christians do not believe we get to choose our story, but rather we discover that God has called us to participate in a story not of our own making. That is why we are called into the church as well as why we are called, “Christian.” A church so formed cannot help but be a challenge to a social order built on the contrary presumption that I get to make my life up.

But a church formed capable of challenging the reigning ethos that sustains America is no easy achievement. You may well think that the Catholic Church surely would be up to that task, but you need to remember that, as Archbishop Francis George of Chicago often remarks, Catholicism in America has largely become a form of Protestant Christianity. Catholics in America, like their Protestant sisters and brothers, are likely to assume that there is no essential tension between being a Christian and being an American. As a result Catholics in America think the distinction between the public and the private (and their “faith” clearly falls into the latter) is a given that cannot be questioned.

What does all this have to do with the travails of the dying Church of England, and more generally of how the Church of history and Scripture ministers to a post-Christian world that will have no God greater than the desiring autonomous self? This: that an ecclesial body so desperate to cling to power that’s slipping through its hands by making a deal with the world to capitulate on the things about itself the world hates about it is not an ecclesial body that will survive. We already know what that kind of church is; it’s just a matter of negotiating its price.

So, when Jem Bloomfield worries that the Church’s insistence on adhering to Biblical orthodoxy on homosexuality is preventing young people from hearing the Gospel, I wish he would reflect on the moment when the Rich Young Ruler met Jesus.  [12] Would Prof. Bloomfield advise Jesus that His insistence on living up to a moral code that the young man found intolerable was keeping the young man from “hearing the Gospel”?

Or was Jesus teaching the young man an irreducible principle of the Gospel itself? 

Unless you are willing to believe that the Anglican divines gathered at the Synod today know the Bible and the Gospel on sexual matters more faithfully than the early Church [13], than St. Paul, than St. Augustine, and the faithful witness of most Christians who ever lived, then this is an easy question to answer, even as it is a hard one to live out in this world. But then, what is the Church founded by the man who said he came “not to bring peace, but a sword” [14] for, anyway?

The world promises the Church power if only it will fall down and worship it. It always has. It is a scandal to see prelates in the Church promoting this temptation in a world that desperately needs to hear and to see faithful witness on sexuality. But not surprising.

UPDATE: Here’s the thing. I’m just coming back to this post to approve comments, and unbelievers are filling up the thread with the usual boring complaints, e.g., “the churches are a bunch of hypocrites,” “they’re targeting gays because they’re easy,” “they have no credibility because of child molestation,” “Donald Trump! Donald Trump!”, etc. I welcome constructive criticism of my statements and arguments here. Let’s have a discussion. But if you just want to come get your dime-store Ditchkins on, save your efforts. I’m not going to publish them.

175 Comments (Open | Close)

175 Comments To "Sex: The Church Vs. The World"

#1 Comment By MichaelLF On July 12, 2017 @ 11:45 am

kgasmart,

“I think this is probably correct but goes to my previous point about identity. Self-determination = identity. “I gotta be me!”

There are two pieces to the value this generation places on self-determination. One is identity, young people insisting that others take their racial or sexual identity into account when working with them. It is easy to see this insistence as narcissistic, and it often is. But there is also an admirable pride and self-assertiveness. They stand up for themselves and are proud of themselves as a created being. They often reach this place after much discernment. There’s something inspiring about seeing someone stand up for himself when he knows he will catch flack.

The second piece is how others in this generation react to those who ask to be recognized for their identity as black, gay, trans, or whatever. They support each other enthusiastically and with genuine concern for the others’ well-being. And this support includes some surprising behaviors, including chastity and sobriety. While previous generations often mocked the chaste or abstemious, I’ve seen this generation support those who make decisions they would not.

The good material in this generation for Christians to work with. Contempt won’t get us very far.

“how can those who believe this “justice” possible in this world possibly be Christian? Isn’t that a central aspect of the faith, the belief that man is fallen and thus counting on this world to deliver you fulfillment and utopian “justice” is a mug’s game?”

