Saturday 3 May 2008

On the moral superiority of gays

One of Stanley Hauerwas’s most memorable essays is his 1993 piece, “Why Gays (as a Group) Are Morally Superior to Christians (as a Group)” (reprinted in the excellent Hauerwas Reader) – an essay in which Hauerwas argues that gays are morally superior to Christians, since they managed to get themselves excluded from military service. His point is simply that the church often fails to take its own identity seriously, and so we pose no real threat to the status quo. But imagine a church that really took itself seriously – it would be an intolerable threat, an unbearable disruption! “Could you trust someone who would think it more important to die thank to kill unjustly? Are these people fit for the military? … Would you want to shower with such people? You never know when they might try to baptize you.”

Further, Hauerwas observes that the real function of society’s “no” to gays is simply to shield ourselves from the painful truth of our own moral confusion. In a culture of drastic moral incoherence, “the moral ‘no’ to gays becomes the necessary symbolic commitment to show that we really do believe in something.” We pronounce this “moral no” precisely in order to convince ourselves of our own security; we exclude someone else in order to reassure ourselves that we are not without a moral norm. But in holding up the gay community as a moral example, Hauerwas turns the tables. He poses a prophetic challenge to the church, a challenge to our complacency and our calm assurance of our own moral superiority.

I think a similar prophetic challenge underlies Rowan Williams’ famous lecture, “The Body’s Grace”, presented to the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement in 1989. The lecture has been widely discussed – vigorously praised by some, and feverishly condemned by others. But in the first instance, we should realise that Williams was not simply trying to provide a descriptive account of same-sex desire, or a straightforward theological description of human sexuality.

First and foremost, his aim was to provoke a certain kind of response. His lecture was more a prophetic challenge than a didactic analysis: he was concerned precisely with the question of the church’s identity. Like Hauerwas’ essay, Williams’ lecture tries to rouse the church, to provoke us to action – to ask what an authentic Christian community might look like here and now, in an environment of moral confusion and fragmentation.

I have a suspicion that the real heart of Williams’ lecture is disclosed in his humorous offhand remark that, within the church, the ordinary “norm” of male-female intercourse may itself be the exemplary sexual perversion, since such intercourse can involve the action of “one agent [i.e. the husband] … who doesn’t have to wait upon the desire of the other.” As Williams puts it: “in a great many cultural settings, the socially licensed norm of heterosexual intercourse is a ‘perversion’.”

It is at precisely this point that the fundamental intention of Williams’ lecture becomes clear: to disturb the complacency of Christians, characterised as we are by a seemingly invincible aura of moral superiority. Williams is trying to threaten us, to show us that we are not morally safe and secure. Thus his whole lecture turns on the argument that “sexual union is not delivered from moral danger and ambiguity by satisfying a formal socio-religious criterion” – it’s simply not that easy; we’re not as safe as we thought we were.

As writers like Williams and Hauerwas remind us, then, the task of Christian ethics is not to shore up the status quo, not to reassure us of our own security – and certainly not to naturalise the status quo, so that our own behaviour becomes the self-evident norm against which every deviation can be identified and condemned as such. Instead, the task of Christian ethics is to bring us under the judgment of the gospel, and to remind us that our action is always fraught with danger. In every new decision we are balanced precariously on the edge of a knife. In every decision, we stand under judgment. It is the false prophet who cries “peace, peace – when there is no peace.”


Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing these pieces. Williams' essay, and the book length treatment of same sex love largely inspired by it, Eugene Rogers' Sexuality and the Christian Body prove that one can be wholly orthodox in one's theology and articulate a progressive sexual ethic. Williams' review of Rogers' book in the Scottish Journal of Theology is to my mind a crucial articulation of this. There Williams writes: "whatever the ‘traditionalist' may say, there is not a single relativist programme [in Rogers’ book] which in requiring us to think again about the ethics of same-sex partnerships requires also a completely new hermeneutic or a radically changed doctrinal framework.”

Shane said...

Ah, The Higher Sodomy. I wouldn't have thought Hauerwas was one of its supporters. But that just goes to show you: no idea is too ridiculous for Hauerwas. You know who else they don't let in the military? Felons. Are felons (as a group) morally superior to the church (as a group)? They presumably don't let pedophiles in the army either (i'm not drawing the pedophilia--homosexuality link, I'm just piling up counterexamples). Are pedophiles in the aggregate morally superior to the church in the aggregate because pedophiles aren't in the military.

I can't believe this guy won "Best Theologian in America".

As to Williams--I've read that piece several times. As far as I'm concerned it's a straightforward example of why the anglican church is in the crisis it is in today--Williams is just dodging the central question over and over again. The central question is this: Is homosexuality good, bad or indifferent from God's perspective. There's a lot of handwringing and flowery writing, but all his descriptions and distinctions never address the central question. I would be just as upset if I were a pro-gay anglican with this text as I am as a pro-tradition anglican. At some point you have to make a decision about normative questions.

Anonymous said...

Of course, Shane, the central question you suggest is a blunt abstraction and no good work can be done with it. Homosexuality is an abstraction; to ask whether 'it' is good, bad or indifferent in God's eyes is to attempt to force God's hand into answering a false question (like, 'Is alchohol good', or 'is married sex good'?) None of these can be answered with the blunt-trauma response you are seeking, which was Williams' point in suggesting that often enough, heterosexual sex within the context of marriage, where traditionalists are so comfortable, is often manipulative, instrumental, and even perverse.
The ethical question can only be answered when we look at the very embodied, vulnerable, face to face relationships we have. When a gay couple commit to one another for life, engage in self-sacrificial, ascetic behavior (e.g. nurse one another in sickness, dying, and the various trials we all inevitably face), grow together in the sacramental presence of Christ through corporate and family worship in the church, raise a family together in love and nurture, then only an abstract set of principles, however theological they appear, would reject this ascetic relationship as wholly negative. A theology of the incarnation simply rejects the kinds of moves you would like to make, and I would think any decent theologian who is not prejudiced from the outset would reject them also.
When theological method ends in declaring as bad, evil, or otherwise immoral a set of practices given to building up incarnate love in Christ, that theological method is, I would say, bankrupt. The theology of the nineteenth century which supported slavery was so bankrupt, and so is the theology that condemns all gay love today.

Shane said...

"None of these can be answered with the blunt-trauma response you are seeking"

I'm not really sure what your position is here. Are you saying that moral evaluations are all abstractions and that no abstractions are good, so moral evaluation can only happen in particular circumstances?

If that is your position, do you have any argument to support it? It doesn't seem very plausible to me because we make abstractions about moral actions (not to mention moral character, intentions and the like) all the time and then make evaluative judgments about those abstractions. For instance, "homophobia is wrong" "stealing is wrong". There might be mitigating circumstances occasionally, but by and large our process of moral evaluation does in fact work by means of abstractions.

Notice the way I phrased my initial question: Is homosexuality good, bad or indifferent? It might be that homosexuality has no moral standing whatsoever, like one's preference for red wine over white. In which case, the salient description of the sorts of examples you gave above were not examples of "gay" love--they were just examples of love, full stop.

Of course, Old Eyebrows is right to say that there's all sort of bad heterosexual sex--including marital rape. But, the morally salient feature of these acts is not that they are heterosexual acts, but that they are coercive, damaging, hurtful.

A plausible strategy for the pro-gay christian would be to argue that those features (being coercive, etc.) are the things that would make a sexual act bad, whether hetero- or homo-sexual. And, that all those features that could make sex good like mutuality, love, respect, and so on are as capable of being attained in a homosexual as a heterosexual union.

I say that's a plausible strategy. I don't know if it works, and even if it did, it would still have to be squared with the idea that we get morally normative claims from the Bible. BUT, I don't think I'm begging the question against the pro-gay side by asking what you are calling a "blunt trauma" question.

(I also reject the insinuation of the word 'trauma' that I am just trying to bludgeon people under the weight of tradition by asking for arguments. If the pro-gay party wins, let it win because it is right and can show that it is right by means of reasonable arguments.)

Anonymous said...

In the footsteps of Peter Kreeft (and I believe Jesus Christ) I would suggest that the two approaches discussed by Shane and "saint egregious" are both wrong based on the Gospel, and especially the Sermon on the Mount. The question is not that of legalism (à la Shane) but it is neither a question of moral relativism (à la "saint egregious").

When Christ sharpens the law in the Sermon on the Mount He does not disqualify the eternal law which the Father has revealed, but rather makes it transparent. When He addresses the pharisees He does not condemn their obedience, but their lack of Spirit. Indeed He calls for a "greater righteousness" than that of the pharisees, which involves: (1) doing the right thing, (2) for the right reason (loving God and neighbour), (3) in the right situation.

Therefore it is obviously wrong for a man to have sex with his wife out of lust, but that does not give a green light for sexual acts that are against God's law. One sin simply does not justify another.

God bless you all.

Shane said...

I'm not sure why you would call my position "legalism" or egregious's position relativism.

I would say "moral relativism" would be the position that there is no objective difference between right and wrong, or that if there were we would have no cognitive access to it. I don't think that's a very charitable read of E's position. I would guess he means something like "homosexuality happens to be such a multi-faceted phenomenon that there isn't just an immediate right/wrong answer." I don't think that position is adequate, as I said above, but it isn't necessarily relativism.

Anonymous said...

Shane: As I read egregious it seems to me that everything that there is to say about morals is dependent on intention and situation. For me that conflates with relativism, ie. that there are no moral absolutes. The formula "if it leads to God it cannot be bad" is certainly correct, but God Himself has (for whatever reason) found it necessary to print out that certain acts are bad in themselves and that they inevitably lead away from God (for instance keeping your mouth shut on issues of human slavery and oppression). From what I read of egregious I would find it hard to see that he would agree on this exposition. But if it is a misread, then mea culpa.

As for your position I found that after your second comment I do not have any larger problems with it. Mea culpa.

Anonymous said...

When a gay couple commit to one another for life, engage in self-sacrificial, ascetic behavior (e.g. nurse one another in sickness, dying, and the various trials we all inevitably face), grow together in the sacramental presence of Christ through corporate and family worship in the church, raise a family together in love and nurture, then only an abstract set of principles, however theological they appear, would reject this ascetic relationship as wholly negative.

