Category Archives: Sexuality

Eric Reitan’s, “The Triumph of Love: Same-Sex Marriage and the Christian Love Ethic: Some Initial Thoughts

I’m in the middle of reading Eric Reitan’s book, “The Triumph of Love: Same-Sex Marriage and the Christian Love Ethic” Chapter 5, “Homosexuality, Mental Health, and the Good of Children.”

Obviously, I will only write about what I’ve read so far. Essentially, (and I’m going with the gist of what I’ve read OVERALL) Reitan is making the argument against the more strict argument that it is not realistic to expect people to hold off on their sex lives as well as the argument from stigmatization. The Christian love ethic, Reitan says, requires that we seek the good of others and when you stigmatize and foist upon people such a stringent moral code you hurt them.

There is much to commend in terms of stigmatization that Reitan speaks about. Obviously, Christians should not stigmatize gay people. This is a basic teaching Churches of all persuasions and denominations would, I think, for the most part agree with, except for your Fred Phelps and some fundie types.

However, Reitan wants to go further than the stigmatization that I’m suggesting here. He wants to go so far as to say that homosexual orientation and acts are not sin (after all, that is why he is arguing for SS intimacy and SSM). To suggest this is in itself stigmatization. I find this problematic.

Reitan doesn’t draw a clear line or clearer line than I’d like between the Church and the world.

The formula I have in mind (principled pluralism) looks like this of which the rest of this post will be how it works out.

1. The World
2. The Church (organic and institutional)
3. Christian should not obliterate all sin and should live side by side with it (this doesn’t mean arbitrarily changing reality).
4. The sinful things of the world should not be obliterated (this means SS intimacy/friendships/”SSM” can exist (in quotes as will be explained below).
5. Churches (institutional) are diverse and exist as such, in part, because of theological reasons (theological consciences). Churches have rules, moral codes, codes of conduct, etc.

For Starters—the Church
I want to make two intial points.

First, I come from the position that our sexuality can manifest itself in sexually inappropriate ways. Heterosexuality can be JUST AS sinful as homosexuality. There are desires and urges and drives on both the homosexual and heterosexual dichotomy spectrum that are inappropriate from a Christian moral standpoint.

Second, I want to inject pastor Greg Boyd into this to make a wider point. Boyd has held for YEARS that homosexuality and SSM are sin. However, he argues that the Church should allow it because God accommodates sin, ie., divorce, divorce and remarriage, polygamy, etc. So my question (and wider point) is this: How does stigmatization (that Reitan talks about) work in this scenario? Say for example, all the people who disagreed with Boyd on this question, left his church like they did when he came out with his Anabaptist views on government such that all you have left are people who agree with his views. Now, say you have a gay couple who are married coming to his church. On the one hand, he obviously allows for it. However, on the other hand, he still holds that it is sin. Reitan, I presume, would stand outside of his church and protest like he did with Village Baptist Church in Oklahoma that he talks about in the beginning of his book? How does one feel stigmatized in this situation exactly? If Boyd were to preach about this subject and still call it sin (though God would allow for it), would these folks be stigmatized? Yes, it’s a better situation than full all out condemnation and stigmatization where they are not even allowed in the church, but by having the very sentiment of calling it sin, according to Reitan, Greg would essentially be unwelcoming and stigmatizing. Greg certainly could not hold to his theological position or his theological conscience.

A less hard line/strict conservative position, ALLOWS for people to be gay and have SS relationships AND for people to hold to their religious convictions. Ultimately, it seems to me, that the problem has to do with pluralism (which is usually the case).

In chapter 3, Reitan tells the story of Village Baptist Church and a fellow named “Don” in which Don had protested in front of the Village Baptist Church. One day Don and a blind friend “decide to worship with” the folks at Village Baptist Church. Don, at one point during the service, stands up and tells everyone how he is gay and proud of it and are quickly ushered out of the church. Don attempts to speak to one of the men where the man tells him that the pastor is entitled to his beliefs.

This is an important point for the pluralism I’m talking about. Reitan wants to change Village Baptist Church’s view of homosexuality as he finds this harmful and stigmatizing. What he seems to do is put the importance of their beliefs and religious conscience on the back burner. THAT’S not as important as how we treat people. However, imagined if the pastor of Village Baptist Church went to Reitan’s church and tried to force his beliefs on him and his congregation. Would there not actually be damage done to those who believe otherwise? We’re not talking about cognitive dissonance here. We are talking about having someone attempting to foist their beliefs on others. True love–agape love–the Christian love ethic allows for people to not be force to believe what you believe or want them to believe. It allows for others to come to a place of their own decision making. It allows for them to grow naturally. This is one reason, fundamentalism is problematic and people have left these churches and those teachings and beliefs behind. Think of this with regard to children. You set the moral/theological horizon but eventually, you have to allow them to find their own way with hopefully that horizon in view.

Furthermore, everything passes through my principled pluralism grid of understanding of these and other issues. For example, I don’t believe the government has a right to tell anyone what to believe. It should allow for people to have their own consciences about matters, religious or otherwise. Thus, (and this is Skillenesque here) if a Church wants to believe that homosexuality is a gift and blessing, the government should not dictate the theological consciences of individuals or churches that believe such. By extension, neither should one church say to another church, “Hey! You believe this and this or this and that!” So, in reality, you can have churches that have theological beliefs that are welcoming and affirming and not stigmatizing gay people on ANY level ie., such as the belief that homosexuality or orientation or SSM is sin ie., Greg Boyd’s stance. People can go to these churches and enjoy fellowship and peace and love.

