Gagging on the Gospel Coalition: Why A Reflex Isn’t A Measure of Sin

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When I had my wisdom teeth removed several years ago, I felt as if I was going to choke to death. Awake, but sedated, I kept gagging on something. It was something unnatural and awful. I was convinced a piece of my tooth had broken off and gotten caught in my throat.

I became frantic, gagging and choking.

I couldn’t get enough oxygen.

I gasped for air, but found none.

“I can’t breathe!” I croaked to my dentist. “I’m choking on something!”

My dentist calmly put a hand on me, and in a lilting Southern drawl, said, “Honey, the only thing in your mouth is your uvula.”

That’s right. I was gagging on my own throat. I wasn’t gagging on a nasty bit of broken tooth. I wasn’t gagging on something that was out of place or in the wrong location. I was gagging on something perfectly natural. Or perhaps, more accurately, I was gagging on a figment of my imagination.

And my inability to understand that damn near killed me.

Or at least I thought it would.

This, it seems to me, is the best way to explain the hate-filled, homophobic, and crass article posted by The Gospel Coalition, suggesting that opponents of same-sex marriage should play up “the gag reflex” of the issue. Apparently, the author assumes that describing same-sex relationships in the bedroom causes people to have a gut-wrenching, Holy-Spirit convicting gag reflex experience.

In reality, much like I was in that dentist’s chair, the Gospel Coalition is gagging on a fiction. Only theirs isn’t a imaginary tooth fragment, but a homophobic, hate-filled worldview that sees gay and lesbian people as something that will make them sick to their stomachs. It represents an outdated and poorly exegeted understanding of a few cherry-picked texts from the Bible (and an even worse understanding of sexuality). Worse, it is about as far away from the spirit and teaching of Jesus as I can imagine — to imagine a group of human beings as sickening.

A more faithful position, instead of wanting to throw up at the mention of gay sex, would be to advocate for equality for LGBTQ+ persons under the law and within our religious institutions. No one should have to live closeted, though we shouldn’t be surprised if change and equality makes the privileged and powerful queasy. It always does.

But, of course, we all know a gag reflex isn’t a spiritual warning sign that something is sinful. And it’s absurd to suggest otherwise. (Which is good because, well, a third of adults don’t have a gag reflex, which I’m sure is a part of the gay-medical community’s secret agenda to rid god-fearing heterosexuals of their gag/sin reflex.)

And it’s a shame, too, that I can’t use my gag reflex as a way to identify sin. Because then all the things I hate would wind up being — quite conveniently — a sin, and I would have an excuse to avoid anything that brings me discomfort.

I would never have to change out the litter box again. Nor would I ever have to squish a roach. Giving blood would be out of the question. I wouldn’t have to clean my children’s bathroom, or at least the part where they miss the toilet — every single time! I would never have to sing sappy worship songs.When my children are sick and vomiting all over themselves and the bed, well, too bad, it makes me gag, which means their vomit is sinful and I don’t have to clean it up. And I would never, ever, have to eat mushrooms again with their gag-inducing, sinful nature.

And this is the problem with understanding a natural biological response — the gag reflex — as the body’s way of warning that sin and danger is near.

It’s asinine.

That, and it would put all dentists out of business.

But imagine if it were true.

Imagine if we went around gagging every time we encountered sin in the world.

Imagine if we gagged at every time we witnessed or experienced racism; every time we witnessed injustice in the form of systemic poverty and hunger; every time we witnessed sexism; every time we witnessed oppression; every time we witnessed homophobia that treated our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters as anything less than beloved human beings who deserve the same rights as heterosexuals.

The streets would run with bile.

Our world would stink with the kind of sin it is already filled with:

Racism.

Sexism.

Homophobia.

Come to think of it, I suppose the Gospel Coalition has done us all a favor. It’s done exactly this.

It’s revealed the vile stench of hate coming from it.

