What if you’re Wrong? (Changing the Default Setting)

What if you’re Wrong? (Changing the Default Setting) September 13, 2012

Fred Clark posted on his blog asking “What if I’m wrong about the clobber verses?” He is referring to the point, which he considers a valid one, that he could be wrong.

That anyone considers this necessary to point out is itself striking, and says a lot about humanity. There are, alas, people who don’t seem to realize that they could be wrong.

But what I was most struck by was the assumption that, since you might be wrong, the conservative or traditionalist objector’s stance should be adopted as the default position.

That seems to me at best an unjustified assumption, and at worst totally and completely wrong.

Is there any statistic indicating that when the church has stuck to its guns about a traditional viewpoint – or what it believed was a traditional viewpoint – that it has been right more often than not? Are the number of instances where Christians are proud of their traditionalism greater than those which fill us with shame and embarrassment?

This is a major issue I have with the conservative approach to Christianity. Its way of reading Scripture has led to the defense of traditional cultural values or views on scientific matters that just happen to be embedded in texts produced within the context of those values and views – about geocentrism, about slavery, about women, and so on and so on. Again and again, it has produced an interpretation of the Bible, and a praxis based upon it, that Christians have ended up ashamed of with hindsight. Yet those within conservative Christianity never seem to ask whether it is the case that the repeated wrong results indicate that something is fundamentally wrong with their approach to Scripture itself.

I found myself thinking about the aforementioned conservative assumptions when reading Tony Jones’ recent piece, which recalls the scene from the movie War Games in which the computer realizes that the only way to win the game of thermonuclear war is not to play. I think the analogy he makes with pietism works better if viewed differently than he does. Or perhaps, it works better with a reference to lyrics from the Rush song “Freewill”: “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.”

Conservative Christians view the playing field of contemporary society, and since they cannot know whether accepting gays and lesbians, or drinking wine in moderation, or doing anything that involves nuance, will meet with divine approval, they abstain from making any changes to the way they have come to understand and do things.

But “doing nothing” is still a “course of action” in a very important sense, and most people would agree that, if you lived in Nazi Germany and did nothing, you contributed through your silence to what was unfolding around you. That that is an extreme example doesn’t mean that the principle is any less true on a smaller scale. When you look away when a single blogger is being bullied and their family harassed, and say nothing because you happen to dislike that blogger anyway, or simply don’t care, then the difference is one of degree, to be sure, but not of kind.

And so treating the conservative position, of at least trying not to change (and that itself involves strenuous action and is never entirely successful), as the default seems to me to be precisely the opposite message I get from the New Testament. There they were pioneering, taking risks, translating the message, embracing those previously excluded, and in a variety of ways “turning the world upside down.” That doesn’t seem to me to provide any grounds for the assumption that sticking with the past should be the default approach to Christianity.

Returning to the topic of gays and lesbians that sparked Fred Clark’s post, the key question is this: Why do some people assume that God will be more pleased with risking being insufficiently inclusive than with being too inclusive? Why do they anticipate divine judgment upon being excessively, rather than insufficiently, welcoming, kind, loving, accepting, and many other things which Jesus was accused of inappropriately being towards people in his time.

I think the time has come to say that every stance has the risk of being wrong, whether it is labeled “conservative” or “liberal,” and to say that when it comes down to it, we’d rather risk being wrong by having the courage to change and act positively, than to risk being wrong by going with the default, traditional option.

Isn’t it as a rule better to risk improving things, than riskily wager that the way things are is as good as things can be?

I’ll return to Fred Clark’s post and give him the last word, since he manages to put these points so very powerfully and eloquently, and with just the right dose of sarcasm (and s I really recommend clicking through to read the whole thing):

Risk-reward analysis is a prudent and useful tool for many things, but not for ethics. If you’re contemplating whether or not to accept an invitation to go skydiving, then by all means contemplate the consequences, weigh the potential risks against the potential rewards, and then make your decision. But if you’re contemplating whether or not to do the right thing — whether or not to love — then such considerations really ought not to be part of the equation.

When this sort of calculation takes over ethical decision-making, I’m not sure it even counts any longer as ethics. It’s more like profit-seeking. That’s the dismal effect of the reward-and-punishment framework that has supplanted love as the defining crux of ethics for many Christians. When seeking reward and avoiding punishment shapes our decisions, then love is always displaced and diminished.

This is yet one more reason that Huckleberry Finn ripping up his letter and turning around his raft is, for me, a canonical text. Unless and until one can say, with Huck, “All right, then, I’ll go to hell,” then one will remain incapable of love.

When my inquisitors seek to remind me of the consequences of “what if you’re wrong?” they have a very specific set of consequences in mind. What they really mean, in other words, is not so much “what if you’re wrong?” but “what if we are right?”

So it’s not really a question as much as a statement — another reiteration of their claims in the hope that they might somehow become more persuasive by brute repetition. And along with that statement comes a kind of a threat: “Woe unto them that call evil good.” (Isaiah wasn’t talking about homosexuality there, but was condemning those who “join house to house, who add field to field, until there is room for no one but you.” But the prophet’s phrase and his denunciation in the same passage of “you who are wise in your own eyes, and shrewd in your own sight” are an apt summary of my inquisitors’ criticism of my argument here.)

I appreciate the severity and the gravity of what they’re suggesting, but I have a hard time following how this is supposed to play out. I’m trying to imagine the scenario of my standing before the throne of God on the day of judgment and hearing God say: “Depart from me, for thy mercy and love exceeded mine own, and thou has accorded too much dignity to these, my children.” Or would it just be, “Depart from me, for I was gay and you did not condemn me and demand I repent”?

I mean, I’ve read that scene, so I know what comes after “depart from me” in that story, but that doesn’t help me imagine the script here.

I’m also not frightfully concerned with the supposed spiritual danger to which I’m allegedly exposing LGBT people. I understand the argument — that I should be demanding repentance instead of offering affirmation, that my love must be moreconditional. But let’s face it, if things work the way my anti-gay critics say they do, then those folks are already cosmically screwed and nothing I say or do will really change that. I suppose, if this crypto-Pelagian scheme is correct, that if we really crank up the misery in this world, then there’s a slight chance that a marginal few people might be coerced into the life of self-loathing celibacy that could save their eternal souls. I get the strategy there. But for the vast majority, that can’t and won’t change the unchangeable fact that they’re apparently predestined to God’s special Hell for Queers.

And, well, if that’s what inevitably awaits them in the next life, then the least I can do is try to reduce their misery a bit in this one. It seems kinder to extend to them here the grace that God will ultimately rescind and thus to allow them at least a measure of happiness in this world.


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  • You commend Fred Clark because he acknowledges that he might be wrong. Yet I read his post to which you linked and it doesn’t seem clear to me that he gave the question serious consideration. For example, he says:

    “Ah, but what if I’m wrong? What if they’re right and I’m wrong and this is what Jesus is really like — fearsome, wrathful, strict, full of graceless truth?”

    For Fred to be wrong Jesus has to be “fearsome, wrathful, strict, full of graceless truth”? Given that condition, wouldn’t Fred and the rest of us who have a high regard for Jesus have to conclude that it’s actually impossible for Fred to be wrong – about this and about any other question that Fred hinges on this condition?

    • arcseconds

      I think it is fair to say, from what Fred has said, that he *has* indeed considered the possibility, and he ‘can’t accept’ what this says about the character of God and Jesus. He’s also considered the case where his critic pushes the matter, saying ‘what if you’re wrong’ about the character of God, and has decided to take the Huck Finn option in this case. He doesn’t outright say, but there’s an implication that a God that’s like this isn’t worth following. That certainly sounds like considering the matter to me, and I suspect it’s more than the “the Bible says it; I believe it; that settles it” crowd generally do.