The Church in its organic form can be very diverse (I’ll leave judgment as to whether liberal or progressive churches are Christian for I’m speaking about pluralism at this point) but in that diversity she also exists in institutional form with boundaries, teachings, doctrine, codes, rules of conduct and so on. Is it any wonder that someone like David Gushee has started to talk about separation over this question? Maybe it’s come to that. Maybe this is or will be one of those things that separate and divide us–like baptism, salvation, communion, etc. That’s OK by my Kuyperian standards. I’m willing to let the chips fall where they may. Now does this mean that one church should not try to convince another or denomination convince another or a individual not convince another? Well, I think it’s OK to do that as long as there is MUTUAL DIALOGUE. In other words, there is a willingness to listen. But if that is not there, then it really isn’t going to get anywhere is it? Also, how would this tribalism play out in non-church settings? Could I attempt to persuade over social media where I interact with people of other traditions? Yes, but as long as it’s cordial. I could possibly change one’s tradition over time as the old guard moves out and the new guard moves in or it may have no affect. The Church changes to some extent and this is about that somewhat.

Reitan spoke about having the gift of celibacy. This is a question I remember talking with friends and our youth pastor about back in the 80’s and was reminded of again in an article from the, “Spiritual Friendship.” My belief is that there is no such thing as “the gift of celibacy” but rather that celibacy is a gift. And the Bible seems to look at it this way. Marriage is a gift. And singleness is a gift. It’s not some divine will power that over-rides sexual drives. We are all wired sexual beings such that even those who are celibate still have sexual drives. Paul is simply saying that when we are celibate, which can happen for a host of reasons we can view EVEN THAT as a gift.

Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen talks about the Kingdom of God as being like a box within a box. You have the Kingdom of which is the largest box and marriage and singleness are boxes WITHIN that box. So everything is relative to the larger box. Whatever station you find yourself in in life what are we supposed to be? Content. You can serve God in marriage and you can serve God in singleness. As a matter of fact being single may be the better of the two options because it gives you opportunities to serve God in ways that you can’t because you have to take care of your family responsibilities. And this brings me to my final related point…

The World (and the Church)
Reitan paints this dark picture of LONG defeat. It goes like this: “Conservatives say: You won’t be able to have intimate relationships for the REST OF YOUR LIFE. Heterosexuals have the opportunity but gay people are not allowed.” I don’t know if I can even call this a strict conservative view. If you frame it as Reitan does I guess you could say that it is. If sex is reserved for marriage and intimacy it should be reserved for the opposite sex and if homosexuality is immoral and wrong then that means that those who hold to this position are saying that gay people are exiled to a sexual Siberia of sorts. Whenever I hear this, I picture closeted gay people sitting in conservative churches loathing their lives while the rest of the congregation get to enjoy their relationships–sex and the whole romantic intimacy and all that fun stuff.But there are several problems with this. We go back to the world and the Church delineation. When you look at the actual sex lives of people you come up with a picture that looks quite different. For example, people “find themselves in a state of celibacy” (involuntarily). They may not want it, but that is what “their lot in life” has handed to them. Those are the cards they’ve been dealt. What do you do now? It’s not voluntary for them. Being in a relationship is not the same as buying clothes or changing your clothes for that matter. It is not something one easily enters into. I’ve always likened being in a good relationship to two things

  1.  Astrology
  2. Shooting arrows at a target.

With astrology, it’s LIKE the stars have to line up to before things work out to where you can say, “I think this is a good relationship. I think I could spend my life with this person.” Things like chemistry, status (from the same basic economic class), compatibility, religion, family, job, distance, and so forth have to be there. Obviously, some of these may be negotiable while others won’t. Liking relationships to shooting at a target is like shooting a bow many times before you hit the right one. In other words, you may go through a few relationships before you can say, “I think this is a good relationship. I think I could spend my life with this person.”

So what happens during the “in-between periods?” What if that in-between period is a LONG time? Perhaps months. Perhaps years. If it CAN be done for an unspecified amount of time, is it not possible that it can be done for life? What about where, in one’s senior years, one spouse has died and the other has to go on without them? I see this in-between period as an extension of the “long life” as a celibate. One is not living in the moment under this view of things.

Lastly, from the paradigm I’m working from, gay folks can establish intimate relationships and get “married” (marriage is in quotes as for a reason. It really is not a marriage on a conjugal/traditional view). This is really a legal point. Under the Constitution, people have the right to associate or not associate with others (marriage is another question). If gay folk want to attend a church which will bless their relationship and hold ceremonies where they “wed” or “marry” each other then both (individuals and church) are and should be free to do so (though the “marriage” would not be legally recognized via the law).

This allows for churches or companies such as bakeries or even private companies such as Hobby Lobby to not have to recognize these relationships as marriage (to hold to their own theological consciences). It allows for churches to hold their own theological teaching about SS relationships and allows them to perform ceremonies in which they could “marry” each other. Thus, gay people are not being denied having intimate relationships on both a religious front nor a societal front. Do I think gay relationships are a sin. Yes. (So does Greg Boyd). Do I believe gay relationships are less than what God’s ideal? Yes. Not God’s plan? Yes. I see them as being a form of friendship (Skillen). If they are this, then the least Christians on all sides could do is think about them in light of a dark, cold wasteland. We all need touch, and relationships and to be loved in a dark cruel world. Why would we deny ANYONE that no matter how far it falls short of God’s idea.

