Wendell Berry’s Epic Slanderfest: Opponents of Same-Sex Marriage Are “Perverts,” Guilty of “The Lowest Form of Hatred”

Wendell Berry’s Epic Slanderfest: Opponents of Same-Sex Marriage Are “Perverts,” Guilty of “The Lowest Form of Hatred” January 15, 2013

In case you were wondering, those who defend traditional marriage and oppose same-sex marriage are continuing the tradition of those who slaughtered the Jews and the Native Americans.  They’re also perverts who are trying to theocratize America.

According, at least, to Wendell Berry.  And no, I’m neither making this up nor exaggerating.

I write this post with deep disappointment.  I appreciate Wendell Berry’s literary artistry, and I appreciate his spiritual insights.  But he indulged in an epic rant against gay marriage opponents to a gathering of Baptist ministers on January 11th in Kentucky.  His comments were relayed by Bob Allen of the Associated Baptist Press.  While Berry repeats uncritically a slew of bumper-sticker arguments and engages in some serious straw-man pyromania, the people in the comments box nonetheless marvel at his genius.  This deserves a response.

Bear in mind that I have openly suggested that the time may have come for evangelicals to drop their legal opposition to same-sex marriage, even as they uphold biblical standards for the morality of sex outside of wedlock and the theology of marriage in the true sense ordained by God.  I’ve also been repeatedly critical of the ways in which evangelicals historically have responded to homosexuality, and called for a radical grace and extravagant love shown toward our GLBT neighbors and friends.  Also, sincerely, I’m very tired of talking about this.  But the constant onslaught of hatred (read the below and tell me that word isn’t justified) for those who affirm traditional biblical sexual ethics and who wish to defend legally the model of marriage instituted by God is so extreme that I find myself compelled time and again to respond.

This will be a long post.  But let’s fisk what he has to say:

“My argument, much abbreviated [when he referenced it before], was the sexual practices of consenting adults ought not to be subjected to the government’s approval or disapproval, and that domestic partnerships in which people who live together and devote their lives to one another ought to receive the spousal rights, protections and privileges the government allows to heterosexual couples,” Berry said.

Fair enough, but defending the traditional definition of marriage has nothing to do with making “the sexual practices of consenting adults” subject to government dis/approval.  It has to do with the divine creation of marriage and the family.  The overwhelming majority of defenders of traditional marriage in America have no interest, none whatsoever, in outlawing homosexual sex.  Many would also be perfectly fine with domestic partnerships that grant “rights, protections and privileges” enjoyed by married couples.  But that is not what the advocates of gay marriage are seeking.  They are seeking a legal redefinition of marriage — and I think it’s fair to say (though some will deny it) that the movement would also like to see an ethical affirmation that there is nothing morally objectionable with homosexuality.

 Berry said liberals and conservatives have invented “a politics of sexuality” that establishes marriage as a “right” to be granted or withheld by whichever side prevails. He said both viewpoints contravene principles of democracy that rights are self-evident and inalienable and not determined and granted or withheld by the government.

Actually, no.  Conservative Christians do not believe that marriage — homosexual or heterosexual — is a “right.”  That’s the point.  There is no right to join yourself to whomever you please and demand that the government recognize and reward it as “marriage.”  The government does not define marriage.  God does.  But the government may have a compelling interest in recognizing and encouraging marriage.  The only people who argue that marriage is a “right” are those on the Left.  The “rights” language has infected the debate, turning everyone who believes in defending traditional marriage into the violators of gays’ “rights” and therefore not only mistaken or misinformed but gravely unethical, perhaps even criminal, equal to those who would deny their rights to women or racial minorities.  I believe that gays ought to have – and as human beings do have inalienably – the same rights as heterosexuals, but I do not believe that either gays or straights have a “right” to compel the state to recognize their relationships as marriages.

“Christians of a certain disposition have found several ways to categorize homosexuals as different as themselves, who are in the category of heterosexual and therefore normal and therefore good,” Berry said. What is unclear, he said, is why they single out homosexuality as a perversion.

“The Bible, as I pointed out to the writers of National Review, has a lot more to say against fornication and adultery than against homosexuality,” he said. “If one accepts the 24th and 104th Psalms as scriptural norms, then surface mining and other forms of earth destruction are perversions. If we take the Gospels seriously, how can we not see industrial warfare — with its inevitable massacre of innocents — as a most shocking perversion? By the standard of all scriptures, neglect of the poor, of widows and orphans, of the sick, the homeless, the insane, is an abominable perversion.”

It’s immensely disappointing to see Berry parroting these superficial points.  First, no one is saying heterosexuals are “good.”  None are good; all are sinful.  We all stand as sinners in need of God’s grace.  Second, the frequency with which a sin is discussed in scripture has nothing to do with whether or not it’s a sin.  There are many things not frequently condemned in scripture — genocide, spousal abuse, child abuse, and even rape — that we would all agree are grave sins and deserving of our attention.  The scriptures emerged from a Hebrew world in which the rightness or wrongness of homosexuality was not a live issue.  And we need to attend not only to the scriptures condemning homosexual relations but to all the scriptures affirming the proper place for sex and the created definition of marriage.  Third, Christians since the first century have employed a hermeneutic that distinguishes between ritual and ceremonial laws that were intended for a specific people at a specific time and place, and the moral law that is written into the order of creation for all people.  To pretend suddenly as though Christians are being arbitrary when they choose to affirm the condemnations of homosexual relations and ignore the shellfish rules (or etc.) is disingenuous in the extreme.  Fourth, Berry may wish to mount an argument that surface mining is wrong, but that has nothing to do with the proper definition of marriage and God’s design for human sexuality.  Fifth and finally, yes, the Bible spends far more time encouraging us to care for the least and the laws than it does reiterating the moral law, which is why Christians and their churches spend a lot more time and effort caring for the least and the lost than they do defending their moral views in the public square.