So the case is made that sex between any two persons within the context cited above is morally acceptable (to use blunt terms). It seems that all that has been said is traditional sex between a man and woman, within the context of marriage, can be perverted, just like homosexual sex. I'm not sure this is all that insightful. If we just look around at our modern, western society, the truth becomes self evident. Rampant, unsatisfying promiscuous (heterosexual) sex outside of marriage, and the high divorce rates and infidelity within marriage are enough to destroy any naive notions that man, woman sex is de facto good, and gay sex is therefore bad.

This is really a question about the nature and meaning of sex. If sex were confined to the definition cited above, I can agree that heterosexual sex within marriage is no different than that of sex between two persons of the same gender, who "commit to one another for life, engage in self-sacrificial, ascetic behavior (e.g. nurse one another in sickness, dying, and the various trials we all inevitably face), grow together in the sacramental presence of Christ through corporate and family worship in the church, [and] raise a family together in love and nurture..."

But, at the risk of sounding horribly traditional, is that all there is to sex? As beautiful as that description of love is, is sex confined to a circle of love between two persons? By circle, I mean sex seems to be reduced to a unitive expression of love between two persons given to one another over and over again. While this is indeed beautiful, I also find it to be a narrow understanding of love, and ultimately sex. Does not true love give life? In fact, I would argue this is the mark of love, as revealed to us by God. Love is incarnational. It is not confined to two lovers, but produces fruit. I'm not saying we go the other way and reduce sex to it's procreational aspect (how horrible that would be), but I am saying we should not reduce sex to either it's unitive or procreational aspects. To do so would be deny the very nature of sex. And isn't anything not used in accord with it's nature, by definition, a perversion?

I know this is debatable and I do not wish to get into a long, drawn out debate about the meaning of sex. All I am trying to say is the following comment misses the point:

"The theology of the nineteenth century which supported slavery was so bankrupt, and so is the theology that condemns all gay love today."

Gay love is condemned not because of some "comfortable and traditional" understanding of sex, but because it is not in accord with the very nature of sex. The debate goes much deeper than what has thus far been stated, but I suspect I will get no disagreement there :)

Anonymous said...

We completely misunderstand Williams if we try to locate and interpret him along the axis of moral absolutism/relativism, conservatism/liberalism, or legalism/situationism. He studiously avoids these barren polarities, he wants to dissolve or transcend them.

Two things determine Williams' thinking: (1) consistent attention to the particular (which he learned from MacKinnon and Lash - and Wittgenstein's "Don't think - look!") and a refusal to collapse sexual ethics into a totalising discourse; and (2) - above all - to gaze at sexual relationships in the light of the gospel.

As Williams puts it in his essay "Is There a Christian Sexual Ethic?": "Our main question about how we lead our sexual lives should be neither 'Am I keeping the rules?' nor 'Am I being sincere and non-hurtful?' but 'How much am I prepared for this to signify?'" (i.e in witness to Jesus Christ).

Anonymous said...

Anyone who thinks that sex in a marriage is "good" has either not been married for very long or no longer has sex.

Shane said...


Transcending polarities, avoiding totalizationalizing and rejecting barren binarialities is all very well and good.

However, human societies are defined by (or perhaps 'constituted by') norms. Two relevant aspects of normativity--it has universalistic leanings and it requires specific concrete decisions be made at some point. Norms can be moral or legal or religious or political or ethnic or . . . whatever. Not all norms are good, of course, but you can't have a society without some norms.

And that's the problem with Old Eyebrows, I don't think he's got the grapes to enforce the norms (I think) the Anglicans need.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Shane. The concept "avoiding barren polarities" is wonderful stuff, but I'm not sure how this helps anything. Perhaps, this is typically Anglican - the via media - but "avoiding barren polarities" sounds an awful lot like avoiding the question of right and wrong (i.e. sin). I'm as post modern as the next guy, but can we no longer say that particular sexual acts are wrong? - especially when there is such a long standing Christian tradition in place, with consequent theological reflection.

Avoiding the question of sinful acts on something as important as sex, seems to betray a certain moral confusion within Anglicanism. Perhaps this is why many Anglicans have headed for the Catholic Church. I'm not against theological reflection and considered arguments on such matters, but the statements put forth by Rowan Williams and Stanely Hauerwas serve to undermine a vital part of Christian ethics that has endured for nearly 2,000 years. This isn't about "shoring up the status quo" or "naturalizing the status quo". It's about shepherding souls to Christ, which is what I am told Bishops are supposed to do. "Avoiding polarities" doesn't serve to unite the Church, it only serves to affirm the actions of a few, while leaving the rest confused.

Brian Hamilton-Vise said...

On Hauerwas: I'm not convinced, actually, that he would ultimately condone same-sex coupling. The little editorial Ben cites carefully avoids saying anything on the matter it seems to me, as does most of his other writing. His consistent point seems to be that, even if it is wrong, the church's confusion on sexual matters is far too deep to call it wrong coherently. I personally am far from settled on this question--and so may be Hauerwas--but I think this is a point worth taking to heart. Not because the church can't ask and theoretically answer the question, but because a proper answer requires a shift in her entire orientation towards questions of sexuality. What Hauerwas and Wiliams are rightly doing is to keep the church from pronouncing on the matter in a way that would lure her into a false sense of security with respect to sexual matters. I think you're right, Shane, to say plainly that moral judgments will always rest on a kind of abstraction, and that the question 'is same-sex coupling permissible?' is a legitimate intellectual question--but there is such a thing as an abstraction that masks more questions than it asks, and I think H and W are saying that this question right now may be doing that.

Anonymous said...

Shane, rather than give you an 'argument', I would give you the concrete, flesh and blood examples of faithful, loving, sacramentally grounded gay Christians, of which their are many, too many, to miss. Their loves, their prayers, (their theological reflections, even!) and their witness to Christ are the ground of my own sexual ethics. Your answers are hollow, sophistical, and abstract by comparison, and simply hold no weight in the face of these humble servants of the Lord.
Again, my comparison: during the civil war, theological arguments which relied on abstract deployment of theological principles and scriptural sources crashed and burned in the face of the recalcitrant desire to hold to the long held practice of slavery. It was the narratives of ex-slaves, Harriet Jacobs, Frederick Douglass, and others, who provided the best 'argument' against slavery--not an argument, but a flesh and blood person whose faces shone with the light of Christ. Some had ears to hear and eyes to see. Others covered them up and quoted from their bibles and their theological principles.
So yes, my position is not drawn from any sort of divine command theory of ethics, but from the call of the heart of Christ in the face of his children, known in an embrace, a hand held at the bed side of the dying, and in the blood of those martyred for refusing to hide their loves from the eyes of a bedeviled, spiritually darkened world.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Ben - fantastic post!

Shane said...

@ E.

"your [i.e. my] answers are hollow, sophistical, and abstract by comparison"

So, let's boil it down. What you have is a really strong emotional response that homosexuality is good. It is self-evident and obvious to you that gay = good, based on your experiences with gay people. Nothing wrong with emotional responses based on experiences, that's where our intuitions come from.

The problem is that emotions without rational arguments are blind. Therefore, emotions by themselves are worthless guides to moral or political (or theological) thinking. Fascists and other ideological puppet-masters try precisely to lead by feeling rather than based upon reasonable arguments and evidence. (Vote for me or the terrorists have won!)

If you think it is important to be rational about morality, politics or theology, then the onus is on you to provide an argument justifying your intuitions about the goodness of homosexuality.
[If you don't think it's important to think rationally about morality or politics or theology, then I don't have anything else to say to you.]

Now, in the case of american slavery, the institution was justified by the claim that whites were doing the slaves a favor lifting them out of barbarism, and that they were naturally inferior in intellect and so forth and therefore better off as slaves. Frederick Douglas's narrative is precisely an ARGUMENT against both of those claims. First because he describes in eloquent detail the sufferings of the slaves (eloquence is important because it also establishes his intelligence). Second, the effect of this was presumably to stir in his readers the recognition that the slaves were people too.

Now, you apparently interpret me to be saying that there is nothing good or loving about homosexuals at all, that they are all just wicked, promiscuous perverts. I haven't said any such thing, of course. And I don't believe that it's true.

But, here's the thing. I'll admit that two men can love one another and care for one another in humble, honest ways. I just don't think those two facts imply that homosexuality isn't sinful.

I think that those things are necessary conditions for a sexual act to be good, but they aren't sufficient in and of themselves. This is not to say that there might be no redeeming or positive things in the sinful act. However, to be a "good" sexual act in a full and unqualified sense, I believe the act must be done within the context of marriage.

I also have an argument for this position: it seems to be what the Bible says and what the Church has always taught on the matter. I'm open to being persuaded, but it is going to take more than florid prose to persuade me.

Anonymous said...

You will undoubtedly win this argument, Shane, as you are destined to do with your inexorable logic. But you will lose the war, as gays and lesbians will not be leaving the church they have so lovingly served in spite of being denied and handed over to be vilified, spat upon, and murdered, all in the name of God.
And since you mentioned flowers in my words, I'll simply add yet another non-argument, this one from Angelus Silesius, and think of my gay brothers and sisters and their cruciform love as I recite it:

'The rose is without reason, without why. She blooms because she blooms.'

You cannot argue away love, my brother, no matter how rigorously hard you try. And not all the bible verses in the world, and not all the centuries of tradition will be able to stand against its fragrant, fragile breath.

Anonymous said...

Shane is looking for "norms" and Mark, wanting to avoid "confusion", appeals to age-old church teaching. And there's the rub. For Williams consistently thinks that because the gospel is not easy - indeed, it's bloody difficult, recalcitrant and obstreperous - we must allow norms to remain in play and accept some confusion, a problematising of the given, a sense "that what the gospel says in Scripture and tradition does not instantly and effortlessly make sense," as a good and healthy thing, indeed "one of the most fundamental tasks for theology" (from Arius, p. 236). Tradition, on this view, does not live by repetition but by tentative, discerning theological recasting in the furnace of conversation with contemporary cultural and intellectual voices, the voices of people who struggle and suffer as they fumble around trying to make sense of sexuality and sex. Although Williams is much too modest to put it this way, or even see it this way, in my view he is actually prophesying (the eschatological dimension of tradition).

Asked if sex is dirty, Woody Allen replied, "It is if you're doing it right." Is sexual ethics easy? It's not if you're doing it right.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Kim. That is beautifully put, and a perfect way of articulating Williams' theology.

bls said...