      But you say that it’s impossible for Jesus to be like this. Firstly, that doesn’t mean that the consideration isn’t serious – after all, sometimes it requires an immense effort to work out that something is impossible.

      Secondly, why is it impossible? Is it really *impossible* that, say, the Gospels don’t entirely accurately reflect the character of Jesus, and that he really was quite judgemental quite a bit of the time. Perhaps the money-lenders businesss and the mother-rebuking episodes are more reflective of his true character. Or maybe the Gospels accurately potrayed his character, but actually God isn’t like Jesus at all and actually does have a rigid and arbitrary list of criteria for getting into heaven?

      I accept that you don’t believe these things. But there’s a difference between not believing something and thinking it outright impossible. And if you think that things you don’t believe about Jesus are impossible, and you think impossible things can’t be given serious consideration, it’s starting to sound rather as if you haven’t given serious consideration to the possibility of you being wrong about anything…

      • What I didn’t see in Fred’s consideration, nor in yours, was the possibility that Jesus could think homosexuality was wrong without being “fearsome wrathful, strict, full of graceless truth.” It was as if Fred were saying “It’s impossible for Jesus to think something is wrong that I think is right.” If that’s the case, I don’t know why he’d even consult Jesus.

        As for me, it for the very reason that I know I can be wrong that I depend upon Jesus.

        • Well, I think the point is that those who oppose committed and faithful same-sex relationships are saying that God is going to punish people for loving a person of the wrong gender. And so it is hard to see how the view of God that adopts that stance can reflect the view that God is love and that love is paramount. It may be that one can find a way to do so, but Fred’s reasoning didn’t seem to me to be inherently faulty.

          • Susan Burns

            I think the point is so much more than that. This is not just about a marriage contract. The spirit of young people is being damaged because of the Bible’s condemnation of gay people. Marriage acceptance is the harbiner of complete integration into our society. We no longer allow the priests to sacrifice the first born male without blemish and we cannot allow the priests to sacrifice the spirit of our gay youth on the alter of holiness. Jesus shifted the entire paradigm of sacrifice so that the belly of God is satiated. Let go of primitivism!

          • When Fred writes ”
            every time I discuss this topic of LGBT people” and you write about “committed and faithful same-sex relationships” I don’t know if the two of you are arguing for the same thing. If I’m understanding the words correctly, it appears your focus is a subset of his. This difference could be important to some people.

            As to your point about the love of God, I don’t follow it. If God loves us does it follow that He embraces and approves of all our behaviors – that our behaviors are all ipso facto righteous?

            In my lifetime we as a society in the US have gone from “homosexuality is wrong” to “homosexuality is right and those who don’t approve of it are wrong.” The question therefore is: Have we been right in making this change? That is, have we been catching up to God, or veering away from Him? Therefore, I think discussing the issue in terms of inclusion or exclusion is avoiding the root issue which is whether homosexuality is right or wrong in the sight of God.

            Those who do not think homosexuality is a sin view the issue through the lens of the civil rights movement and thus consider any opposition to be primitive and reactionary. But this comparison only makes sense if you don’t think homosexuality is wrong. People who believe that homosexuality is an offense against the God who gives us sex as a component of marriage cannot view this as a civil right issue. If you really want to win them over, you must convince them that homosexuality is good.

          • I think the key question is how one determines whether homosexuality is right or wrong in the sight of God, and indeed, whether it is even possible to do so to everyone’s satisfaction even when there is a shared tradition.

            I can understand Christians condemning infidelity, promiscuity, the treatment of another person’s life, their time and their affection, as something cheap and disposable. So that’s why I am focusing on a specific question, about people of the same gender expressing the love for one another that Christians have held up as the ideal standard. On what basis might Christians condemn that other than simply saying “these texts say” – a line of reasoning that we do not consistently follow as Christians?

          • Susan Burns

            Jesus wanted us to use our reason and said so many times in many different ways. My reasoning mind tells me that innocent people do not deserve to suffer for no reason.

          • Can you really not conceive of a person having an internal conviction just like yours, except pointing a different direction?

          • I wasn’t talking about an internal conviction which might have as much to do with upbringing, culture, personal preference, and any number of other factors. I was talking about the conclusion to which we reason on the basis of Christian principles. I certainly can envisage people disagreeing with me – I know they do, and we talk often, including here on this blog. The question I asked in the post is whether, because we might be wrong, we should simply stay with whatever has been the traditional position. I have made the case for answering that question in the negative. I could be wrong. But that will always be true, and so of questionable relevance.

          • Yes, you did argue for not defaulting to the traditional position – just as a progressive could be expected to argue. Conversely, a conservative could be expected to argue in favor of defaulting to the traditional position. Therefore, trying to resolve the issue by either liberal or conservative lights will just result in more deadlock. I continue to believe that the root issue is whether homosexuality is right or wrong in the sight of God and every other approach to resolving the issue is more likely to reinforce existing opinions rather than bring about new ones.

            You don’t seem to want to use the Bible to advance the discussion but if you believe homosexuality is not a sin and I believe it is, what other third party can we bring in to help us resolve our dilemma? (I am, of course, using “you” and “me” simply as proxies for the opposing views.)

          • It is not a matter of not using the Bible, but of recognizing that focusing on specific texts (which allow slavery, or exclude Gentiles, or prohibit women from certain roles) has led us down paths that we are ashamed of, and choosing for that reason to focus on principles in the Bible, recognizing that sometimes specific practices may not have lived up to those principles. And I cannot figure out what is sinful about homosexuality based on Christian principles. How would you (if at all) make the case that it is, based on Christian principles?

          • I agree that it’s important when consulting the Bible to distinguish between those passages that are tied to a specific time and place (i.e. culture specific) and those that speak to enduring values.

            I would build my case beginning with the point that there is a clear bias throughout the New Testament toward sexual purity, which also could be labeled as marital fidelity. From Jesus’s teaching in the gospels through the various admonitions of the epistles, this point of view is consistent. As the Greco-Roman world had all the deviations from this standard that we have today (including homosexuality), I see no reason to assume that this biblical principle was merely an accommodation to culture intended for obsolescence as times changed.

          • OK, and so then the question becomes whether the Christian approach ought to be to prohibit those whose biologically-rooted attraction is to members of the same gender from the opportunity to participate in marriage and be faithful to their spouse, or to insist that they must marry someone of the opposite gender or not at all despite of their innate attraction, or recommend or demand some other course of action.

            Put another way, we can ask whether marital fidelity is, from a Christian perspective, fundamentally about two people making a commitment to one another, or two people of opposite genders making such a commitment, and why.

          • Why do you think Jesus did not make this argument when he had the chance? And why does the New Testament seem to equate marital fidelity and sexual purity?

          • Your last point isn’t addressing my question. If we allow gays and lesbians to marry, then can they not live in marital fidelity?

            On your first question, we could ask why Jesus didn’t address whether Gentiles need to be circumcised, or the release of slaves, or any number of other topics. Clearly the historical figure of Jesus did not address every issue that would subsequently arise, or even every conceivable issue in his own time.

          • You seem to be missing the connection between marital fidelity and sexual purity. They are flip sides of the same coin. Homosexuality, because it is not an act of marriage, is ipso facto sexually impure.

            As for the first question, your point would be generally valid but in this case we see clear and consistent testimony throughout the New Testament that marriage was between husbands and wives. If ever the opportunity was ripe to make the sort of declaration you want to make, (that marriage has nothing to do with gender) it was ripe then. Instead, the position Jesus took was so strict, his closest disciples questioned whether or not it was wise even to become married. The alternative Jesus offered them, as you know, was abstinence.