“Jesus talked of hating your neighbor as tantamount to hating God, and yet some Christians hate their neighbors by policy and are busy hunting biblical justifications for doing so,” he said. “Are they not perverts in the fullest and fairest sense of that term? And yet none of these offenses — not all of them together — has made as much political/religious noise as homosexual marriage.”

The defense of traditional marriage is not about “hating your neighbor” but about defending biblical truth and preserving a clear understanding of what God has said.  Caring for the poor does not create “noise” because no one wants to tell the stories of Christians doing daily heroic work through Catholic Charities or the Salvation Army or World Vision or Compassion or any number of organizations whose budgets individually are several orders of magnitude larger than any budget for any organization defending traditional marriage.  And Christian organizations do advocate for the policies they think will best care for the poor and for all people.  Nothing would please us more than to see this issue go away, but it remains a constant because those interests are seeking to redefine marriage, which we hold sacred, and constantly seeking to brand the defenders of traditional marriage as hateful and bigoted.

Another argument used, Berry said, is that homosexuality is “unnatural.”  “If it can be argued that homosexual marriage is not reproductive and is therefore unnatural and should be forbidden on that account, must we not argue that childless marriages are unnatural and should be annulled?” he asked.

“One may find the sexual practices of homosexuals to be unattractive or displeasing and therefore unnatural, but anything that can be done in that line by homosexuals can be done and is done by heterosexuals,” Berry continued. “Do we need a legal remedy for this? Would conservative Christians like a small government bureau to inspect, approve and certify their sexual behavior? Would they like a colorful tattoo verifying government approval on the rumps of lawfully copulating parties? We have the technology, after all, to monitor everybody’s sexual behavior, but so far as I can see so eager an interest in other people’s private intimacy is either prurient or totalitarian or both.”

Colorful images, but again disappointing.  Has Wendell Berry never actually read a defense of traditional marriage?  It’s not as though we just discovered the problem of childless couples.  Has he never heard of the Catholic Church, which has a very sophisticated theology around this question?  If he has heard it, he chooses to caricature it instead with colorful images of backside tattoos.  Once again, this is not about legally forbidding sexual behavior.  Trying to turn this time and again into an effort to illegalize same-sex sex may be effective rhetoric, but it’s fundamentally dishonest.

“The oddest of the strategies to condemn and isolate homosexuals is to propose that homosexual marriage is opposed to and a threat to heterosexual marriage, as if the marriage market is about to be cornered and monopolized by homosexuals,” Berry said. “If this is not industrial capitalist paranoia, it at least follows the pattern of industrial capitalist competitiveness. We must destroy the competition. If somebody else wants what you’ve got, from money to marriage, you must not hesitate to use the government – small of course – to keep them from getting it.”

One wonders how a mind as supple as Wendell Berry’s can accept these talking points so uncritically.  Christians and their churches devote enormous amounts of resources to marriage ministries in an effort to strengthen marriages.  A favorite target of the left, Focus on the Family, is almost exclusively focused on building up marriages and families.  The lion’s share of effort does go toward strengthening heterosexual marriages.  But just because heterosexual marriages are struggling is not a reason to abandon the biblical definition of marriage.  There is no fear that homosexuals will “corner the market.”  This probably ranks among the most ridiculous things Berry has said in a long series of ridiculous things.  The concern is that, in a society where marriage is already suffering, altering the fundamental definition of marriage will only hasten the disintegration of the God-given family structure and therefore of society as a whole.  Whether or not we find it convincing, let’s be honest about the argument.

“If I were one of a homosexual couple — the same as I am one of a heterosexual couple — I would place my faith and hope in the mercy of Christ, not in the judgment of Christians,” Berry said. “When I consider the hostility of political churches to homosexuality and homosexual marriage, I do so remembering the history of Christian war, torture, terror, slavery and annihilation against Jews, Muslims, black Africans, American Indians and others. And more of the same by Catholics against Protestants, Protestants against Catholics, Catholics against Catholics, Protestants against Protestants, as if by law requiring the love of God to be balanced by hatred of some neighbor for the sin of being unlike some divinely preferred us. If we are a Christian nation — as some say we are, using the adjective with conventional looseness — then this Christian blood thirst continues wherever we find an officially identifiable evil, and to the immense enrichment of our Christian industries of war.”

Accusing churches that are trying to hold fast to how (they believe) God defined marriage of perpetuating the same “Christian blood thirst” that led to the annihilation of Jews and American Indians is calumny of the highest order.  Wendell Berry should be ashamed of himself.  Worldwide, homosexuals historically have been persecuted.  Christians, who have been persecuted worldwide as well, should be sensitive to this.  But tying those who believe homosexual sex is wrong and that God made marriage for male and female to the instigators of genocide and religious warfare is truly beyond the pale.

“Condemnation by category is the lowest form of hatred, for it is cold-hearted and abstract, lacking even the courage of a personal hatred,” Berry said. “Categorical condemnation is the hatred of the mob. It makes cowards brave. And there is nothing more fearful than a religious mob, a mob overflowing with righteousness – as at the crucifixion and before and since. This can happen only after we have made a categorical refusal to kindness: to heretics, foreigners, enemies or any other group different from ourselves.”

“Perhaps the most dangerous temptation to Christianity is to get itself officialized in some version by a government, following pretty exactly the pattern the chief priest and his crowd at the trial of Jesus,” Berry said. “For want of a Pilate of their own, some Christians would accept a Constantine or whomever might be the current incarnation of Caesar.”

Now the defenders of traditional marriage are likened to those who crucified Jesus.  Apparently no blow is too low here.  Even though Christians today are not advocating laws against adultery, or against premarital sex, or homosexual sex, nonetheless Christians are trying to get Christianity “officialized.”  (I think he has a point here, but it has to be much more nuanced and qualified.)  And what would Wendell Berry say of condemnation of habitual adulterers or environment-destroyers “by category” (which really means to say that those actions are sinful)?  My only point is to underscore the ridiculousness of the charge that “condemnation by category is the lowest form of hatred.”  While I do not disagree that there are some out there who are simply hateful bigots, the great majority of people I’ve come to know who wish to defend traditional marriage are not hateful but simply attempting, in the face of epic slander such as this, to uphold what they perceive to be the truth of God’s Word.