Folks, you really need to recognize, at last, that what you claim to be references to "homosexuality" and "same-sex coupling" in the Bible all (all 6 of them!) refer to males specifically; there is no unambiguous reference to female "same-sex coupling" anywhere. It seems to follow quite straightforwardly that the topic in question is not, in fact, "homosexuality." Here's an article that might help clear up at least some of the confusion on this topic.

And I have to tell you that "same-sex coupling" is going to occur whether anybody likes it or not - because gay people exist. And gay people are going to continue to be Christian; there's just not a damn thing that can or will prevent this. The Gospel will continue to speak to people, and the Gospel will prevail in the end in any case. The only real choice you have is whether or not to belong to a church that recognizes these simple facts of life.

As somebody pointed out above, there's no such thing as "homosexuality" without there being a person involved. Here's another little problem: nobody's come up with any solution to the alleged "problem" of homosexual people. All this "debate" about us, and ever "solution" proposed, leaves us no reasonable course of action at all. It's been pretty well shown over the past 40 years that "reparative therapy" doesn't work; it's not reasonable to demand lifelong unchosen celibacy from anyone. The only course of action people have now is the one you've chosen here: to objectify us and ignore us as human beings. To speak of us in the abstract.

Which is why I suspect that the church is going to segregate, yet again. To be honest, I'm getting to the point where that's starting to look pretty good to me.

Anonymous said...

Mark also wants sex to be necessarily linked to the procreative. This ends up with the remarkable theology of sexuality of some Roman Catholics, where a post-menopausal woman and her husband must have something like a miracle conception in their mind in order to engage in sexual activity. Otherwise, its sin, since no fruit comes from it. It is this logic which Williams skewers in "The Body's Grace", rightly suggesting that sex is better thought of as ordered to joy, rather than to procreation. The idea that sex must be ordered to procreation has a slightly utilitarian flavor to it, as well as being unduly linked to a logic of production which we in this capitalist age ought to be somewhat suspicious of. What if the true meaning of sex was not some other product it gives us (the child, for example, or marital stability perhaps), but joy, a free gift of mutual love in which the third presence is not a child, but the spirit of God? Thats a tall order for sacramental sex, and I can see all kinds of dangers here, but as Sarah Coakley has suggested, rightly I think, Freud was wrong. Religious passion is not really about sex, but sex is really about the desire of God.

Anonymous said...

it's not reasonable to demand lifelong unchosen celibacy from anyone.

So, there's a "right" to sex? I find that problematic, but I'm far too tired of this debate to care to defend the orthodox (oops: sorry for totalizing abstractions) position. Here's another abstraction: turning Christian faith into a philosophy of self-donation or self-gifting or whatever, pointing to gays as fulfilling that, and then concluding that gay sexual activity is in accord with Christian faith.

Yes, bls' comment above is right -- it looks like segregation. Indeed, the dual episcopal oversight in North American Anglicanism already confirms that.

Shane said...

@ St. E,

The point is not to win arguments, the point is to think clearly and carefully about important matters.

@ Bls

I really have absolutely no idea what you mean by 'abstract'. Apparently, according to you and St. E, "to abstract" means to oppress gay people by lumping them all together under some description. But that's not "abstraction" that "prejudice". Are you claiming that I'm prejudiced? Do you have some argument that thinking abstractly necessarily leads to one's being prejudiced? Do you think that somehow you don't think abstractly?

I have some quibbles with particular comments of yours. (I do think it is reasonable to enjoin life-long celibacy.) But what really bothers me about what you and St. E. have said here is how little faith you have in the power of persuasive, rational argumentation.

NB your scare-quotes around the word "debate" in your post above. The sentiment there is presumably something like this: "There is no such thing as real debate, only assertions and expressions of personal preference. Any putative appeal to reasons is really just a mask for someone's underlying agenda." Is that why you're animated against "abstractions"?

This dismissal of reason is the flip side of the coin of emotivism. If morality consists solely of emotional reactions and value preferences, then anybody who claims to have a reason for a value claim does not really (there are no moral reasons), what he is really trying to do is cleverly mask his preferences in the garb of universality.

Obviously it is the case that people do sometimes appeal to reasons in order to justify oppression. However, these are just examples of bad reasoning. And the answer to bad reasoning is just like the answer to bad free speech. The answer is not to censor the bad, but to produce more of the good.

So, I'm not going to argue about the gay issue with you and St. E. any more here--I think our disagreement is even more fundamental than that. I think the disagreement is about whether there are such things as moral reasons and (if there are) what would count as a good one? Until we get clear on those two questions, I can't imagine that we'll make any progress on the others.

I do, of course, think that there are such things as moral reasons. I know a lot more about trying to give philosophical reasons for moral claims rather than theological ones, however.

Anonymous said...

"This ends up with the remarkable theology of sexuality of some Roman Catholics, where a post-menopausal woman and her husband must have something like a miracle conception in their mind in order to engage in sexual activity. Otherwise, its sin, since no fruit comes from it."

It's not that "sex must be ordered to procreation," but rather that couples cannot interfere with the sacramental reality of sex by intentionally withholding life. Contraceptives are out; natural family planning and post-menopausal sex are in.


Shane said...

Also, let me point out that offering reasons is the best way of point out the weakness and contingency of the Church's proclamation and self-understanding.

Thus, a good argument does precisely what Old Eyebrows wants--namely it keeps the Church open to learning.

In the Anglican church we've been "listening" for a long time. But let's pray that in the future, God will let us listen to arguments, not naked expressions of preference and factionalism (and I mean that from both sides of the aisle).

Anonymous said...


I do agree with your statement:

Tradition, on this view, does not live by repetition but by tentative, discerning theological recasting in the furnace of conversation with contemporary cultural and intellectual voices, the voices of people who struggle and suffer as they fumble around trying to make sense of sexuality and sex.

But it's almost as if you are saying (and others who have posted here) that once tradition gets "thrown into the furnace" what was taught in the past is of no value. All I am saying is that while "age-old church teaching" must continually be looked at anew with each generation - the role of the theologian - it cannot be simply cast aside because there are "people who struggle and suffer as they fumble around trying to make sense of sexuality and sex."

If Bishops decide to throw into question every traditional Christian ethic that modernity struggles with, we should be in very dire straits. As far as I can tell, we are really discussing sin. For is not Christian ethics really dealing with the question of what is and is not a sinful act? Post modern man can barely define what sin is, much less what might and might not be a sinful act. This is no surprise since the phenomenalism that is so characteristic of our age - and I am certainly influenced by it as well - tells us that we cannot really know what is right and wrong. We feel that there are so many good arguments for either side, it's best not to make any definitive pronouncements. How can we really know what's true? In the end, this really seems to boil down to epistemology, which is what I think Hilaron was trying to say in his comments. But if our Bishops can't even pronounce what is right and wrong (i.e. shepherd their flock), then Christianity has virtually become impotent.

To me, it seems that what has been held to be true down through the centuries should continue to be held today, unless there is an overwhelmingly persuasive argument to the contrary - evidently this has not been done - and the Church can speak with (virtually) one accord. Of course, this betrays my Catholic understanding of the Church, and as such I would add to the last sentence the particular role of the Bishop of Rome and the Ecumenical Councils.

I'm not denying that this is a difficult topic, and that many people today struggle with the traditional Christian understanding of sex. I just worry that what is being said by well meaning (and indeed brilliant) theologians like Rowan Williams and Stanley Hauerwas, is ultimately harmful to the Church because it leaves a trail of confusion in it's wake. As you say, we have to "accept some confusion", but I don't think this means that the source of the confusion, the traditional teaching on sex in this case, is all of the sudden rendered null and void for all those who struggle with it.

Anonymous said...

St E,

I do not want sex to be necessarily linked to the pro-creative. To quote my original comment:

I'm not saying we go the other way and reduce sex to it's procreational aspect (how horrible that would be), but I am saying we should not reduce sex to either it's unitive or procreational aspects. To do so would be deny the very nature of sex. And isn't anything not used in accord with it's nature, by definition, a perversion?

I'm not saying that the possibility of procreation has to be present in every act of sex. The Catholic Church does not even teach this. It is one thing when nature acts to render procreation impossible, and quite another to go intentionally against the nature of sex. Of course this is a debate that could go on forever, and like I said in my first comment, I do not wish to go there.

See what you started Ben! You knew when you posted this one, the number of comments was going to hit the roof :)

bls said...

Is that how you think of your marriage, kevin d.? Is it merely a license for you and your wife to have sex? Do you really believe that unchosen lifelong celibacy is merely a denial of sexual intercourse?

Think of it this way, then: it means no "right" to date - ever; no "right" to kiss - ever; no "rights" to love another person that you do love - ever; no "right" to even hope for such love - ever. From the time you're 12 or so, till you're dead.

Does that sound like fun to you? Does it sound like any kind of human life at all? Suppose it were proposed to you? Better yet: why don't you do it, and show us how it's done? You could be a great example to us awful, selfish gay folks who do nothing but demand sex! Take up your cross, man!

bls said...

You keep talking, Shane, about "rational argument" - but when one is presented to you, you ignore it.

Did you read the article? Do you have any response to what I've said about Scripture? Or are you just going to keep expressing your disdain for the way other people express themselves?

No, I guess you're not; you're bowing out now because you don't like how things are going. Gee, that sounds a little overly emotional to me.

I do wonder how you can possibly make a rational moral argument against something that doesn't do any harm to anybody, and that when it's healthy can be a wonderful part of a self-giving and mutually beneficial partnership. Do tell.

bls said...

(What really interests me, I have to say, is that when somebody who's actually affected by your "rational arguments" shows up to talk about the issue, you decide it's not worth bothering to talk about anymore. Hmmm.

It seems you guys would rather be alone, to continue to discuss things objectively - you know, without any of that awful "having to face the results of one's arguments" work. I notice you also ignored what I said about gay people having no good options under your arguments.

Well, who can blame you? The anti-gay-"sexual-coupling"-contingent has spent years trying to turn us straight, and that didn't work (although it did make many gay people depressed enough to kill themselves). Now you want us to break up our partnerships and families to please you and your erroneous ideas about the Bible (or, perhaps, to conform to your particular sexual tastes).