____

Don’t get angry. Do something. Donate to SAFE Samford the LGBTQ organization at Samford University, whose divinity school advisory board includes Gospel Coalition editors. Donate to the Gay Christian Network. Donate to your local LGBTQ Gay-Straight Alliance or marriage equality organization or march in a Pride parade. Do something!

 

About David R. Henson

David Henson received his Master of Arts from Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, after receiving a Lilly Grant for religious education for journalists. He ordained in the Episcopal Church as a priest. He is a father of two young sons and the husband of a medical school student.

  • RelapsedCatholic

    Well said. My daughter expresses absolutely no disgust when her uncle kisses his boyfriend, does this mean she lacks a basic moral compass? No it just means she has not yet internalized society’s social norms.

  • Baby_Raptor

    I like how he thought those descriptions were graphic. I almost wanted to write out an actually graphic description in the comments, but…That probably would not have gone over well.

  • Roger Wolsey

    re: bigots, “Gag me with a loon!”

  • Porter Lager

    As a youth, besides realizing that I, a male, liked other men, I also discovered that the thought of sex with a woman would cause me to, well, gag. Using the “minister’s” own yardstick, heterosexuality is sinful.

    Thank you to the author of the article here, who is more considering.

  • thing1

    This was perfect. Thank you.

  • dmr5090

    Wow. I have no words. This article is so intellectually dishonest, and the link you posted allegedly “clobbering” Biblical objections to homosexuality is so exegetically poor, I could…oh wait…never mind.

    Why is it that just about every counter-example with respect to gagging has to do with amoral matters? Vomit and cleaned toilets have nothing to do with anything. Take the “gag reflex” into the moral arena: Should we not be disgusted by rape? Are you, David, not disgusted by hate? To draw irrelevant parallels with vomit and uvulas does anything BUT help us think clearly about the issues at hand. Say that you don’t think homosexual acts are sinful, and then we can have a genuine discussion about what the Bible says (that is, if you grant its authority. If you don’t, we ought to start further back.)

    The “gag reflex” term was not Thabiti’s own, but was that of an openly gay journalist, as a metaphor for conscience conviction. You grant that, and then go on to talk about everything but conscience. How can you expect any thoughtful person to take you seriously when you pigeonhole an entire magazine–a whole man–on the basis of one article? How about you also refer to Thabiti’s countless essays combating racism? How about you mention the integrity in his defense of abuse victims? How about you mention the justice ministries his church (and TGC) have been involved in since the beginning? But that’s right, you won’t–you hate them.

    I have to say, I hear a lot of hate coming from this article.

    • dmr5090

      I hope, for your sake, that the grace you withhold from Thabiti is not likewise withheld from you.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/davidhenson David R. Henson

      First, you do have words. A lot of them, so let’s be honest.

      I disagree with your understanding of the exegesis of those biblical passages. But this post isn’t about the exegesis of those passages. Unfortunately, though, you are a guest commenting in my blog space here, and you don’t get to set the terms of our discussion so I encourage you not to try to chase rabbits (“Say that you don’t think homosexual acts are sinful, and then we can have a genuine discussion about what the Bible says (that is, if you grant its authority. If you don’t, we ought to start further back.)”) as a way of distracting from the real issue: The a hateful and crass article. (Notice it is the article’s content, not its author I am confronting).

      The problem is the gag reflex really has no place in the moral arena, because it is subjective and dehumanizing. And I will warn you not to associated gay sex with rape.

      No one has pigeonholed or has said the author is a bad person or doesn’t deserve grace. What has been said is he wrote a really awful article that was deeply offensive and deeply homophobic.

      That is not hate. It is criticism.

      • dmr5090

        David, I did not associate gay sex with rape. I associated disgust with moral claims, and contrasted that form of disgust against amoral matters. Let’s indeed be clear.

