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The Failure of Winsomeness

This is seriously interesting news: [1]

More Americans feel comfortable with a presidential candidate who identifies as gay or lesbian than with one who identifies as an evangelical Christian, according to a new poll.

The latest WSJ/NBC poll [2] listed a series of qualities in a potential presidential candidate and asked respondents whether they’d “be enthusiastic,” “be comfortable with,” “have some reservations about” or “be very uncomfortable with” a candidate with each of those qualities.

The results revealed that Americans are actually quite open to having a gay presidential candidate. Sixty-one percent said they would be either enthusiastic about or comfortable with a gay or lesbian candidate, while only 37 percent said they would have reservations or be uncomfortable.

By comparison, respondents were a little less comfortable with the prospect of a candidate who is an evangelical Christian. Fifty-two percent said they’d be enthusiastic about or comfortable with an evangelical Christian running for president, while 44 percent expressed some degree of hesitancy about the idea. (Two percent of respondents said they were not sure about a gay or lesbian candidate, while four percent were not sure about an evangelical.)

Here is a link to more detailed information on the poll [3], which shows that a clear majority of Americans now want gay marriage.

Look, we can complain that the negative opinions that many, perhaps most, Americans have toward Evangelical Christians are the fault of biased media, and we would have a point. The relentless cheerleading in the MSM for same-sex marriage over the last decade, plus the fact that Evangelicals have been the Christians most opposed to it, has taken its toll. I really do believe Evangelicals have gotten a raw deal from our media. But that’s beside the point now.

The point is, there’s nothing Evangelicals can do to turn it around, short of totally abandoning Christian orthodoxy on same-sex marriage — which a fair number of younger Evangelicals are eager to do. The Q Ideas conference kindly invited me to speak recently about the Benedict Option, and I told them that the Indiana moment was an “apocalypse” — which I explained meant here “an unveiling,” not “the end of the world” — in that it showed how few people in America 2015 cared about religious liberty, and how powerful the pro-SSM movement was. The fact is, ours is a post-Christian society moving towards an anti-Christian one, when Christianity conflicts with secular orthodoxy. Any churches that remain faithful to clear Biblical teaching about sexuality — gay or straight — and on the meaning of marriage and the human person, will be increasingly anathematized in this country. And those that compromise will, in time, fade to nothingness, as the ongoing unwinding of the Mainline Protestant churches demonstrates.

The United States has avoided Europe’s fate for a long time, but the churches here have finally lost the ability to coast on cultural momentum. The churches that don’t retrench around building their internal strength and coherence around orthodoxy — and that requires far more than catechesis, but it requires at least that: teaching our story to our children —  and evangelizing from that position of strength, aren’t going to survive. The overculture is just too strong. The forces of atomization and desacralization are very hard to resist.

This is a reality that many Christians, Christians of all kinds, do not want to face. I know very little about Evangelical culture, so prior to Q, I asked a prominent Millennial Evangelical, a thinker I greatly respect, to tell me what I might expect there. He told me that Evangelicals, especially those of his generation, have a particular blind spot about the broader culture. In his view, they have a naive understanding of cultural dynamics, and think that they will be more acceptable to the mainstream if they simply behave with more winsomeness towards them.

Let me make something clear: it is not not not the case that being a self-righteous jerk is the solution! A new book I need to read is Collin Hansen’s aptly titled Blind Spots [4]which is about how Christians react out of their own experiences, and fail to see truths about themselves and their approach to the world that are obvious to others. Early in the book — this, according to what I could read on Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature — Hansen talks about how what drew him to faith as a teenager who had grown up in an unbelieving home was the happiness and confidence radiating from Christian kids in his school. From what I gather about the book, it’s about teaching Christians how to be fully Christian — that is, knowing the Christian story, living it out counterculturally, and doing so not with brittleness and hostility, but with joy. I ran across Hansen’s book researching this post; it sounds like something well worth reading. Anyway, anybody who thinks I’m advocating a Christian response that’s angry and hostile is wrong, and that needs saying before we go further.

Now, we ought to react to the rest of the world with kindness, empathy, and respect not as an evangelism strategy, but because it’s the right thing to do. That said, I think it’s simply true as a general matter that you can be as nice as you can be, and the world will still hate you. This is massively true when it comes to the gay rights question. There’s a racist joke that speaks to an ugly truth here: “Q: What do you call a millionaire black brain surgeon? A. [racial slur].” The idea is that for people who hate black folks, nothing that black folks do matters; it’s who they are that the racist cares about. Similarly, for many (though certainly not all) modern people liberal conviction, it doesn’t matter that orthodox Christians serve the poor, or do good in their own communities. What matters is their stance on homosexuality.