Aren't these considered "rational arguments"? I think they are; they are "argument-by-contradiction," to show that every course of action you want to force us into is a dead end - and for what reason? What's the "rational moral argument" against homosexuality, when people are homosexual? I certainly haven't heard one on this thread.)

bls said...

BTW, Mark, one more thing: I think I can certainly "define what sin is."

What the church does to gay people is highly sinful. It ignores us as flesh-and-blood human beings and talks about us and never with us (see the Anglican drama over the past 40 years for numerous examples of this). It condemns us for something that harms no one in the world and is part of our natures. It attempts to "treat" us with therapy to change us into what it thinks we should be. It attempts to deny us any kind of decent human life on the basis of a few prooftexts in the Bible that it can't even be bothered to read correctly or even acknowledge the contents of.

It does all this out of sheer laziness, because it means having to deal with something it doesn't know how to - and that it clearly doesn't want to - deal with.

Oh, BTW: I think many other things are sinful, too. The wealthy, gluttonous, self-absorbed, obese West that ignores the poor in the world; a "Christian" President of the U.S. that thinks torture is OK; bigotry of all types; etc. So I'm not buying the "amoral post-modern man" argument, either, sorry.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, bls, for telling it like it is!
I would say further that "it seems to be what the Bible says and what the Church has always taught on the matter" is hardly a strong argument. It is a begging of the question (actually, a lot of questions) about why we should end the discussion here. Divine Command theories have been subjected to some rather withering criticisms, and here is a perfect case in point. The bible says same sex activity is wrong, full stop. So, "God said it, I believe it, that's that!" says the Divine command theorist in the pews. He does not use his gift of reason, his spiritual gift of a listening heart and mind to wonder how this so-called command makes sense in the light of the very large number of actively gay Christians whose lives bear witness to the gospel in so many ways. It is part of a reasoned position, it seems to me, to look at empirical evidence! There are all kinds of things in the Bible that we have rejected based on our reasoning that they are immoral (holy war, I should think, might be one of them, though the Bushies seem to disagree!).
The heart has its reasons as well, and should not be denied, denigrated, or just ignored. Faith relies upon it, and to call the Christian spiritual senses tradition 'emotivism' does it no justice. (Martha Nussbaum's work on the cognitive aspects of the emotions should also lay this argument to rest once and for all).

Anonymous said...

Mark, I am not sure what you are saying. The nature of sex is procreative (in one of its aspects; the other is unitive, according to the catechism) but sometimes nature goes against nature and makes it not procreative?
In fact, the catechism says this explicitly, so let me quote it: "So the Church, which is "on the side of life," teaches that "it is necessary that each and every marriage act remain ordered per se to the procreation of human life." [emphasis mine]
This means, as I take it, that even the infertile or post--menopausal couple must be open to, even desirous of, the presumably 'unnatural' (is this right?) or at least impossible (in the case of post-menopausal women) possibility of a pregnancy. That is, in order for the sexual act in their case to be 'ordered per se to the procreation of human life' they must harbor, or at least be open to the hope of a miracle.
If this is right, why could not a gay couple have the same hope against hope, the desire for a miraculous birth. As Christians, presumably, we have at least a couple of examples of God acting 'para physin' in cases of human conception. I say this not at all facetiously, as I take many of my gay and lesbian friends to have a very deep desire for life to be the end of their sexual relationships.In their cases, their sexual activity is not at all an attempt to, in the catechism's language, 'render procreation impossible" and therefore should not be seen as 'intrinsically evil'. I would go further and even be so bold as to say that for the gay couple deeply desirous of children, their sexual activity may harbor the greatest hope for the miraculous gift of life imaginable.

Shane said...


I'm not trying to duck hard questions--I'm trying to be gracious (it doesn't come naturally to me). But, since you want to see the arguments spelled out, I'll take it that you do agree with me about the importance of moral reasoning. I have the looming feeling that none of what I'm about to say will do anybody any good, but what the hell, let's take a shot.

So, here's your argument that homosexual acts are ok:

"Homosexuality" and "same-sex coupling" in the Bible all (all 6 of them!) refer to males specifically; there is no unambiguous reference to female "same-sex coupling" anywhere. It seems to follow quite straightforwardly that the topic in question is not, in fact, "homosexuality."

In other words, your argument goes like this:

(1) The Bible only prohibits male-to-male sex.
(2) Female-to-female sex is just as homosexual as male-to-male, but permissible.
(3) Therefore, when the Bible prohibits male-to-male sex it can't be prohibiting homosexuality as such.

This is a bad argument.

In the first place, just because something isn't explicitly forbidden in the Bible does not mean that is therefore acceptable. Example: the Bible nowhere explicitly prohibits pedophilia. Likewise, just because lesbian sex isn't specifically forbidden, does not imply that it is necessarily "permissible", so (2) is wrong and your argument collapses.

Second, the Bible actually does forbid lesbian sex and it does so for the same reasons that it forbids male-to-male sex, namely because it is "contrary to nature" (παρὰ φύσιν in Rom 1.26).

Moreover, if it isn't homosexual sex in general that the Bible means to condemn, then why does the Bible forbid male-to-male sex as you yourself admit?

In the 70's there were people like Walter Wink who tried to show that the Bible doesn't really have anything to say about homosexuality, but in my opinion Robert Gagnon has written a thorough, cogent criticism of that position. Gagnon's conclusion is that the Bible unequivocally condemns all forms of homosexual practice and I don't know of any more recent scholarship that overturns his conclusions. But I'm not a specialist in this area.

Now, you have a second, related argument to make, but which you haven't put forward very clearly yet. This is not an argument about a Bible, it's just an argument about the moral permissibility of homosexuality as such.

This argument goes like this:
(1) Anything that does not harm anybody is permissible.
(2) Homosexuality does not harm anybody.
(3) Therefore, homosexuality is permissible.

I think this is a stronger argument, or at least a much more intuitively plausible one, because it draws on The Harm Principle.

As far as that goes, I am willing to concede that I do not see any reason that homosexual sex is intrinsically harmful. It may be harmful to the soul, but what we mean here is presumably a straightforward kind of harm, like bodily injury or psychological trauma. However, what we are discussing here is theology, not ordinary moral philosophy. What is important about the theological discussion of homosexuality is not whether it falls afoul of the harm criterion, but whether God approves of it. So, for this argument to have any theological traction you would need another premise like this:

(4) God approves of anything that doesn't harm anybody.

If (4) were true, I think you would have a more compelling case on your hands. But I don't think (4) is true. Historically speaking God forbade the Israelites to eat all sorts of things that weren't harmful. It isn't harmful to boil a baby goat in it's mother's milk, yet it is forbidden to do so (Ex 23.19).

So I think I've defeated all the arguments you've put forward. Doubtless there are others that could be put forward, but somebody else will have to deal with those at a later day.

But do I have any positive arguments to the effect that homosexuality is a sin?


(1) For any theological claim, if the claim has been believed by most of the church for most of its history then it is probably true. (The protestant version of the Vincentian Canon).
(2) Most of the church, most of the time has believed that homosexual acts were sinful.
(3) Therefore, homosexual acts are probably sinful.

This argument just expresses what I take to be an important aspect of ecclesiology, namely that the church is a democracy of the dead.

Now, this argument is only a probable argument. I don't think I've closed down the possibility of vindicating homosexual practice in principle. But I think I've given a good prudential reason to say homosexual practice is probably sinful.

I think the onus is on the pro-gay party, as the innovators, to show two things. First, why their position is correct. Second, how their position fits with scripture, and how it is a natural development from the dogmatic tradition of the church.

Now, not to belabor this post, I should address the question: What is the homosexual to do? You very rightly raise this as an important point. I don't think practical pastoral difficulties can overturn the established dogma of the church, but it certainly must be the case that our dogmas be livable.

So, what should we say to the homosexual?

First, God already loves you, just like you are, bad temper, receding hair-line, sexual orientation and all.
Second, because God has already given us all so many gifts--life, salvation, etc. etc., it is fitting for us to do what he asks of us.
Third, that God asks us to live pure and holy lives, which seems to mean not having gay sex.
Fourth, God has not set you out into the world all alone. Pray to him for strength not to sin.
Fifth, "it is not good for man to be alone". Through Baptism, God has made you part of his family, the Church. Seek out the family life of the Church to support you.
Sixth, failure is never final. Nobody is perfect, and God is faithful to forgive our sins if we confess and repent of them.

For the record, (with slight changes) this is also what I would to single heterosexuals or teenage boys with internet connections.

So, yes it is hard not to have sex. But it's not the end of the world. What is more important is having a family and, it just so happens, by being a member of the church, you've got one. At least, I hope you've got one--some churches are full of selfish assholes, but there are usually at least a couple supportive, friendly people in every church.

Shane said...

Wow, the conversation has already moved on while I was composing my tome. At any rate, I hope I've interacted with his (her?) arguments enough to satisfy bls for the night. I'm off for beer and relaxation.

As a final remark, St. E. there's a big difference between having a cognitive role for the emotions and being an emotivist. I think you were toying with the latter, rather than the former. I'm a big fan of the cognitive role of the emotions--I'm a virtue ethics kind of guy and that stuff is all there in Aristotle.

bls said...

(1) The Bible only prohibits male-to-male sex.
(2) Female-to-female sex is just as homosexual as male-to-male, but permissible.
(3) Therefore, when the Bible prohibits male-to-male sex it can't be prohibiting homosexuality as such.

This is a bad argument.

No, that's completely wrong. My statement was specifically that the topic of these Scriptures is not "homosexuality." I haven't said anything about what is forbidden or not.

But since you bring up pedophilia, tell me: since "the Bible nowhere explicitly prohibits pedophilia," how do you know it's wrong? Why is it prohibited today? Why can't we allow it, since the Bible doesn't forbid it?

I can see that you haven't bothered to read the article I linked, so I won't go into the reading of Romans 1, which is explicitly addressed there. It's not an argument from Robert Gagnon, I grant; the arguments are from Augustine and Clement of Alexandria.

As to the other point: your complaint above was that no one was offering a rational, moral argument on this subject. So I'm asking you, directly, for one: what is the rational, moral argument against homosexuality when it involves a partnership between two people who are homosexual and care for and about each other? As I said, I haven't seen anything like this on this thread.