In summary,

  1. People are allow to form friendships and associations. The Constitution allows this.
  2. Churches can hold their own theological consciences and practices.
    This means:
  3. Gay folk can have intimate romantic relationships.
  4. Churches can “marry” (hold ceremonies) and hold theological beliefs where they practice and affirm and bless SS relationships.
  5. Other Churches will have their own theological consciences and rules, and moral codes of conduct which will be able to call certain practices sin, less than God’s ideal, falling short, etc.

If a person wants to feel accepted and not stigmatized by the community then they should go to Churches that accept them. At the end of the day, the stigmatization argument doesn’t hold much water on such a view.

 


Distinctions, Distinctives, Differences, Differentiation And Inclusion

I want to expand on my last post a bit.

It may be argued by some that we should be accepting and inclusive of the marginalized as this is what Jesus would do. Here’s my issue with that but let me first tell you what I’m NOT saying.

First, I’m NOT saying that folk should go out of their way to abuse, oppress or hate on others. If the child on the playground is being picked on, then one should personally come to their defense if it is prudent to do so. In some situations it might be better to wait for the teacher or the “authority”– the person in charge to come to the rescue. This may be an instance of the “greater good” argument that is spoken of in open theistic circles. So some circumstances call for wise action before actually doing ANYTHING which is to say that great harm could come to those while they/you are waiting for assistance. In some instances, it may call for getting rid of all protocol or what you should do in order to be of assistance to those who are helpless or oppressed or marginalized. However, in situations which are political (governmental), shedding the rules is for the most part not the wisest thing to do and so, one must work from within the political system to achieve certain objectives and goals. It’s simply the nature of the game.

Having said that, let me tell you what I AM saying. I am saying that not everyone is called to the same thing. Many progressives flip between “Church” and “church” effortlessly and without much thought which ends up, in my mind, confusing matters. What I mean is this. Should the “CHURCH” (capital C ie., universal Church, Bride of Christ) help the poor, relieve the oppressed and seek out the marginalized? Yes. Should the “church” (small c) help the poor, relieve the oppressed and seek out the oppressed? Not necessarily. What I mean by this has everything to do with what I said yesterday about relationships coming together naturally and what I’m going to say now: GIFTING.

Let me give an example of this. When I was growing up, my church started a food bank and clothing center across the street from where our church building was located. What happened was some people felt God laying it upon their heart to start such a ministry. In so doing, they wanted to have the blessing and assistance of the church leaders and the church as a whole. Well, my pastor (who has since passed away) was one of the coolest guys around. He was open to all kinds of things and “sending forth” the “labourers.” And for many years that “ministry” thrived.

But here’s the thing. Not everyone “felt called” to this particular ministry. As a matter of fact, not one pastor on the team was involved in that particular food and clothing ministry other than blessing it and giving any needed assistance to it through church funding, etc. And why were they and many others in the church NOT involved? Because it WASN’T THEIR THING. They didn’t feel called to it. They felt called to other areas of ministry such as worship leading, youth, cleaning, visitation (of the elderly and the sick in retirement homes), preaching, etc. You know why you do something that others don’t do and why others do something you don’t? Because of gifting. Everyone has different personality traits which are conducive to one thing and not another.

Now, can we HONESTLY say that though the pastors weren’t PERSONALLY involved in that food bank and clothing ministry that they REALLY weren’t involved? Can we honestly say that because only a few folk from the church were involved that the church (as a whole/other parishoners) WEREN’T involved? No. There was indirect support.

Well, let’s bring this up a level. So often today, there is this flipping between usages of Church (capital C) and church (small c). So when we speak of same-sex relationships and same-sex marriage there are some churches that are not as accepting as other more progressive type churches (speaking mostly of evangelical churches here). They have rules and policies and faith statements for how they deal with this issue. So what is the problem with churches not accepting or being as inclusive in the way you (a progressive) would want? There are plenty of Christians who are “cut out” for that. Like those in that food and clothing ministry. There are plenty of CHURCHES cut out for that. Not all churches NEED to be inclusive. Why? Because all churches, like all Christians are different. What sets this church apart from that church are particular emphases of belief and rules, etc. Some churches are more accepting and inclusive than others and they have their reasons for being so.

Now, you may ask how this gels with the picture in Revelation where all peoples and all nations are before the throne. You may ask, “How would can you shoot for that sort of inclusiveness when you speak of so much distinctions, distinctives, differentiation, differences and people who are supposed to “naturally” get along or naturally “find themselves.” Well, that is the problem. Because the question assumes “inclusiveness on steroids.” Most everyone sees that eschatological picture and assumes that we are all going to love each other in the great by and by. Well, as a evangelical universalist, ultimately we will. Some will get to the other side and are not totally purged of ill feelings towards others. God will make them heaven ready. But aside from that, won’t those distinctions and distinctives and differences remain? Why assume that the Church universal is going to be some huge melting pot in THAT sense? Why not assume that this is simply stating that all will be there and that we will worship God in our OWN UNIQUE WAYS? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that we will not ultimately love each other “naturally” because we will eventually get to that point. But that should not entail that we will not prefer to worship and celebrate Christ in our own unique ways we feel most comfortable with.

