Bad Theology Triggers My Gag Reflex

Bad Theology Triggers My Gag Reflex August 22, 2013

Thabiti Anyabwile, a Cayman pastor and board member of the Gospel Coalition, has got everyone’s undies in a bunch with his hamfisted post saying that if you find anal sex gross, that must be the Holy Spirit. He then goes on to give his army marching orders to describe gay sex in disgusting terms as often as possible, in order to fight the gay lobby. (He seems to think that describing sex is a turn off; I think most people experience it as a turn on.)

It’s a terrible post, which shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. Nevertheless, the progressive theoblogosphere is PISSED! For example:

Slacktivist: 50 Shades of The ‘Gospel Coalition’

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

Richard Beck: Experimental Theology: On Love and the Yuck Factor

Aric Clark: The Connection Between My Conscience and My Disgust

Kimberly Knight: The importance of my gag reflex in accepting who God made me to be

Zach Hoag: #GagReflex

Years ago, when first publicly proclaiming my alliance with gay persons in the church and society, I wrote a post about this — it’s what moral philosophers call the “yuck factor” or the “ick factor.” In that post, I describe the philosophy behind it and why, in fact, it’s a terrible way to make moral decisions. See also Beck’s book, Unclean, for a brilliant treatment of this.

What makes you gag? Bad theology?

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  • RelapsedCatholic

    Funny that I didn’t find his ‘graphic’ descriptions of sex disgusting at all. (perhaps the bio teacher in me doesn’t allow it) yet, I did feel that the point of his entire article revolting to the point of leaving me with an upset stomach.

  • I just read as much as I could stomach of the original article and Anyabwile’s obsession with peering into and detailing what others do in the bedroom is what triggers my gag reflex. Describing any sex act – whether in a “traditional” heterosexual marriage or not – is never gonna look pretty when laid out in cold, hard, biological detail.

    • I just read Slacktivist’s post and he elaborates on the same point. “And then [Anyabwile] suggests that other people’s private acts are somehow more shameful than his public fascination with other people’s private acts.” Exactly! See more at:

    • stardreamer42

      It’s a very junior-high way of thinking about sex. I remember when one of my 7th-grade friends had gotten “The Talk” from her mother and was telling the rest of us about it. “It’s totally gross,” she said, “The man puts his thing in the woman’s…” [gesture indicating the location of where the man puts his thing]”. And the rest of us all said, “EEWWWWW!”

      Sounds like this guy never got out of the 7th grade to me.

  • I propose that we answer your question using the hashtag #gagreflex. 🙂

  • I do not understand why we waste our time with these morons. We give them the platform they desire by engaging the nonsense.

  • Larry Barber

    Broccoli triggers my gag reflex. People who eat broccoli are therefore ‘sinners’. “But, but this is just the way God made me, I _like_ broccoli.” is just justifying a heinous sin.

  • Perry L. Stepp

    Mean people make me gag–and mourn.

    BTW, my daughter read this article and immediately texted me her anger over it.

  • One might suggest that Thabiti won’t “swallow” the equality message with regard to the LGBTQ community. Ba-dum-dump! Thank you — I’m here all week — try the veal.

    Seriously, I’ve come to expect such stupidity from TGC. Without Joe Carter and Trevin Wax, I’d never, ever ever, read them.

  • Thursday1

    1. The theological problem created by saying we should ignore disgust when making judgments about gay sex (or really anything) is that it radically hives off aesthetics from the good, and from God, or else obliterates aesthetics altogether. You may not actually want to do that.

    2. The disgust at gay sex (or at least gay male sex) appears to be universal and spontaneous and has to be actively suppressed. Maybe it should be suppressed, but it is unlike the disgust at beef or pork in certain religious traditions, or the disgust at Jews or other ethnic groups in certain times and places, which is neither universal nor spontaneous, and has to be culturally conditioned.

    • jrdkirk

      Point 2 can only be substantiated by a culturally relative assessment made by heterosexuals. I’ve been doing a great deal of reading about homosexual intercourse in ancient Greece and Rome, and that has underscored for me how incredibly relative are (1) our strong adherence to single-sex attraction; and (2) our assessments of particular sex acts and why we find them desirable and/or repulsive.

      Standards of beauty, of appeal, of attraction, of disgust, of “yuck” are deeply conditioned by culture.

      Also, I learned a gem of wisdom from one classicist who suggested, when reading ancient lit, the following interpretive move: “For ‘nature,’ read ‘culture.'” There’s a great deal of that that needs to happen in our theological conversations.

