When conscience and ‘obedience’ pull in opposite directions

A couple weeks ago we looked at a helpful short post from Danny Coleman in which he discussed the anxious conflict gnawing at many Christians who are reluctantly convinced that obedience to God’s Law requires them to be unkind, unjust and unloving to LGBT people. Coleman pithily describes those Christians’ dilemma:

They do not hate or fear LBGT people. They fear God. They carry a perception of the wrathful Old Testament God who will destroy cities or nations if “sin” is found in the camp. … Attempts to reconcile this ancient God of wrath with the God of love and inclusion that Jesus represented tend to create a sort of cognitive and spiritual dissonance. And so, most Christians don’t hate and fear gays — they really want to love them. What they fear is God’s wrath and what they hate is the idea of the destruction God will bring down if LGBT people are accepted — if “sin” is allowed.

The problem is that even for Christians bound by such a stunted view of sin, conscience says something else. Conscience tells them that even if they don’t feel fear or hatred, behaving as if they fear or hate others is still wrong. So they feel trapped — torn between the conflicting demands of conscience and “obedience.” If they avoid the guilt of sinful disobedience by allowing “sinful” others in the camp, they incur the guilt of mistreating those others. Conscience pulls them toward love of the other; “obedience” pulls them in the other direction.

You can see the enormous strain of this being-pulled-apart in a recent guest-post by Peter Wehner at Tim Dalrymple’s blog on Patheos’ evangelical channel. The post, titled “An Evangelical Christian Looks at Homosexuality,”* reveals Wehner’s struggle to reconcile the tug of conscience with what he perceives as the demands of obedience. He begins by stating that “I’d associate myself with the views of Timothy J. Keller, senior pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City,” linking to a recent discussion in which Keller inadvertently restated, endorsed and underlined the point Danny Coleman made above. Keller said:

If you say to everybody, “Anyone who thinks homosexuality is a sin is a bigot,” [Jonathan Rauch] says, “You are going to have to ask them to completely disassemble the way in which they read the Bible.” Completely disassemble their whole approach to authority. You are basically going to have to ask them to completely kick their entire faith out the door.

That, in a nutshell, is the fear Coleman describes. And it is the fear that pervades Wehner’s argument.

But Wehner is also more honest than Keller. Keller pretends as though the accusation of bigotry arises solely from the belief that “homosexuality is a sin.” Wehner recognizes that, in reality, the accusation of bigotry arises from Christian support for legally enforced bigotry. He seems to recognize that the problem is not so much that Christians like himself believe “homosexuality is a sin,” but rather that this belief has led many such Christians to deny full legal equality to LGBT people. I am an enthusiastic, almost obsessive, coffee-drinker. I don’t think Mormons are bigots because they regard drinking coffee as a kind of sin. But if the Saints suddenly lost their minds and began lobbying for laws denying coffee-drinkers like myself the right to marry, or insisting that it should be legal for employers to fire coffee-drinkers, then, yes, that would be bigotry.

Wehner doesn’t explicitly call out Keller for the self-serving disingenuousness of his “Anyone who thinks homosexuality is a sin” straw-man nonsense, but I give Wehner credit for acknowledging the legitimate substance of the complaints about anti-gay bigotry. The main thrust of his argument is to challenge that substance without challenging the belief he shares with Keller, that homosexuality is a sin.

Wehner’s conclusion isn’t wholly conclusive. He seems extremely cautious not to be perceived as advocating “disobedience” lest he incur the wrath of God or of the tribal gatekeepers of evangelicalism. But he’s clearly pointing toward a solution that I think can work for conservative evangelicals like Wehner or Keller or Dalrymple. They don’t need to change their theology or their hermeneutics in order to stop denying other people full legal equality and civil rights:

I think it’s reasonable to say that even for orthodox Christians,** how the Scriptural injunctions against homosexual behavior should manifest themselves in modern American law and society are not self-evident. For example, you might believe homosexual conduct is not what God intended but (like idolatry) that view should not be written in law.