So to make this clear this relates to the issue of same-sex relationships and same-sex marriage how? Well, there are distinct churches that are more inclusive than others. Gay folk can find inclusion there. They more than likely won’t find inclusion in a more conservative congregation. God has inclusive churches and non-inclusive churches just as God has non-inclusive Christians and inclusive Christians who are more than willing to accept and affirm gay folk in ways that non-inclusive churches won’t. I say, let each serve God in the way they see fit as well as according to their strengths and giftings.


In Love Again, NATURALLY

Really not getting this. Why does Vines insist that everyone be inclusive? For example, why do I have to have gay friends? Listen, don’t get me wrong. I’m not against having ANYONE as a friend but I do happen to choose who they are for various reasons ie., everything from whether they are involved in crime to whether there are personality conflicts. There are going to be sub-categories of reasons within these as well. For example, the personality conflicts might be based on biases and/or prejudices. They might be based on cultural relevance, political views, etc.

What if my church doesn’t go along with Vine’s interpretation of the Bible? Why can’t Vines find acceptance in a community that accepts him and other gay folk as they are? The idea of pressuring folk through a constant barrage of questions like these is like the “corporate pressure” that churches put on their parishioners to give tithes. They don’t come right out and say it, but you can certainly feel it.

Listen, don’t try to convince me to befriend folks I don’t want to befriend (for the various above reasons). I’m not saying that, say, gay folk should not be “accepted.” I’m not saying that gay folk should be abused or oppressed. As a matter of fact, I think gay folk should find people, and communities and churches that will accept them and be a safe place for them. There are PLENTY of people and places around that will be open to and accepting of them. But please, don’t try to convince the rest of us to be AS accepting. Relationships have to come naturally and can’t be forced. But also, why not just let people and churches be? Forcing them to accept you and all your beliefs is akin to the attempt to eradicate natural ways of people falling in love.


Does Remarriage Equal Continuous Adultery? The Connection With Same-Sex Marriage

Unless you have been living under a rock this past week, some interesting developments have occurred in the US–the one I speak of here is namely the issue of same sex marriage. All states in the Union had bans against same sex marriage lifted.

While I was at the gym yesterday my buddy Dwayne Polk got ahold of me on facebook messenger and wanted to know my thoughts on this Piper article that he posted which you can see here.

Essentially, the argument is that Piper believes that once you divorce and remarry then you are committing adultery. But then he believes that God sanctifies those relationships. So this is the first argument to prove another argument for same sex marriage.

That is, the second argument is that if once you remarry you are in adultery you are in CONTINUAL adultery and God allows for that, then what is problematic with allowing for gay marriage.

At this point, Dwayne says that if that is the case (which he believes it is) then those who don’t allow for same sex marriage but allow for heterosexual remarriage are hypocrites.

Here’s the point I made to my Dwayne.

First off, my interests lie with religion and politics/culture and how they mix. I’m also interested in Christian ethics. Yes, I’m interested in theology and I’ve come to hold to much of the same theology that Dwayne holds to but I’m more interested in the religion/politics question. I’m also a universalist, and I hold to open theism. So you really can’t put me in a “conservative camp” on some score sheet saying, “He’s a conservative.” When it comes to politics I don’t hold to conservative values on some issues and may seem more to the left with others to my conservative friends. This has to do with my believing in the Reform teaching of sphere sovereignty. For me, Abraham Kuyper’s overall schema makes the most sense and is part of the reason why I think there is a lot of confusion in the evangelical community over religion and politics ie., same-sex marriage, etc (yes, that comes straight from Jim Skillen’s book, “A Scattered Voice.”)

I said that to say this. As you may very well know there is a diversity of voices in the evangelical community. My interest lies in how we can get along or co-exist with each other (though getting along is nice it’s not priority in my book. Two can co-exist and not go out of their way to be nice). Being as that is the case, there have been differences of opinion on divorce and remarriage. And if THAT is the case, then there are some who don’t hold to Piper’s view (which incidentally was raised by Greg Boyd on the Open theism boards years ago and by William Heth in the “Four Views” book on divorce and remarriage (which by the way, I’m told by one biblical scholar, Heth has had a change of mind and no longer holds to that view).

Thus, if one holds to the view that scripture allows for divorce AND remarriage, then Piper’s, Boyds and Heth’s view fail. But for the same sex marriage view that uses the argument that one is in continuous adultery it specifically fails (Boyd and Polk). And thus, those who say you CAN remarry are NOT acting hypocritically. They only way you could say that someone is being hypocritical is because from WITHIN the remarriage=adultery view the logic holds.

So, does remarriage=divorce and along with it the argument that we should allow for same-sex marriage? My response is no. And why is that? Because, as I said, in the evangelical community there is more than one view on divorce and remarriage and Piper’s and Boyd’s and Heth’s are only ONE out of the four mentioned in the book (and let’s remember, that if we were to take into consideration the Catholic and Orthodox positions which are in some respects radically different than evangelical views, then we would still have disagreement with Piper’s, Boyd’s and Heth’s).

But why do I disagree with the Piper/Boyd view and disagree with the charge of hypocrisy? Because, I follow Craig Keener on this who is no fly by nighter scholar and would disagree with the remarriage as adultery view which you can read and listen to here and here. For Keener, when Jesus said that when you divorce and marry another you commit adultery he was using hyperbole and thus remarriage doesn’t mean continual adultery. Let me know what you think.