We are not ancient Israelites; we are Christians. (However, I think it's possible make a moral argument against "boiling a baby goat in its mother's milk" in any case; it's a pretty ugly idea. But that's another argument.) So what is the Christian argument against homosexuality? Why would it be forbidden, since "It is what comes out a man's heart that is forbidden"? Since "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control," and "against such things there is no law"? Since "Faith, hope, love: but the greatest of these is love"?

What is argument, please? If it's only "Tradition," well, the church's Tradition is really not much to write home about. It was "traditional" (and also argued as "Scriptural") to blame the Jews for the death of Christ. It was "traditional" to expel them from Christian areas. It was "traditional" to force them to wear identifying badges, and to forbid Christians to have any contact with them.

It was also "traditional" to defend slavery and forbid women from leadership in the church. Are all these things OK, too, or is it just the homosexuality thing that should still be enforced?

I notice you wrote at the end that "So, yes it is hard not to have sex." Which ignores the point I made above, that gay partnerships are hardly all about sex. I get the feeling that, once again, you are not paying attention to what I'm saying here.

bls said...

(I forgot to answer the question about what I think those Scriptures are about.

I think they have to do with several things: in some places I think they address greedy and abusive sexual practices; in others, I think they are based in prejudice against gay people (of the type we still see today) and in superstition; in still others, I think they are mainly directed against idolatry. (This is the explicit topic of Romans 1, in fact.)

But the fact still remains that there is no condemnation of lesbianism in the Hebrew Bible - Maimonides affirms this, and so have several Jewish courts - and that Augustine and others read Romans 1 in a totally different way. If what you're saying is that one ambiguous passage in Romans is enough of a case to force somebody to live without even the hope of loving another person intimately for life, I'd respond that that's a real bad argument.)

Anonymous said...

Just think, if the ancient Israelites were highter sodomites there would have been no Levites, no priesthood, no Israel, no Jesus. And just as well Jesus didn't have the cohones to call down those legions of angels - it's not like we don't have enough violin playing amongst the sentimentalists.

Still, one can rejoice that Williams, the briliiant buffoon (he really should do something about that fright wig), read a book twenty years ago, a work of fiction about a dysfunctional group of people and decided to build a theology around it.

He has now released us from our chains.

Yay, go and sin some more so grace may abound.

Hearken to these "prophetic challenges" "prophetic voices" and "prophetic actions". They will certainly bring new meaning to Take eat. This is my body.


Anonymous said...

St E,

Your excerpt from the catechism is what I meant by "[t]he Catholic Church does not even teach this" regarding every sexual act requiring the possibility of procreation. There's plenty of Church teaching outside of the catechism that affirms this as well. In the end, I don't really disagree with anything you've said. I can even agree with this statement of yours:

I would go further and even be so bold as to say that for the gay couple deeply desirous of children, their sexual activity may harbor the greatest hope for the miraculous gift of life imaginable.

The distinction I make, and I believe the Catholic Church makes, is when "nature goes against nature", as you so aptly put it, versus when we intentionally go against nature.

Regarding your quote from the catechism, I would put the emphasis on a different phrase: "So the Church, which is "on the side of life," teaches that "it is necessary that each and every marriage act remain ordered per se to the procreation of human life." [emphasis mine]

To use the example of an infertile heterosexual couple - When they they are engaged in sexual intercourse, their act is not "ordered per se" against the procreation of human life. It is nature acting against nature that has rendered procreation impossible, not an act of the couple in question. There is a difference.

In the end, it is a natural law argument, and I realize that there is much room for debate. I'm sure the "fairness" of the Church's teaching will be brought into question - if they can have sex, why can't we? To which I could retort, I'm single (and remaining celibate) - Why can't I have sex? And no, being single is not my choice; it is not life as I would have it, but it is the particular circumstance in which I find myself, whether I like it or not. Like Kevin said, stating that we have "a right to sex" is problematic.

As I said in my first post, I don't plan to get into a long, drawn out debate on the nature of sex (too late?), but hopefully, I've at least showed how the Catholic Church, and therefore I, approach the topic. The distinction between "nature acting against nature" and human beings acting against nature is crucial.

bls said...

Well, now. That's certainly a rational, moral argument. Gosh, now I'm convinced.

And this goes to prove the utter and total depravity of heterosexuality.


bls said...

(Sorry, Mark. That was addressed to the post at 12:23:00 PM, not yours.)

Anonymous said...

Mark, I am glad there is some possible common ground between us. And I would simply say regarding your distinction between nature going against nature (the sense of which is still unclear to me) and human acts going 'intentionally against nature' that as I said above, I do not think it a necessary conclusion to draw that same sex love is an intentional going against nature, against the nature of life and love. As I see it it is a celebration of both.
Peace be with you this night, Mark.

Shane said...


"No, that's completely wrong. My statement was specifically that the topic of these Scriptures is not "homosexuality." I haven't said anything about what is forbidden or not."

If i haven't understood your argument, then I haven't understood it. I still have no idea what your positive claim is, however. Are you claiming that the Bible says nothing at all about homosexuality? Are you claiming that it does say some things, but they aren't applicable to us today, for some unspecified reason? I'm trying to make sense of what you're saying here, so give me a hand.

On the other hand, I don't think you've been reading what I've written too terribly closely. It is long and it's just a blog comment, so I'm not faulting you for this; communication on important, emotionally charged matters is hard.

However, I want to respond briefly, just to clear up some misunderstandings of my own position--

First, the reason pederasty is wrong is that it is manipulative, exploitative, and harmful. I don't know why you've taken it into your head that I'm a divine command theorist. I think there are divine commands, of course, and that one ought to obey them. But this doesn't mean divine commands are the only source moral norms. Besides divine commands there are also purely rational considerations (a la Kant) and considerations of character (a la Aristotle) and considerations of consequences (a la Mill) all of which come into play in thinking about moral problems.

Still, as I said (apparently insufficiently clearly) above, I think the reason that homosexual sex is wrong is that God says that it is. Everyone owes obedience to God and so, if God says not to do x, then there is good reason not to do x, even if x is not hurtful or obviously immoral. The reason not to do it is out of love for God. Is that not a good enough reason for you?

--the remark that "it is hard to live without sex, but not impossible" is not meant to reduce the question of homosexuality merely to sex. Rather, I am responding to your claim that it is unreasonable to ask people to live without sex. If it were impossible to live without sex, it would be unreasonable to demand it. It isn't impossible, therefore it could well be reasonable.

--I think the weight of tradition is an important argument. I think this is not a question about the gay issue, as such, but a bigger ecclesiological discussion to have. But I'll plead ignorance there, I'm not a theologian, so I'll have to rely on others to argue for centrality of the concept of tradition for understanding the church. (As I was explicitly relying on Vincent of Lerins in the post above).

--in response to this:

So what is the Christian argument against homosexuality? Why would it be forbidden, since "It is what comes out a man's heart that is forbidden"? Since "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control," and "against such things there is no law"? Since "Faith, hope, love: but the greatest of these is love"?

Who am I to say why God forbids what he forbids? The question is whether he forbids it. If God forbids homosexuality, then it is forbidden. I've shown why this is the case earlier in this comment. If God gives me existence and commands me not to do x, it is presumptuous for me to ask him to give me a good reason not to do x. Willing obedience to God is the condition of the possibility of knowing him correctly:

Omnes recta cognitio dei ab oboedientia nascitur.

All right, I'm off for bed now, a pleasant night to everyone.

Ben Myers said...

Hi folks: sorry, I honestly didn't mean to start a big war about the legitimacy of same-sex relationships! In fact, the point of my post was simply that, from the standpoint of Christian ethics, the question of same-sex legitimacy is not especially interesting or important. If anything, I think the heated debate over this question tends to distract us from the really significant moral questions, such as: what are the basis and function of sexual "norms" within the Christian community? What does it mean for the church when Christian ethicists naturalise the moral status quo? What is the function of the church's "moral no" to same-sex relationships, etc? These are the kinds of questions that Hauerwas and Williams are trying to provoke.

In my opinion, questions like these are of urgent importance for Christian ethical reflection — and these are precisely the questions that tend to be elided in heated debates about the "homosexual question".

Anonymous said...

Thanks for intervening with that comment, Ben. I've been frustrated reading this discussion, since some of the comments just confirm the argument of your post. Why do Christians have to be so goddamn certain of their own moral superiority?

Anonymous said...

j.k.: Who has said anything about being morally superior just because we are Christians? Noone as far as I can see. The question seems to be if God is morally superior than man or not, and if we can trust God... For me the answer is quite obvious.

This does not mean that homosexuality is the most important issue on the field.

As several people have already pointed out this discussion is really not on the level of the concrete issue, but rather plays out in differing perceptions of what it means to be Church, to do the Father's will and so on.

Anonymous said...

Hi Shane,

"I think the reason that homosexuality is wrong is that God says it is."

Crickey, I had to scroll up and make sure that the comment was from Shane rather than Pat! But of course you differ from Pat and the late Jerry in going to the bar of tradition rather than drinking the Bible on your own, and neat. Indeed your "postive argument to the effect that homosexuality is a sin" turns on what you call "he protestant version of the Vincentian canon".

Now I also reject what C. S. Lewis called chronological snobbery and endorse Chesterton's democracy of the dead. However as Americans of all folk should know, democracy can get it terribly wrong, and as Milton said, "Custom without truth is but agedness of error." And I trust you will agree that your argument from probability has come a cropper on some rather huge ethical issues like slavery and sexism; while, ecclesiastically, the western church has been divided since the Reformation on compulsory priestly celibacy, and, since the last century, on an all-male priesthood; and, theologically, the venerable doctrines of hell and divine passibility are very much on the table. Interestingly, Mike Higton has recently proposed, on his blog, the provocative "aphorism" that "Tradition does not live by consensus alone."

Ben suggests that one of the really interesting questions on sexuality is: "What does it mean for the church when the Christian ethicists naturalise the moral status quo?" It becomes even more interesting when that status quo is ecclesial as well as cultural.

Finally, on tradition and probabilities, aren't you glad the Good Samaritan didn't weigh them up?

Pieter Pronk said...