        And if we can grant that homosexual acts are sinful (just like heterosexual extramarital sex, or divorce), then we should also be agreed that Thabiti’s article–even at the level of content–was neither hateful nor dehumanizing. For, as you yourself said: there is a distinction between attacking the person and attacking their views. I very much agree with you. So I merely ask for you to be consistent: This is no different from the distinction between attacking persons’ behavior and the persons themselves. The tone of your article and the tone of Thabiti’s depend on the same crucial distinction.

        And insofar as that sense of moral sensibility (“disgust”) is in line with Scripture (since this *is* the real issue), it is anything but subjective. Indeed, it is the only anchor into objectivity available to humanity.

      • http://patheos.com/blogs/davidhenson David R. Henson

        Let’s stick to the topic at hand and the terms used: gag reflex over homosexuality not “disgust with moral matters.”

        Again, you are begging the question in your entire post, inserting your assumption and conclusion on your premise (all of paragraph 2 & 3). It’s poor and disingenuous dialogue, and I respectfully, again for a second time, to stay on point. I will not ask again.

        The point is the article’s absurd, homophobic, crass, hateful, and anti-LGBTQ rhetoric that conveys the notion that lesbian and gay sex should trigger a gag reflex, and this is a sign of its moral wrongness.

        Now if you do not find the article in question to be offensive, then I encourage you to say so and express yourself with dignity.

      • dmr5090

        I can say with clarity that I believe homosexual acts to be sinful in the eyes of God, as are all extra-marital sexual acts, as is racism, as is greed, as is materialism. They all trigger God’s gag reflex. Homosexuality is one such trigger, because: it is a perversion of what God instituted as “good” in the garden, it undermines Scripture’s marriage analogy between Christ and the Church, and it is one of God’s commands on his people that changes least in form intercanonically and throughout redemptive history.

        Now I would encourage you to the same clarity: Are homosexual acts sinful? Yes, or no? And if you say No, then I should want to know whether you grant the Bible’s authority.

        And my apologies. You are right about the assumption behind my premise. I hope you’re willing to clarify for me by answering the above question.

      • http://patheos.com/blogs/davidhenson David R. Henson

        Ah, so now we have it. Your issue isn’t with anything I say so much as you truly believe homosexuality worthy of inducing a gag reflex, and further it induces one in God. This, of course, is absurd and fundamentally misunderstands the character of God. In other words, you agree with the Gospel Coalition’s article. Thank you for, for the first time, owning your position and not attempting to insinuate your position into my position through begging the question into my position. This represents progress.

        Your issue is with homosexuality, not with me or my post. And your frustration and interrogation of me speaks to this. It is a projection of your own experience of a gag reflex to homosexuality being called into question. Your discomfort is made evident by your inability to dialogue and your need to interrogate.

        I think you and I have fundamental differences. I am okay with that. I believe your reading of the issue is deeply flawed and deeply offensive, both to LGBTQ+ persons (and those who support them) as well as to God.

        Asking me to clarify my position is disingenuous and a red herring, given I’ve already articulated it in the post. If you have any further questions, I encourage you to re-read the post and explore the wealth of information on my positions and perspectives that I have outlined on this blog for the past two years. Usually, this kind of interrogation is a pro forma script that attempts to lead a an argument to familiar ground rather than engages in dialogue about the initial subject (i.e. a red herring)

        It is unhelpful and disingenuous to turn discussions about the hate-filled, absurd, and homophobic post at TGC into an interrogation of one’s understanding of Scripture. It is a red herring, and disingenuous argumentation.

        Thus far your comments have relied upon two logical fallacies. Sadly the progress you made by avoiding begging the question has been undone by your inability to stick to the topic at hand.

        I wish you peace. I will not respond further to your comments because you have not shown yourself to be capable of dialogue or putting forth your perspective without logical fallacies or blatant attempts at interrogation.

        It is enough to say you disagree. Had you said as much, I would have had much more respect for you.