          • Susan Burns

            Really? You can have abundant life and be celibate? You must live in a fantasyland.

          • arcseconds

            There are plenty of us who, for one reason or another, don’t have sexual partners.

            I kind of like to think we aren’t living withered and wretched lives as a result.

            Perhaps this is a fantasy? I hope not…

          • Susan Burns

            The fantasy of M. Gantt is that he thinks he can live as a spiritual being here on earth.

          • As Jesus said, this advice is not for everyone.

          • Susan Burns

            And yet you would expect the entire LGBT community to live their lives in celibacy. Again, you are talking out of both sides of your mouth. Perhaps your problem is that you have the wrong notion of sex. Apparently, you think that sex is for procreation only. It is not. Sex joins two people creating a bond in intimacy. It is the bond that gay people want legitimized but Conservatives just concentrate on the sex. This leads me to believe that Conservatives do not bond during sex. No wonder they have it so wrong.

          • I hope and pray that we will honor the Creator who gave us marriage by regarding it with the respect appropriate to it and to Him.

          • rmwilliamsjr

            Creator who gave us marriage by regarding

            Marriage is in the sight of God and it preceded both courts and churches.

            it would be useful for you to poke around in the history of marriage in Western societies to see that it is fully an instrument of the state or ruling/propertied classes and reflects property rules in that culture. our notions of marriage do not in some magical way descend to us from the times the Bible was written but are in fact the result of many forces most of which have to do with the production of legitimate heirs and the passing on of estates.

            very few of our cultural traditions about marriage has anything to do with the patterns described in the Bible, and when they appear to do so they are often ex post facto justifications of a pagan past as Christianity began to influence culture at some point, baptizing the old ways.

            God didn’t give us the form of marriage we have today, history did.

          • Actually, it wouldn’t be useful for me to poke around in the history of marriage as it’s not relevant to my point. I agree that laws, traditions, and so on have developed around marriage and varied across times and cultures. I’m not arguing for any of that. My focus is the relationship between a man and a woman called marriage which is at the heart of all those variations.

          • rmwilliamsjr

            My focus is the relationship between a man and a woman called marriage which is at the heart of all those variations.

            this expresses a particular historical ideal. historically marriage has more often been about the unification of 2 families than the union of a male and female. you need to try to break out of your cultural myopia a little bit to see that your notions of marriage are not only very modern, very western but not very Biblical. OT marriage was very firmly about the relationship of 2 families not 2 people, it was all about property and legitimate offspring. the NT often uses marriage as a metaphor, as such it is highly idealized, you are importing your ideas about the metaphor without looking at the underlying historical reality. for the poor marriage was about offspring who could supply more hands, for the rich marriage was about consolidation of power and property.

          • My central and defining view of marriage is Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 19:1-12.

          • rmwilliamsjr

            look at the incredulity of the disciples, why would anyone get married if divorce was not readily available? Jesus answer is that his disciplines SHOULD not marry. look at the way the shakers interpreted this verse(many other millennial movements as well) as a command NOT to marry. how you interpret this verses is very much a function of your community. it is not a plan for marriage at all, but a justification NOT to marry because the kingdom is at hand. you are misusing the verse as a definition of marriage, which is obviously not it’s intention at all.

          • You’re entitled to your view.

            For my part, I don’t see how Jesus could have been more straightforward about the nature of marriage in God’s sight. And of all the views I’ve ever heard, this one coincides most directly with my own conscience. God’s ideal is one man with one woman for one lifetime. Sex is intended for that context. Period.

          • rmwilliamsjr

            I don’t see how Jesus could have been more straightforward about the nature of marriage in God’s sight.

            i’m not trying to change your mind about how you interpret these verses but rather show you that how you arrived at your understanding is not the only possible route for a Christian to take to read these verses. I present the interpretation of the Shakers as a concrete example of how these few verses can be variously understood. we are all creatures of our interpretive communities, the more we say “could have been more straightforward” illustrate the certainty that our community is right and all others are wrong.

            it is this certainty that bugs me, history and a reading of various modern communities understanding shows that the Bible has been read in an extraordinary variety of ways, some claiming exclusivity, some simply claiming continuity, others understanding that they are one of many. as we can encounter these different interpretations, we can try to understand why others think as they do.

            all i desire is to have you see that the PERIOD is really a COMMA. so that we say, for me it is this way, but i understand how you arrived at your beliefs. by saying PERIOD, you essentially like many others have identified your ideas with those of God Himself so that you can not see how anyone else can read the Bible differently without being wrong.

          • Apparently, the irony of your being certain that I should be uncertain is lost on you.

            Look, I readily acknowledge that as human beings we are subject to a variety of cognitive distortions as we seek to understand the reality in which we dwell – and that, as a result, none of us is immune to error. But neither does this mean that finding the truth is a hopeless quest. Just because someone views Matthew 19 differently than me does not make me wrong; neither would everyone agreeing with me make me right. Truth is truth, and our legitimate hope as human beings to to reach, grope, and grasp as much of it as we can. What we do with what truth we find is how God judges our lives.

            The whole purpose of the gospel (good news) of Jesus Christ (which includes the truth that everyone is going to heaven) is so that every human being might have core truth by which to live and have hope in this world. If I choose to pass it on, I am prepared to live with the consequences – including your disapproval of my confidence about the matter.

          • You do know, right, Mike, respectfully, that, by current count, there are over 30,000 different Christian sects/denominations in the world today. I don’t even know to which you belong. If every one of them thinks that their particular ‘convictions’ or beliefs about what the Bible says, are the only ‘correct’ ones, how are they going to each prove that they are? You all don’t honestly expect me to just take your word for it that YOUR particular interpretation is the right one. I’m certainly not going to sit through 30,000 different arguments about 30,000 different religious ideas. I doubt my life will last that long. So,pardon me if I just move along, believing what I think is right and acting upon that? You all can’t even agree upon how many books the Bible has or which translation is the correct translation! What makes you think you’re wise enough to decide for someone else how the course of their whole life should go just because you have this idea that you know what’s good for them better than they do?

          • I don’t belong to any of the 30,000 plus Christian denominations, nor do I recommend that you join any of them either. I support your right to act upon what you think is right, as I do the same. I only point out to you that I find the Bible to be a unique collection of truth all built around one Jesus Christ – Lord of heaven and earth. If you love truth – as I do – you’ll love Him.

          • arcseconds

            “Homosexuality, because it is not an act of marriage, is ipso facto sexually impure.’

            this sounds awfully like the Catch-22 identified by a comment on Fred’s blog. “we can’t allow you to marry because you’re sexually impure, and you’re sexually impure because you’re not in a marriage”

          • That’s not the argument I’m making at all. Rather, I’m saying that homosexual unions don’t qualify for marriage because they’re not marriage.

          • Is there any way that someone can get into that circular argument if they do not already share your assumption that homosexual unions cannot be marriages? At any rate, at the purely factual level, your statement is false, since there are countries and states that recognize, and churches that perform, same-sex marriages. And your stating that they are not marriages does not change their legal or other standing.

          • I am not speaking of legality. Marriage is in the sight of God and it preceded both courts and churches.

          • arcseconds

            According to (some) Christians it’s in the sight of God. According to law, though, whether your married or not has nothing to do with what God thinks, it’s entirely a legal matter. You can go through a wedding ceremony conducted by the Second Coming, but if you don’t have the right forms filled out in the right way by the right people you’re not married according to the Bundesrepulik Deutschland or the State of Kansas or wherever.