I’d be quite pleased if more anti-gay Christians would settle on that view. (Keller calls this a “Neo-Anabaptist” position, but really it’s just plain Baptist — more Roger Williams than John Howard Yoder.)

My main point here, though, is not the conclusion of Wehner’s argument or the logic he uses in getting there. What strikes me more is the impulse compelling him to make this anguished argument — which, again, is the strain of being pulled in opposite directions by the demands of conscience and the demands of “obedience.” For Wehner, as for many white  evangelicals, “their whole approach to authority” compels them to believe that God demands a “firm stance” opposing homosexuality. Yet Wehner’s conscience is pulling him the other way — he seems to genuinely regret the harm that is being done to LGBT people by Christians who advocate laws denying their civil rights.

The pangs of conscience are clearest toward the end of Wehner’s post, when he recalls a conversation with former InterVarsity president Steve Hayner:

“I doubt whether God will have much to say about our political convictions in the end,” Steve said to me, “but I’m quite sure that he will have something to say about how we loved the least, the marginalized, the outcasts, the lonely, the abused — even when some think that they have it all. Political convictions that lead toward redemption and reconciliation are most likely headed in the right direction.”

Hayner describes a trajectory leading “toward redemption and reconciliation” and emphasizing the powerless, “the outcasts, the lonely, the abused.” And Wehner says, “It seems to me there is great wisdom in his words.”

It seems that way to me, too. But I should warn Wehner that the gatekeepers of the white evangelical tribe don’t look kindly on anyone who allows this wisdom to shape their hermeneutic. That, they say, would be disobedient. It would “ask them to completely disassemble the way in which they read the Bible. Completely disassemble their whole approach to authority.” You’d be asking them to kick their faith out the door and they’d prefer, instead, to kick you out of the tribe.

Just ask Steve Chalke. Chalke’s evangelical credentials were beyond question — even more than Keller’s or Wehner’s or Dalrymple’s. But he was judged to have headed too far “in the right direction” of reconciliation and love for the outcast, and he was banished from the evangelical tribe — cast into the outer darkness with the mainliners, the “progressives” and the Episcopalians.

But here’s the joyous thing that Steve Chalke discovered. He’s not anguished. He’s not torn between conscience and obedience. For Chalke, obedience to God and conscience are pulling in the same direction. That unity of direction is at the root of the meaning of the word “integrity,” which is why Chalke’s farewell letter to the tribal gatekeepers — his manifesto in support of marriage equality — was titled, “A Matter of Integrity: The Church, sexuality, inclusion and an open conversation.”

When conscience and obedience are integrated — when they are pulling in the same direction — then faith becomes something that perpetually challenges us to become better people. It calls us to constantly expand our love and our capacity for love and to move ever onward, ever outward and ever Christward.

Peter Wehner is clearly aware of the discomfort and anxiety that comes from the kind of faith Danny Coleman described and Tim Keller endorsed — a form of faith in which conscience and obedience are at odds, pulling in opposite directions. It’s like being stretched on a rack. And, one way or the other, such faith will always entail being racked with guilt.

Maybe Steve Chalke is right. Maybe God is a better person than you think. Maybe obedience to what God wants doesn’t have to produce a queasy, uneasy conscience and the nagging sense that treating others unkindly and unfairly is still wrong, even when it’s done out of a sincere attempt to be obedient.

I’ve experience both forms of faith — the fearful kind Coleman describes and the fearless sort Steve Chalke advocates. The latter is a lot more joyful.

– – – – – – – – – – – –

* I had a hard time getting past that title, which seems like the archetypal headline for any in-group discussion of out-group people. You could fill a bookshelf with the unspoken assumptions packed into and conveyed by those six words: An Evangelical Christian Looks at Homosexuality.

Here are some potential alternate versions of that title:

• “A Member of the Tribe Observes Outsiders.”

• “I am a legitimate person. You are an issue and an abstraction.”

• “The Myopia of Privilege.”

• “Jonah looks at the Ninevites.”