If that weren’t true, the Evangelical pastor Louie Giglio would not have been disinvited from the second Obama inaugural over a twenty-year-old sermon on homosexuality [5]. Never mind that Giglio is widely known for his tremendous work in fighting human trafficking. A two-decade-old sermon taking the traditional Christian view was enough to force him out. If that weren’t true, the Gordon College students who work as volunteers in the poverty-stricken Lynn, Mass., public schools would not have been thrown out by officials who object to Gordon’s traditional Christian policies on sexuality, especially homosexuality. If winsomeness changed minds on this issue, Gordon president Michael Lindsay, who is one of the gentlest, kindest men you will ever meet, would not be fighting to keep his school from being dismantled.

David French, a lawyer and conservative writer who advised Gordon’s leadership during its fight to maintain its accreditation, believes that Gordon has just won a decisive victory for religious liberty [6] in beating back the threat to take away its license, basically, over its gay rights policy. I wish that were true. I think Robert A. J. Gagnon, writing in First Things, has by far the more realistic view [7]of what’s going on, and what’s likely to happen. Excerpts:

The New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) may have left Gordon alone for the time being but only because they are satisfied that advocates for homosexual relations have (so to speak) secured the beachhead and are advancing inland. After reading the College’s own “Questions about Gordon’s Working Group [8]” I felt some sadness for a college I love (my wife is an alum of Gordon; I took a transfer term there in Spring 1979 while a Dartmouth student).

Yes, the Board “unanimously reaffirmed the College’s historic, theological conviction regarding biblical teaching around human sexuality and behavior, and is not making any change at this time to the College’s Life and Conduct Statement” (my emphasis). Yet why add “at this time”? The qualifier sounds ominous.


I am concerned that the Administration and Board may have made too many concessions to an “LGBTQ” agenda, presumably under duress and some wishful thinking. They are therefore in need of our support and prayer. These concessions include the following:

(1) Deferential recognition of advocates of sexual heresy at Gordon. I had thought that only a tiny minority of Gordon’s faculty, staff, and students were supporting a change in the sexuality standard. So I had hoped that the governing authorities at Gordon would have rejected advocacy of homosexual unions as being every bit as inconsistent with continued association with the College as advocacy of consensual incest, polyamory, adultery, and fornication.

Instead, we only read: “The Board . . . clearly recognizes that the campus and Gordon’s constituents are not of one mind on this topic.” Why are proponents of homosexuality being given such legitimacy? Has the train already left the station?

There’s more, and you should read the whole thing. [7] Gagnon stresses that he writes not to condemn Gordon College or to encourage people to write it off, but to point out how extremely difficult its circumstances are, and to dissuade Christians from having false confidence.

Gagnon is right: the progressives have a beachhead within the college, and they are going to push and push and push until they get what they want. And the thing is, Gordon is not unified internally, as this controversy revealed. Besides, 43 percent of Evangelical Millennials favor same-sex marriage [9]— a number that is almost certainly going to grow. All the overculture has to do is keep up the pressure, and they’ll eventually have Gordon, and many other schools like it. Let there be no gloating from non-Evangelical Christians. Many Catholic colleges and universities all over have long since capitulated. Evangelical institutions are outliers.

Also writing in First Things, Carl R. Trueman points to the necessity of what I call the Benedict Option [10]: a drawing inward to shore up our communal and confessional identity and to build resilience for the long night ahead. We must fight for our freedom to be ourselves, but Trueman says that’s only half the battle:

I suspect in the coming years the temptation will be to focus on the latter, on protest, as we fight in the public square for freedom of religion. Yet we must not allow the immediacy of the public problem to blind us to the critical importance of proper teaching for those within the Church. The redefinition of human identity which we are witnessing today is so comprehensive in its scope that Christians need something equally comprehensive if they are to be able to hold fast their confession. And—mark this well—our children will only think that protest worthwhile if we have taken pains to teach them that the Church and her confession are important in the first place. Teach your children by precept and example that church is an optional extra and you teach them that protesting the world’s values is the folly of fools.

Churches which are doctrine-lite, or which define themselves with a ten or twelve point doctrinal statement, or which portray themselves as a nice, fun supplement to the more important things of life, are rather like the little pig who built his house of straw. When the wolf blows, the house will simply vanish in the wind. For Christians to continue to protest the world in the public square, they need first to be deeply and seriously grounded in the historic, doctrinal, and elaborate Christian faith. A faith built on Wikipedia articles or reducible to 140 characters points to no lasting city.

To the extent that we believe that victories like the limited win Gordon College just won — and thank God for even limited victories! — are sufficient, we are deceiving ourselves. We have allowed ourselves for generations to be hollowed out from within. The hour is late, and the task is immense. But what else is there? If we think that abandoning core tenets of the historic Christian faith is going to save the church, we are not serious.

And if we believe that being winsome and likable and all that is going to earn us any points with the overculture, we are making a dangerous mistake. Assimilation is not going to be allowed absent giving up what makes Christians distinctive from the rest of the culture. Charlie Gallo, a Lynn, Mass., school committeeman who led the charge to throw Gordon College interns out of impoverished city schools, likened the Evangelical school to the KKK.  [11] This kind of thing shocks and appalls Christians, who know perfectly well that they are not the same thing as racial terrorists. But they don’t get that this is the logic that drives the ideology of the contemporary gay rights movement. Sexuality is the same thing as race, in their minds, so to pass negative judgment on any sexual identity is to be no better than a racist. All the winsomeness in the world cannot overcome that ideological conviction in the minds of most people who hold it.