      • dmr5090

        Dave. The arrogance of this post is staggering. The tone oozes with condescension and triumphalism. “Your views are absurd, you misunderstand, your arguments are flawed, and offensive to God. (But I won’t tell you why I think that.) Your questions are disingenuous. Your arguments rely on logical fallacies that I’m not going to type out–I’m just going to claim it and expect you to see what I see. You have an inability to dialogue. And whatever progress you would have made has been undone. So, I’m not going to dialogue with you anymore, because you’re incapable of it. But let me help you, O helpless commenter: take my class–learn from me and my blog, and let me teach you from the wealth of information posted on my blog…”

        This, too, induces my gag reflex.

        I take issue with just about everything you’ve said. I think your arguments depend on logical fallacies (which I will actually outline clearly): your entries of vomit and toilet cleaning don’t compare like with like (amoral gagging / moral gagging). Yes, I agree with TGC’s article that homosexual acts are sinful; that every person has a God-given conscience, and that when the euphemisms that hide sin are unmasked to show sin in its explicit, unfiltered state, it rubs up against our moral sensitivities and yes, is “gross”–no more or less gross than extra-marital sex, no more or less gross than racism or divorce–but yes, homosexual acts are sinful, and to God are therefore “gross.”

        Thus I do believe homosexual acts induce a gag reflex in God. I do not locate the warrant for that belief in my own gag reflex. I locate it in Scripture. What do you do with Revelation 3:16? Or is that another red herring?

        If you think interrogative questions are intrinsically a “projection of discomfort,” I wonder whether you believe Jesus was expressing discomfort when he inquired of the Pharisees concerning John’s baptism (Mark 11:30).

        You still did not respond to my charge that the distinction you made in your original response between attacking an author and their view is the same distinction you attack Thabiti for making–between sin and sinner. THAT point was NOT, as you triumphalistically declare, “begging the question.” What I conceded was that when I said in my second post that homosexual acts were sinful, I was assuming a premise. That was true. (But even so, I still qualified that statement by saying “IF we grant…” which, for the sake of trying to advance the conversation, we let go.)

        Let those who read this post judge for themselves whether or not I have an “inability to dialogue.”

        If you feel my positions on the matter are deeply offensive to God, tell me plainly why. For, if you’re right about this matter, and I am in sin in the views I hold, then I very much would like to know so that I may repent and change my views. I mean this with all of the sincerity I can muster. Neither of us wants power to be subjective–person subjugating person. Authority belongs properly to the text, and the Scripture is our adjudicator. If it can be shown by the Word of God that I am in error, then I must indeed change my view. I hope you would have the humility to do the same.

        And you’re simply wrong about my asking you to clarify your position, David. Neither evangelicals nor the gay community tolerate fence-straddlers. You may have a high horse to sit on not giving me a straight answer. I don’t need one in order to have a better day. But I’m telling you, you do the gay community no favors by withholding a solid “No” from them to the question, “Are homosexual acts sinful?” The gay community deserves an honest answer from you, just as they deserve one from me. You are not a friend to them by hiding your convictions behind brush-stroke condemnations of TGC and Thabiti’s article. It is your unwillingness to define your position–your need to be “above it all” and not articulate an actual position–*that*, Dave, is intellectually disingenuous. The right thing to do would be for you not to hide your convictions in the shadows. If you believe homosexual acts to be sinful, do say so. If not, then say so. The gay community deserves an answer.

        And had you had the grace to interpret Thabiti’s article with more charity, or responded to a concession without triumphalism, I should have believed you more sincere.

      • Philmonomer

        (first time reader of this blog).

        Absolutely fascinating exchange between dmr5090 and David. I think I’ve read the whole exchange at least 3 times.

        dmr5090,
        I’d recommend the “search” function on this blog. Just putting in the term “homosexuality” led me to this post (which I think answers everything in your second to last paragraph):

        http://www.patheos.com/blogs/davidhenson/2012/05/amendment-one-and-an-angry-lament-of-a-native-son/

        I suspect the search function will be of great help in answering your other concerns as well.