All Fall Short

So. Then there’s this: WATCH: Family Has Horrifying, Violent Reaction To Son’s Coming Out As Gay (GRAPHIC CONTENT)

My buddy went so far as to say the parents were not Christian in large part because they were violent and verbally abusive to the young man. Now, there ARE these folks on the Right who declare the spiritual status of people over others when it comes to their hot button issues ie., that doctor performing abortions CERTAINLY CAN’T be a Christian. But Christians on the Left do the same ie., Fred Phelps CERTAINLY CAN’T be a Christian. Pick ANY left/right issue. One side will declare that the other side is on the outs. And really, it looks like some family feud. The stinging vitriolic towards each other at times makes you feel as if you are standing in the middle of a battle field sometimes.

Now here’s the thing. Both sides have a hold on the truth on their respective issues while the other side may not be in complete error on the issue itself. Let me give an example of what I mean. Using one of the examples above, lets look at the gay debate to see more clearly what I’m saying.

As it stands, there are a WHOLE swath of Christians whom feel/think that:

A. Homosexuality is not God’s ideal for human sexuality. That THAT along with other inclinations are not ideal for human sexuality ie., premarital inclinations and behavior, lustful obsessions, etc. They may fall more along the lines of what Stanley Grenz pointed out some years ago in which they are “welcoming but not affirming” (to speak in rather general terms). They believe there should be some things that are inappropriate in terms of our sexuality and so they don’t affirm those particular thoughts and behaviors. Though they may not except those whom do them.

B. On the other side is the more welcoming AND affirming crowd. As a matter of fact some would in all probability say that the other side is not welcoming if they are not affirming. Thus, they see gay orientation as immutable as the skin pigmentation or the shape of an say an Asian person for an example. For them, the gay person, in this sense, is the “Samaritan” or the “marginalized.”

For myself, I don’t think those in category “A” are mistaken (at least theologically). After all, they have a LONG history of Christian sexual ethics that they are standing on. But the Fred Phelps types and the folk in the video link above would fall into THAT category. Where they ARE mistaken is in their dysfunction in HOW they relate with those who are gay in their midst ie., they could learn from their gay brothers and sisters and see their own struggles, even seeing them AS fellow strugglers on a journey to a final destination where they struggle no more.

The other side, where I think they are mistaken, is not even seeing sexual orientation, identity, etc, as something to be struggled with. However, where they are NOT mistaken is seeing those as different as marginalized and to some extent relating properly to gay folk, ie., meeting them where they are at.

Now, if such is the case, how can anyone on either side declare those on the opposite side AS NOT Christian? Aren’t both sides lacking in love to some extent or another? Lacking in love in different capacities? Let’s face it. If love is supposed to be what we are shooting for ie., being “perfected in love” (towards God and our fellow humans) then to the extent that we lack loving in the way we should we are also not perfected. What I’m saying is this. When it comes to love? ALL of us SUCK at it. Let me give an example from Alexander Pruss’ book, “One Body.”

“One way love is humble is that the actions of love are not focused on agapé itself (we shall discuss a different aspect of love‘s humility in section 5 below). There would be something odd about a parent explaining why he stayed up the night with a sick child by saying: “I love my son.“ Surely the better justification would be the simpler: “He is my son.“ The latter justification puts the parent in a less grammatically prominent spot (“my” instead of “l”), and shows that the focus is on the son. Most importantly, however, the use of “I love my son“ as a justification would suggest that if one did not love him, the main reason to stay up the night would be missing. But the main reason to stay up the night is that he is one‘s son. That he is one’s son is also a reason to love him as one’s son, and that one loves him may provide one with a further reason to stay up with him. However, the main reason for staying up is not that one loves him; rather, the love, expressed in the staying up, is a response to a reason that one would have independently of the love. Thus, in an important sense, the parent acts lovingly—acts in a way that is at least partly constitutive of love—without acting on account of love. Love’s actions are not focused on love but on the beloved as seen in the context of a particular relationship. However, to explain why we made some sacrifice for someone to whom we had no blood ties, we might well say, “I love him.” Nonetheless, I suggest, this may be an imperfection—it may be a case of seeking one’s own. Why not instead act on account of the value of the other person in the context of the relationship? It is true that love maybe a central part of that relationship, but I want to suggest that love is not the part of the relationship that actually does the work of justifying the sacrifice. For suppose that I stopped loving my friend. Would that in itself take away my obligation to stand by him in his time of need? Certainly not. The commitment I had implicitly or explicitly undertaken while loving him, a commitment that made it appropriate for him to expect help from me, is sufficient for the justification. If I need to advert to my own love, then something has gone wrong.”

If Pruss is right here, then the case may be made that there are a lot of Christians, both of whom fall in categories “A” & “B” that are loving for “one’s own” (benefit). They are loving out of dysfunction. And if such is the case that all of us suck at love (loving) because we love out of dysfunction then how can we REALLY declare who’s on the inside and who’s on the outside? And that’s my point. Even when we THINK we are loving as we ought (“I’m loving but you guys over there aren’t”). We very well may not be as Pruss shows.

So for me, those in both categories “A” and “B” are loving in their respective ways. They ALSO LACK in love in their respective ways. Thus, no one should declare the other side on the outs.