            Contrariwise, if you *do* have the right forms etc., you’re legally married even without any kind of ceremony, and even if God disapproves deeply for whatever reason.

            So already we’ve got two very different concepts of marriage here: there’s the ‘united in the eyes of God’ notion, and the ‘have entered into a legal pact’ notion.

            To this we could add many other notions: the “two people who love each other and want to promise to spend the rest of their days together” notion, the property rights notion whereby a man acquires a piece of property, his to command (which is how it was quite often in the days before churches and courts, and even afterwards).

            Many of us, when we say we’re married, don’t understand this to mean “we’re united in the eyes of God”. Obviously atheists don’t mean this, but as far as I understand it in Muslim societies it’s considered more of a legal pact, and so to in Chinese societies.

            Plus, of course, many same-sex couples *do* think they’re united in the eyes of God, so they do think the word ‘marriage’ applies in just the same way you do.

            Now, if it was up to me, I’d give you the word ‘marriage’. I’d say: “OK, fine, marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman according to what Mike Gantt thinks God thinks is appropriate, on the basis of his guesses about Jesus’s silence on the matter means.”

            And then I’d invent a new word, ‘schmarry’, and say “OK, by stipulation this is about two people deciding to live together in a close union, and seek legal protection for their relationship”.

            And then the question would be, “can one enter into a same-sex schmarriage”, and the answer is clearly yes! you can decide to do this no matter what the law says, and in some cases you can actually get legal protection for it.

            But it’s not up to me. Unfortunately the meaning of the word ‘marriage’, like every other word in the English language, is defined by how the speakers of the language use it, and the way it’s heading is that it will mean just what I say ‘schmarriage’ means, if it doesn’t already.

            Because there’s nothing you can do to stop this either, I recommend you coin a new word for your understanding, in order to prevent conceptual confusion. ‘schmarriage’ is currently available.

          • You are quite right that human beings can pass whatever laws they want about marriage, but that does not make those laws right.

          • rmwilliamsjr

            maybe using a moral rule to judge laws is wrong, perhaps rather than right or wrong, laws are useful or not. judge by utilitarian standards not moral ones.

          • If there is no God, then, yes, making laws solely by utilitarian standards is wise. Otherwise, it’s not.

          • I’d be curious to know how consistently you apply that reasoning. For instance, if there is only one God who objects to the worship of images, then allowing Hindus and others freedom of worship might be unwise. Is that how you view it? Or can there be appropriate legislation allowing people to act in ways that you yourself are convinced that God disapproves of?

          • Wise lawmaking considers not only the will of God, but also the state of the populace and the priorities of the age. Moreover, humans should never seek to pass laws that only God can enforce. Passing a law to forbid the worship of images in this day would be folly.

          • rmwilliamsjr

            it might be that if a substantial majority of a society agree on their vision of God then considering legislation the implication of that god’s will is a useful thing to do, but in a pluralistic society like ours agreement, on who’s vision of god sits on that society’s throne is problematic. whether or not a god actually exists seems to have nothing to do with human societies, and given the extraordinary variety of societies, no universal morality seems to emerge from our nature itself.

          • Every person in a democracy speaks and acts according to his or her personal convictions. Whether those convictions are informed by a belief in God has nothing to do with how many votes the person does or doesn’t get in the country’s affairs.

          • arcseconds

            That’s not my point.

            My point is that ‘marriage’ is not defined solely in terms of relationships that God approves of. It never has been, and never will be, and in fact in Western cultures it is increasingly the case that any religious dimension to marriage is dropping away.

            I very much doubt even you think it’s really defined entirely in terms of what God wants, because otherwise you’d not only think same-sex marriage was an oxymoron, but you’d also think abusive marriages, or marriages of convenience, or shotgun weddings, or arranged marriages (particularly for political ends) as being oxymoronic, too. So, for example, you might not regard Queen Victoria and Prince Albert (or most royal marriages up until the recent past) as not being married, as surely it’s not God’s plan for marriage to be used as a political tool.

            So stop being Humpty Dumpty and thinking you can define the word ‘marriage’ solely on your terms.

          • I’m fully aware of the difference between God’s standard and a cultural standard. Even if a culture unanimously desirous of instituting laws about marriage that were consistent with God’s, it would be unwise to pass a law regarding every aspect for such a marriage – such as trying to legislate against wrong intentions in marriage. But neither would it be wise to try to sanction as marriages those activities which are not marriage.

          • When Jesus heard that a Roman wanted him to heal his “pais” who could as easily be his lover as his slave, and if a slave, could still be used for sexual purposes, that was a perfect opportunity for Jesus to address the issue of homosexuality. Your argument, such as it is, either does not work, or works as well against you as in your favor.

            I do not think you are actually addressing the points I made in previous comments.

          • I don’t agree with you that the incident you described was a perfect opportunity for Jesus to address the issue of homosexuality. What I am saying is that marriage and sexual purity represents a recurring them in the New Testament. Given its prominence, and given the pains to which the believers went in addressing the subject, and given the overarching emphasis on love throughout all NT teaching, it seems odd for you to suggest that it didn’t occur to them to make the point you’re wanting to make.

            As for your thinking that I am not actually addressing the points you made in your previous comments, I think that is because you have not recognized (whether willfully or not, I do not know) that your question is based on a premise you have not proven and that is not universally shared. That is, the premise of your question is a redefinition of marriage which leaves out a key component: gender. If you want to make an argument that marriage deserves to be redefined independent of gender, then make it, offer your new definition, and I will respond to both the argument and the new definition.

            I cannot conceive of marriage as other than between a man and a woman, nor can I imagine the New Testament teachers conceiving it as other than that. If sexual deviation from marriage is a sin then faithfulness in that deviation can’t make it right.

          • I realize that that you seem to be unable to conceive of marriage otherwise. You may well be right that the NT authors and figures would have shared your inability. But they also were unable to imagine that the Earth was spinning incredibly fast while hurtling through space, and that what they envisaged as “heaven” did not lie a relatively short distance away above this or that celestial sphere. We cannot and must not bind ourselves to a view about which everyone antiquity involved in producing Biblical literature shared a certain assumption. Those are precisely the things that it is crucial that we be willing to reconsider, because they represent not the thoughtful conclusions and convictions of our predecessors in the fai, but merely things that they and most others in antiquity happened to assume. It is when the church has failed to be willing to question such assumptions that it has found itself most ashamed when viewing the matter again with the benefit of hindsight.

          • I have already agreed with you that is it proper to distinguish between biblical directives that may be specific to time and place on the one hand and those that are enduring on the other. Such a decision must be made on an issue-by-issue basis. I take it from your previous comments that you believe the New Testament’s directions for us to love God and each other are enduring and not limited to a particular cultural setting. I agree with you.

            The question this raises, which you are so far failing to address, is into which of these two categories (temporal or timeless) does homosexuality fall? I am arguing that 1) my conscience tells me it’s a sin (as it tells me any deviation from marriage is a sin) and 2) there is at the very least a prima facie case in the NT that it is a sin.

            I can’t tell whether you’re arguing that homosexuality is never sin, or only that it’s not sin when practiced in a “faithful committed relationship.” As to your view of NT teaching, I don’t understand why you think ignorance of modernity would be relevant to your argument that love in “faithful committed relationship” transcends gender. It’s not as though first-century folks were unfamiliar with homosexuality or with faithfulness.

          • And I am arguing that my conscience tells me that it is a sin to demand that people live alone when it is not their calling and to fight against rather than for love as a Christian, and that a frima facie case for doing so can be made from the New Testament. Is there anything left other than to agree to disagree? It still isn’t clear to me that there is anything that could challenge what you have admitted is an assumption about what marriage should be, and so I am wondering what, if anything, could change your mind, even in theory.