• “Blessed are you, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, who has not made me a homosexual.”

• “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table. And you’re welcome.”

That actual title — “An Evangelical Christian Looks at Homosexuality” — includes something of all of those, and more. And that’s before we even consider the false assumption that “an evangelical Christian” must, by definition, be looking at homosexuality from the outside — that no evangelicals are LGBT and no LGBT persons are evangelicals. (Here are links to more than a dozen blogs written by people who are both.)

While there’s something of that attitude pervading the whole post, the general spirit of Wehner’s piece is better than that title.

In general, though, I’m way beyond tired of articles and blog posts titled “An Evangelical Christian Looks at …” It’s long past time for a new wave of articles titled, instead, “An Evangelical Christian Listens to …”

** The colloquial use of “begs the question” to mean “raises the question” leaves us without a term for what Wehner is doing here. “Orthodox Christians,” he says, are those who believe the Bible declares homosexuality to be a sin. And we know that the Bible says so because this is what “orthodox Christians” say the Bible says. He’s assuming the initial point. Or presuming it, actually.

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  • The_L1985

    He reminds me of the folks in AL who tried to pull their kids out of middle-school literature class, because Greek mythology was in it and they were afraid that the mere act of telling kids that a long-dead civilization used to worship other gods would somehow result in mass worship of Zeus in the classroom.

    Which, presumably, is why no Sunday School ever tells stories like, oh I don’t know, the golden calf, or Elijah’s little pissing contest with the priests of Baal.

  • Alix

    …How bad a person does it make me, that my very first thought was that he must go to some hellishly boring worship services?

  • Alix

    Amusingly, I know at least a few pagans who say those middle-school lit lessons were what prompted them towards paganism.

  • Lori

    What Pete does is look at homosexuality. And look and look and look.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Okay, fine, I am obviously missing something and will go off and blink in confusion now.

  • Just forcing him to have the graven image in his house is state-sponsored idolatry and makes him guilty, whether he worships it or not.

  • EllieMurasaki

    By that reasoning, anything with a picture of Lady Liberty on it in his house is state-sponsored idolatry.

    Uh-oh, she’s on coins and stamps…

  • caryjamesbond

    I’m with Matthias on this one. I’m definitely straight, and definitely sexually interested- but I don’t like the way we tend to make sexuality the most fundamental aspect of our natures.

    I am straight- attracted to women. And yet I am capable of friendships, working relationships, and interactions with women that are not at all defined by my sexuality. My sexual desire is part of who I am- and a part of who I am that, as an adult, I have control over. I cannot always control the first flash of “damn, she’s hot”- but neither can I control a lot of other knee-jerk reactions. They’re essentially hind-brain, animalistic reactions- food good, mating good, tribe good. What makes me a human being and not just an animal is the second and third and forty-fifth reactions, where I interact with the people around me as PEOPLE and not just objects.

    To me, making sexuality the most fundamentally important aspect of your life seems to lead inexorably to ideas like “[straight] men and women can’t be friends” or “gay people will ogle me in the locker room” or “you have a close friend of the sex/orientation you’re attracted too, you MUST be cheating on me”

    Sexuality is important, but it is not the be-all end-all of who I am. It is a part of me. However, when I consider what REAL effect it has- it ain’t that much. If my preferred gender suddenly switched, I’d still act the same in relationships, still have the same fears, insecurities, desires.

    I’d be essentially the same person, but the other human being I was attracted to would have different genitalia.

    As for Fred’s analogy- yes, coffee-drinking does not perfectly equal homosexuality. That’s why its an ANALOGY and not the THING ITSELF. Don Marquis said ” “Writing a book of poetry is like dropping a rose petal down the Grand Canyon and waiting for the echo.”

    Actually, in a lot of important ways, that is untrue. Dropping rose petals down the Grand Canyon doesn’t involve paper. Or Ink. Or writing. Or poetry. Or a publisher. Or a book.