“Finally,” says one commenter, “sanity in the discussion.”  Says another, “We have been blessed with such a profound mind.”  Comments like these, in some ways, sadden me even more than Wendell Berry’s comments themselves.  Have we lost the ability even to recognize a sane and balanced and nuanced discussion?  Because Wendell Berry, in this case, offers neither sanity nor profundity.  There is no nuance here, no attempt to understand the arguments on both sides — really, there’s no grace here whatsoever.  There is a raging condemnation of one side of the argument as the “perverts” who indulge in “the lowest form of hatred” and can be justly identified with the perpetrators of genocide and inter-religious slaughter.

Tell me again who is engaging in “condemnation by category”?

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  • Tim

    Tim, I agree with everything you say here with one big caveat: Berry is speaking (possibly with notes) and as such may not be expressing himself with nearly the precision (and therefore may not hold some of the views) that you are ascribing to him. This wasn’t from an essay, where Berry could anticipate counterarguments and qualify his remarks. In several cases, I can imagine that if Berry might revise and extend his remarks if he were confronted with “You said A. And I think B ineluctably follows from A. Do you REALLY believe B?!?” I share your righteous anger. I hate this kind of (apparent) scorn, and the cheering of said scorn. But…let’s ourselves be 100% charitable in the process.

    • Charles W. Baldwin

      Tim, almost all, if not all, of Berry’s points are arguments or the slightest variations of them that can be found all over the internet. You’re correct, there’s not a lot of precision here; how can there be when he is merely regurgitating common leftist talking points? It is a blunt assault that derives from a politics in which the ends justifies the means.

    • John I.

      Furthermore, it would have been prudent of him to properly inform himself on such a volatile and contentious issue before , his screed. He shouldn’t be cut any slack on the validity of his arguments, or the manner in which he delivers them.

      Apart from the fact that he ignores the good secular arguments against homosexual marriages, and the interest of the state in a particular form of marriage, he ignores that true love seeks the best for the other, not merely what the other would like or prefer. What is at risk is the souls and abundant life in Christ of the homosexuals. Even if Berry believes he has good reason for the recognition by the state of homosexual marriages, that is an issue completely apart from the position of Christians on the issue.

      • patrick

        you mean “some” Christians and “all” Christianists.

  • Randy Gabrielse

    I find Timothy’s arguments convoluted and contorted. Regarding homosexuality and adultery, he argues that the fact that frequency of citations does not speak to whether something is a sin. This is true on the initial face of it, but in that particular case it is not just a question of frequency, it is a question of the people that claim to be righteous engage in certain sins, beginning with David and Jacob. Timothy argues that mountaintop mining is somehow marginal, but is only so because American Christians have ignored much of scripture and have prioritized cheap energy over respect for God’s Creation.
    Randy Gabrielse

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      No, I never said that surface mining is marginal. I just said that it’s irrelevant to the question of whether homosexuality is sinful or same-sex unions are rightly called marriages.

      I don’t quite follow your point regarding David and Jacob and adultery…you’ll have to try that one again.

    • John I.

      God never excused those sins, nor does he now. David was guilty and worthy of death for them, but God saved him and also us sinners. Christians need rescue from sin as much as anybody, and their very act of being a christian is a recognition that they are sinning and do need rescuing.

      I fail to see any logic in your argument.

  • Matt

    I have found this very helpful from Steve Chalk….

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      That’s certainly making the rounds today. I think people who are already prepared to celebrate same-sex relationships are eager to build up the importance of Chalke’s statement, but he’s been moving steadily Leftward for some time now on a number of issues, social and theological. To say that he’s the British Billy Graham is, I think, an overstatement. But I do think that the resources he and his church intend to offer on the issue — it looks like they mean to be making this case for quite some time to come — will have an influence.

  • Jason

    Timothy, you say “The government does not define marriage. God does.” I think this is up for debate. It seems to me Christians gave up the monopoly on marriage the day they allowed the state to marry people in civil ceremonies by a justice of the peace, divorced from God and any commitments to or recognition of Him. This was the first redefinition of marriage, but we did nothing to stop it then. In my opinion, arguing against the state’s right to redefine marriage is too little too late. We should have fought that battle a LONG time ago.

    I’m also hesitant to agree with your statement that “Christians and their churches spend a lot more time and effort caring for the least and the lost than they do defending their moral views in the public square.” In my own experience Christians traditionally spend much more time and emotional energy defending their moral views than loving and caring for people. One need only ask the average North American what comes to mind when they think “Christian.” It ain’t compassion, love, and grace – that’s for sure.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      Theologically, God defined marriage and still does. I’m an objectivist on this point. God created marriage in the same sense that he created love, or the mutual attraction and creative complementarity between the proton and the electron. The government is free to come up with its own definition, but it will only be an accurate definition to the extent that it affirms the definition God gave it. It can call something that is not marriage marriage, but it will still not be marriage in the objective sense. I agree that there’s a subtle and problematic relationship here between church and state power. The only proper relationship here is for the government to recognize what marriage is and, if it wishes, fortify it. We may need to make compromises at this point, but that doesn’t change the truth or the ideal, and the truth and the ideal are worth upholding.

      So I, for one, have argued that we need to permit American law, in the absence of an overwhelming cultural consensus on what marriage is, to allow different theologies of marriage, including the theology of marriage that permits only heterosexual couples as well as the theology that permits homosexual couples. I no longer think we can require American law to prefer our theology of marriage and elevate it over others. Many evangelicals disagree with me on this. But I still think we need to defend that theology of marriage in the culture and in the marketplace of ideas.