          • Couldn’t I ask you the same?

            Are you implying that I am being intransigent while you are not?

          • arcseconds

            I’ve got good friends in same-sex relationships. For me to even consider treating them as anything different from different-sex relationships, I’d need a really, really compelling reason.

            I’m just trying to picture myself going up to them with this argument:

            “well, see, Jesus never mentioned same-sex relationships, and in the Bible we only see heterosexual relationships condoned. And he did seem to have a strict sexual ethic.

            So i’m interpolating into this silence on the one hand and heteronormativity on the other a condemnation of homosexuality.

            now, i’ve no idea why he doesn’t like it, but my best guess is that he doesn’t, and that’s good enough for me.

            So in conclusion, please break up and remain celibate your entire life.

            And I say this out of the deepest love for you.

            when it comes to supporting what obviously makes you happy, and following
            the attitude I’m imaging Jesus might have had, clearly the most loving thing for me
            to do is to stick to my guesses about Jesus might have thought. ”

            This is not just weak, Mike. it’s positively flimsy. And saying it’s done out of love makes it a farce.

          • I wouldn’t suggest you go up to your friends with such an argument either.

          • arcseconds


            Why not?

          • Because you haven’t fairly represented the argument I gave. In fact, what you’ve given is a caricature. Along with that caricature, love seems completely absent from the conversation except for the lip service given it.

          • arcseconds

            It’s not an unfair characterization as far as I understand it.

            I may, of course, have misunderstood it, however.

            You argument, so far as I understand it, is that you think that Jesus’s silence on the matter of same-sex relationships as we know them today means that he would not approve of them. You’ve said that you take Matthew 19 to be the model of marriage, but this doesn’t say anything directly about homosexuality either, so it’s still an argument from omission.

            If there’s anything more to it than that, then I’ve missed it. You haven’t said, for example, *why* it is bad, beyond the fact you don’t think God likes it.

          • To repeat, my argument is:

            1) I have a personal conviction that sex outside of marriage – including, of course, homosexuality – is wrong. You have a personal conviction that homosexuality is right. In a democracy, your view is no more or less legitimate than mine. Our votes cancel each other out.

            2) In addition to my personal conviction, I believe the New Testament clearly identifies sex outside of marriage – including, of course, homosexuality – as wrong. My reference to Matthew 19 was a key point, not by any means the entirety of what Jesus or the New Testament says about the subject.

            Even on Matthew 19 alone, however, homosexuality would be disallowed because homosexual activity is not marriage activity since it does not involve male and female as Jesus explicitly stated in that passage, and as every educated adult knows anyway.

            By the logic you want to apply to Matthew 19, every sexual deviancy that could be conceived by a human being would be authorized simply because Jesus did not catalog all the ways in which the standard He gave could be violated.

          • arcseconds

            (1) obviously doesn’t get us anywhere, which is why I never argued on the basis of my conviction. I’m not saying it’s wrong to get in the way of someone’s relationship because of a conviction of mine

            I’m saying it’s wrong because it *hurts them*, and we shouldn’t hurt people without a good reason to do so. Right?

            So that gets us back to reasons.

            Nothing Jesus says there at all suggests to me a prohibition against leaving your father’s house for another man. The topic here is divorce, not homosexuality.

            Anyway, as I said before, this could only ever be convincing to Christians.

            “as every educated adult knows anyway.”

            This is a childish thing to say. Obviously I think I’m an educated adult, and i take myself to know differently, as does James, and presumably you agree he’s educated, and I know same sex couples who are married according to law, and they’re pretty educated too, and they know that they are married, and so do the legislatures that permitted these weddings, &c. &c.

            you know all this. why did you say it? intending to insult us by implying that we’re either not educated, or not adults?

            “By the logic you want to apply to Matthew 19, every sexual deviancy that
            could be conceived by a human being would be authorized simply because
            Jesus did not catalog all the ways in which the standard He gave could
            be violated.”

            The Bible gives no clear guidance on many matters. It doesn’t tell us what the speed limit should be for automobiles in metropolitan areas. It doesn’t tell us what form of government to adopt. We have to work those things out for ourselves.

            It also doesn’t give us very much guidance on sex and relationships. We have to work out that for ourselves, too. It’s not ‘anything goes’ any more than it is with speed limits or governments.

          • You lost me at “…
            I never argued on the basis of my conviction.”

          • arcseconds

            Let me put it as simply as possible:

            “I’m going to stop you drinking alcohol, because i feel drinking alcohol is wrong”

            is a different argument than

            “I’m going to stop you drinking alcohol because you don’t know when to stop, and you get violent when you’re drunk, and you hurt people, including yourself”

            The first one isn’t a very good argument for someone to stop drinking, and it’s far from enough to justify me interfering in someone else’s activities, even if they’re a close friend. People have all sorts of feelings about all sorts of things, and I’m not going to stop doing something just because someone else feels it’s wrong, and nor, I suspect, are you.

            The second one is a pretty good reason for stop someone drinking, assuming you have the right to do so.

            I haven’t made any arguments of the first sort, because they don’t go anywhere, and no-one needs to take them seriously. To be fair, up until recently, you haven’t made such arguments either.

          • You missed my point. I’m saying that if you don’t think you are arguing from your personal conviction then I don’t know how to have a rational discussion with you. If it’s not obvious to you that you and I are each arguing according to our respective personal convictions, I despair of our finding agreement on more difficult issues.

          • arcseconds

            Arguing according to our convictions, perhaps.

            But I’m not advancing my conviction as an argument.

            In addition, my convictions are to a large part based on reasons. If I discover i can’t find a halfway convincing argument for something, I generally ceased to be convinced about it. That’s not to say I would just drop it altogether and cease accepting it in some sense, but at that point I’d describe it as a feeling or a suspicion or a preference – perhaps a strong one, but not as something I’m completely sure of.

            And I wouldn’t insist that anyone (except maybe close friends) stop doing something that I only have a bad feeling about – and I certainly wouldn’t attempt to enshrine it in law.

            So to me, there’s no point in saying “I’ve a conviction”. No-one’s going to believe in something just because I believe it, and nor would I want them to. So I may as well leave my convictions out of it and discuss my reasons.

            Whereas it’s starting to sound like it’s almost the opposite with you. You take your conviction as the starting point and as a self-standing reason it’s own right, and then you gather arguments to shore it up.

            That would explain your utter certainty. I was wondering how you could be so certain when it sounded like you were admitting it was grounded in a theory based on your interpretation of biblical passages that don’t directly address the matter. I could sorta kinda imagine accepting your argument if I really screw up my eyes and look sideways at it and granted a lot of assumptions, but I can’t conceive of being *certain* about it.

            But if you’re already certain and that’s that, the weakness of your Biblical argument doesn’t matter. It also explains why you’re going for these silly slippery slope arguments – anything to keep advancing your conviction.

          • This is a blog. You are arguing for your point of view and I am arguing for mine. We are each offering reasons we hope will be compelling to the other – and to readers, if there are still any. I think the matter is as simple as that – the “matter” being the framework of our interaction.

            As for the other things you said, let me say that if two people want to get into a car and drive off a cliff I do not propose that we stand in front of the car to try and stop them. On the other hand, neither do I propose that we build a highway between them and the cliff so they can get there faster.

          • Susan Burns

            II view it through the lens of a HUMAN rights issue. Gay people are human. I don’t see why their adolescence should be a veritable gauntlet of violence, bigotry and bullying. This hurts my heart and I cannot understand why you are not moved. Has your book of rules hardened your heart so completely that you are immune to suffering? How do you stand it?