Same sex relations are a strange topic. Somehow it manages to stir up big discussion, with people taking sides and digging in deep. Somehow it gets a much bigger response from people than for example the question about giving to the poor, or even theological discussions about things like hell and heaven. From my experience there is no topic as dangerous when people from different churches meet, than this topic. Sometimes it seems like it's easier to live with a minister who says that good deeds are all that are needed to get to heaven, than to live with a minister who doesn't feel the need to discuss his position on same-sex relations.

Why aren't christians and the church as a whole, as dangerous a topic for the world? I mean, we preach a new world coming, we preach a king that will rule the whole earth, we preach a king that will bend everybody's knees, we preach a culture where the last will be the first, where whores will lead us into the kingdom, where poor beggars will sit at the best spots at the table. Surely... Surely, we should be much more irritating and dangerous than a couple of people whose only "danger" is that they prefer their own sex. Talk about a one-topic party.
We, the church, we promise to overthrow this whole society, we even show our gratitude to being saved by already starting this dangerous new kingdom right now, by doing things that go against the core of todays culture...

Sadly, the world just shrugs it's shoulders when talking about those "christians". Sadly, the only dangerous thing about christians is when they want to go to war against other faiths and cultures.

I can't say I care much about the same-sex marriage topic, but Hauerwas strikes a very painfull point when he points out that gays seem to do a much better job at irritating the worldly status quo than christians. I wish people were more afraid of me as a christian (look out, he's a christian, he preaches a crucified king who will take over our world and will bend our knees, and he's not afraid to start building that kingdom right now!)
Why doesnt my christian truth hurt as much as the gay truth? This question is asked of me by Hauerwas, and I have to admit it shames me.

Anonymous said...

But Ben, the whole fun about sex (and also the humor in it, as Williams says so well) is that it is, precisely 'heated debate'!
It seems to me that in this passionate embrace, we are precisely engaged in what you suggest we might engage in, the search for the 'basis and function of sexual "norms" within the Christian community'. Though we have swung wildly and perhaps violently at times (what lover does not?) we have, as Kim notes so well, come to recognize one interlocutor's ground, a fundamentalist reading of scripture (God says it, that settles it) and the probablility of the rightness of a majority opinion extended over time, (to which Kim's quotation from Milton is a most excellent response); and I think we have seen the contours of another possible basis and norm--that of embodied covenanted love in an ascetic and christological context (of course this comparison is biased--so is love, or why would I think that my lover's body is so infinitely more desirable than so many other women's?)
So I think it is missing something essential to come in to this melee late in the game and offer to cool it down somehow (is it a melee, is it a death struggle, is it a lover's last embrace before a divorce, or a first embrace of transformative passion? Think of how the child struggles to interpret the parent's wild, 'heated' exchange on the marital bed and you can see why I put it this way).
Talk about sex generates heat (and hopefully light, but that is often seen only in the intimacy of the lover's dark night, in the quiet silence that follows just before sleep) because it is with God's love and for God's love that we are wrestling, and that love is a burning fire, intimate with heaven, hot as hell. And that indistinguishability is why the debate over same sex love (is it a foretaste of paradise, as is all truly incarnate communicative love, or is it the passionate heat of damnable sinful fornication?) will necessarily be this way, I think: ardent and heated, passionately committed, emotionally overwrought at times; but also penetratingly reflective, deeply sustained, and even a bit hymnic in its desire for communion (have you read Eugene Rogers' book? Or James Alison? It really is remarkable theology, as Williams has noted). Heaven and hell are at stake together in this debate, no less, and are bound together inexorably. (ask the gay person about the hell in their hearts due to the utter rejection of their love by their churches, their families, even themselves in moments of doubt)
Now I'm no fool, and I'm not saying that this little 'exchange' here on this thread reached such heights. It did not, I think. But I do think it important that we not turn away from a lover's embrace, a lover's quarrel because its modes seem messy, dangerous, insignificant, or even foreign to our more measured theological diction. Williams has argued that the debate over sexual ethics in the church has yet to find a language in which we can disagree, and so I am suggesting that it will necessarily be, in part, the language of lovers, and that is why the mystical tradition, itself full of such heated debate (with God no less!) is crucial and revelatory. Or so my heart has taught me this night. And in spite of the fear, and in full recognition of the wrathful lion lurking so closely to hand, I confess that I eagerly await the next nuptial embrace. I can do no other.

Shane said...


Yeah, I'm one of those democrat, episcopalian, Ph.D. student fundamentalists you read so much about. Sorry this post is going to be so brief, I have to make it to a Klan meeting.

I think your point is supposed to be: "Some people read the Bible unreflectively--boo, yuck!"

I don't read the Bible unreflectively, but I do think what it says is important and that when it makes a moral command, it should be obeyed. (Unless we have good hermeneutic reasons to think this command is no longer applicable). There's plenty of ground for legitimate argument about what the Bible does and does not command and whether that command is still binding today. Nothing I've said above implies "God said it; I believe it; that settles it."

Now you may think this "commandment" language is all stupid. But, as J. said, "If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love." (John 15.10)

Obeying God is a constitutive part of the Christian faith. I think Calvin had it right:

omnis recta cognitio dei ab oboedientia nascitur.

If THAT is what you mean by fundamentalism--believing that we ought to do what God says--then sign me up. I'll be on board with Calvin and Luther and Augustine and plenty of other folks.

I think the analogy between slavery, the role of women in the church and homosexuality is very weak actually. Cf. William Webb's book, Slaver Women, and Homosexuals, for the argument there.

As to tradition, yes I think the tradition does seriously go awry at points. But the tradition is always to be respected, even when it is to be critiqued. "Whoever wants God for a father must have the church for a mother."

@ St. E.

I don't know what lover's quarrel you're talking about. I put forward a position, then you and bls implied that I was: a fascist, a southern-slave owner, a fundamentalist, a moron. All the while seeming to persistently misread everything that I said.

That's not a lover's quarrel--I don't think you happen to love me and just feel like you really disagree on an important point. You don't love me because you don't respect me enough to read what I've actually wrote and try to interpret it charitably. I've been trying to interpret you and bls charitably and not to make comments about your character, but I don't think you've reciprocated that.

I'm not asking for an apology--I've got thick skin.

What I'm asking is that you stop lying to yourself. You're trying to justify to yourself what you are doing--misreading, imputing false motives to me--is just a "lover's quarrel".

This is just bad faith, as far as I can see it. If you think I'm an asshole, call me an asshole. I'm fine with that. But if you feel bad about calling me an asshole, own up to it--don't rationalize it away with some florid "everybody loves each other" bullshit.

Shane said...


Who's totalizing whom now?

Anonymous said...

Shane, I'm not sure, given what you think of me, why you keep addressing me in this conversation. For my part, I do it out of love, trying to keep, however failingly and faltingly, the commandment of Eph. 4:15. I trust you are doing the same.
So I will say it, Shane, in the face of all that seems to contradict it, and that is a lot. I love you too, Shane. Is that absurd? Impossible? Blasphemous? A rationalization, a lying to myself? The devil is the father of lies, and I therefore renounce him, renounce any power he has taken from these words of love, twisting God's love, distorting God's commandments, which I too seek to follow.
I love you too, Shane, 'asshole' Shane, 'saint' Shane, 'scholastic' Shane, 'fundamentalist' Shane, child of Christ Shane.

In the power of Christ's name I pray these things, praying that all that is false in my words be burned away and that the pure, unadulterated love of God be all that remain.

Shane said...

I keep addressing you because I think that's what everybody should do. Keep talking to each other. Keep trying to figure one another out. Keep trying to give an account of oneself, accepting correction by others and trying to correct them in turn. Reason is dialogical in that way.

I'm not mad at you, at all. I consider what I'm saying to you an attempt to help you think clearly about what you are saying and whether it really adds up to the conclusion you think it does. And I'm willing to accept correction myself if someone can show my why I'm wrong to think as I do. I just happen to think nobody here has given me a good reason to change my position yet.

Shane said...


"Given what you think about me"

I'm not sure what you think I think about you.

Here's my complete opinion of you:

1. You don't have a good argument for the acceptability of homosexuality.
2. You have a tendency to rhetorical excess.
3. You are tempted to self-deception.

That's what I think of you. It isn't like I think you're some vile, wicked person or a moron or something like that. If I thought those things, I wouldn't bother trying to argue with you. I am trying to argue with you, ergo . . .

Anonymous said...


Peter Carey said...


Thanks for your post and for your follow - up comment this afternoon...I also appreciate the exchanges here and it motivates me to read both of these essays again ... and to think more deeply about them,

Thanks to all!


Paul said...

God made man, woman, hermaphrodite, and homosexual. He did this through the process of evolution: we are sophisticated apes. We're not well adapted to our environment, buy hey, it's better than being a maggot or worm. The stiff-necked will be outraged and unwilling to accept the fact of our humble origins and genetic 'imperfection'. Humans are different to animals however, we are blessed to be able to know God.

In regards to commandments against homosexuality for people who are homosexual due to biological or environmental factors (not out of lust, etc.), thus saith the LORD:
Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. For some are homosexuals because they were born that way; others were made that way by men. The one who can accept this should accept it.

He who has ears, let him hear.

You're welcome in my church, bls.

Pieter Pronk said...

If you need to put words into the LORDS mouth, I'd rather stay in the church of Christ, than be welcomed into yours, Paul. Who knows which words you'll put into Gods mouth next...

NIV Matthew 19:12 For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it."

Turning eunuchs (eunouchoi) into homosexuals is a stretch. Then leaving out "because of the kingdom". (I guess it should say: "others have become homosexual because of the kingdom of heaven." according to your translation?)
Then adding "He who has ears" from a completely different setting for dramatic effect?
Also it was Jesus who said those words, who is not normally called LORD with capital letters in most translations.

Not sure if you were serious, or just figured everybody would see this as somehow "tongue in cheek", but I don't think a discussion is helped by making up Gods Word for ourselves. I ask for a little respect for Gods Word.

Richard Beck said...

In my amateurish opinion it really seems that these debates get split down the middle. From the "homosexuality is sinful" side you basically end up with a Divine Command position backed up with an argument from the Created Order.

But these two warrants (divine command and arguments about "naturalness") are often problematic. Thus, we seek deeper and more robust theological warrants. But the difficulty is that these alternative theological warrants—love, relationality, harm—tend to support the other side of the argument.

In the end, then, all we are left with are gut feelings about the relative weight of the warrants on each side of the equation. I agree with Shane that rational argument is important but in this debate one's final position will tend to be governed by our felt sense of rightness or wrongness.