    If Don Marquis wanted to be perfectly accurate, he’d describe the process of writing a book. He used an analogy to make a point. So did Fred. The analogy is not the thing itself, and acting as though Fred is too simple to grasp that yes, coffee drinking and being gay are different in pretty much every way is just….stupid. Coffee and sodomy have exactly one important thing in common- Mormons think they’re sinful. Fred uses that one point of commonality to make a point.

  • EllieMurasaki

    To me, making sexuality the most fundamentally important aspect of your life seems to lead inexorably to ideas like “[straight] men and women can’t be friends” or “gay people will ogle me in the locker room” or “you have a close friend of the sex/orientation you’re attracted too, you MUST be cheating on me”

    I disagree. Unless you’re talking about universally uncontrolled, or assumed to be universally uncontrolled or uncontrollable, sexuality, which I am not and I don’t think Lliira is.

    And also neither Lliira nor I said “the most fundamentally important aspect of your life”. Lliira said “at the heart of your being” and I agreed. Thing about hearts? There’s plenty of room in there.

  • Alix

    If it helps, I’m always confused by the very many ways sexuality is apparently central and important to the lives of sexual people. People explain it to me, I see it in how they act, and I can sort of get the shape of it … but, well, I completely overlooked how sex in advertising is related to all this until AnonymousSam pointed it out.

    From where I sit, it all looks like an incomprehensible obsession that bleeds into everything if people let it. (I’m not saying that’s exactly how life works for sexual people – I’m just trying to illustrate how it sometimes seems to someone who just doesn’t share that aspect of humanity.)

  • Alix

    I think part of the confusion is that I interpreted “at the heart of your being” to be “something at the core of your self/identity” – and for me my lack of sexuality’s nowhere near the core of my being, but a peripheral.

  • EllieMurasaki

    I’m sexual and it often seems like an incomprehensible obsession that bleeds into everything if people let it.

    At least I think I’m sexual. I’ve recently encountered the term ‘gray-asexual’, which means among other things ‘person who experiences sexual attraction and enjoys sexual pleasure but doesn’t feel driven to go out and get any’, and it seems to apply to me. Might not–might just be that the desire for sex is not my primary motivation or even in the top five, or my social anxiety is squashing all impulses to go out and attempt to get laid–I don’t know yet.

  • Alix

    I should add that I don’t mean this comment to be diminishing or insulting. It’s just … it’s hard to communicate well not only how little sexuality matters in my life, but how very strange sexual people often seem.

    Like, why the hell must there always be sexual/romantic plotlines in entertainment? Why on earth does “sex sell” in advertising? Etc. It’s plain weird to me that these things are even issues.

  • Alix

    Identity is confusing. I’m still not happy with how I’ve defined my gender identity, for example.

    I think the last time asexuality ever really mattered to me (aside from the aforementioned discussions with people who want to stomp me out) was when I realized I wasn’t straight and went flailing around trying to figure out what I was.

  • EllieMurasaki


  • caryjamesbond

    ” Lliira said “at the heart of your being” and I agreed. ”

    I have heard this phrase or functionally identical variations used hundreds of times in my life, to reference many, many things. At no point was it ever used to indicate anything but “This thing is incredibly central.”

    The heart of the issue, get to the heart of the matter, take it to heart, at heart, – anytime you see the word “heart” used to refer to something, it indicates its fundamental centrality to the thing being discussed because that’s what hearts are.

    And if sexuality is not super-fundamental to who you are as a person, then Lliira’s comment falls apart. If sexuality is just another thing on the wide spectrum of things that makes you unique, than Fred’s original coffee analogy is even MORE appropriate.

    Not to mention that, as many people have said, flipping my gender choice probably wouldn’t change who I am or how I express it that much. Take away my cigarettes, however, and you’ll meet a very different Cary. Arguably, smoking is more central to who I am, or at least how I express myself, and how others perceive me, than what gender I like.