And so, we come to a point in American history when more Americans find an Evangelical Christian presidential candidate unacceptable than a homosexual one. (For the record, I would not rule out voting for either an Evangelical or a homosexual for president.) This polls result ought to shock you. It’s not going to get any better in our lifetimes for Christians, and is in fact going to get worse. Fight for religious liberty, and vote for candidates who will defend religious liberty? Absolutely. This is not negotiable. But understand that those victories mean nothing if the liberty is not put to use to build a church of resistance behind the culture war battle lines. Because the truth is, we and our children, and our children’s children, are going to be living under occupation for generations. We have to prepare ourselves and our communities for the long haul.

As a friend told me the other day, we need knights, but we also need gardeners. We need lots of gardeners. This is the Benedict Option. The church as culture. [12] Gardening for Christian radicals. I think I’m becoming a right-wing Hauerwasian. Here’s Hauerwas: [13]

 I also try to develop epigrams that have been forced on me by positions I have taken whose implications I slowly come to understand.

For example, I say, “The first task of the church is not to make the world just. The first task of the church is to make the world the world.” I know that sounds offensive to most people, Christian and non-Christian. Of course, I want it to be offensive. I am trying to challenge the assumption that Christianity is acceptable in modernity as long as it supports moral and political causes most people assume anyone should support–e.g., democracy. Such a view assumes that God can be entertained as a possibility as long as we keep it to ourselves. So I try to remind Christians by such an epigram that–as Augustine maintained–the church’s first political task is to worship the true God truly.

More Hauerwas, from right after 9/11:

American Christians simply lack the disciplines necessary to discover how being Christian might make them different. For example, after the Gulf War, people rightly wanted to welcome the troops home, so they put yellow ribbons everywhere including the churches. Yet if the Gulf War was a “just war,” that kind of celebration was inappropriate. In the past when Christians killed in a just war, it was understood they should be in mourning. They had sacrificed their unwillingness to kill. Black, not yellow, was the appropriate color. Indeed, in the past when Christian soldiers returned from a just war, they were expected to do penance for three years before being restored to the Eucharist. That we now find that to be unimaginable is but an indication how hard it is for us to imagine what it might mean for us to be Christian.

The current outpouring of patriotism, I think, is an indication of how lonely we are today. We are desperate to be part of some common endeavor. I am often called a communitarian, but I think that is a mistaken description. I am not for a rediscovery of community as an end in itself. Such a rediscovery can be as dangerous as it can be good. Rather, I try to help myself and others rediscover what it might mean if the church constituted our primary loyalty.

In all this, we must remember that the reader Isidore the Farmer is right when he warns that doom-and-gloomery will not do:

In a way, it would almost be ideal if someone peeking over the wall assumed the Benedict Option was run-for-the-hills-slow-death, only to encounter it and discover it is a celebration, a feast, an adventure, and the thing they had been needing all along.

Exactly right. Exactly. The thing that won Collin Hansen to the faith was not a community of fear, but one of joy. Yet that joy is not simply a feeling; it is rooted in a way of thinking and living and loving that is disclosed to Christians in the Bible and in the historical witness of the church. As a martyr once put it, “We are fighting today for costly grace.” [14]The joy is free, costing not less than everything.

83 Comments (Open | Close)

83 Comments To "The Failure of Winsomeness"

#1 Comment By Charles Cosimano On May 6, 2015 @ 12:13 pm

People are looking in the wrong direction. The reason evangelicals are not trusted with the Presidency has absolutley nothing to do with war or climate change. Americans don’t give a hoot in hell about climate change and it won’t influence enough votes to elect a sewer commissioner. War? If we bomb the middle east no one cares. The middle east was made to be bombed and the only good one is a dead one anyway. No loss of votes there.

The fact is that the bulk of voters probably do not know an evangelical as an evangelical. People rarely wear their religion on their sleeve in the bulk of the country and your next door neighbor could very well be an evangelical and you would not know it. Evangelicals are like everyone else and tend to be rather nice people when they are not having fits of religious fervor.

The problem is that that public face of Evangelicalism is just plain yucky. It is the face of a bunch of useless, annoying busybodies who want to tell everyone how to live and no one likes that.

#2 Comment By Gretchen On May 6, 2015 @ 12:47 pm

I was interested that the poll asked whether you’d be comfortable with a Catholic or Evangelical candidate, but not an atheist candidate. That’s because it is absolutely unthinkable at this point for Americans to elect an atheist president. The president is required to go to the annual Prayer breakfast, the press tells us how often he and his family go to church, and some still question whether the president is Christian, with the obvious implication that it’s a problem if he’s not. So what the American public wants is someone who is Christian, but not in-your-face mine-is-the-only-true-faith Christian. Not exactly an anti-Christian stance.