      Any fair examination of where Christians spend their time and money will show, beyond any reasonable doubt whatsoever, that far more goes toward caring for the least and the lost than it does toward defending moral views on hot button issues. How much of your church budget goes toward ministries that evangelize, or provide counseling for the hurting, or provide food and other kinds of help for the needy (inside or outside the church) — versus how much goes to organizations that defend the traditional definition of marriage? I know it’s all the rage to flagellate Christians for not caring for the poor, but all the churches to which I’ve belonged actually have done an awful lot for soup kitchens, homeless shelters, rescue homes for those in sex trafficking, building homes, preaching the gospel overseas, supporting orphanages, supporting those who adopt, supporting those who are depressed or suicidal, supporting alcoholics and narcoholics, rescuing troubled marriages, etc etc etc.

      What the average non-Christian North American thinks may simply be wrong. There are lots of things that could cause a false impression.

      I don’t mean to let up the pressure. Christians are not nearly as self-sacrificial as we ought to be. The imitation of Christ calls for much more. In the public square, of course, there’s lots of discussion over hot-button issues, but the daily work of countless millions of Christians and tens of thousands of churches is much more oriented toward care than public polemics.

      • michelle

        You say that “Any fair examination of where Christians spend their time and money will show, beyond any reasonable doubt whatsoever, that far more goes toward caring for the least and the lost than it does toward defending moral views on hot button issues.”

        Yet of the thirteen or so articles posted on the first page of your site here, four are primarily about gay marriage, and only one or two are significantly about caring for the least of these.

        Doesn’t that pretty much validate Jason’s point?

        • Timothy Dalrymple

          Actually, no.

          This is a blog specifically about issues being discussed in the public square. So of course it responds to things like the Louie Giglio imbroglio, or Wendell Berry’s rant. But if you look back through my posts, I do talk about my work with iam2.org, I frequently post about issues like sex-trafficking and the plight of the untouchables and so on. I have never given money, for instance, to a “culture war” organization, but I’ve given a very high percentage of my income this year (over 20 percent) to ministries that serve the poorest of the poor.

          So quick to judge!

          • michelle

            No judging intended (or accomplished, actually)!

            I was just responding to what seems to me a valid criticism of your comment.

            ‘Christians’ haven’t gained a reputation for caring more about politics than the poor for no reason. To try to gloss over that seems naive, out of touch. Maybe a bit self-serving.

      • Eric

        For someone who claims that he believes Christians should drop their legal opposition to gay marriage, you spend an awful lot of time talking about how wrong legal gay marriage would be.

        And 91%, by the way. 91% of people, Christian or Non-Christian, when asked “When you hear the word ‘Christian’, what is the first word that enters your head?” responded with ‘Anti-Homosexual’. If one person calls you a duck, you should laugh at them and tell them they’re crazy. If two people call you a duck, you should maybe check yourself for feathers. If 91% of people call you a duck, you might want to wonder whether you should’ve flown south in September.

        • Timothy Dalrymple

          No, the question was not “What’s the first word that comes into your head?” Look it up.

          I do think that Christians *in America* should drop their legal opposition to marriage, but I also defend against the caricature of the argument in favor of traditional marriage, and against the caricature of Christians who believe in it.

          There have been a variety of family arrangements, but marriage has overwhelmingly been male-female.

      • John Jakubczyk

        Tim, Recall that the reasons the “state” has been involved in “recognizing” marriage (and later acknowledging them through marriage licenses) have to do with property and bigamy laws. Historically the church handled the bigamy laws by having the “banns of marriage” read for three Sundays prior to the marriage ceremony. This allowed for anyone who knew of an impediment to come forward. Even the rite contained language asking if anyone knew why “these two should not be wed,” etc. But the main reason was to pass property to those entitled to receive it. The law and the courts addressed the issue of who was legally entitled to receive someone’s property. Recording and later “licensing” which also had to do with insuring the parties were not carrying communicable sexual illnesses (remember those days), was a means of protecting primarily the woman who would be assured that 1. her marriage was valid; 2. she and her children would be beneficiaries of any inheritance. The later problems of divorce and child custody have thus entangled the state and the courts to the detriment of all.

        As for Mr. Berry, I am afraid that in his old age, the desire to be liked by the left has led to this lunacy of language.
        Then again he has always been a bit of an eccentric and when he meets His Maker, I am sure he will be set right in the confusion that has addled his brain. So we treat him and all those who express their thoughts in a sophomoric manner with the charity that is expected of those who follow the Master.

  • is the full text of the speech available?

  • Kelly

    “Fifth and finally, yes, the Bible spends far more time encouraging us to care for the least and the laws than it does reiterating the moral law…”

    I think you meant to write “and the lost,” not “and the laws.”

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      I did, thank you.

  • Gregory Peterson

    What is the word for someone who would deny other loving, law abiding, tax paying adults what he allows for himself? America has had some experience with that “separate but equal” thing. Equal is equal.

    I don’t see where God ‘defined marriage.’ In Genesis, for instance, it’s the man, not
    God, who ‘defines marriage.’ In Matthew 19, Jesus does quote the man and says that God joins them together. However, Jesus is radically redefining divorce for that form of marriage. His redefinition of divorce, as the apostles point out, would discourage men from getting married at all. Jesus then talks about eunuchs, some of whom are born that way. Do you live like a eunuch because of the reign of the heavens?

    If you live like an idealized eunuch (as opposed to ancient Greco-Roman stereotypes, sexism, ignorance and bigotries, I guess), you would not be worrying about other peoples marriages meeting your approval, and your own possible desire, if not need, to divorce someone. You would be worried about justice and the Golden Rule.

    • John (not McCain)

      Clearly, the word you are looking for is “bigot”, but “anti-American” will do as well. So glad I won’t have to spend eternity surrounded by the Dalrymples of the world.

    • John I.

      Given that the Bible is God’s word, not ours, it’s incorrect to state that God does not define marriage. Moreover, that is not the only relevant passage indicating God’s view.