    Heck, I’ve gone years without sex and not missed it that much. I’ve begged, groveled, sneaked around, and obsessed about cigarettes when I haven’t had one in a DAY. I’d maybe walk a mile to get laid, but I would, and have, walked a hell of a lot of a lot further than that for a Camel.

  • LL

    RE “It’s long past time for a new wave of articles titled, instead, ‘An Evangelical Christian Listens to …'”

    Yeah, this. I’m not holding my breath, though. Listening is not exactly in their wheelhouse.

  • phranckeaufile

    The colloquial use of “begs the question” is wrong and irritating.

  • Earlier this year, someone at church got up to announce what the men’s group would be doing at their next meeting. If I recall correctly, it went something like this:
    “So, this week at the men’s group we’re going to be looking at pornography, so that should be– Wait! No! Um… this week we’re going to be doing pornogra– Um… This week we’re going to be talking about pornography. So that should be interesting. Yeah.”

  • caryjamesbond


  • caryjamesbond

    Also, turning back to the meat of Fred’s post:

    This is very encouraging to me. If it turns out that a lot of the anti-homosexuality crowd are afraid and not hateful, that is extremely encouraging. People do not WANT to be afraid, but they do enjoy being smug, being bigoted, and being oppressive.

    If what is being said here is true about at least some people, that’s a whole bunch of potential allies who will be a LOT easier to convince, because we only have to get them to stop doing something unpleasant.

  • Perhaps somewhat off-topic, bear with me or not as you will:

    I was once in a small Mexican border town with a man I know. He made a comment about some street beggars we saw that followed the typical line of ‘they just want a handout instead of working for a living” etc. Of course he offered no evidence that they had the option of a real job and considered the very fact of their being poor beggars as proof of their moral debauchery. When I pressed him on the matter he admitted to me in as many words that he did in fact feel some compassion for them, and that he was angry AT THEM for making him feel compassion.

    He wanted to believe that being morally good was only ever a matter of being ‘tough’. Something that would always make him feel strong, manly, in control. Any narrative of poor people being lazy hedonists was by definition ‘The Truth’ because it allowed him to express strength and power through his outrage.
    In a similar way I feel that some who express religious opposition to gay marriage may be torn between the human empathy and second-hand glow of other couples love and happiness on the one hand and a desire to assert the moral right to paternally forbid on the other.

  • To me (and to others who don’t know much Latin, I’m sure), “circular argument” is much more clear.

  • arcseconds

    I’m sure ‘petitio principii’ is still good :-)

  • arcseconds

    dammit, I need to learn to scroll…

  • Imagine that you enjoy eating chocolate cake very much. But the only way to get chocolate cake is if you have it with someone else. And there are certain social rituals about the acceptability of when to ask for chocolate cake with someone.

    And it’s so freakin’ delicious you would love to have it as much as you can and when you can’t, you have to look at pictures of chocolate cake as a poor substitute for the real thing.

  • I looked too. I have no idea how it can be mistaken for anything but a representation of the Native peoples who live in Oklahoma.

  • Alix

    I’m … not actually sure what this has to do with my comment.

  • Well, that’s how sexuality can be considered to be at the core of being, in terms of an analogy.

  • JustoneK

    Also, some of us don’t care for chocolate.

  • The other thing that makes me wonder is how people can fulminate to excess about how “easy” it is to sit there day after day allegely raking in the $$$.

    If it’s that easy, why aren’t the ranters and fulminators doing it, too? One would think their alleged “self-dignity” wouldn’t stop them from raking in the big bucks.

  • Alix

    Ah. And so of course chocolate cake must feature in every ad, and there must be a plotline featuring chocolate cake in every story, and people go out of their way to find ways to decorate themselves that indicate what specific kind of chocolate cake they like and how much they want…

    Yeah, I’m still not following this thread.

  • The analogy isn’t perfect by any means, I’ll grant.

  • Alix

    I mean, I’ve always been able to get how sexuality is important to people in some circumstances, and even how they sometimes might want specific entertainment catering to it, etc. And also how important it is to let people be whatever they identify as – there are plenty of people very unfond of asexuals too, who’d like to see us gone.