      • dmr5090

        Hey there Phil, thanks for this. As you suggested, I ran a search, but the search was unfortunately generic across the patheos website comprehensively. What I was hoping for, searching for, was a straight, honest answer from David personally as to whether or not he believes homosexual acts are sinful. I get the impression his answer is “No,” but I think it would take great courage for him to give a resolute, explicit “yes” or “no,” qualified by however much prose he feels necessary. He and I may disagree, but at least at that point, dialogue could be productive. My guess is, Dave isn’t interested in pursuing questions of hermeneutics or exegesis. He’d rather pass those questions to Sandlin (whose tone should make his scholarly objectivity obvious……the link is posted to Sandlin’s exegetical analysis entitled “Clobbering ‘Biblical gay-bashing.’” Does anyone really believe Sandlin has listened sympathetically to his opponents such that they may take his refutations seriously with a title like that? Whether he’s listened sympathetically to counter-arguments or not, his own exegesis is, imo, gravely, gravely mistaken. But at the end of the day, **you have to -go- there** to press the conversation forward.)

        And there is no way to press dialogue forward toward consensus if both sides do not make their positions explicit, or their respective rationales. Dave has given his position in a sense, but it is a generic, above-the-fray, brush-stroke condemnation of TGC sense. David is like that sniper shooting from a mountaintop in hiding. He doesn’t have to get his hands dirty. He doesn’t have to commit to a position and entertain the harder questions. He can just stay above everyone and (metaphorically) aim at TGC. (And if you aim back, he’ll dismiss arguments and offer you free lessons from the progressive Christian blog, so that you may gain wisdom from its wealth of information. How charitable.)

        If he says that homosexual acts are not sinful, he knows that questions will be raised on his stance on Biblical authority. If he says that they are sinful, he would have to grant that God is “grossed out” by them (though he could still, of course, disagree with Thabiti’s tone). Biblical authority is therefore not a red herring. His views on it constitute the premise behind his sweeping condemnation of TGC. That conversation, where David’s hands get dirty with everyone else’s–as any good shepherd should smell a bit like sheep–that is what I would hope to find in such a search.

      • Philmonomer

        Thanks for the response, although it puzzles me. Did you read the blog post that I linked to?

      • http://patheos.com/blogs/davidhenson David R. Henson

        I have banned this commenter. His comment here represents a clear third logical fallacy, a false dilemma (his final paragraph) and and further inability to dialogue without disingenuous argumentation. He was warned twice. As I have made clear, the issue to address is the hateful TGC post. The commenter has expressed his agreement with TGC’s post.

        I will not remove his comments however; that way no one can claim his voice was silenced. His comments were longer than the blog post itself. If anyone wishes to continue this conversation with commenter elsewhere in good faith (not to harass him), he can be found on twitter by searching the handle he has used in this forum.

      • Frank

        Yes it is more convenience t to ban someone who has schooled you than learn anything or admit you are wrong. Well done.

      • http://patheos.com/blogs/davidhenson David R. Henson

        Unfortunately, I don’t find disingenuous argumentation, which employ logical fallacies, to constitute being “schooled.” As the host and moderator of this blog, it is important that this is a safe space for my readers, some of whom are LGBTQ+ persons. Repeatedly calling those people and/or their sexual orientations “disgusting” or gag-reflex inducing is not acceptable here. Dehumanizing language is very close to hate speech and that is not tolerated here, either.

      • Frank

        Well its sad that you are not able to see the truth of the situation. Calling any sinful behavior disgusting is truth. And yes you lost the argument. Wisdom would require you to admit that fact.

      • http://patheos.com/blogs/davidhenson David R. Henson

        It’s humorous that you think I was arguing. I quite clearly refused to argue with the commenter. What I did was critique the logical fallacies in his argument and request he engage with the point of the post — the hateful, homophobic TGC post. A clear reading of the exchange requires you to admit this fact. :)

        This is the second time you’ve linked my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters to being disgusting. This is not allowed in this space.