For an interesting take on this conclusion, see it the recent book On Being Certain by neuroscientist Robert Burton. The book isn't the greatest but its thesis is important for theologians to wrestle with. His contention is that there is a "feeling of knowing," that certainty is an emotion. I think those emotions are very much in play in these theological discussions.

MM said...

Ah, Williams is such a flirt. I mean, he's very snazzy, but this sort of auto-erotic suggestion is the sort of thing that warrants critics like Christopher Hitchens' public query as to why a guy like Williams is trying to lead an international religious community.

As for ethics on the edge of a knife- maybe. Those who are close to Williams complain that he has very, very little experience of the non western world. Truly, followers of his communion who I know in Africa have faced the edge of a knife precisely because their international representative has made such statements. It's rather insensitive of him.

My Church counters the culture by offering this statement on the norms implicated by gay Christians:

"Homosexuality... has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries...tradition has always declared that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered. They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.

The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible... They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God's will in their lives...Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, and by the support of friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection."

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2357-2359.

bls said...

"Are you claiming that the Bible says nothing at all about homosexuality? Are you claiming that it does say some things, but they aren't applicable to us today, for some unspecified reason? I'm trying to make sense of what you're saying here, so give me a hand."

I think I've been fairly clear; I've linked to an article that makes the claim - backed by evidence - that "it is a perfectly respectable position for a Catholic to take that there is no reference to lesbianism in Holy Scripture, given that the only candidate for a reference is one whose 'obvious meaning' was taken, for several hundred years, to be something quite else."

And if there's no reference to lesbianism - and if this is such an important and central issue for Christians and others, which it certainly seems to be - then obviously there's no prohibition on "homosexuality." That is not the topic of discussion at all, even though modern people seem to want to make it so.

Given that the first reference to same-sex sexual relations apparently occurs in Genesis, via the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, I would suggest that the Bible forbids abusive sex between men, when the sex used for the purpose of humiliating and dominating others - of the type that occurs, say, in prisons. Or sex for sheer self-gratification. (It is quite interesting that those who oppose homosexuality never seem to comment on the propriety of Lot offering his own daughters for use and abuse by the townspeople, I must add.) Paul often argued via reference to the Hebrew Bible, and his arguments don't strike me as odd at all, given the sort of behavior that he saw around him in some contexts. Remember again that all the stuff in the Epistles specifically refers to men. And again: remember that the Romans 1 discussion is really centered in idolatry, not sexuality - and that the ridiculing depictions of the Roman Gentiles were used to show, in Romans 2, that Roman Christians were in no position themselves to judge.

Homosexual orientation was unknown until recently; homosexuality was (and sometimes still is) considered defective heterosexuality and the prejudice against it was (and still is) very strong.

First, the reason pederasty is wrong is that it is manipulative, exploitative, and harmful.

Now, make a similar argument against homosexual sex between partnered individuals. This is all I am asking here - because as I've already told you, God apparently does not say anything much to lesbians at all. There isn't any prohibition in the Bible against lesbianism - just as there isn't any against polygamy. Obviously, we are expected to make rational, moral arguments in these cases.

(BTW, dogs are viewed with disdain and loathing in the Bible also. Think anybody will be shutting down the Seeing Eye on that account?)

I've also already said multiple times that my argument is not in any way against "having to live without sex." It is against "having to live without companionship, or the hope of companionship."

"It is not good for the man to be alone," it says right there in Genesis, first thing. So why are you arguing that it is good?

bls said...

(And can we keep in mind, please, that the denizens of Sodom were probably not homosexual at all, given that Lot offers his daughters to them? Does this whole story make any sense if they are viewed as homosexual, in fact?

Let's also remember that Paul speaks of men "leaving the natural use of the woman" (and "use" is an interesting term to employ here, isn't it?).

These stories are directed at sexual greed, likely on the part of heterosexuals! So I'd say what we have here is an admonition that highly-sexed men keep their sexual behavior in check - not for gay people to break up their families and leave their spouses in order to join the church.

It's really just about common sense at this point, isn't it? If gay couples harm no one, and if our partnerships are beneficial to us and to our families, then why on earth would God prohibit them? What kind of God would we be talking about, in that case? Don't we have to - as we do in all other cases - take the entirety of Scripture into account. And in particular, don't we have to follow Christ, the image of the invisible God? Why would Christ ask people to destroy their love for each other? It's nonsensical.

I personally think this particular argument in the Church is meant to allow people to take a fresh look at the implications of Scripture.)

Anonymous said...


on your comment on Genesis. It's best not to point to that text, because God creates a woman for man so that he's not alone, which would seem to at least be a half a point for the homosexuality is wrong group...

Anonymous said...


also, on your point about homosexuality not hurting someone and therefore God shouldn't be opposed to it. Well if it against God's intention then it is hurting the person engaged in it, and therefore God is against regardless of whether others are affected. And of course if homosexuality is against God's intention and design, then homosexual love is not really love and so Christ isn't asking the homosexual to abandon his/her love, but false love. Your view seems to presuppose that we have a natural theology of love apart from the Gospel that God must conform to. But love is defined by and ordered by the God who created humans in the first place; our distorted perceptions of this distored, mired world are no help to us. And so questions such as what is generally harmful in our present world or what is generally considered love in our present world are non-issues. What is an issue is the eschatological world which God is making, the redeemed world, and if that world does not include homosexuality because God never intended for it to be the proper expression of sex and love between human beings, then of course homosexuality is something that is only a part of this distorted order. That's the question that's up for debate. So it doesn't help your position to look at the world around you and say, "I don't see anything wrong with it". A lot of non-Christians look at their life and world when they hear the gospel and say, "doesn't seem like it or I need saving. I'm doing quite well thank you very much" But of course the gospel has a different view of this world, and that's the question.

Anonymous said...

"Why would Christ ask people to destroy their love for each other? It's nonsensical."

What about a man who "loves" little boys and wants to express his love sexually? Why would Christ ask him to destroy his love? Is that equally nonsensical?

You need something more than this tired propagations of "Hey, man it's just love. God likes love."

It's just that sort of liberal sentimentality that these essays by Hauerwas and Williams are trying to call into question just as much as the dreary fundamentalist pontifications of "God said it, I believe it, that settles it."

(Shane, you're not saying that btw, you're doing swimingly here and for onece we are pretty much in agreement.)

Anonymous said...

Anonymous: I was going to make that point exactly. The notion that our perception of what love is somehow is greater than that of God seems utterly vain. For many people love is nothing more than "liking" someone, enjoying their company and so on. But the love of God does not seem to be like that. Not everyone who calls him "Lord" is to enter heaven, but those who do the will of the Father. Loving God seems to implicate obedience, not mere affection.

I am not very interested in the debate on homosexuality at all. But what I am worried about is the liberal position purported by bls and others. Not because of the conclusion, but because of the logic used. Obedience and righteousness doesn't seem to appear at all in their posts nor as a component in their logic. Please correct me if I'm wrong.

God's Peace.

Anonymous said...

Hey, Halden, I don't want rain on the parade of your for-once "pretty much in agreement with Shane", but there is the small problem that Shane thinks that "no idea is too ridiculous for Hauerwas," and that the position of "Old Eyebrows", "dodging the central question again and again", is "a straightforward example of why the anglican church is in the crisis it is today." I know that at this point it would be easier to get toothpaste back into the tube than to get back to Ben's post and the discussion he was trying to open up in dialogue with Hauerwas and Williams, but presumably you would differ fundamentally with that force of nature, Hurricane Shane, on his assessments of these two theologians.

Anonymous said...

On the topic of Genesis 1-2, Dan's post is worth considering: Why arguments based upon the order of creation in Gen 1-2 are faulty.

Shane said...

@ bls,

Thanks for clarifying your position for me. I think I'm finally seeing what the claim is. I've been trying not to get involved with the exegetical disputes up to this point, because i'm not really that good a NT/OT scholar and I was sort of hoping somebody else would come along to make this case for me. But,

First, regarding Allison, Note please that the article you've put forward as definitively proving that Augustine didn't interpret Romans 1 to be about homosexuality actually has no evidence to support this claim. All we have is Allison's claim about Augustine, no footnotes or references or even direct citations. Allison may be right, but I'm really skeptical.

After all, just because Augustine talks about idolatry in connection with this passage doesn't mean he DOESN'T think it's also about homosexuality. My suspicion is that he thinks of homosexuality as a species of idolatry or somehow intrinsically linked to it. Or maybe the homosexuality is the evidence or consequence of their idolatry-which would considerably hinder Allison's claim. In fact, I think there is a little evidence that homosexuality and idolatry are linked in Paul's mind too (more on this below), and it would make sense if Augustine were picking up one of those suggestions. So, if you can find the original text by Augustine for us to discuss, we could plunge deeper into that claim, but I haven't been able to find it.

Furthermore, I think the Bible pretty clearly does talk about male homosexuality at least--take Lev 18.22. I just don't see any way around the claim that this is a straightforward prohibition of male-to-male sex. And, St. Paul still has the holiness code in mind in 1 Cor 5-6 when he urges the Corinthians to "put away the wicked from among you" (which alludes to the holiness code in Leviticus) and then includes in the catalog of sinners "idolaters . . . malakoi and arsenokoitai. This is the bit of evidence that I think suggests homosexuality and idolatry may be linked in Paul's mind in some way. At any rate, the malakoi (lit. "soft ones") and the arsenokoitai (lit. arsen "man" + koite "bed") are the passive and active partners in male homosexual intercourse, according to the Bauer-Danker-Arnich-Gingrich Lexicon (the industry standard).

So, I don't think your conclusion follows. It just simply isn't the case that the Bible has nothing to say about homosexuality. It obviously has an extremely strong stand against male homosexuality. And possibly also a statement against female homosexuality as well in the contentious Romans 1 passage.

It might be that the (human) authors of the Bible did not foresee homosexuality as we think of it--i.e. a loving relationship of equals. But I don't think that extrapolates to the claim that they simply didn't have anything to say about it.

Anonymous said...