    What amazes and baffles me isn’t any of that – it’s how very many things sexuality seems to be important to, for sexual people. Things that to me don’t even seem to have anything to do with sexuality, like a monster movie or ads for coffee machines or business suits or something. And every time I think I get it, something crops up to throw me for a loop again.

  • I prefer the non-Latin “circular reasoning”. :P

  • arcseconds

    Perhaps you don’t realise exactly how important coffee is for Fred…

  • Alix

    There was something about this comment that really upset me, and I think I’ve finally sussed it out, so apologies for the double reply.

    There are a number of things I’ve chosen to do, things that to an outsider might seem relatively minor, things that I could give up fairly easily if I had to, that are much more at the heart of who I am, much more important to how I want to live my life, than many innate aspects of my personality.

    For one example, I paint. I don’t have to – it’s a choice, it’s a hobby. It’s also a sacred act to me, and a revelatory one, and a method of self-expression that has become fundamental to me, in ways I can’t fully articulate. It is more important to me than not only my lack of sexuality, but my gender identity.

    But painting’s just a choice, just something I decided to start doing one day. I could stop. I have stopped, in the past.

    Some paints are toxic. If they’re the color I need/want, I use them anyway. That they’re “kind of unhealthy” isn’t even a factor.

    I hate the argument that things that aren’t choices are so much more important than things that are. Hate it. It runs so counter to my own experience it isn’t even funny – especially because of my gender identity issues, where I honestly feel I have no intrinsic gender, and so expressing gender identity is a form of playacting, to me. I choose, every day, how I want to be perceived or if I even want to be a gender at all. (This is why, as I mentioned somewhere in this monster thread, I still have issues with what my gender identity even is.) Is that not still important?

    I suppose you could insist that somehow, those choices are still not choices because they’re rooted in my intrinsic non-genderedness (for lack of a better term), or that that somehow makes them intrinsic. Or maybe painting is now intrinsic to me, even though it’s a learned behavior, because it’s become so important to my spiritual and mental health. But at that point, you’d be using definitions of intrinsic and choice that I wouldn’t be able to follow, so.

    The things we choose to do are very much important parts of who we are, and they’re not less so because they’re chosen.

  • caryjamesbond

    Totally this. I understand WHY the entire homosexuality issue is about being born that way- because it places homosexuality in the same category as skin color and other things we find it abhorrent to judge someone for. The fact that Peter Dinklage, Ian McKellen, and Idris Alba have expressed certain genetic traits says sweet-fuck-all about their talents, their personalities, and it is certainly no reason to judge them.

    But the entire reason our society finds that sort of judgement to be fundamentally WRONG is that those things don’t matter. Skin color, eye color, height, sexual preference- these things DON’T MATTER (or rather, shouldn’t matter. That they continue to matter is wrong.)

    How much melanin your skin has or what sort of warm wet hole you prefer is the most boring thing about you. I want to talk to you about your painting, or your work, or your favorite movies, or what types of food you like- chatting about your physical attributes is…..dull. Oh great, you’ve expressed a certain genetic phenotype. Fascinating. Now, about that recipe for sour cream chocolate mousse?

    Too long, didn’t read: Isn’t “this genetic phenotype that you’ve expressed says something very important about who you are as a person” the sort of thing the bad guys say?

  • MaryKaye

    Yes. This.

    For me, whether I’m with a man or a woman is something of a choice, in that I’m bisexual–I’m capable of being attracted (sexually and romantically) to people of either gender. So you could say that my long-term relationship with a male person is a choice. But. If you went after me for that choice you’d be hitting something *extremely* fundamental, more so than a lot of immutable traits. If you dyed me black I wouldn’t be a fundamentally different person, though I would certainly face a different social world and it would be hard. But if you took my partner away and tried to substitute someone else, that would be about the most basic assault to me as a person you could manage.

