Reading Gagnon: Morality and Sin [Scot]

This week, Scot Miller is blogging about Robert Gagnon’s book, The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics, which many readers of this blog are sure will convince Scot and me that we’re wrong about the gays. -TJ

I should probably quit while I’m ahead, but I would like to offer a final post on Gagon’s book before I shut up.

Again, thanks to Rev. Joseph Hedden, Jr., pastor of Emmanuel Reformed Church of the United Church of Christ in Export, PA, for letting me borrow his copy of Gagnon’s book. I’ll return your copy in the mail next week!

Am I absolutely certain that same-sex intercourse is not a sin when the Bible apparently says it’s a sin? Why shouldn’t I defer to the “clear” statements and commands in the Bible? Who am I to judge God’s word?

I’m not absolutely certain about moral matters in general, since moral reasoning is not like reasoning in mathematics or logic. (About the only absolute moral principles I can think of are very specific, like, “Rape is wrong.”) While I’m convinced that some moral principles and values are objective, the moral conclusions we reach are never certain, and require ongoing reflection and re-examination. So while I’m no moral skeptic, I think it’s important that we have good reasons for our moral judgments.

At a minimum, I think that good moral reasons are determined within the community of moral agents who have to live together. Moral people may disagree between themselves, but we can all provide reasons for why we act morally as we do.

Then we need to ask whether our reasons are really good or not, whether they can stand up or not. As Paul said in 1 Thess. 5:20-21, “Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good.”

So while I could be mistaken, I’m highly confident that the biological sex of the participants is irrelevant to the question of whether intercourse is morally good or bad. Heterosexual intercourse is neither inherently good nor bad, and the same is true for same-sex intercourse. Intercourse may be sinful when someone uses deception or coercion or violence, but it’s hard to see how the biology the participants is relevant.
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A Better Atonement: Maybe I Was Wrong about Original Sin

This week, as we prepare for Good Friday and Easter, we’ll have a post every morning about the atonement. Some will be by me, and some by guests. And don’t forget to check out the Storify and Tumbler, both tracking atonement this week. You can read all of the posts, and my past posts on this topic, here.

Today, Dallas Gingles challenges my argument that Original Sin is a doctrine, fabricated by Augustine, without biblical or rational justification. Regardless of silly quotes by GK Chesterton, I don’t buy it. But I thought I’d let Dallas provide a Nieburhrian counterpoint.

First, let me say thanks to Tony for the opportunity to guest post in this conversation about atonement and original sin. I’ve enjoyed the conversation, and I’m grateful to be a part of it.

I often hear theologians or pastors describing a conversation with a skeptical or hurt person who says, “I just can’t believe in a God who destroys lives, hates sinners, looks like the G.O.P,” or something similar. The minister responds, “I don’t believe in that God either.” Similarly, I don’t believe in the version of original sin that Tony doesn’t believe in in A Better Atonement. However, I do want to defend original sin.

The version of original sin that I want to affirm starts, like Tony’s, with St. Augustine. Unlike Tony, I want to locate the upshot of the doctrine, not in contrast to Pelagius, but in Augustine’s refutation of the Manicheans, and his political thought. Roughly put, the Manicheans believed that evil was a material substance in the world. The convoluted process by which evil was confronted and combated included the bowel movements of faithful believers.

Augustine’s account of evil as a privation—a no-thing—is a direct rebuttal to the idea that evil exists: is a “thing.” Humans will wrongly and humans love wrongly. In so doing they undo their being—they un-become, so to speak. This undoing is finally an undoing of human relations—of the Human City. As Jean Bethke Elshtain has noted, no one has recently captured this idea better than J.K. Rowling with her portrayal of the character of Voldemort.

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