      Secondly, Jesus did not radically define God’s view of marriage, but rather the incorrect views of humans (as he made clear). Jesus was stating God’s eternal view of marriage in the face of, in opposition to, the cultural, religious and statist views of his time.

      Third, it is simplistic to argue that one is denying to others what one has. That sort of denying is done all the time–driver’s licenses, social benefits, adoption, running for office, voting–all these are allowed to some and denied to others (and multitudinous more examples). The issue in all these cases is not whether one distinguishes, but whether the reasons for the action are sufficient to justify it.

  • Matt Woodley

    I’ve read a few of these online debates and I do my best to stay out of the comments section, but I couldn’t pass on this one. I am a huge Wendell Berry fan. I’ve read many of his works. I wept my way though much of Jayber Crow. His essays in Sex, Economy, Freedom and Community were brilliant, nuanced, thoughtful (and they presented a very high view of traditional marriage). Berry often woos and he sometimes hammers his points home but he never sounds like a frustrated, cranky fool–until now. Sadly, Tim, I have to agree with nearly everything you’ve said in this post.

  • You ask: “Have we lost the ability even to recognize a sane and balanced and nuanced discussion?” Definition of a “sane and balanced and nuanced discussion” = one that agrees with my presuppositions. I also have problems with how freely words such as “hater” and “bigot” and “phobic” are tossed about whenever traditional marriage is affirmed.
    Good post! Thank you.

  • Jeff

    Timothy–You have offered some very wise thoughts in this article. Thank you so much. I have enjoyed some of Berry’s writings in the past, but I am almost sick with disappointment and disgust at his worldly and stupid arguments. I know this isn’t the point, but he sounds like an angry, judgmental, blathering idiot. The same goes for many of the comments that follow your article. Before I was a Christian, I was pro-gay and pro-gay marriage. But my mind has changed on the subject because God has spoken on the subject, and He has not stuttered: homosex is sinful. Frankly, I’m baffled as to how people who claim to be Christians can ignore the clear teaching of God’s Word. If you don’t like what the Bible says, that’s fine. But stop calling yourself a follower of Christ. Also, like you, I’m tired of this whole subject. But the new McCarthyism/thought police won’t rest until everyone bows the knee to the god of this age and “calls what is evil good, and what is good evil.” Isaiah 5:20.

  • ” The government does not define marriage. God does.”

    God doesn’t sign the marriage certificate. The Secretary of State does. The church ceremony doesn’t mean marriage; you can get married without that. It’s the document you get at the local registrar’s office that means marriage; i.e., the thing you get from the government. The government defines the tax breaks, the rights to visit loved ones in the emergency room, and others. Therefore, god does not define marriage in our society, the government does. QED.

    Now get your religion out of our government.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      I don’t expect you to agree, but I view marriage as something that God created in the same sense that God created other things. I am an objectivist on that point. So I believe that governments are free to call various things marriage, but there is in fact a right definition and a wrong definition. Simply asserting that marriage is merely a matter of social convention or social contract, when that’s precisely one of the points at issue, is just to assume the conclusion. Who signs the marriage certificate and what rights and benefits the state chooses to give to those who are married is beside the point, and rather makes your attempt at a deductive argument look silly.

      Also, if you were paying attention, you’d note that I’ve made the argument that Christians can no longer insist that only their theology of marriage should shape Americans laws around marriage. I wish I could impose some kind of rule that you have to have read the blog for a little while before you’re allowed to post, because people come across a single post and assume they know everything about me and what I believe. They’re projecting their caricature of evangelicals on me, which is not surprising, but is irritating.

      • Duane D.

        I enjoyed your post, and defense of what (I think) the vast majority of conservative Christians believe, and how they behave. I also have not given a dime to defence of marriage. Most of those organizations work on a slim shoestring budget. We also fight for what we believe is the best outcome for the least of these world wide. For the most part this is accomplished with open markets, minimal government and free flow of money that makes labor a valuable commodity. Christians including the church I attend spend a great deal of time and talent and wealth helping the poor, the elderly, single moms and the underemployed. But if one guides their life based on what they see on the nightly news, which will not report on the benefits with which Christ has blessed the society through his Church, they will be mis-informed. No excuse for the apparently educated person of whom you write.
        What is at stake here is that, just as the government is forcing Christians to pay through insurance premiums for abortafacient chemicals, government will eventually force the administers of marriage certificates to perform ceremonies for all comers: Ministers of the Gospel will be forced to marry homosexuals, or be threatenend with losing their license, or their ministry. My solution is for church nationwide to divest itself of state marriage. People can get married in the sanctuary, before God and witnesses, but whether they are married or not is none of the state’s business. Under such an understanding, it would not matter who the state defines as married, the Church need not participate. Under such an understanding the marriage penalty tax would disappear: everyone would be taxed as though they were shacking up. I see no disadvantage here except that the state would lose some of it’s stake in the church, and have to find another revenue stream for it’s “married, filing jointly”.
        My 2 cents

  • Frank

    Tim a very powerful dismantling of a very weak diatribe from Berry. He should be embarrassed. He certainly lost quite a bit of credibility.

  • Bo Grimes

    How do you show extravagant love and radical grace towards those who believe that the very fact you think their behavior requires a response of love and grace make you a judgmental neanderthal?

    • Nathaniel

      I just punched you in the face. But I did it with grace and love, so if you respond with anger I’ll call you a judgmental Neanderthal.

  • Bo Grimes

    Berry says: “the sexual practices of consenting adults ought not to be subjected to the government’s approval or disapproval, and that domestic partnerships in which people who live together and devote their lives to one another ought to receive the spousal rights, protections and privileges the government allows to heterosexual couples.”

    Which is it? To give “rights, protections and privileges” is to give “approval,” isn’t it? Or is he saying government should tacitly approve all by disapproving none, which means he should drop the “approval” and just say: “the sexual practices of consenting adults ought not to be subjected to the government’s disapproval.”

    That is the essence of the argument these days regarding gay marriage, but one doesn’t need to be a philosopher to see where it must lead.