#3 Comment By Rusty On May 6, 2015 @ 1:25 pm

There’s a racist joke that speaks to an ugly truth here: “Q: What do you call a millionaire black brain surgeon? A. [racial slur].” The idea is that for people who hate black folks, nothing that black folks do matters; it’s who they are that the racist cares about.

That reminds me of another joke/ugly truth: “Q: What do you call a gay relationship? A: Temporary, experimental, experiential, and casually genital.”

The idea is that for people who dislike gayness, nothing that actual, living gay folks do matters; it’s only the gayness that matters.

#4 Comment By Another Matt On May 6, 2015 @ 1:47 pm

Even since then, as I’ve described before, I’ve personally encountered a few cases of explicit anti-Catholicism from Evangelicals. I’m sure this was sincerely meant and intended for the salvation of souls of those in thrall to Popery and the Great Beast; but for all that, I don’t do warm and fuzzy feelings for such people. I still have to grit my teeth and remind myself that they’re still my brothers and sisters in Christ.

Yeah, that’s way more than they’re likely to extend to you. I recently linked to this Chick Tract somewhere in another thread; it contains the Argument Against Catholicism I heard all my life growing up, and which I have to push back against with my family when they find out I have Catholic friends.


PS – Popery can sure smell lovely, though, like a great aunt’s house.

#5 Comment By Justcuz On May 6, 2015 @ 2:20 pm


Keep looking to France, which managed to stop the juggernaut of gay adoption in its tracks.

What are you talking about? Adoption by same-sex married couples is perfectly legal in France.

The only “success” the anti-gay forces in France have had is the creation pactes civils, an utter catastrophe if you think marriage means something — the vast majority of heterosexual couples in France now eschew marriage for PCs, i.e. “marriage-lite”. Quite a feather in the Catholic cap, that is…

#6 Comment By David M On May 6, 2015 @ 2:35 pm

I think you’re greatly underestimating how much Evangelical is a synonym for Republican. If you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas…

#7 Comment By ginger On May 6, 2015 @ 2:49 pm

“I think that’s because most people presume that an evangelical is going to take the entirety of his creed seriously, and a Catholic won’t, which, in the context of historical American suspicions of Catholics as servants of the Vatican, is rather amazing when you think about it.”

Panda: I suspect that the widespread Catholic rejection of Humanae Vitae went a long way toward assuaging American fears that most Catholics are “servants of the Vatican,” ordering their lives by the teachings of the Church.

#8 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On May 6, 2015 @ 3:12 pm

Sexuality is the same thing as race, in their minds, so to pass negative judgment on any sexual identity is to be no better than a racist.

Well, that is nonsense, and it is rather easy to debunk. But it needs to be taken head-on, rather than decried via the tangent of hand-wringing about “religious liberty.”

Race is an artificial construct that has meant markedly different things in a whole variety of human cultures. The notion of “white” and “black” are inventions of the last 500 years. They turn out to be no reliable predictor of much of anything about any given individual’s capabilities as a human being.

Sex is a very specific, distinct, functional, biological attribute. Even those who promote homosexuality as “normal” consider it fundamental. Every human being IS either a man, a woman, or the product of garbled genetics that gives them some attributes of each, but no third anything.

Thus, how we deal with race, and how we deal with sex, offer no meaningful or substantive analogy.

Next question.

(Incidentally, this is why “nondiscrimination against gays” and “same sex marriage” are totally distinct and different issues. Sex is fundamental to marriage. Sex is indeed as irrelevant as race to shopping for the weeks groceries, buying a car, renting or purchasing a home, etc. etc. etc.)

#9 Comment By Daniel (not Larison) On May 6, 2015 @ 3:18 pm

I also see, even in these comments, a real confusion between Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism. It’s understandable–like how many don’t see the distinction between Roman Cathlolics and big-O Orthodox.

Indeed, the term itself is ill-defined. To some, it merely means taking the Bible seriously as they understand it. Other “Evangelicals” seem committed to emotional altar calls and revivalism. And then there’s the whole Charismatic Movement, and the Prospeperity movement offshoot. Are all these Evangelicals?

The comment about the lack of Charity is powerful. Being anti-abortion and not pro-life is far to common. Being Randian in economics is terribly inconsistent with Christ’s message.

Before the late 70’s, Evangelicals were largely apolitical as a block. With the Moral Majority and other groups in that time, the alignment with right-wing politics has been corrosive to the “Evangel” part of “Evangelical”–a confusion of the kingdom of Caesar and the kingdom of Christ.

And yes, I’m one of those evangelicals who can’t see why, if we accept worship of idols in the 1st amendment, we have a consistent argument for unbelievers to follow christian morality. I also don’t see how society can forbid extending marriage recognition to incesteous couples and thruples. The “no harm” basis for civil ethics is thoroughly accepted now, but inconsistently applied. That will change, I am certain.