Justice is a cornerstone of both the Christian faith and the Jewish faith from which it stems. Through the prophets, Jews learned that God judged them by their treatment of their neighbors, especially strangers, and Jesus extends and deepens those lessons. Part of the work of faith is to make a more just world.

#2 Comment By JonF On July 12, 2017 @ 1:21 pm

Re: The laws of succession were what they were, which worked to both Mary and Elizabeth’s advantage.

It also helped that Mary was an object of great public sympathy, as she had been treated abominably by her father, and her brother’s regime had also been pretty nasty to her. Jane Gray was pretty much “Jane Who”? at the time– except when people knew that she had married the son of that corrupt old grifter Lord Dudley. It’s one of the little tragedies of history that a sweet-natured, warm-hearted woman became known (deservedly too) by the sobriquet “bloody”.

#3 Comment By David On July 12, 2017 @ 1:22 pm

Forgive me if I am repeating something said elsewhere here but I do not have the patience to weed through the full posts much less all the comments. But occasionally a headline and/or lede catches my interest (thanks, Rod) and I do scan a bit. What strikes me about much current social pathology (my own included) and what is echoed in the discussion among younger people about the church and sexuality, is how much of their approach to both of the subjects – and perhaps to everything they encounter – is as potential consumer goods. If so, it is too much to ask the churches to solve this problem alone or to believe that religious and ideological heresies are wholly responsible. This devil came not from the left but from the commercial powers and instincts. It is probably poor sportsmanship on my part, but honesty requires me to remind your readers that social conservatives have allied with economic libertarians for decades; i.e. you made your deal (as we all do, actually). I recommend Marx and Daniel Bell for detailed and thoughtful explanations.

#4 Comment By JonF On July 12, 2017 @ 1:26 pm

Re: Most of the churches, including the Orthodox, have fallen right in with the culture on this one!!

As I have pointed out before the Orthodox Church’s handling of divorce goes back– way, way back. There is nothing “modernist” about it. And even in the West divorce (not annulment– divorce) was not unknown until well into the Middle Ages. Thus King Canute dumped his first wife to marry widowed Queen Emma when that canny lady included the throne of England in her dowry.

#5 Comment By Harvey On July 12, 2017 @ 1:56 pm

DEC01:

Uncle Charlie is, as usual, correct. “Marriage” is a term that has been adopted by civil society and used in civil codes. Religious organizations have as much of a chance of reserving the word “marriage” to mean church marriage as they do of changing back the meaning of “gay” — ie zero. (Try “holy matrimony” instead.)

Same-sex marriage is the natural and expected result of about 100 years of changes to the meaning of wife and marriage. Looking for someone to blame? Try the suffragettes. They created the idea that women have independent existence even after a marriage. The fall of couverture laws, the creation of no-fault divorces, the establishment of the right to use contraception, the spread of use of contraception, and the disconnect between procreation and marriage all rapidly (in judicial time) followed.

Once straights (and mostly Christians at that) created the modern definition of marriage as set forth in state civil codes , the judicial system could find no rational basis to deny the benefits of that status to same-sex couples.

#6 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On July 12, 2017 @ 2:21 pm

Marriage would not exist if not for there being both men and women, which is another way of saying marriage would not exist if not for procreation.

I think this is key to sorting the wheat from the chaff.

The fact that anyone has sexual emotions, arousal, hormones, attraction, all originates from the fact that sexually dimorphic reproduction is a great reproduction strategy. If not for reproduction, there would be no sex, not sexual emotions, affections, desires. None.

Isaac Asimov has explored what it might be like to belong to a complex, sentient species that reproduces by budding like a terrestrial hydra. (Playboy and The Slime Gods). Perhaps such a species would write glowing poetry about the joys of budding time — but the concepts of sex, sexual, homosexual, trans-sexual, would simply not exist.

Ursula Le Guin, and the team of Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, have explored how sexually dimorphic reproduction might look in an advance sentient species that was not dimorphic — somewhat more like earthworms, who each have both female and male organs.