  • Nathaniel

    “The overwhelming majority of defenders of traditional marriage in America have no interest, none whatsoever, in outlawing homosexual sex. ”

    Then please explain why it was only ten years ago that laws making gay sex illegal were only struck down by the supreme court ten years ago.

    • John I.

      Those laws were passed decades ago and were typically not enforced The fact that they sat on the books is no more surprising than many other odd laws that never get repealed (like laws banning horses in saloons, etc.; one can find lists of such laws).

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      There are a lot of old, unenforced laws on the books. I’m glad they were struck down.

      • Nathaniel

        Lets see what Focus on the Family says about it, given how approvingly you cite them relating to such matters.

        “The sexual intimacies of married couples are constitutionally protected; non- and extra-marital sexual acts are not.”

        States may discourage the “evils” – as this Court said in Eisenstadt – of sexual acts outside of marriage by means up to and including criminal prohibition.

        “Endeavoring to prudently protect and promote marriage by such reasonable means, Texas legislators are scarcely liable to charges of acting on mere prejudice against a class of persons, unreasoned moral hostility to certain acts, or in servile reliance upon mere popular disapproval of either.”

        From an amicus brief submitted to the court.

        Focus on the Family certainly seem to have no problem with the notion of throwing gay people in jail for being gay.

        Which brings up the further point that if such a law was really a dead letter, then how do you square that with the fact that:

        A. Somebody had to be prosecuted under the law, or the lawsuit would have been denied due to lack of standing.
        B. That apparently Texas was mighty intent on defending the law for a “dead letter.”

        • Timothy Dalrymple

          The people at Focus — and even at FRC — have said over and over again that they don’t want to make gay sex illegal. Ask them yourself. But they did believe that protecting homosexual sex under a “privacy right” was bad law, and an example of judicial activism expanding the mysterious Constitutional right to privacy in order to suit changing social mores.

          • Nathaniel

            So in other words, they oppose gay people being thrown in jail for being gay, but also opposed real world efforts to make sure that didn’t happen. Right.

            P.S. You didn’t answer my other point. People were still being prosecuted under these sorts of laws, inconsistently with your previous statement. Just how do you think the FRC would have preferred these unjust laws be overturned?

          • Timothy Dalrymple

            I’m assuming from other things you’ve written that you have *some* understanding of how the legal and judicial system works, right? What’s important in a ruling is not just the outcome — in this case, whether a law is upheld or not — but the reasoning employed in the majority decision. Imagine that the Supreme Court issued a ruling upholding a right to same-sex marriage on Constitutional grounds. I’m assuming you would welcome this outcome. But imagine that they used this reasoning: “The United States government has no business regulating marriage or sexual relationships in any way.” This argument — these words — would form the basis of a whole fleet of legal cases and lower-court rulings, and many of those rulings would precipitate up to the Supreme Court again to find out how *else* that reasoning ought to be applied. If the government has no business regulating marriage in any way, then presumably three or four people can get married, or an entire community. If the US government has no business regulating sexual relationships in any way, then presumably it cannot prohibit sexual relationships between adults and children, or etc. (Please understand I’m not equating same sex marriage with these things. I’m just saying that these are adjacent issues when it comes to the law around marriage and sexual relationships. The Supreme Court could have included other tests (must be two partners, or must be adult partners) but in this hypothetical case the SCUS simply asserted that the government had no place regulating marriage or sex in any way). Let’s further assume that you do not approve of polygamy or pederasty. Then you would feel that the court had delivered the right outcome (permitting same sex marriage) but had done so with the wrong reasoning (i.e., a reasoning that opened the door to other things).

            By the time a case reaches the Supreme Court, of course, the question is whether lower courts ruled rightly. The Supreme Court is reviewing the decisions of the lower courts, so it’s not simply a question of whether the original law was justified but whether the law had been upheld or struck down for the right reasons. Organizations like Focus believed that the way in which Lawrence was being contested and struck down would form bad precedent and would really usurp the place of a state legislature.

            Where are people still being prosecuted under these laws? (I’m talking about the United States.) Links would be helpful, if you don’t mind.

  • The wise men shall be put to shame…
    behold, they have rejected the word of the LORD,
    so what wisdom is in them?
    —Jeremiah 8:9

  • David Henry

    “Many would also be perfectly fine with domestic partnerships that grant “rights, protections and privileges” enjoyed by married couples. But that is not what the advocates of gay marriage are seeking.”- How do you know this. The homosexual couples I know want only the legal and finanial protection enjoyed by married couples.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      Not the ones I know. They also want their relationships defined as marriages. Look at the Massachusetts SJC ruling and its take on civil unions.

  • Loki


    “The overwhelming majority of defenders of traditional marriage in America have no interest, none whatsoever, in outlawing homosexual sex.”

    I suggest you go back and read the amicus briefs for Lawrence v. Texas. The majority of the defenders of traditional marriage only stopped having interest in outlawing homosexual sex the moment that it would take a constitutional amendment to do so. It is impossible to accept the defenders of traditional marriage as honest when they so blatantly lie.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      I’m familiar with Lawrence, but the issue here had to do with precedent and the particular argument the court would or would not accept. It’s possible to believe a case was wrongly decided (i.e., decided on the wrong grounds, or decided on the basis of a bad argument, an argument which – as a SC ruling – becomes precedent for all other federal courts) without believing that a case came to the wrong conclusion.

      Even at the time, people on the traditional morality/marriage side of that case made clear that they did not want gays being locked up for having gay sex.

      • Duane D.

        Having said that, you won’t see loki come back and appologize for saying you lied. You write for a tough crowd my friend.
        You see, this really is about forcing you to conform to their values, not visa versa. They will have you performing nuptuals for Adam and Steve, and do it with a smile on your face, or you will no longer have a ministry. First they will take your tax excempt status away, then they will just marginalize you until you are irrelevant. Unless one day we actually come to Stalinization.