The retreat from politics will help the Evangelical church. Maybe re-examining theological presuppositions like dispensationalism (which is the reason so many evangelicals support the modern state of Israel) would do the church a lot of good.

And I am not a robot, though those cake images are terribly confusing.

#10 Comment By Aimai On May 6, 2015 @ 3:20 pm

I’m puzzled by this entire post. You seem to be advocating letting people know you are Christian by your love, love, love but, on the other hand, you are storing up grievances like a teenage girl on a coffee and sugar high. You are upset because, inter alia, a President elected by voters of all kinds including LGBTQ voters didn’t choose to have someone who is opposed to their civil rights speak at his inauguration? You are upset because a local public official, whose very job is paid for with everyone’s tax dollars, thought that a group which was opposed to the civil rights of LGBTQ taxpayers didn’t belong in a publicly funded school?

Also you seem to think that charitable works are done primarily by Christians and that the charitable works of other Christians should lie, like a soothing balm, across the homophobic bigotry of some other Christians. I, myself, cook for two separate homeless shelters, work with new mothers and infants in two different groups, and tutor an immigrant high school student on a weekly basis. I am neither Christian nor homophobic. I don’t seem to need my good works to be rewarded by your god, nor do I need to use them to excuse my policy preferences.

You should probably try doing some actual good works and stop worrying about whether other people are giving you credit for them. To go to a book you are presumably familiar with:

5″When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. 6″But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.…

#11 Comment By James Bradshaw On May 6, 2015 @ 4:28 pm

Charles writes: “The problem is that that public face of Evangelicalism is just plain yucky. ”

There are thoughtful and intellectual Christians who oppose gay marriage, but they sort of disappear in the crowd of obnoxious anti-gay protesters like Ruben Israel or ideologues and fanatics like Matt Barber or Peter LaBarbera who are making all the noise and producing the propaganda. It’s these latter folks who just come across as misfits or even deranged.

So what are the thoughtful ones supposed to do? Are they responsible for reigning in the excess of these others? Either they didn’t try or they didn’t succeed, because it is these irrational voices who are seen as framing that side of the debate, and that is why they are losing in the court of public opinion.

(This worked for years on the anti-gay side. Ignore the boring 90% of the Gay Pride participants and focus on the dozen hairy, fat guys in ass-less chaps or the 300-pound drag queen as if they represented the whole.)

Of course, there are as equally fanatical voices on the pro-gay side, but contrary to what some may think, there is no “Gay Inc” with some designated organizer who will serve as a spokesman. We are not a cabal that meets every Sunday over show tunes to plot the demise of heterosexual America. Who’s going to temper the extremists?

Well, those of us in the middle have to, and I think we’re the majority. The problem is that most of us do not because we end up feeling isolated when we’re taking hits on both sides, so we remain silent.

#12 Comment By EngineerScotty On May 6, 2015 @ 6:22 pm

…really? The public’s aversion to an evangelical president is all the media and same-sex marriage’s fault and has nothing to do with the fact that the last two evangelical presidents were *Bush Jr.* and *Carter*?

There seems to be a lot of confusion as to who is, and isn’t, an evangelical. Even I get confused–does the term refer to a specific denomination or denominations? To a style of witness? To belief in the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith in Christ’s atonement?

Bobby Jindal, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, and Rick Santorum are Roman Catholics. (As are Paul Ryan, Newt Gingrich, and quite a few prominent Democrats including the sitting VP).

Clinton and Carter are (or were, in the case of Carter) Southern Baptists. Huckabee is also a Southern Baptist (or was), one who publicly identifies as evangelical. Ted Cruz is a Southern Baptist.

George W. Bush publicly identifies as Evangelical, but is a practicing Methodist. (His failed presidency does evangelicals no credit). His father remains an Episcopalian. Carly Fiorina is Episcopalian. Rand Paul is a former Episcopalian, now a Presbyterian.

Ben Carson is a Seventh Day Adventist.

Michele Bachmann was a member of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, but now worships at a non-denominational Evangelical church, or something like that.

Sarah Palin is a Pentacostal.

Did I forget anyone? 🙂

Part of the problem, I suppose, is that for many folk, “evangelical” has come to mean “obnoxious busybody”–and many of the public faces of evangelism, especially those contending for the 2016 GOP nomination, come off poorly.

#13 Comment By Optatus Cleary On May 6, 2015 @ 6:53 pm

I would suggest that a big part of the misunderstanding and anger in this debate stems from a lack of nuance in understanding the variety of positions on the issue.

The average American thinks there are two opinions on homosexuality: for or against.

I suggest there are four broad opinions, each with internal nuance. I would call them “non-essentialist pro,” “non-essentialist anti,” “essentialist pro” and “essentialist anti.”

The non-essentialists think sexuality is fluid, mutable, perhaps “chosen” or “culturally influenced.” The essentialists think it is genetic, or at least deep-seated enough to be immutable.