But we live on planet earth, and whatever we make of our sexual urges, at root, they are the result of a strategy for reproduction. They are therefore, by nature and origin, heterosexual, whatever biochemical irregularities and statistical deviations may exist.

Marriage was not someone’s brilliant idea for a new social construct. It evolved over tens of thousands of years in response to the many contradictions of biological reproduction and emotional desires, related to man and woman, male and female.

That doesn’t mean we cannot adapt it in new and interesting ways. But its not a blank slate to write on either. (As I’ve said many times, the signal weakness in the reasoning of every court from Goodridge to Obergefell was failure to define the term “marriage” before engaging in reasoning about whether any person had been denied access to it.

#7 Comment By Oakinhou On July 12, 2017 @ 3:32 pm

a commenter


So when we say that dogs have four legs, we really mean that dogs are adapted to be bilaterally symmetrical and have a pair of legs at the front and another pair at the back. This makes it clearer that being born without the fourth leg is a result of a specific part of development being broken, rather than the number of legs being irrelevant or tangential to the definition of “dog”.

Likewise, sex is adapted to the procreation of the species. It’s not tangential. Procreation is the actual source of the adaptive drive. It’s absolutely central.”

No one disputes that procreation is the source of the sex drive. Just like no one disputes dogs have bilateral symmetry.

The argument is just like some, a very small fraction, of dogs might be born without one leg, some, a small fraction of mammals and birds, including humans, are born with a sex drive that is oriented towards their same sex.

Whatever biological roots this misaligned sex drive has -just like the biological roots of a non-developed limb- it neither makes people -or three legged dogs- immoral or disordered.

And my adopted first cousin would be surprised to learn that since she’s not the result of a penis-in-vagina copulation of the couple she calls her parents, somehow the bond between her and them is not a “true” bond, but just a legal fiction.

#8 Comment By Potato On July 12, 2017 @ 4:28 pm

@RobG

Many of us here have admitted that the Church largely fumbled the ball on the no-fault divorce thing. If Christians had been more unified and more critical regarding that issue we’d probably wouldn’t be in the boat we’re in now with SSM.

It’s not too late to stiffen up, exclude the divorced-and-remarried, and make it clear that this behavior is not in accord with the gospels. No one is seriously suggesting this, however, because this would hurt too many “people like us.”

No, that the churches muffed the issue does not in itself make them wrong about SSM. It does make them look ridiculous to some when they run about saying that they are forced into their stance on SSM by the Bible. I guess there’s force and then there’s force. The Bible is being read selectively, but most people do that. Just stop pretending I guess.

I think the rest of your post adds up to “we’re not hypocrites because liberals are hypocrites too,” which sort of doesn’t make a lot of sense.

#9 Comment By Potato On July 12, 2017 @ 4:31 pm

Re: Most of the churches, including the Orthodox, have fallen right in with the culture on this one!!

As I have pointed out before the Orthodox Church’s handling of divorce goes back– way, way back. There is nothing “modernist” about it.

The Bible is quite a bit older yet. The Orthodox churches moved away from the plain teaching of Jesus a long time ago then. This makes it OK?

#10 Comment By GSW On July 12, 2017 @ 4:40 pm

“one can find better language. The fact remains that the creator’s ideas about the best way to use one’s body and to love another human being may be different from yours and your daughter’s.” @ Carlo

I hope not.

Jesus cast the net widely when talking about sexual sin although He made it clear that the intent to sin (lust) was equivalent to the act (adultery). This was in service of His direction that observing the Law wasn’t enough, that we were are all sinners, and that thanking God that you were not an adulterer like so-and-so was itself a shameful, ridiculous sin of pride.

Are their degrees of sexual sin? Well, I think so. We might agree that sexual relations between consenting adults outside of marriage is sinful (straight or gay) but less sinful than say, breaking up a family with young children, abuse of power, rape, and so on.