Halden, why did you put the word love in quotation marks if not because you know darn well that the example of pedophilia is anything but love, and thus a lousy example to use. I must say, your keen theological instincts and gifts seem to falter when it comes to this issue of sexuality. Even a cursory reading of Williams' essay "The Body's Grace" would have prevented you from equating the perverse desires of a pedophile with the genuine love of gay men and women. So Williams writes, in that essay:

"Nagel makes, in passing, a number of interesting observations on sexual encounters that either allow no "exposed spontaneity" (p 50) because they are bound to specific methods of sexual arousal - like sadomasochism - or permit only a limited awareness of the embodiment of the other (p 49) because there is an unbalance in the relation such that the desire of the other for me is irrelevant or minimal - rape, paedophilia, bestiality.

These "asymmetrical" sexual practices have some claim to be called perverse in that they leave one agent in effective control of the situation - one agent, that is, who doesn't have to wait upon the desire of the other. (Incidentally, if this suggests that, in a great many cultural settings, the socially licensed norm of heterosexual intercourse is a "perversion" - well, that is a perfectly serious suggestion.. .)"

So for Williams, the pedophilia you refer to could never be an act of love, but only perversion.
Do you disagree with Williams here? If not, why the inflammatory example, which brings up the specter of the gay person as analogous to a pedophile?

Paul said...

Pieter, my comment was provocative, but if you care to forget I'll have you know that I am not the only one who supposedly distorts and disrespects the Lord's Word. Many others do so by their tradition, and much more egregiously. Judge not lest ye be judged. And remember a certain Galilean who also blasphemed (according to some) when challenging the ungodly traditions of men.

I think you may not have got my point, since you only played the messenger, not the message. I turned "eunuchs" into "homosexuals" not to make up God's Word, but to make an analogy. I will not discuss Pharisaic yeast with you lest you admonish me for disrespecting bread. I apologise to KJV-only folks for using the NIV - oh, how great is my sin? Let's stop straining this gnat and get to something important: using a perversion of God's Word to unjustly condemn the innocent.

There are some for whom homosexual behaviour is natural, just like heterosexual behaviour is natural for the rest of us. This may go against a dumb or traditional reading of the Bible, but it's a scientific fact. While I'm busy being an iconoclast and storing up the wrath of fundamentalists, I'd like to smuggle in the fact that world wasn't created in 6 days.

Jesus' commandments were only for those who could actually receive them. He didn't make blanket statements with no respect to reality. Some people are born homosexual, some people are homosexual because of the actions or upbringing of others. Do you see the analogy with Matt 11:12 now? I don't want to labour the point by spelling it out. Not all homosexual people are homosexual out of lust or other evil (yes, some are, I'm not defending those). Out the heart comes evil, not what goes into a man. Recognition of these four facts would nullify the specious arguments so far presented.

You are welcome in my church too, Pieter (NB little 'c' in church). We're all part of the same Church (big 'C'), so you needn't insinuate that I'm a heretic because you disagree with me. Sure, I would have fun reenacting 1054, but the discussion wouldn't be helped.

A question to all, do you really want Christians to be like Hauerwas' zealots or mad devils like Jesus? Don't you really prefer the fuddy duddy clergy in Jane Austen's novels? Is not the discrimination against gays and lesbian because they offend our sense and sensibility?

Anonymous said...

Wow Paul, you were able to pull out almost all the negative examples from Christianity's past to create a wonderful straw man and rhetorical ploy. Well if the choice is either support homosexuality or be a literalist, fundamentalist, a Pharisee, a KJV-onlyist and one who burns heretics, then I'm sure most will choose the former. But this is just stupid: here you are trying to tell everyone we shouldn't demonize homosexuals all the while caricaturing and demonizing any who do think homosexuality is wrong. If there's anything that doesn't help the discussion it's this bullshit.

Anonymous said...

Kim, indeed you have found me out on that point. Perhaps I had hoped to bring out the ways in which Williams and Hauerwas call into question any sort of simplistic answer to these sexual question. But indeed, I assess them differently than Shane does.

Egreg, your comments simply illustrate the slipery nature of the rhetoric of "Hey, man its just love." Who gets to define what love is and how far down does the biblical, social, and ecclesial shaping of love go?

But if the example of pedophilia rubs you the wrong way (and I admit it is not a perfect analogy) how about polygamy? It seems perfectly possible to have non-asymmetrical sexual relations in such a context, does it not?

But whatever, I don't want to belabor this already far-afield discussion. I doubt an argument between the two of us will prove fruitful.

Paul said...

inhabitatiodei, polygamy is a better analogy, but slippery slope arguments are a logical fallacy.

You are constructing a strawman and false dichotomy there, Anonymous (May 06, 2008 6:19:00 PM).

My position cannot be reduced to 'support homosexuality' as a catchy blanket statement. You've obviously missed the nuance of 'some' in my sentences. I have reasons for, and not for, discriminating against homosexuals in different situations. Both the 'for' and 'not for' discrimination are based on values that I would hold homosexuals and heterosexuals to equally.

The reason why I try to be ruled by the Spirit, and not a legalist, is because that when we try to objectify God's will in law, creating another idol, we can make big mistakes. Jesus demonstrates this clearly. Laws bring security and comfort, but we can discriminate unfairly and miss the point of God's teaching.

Anonymous said...

Actually, Halden, it does not seem possible to have asymmetrical relationships in polygamy. One partner, (usually the man, historically) is in a deeply asymmetrical relationship with his wives. But as you say, let's not belabor it.

Anonymous said...

Oops, obviously the first 'asymmetrical' should be symmetrical.

Anonymous said...

Paul: You don't think that the Roman Catholic teaching on sexuality is consistent? That it does not hold for homosexuals and heterosexuals equally? I think that it is precisely consistent, and one pope in the beginning of the last century (can't remember his name), said that it was an equally great sin to use contraception as it is engaging in homosexual acts. I don't think that a married couple in the RCC has it any "easier" in life than those who are to remain in celibacy.

That being said we must recognize that we are all sinners, no one is worthy in front of God, and we should not "discriminate unfairly and miss the point of God's teaching" (ie. become self-righteous bigots). The whole point of discussion seems to be on what this "unfairly" actually is. Is it "unfair" to require celibacy – that all Christians are required to live in chastity I hope no one would argue against – for people with innate or appropriated sexual orientations?

egregious: What about a "two-way" polygamy? The wives have several husbands as well? What about a single marriage for five men and three women? I can't see why polygamy must be asymmetrical.

Lord's peace.

Anonymous said...

It's these sorts of dialogues that get started by those who, I imagine, get an enormous amount of pleasure watching people participate in downward transcendence.

Morals and ethical structures are transcended by faith, belief and obedience to God - which, implies, a choice to be obedient, the choice to believe, the choice to even have faith, the choice to respond to it.

You can't have your cake and eat it, too. Well, you can, but it's a different kind of cake.

But, the person who initiated this sort of dialogue is, I imagine, enjoying his handiwork.

bls said...

What about a man who "loves" little boys and wants to express his love sexually? Why would Christ ask him to destroy his love? Is that equally nonsensical?

Do you really want to argue that this is "love"? Do please read 1 Corinthians 13 again, just for a refresher on the topic.

Here's a relevant passage, for instance:

"4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres."

It's all right there. There is no such thing as a man who "loves" little boys, as everybody in the world knows and acknowledges. Your comment betrays a fundamental lack of understanding of the Christian virtues - at best.

bls said...

Shane, that was a talk to a group of laypeople, so you're right: there are no footnotes in that transcript. But Alison has provided them elsewhere, and I'll find them and post them here. I've seen the material myself, in fact; it does say what he claims it says.

And you're right: Scripture in these few places addresses male-male sex. Only problem is, I'm not a male; it doesn't say anything to me at all. People who claim that it does are "interpreting" Scripture every bit as much as they claim I am (and scorn me for doing); they are taking what are clearly passages addressing male-male sex and lumping women in there too, and assuming that closes the case. But these passages do not, in fact, address women at all; if "homosexuality" was the issue, and an abominable sin in God's eyes the practice of which meant that people who engaged in it could not enter God's kingdom - why isn't it made clear in the case of women? In Leviticus, there are in fact passages condemning certain sexual practices by women; see Leviticus 20:16, for instance.

I would say the 6 or so passages in the Bible that condemn male-male sex (Conservative Jews, and others, read Leviticus as condemning only one particular type of male-male sex, BTW; they are kinder than Christians tend to be, and more understanding of the human need for intimate companionship) are in fact recapitulating the Sodom story in Genesis - and are also based in the kind of prejudice against gay people that is still very much in evidence in the world (and even in the comments on this very thread).

I don't think the scribes had any real solid concept of a "homosexual orientation," and assumed that homosexual activity was simply defective heterosexuality. Well, it's become clear today that this isn't the case; people, by observation, don't get "cured" of homosexuality, and in any case there is no basis for assuming that gay people are in need of "cure." The fact that there are literally millions of well-adjusted gay people in the world who are good citizens and good neighbors has made this clear to many reasonable people.

Thanks for talking, at least, and sorry I was a little abrasive above. What seems perfectly obvious to me at this point is evidently still not obvious to others, and that's something I need to keep in mind.

bls said...

Here, Shane, from Augustine's "De nuptiis et concupiscentia" (On Marriage and Concupiscence (Book II), Ch. 35):

"But as regards any part of the body which is not meant for generative purposes, should a man use even his own wife in it, it is against nature and flagitious. Indeed, the same apostle had previously said concerning women: Even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature; and then concerning men he added, that they worked that which is unseemly by leaving the natural use of the woman. "

Shane said...


thanks for the reference to Augustine, I'll take a look at it after I finish this hellish semester. I'm glad for our conversation too--it's been a while since I've had a serious discussion on this issue and it's good to have to think through it again periodically.

At any rate, my sincere best wishes.


Anonymous said...

bls: "But as regards any part of the body which is not meant for generative purposes, should a man use even his own wife in it, it is against nature and flagitious. Indeed, the same apostle had previously said concerning women: Even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature "

The Apostle also said the marriage bed is undefiled, which seems to indicate that any sexual practice is permitted within the bounds of matrimony. And when he says something is "against nature" this seems to be more like one of those places where Paul is giving his opinion, not revealing divine truths, because he also believed long hair for men was unnatural. That cannot be a divine truth, because if men do not cut their hair, it naturally grows long.

Anonymous said...

All this talk about God requiring celibacy of certain people strikes me as very non-Protestant.

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