    “It’s innate” is an argument useful in winning a necessary fight against bigotry, but in the last analysis it’s not the foundational argument. I have no innate requirement to be with a man and not a woman, but *this is the man I chose*. (And given that he and I are of different ethnicity, it’s not long ago that people were challenging our right to make that choice.)

  • It’s also push-back against the “it’s a choice argument” because of knowing why that argument is made. If it’s a choice, then the opponents of gay rights feel justified in turning the onus of acceptance back on gay rights advocates. If it’s not a choice, then they have to learn to live with their neighbors. If it is a choice, then their neighbors can just deal with not getting their way.

  • dpolicar

    If it’s not a choice, then [opponents of gay rights] have to learn to live with their [gay] neighbors.

    Can you say more about why you expect this?

  • Alix

    And also, well, I understand the urge to take the shortcut of “It’s intrinsic, so it can’t be wrong” – but that has the added side effect of saying “if it’s a choice, you can criticize it/take away the right to do it.” Witness how many people – even many liberals/progressives – love to scold folks for their food choices.

    It doesn’t matter if something is innate or chosen, whether it meets some aesthetic standard you hold, or some standards of health, or fun, or dignity, whatever. The only thing that matters is whether or not what I am doing, how I am being, actively harms other people. I am not allowed to punch you in the nose, but if I want to run around waving my fists and painting my nose blue, I should have the right to do so, regardless of the fact that it’s hardly an inbuilt requirement of my nature.

  • Alix

    And yet, their religion is a choice. Pointing that out makes their brains fry.

  • Jamoche

    I’m pretty sure diapers were not “Sunday legal” in Georgia back in the late 60s when I was 5 and my brothers were babies. It’s the sort of parental rant that leaves an impression :)

  • Lori

    I understand the urge to take the shortcut of “It’s intrinsic, so it can’t be wrong”

    This is actually one of the aspects of the argument that I find problematic.Bear with me, because I’m going to comment on a common, shitty argument that people make about gay people, but I am not endorsing it. Please don’t think that I am.

    There are people who absolutely believe that their sexual attraction to children is innate, that they were born that way. Unless things have changed a lot recently, the preponderance of the available evidence doesn’t support this, but it also doesn’t prove them wrong. If we’re basing the argument for rights on choice vs not a choice then what do we do with that? Because even if pedophilia isn’t a choice the vast majority of expressions of it are still very definitely not OK.

  • EllieMurasaki

    I would argue that there’s nothing wrong with being attracted to whomever, but there is something horribly wrong with acting on the attraction in a nonconsensual manner. Children cannot consent, therefore acting on attraction to children is by definition acting on that attraction in a nonconsensual manner. Adults can consent, so as long as everybody is consenting, acting on attraction to adults is not a problem at all.

  • Alix

    Also, a lot of our violent and selfish impulses are inborn, but we don’t consider them okay. This is the whole other reason I find this “innate = acceptable” thing deeply problematic, aside from the whole way it lessens choice.

    IOW, I agree.

    Edit: it also ends up conceding a major argument to the bigots – that their framing of the issue is indeed correct, and that if being gay were a choice, it’d be okay to ban it. I … do not agree with that framing.

  • Because the “it’s a ~choice~” argument absolves QUILTBAG-rights opponents of any culpability in fomenting hatred, bigotry, and discrimination (societal and legal).

    By convincing themselves that I ~chose~ to be bisexual, or Ian McKellen ~chose~ to be gay, or that EllieMurasaki ~chose~ to be genderqueer, et cetera, they can pat themselves on the back that they avoided the ~wrong choice~ and can therefore ignore any feeling of common humanity with us, or any sense of having been born straight and cis but for the lucky draw of biology (or the doings of God).

  • AdrianTurtle

    From what I’ve seen, sexual orientation it’s the sort of thing that’s critical to some people’s identity, but not others. (Like religion–the question of what religion you believe in is separate from how important your religion is to you.)

  • That’s pretty much my perspective on the matter. It is a question of harm and lack of consent, and that is why even if it is innate, it is not a candidate for being a socially and legally protected category of person.