        • Chris Lang

          This will happen just like the Roman Catholic Church has been forced to perform marriages of persons who have had divorces.

      • Nathaniel

        You keep on saying no one wanted to lock people up for being gay. I’d like evidence for that assertion.

        • Timothy Dalrymple

          Well, I’ve asked them myself, including in interviews on this blog. You can search for my interviews with Rob Schwarzwalder, for instance. But I might also ask: Where do you see the Family Research Counsel introducing laws to criminalize gay sexual behavior? In states where old laws against sodomy are still on the books, where do you see the Family Research Counsel pressing for those laws to be enforced? Is the FRC or Focus employing private investigators to follow people around and send the police into bedrooms when they suspect some funny business is going on? Of course not. Apart from the questions of the role of state and whether it would be right or wrong, it would be counter-productive to their purpose. As FRC says, putting gays in jail would get in the way of the pastoral response they believe that Christians should show toward all LGBTs.

  • Chris Lang

    I think it makes the most sense to understand Mr. Berry’s comments not as a carefully-reasoned argument but instead as an expression of anger. Having lived through decades of wedge-issue and dog-whistle politics practiced by conservatives at the expense of gay people, I can see the anger. We need to take Mr. Berry very seriously, even if his arguments are intemperate and illogical, for this reason.

    • Frank

      He lost his ability to be taken seriously.

  • Sean Mcdonald

    Quote – “I don’t see where God ‘defined marriage.’ In Genesis, for instance, it’s the man, not
    God, who ‘defines marriage.’ In Matthew 19, Jesus does quote the man and says that God joins them together.”

    Actually Jesus is quoting God; V.4 “Have you not read that HE who created…” V.5 “and said…”
    “My teaching is not mine, but His who sent me” John 7:16

  • A Hermit

    ” I believe that gays ought to have – and as human beings do have inalienably – the same rights as heterosexuals, but I do not believe that either gays or straights have a “right” to compel the state to recognize their relationships as marriages.”

    I think you’re playing a dishonest rhetorical game here Dalrymple; from the government’s point of view marriage is a contract between two people. if you deny one class of people the right to enter into that kind of contract you are in fact denying them a right. There are a host of legal implications to the marriage contract; benefits and obligations, which are available to heterosexual but not to gay couples. They do not, therefore, have the same rights.

  • HannibalBarca

    The God of the Bible is OK with human sacrifice and slavery, so I don’t consider the deity, even if he could be demonstrated to exist, to be any kind of moral authority. Even if he existed, I wouldn’t care what he had to say about marriage.

    • Jeff

      Interesting how folks always want to put God on trial. As if they are in the judge’s seat and God is the criminal brought before the court for inspection. See, e.g., The Brothers Karamazov, Psalm 2, C.S. Lewis’ “God in the Dock.” Just a friendly warning–it won’t be God on trial when you breathe your last. It will be you–standing before a holy Judge who knows everything (from the embarrassing to the appalling) that you’ve ever thought, said, and done. (As a side note, I wonder how you can so confidently assert what is good and what is evil if there is no absolute moral standard outside of society and yourself.)

      • HannibalBarca

        Not putting God on trial at all – like I said, I don’t believe any such entity exists. So I’m not mad at God for allowing suffering, etc.
        You simply assert that I’ll stand trial someday – fine. Whatever. I could assert that unless you eat a baby a day you’ll never get to eat unlimited ice cream cones in the afterlife, but unfounded assertions won’t get either of us anywhere.
        As far as how I can tell what is good and bad – even if we accept that some moral commands and edicts originate from God, that still doesn’t mean they are “good” or “evil”. One would still have to examine the outcome of following the command and what the consequences of disobeying it would be. This is where our sense of morality comes from – actions with respect to consequences and goals. Having an “external absolute moral standard” is just theistic code words for “morality by fiat.”
        You can check out the Euthyphro Dilemma if you care about this stuff – in it’s simplest form: “Is something moral because God commands it, or is it moral in and of itself and God is merely informing us of it?” Either way there is a problem for the theistic moral lawgiver argument.

  • Bill D.

    I don’t know anything about Berry except that he’s a novelist who has been highly recomended to me. I thought his writing was strong, provacative, possibly but powerful.

    I think I understood your response most clearly when I read your line that “nothing would please us more than to see this issue go away.” I think there will always be a big disconnect, like the disconnect between Berry’s comments and your response, when this is an “issue.” I might guess that Berry would say that we’re talking about people, individuals, brothers, sisters, nieghbors. I would hope that he would, anyway.

    Your response to his comment about condemnation by category is, I think, a bit defense because you identify with the people he is saying are condemning. I wonder if you could think in another context where you weren’t so invested, you might recognize that rejecting people by category like that is quite harsh.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      But Bill, I don’t view it as rejecting people. I view it as stating that an action is wrong. The conflation between “believing that acting on same-sex desires is wrong” and “hating gay people” is deeply misleading and plagues this whole debate.

      • Bill D.

        I am sure that you don’t view it as rejecting people. That is why there is a disconnect.

        Whenever a controversial “culture war” type topic is reduced to an issue, it becomes something of an abstraction. That makes it easier to discount people’s experiences. I understand your passion to protect something you feel is endangered but people are more important than words. In fact, I would submit, that people are more important than culture. While you likely feel that your experience would be diminished if marriage was redefined, it is hard to muster sympathy for or a Gospel justification for supporting the priveleged against the marginalized. Despite the cultural shift that is occuring, heterosexuals are still the priveleged.

        I hope to come across with a tone of respect. I appreciate you putting yourself out there on your blog. If you are so moved to respond, I would be curious about your thoughts on the idea that people are more important than culture. Thanks.

  • sg
  • Jon

    Timothy, it seems as though you are framing the debate in terms that just have no reality. You argue that there are plenty of Christians who have no objection to same sex couples receiving domestic partnership rights or Civil Unions. Yet, where is the political constituency for that group. Where is the lobbying for a bill that does exactly that, or a ballot measure. The set of views you describe are politically marginal. All of the energy in the Evangelical movement, when it comes to this issue, is for preventing same sex couples from receiving any legal recognition at all.