The non-essentialists who are in favor of homosexuality tend to be the most extreme cultural libertarians, the types who predict a universally bisexual future, etc.

The non-essentialists who oppose homosexuality tend to be the religious conservative types Mr. Dreher discusses. They view sexuality as having certain moral limits, and see homosexual behavior as a sinful choice, similar to adultery or polygamy. However, as non-essentialists, this group is also less likely to express true disgust or hatred for gay people (everyone has sinned, etc.)

The essentialist pro-homosexuality group hardly need description. The average liberal or moderate position, the standard consensus. Gay people are born gay, treating their orientation as different from straight people’s orientation is bigotry and hatred.

The essentialist anti-homosexuality group is the most hypothetical to me. I think of it as the “schoolyard bully” position. These are the people who think gay people are gross, weird, and possibly diseased. They sometimes use “non-essentialist” language (why would anyone want to be gay?, etc) but ultimately are revolted by what gay people are, not what they do. Of course, few people admit to being part of this group. However, I suspect this group constitutes the previous, unspoken cultural consensus. I suspect that much of the discrimination gay people suffer stems from the attitudes of these individuals.

I developed this when, as a teacher, I noticed Evangelical and orthodox Catholic teachers defending gay kids from irreligious, libertine, heterosexual bullies. While that is of course to be expected (what decent teacher would accept bullying?) I think it speaks to a greater divide.

In other words, I suspect that the non-essentialist types who oppose gay marriage on religious grounds are a bit shocked by what their political opponents think they are. But, for years they faced no opposition because the majority agreed with then that homosexual behavior was wrong. If the consensus is on your side, you don’t ask whether everyone’s using the same logic.

#14 Comment By KD On May 6, 2015 @ 11:33 pm

Optatus Cleary raises an interesting point, with respect to essentialism and non-essentialism in sexuality.

But I suspect that these essentialist attitudes owe a cultural archeology to the mental health establishment, which does sort people into boxes based on observable behavioral dispositions (which is only possible through ignoring intermediate cases). But since psychology is “science” after all, we don’t have to think critically about its conceptual assumptions, its political foundations (a mental illness is what a corporate body of mental health professionals decides to incorporate into the DSM–similar to a procedure used successfully by the Orthodox Church in Byzantium), its political uses or its methodological blinders.

I think this kind of personal/type based essentialism is part and parcel of the types of social control we find pervasive in consumer capitalism, where there are no moral truths, but there are psycho/political categories that can be invoked to justify political repression (incarceration, forced drugging, etc.) and used downstream in the family courts, schools, and on other altars of enlightened decision-making.

#15 Comment By A. G. Phillbin On May 7, 2015 @ 2:20 am

Although I am a self described atheist, I have to say AMEN! to Ethel Ryan’s post. This is exactly the impression so many publicly known Evangelical politicians and preachers have created. It’s as if only professed sexual morality is important, and all the rest can be sacrificed on it’s altar. So you make an alliance with people who opportunistically promote your views on sex, Ayn Rand’s views on economics and social class, and foreign policy views that could have been designed by “Dutch” Schultz. And you wonder why no one loves you?

#16 Comment By Johannes On May 7, 2015 @ 6:31 am

One problem is that as I understand the traditional (e.g Thomist) position, this is strongly essentialist wrt to sex and gender roles but simply does not accept that there could be someone essentially homosexual. Because essences are normative and homosexual leanings are deviant. As brutal as it may sound, from the standpoint of this traditional essentialism, there can be no “homosexual identity” any more than there could be an identity of persons born without legs qua lacking legs. Both can only be understood as a regrettable and dysfunctional state. Because following the appetites resulting from this disorder is always wrong/sinful, the only solutions are celibacy or “forcing” oneself to heterosexual marriage.

This position might seem strange and unkind but it should be noted that a) most of us still hold a very similar position wrt e.g. paedophilia and b) it was very common in almost all cultures, including atheist psychology and psychotherapy, until 40-50 years ago.

#17 Comment By KD On May 7, 2015 @ 8:36 am


You can have descriptive categories (“normal” versus “deviant”) which are rigid (for example, mental health you have descriptions of “behavioral” illnesses, the absence of which defines “health”). But bundled into this framework is a hierarchy between categories (health/illness), and the point of mental health is make sick people healthy. Paraphilias are categories of people who the State is justified in hospitalizing for the remainder of their natural lives, whether or not they have ever been adjudicated (or completed a sentence) for crimes. “Homosexuality” started as a paraphilia, but got upgraded to “normal”. Thus, the progressive gay rights movement is about “normalizing” gay relationships and making them the new Bourgeois. But we are stuck with “difference” while difference is now equal, separate but equal. Presumably, “homosexuality” differs from paraphilias because it doesn’t “harm” people (recognizing that the concept of “harm” is culturally embedded, and what is viewed as “harm” in Saudi is not the same as “harm” in America, e.g. in Saudi harm is arbitrarily defined by Clerics, in America harm is arbitrarily defined by Social Scientists.)