      • Frank

        I get it. No one likes to admit their position is fallacious. But really you are embarrassing yourself. I suspect that you will cowardly ban me now as well in the guise of some measure of distorted justice,

      • http://patheos.com/blogs/davidhenson David R. Henson

        I agree. It was hard for the commenter to see the logical fallacies in his argument, much less to admit them. In fact, the exegesis in Rev. Sandlin’s article (which I linked to) is largely sound, right down to his analysis of the original language of the texts. The problem is that the assumption is that no one can hold the position of not believing homosexuality is a sin without dismissing the bible. The opposite is true. It is precisely the seriousness with which I engage with the Scriptures that lead me to my positions.

        But when commenters imply that a position I hold de fact means I do not believe the Scriptures have merit (“authority”), the commenter in question is not interested in dialogue but in fractious attacking through false dichotomies and a facile, literalist reading of the Scriptures (which do great violence to the text and the history of its interpretation).

        So, yes, I get. No, I’m not embarrassing myself. It is either/or constructions and constructing one’s attacks through logical fallacies in the guise of dialogue that is embarrassing and painfully transparent. Continuing to repeat “You’re wrong! You’re wrong!” as your last two comments do come across as childish and schoolyard.

      • Frank

        And denying the truth of scripture about the sinfulness of homosexual behavior and the truth of what I say about your assertions is the ultimate in immaturity. Well done!

      • http://patheos.com/blogs/davidhenson David R. Henson

        Denying “the truth of what I say about your assertions.” <– Wow. Just wow.

      • Philmonomer

        Double wow is right.

  • Caridad

    THANK YOU! I have been searching the internet for some Christian voice who is willing to take a stand on this. For so long, I’ve only found Christians who say, “Gays make me gag” or “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” They were either strongly, hatefully opposed to homosexuality, or they were wishy-washy-don’t-want-to-make-anyone-mad. I couldn’t find any Christian voices that would intelligently articulate the existing theological reasons for homosexuality NOT being a sin. So much of the “sex advice” in the Bible has to do with social structures that no longer exist, and much of what Paul said about homosexuality was actually about pederasty (aka pedophilia for rich, educated men). It was not about the committed homosexual relationships that we see today, or that may have been hidden centuries ago. THIS blog is what I have been looking for. An intelligent, faithful voice
    that clarifies that the sin does not lie in homosexuality, but in the hatred
    of our fellow human beings.

  • http://brgulker.wordpress.com/ brgulker

    I don’t understand what’s so revolting about gay sex. Heterosexual sex is just as “gross.”

  • http://willandgraced.tumblr.com/ William Watson Birch

    Wow! T H A N K Y O U ! The gag story was powerful: ” I wasn’t gagging on something that was out of place or in the wrong location. I was gagging on something perfectly natural. Or perhaps, more accurately, I was gagging on a figment of my imagination.”

  • Frank

    Sin should disgust us. If it does not then we have not fully surrendered to Gods Will. This is what happens when we try to normalize sin. Sin becomes our master and we longer see anything wrong with it.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/davidhenson David R. Henson

      Much like hatred and bigotry of entire groups, including LGBTQ+ persons.

  • http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/ Lothar Lorraine

    Hello David,
    I’ve had very frustrating “interactions” with the folks of the Gospel Coalation who all too often censure your comments if they’re too challenging for their worldview.

    I think that this whole idea of a sinful nature we inherit as God’s curse leads to consequences which are profoundly blasphemous.
    According to this perverse theology, God punishing the mistake of one man by cursing billions of his descendents, giving them a “sinful nature” which automatically leads them to sin and makes them damnable.

    Homophoby is only one of the consequence of a belief in such a psychotic deity.

    Lovely greetings from continental Europe.

    Lothars Sohn – Lothar’s son
    http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com

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