Religion and Politics: Human Beings Are Religious To The Core

Part of a conversation I’m having with a friend on Facebook. This is my response to my friend based on this article

“There are evangelical groups like Gary DeMars’ American Vision and Pat Robertson’s CBN University or 700 Club which are more truly theocratic in the sense that they seek to impose certain OT laws onto modern day 21st century. Greg Bahnsen was into this type of theocracy. But there is a huge difference between that sort of “fundamentalism” and a kind that seeks to influence politics via persuasion and a working out of the Christian ethics and convictions. You would be sorely wrong to conflate the two. The Christian Left does this though. Think about it. There are all kinds of churches that don’t believe that, say, a “woman’s place is in the kitchen.” I don’t even think the Catholic Church would say this (though she may say, that woman can’t do it all (working toward career goals and taking care of the family. Are they really that far off base from reality?). That is based on an outworking of their Christian convictions. And I find that most left leaning folk want to say that you can’t “impose your religious convictions” but they attempt to do it all the time.

Here’s the thing. In this article, Obama believes in “freedom to worship” not in “freedom of religion.” That’s the part I most agree with. “Freedom of religion” is the belief that religion is not confined to within the walls of a church. On that basis, it has a particular (albeit religious) understanding of humans beings. We are all very religious at our core. Religious such that extends far beyond themselves. Outward, NOT simply internal. Christian ethics realizes this, say, when you look at the “fruit of the Spirit.” The “fruit of the Spirit” is not entirely directed inward but necessarily directed towards others.

It seems to me that you would not disagree with this if the hot button issue was something that you agreed with. If I based my anti-slavery position on the Bible? No problem. Anti-child sex trafficking? No problem. Base it on the Bible. Lines painted in the middle of the road? Cool! Base it on your religious convictions. Same sex marriage? Hey wait! You can’t base it on the Bible! Abortion? No way! Our culture is such that basically, everything is OK to have a religious conviction over (because it concerns not “harming” others) but when it comes to areas of sexuality, well, no, you can’t show your religious convictions outside of your church, that is consent. It’s pathetic if you ask me.”


Hobby Lobby and Religious Freedom

I want to look at Eric Reitan’s post on this issue located here. What I want to do is break it up in sections and hopefully respond to all points. Here’s the first part.

There is much about the recent Hobby Lobby ruling that I’m not qualified to comment on, but I have some concerns about a key claim in this case–namely, that the business owners’ freedom of religious conscience offers grounds for justifying the Supreme Court’s decision. There are two problems, in my view–although my thinking on both is still evolving. The first strikes me as less serious than the second.

1. Religious conscience needs to be responsive to matters of fact.

Suppose Pastor Bob refuses to officiate at the wedding of Pat and Alex on the grounds that he is religiously opposed to same sex marriage. If, as a matter of fact, Pat and Alex are a heterosexual couple, then no court of law would treat his religious opposition to same-sex marriage as a legitimate basis for refusing to marry them. And if Bob sputters that it is a matter of religious conviction that this man and woman are in fact both men–well, I doubt that will fly if the facts don’t line up with the conviction.

In other words, there is the moral premise of Bob’s argument–which is derived from his religious convictions. And then there is the factual one–which isn’t a matter of religious belief and shouldn’t be.

I find this to be confusing to say the least. Pat and Alex are either both males or females. What Reitan wants to do is separate the fact of reality, their maleness (together) and femaleness (together) from the religious belief that maleness (together) and femaleness (together) is immorally wrong for he says that IF THEY WERE HETEROSEXUAL (male and femaleness together) another fact of reality and wanted to get married, then no court would treat his (Pastor Bob’s) opposition to such marriage on the basis of his religious views as legitmate. Question: Why would Pastor Bob object to heterosexual marriage on the basis of his religion? If Pastor Bob believed in ONLY “marrying” homosexuals and a heterosexual couple came to him to get married and he refused on the basis that he didn’t believe in marrying heterosexuals on the basis of his religion (which would be odd indeed) well, he would certainly have the right to refuse to marry people on the basis of his religious conviction but: A. Show me a religion that teaches that. B. It is extremely odd for a side that is “equality” of marriage MEANING all people have a right to marry to be against heterosexual marriage. But let’s say for the sake of argument that Pastor Bob refused to marry a couple on the basis of their religious conviction that marrying heterosexuals is immoral. Should Pastor Bob be forced to marry such a couple? Have the couple been discriminated against illegally? Is it not within the Pastor Bob’s right to choose whom he will marry and whom he will not? Is not the “legality question” being stretched too far in such a case? For example, if the Roman Catholic Church believes that women are not allowed to be priests (also on the basis that they are female and for religious reasons) do “civil rights” extend in such a way as to say that the Roman Catholic Church does not get to discriminate in this way? If say, I believe that women SHOULD be ordained in the Church, the legal category, (to say they have a civil right) does not extend in such a way as A. Ordination is calling that is extended by a particular community in which they are bound by their own standards. B. No one has a right to a particular office. For the State to mandate that particular churches do particular things on the grounds of a certain conception of human rights, in my estimation that would be an overstepping of the State’s boundaries. Hopefully, you can see at this point the similarities. The State doesn’t have the right to make theological pronouncements for churches.

Ultimately, Reitan doesn’t attach any religious belief to the factual reality. I find that problematic from a Christian perspective in which the Church has always attached a religious and thus moral significance to the differentiation of sexes.