The main difference between secular psychology and religious psychology is that religion starts with an exemplar of the Good, whether it be Christ, Buddha, or Mohammad, and a managerie of holy people. The population is then “normed” in relationship to the exemplar, and the purpose of the psychology is the uplift of the many.

In contrast, in mental health, the average person is supposedly the norm, and uplift is only possible for deviants. The only people in the therapeutic state for whom life can have some kind of telos are the deviants, and their cure results in the disappearance of purpose. This results in a glorification and a horror-faction with deviants, and the only spiritual life is possible within self-degradation, and really only so long as degradation persists. Moreover, because it lacks stable foundation (after all, most normal people probably can be given a diagnostic code) and because deviance is un-derived from stable tradition, it all just blows in the wind with elite fads in opinion. You get this strange crypto-theocracy (resembling the contemporary Episcopal Church) exercising political and cultural power without question or accountability and which ultimately promotes illness.

#18 Comment By KD On May 7, 2015 @ 9:38 am

We compare confession with therapy.

A person sins, feels guilt, goes to confession, obtains absolution.

In contrast, a person feels guilty about behaviors and/or identity, goes to the therapy, and the therapist absolves the person ontologically (these behaviors, these feelings you have are normal).

The difference is that the priest cannot withhold absolution, but the therapist can withhold ontological affirmation (you are in fact a sick deviant and must be confined to a therapeutic environment). Moreover, the priest works in tandem with the development of an individual’s inner moral life, whereas the therapists role is to de-legitimate an inner moral life, and supplant the role of the conscience with an external authority figure.

#19 Comment By KD On May 7, 2015 @ 9:50 am

The difference is conceptual. A tradition like Catholicism starts with the Soul (which is good and created in the Image and Likeness of God) but which is marred by sin, leading to the expression of evil. The inner spiritual domain becomes embodied in the world.

Psychology starts from behavior, and then imputes invisible behavioral modules as the causes of behavior. Because “orientation” cannot be cured (the behavioral module cannot be re-programmed), it is necessary to judge bad “orientations” and cast out or confine the bearers of bad behavioral modules, just as it is necessary to accept good “orientations”. Just look at laws and cases ordering lifetime civil commitments for “sexual predators” (something you won’t find in Aquinas).

#20 Comment By KD On May 7, 2015 @ 10:05 am

Wittgenstein, in his critique of private language, established that the outside is in, and the inside is out. The real question is do we give primacy to the “First Person” or do we reduce the “First Person” to the “third person”. Linguistically, we can only agree on third person statements because two persons agree in their judgments. If you look at naturalism for what it is, it is the attempt to re-define “First Person” statements into the third person, which is why it is hokum, despite the proliferation of third person observations and historic correlations between observations. Only a fool would deny the existence and autonomy of the First Person.

#21 Comment By KD On May 7, 2015 @ 10:18 am

“I am that I am”–how can that be translated into third person observation statements? If it can’t be understood naturalistically, how can it be used by groups of people as a meaningful identifier?

#22 Comment By hooly On May 7, 2015 @ 4:20 pm

“There’s a racist joke that speaks to an ugly truth here: “Q: What do you call a millionaire black brain surgeon? A. [racial slur].” The idea is that for people who hate black folks, nothing that black folks do matters; it’s who they are that the racist cares about. Similarly, for many (though certainly not all) modern people liberal conviction, it doesn’t matter that orthodox Christians serve the poor, or do good in their own communities. What matters is their stance on homosexuality.”

Rod, seriously? You’re always giving gays grief for comparing their struggle to the Civil Rights Struggle and comparing themselves to Blacks, … now you’re doing it with Christians. Maybe you’re both right, maybe you’re both wrong ??

#23 Comment By Howard On May 8, 2015 @ 9:59 am

An important distinction is whether these “evangelicals” are just in favor of same sec marriage at civil law, or whether they favor same sex holy matrimony in their churches. The latter is heretical, the former is not.

#24 Comment By David Lloyd-Jones On May 8, 2015 @ 2:20 pm


You’re missing the big things happening in the “Evangelical” world, perhaps because of your apparent monomaniacal concern with politics.

The Red State Religious, to invent a more accurate term, are divided at least three ways, by generation or age; by dogma between Evangelicals and Charismatics, i.e. neo-Calvinists versus Arminians; and by commitment, between the actually Christian and the merely Republican-authoritarian.

The press, like the loonier of the Republican candidates, can only see one fairly large slice of this, what we might call the Richard Viguerie Christians. These are a strong force, having just re-elected Sam Brownback, perhaps the most representative of their type, but they are by no means a majority of Red State Christians.

The problem with the Biblolatry of the old is that it leads some of the young into reading the Bible. Here they are likely to run across, e.g., the Sermon on the Mount or Matthew 25, and some of these youngsters are going to be asking about this Bernie Sanders fella. Never forget, the Red States are the ones where Norman Thomas and Eugene Debs ran up their respectable votes.