    Moreover, even to the extent that Evangelical Christians could “live with” legal recognition for same sex couples, I don’t see many Christians at all who view same sex couples’ lack of recognition as any sort of injustice. And that, to those who support gay marriage, and, apparently, to Wendell Berry, is a moral failure that ought to be remembered for a long, long time.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      Civil unions are not something that evangelicals in general will lobby for, this is true. But it’s a compromise many evangelicals (I’m not saying most, just many, although in some states it is most) would accept. They do not want to change the definition of marriage, but they are sensitive to concerns over medical and inheritance rights, for instance.

      Do evangelicals in general view the lack of legal recognition for same-sex couples as an injustice? It depends on what you mean. Abstracting from myself and just trying to speak objectively: I think most evangelicals view same-sex couples as more similar legally to a very close friendship or a cohabitating boyfriend/girlfriend couple. There is no “legal recognition” for those relationships, either. The government began “legally recognizing” married couples because of concerns around property and child-rearing and creating a system of benefits that encourage the formation of stable families. So I think it’s fair to say that most evangelicals probably view it as no more “unjust” that not recognizing cohabitating couples. It may be a valuable relationship, but it’s not marriage, and they don’t really view marriage or the benefits around marriage as a right.

      Those who support civil unions are happy for same-sex couples to have the same benefits that married couples enjoy, but without surrendering what marriage (which they view as a divinely established institution) means. It the goal is really to achieve those benefits, and only that, I think gays would find evangelicals far more amenable.

      • Jon

        Thanks for the detailed response. Two things:

        First, you contend that many, and perhaps most, evangelicals would content themselves with a civil union compromise, and it is true that most of the anti-ssm arguments focus on the concept of marriage itself, rather than on the question of what benefits same sex couples should receive. However, when it comes to actual political advocacy, it does not appear as though that is the true priority of the leadership of the anti-ssm movement – most ballot initiatives, constitutional amendments, and legislative proposals are written in such a way that they foreclose the possibility of such a compromise. I am genuinely curious to know – do you think that I have mischaracterized the anti-ssm movement? If not, why do you think it is that, if many ssm opponents would be open to a civil union compromise, why are most of the anti-ssm measures designed in such a way to foreclose such a compromise?

        I will freely acknowledge that the pro-ssm side is not interested in a civil union compromise, but their rhetoric and their logic is consistent with that: ssm advocates believe the use of the word marriage is a matter of principle, and they think time is on their side, so there is no reason to entrench a civil unions type of system now, rather than achieve total victory in 10-20 years.

      • Jon

        For some reason the second part of the post was caught in the spam filter. Sorry for the double post but here’s the rest:

        Second, if most evangelicals view gay couples who wish to marry as no more than cohabiting friends or lovers, then most evangelicals do not understand homosexual relationships. Appropriately, Berry’s essay “Poetry and Marriage” illustrates the problem with this line of thinking. Though Berry referred to marriage in that essay as between “a man and a woman,” the rest of the essay relays a conception of marriage that can describe gay couples just as well as straight couples. If two men, or two women “mutually promise … to live together, to love and help each other, in mutual fidelity, until death” then they are participating in the “form” or marriage, and are really more like a heterosexual married couple than they are like anything else. If that is correct, then opponents of ssm, whatever their motivation, are spending a great deal of time, money, and energy, in belittling the marriages of their fellow Americans. If that is true, than why don’t opponents of legal ssm warrant the scorn that Berry heaped on them?

  • Joe Chip

    Timothy Dalrymple is so wrong on every count it makes ones head spin. We aren’t even inhabiting the same universe at this point in the discussion. As is usual with marriage equality opponents, Timothy goes out of his way to dress up his animus directed towards homosexuals by using big words and appeals to authority. Increasingly, clear-thinking persons (of which I would put Mr. Berry at the fore) are rejecting the “sophisticated theology” of the Catholic church and the Focus on the Family-type groups who talk about “defending traditional marriage”. All we see is your actions, which really just boil down to making sure our homosexual brothers and sisters are forever classed as second class citizens in the eyes of the state. Working through referendums, constitutional amendments, judicial rulings and funding it all with vast amounts of money (see the Mormon church fighting against gay equality in California) is exactly what Mr. Berry is talking about.

    It is absolutely appropriate to lump your ilk in with those who use the power of the State to oppress “the enemy”, at which times in history HAS been the Native American, the Jew, the Black Slave, the Interracial married couple, and the Homosexual. The “least of these”, includes Christ.

    Timothy, I wish you had the courage to simply admit you don’t like homosexuals and don’t want them to have the same rights you enjoy. At least then we can begin to start from the same vantage point. We don’t care about your words. We look at your actions and the suffering they cause to our friends.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      Please see my response in “How the Defenders of Traditional Marriage are Totally Like Nazis.”

  • Thank you, Timothy, for a smart, thoughtful, and thorough rebuttal to Berry. It’s much appreciated.

  • Will

    “the movement would also like to see an ethical affirmation that there is nothing morally objectionable with homosexuality”

    HA! With that line by itself you demonstrate the stunning disconnect between your imaginary version of the gay-rights movement and the actual gay-rights movement. I would say that your “ethical affirmations” are the last thing gay rights advocates care about, but that implies that they care in any way whatsoever. What pomposity! What shocking arrogance! You imagine that what they’re secretly after, after the decades of struggle and bigotry and lawsuits and grieving and pain, is YOUR APPROVAL?! I am nearly at a loss for words. They want you to LEAVE THEM ALONE. To GO AWAY and let them live their lives in peace with the same rights as the rest of us. Don’t talk about them, don’t think about them, don’t legislate your morality onto them. I want that for them too. LEAVE THEM ALONE. We will never stop opposing your ideas, and we will win.