          • Yes, the human right lens yields the same answer as the civil right lens. But again, if it’s something God views as wrong, then it’s not subject to democratic machinations.

            My heart grieves every time I hear a euphemism like “gay” or an oxymoron like “gay marriage,” for such false words obscure truth and thus lead to pain. At the same time, and for my whole life long, my heart also grieves whenever I hear a homosexual person called by a demeaning name or abused in any way – even if such comments are made out of earshot of the victim. I believe that sexual promiscuity is sinful, but I also believe hate is sinful. These are things that grieve my heart.

          • Susan Burns

            And yet you freely call them sinners and such. You can’t have it both ways. You cannot denigrate them out of one side of your mouth and have compassion out of the other. This is the height of hypocrisy and why it is hard for me to call myself Christian.

          • We are all sinners. Only Jesus is exempt from that charge.

          • Kubricks_Rube

            If God loves us does it follow that He embraces and approves of all our behaviors – that our behaviors are all ipso facto righteous?

            This remains the crux of the issue: is homosexuality a behavior, like infidelity or theft, or is it an identity, like male or female, Jew or Greek? Biology, psychology, sociology as well as the personal experiences of millions have taught us that not only is it the latter, but that there is no good reason (but many counterproductive ones) to “prohibit those whose biologically-rooted attraction is to members of the same gender from the opportunity to participate in marriage and be faithful to their spouse.”

          • There can be no doubt that homosexuality is a behavior. Whether it is a legitimate behavior is the question to be asked. I don’t share your view that it is. Neither do I think the Bible supports your view.

            Nevertheless, I think you are getting at the root issue and that is a good place for discussion to occur.

        • Susan Burns

          Progressives see the outcome of the primitivism you attribute to Jesus. We see the suffering and misery that cannot be alleviated as long as you people are preaching this. We don’t think Jesus would be in favor of suffering for no good reason.

          • I can agree that Jesus does not favor suffering for no good reason.

        • arcseconds

          I took the ‘fearsome wrathful, strict, full of graceless truth’ to not just refer to a Jesus who does not condone homosexuality, but one who would also condemn those of us who, with the best will in the world, do condone it.

          But as it happens, I can’t at all see condemning homosexuality as being loving. Of course, someone could be a very loving person and condemn homosexuality, but to the extent that they’re condemning homosexuality they’re not being loving. Something else has trumped love — possibly ignorance, probably prejudice.

          My basis for thinking this is roughly the same basis as why I think kicking puppies or throwing stones at elderly eccentrics is not loving behaviour. If I met someone who convinced me he was Jesus (by performing miracles and saying the sorts of i things I’d expect Jesus to say, maybe), and then went on to kick a puppy and say “no, really, it’s good thing to kick puppies. In fact, it’s a sin not to. There’s a puppy over there – go kick it in My name”, then what happens there is not that I start to doubt my attitude towards puppy-kicking, but rather I start to doubt my attitude towards this man who seemed wise and powerful, but now strikes me as a sadist. i might even start to think that it’s more likely that he’s Satan, and the earlier displays of wisdom and kindness were part of an elaborate scheme to deceive me.

          that doesn’t mean i couldn’t be convinced that for some complicated reason that homosexuality is wrong – and I could also be convinced, maybe, that kicking puppies was the right thing to do. Maybe it hurts the puppy but if we don’t do the world will slowly lose its oxygen or something. but on the face of it, it’s a cruel action.

          • I don’t see how thinking homosexuality is a sin has anything to do with kicking puppies or throwing stones at elderly eccentrics.

          • Susan Burns

            What conservatives do to gay people is exactly like kicking a puppy. Gay adolescents are the innocent puppies looking for love and acceptance. The hateful slurs and abuse they receive is the kicking part. How these kids survive this onslaught is beyond me. This is a direct result of the Body of Christ being hijacked by the priests.

          • I make no defense for hateful slurs and abuse. They make me sick.

          • Susan Burns

            What you are doing is much worse. The message you are sending to these youths is that they are an abomination. They are growing up with the message that the light does not shine on them. You are telling them there is no hope. Who do you think you are depriving these innocent kids of a clear path to adulthood? You think you are God’s messenger because you can read. Your cloak of rightousness was given to you by Johannes Gutenberg – not God.

          • All of us are God’s messengers. If homosexuality is good, then those of us who encourage youth to practice it are doing them good, and those who discourage them are doing them evil. If homosexuality is bad, then the reverse is true.

          • Susan Burns

            This is not a fight for votes. I can’t seem to make you understand that gay people are human. If you will not allow them into the Body of Christ, what would you do with them? Your final solution is not acceptable to me or anybody that has a friend or loved one that is gay. The damage you are doing must be battled. Your conservative priests should be run out of town. We should not allow your bigotry to diminish our innocent children. Who is with me? ATTICA! ATTICA!

          • I do believe that any sex outside of marriage (including homosexuality) is a sin. However, no one is excluded from Christ. Everyone is going to heaven.

          • I’m with you Susan! My ‘son’ was born transgendered with both male and female organs. He decided upon adulthood to become fully male although he had been raised as a female because the male organs were all internal and not known about until he had some internal surgery. He felt he was meant to be male.. He is in love with another transgendered male. You see, Mike, respectfully, sexual identity is much more a continuum than a clearly divided demographic. Sexual identity is not the same as sexual orientation. They are two distinct things. Don’t dare to tell me I don’t know what I’m talking about. I’ve lived with this for almost 30 years now. Who would dare to take my child and decide for him who he should be and whom he should love?

          • Oh and Mike, autopsies have been done on gay males and their brains are more often wired like a woman’s brain (there are distinct differences!). A person’s sexuality is more than what ‘bits’ they have on the outside of their bodies.

          • arcseconds

            You don’t? then that’s the problem right there.

            Kicking a puppy is in itself a hurtful thing to do. Now, there might be a greater good that means it’s still worth doing this hurtful thing, but it’s still hurtful. Pretty unlikely in the case of puppy-kicking.

            Telling two people who love each other and are physically attracted to one another that they can’t be together in a loving, physical relationship is also a hurtful thing to do. You do see that, right? If you don’t, there’s something seriously awry with your empathy.

            Again, there might be a greater good that means it’s still worth doing. For example, you may know that one of them is abusive.

            But without a good enough reason, it’s just cruel and meddlesome, and if you’re in a position to actually enforce it, tyrannical.

            And I’ve yet to see anything resembling a good enough reason coming from you. You think God *might* disapprove on the basis of a fimsy scriptual argument, and your intuitions are against it. Pro-slavery people have a better scriptual argument, and just as strong intuitions, and we’re best off not listening to them.

            Even if you had an utterly compelling scriptual argument, it would only be compelling for Christians without an independent argument, and without such an argument would result in an injunction to be cruel and tyrannical.

            Even if you were right about God not liking it, unless there’s some further reason that God has here, all that means is God is tyrannical. I can no more imagine a benevolent God simply deciding by fiat that a particular relationship is wrong, than I can a benevolent God deciding by fiat that kicking a puppy is a good thing.

          • By your logic no one should ever say any activity is wrong because it would hurt those who are intent on engaging in it.

          • arcseconds

            you may want to read my post again, because that’s not my logic at all. I explicitly discussed a case which is the opposite of what you say:

            “Again, there might be a greater good that means it’s still worth doing. For example, you may know that one of them is abusive.”

            Objecting to, and preventing relationships hurts people. Objecting and preventing *all* relationships that someone could plausibly have, given whom they are attracted to, hurts them *really badly*.