The Evangelical-Charismatic verbal violence is likely to be found by the MSM at some point. Then the whole Republican obeisance to very white sepulchers will become even more ridiculed than it is.

The Koch Brothers and their ilk are going to be making the fake Christianity of the GOP even grosser and more disgusting than it has been up to now. This will cause even more Red State Christians to stay home on election day.



#25 Comment By Another Matt On May 8, 2015 @ 3:08 pm

Some evangelicals don’t think it’s heretical because they don’t take an inerrant view of scripture, and they don’t have a Magisterium to guide them. They’re going instead on Jesus’ radical inclusion, which I think is a defensible position.

#26 Comment By Thomas On May 8, 2015 @ 6:15 pm

Being more comfortable with a Homosexual as president than an evavgelical maxes sense in that I have no.reason to think he holds opinions I disagree with like that the Earth is 6019 years old or that the state ought not recognize same sec marriages or that it’s ok for Israel to let it’s citizens settle in.the occupied territories.

#27 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On May 9, 2015 @ 7:40 pm

I’d be happy to have a gay person as president, so long as they promised not to use the White House as a bully pulpit for gay marriage, so long as their policy views agree with mine on issues important to me, like not giving Israel a blank check, raising the minimum wage, removing obstacles to union organizing, putting all able bodied welfare recipients into union-supervised apprenticeship programs building high speed rail… There is zero guarantee that any given gay candidate would support any of these.

I would be happy to have an evangelical Christian as president, so long as they publicly refused funding from Ken Copeland, Creflo Dollar, Joyce Myers, and anyone else investigated by the Trinity Foundation and/or the Republican senator from Iowa, so long as they made the commitment John F. Kennedy made, that if any conflict arose between their oath to uphold the constitution and the tenets of their faith, they would resign the office, and so long as they agree on all the issues important to me (see above). There are such evangelicals, but again, zero guarantee that any given evangelical would be the right one.

#28 Comment By Kurt Taube On May 10, 2015 @ 12:05 am

The issue is not that some Christians refuse to accept same-sex marriage, or homosexuality in general, based on their sincerely held religious beliefs. The issue is that they insist on imposing those views on all of society through the force of secular law.

#29 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On May 10, 2015 @ 8:27 pm

That’s one issue Kurt. Another issue is that those who favor SSM insist that they have a constitutional right to the approbation of the community, when a plausible argument could be made that what two men, or two women, share, however passionate and fulfilling it may be, simply does not constitute a marriage.

#30 Comment By Kurt Taube On May 11, 2015 @ 12:07 am

Public approbation is all well and good, but equal recognition is better. If the U.S. doesn’t stand for equal treatment under the law for all citizens, what does it stand for?

#31 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On May 11, 2015 @ 11:33 am

Kurt, what do you mean by “equal treatment under the law”? We all agree on that as a principle. We obviously disagree on exactly what it means when applied to a specific set of facts.

For instance, you imply, but are too pompously axiomatic to state forthrightly, that gay people have been denied equal access to marriage, as a class.

I deny that they are a class, for purpose of marriage law, and I deny that there has been any unequal treatment.

You imply the question “What rational basis is there to deny gay people access to marriage?”

I pose the different, and equally valid question, “Does the union of two men, or two women, constitute a marriage?”

If it does not, then nobody has been denied equal treatment, they merely have entered into something that is NOT a marriage.

No marriage law singled out “homosexuals” as a class for disparate treatment. Many marriage laws were written without any thought that there was such a class, and the rest were written without the slightest notion that anyone gay would want to be married.

Thus, this is a ripe debate for discretionary disposition by the legislative process, and without any sound constitutional foundation.

When it comes to that debate, I don’t much care. My state legislature could VOTE to create the perfectly serviceable legal fiction of “gay marriage” and I wouldn’t devote a single second to raising questions about it. I don’t much care. I care a lot that whining narcissists are twisting the fundamentals of the constitution in pursuit of the nostrum “I want it, I want it now, and I have a constitutional right to what I want,” which is a mislocation that goes far beyond the gay movement.

#32 Comment By Kurt Taube On May 11, 2015 @ 1:49 pm

Let’s be clear about the difference between “holy matrimony,” which is a religious construct, and “marriage,” which is a civil contract based in law. We can debate whether a same-sex couple fits either of our definitions of holy matrimony. We can’t debate whether same-sex couples were treated equally under the law with regard to the rights and privileges of marriage prior to 2003 in any state or now in the states in which it is still not legal. They’re not.


#33 Comment By WhatGives On May 14, 2015 @ 10:19 am

Gays account for less than 4% of the population yet somehow dominate all political conversations lately.
Meanwhile, we are involved in several wars and military actions all over the world.
we have a drug and disease epidemics
we are facing several serious domestric threats including the loss of American jobs and the American dream.
I’m not a basher but what gives?