Sin, Sex and Doubt

My online facebook bud, Derek Rishmawy, wrote this piece over at Christ and Pop Culture:

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/christandpopculture/2013/04/who-are-you-sleeping-with-my-conversation-with-timothy-keller/

Many of the comments said that they had problems with Derek’s article because they assumed that pre-marital sex is not responsible for doubt–that they doubted their faith or saints have doubted their beliefs long before or who never had sex. This was my response on facebook at CaPC:

“I totally get this. The logic of the connection between sex and doubt. This is not really hard at all. It seems like basic logic.

A. You can have doubt without having had sex.
B. You can doubt while having sex.
C. You can have sex without having doubt.

I would say that you are more or less affirming “B.” “A” is obviously true. Which is what most commenters were saying, yet for them that seems to cancel out “B” which it doesn’t. None seemed to be saying C because I think they intuitively know that “B” holds. In other words, show me someone who is out there, having pre-marital sex and isn’t doubting or at least starting to doubt their faith. The point being that faith is more than mental assent. That what “shores up” or assures ones faith is a proper heart expressed ethically. Assurance in part comes from doing. Think of driving. If I want to feel safe, I don’t feel as assured mentally as I would if I put my seatbelt on.”


Personal Purity and the Common Good

I saw this post

http://www.theveryworstmissionary.com/2013/03/sex.html#disqus_thread

on my newsfeed from Peter Enns’on facebook yesterday and thought I would give a little rant about it. It’s becoming ever so popular today to dismiss the “purity movement” via personal piety. What I mean is that many Christians like Jamie, in this post, want to say that “purity” is so much more than sexual purity. Yeah, OK. I get that (though I would add that if one concerns themselves with sexual purity that that is not simply one part of their life cut off from the rest of their life–self-control is self control. It’s hard to imagine for one to have self-control with regard to sex but not have it with regard to, for example, your imagination or other drives for that matter).

But that’s the problem with blog posts like these. Everything is in one basket. As if the purity movement is all about, “Sexual purity! Sexual purity! Sexual purity! Rah! Rah! Rah! Zist boom bah!” “White knuckle Power!” (I can imagine a fist on a flag being waved around). Look at a few of Jamie’s statements:

“The second is from the Church, and it tells us that sex outside of marriage is the biggest deal of all the deals ever.”

“You’ve had sex outside of marriage? *gasp* So what! You are so much more than your sexuality.”

“Do I want my boys to wait? Absolutely. And they know it! But I refuse to tie their value as a human being to their junk like a shiny red balloon.”

“But I also want them to understand that the kind of sexual purity the Bible calls us to doesn’t begin or end with Virginity – It’s way bigger than that. It’s way more significant. And it’s way harder to hold on to.”

These are reflective of personal piety. Technically, I agree with that. Why purity in one area but not another? Again, as I said in a former post, what is real purity? Excellent point. I agree with it.

The problem is that we are not just talking about simple purity ON THIS LEVEL. Sex is also about “the good life” or relatedly, “the common good.” I don’t think many “younger evangelicals” are thinking on this level much at all.

Why has there been a call for sexual purity? Because, IDEALLY it is ALSO about the common good. Just take a look at what Josh McDowell says in, “Why Wait?”

“No, sex is not a private act when:
–unwanted children pay the price;
–the public pays the price.
–it results in deadly public epidemics.”
Pg. 52

I don’t know about you, but even with all the advanced reproductive technology, the usual way of still having babies is sexual intercourse. The usual way of getting STD’s or STI’s is still sexual intercourse. We’re not just talking about having pizza for dinner tonight with not much PUBLIC concern. Sure, there are going to be all kinds of times when people will have sex and not have unwanted children. Or when folks will have sex and not get some disease. But again, the best way to not having those unnecessary problems is to abstain from activities that will increase one’s chances of getting them. On THIS LEVEL? I’m really not that interested in personal Christian piety.


Edwin Hui on the Disconnection Between the Unitive/Procreative Link

I wanted to write a blog on this issue, because I think there is a lot of misconception surrounding this issue in part because of the complexity of the argument.  I’m using Edwin Hui’s work from, “At the Beginning of Life:  Dilemmas in Theological Bioethics.”  Hui speaks of “meanings” and not “acts” per se. This get’s a little complicated but essentially what Hui is doing here is looking at the unitive and procreative question which is important to the question of natural family planning. I put Hui’s long quote below, but if it were to be broken down into point form it would look like this:

A.  The unity (between persons) and procreation are related/connected to the sex act.
B.  There are unitive meanings to the sex act.
C.  There are non-unitive meanings to the sex act.
D.  There are procreative meanings to the sex act.
E.  There are non-procreative  meanings to the sex act.
F.  The meanings BETWEEN the procreative and NON-procreative are not symmetrical.
G.  The procreative meanings are inseparably attached to the sex act.
H.  The non-procreative meanings can be expressed in other ways. 
I.  Whenever people express BOTH the unitive and other non-procreative meanings through the sex act, the PRO-CREATIVE MEANING is necessarily involved.
J.  This does not necessaryily lead to babies.
K.  To insist on the inseparability of the unitive and the procreative is not warranted.
L.  This does not equally justify the use of AID and ARTs.
M.  The sex act is the natural way to achieve procreation.
N.  In AID and ART procreation is separated from the sex act.  Hence… 
O.  The unitive and the procreative act are necessarily separated from the sex act by removing the procreative–one can have love making without baby making.
P.  Love making without baby making is not the same as baby making without love making.
Q.  Separating baby making from the sex act through contraceptives one artificially induces human life.
R.  Separating baby making from the sex act through AID and ARTs on automatically creates human life a life God may not have intended.