Is the sin of sexual relations between consenting adults as serious as addiction to drugs and alcohol, physically or psychologically injuring another, theft, murder and so on? I think most Christian people would say no.

Among most cradle Orthodox that I know, homosexuality in the Church is an old problem rather than a new one. Most have in the past and would today mind their own business or even tolerate gays in much the same way they would look the other way in the case of sexually active teens or heterosexual adults who were not married: this is not their business, they might say. And, besides, very possibly a family member or a friends family member is gay and so…

It follows for them that confession and the counsel of the priest is the proper place to address sexual sin, not drawing lines in the sand or public denunciation. We are all sexual sinners and salvation is the business of the Church rather than shaming and driving good-hearted Christian people out of the Orthodox community.

But then there are also Orthodox – often converts – who imagine the Church as a refuge from all the bothersome sexual sins (and politics) afflicting other denominations – a place where there is finally good old Law and Order. These are the ones who pridefully thank God that they are not sexual sinners like so-and-so. These folks would drive my wonderful gay daughter out of Orthodoxy without a pang of conscience or charity – no communion for you missy as you are so hugely a sinner – and in so doing discredit Christian teaching to an entire generation.

Lord have mercy!

[NFR: You seem to be awfully proud of your embrace of sexual sin. — RD]

#11 Comment By Ken Zaretzke On July 12, 2017 @ 5:09 pm

@a commenter: “So when we say that dogs have four legs, we really mean that dogs are adapted to be bilaterally symmetrical and have a pair of legs at the front and another pair at the back. This makes it clearer that being born without the fourth leg is a result of a specific part of development being broken, rather than the number of legs being irrelevant or tangential to the definition of “dog”.

“Likewise, sex is adapted to the procreation of the species. It’s not tangential. Procreation is the actual source of the adaptive drive. It’s absolutely central.”

Thanks, that’s a good biological argument. I do think biology and other sciences need essentialism to make good on ultimate empirical explanations. David Oderberg’s *Real Essentialism* is excellent on this topic.

@Charles Cosimano: “so the matter of four legs, while obviously desirable from all points of view, especially that of the dog, is not essential in any way shape or form to the dog being, well, a dog.”

To paraphrase: The matter of rationality, while obviously desirable from all points of view, especially that of humans, is not essential in any way, shape, or form to homo sapiens being a rational animal.

Dogs are quadrupeds essentially. And you are a rational animal essentially, not just contingently or accidentally, as you seem to think.

“Marriage, very simply, is what we say it is.”

No. Nor are dogs.

“Just don’t expect your view to carry any weight in court. In the end, it all comes down to power.”

On the courts, the irrationality I mentioned in Step 3 doesn’t involve the SSM *conception* of marriage at Step 1. I mean, incoherence is a really bad thing to be stuck with, but it doesn’t imply irrationality. Rather, the irrationality goes to the *form* of marriage that is SSM (at Step 2), and does so only under particular legal circumstances (Step 3). IOW, what’s *irrational* and not just mistaken is the conjunction of the belief that SSM is constitutionally required (imposed either legislatively or judicially) with the idea that opposition to SSM is sexual-orientation discrimination, and thus gender discrimination.

The latter is a huge problem for Justice Anthony Kennedy. His semi-libertarianism is compatible with the constitutional mandating of SSM (equal liberty for homosexuals). It’s not compatible, however, with the idea that exclusively opposite-sex civil marriage is per se discriminatory, which is what is entailed by the idea of sexual-orientation discrimination. The Masterpiece case next term could cause Kennedy’s jurisprudence to fall apart entirely. Given Steps 1, 2, and 3, and the issues raised in Masterpiece, it’s quite possible that the jurisprudence of liberty will meet its Waterloo next term. Maybe Justice Kennedy should quit while he’s still ahead.

#12 Comment By Jesse On July 12, 2017 @ 5:35 pm

“Many of us here have admitted that the Church largely fumbled the ball on the no-fault divorce thing. If Christians had been more unified and more critical regarding that issue we’d probably wouldn’t be in the boat we’re in now with SSM.”