      • Thursday1

        Being the passive partner in anal intercourse was considered extremely degrading in both ancient Greece and Rome. I’m pretty confident that one’s universal.

        Caution should be used in extrapolating general public mores from literary sources. Anyone reading Arabic and Persian poetry might be led to think that wine drinking and gay sex were generally approved of in those societies. They were not.

        Furthermore, there does seem to be a pattern where if men are deprived of sexual access to women through some sort of strict sex segregation, they will engage in sex with other men, particularly young and effeminate men, and justify, even glorify it. Hence much of ancient Greece, many Muslim societies, and prison. However, as soon as women become available, these men tend to ditch the boys. Almost like they’re kind of averse to that sort of thing.

        • Thursday1

          I actually suspect that the differences between societies isn’t over whether they find the acts disgusting and degrading, but whether they consider it degrading to be the one doing the degrading. Similarly, in many societies it is dishonourable for an unmarried woman to lose her virginity, but only in some is it dishonourable to be the man who does the dishonouring.

    • Oswald Carnes

      The “disgust” at gay sex is only universal only if you fail to include actual gay people as part of the universe. Which I’m sure people like you are happy to do. Funny, isn’t it, how you think your personal reaction is universal on this particular issue, and other people’s reactions to things you don’t find disgusting are “culturally condition.” I’m sure you and god are very close.

    • stardreamer42

      Your second point is false to the point of being ludicrous. As proof, I submit the ancient Greeks. *points and laughs at the historically-illiterate*

      • Thursday1

        But I repeat myself: Being the passive partner in anal intercourse was considered extremely degrading in both ancient Greece and Rome. I’m pretty confident that one’s universal.

        • Thursday1, you’re just wrong about this. Hate to pull a trump card, but I’ve studied the ancient world extensively, and you’re wrong.

          • Thursday1

            This is beneath you, Tony. I don’t have time to go into the scholarly details, but here is Wikipedia:

            “These men, like their earlier counterparts, played an educational and instructive role in the lives of their young companions; likewise, just as in earlier times, they shared a sexual relationship with their boys. Penetrative sex, however, was seen as demeaning for the passive partner, and outside the socially accepted norm.”


            “In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, scholars have tended to view expressions of Roman male sexuality in terms of a “penetrator-penetrated” binary model; that is, the proper way for a Roman male to seek sexual gratification was to insert his penis in his partner. Allowing himself to be penetrated threatened his liberty as a free citizen as well as his sexual integrity”

            “An adult male’s desire to be penetrated was considered a sickness (morbus); the desire to penetrate a handsome youth was thought normal.”


            I’m rather shocked that you are saying otherwise. It’s just a lie.

            • Disquer

              P.S. Women have also been held in contempt for being the “penetrated” party in sex. In fact much of the disgust directed toward recipient in anal sex, across several cultures, has explicitly derived from the fact that the recipient is taking the “woman’s role.” And it wasn’t just because a man was taking a woman’s role. Attitudes toward women and female sexuality demonstrate that women have been held in just as much contempt for being the ‘passive penetrated’ partner.

              So tell us again about how disgust is what shows us that heterosexuality is natural and proper but homosexuality, no way.

              P.P.S. Anal sex is not universally disgusting anyway. Exhibit A, myself, a female who quite enjoys both doing it and reading about it. OTHER PEOPLE DIFFER FROM YOU. Learn to deal with it, you utter child.

          • Christopher Erik

            “Hate to pull a trump card” (and by trump card I mean speaking ex cathedra without a shred of support for my rebuttal other than “trust me I know shit.”). Genius!

      • Thursday1

        I don’t actually think you know much about the how the Greeks viewed homosexuality.

    • Andrew Dowling

      Many items around disgust are culturally conditioned. Some societies find large women very attractive; growing up in the U.S. I do not. Southeast Asian food trucks will serve an array of worms, bugs, and slimy fish they consider delicacies, while most in the West find them bizarre and disgusting. Which is why Haidt’s (and I know you think this book was ‘really cool’ judging on your 10,000 posts going ga-ga over his book) contention that disgust should be on the same plane as care/harm and fairness is BS. It shouldn’t be.
      Also, it’s not very surprising that gay sex is generally viewed as most disgusting in less developed societies with high infant mortality rates. Which again shows how these views are conditioned on external factors and not any innate natural law.