            I’ve allowed for hurting them in this way to be the right thing to do, but you need a really strong reason for that, one that outweighs the hurt that you do to them.

            And it’s not just the hurt. There’s also the question of right. When do you (or the State) have a right to prevent a relationship between two people you don’t even know? Surely only in the worst possible cases.

            So you not only have to show it’s bad, to justify interference, you need to show it’s as bad as, say, pedophilia. And you need a *convincing* argument, which is what I’m not seeing at the moment. At the very best you’ve got a plausible speculation of what God *might* have in mind, given Christian presuppositions, that’s what I’m seeing.

            That doesn’t justify anything.

          • You’re trying to shift the burden of proof to me. On the contrary, it’s up to you who want to redefine marriage to set the new limits (and justify why, for example, the definition will disallow pedophilia, incest, bestiality, and all sorts of other things it’s indecorous to even mention. To you it’s “obvious” that homosexual unions are much more like marriage than like all the other deviations I mentioned – but not to me. And, in a democracy, that’s one against one.

            Surely if society continues on its current (coarse) course, you will have more voters who agree with you than I have agreeing with me. But don’t expect me then or now to say something is right that clearly is not.

          • arcseconds

            Are you now arguing that the problem with same-sex marriage is that you don’t know where to draw the line?

            This is now a different argument to your last, but no better, and just as cruel. (If it’s so clear, it ought to be easy to give a good argument, shouldn’t it?)

            Now you are saying to an adult couple who wants legal protection for their relationship “sorry, i can’t let you do that, because if I let you do that, I can’t work out how to not let someone molest a child”

            That’s making them a victim of your rigid theorizing. It’s not their fault that without your divine model of marriage you’re left bereft of an argument against molesting children. Although that does help explain why you can’t loosen your death-grip on your interpretation of the Bible one iota.

            Really, it’s not hard to come up with an argument against sexual abuse of children that doesn’t depend on some divine model of marriage, or for that matter on Biblical arguments at all.

            If you’re really unable to do this for yourself, I’ll help, but I reckon you can do it.

          • I know where to draw the line. You’re telling me to move the line, but you won’t say to where.

          • arcseconds

            Honestly, Mike, it’s a simple question.

            You can’t give any arguments against sexual abuse of children that don’t revolve around your theory of God’s plan for marriage?

            From what you *say*, you apparently think the only problem with sexual abuse of children is that the abusers should really get with the ‘God’s plan for marriage’ programme and find an available single adult of the opposite sex and settle down.

            That surely can’t be the case. I’m sure it’s obvious to you that sexual molestation *hurts children*, and not in a theoretical “if only they understood God the way I do” kind of a way. If it’s really *not* obvious to you, you really should go read some accounts of people who were abused as children.

            And I’m sure you care about this hurt, too. If you don’t, that would make you a monster, and I don’t think you’re a monster.

            I think you’re just tricking me now, feigning ignorance because you know full well there are very clear reasons to not allow molestation of children, but you’ve decided to disingenuously use it as an argument to oppose same-sex marriage.

          • My supply of ignorance is sufficient that I don’t need to feign it.

            Here’s how I look at the issue: Take a piece of paper and draw a vertical line down the center of it. To the left write “Marriage (husband + wife).” To the right list all the possible deviations from that standard. That would begin with (in no particular order) divorce, adultery, fornication, homosexuality, rape, incest, pedophilia, incest…(I’m uncomfortable with these terms so I’ll stop here). You’re asking me to move one of the items on the right side over to the left side, but you’re giving me no new rule for marriage by which I might do so. You’re implying that the answer is obvious, but it’s not obvious to me. I can distinguish between dysfunctions that involve coercion versus those that don’t (e.g. rape versus adultery) but sorting on that value leaves some things in the right side that, by your logic, could perhaps also move to the left side.

            If you want to say that calling a homosexual union “marriage” is “right,” please give me a rationale for doing so. I gave you a rational for my point of view, I’m just asking you to reciprocate.

          • Susan Burns

            I think the reason you don’t understand is because you are leaving love out of the equation. Concentrating on the sexual act itself is a common mistake of the male. Very frustrating for us females. Perhaps if gays are allowed to marry and society perceives their loving bond, heterosexual men will begin to integrate love and sex in their brain. We all may benefit from gay marriage.

          • Love is very much at the center of my equation for if I did not love homosexuals, I would not invite their ire and yours by taking this stand.

          • Susan Burns

            Please try and stay on topic. This is not about you.

          • You said I was leaving out love; I simply responded that I wasn’t. If we’re off topic, didn’t you take us there?

          • Susan Burns

            “On the contrary, it’s up to you who want to redefine marriage to set the new limits (and justify why, for example, the definition will disallow pedophilia, incest, bestiality, and all sorts of other things it’s indecorous to even mention.” You don’t understand why these dysfunctions are not classified with same-sex relationships. I told you it is because this is about love and not sex.

          • That’s not much of a definition. First of all, you haven’t explained why it is that no other dysfunctional relationship can claim love. Secondly, you haven’t explained how the government is going to evaluate “love” on the marriage license application. It’s been a while since I filled mine out but I don’t remember a check-off box for that.

          • Susan Burns

            It is not up to the government to define love. It is between the two consenting adults. I know I don’t need to explain to you why pedophilia is not love. WAIT maybe I do. Children are not mature enough to form consent.

          • Okay, now you are on your way to a new definition of marriage. Building block #1: Remove the gender constraint but retain adult and consenting restraints. Next, how about number? Why must it be two? If three (or more) consenting adults come forward wanting to be married, will your new definition allow it? If not, what reason will you give the three (or more) for declining their request (or “kicking the puppies” as some would put it)?

          • Susan Burns

            Actually, plural marriage has been given a tryout. The patriarch of the Israelites civilization was a polygamist and the progeny of two of the wives are still fighting. So that didn’t work out so well. But if twelve year old girls start demanding the right to marry their fifty year old married uncle, then maybe we can revisit that.

          • How quickly you’ve become distracted from building the new definition of marriage by which you believe we all should live.

            It is always easier and less time-consuming to tear down than to build up. In this case, it is easier and less time-consuming for you to tear down the existing definition of marriage than to construct a new one.

            Again, I’m not asking you to why you don’t like the Bible. I’m not asking you about what people did ages ago. I’m asking you to define the “marriage” that you want us to approve of in this day and age. So, how about it? How many people do you allow in it, and how do you justify the number you choose?

          • Susan Burns

            Because it is a rediculous request. Gay people form same-sex pair bonds. As I said before, it is about the bond – not the sex. Gay people do not form “tri-bonds”. Only hetero men seem to be able to be bonded with more than one partner. That is probably why you think it is a viable option.

          • Do you not recognize that you want to open a door you can’t close?

            You offer no rational basis for excluding more than two consenting adults who want to enter into a “love bond.” Neither will you have a rational basis for excluding incest when it involves consenting adults. And on it will go every time some vocal minority steps up and demands its “right” to “equal” treatment under the law.

            You want to do away with the definition of marriage as a lifelong relationship between husband and wife without offering any new definition in its place. Thus you are destroying a God-given relationship and replacing it with chaos. Licentiousness, to be more specific.

            Proponents of “gay marriage” act insulted that others think they might allow “dysfunctions” to qualify for marriage – yet they offer no new definition of marriage to give assurance that such dysfunctions would be disallowed.

            You can pass all the laws you want. God will bless marriage; He will not bless corruptions of it.

          • Susan Burns


  • Re:
    “When you look away when a single blogger is being bullied and their family harassed,
    and say nothing because you happen to dislike that blogger anyway, or
    simply don’t care, then the difference is one of degree, to be sure, but
    not of kind.”