No, Christianity would’ve been just seen as only a home of busybodies and bigots earlier. It would’ve been sexism instead of homophobia though, as in, “Christian’s don’t want women to be able to divorce their abusive husband unless she can show the bruises” type of arguments.

Plus, freedom and choice is part of the American psyche.

#13 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On July 12, 2017 @ 8:00 pm

The argument is just like some, a very small fraction, of dogs might be born without one leg, some, a small fraction of mammals and birds, including humans, are born with a sex drive that is oriented towards their same sex.

On the other hand, we don’t have to overturn major institutions just to accommodate three legged dogs and the small fraction of humans with differently oriented sex drives. Make a little room for them, sure, but its not really a big deal. Three legged dogs, in the absence of human owners or humane societies, would die rather quickly. Its actually not a very good analogy.

#14 Comment By Rob G On July 13, 2017 @ 7:34 am

~~~It’s not too late to stiffen up, exclude the divorced-and-remarried, and make it clear that this behavior is not in accord with the gospels. No one is seriously suggesting this, however, because this would hurt too many “people like us.”~~~

In a sense I agree with this. The traditional churches should seek to be as consistent with divorce and remarriage as they are with cohabitation. Thing is, as JonF and others have pointed out, variations of interpretation of the D&R issue go way back, which means there’s a lot to unpack. Of course that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be attempted, but it does mean that it will be difficult.

~~~No, that the churches muffed the issue does not in itself make them wrong about SSM. It does make them look ridiculous to some when they run about saying that they are forced into their stance on SSM by the Bible. I guess there’s force and then there’s force. The Bible is being read selectively, but most people do that. Just stop pretending I guess.~~~

One should not confuse the arguments of “Bible Christians” (let alone so-called “red letter Christians”) with those of the RCC and EOC which have longstanding authoritative traditional understandings of these matters.

~~~I think the rest of your post adds up to “we’re not hypocrites because liberals are hypocrites too,” which sort of doesn’t make a lot of sense.~~~

No, my point was that what liberals describe as hypocrisy on the right often isn’t actually hypocrisy. The log in their own eye on this matter makes it difficult to identify properly what it is that’s in their opponents’ eyes.

If you’re fundamentally unable to call out hypocrisy among your own tribe, you will tend to get it wrong when you call it out regarding others.

~~~No, Christianity would’ve been just seen as only a home of busybodies and bigots earlier. It would’ve been sexism instead of homophobia though, as in, “Christian’s don’t want women to be able to divorce their abusive husband unless she can show the bruises” type of arguments.~~~

Perhaps, but that’s immaterial to the question of our alleged hypocrisy. As to its “sexism,” I recall that the most vocal opponent of no-fault divorce was Phyllis Schlafly.

~~Plus, freedom and choice is part of the American psyche.~~

Which has no bearing whatsoever on the rightness or wrongness of the thing.

#15 Comment By John Spragge On July 13, 2017 @ 1:27 pm

[ please delete the previous comment as it contains an error, and post this instead ]

Young people who reject the teaching Mr. Dreher recommends on same-sex marriage may well have accepted some new ethic of equality, but they do not need to have done so. A combination of the evolving scientific consensus about sexual orientation with Jesus’s often repeated summaries of the law will suffice. To the extent I understand it, the scientific and medical consensus appears to hold that, whether genetic or developmental, our orientation gets “baked in” well before we can hope to make a choice about it. If we accept this evidence, all the earnest talk about the moral and spiritual benefits of opposite-sex orientation have no meaning; homosexuality, like melanin deficiency, exists as a physical fact. G-d made most of us male and female, but some of us we know G-d made intersexed, and some, probably, G-d made Gay and Lesbian. Given that reality, what does the Law, as taught by Jesus, tell us to do? First, Jesus tells us to respond with love. Over and over, throughout the gospels, Jesus emphasizes love, of G-d and of neighbour, as the foundation of the law. In Luke 10, Jesus defines love of neighbour as practical compassion: the love shown by the Samaritan whom Jesus commands us to emulate. Faced with a young man, possible our own child, who tells us G-d made me to love this man, what do we do? What does the teaching of Jesus about love tell us to do? Telling someone they can’t get married isn’t telling them not to have sex: it’s telling them to go through every one of life’s trials alone. It’s telling them to give up the hope someone will hold their hand when they are dying. It does not take any devotion to the “religion” or the moral precepts of modernity to affirm committed same sex relationships; the bedrock moral precepts of the bible, as revealed in the new covenant, will suffice.