  • Thursday1

    Richard Beck’s book cherrypicks the scholarship on disgust. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and attribute this to unconscious bias and/or incompetence, but one gets a very different picture reading people like William Ian Miller and Jonathan Haidt.

  • Love is love. One persons “yuck factor” is another’s showing of affection.

    Judgmental-ism seems to be a stalwart of the conservative branch of religion. Which is fine when kept inside their specific coral. It’s when folks try to export it to others that I loose interest in the conversation.

    For me, religious understanding has become a subtractive process, jettisoning things that hinder the connection with God.

  • jeffstraka

    Neil DeGrasse Tyson on the “intelligent” design of the human body:
    And what comedian configured the region between our legs—an entertainment complex built around a sewage system?

  • The thing is, most gay men don’t have anal sex… they have interfemoral intercourse ( There’s nothing more “gross” about that then the heterosexual sex act…

  • Hello Tony, I’ve sort of mixed feelings about such things.

    I often feel very angry, but sometimes also sadenned, for the fag-hating god they worship is so petty that it damages their very soul.

    I wonder if their belief in Biblical inerrancy is the cause of their homophoby, or rather an excuse for it.

    Lothars Sohn – Lothar’s son

  • Nathan

    For a long time now TGC has been fighting for objective absolute truth and railing against subjectivity and letting the “winds of culture” determine truth so that all the evil emergents can “justify our sinfulness and immorality” (yes, that is almost a verbatim quote from some of Emergent’s critics). And now this guy basically offers a crypto-Hegelian paean to subjectivity disguised as natural law. Weird.

  • Nathan

    oh, and can you imagine what a conversation about this between Thabiti and Driscoll would be like? The Archbishop of Mars Hill enthusiastically endorses such activities between a man and a woman.

    T: Mark, it is filthy.
    M: Eff you, Thabiti.

    The end.

  • Dean

    I just read the Thabiti article, I find it hilarious. In fact, a friend of mine made the EXACT same argument to me in a bar that Thabiti says he wished he had made to the journalist in the second to last paragraph before his conclusion. “Imagine for a moment…” Well geez, if my gag reflex was the basis for whether a sex act between two people is “moral”, then there are LOTS of people I have met who should never take their clothes off let along have sex!

  • “Vice is a monster of so frightful mien
    As to be hated needs but to be seen;
    Yet seen too oft, familiar with her face,
    We first endure, then pity, then embrace.”

    The point, I suppose, is that disgust is not necessarily a reliable indicator of vice.

    There is in much Gnostic writing a strong sense of disgust with all forms of sex. And I remember, from Shusako Endo’s novel, “The Samurai,” the protagonist’s strong sense of disgust at the sight of the crucifix, and the idea that people could worship such a figure.

    On the other hand, most of us would say that our disgust at pedophilia reflects a correct moral judgment on that practice. We don’t see the pedophile’s attraction to the practice as justifying that variation on normal sex. Which is to say, disgust isn’t irrelevant. But it’s not sufficient.

    • Disquer

      Pedophilia isn’t repellent and wrong because of the activities involved. If a father goes to pick up his child and accidentally touches the child’s genital area in the process of lifting the kid up, no one pukes with disgust at the action itself. It’s not inherently disgusting for an adult to touch a child there.

      It’s the intent and the effect of a pedophile’s touch that makes it wrong.

      Pedophilia is repellent and wrong because it hurts children.

      • At the risk of someone attempting a “hamfisted post” giving us the details, I am a little taken aback by the proposition that “Pedophilia isn’t repellent and wrong because of the activities involved.”

        I don’t claim to be an expert. I have raised children to adulthood. And some years ago, to assist in reviewing molestation cases on appeal, I attended a presentation on the forensics of child abuse, one of the most thoroughly unpleasant days of my life. And I can assure you that the ordinary intimate contact that parents necessarily have with their children has nothing to do with sexual abuse. The intent of a molester may make it culpable, but the “activities,” which go far beyond any accidental touch, make it very wrong.

        And our disgust at those activities, in that particular case, are quite in line with correct judgments of right and wrong. As I said above, those feelings are not the last word. But they are not entirely irrelevant.

  • Mark Kirschieper

    Sad to hear that this poor, self-deluded pastor (Anyabwhile), hasn’t realized that many, many hetero Christian couples, practice and enjoy fellatio, cunnilingus, anilingus, “sodomy”, etc. I guess he’s just a simple-minded “missionary position”, kind of guy…

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