Here is Hui’s quote.

Unitive and Disconnecting the Unitive-Procreative Link
Most people appreciate the value of preserving the union-procreation link, but at the same time they recognize that an unqualified acceptance would entail a proscription of AID, other ARTs and even contraceptives. Some writers reason that while prima facie these two distinctions of human sexual intercourse should be preserved within the marriage, there may be situations in which it is still moral to separate the two functions. Specifically, it has been argued that even nature regulates the woman’s ovulatory cycle in such a way that procreation is not always possible while the couple can engage in “love making.” The use of the rhythm method for birth control takes advantage of nature’s scheme, and it is not seen to have cheapened love, procreation or parenthood.  In response to this, I agree that the rhythm method or the Natural Family Planning method are superb examples of successful attempts to separate making love from making babies without intentionally severing the unitive and procreative link. But this is quite different from taking oral contraceptive for years to achieve the same purpose. The former takes advantage of what nature allows, whereas the latter “cheats” nature out of what she disallows.

Protestant ethicist Stanley Grenz takes a more philosophical approach and argues that there is no intrinsic connection between the unitive and procreative aspects of the sexual act. He sees in the sexual act several meanings beyond union and procreation, including a sacramental significance symbolizing God’s mysterious love and a token of the couple’s mutual submission and self-giving.

He observes that all these meanings are not inseparably connected to the pro-creative meaning of the sexual act but maintain importance apart from it. On that basis, he concludes that the unitive-procreative connection is not inseparable and that technological assistance in procreation may be welcomed as God’s gift, although he expresses reservation about any third-party involvement. I agree with Grenz that all the non-procreative meanings of the sexual act are not necessarily connected with the procreative meaning, and I also agree that even the unitive meaning may be dissociated with the sexual act and hence with procreation. This is so because all meanings, including the unitive but excepting the procreative, can be expressed in ways other than through the sexual act, although the sexual act most often brings with it the fullest unitive experience. By contrast, until the advent of modern ARTs, the procreative meaning could only be expressed through the sexual act. In other words, the relation between the sexual act and its procreative and non-procreative meanings is not symmetrical: the procreative meaning is exclusively and inseparably tied to the sexual act, yet all the other non-procreative meanings can be expressed in other ways.

This asymmetry implies that as long as people decide to express any of the non-procreative meanings through nonsexual acts, these meanings will have nothing to do with procreation. But whenever the unitive and other non-procreative meanings are expressed through the sexual act, the procreative meaning is necessarily involved. Indeed, if the sexual act is the most ultimate expression of the unitive meaning and if the couple decides to express it through the sexual act, then the unitive and procreative meanings are necessarily inseparably connected. This is not to say that all sexual acts will lead to pro-creation, for love-making acts do not always lead to baby-making—for instance, during certain periods in the menstrual cycle, in advanced age and in people inflicted with infertility. However, this does not change the conclusion reached above because in these instances, the procreative function is either temporarily or permanently disconnected from the sexual act. Hence, to focus on the inseparability of the unitive and procreative meanings of the sexual act, as some Catholics do, is certainly unwarranted; but to argue that these two aspects are separable and therefore AID and other ARTs are automatically justified is equally misconstrued. The real focus is on procreation itself. In the natural order of things, the sexual act is the only way to achieve procreation.

Making babies can only come about through making love. If AID and other ARTs are to be justified, one would have to show why procreation can be ethically separable from the sexual act, and show this not merely by demonstrating that the unitive and procreative aspects of the sexual act are separable. In this context, the contraceptive technology has artificially separated the normally connected unitive and the procreative aspects of the sexual act by removing the procreative aspect from the sexual act itself, so that it is now possible to have love making without baby making: that is a couple can express unitive meaning through the sexual act without the procreative consequence.

Some argue that if the use of contraceptives is morally justified (which has yet to be established here), then the use of ARTs should likewise be justifiable.  The catchy phrase goes like this: If contraceptives can let us have love making without baby making, why can’t we use ARTs to have baby making without love making? It is true that both contraceptives and ARTs are able to disconnect the sexual act from procreation and that both are artificial technologies. But are the similarities sufficient to justify ARTs? Even if contraception is justified or permitted, it does not automatically follow that ARTs would likewise be justified or permitted, for two things that share some common features are not necessarily equivalent, either materially or morally. Indeed, upon closer inspection, the differences become stark. In disconnecting the sexual act from procreation, contraception artificially induces a state of infertility; and in so doing it artificially prevents the procreation of a human life. ARTs on the other hand, by disconnecting the sexual act from procreation, take over the procreative function of the sexual act and artificially create life. It is evident that the two artificial technologies are radically dissimilar in nature and thus in their respective moral status as well. In the use of contraception, the sexual act is impoverished by the removal of its procreative significance if undertaken within the marital bond, is abused if the sexual act is undertaken outside of the marital bond and is degraded if the unitive aspect is absent. I conclude that the use of artificial contraceptives frustrates God’s desire and will to hand out the gift of a life; but in the use of ARTs, the sexual act is rendered superfluous for procreation, and thus human procreation is degraded to the product of scientific innovation rather than the fruit of human intimacy. In this instance, God is asked to accept the child when he has not given that gift of life.”