#16 Comment By JonF On July 13, 2017 @ 1:39 pm

Re: The Orthodox churches moved away from the plain teaching of Jesus a long time ago then. This makes it OK?

I would suggest asking someone more authoritative in the faith about this. It has to do with “Economia” (the Law was made for man not man for the Law, to paraphrase that guy Jesus). And yes, we also venerate icons, but we do not hold ourselves to be committing idolatry although that charge has been leveled against us. “The plain sense of Scripture” is not necessarily always so plain, and the Church exists, in part, to divine the meaning of the Good Book.

#17 Comment By JonF On July 13, 2017 @ 1:45 pm

Re: On the other hand, we don’t have to overturn major institutions just to accommodate three legged dogs

No, but we do build ramps and include elevators to accommodate humans who might be lame, congenitally or otherwise. And no one accuses anyone of slighting or injuring the able-bodied by that fact (even though it costs a bit of money). SSM does not injure heterosexual people at all: Marriage is just as available to them as it always was. There is no such thing as a “marriage shortage” in the sense we can run out of material goods.

#18 Comment By Patrick On July 13, 2017 @ 4:32 pm

Potato:

There are several Catholic cardinals wanting the Pope to tell the truth on divorce with regard receiving the Eucharist in a very public way. This topic is discussed in conservative Catholic circles and parishes, too, neither of which I gather you’re a part of. That the Church doesn’t discuss divorce is a convenience only for people who haven’t found a decent parish.

#19 Comment By William Tighe On July 13, 2017 @ 6:26 pm

“’The plain sense of Scripture’ is not necessarily always so plain”

It was pretty “plain” to the Latin West and the Byzantine East for the first 900 years of Christianity that one who discarded a spouse and attempted to remarry another was by that fact liable to Church censures, including exclusion from eucharistic communion, the partial exception of the Emperor Constantine VI (a Byzantine Henry VIII) in the 790s notwithstanding. Cf. the “Moechian Controversy.” (Unlike Henry VIII, though, it didn’t turn out well for Constantine.)

#20 Comment By JonF On July 14, 2017 @ 6:44 am

Re: It was pretty “plain” to the Latin West and the Byzantine East for the first 900 years of Christianity

Actually, no. Marriage was a matter of civil Roman law (which allowed for divorce) for the Church in its earlier centuries, and the Church saw it as worldly matter and did not much bother with it. There was no “Sacrament of marriage” until well into the Middle Ages. You can find any number of cases of divorce and remarriage during the late Roman and early Byzantine era without the Church saying “Boo” to the business (well, that we know of, to be sure). When the Church did get around to codifying things, the East made different choices than the West, though even the West, as my example of Canute shows, was unsure of itself for a good long while.
That business you cite with Constantine VIII was purely political. The real problem for the Church was that Constantine VIII was tending toward Iconoclasm after his mother Irene had restored the icons and convened the Seventh Council to condemn iconoclasm. Had Constantine VIII been a good iconodule it’s likely no one would have raised a peep about his marital situation. There’s a reason we call messy, complex, underhanded politics “byzantine”.

#21 Comment By Rob G On July 14, 2017 @ 7:27 am

“SSM does not injure heterosexual people at all”

It further damages an already severely damaged institution. By doing so it injures the culture, which most definitely affects heterosexual people.