    I am an agnostic and a skeptic. I could probably be pushed to atheism in another world, but not this one. In fact I was one long ago in my teens when I was a member of American Atheists and I met Madalyn Murray O’Hair. But I have nothing but contempt, revulsion and even horror for the spectacle of a train-wreck that is atheism today.

    Who *are* these people and what on Earth is wrong with them?

    “What if I am wrong” is something that I live with every single day. That is my nature. I’m a liberal and was raised in a liberal Lutheran ALC church.There are some things I’m pretty sure I’m not wrong about. I’m convinced that literal, fundamentalist religions or philosophies, including fundamentalist atheism, are not the way to go. But beyond that… heck if I know.

    The best I can do is to think of a vast moral landscape in which people sometimes get lost. Not spiritually lost but literally. Without direction or purpose, just wandering aimlessly and subject to falling into pits. If such an abstract space existed and were as real as numbers are real then these would no longer be poetic metaphors. They would be the logical consequences of choices people make. That would make some sense…. but that is probably just more magical thinking by me.

    • Brenda

      We may be wrong; but many religious people hearing us say that would jump to the conclusion that – by default – if we are wrong, then they are right.

      This is the problem with Pascal’s Wager. Faith or No Faith was a two sided coin to him – only able to land on one side. But the fact of the matter is, we could reject agnosticism, embrace Christianity, and still end up angering Allah, or Ganesha, or Molek, or any one of a thousand other gods that humans have invented.

      For that matter, we could reject one protestant sect of Christianity, and still be condemned by a thousand other Christian sects throughout the world.

      Even if we were to accept one of the cosmological arguments for god – there is no reason that this god would look or act anything like the Christian god or the Muslim god or the Hindu god or any other god proposed by the scribblings of ancient people bound by the superstitions and prejudices of their time.

      • Not just a thousand other Christian sects, but, according to current counts, over 33,000! Scary isn’t it? I’ve really been pushed out of my familiar Catholic nest in the past few years by my disagreements with them. Not only do I not know where to go but, if I remain Christian, I have over 33,000 chances of being wrong! How in the world is one to choose and, of course, I could design my own sect. If I remain Catholic but follow my own beliefs, am I again creating my own sect? Makes one want to say ‘to hell’ with it all!

    • VorJack

      “I was a member of American Atheists and I met Madalyn Murray O’Hair”

      Wait, you met O’Hair, yet you think we’re a train-wreck now?

  • cameronhorsburgh

    Could you explain in a little more detail about how you would prefer to read Jones’ piece, and how it relates to Clark’s?

    I read both before coming here today. I enjoyed Clark’s essay immensely, but I just don’t get the point of Jones’ post. I’m getting the impression that pietists are being lumped in with conservative Christians here, yet I’m a progressive Christian who happily chooses to serve in a pietistic (or, I’d prefer, Holiness) denomination (The Salvation Army.) Most (although not all) of my theologically educated friends in the Salvation Army are also quite progressive. We’re a pretty broad church.

    Or is pietism just the name given to a legalistic version of Wesleyanism which is associated with socially conservative Christianity?

    I seem to have missed something somewhere…

    • I think you are right, that Tony’s use of “pietism” is a bit unusual and the potentially problematic, and that perhaps I ought to have mentioned that. But since I really was making a connection with Tony’s post that was not what that post itself was focusing on, I didn’t mention it, but perhaps needed to be clearer about what I was thinking and where I was going with it.

      I really was just suggesting that the approach of many religious conservatives, that “the only way to win is not to play” (i.e. to try to avoid engaging contemporary issues and to try not to change) is in fact not a winning strategy, if the history of Christianity is anything to go by. New ideas and new movements have certainly come and gone, and I am not saying that innovation is by definition good, helpful, or necessary. But not accepting change has proven equally problematic, time and time again.

      In other words, I saw the War Games reference and, filled with nostalgia and inspiration, ran with it, in a different direction than Tony did. 🙂

      • cameronhorsburgh

        Thanks, I see that now!

        Pietism needs engagement with the world. When John Wesley said that ‘all holiness is social holiness’ he was talking about more than a need for big fellowship halls!

  • Robert Landbeck

    Changing the ‘defaullt setting’ within human nature may mean there is, before God, little difference between gay and strait, as all humanity exists under a corruption of ethical perception it is unable to escape, rooted with our evolutionary past and self limiting to ones spiritual and moral potential. So the only one capable of resetting our default is God. And that process he may very well have set in motion.

    As the first wholly new interpretation for two thousand years of the moral teachings of Christ is published on the web. Radically different from anything else we know of from history, this new teaching is predicated upon a precise, predefined and predictable experience and called ‘the first Resurrection’ in the sense that the Resurrection of Jesus was intended to demonstrate Gods’ willingness to real Himself and intervene directly into the natural world for those obedient to His will, paving the way for access, by faith, to the power of divine transcendence and ultimate proof!

    Thus ‘faith’ becomes an act of trust in action, to search and discover this direct individual intervention into the natural world by omnipotent power that confirms divine will, law, command and covenant, which at the same time, realigns our moral compass with the Divine, “correcting human nature by a change in natural law, altering biology, consciousness and human ethical perception beyond all natural evolutionary boundaries.” So like it or no, a new religious teaching, testable by faith, meeting all Enlightenment criteria of evidence based causation and definitive proof now exists. Nothing short of an intellectual, moral and religious revolution is getting under way. To test or not to test, that is the question? More info at http://www.energon.org.uk,

  • @mdgantt:disqus wrote:

    “Here’s how I look at
    the issue: Take a piece of paper and draw a vertical line down the center of
    it. To the left write “Marriage (husband + wife).” To the right list
    all the possible deviations from that standard. That would begin with (in no
    particular order) divorce, adultery, fornication, homosexuality, rape, incest,
    pedophilia, incest…(I’m uncomfortable with these terms so I’ll stop here).
    You’re asking me to move one of the items on the right side over to the left
    side, but you’re giving me no new rule for marriage by which I might do so.
    You’re implying that the answer is obvious, but it’s not obvious to me. I can
    distinguish between dysfunctions that involve coercion versus those that don’t
    (e.g. rape versus adultery) but sorting on that value leaves some things in the
    right side that, by your logic, could perhaps also move to the left side.”

    The above comment was so far down in the depth of a thread that I couldn’t find it, and so I thought I’d bump the conversation up here.

    My own reply is that taking a piece of paper and making a vertical line could be helpful, but not in the manner suggested. If by marriage a legal and social covenant is meant, then some of the things listed clearly do not constitute that, and some in fact are a violation of such a covenant.

    So let’s start by putting traditional marriage on one side. That’s patriarchal marriage, in which a man may have multiple wives, as well as concubines, but a woman must be faithful to her one man. A man can acquire as many wives as he can afford, but typically at least the first marriage will be arranged by the parents and not the individuals.

    Now, Mike, if you adopt a different view, a covenant between two individuals who are regarded as equals, you can explain how you moved that concept into the left column and removed the traditional definition of marriage from it? Once that is clear, we can figure out whether the same justification for your redefinition of traditional marriage could also apply to other possibilities.

    • My question on this particular sub-topic is why is it important to define marriage (for someone else) at all? There are clear and present reasons for us to bar sexual relations between adults and children, between adults and animals, and between adults with other adults who have not given (or have not the capacity to give) their express consent. If we as followers of Christ believe that marriage follows a particular pattern, it falls to us to live our lives in such a way that we demonstrate that pattern. We are charged to work out our OWN salvations and to work with our OWN hands not to endeavor to setup the rules of society in such a way that everyone else will be forced to behave the way we think the saved ought to behave.