Note that homosexuals were generally not interested in marriage until that institution was sufficiently denatured to the extent that it no longer posed a threat to either “sexual liberation” or to a consumerist understanding of marriage/family.

#22 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On July 14, 2017 @ 11:05 am

Note that homosexuals were generally not interested in marriage until that institution was sufficiently denatured to the extent that it no longer posed a threat to either “sexual liberation” or to a consumerist understanding of marriage/family.

I don’t think that was especially important. The demand was to be “normalized.” Whatever anyone else has they we don’t, we want it, so that we can be accepted as just like everyone else, even though, what we share actually isn’t just like everyone else, or we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

People of dark skin color struggled against the imputation that they were “different” and should therefore be treated differently as a matter of law. LGBTQWERTY struggled is be recognized AS different so as to demand that unlike things be treated alike.

No, but we do build ramps and include elevators to accommodate humans who might be lame, congenitally or otherwise.

One of the curious errors in the Americans With Disabilities Act is that the preamble asserts people with disabilities are discriminated against. Its not true. Nobody ever built a staircase for the purpose of excluding users of wheelchairs. Stairs were invented long before wheelchairs.

Rather, the ADA made a conscious choice to discriminate IN FAVOR OF people with disabilities, to help compensate for what they lack. Which is a find thing to do, ethically, morally, by Christian values, etc. etc. etc.

But it is not therefore mandatory that we MUST discriminate in favor of anyone or anything. We don’t have to go out of our way for every little quirk that comes down the pike. I wouldn’t lift a finger to urge my state legislator to vote down a gay marriage bill. Nor would I write in support. I just wouldn’t care much, and it would probably pass, because most people don’t much care. But, it is not a matter of right, its more a matter of, sure, if it makes them happy and doesn’t hurt anything, why not?

#23 Comment By JonF On July 14, 2017 @ 1:02 pm

Re: “SSM does not injure heterosexual people at all”

It further damages an already severely damaged institution

Sorry RobG, but I regard that statement as nothing but vaporware, an assertion (as Siarlys might say) that assumes facts not in evidence. Certainly it is not a valid reply to what I wrote and you quoted.
Once again, civil marriage is not nothing in countable, limited supply. There is no limit to the number of marriage licenses that can be issued. An SSM marriage in no ways prevents or hinders a heterosexual couple from marrying.

Re: Note that homosexuals were generally not interested in marriage until that institution was sufficiently denatured to the extent that it no longer posed a threat to either “sexual liberation” or to a consumerist understanding of marriage/family.

And Southern slaves c. 1850 were not concerned about equal schooling with white people when it was illegal for them to learn to read at all. And of course, they were not free.

#24 Comment By Rob G On July 15, 2017 @ 3:31 pm

“Once again, civil marriage is not nothing in countable, limited supply. There is no limit to the number of marriage licenses that can be issued. An SSM marriage in no ways prevents or hinders a heterosexual couple from marrying.”

The institution of marriage is not limited to civil unions. Neither is prevention of access the only possible damage to it. Your Rawlsian slip is showing.

“And Southern slaves c. 1850 were not concerned about equal schooling with white people when it was illegal for them to learn to read at all.”

Apples and oranges. Marriage and public schooling are not equal forms of institution. Then again, maybe you think that American public schools are a sacrament?

#25 Comment By Ken Zaretzke On July 16, 2017 @ 4:49 pm

For anyone puzzled by where I’m coming from in my first comment: I’m making a demonstration of the *a priori* falsity of SSM. Step 3, to be clear, is *a posteriori*, but that’s unimportant because it’s not part of the main argument involving the truth or falsity of SSM. If the main argument is sound, then SSM is debunked more powerfully than any natural law argument could succeed in doing even if natural law theory were accepted by most philosophers.

This is a very unusual in moral controversy–there is certainly nothing in the abortion debate that points to any *a priori* conclusion.

Thus, despite what people may think, Obergefell v. Hodges is never going to be widely accepted. Among other things, this opens up a tremendous amount of space for religious liberty in constitutional doctrine.