Just Listen

Dear Russell and Friends,

I’ve been thinking for the past week.  In truth, longer than that.  I explained in my last post why I am in favor of civil gay marriage in American society.  Two of my atheist friends called me to the carpet on the relevance of my support.  Why did my opinion matter?  I would refer them to today’s New York Times opinion page.  In civil society, we argue in public, support each other in public, for the public good.  But then my friends made it personal.  Or at least that is the way it seemed to me.

Thank you.

I needed this to be personal.  I needed to consider my sons and then have the same view of other people’s sons and daughters.  Then I needed to watch this in its entirety.

And so today I did.  I didn’t cry through all of it like J did.  I ran for 10 miles and prayed.  Several things affected me deeply and personally.

  • Jake was articulate, intelligent, innocent and precious – – I will defend him like I would my sons
  • I’ve always grieved the southern church’s history of shame in the treatment of minorities – – is this such a time?  Are the white hooded cowards sitting on the pew next to me?
  • There are commenters on the youtube trailer that hate scripture and people of faith.  I get that.  Jake and his parents do not.  Bishop Gene Robinson does not.  They have studied like this man and have come to different interpretations.
  • Bishop Desmond Tutu moved me – – I have admired him and Nelson Mandela for many years.
  • To be honest, I did not know about these interpretations until one week ago.
  • To my shame, I said that I would not read a book to explain it.  Shame.  I read books on so many less important things.
  • To J’s college best friend – – I’m sorry and I’m willing to change.

Before I met Russell and his bride J I was praying for wisdom.  In reply I would often hear a quiet whisper in my mind, “just listen.”  I do love Jesus, love scripture, and love gay people.  I’m willing to seek the reconciliation of those things.  I will not tolerate bigotry and I will vote for equality before the law.  That likely means something worse than loving gay people in my circles – – it likely means voting for a Democrat.  Would I attend the wedding of a gay friend in a church that interpreted scripture to bless it?  I would.  I know that I’m going to be wrong on many things when all things become clear or nothing after my death (depending on your viewpoint).  If I am going to err here, then let it be on the side of mercy.

For my believing friends, the exegesis of Genesis and Leviticus made more sense to me than that of Romans 1.  But I’m willing to learn.  To be clear, whether you care about my opinion or not:  I do believe most gay people are born that way and are not mistakes.  I will never hate them.  I will defend these creations of a loving God with words, politics, and if necessary in cases of hateful violence – – my life.

For my atheist friends – – you can change a mind if one respects you and is willing to listen, but it is rarely in an instant.  Be patient.  That, after all, is my approach to you.

Pascal – – 1:16

An Internally Consistent Christian View on Gay Marriage?

Old Cobblestone Road

Dear Russell & Friends,

The final session of the The Table occurred two nights ago.  To refresh, this a local church holding small Wednesday follow-up meetings on the Sunday sermon.  The sessions will continue, but my attendance as a guest was prompted by this particular sermon series topic – – hard questions asked of Christians.  The room was full this Wednesday night.  The topic was a Biblical view on homosexuality.  The hour flew by.  Opinions were respectfully expressed, but clearly deeply held.  Can I express an internally consistent view on gay marriage?  That was honestly one of the reasons that I began teaching Romans.  So I’ll try.  My style is usually narrative, but I’m going to present a numbered list to facilitate discussion.  I realize that I could be wrong and I’m open to the audit of our readers.  I’ll write from the perspective of a 43 year old white American lower upper class man.

  1. I believe that scientific research and my conversations with a dozen gay colleagues over a dozen years supports that sexual orientation is primarily inherited – – nature outweighing nurture in a majority of people.  That said, I don’t believe that being gay is a choice for most people.
  2. The best number that I can find is approximately 10% of people on earth are represented in the LGBT spectrum.
  3. As a Christ follower, I accept the authority of scripture and believe that interpretation requires study and an understanding of the culture and capabilities in which the inspired words were written and read.
  4. The context of Paul’s letter to the Romans is well described in Will Durant’s Caesar and Christ.  Homosexuality as understood today was common in the culture of Rome and Greece before it.  I don’t know if the number was similar to ~10%.
  5. As an American I acknowledge civil authority and the Establishment Clause in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.  There is a reason that this is the first sentence in the First Amendment of the ten known as the Bill of Rights.
  6. I could dwell on number 5 for a while.  I’m distressed with a growing lack of civic knowledge in my society.  I think that studying and understanding the Constitution are appropriate responsibilities of an engaged electorate.
  7. That said – – the US Supreme Court makes decisions for all citizens of the United States.
  8. Most citizens of the United States do not follow Christ.
  9. I’m not convinced that 3 of 4 people in our Christian churches follow Christ.
  10. I accept the civic authority of the US Constitution as a citizen of the US and accept the authority of scripture as a follower of Christ.

Thank you for your patience so far.  I hope that for the views I hold and represent, I have represented an internally consistent rationale.  What do I do with this foundation?  Here are my views:

  1. I approve of the US Supreme Court ruling in favor of gay marriage for American citizens inclined to do so – – marriage has no benefit with taxation, but rather a penalty.  Marriage has enormous implications in health care and in the care of children and the elderly.  In my practice I have seen gay couples care for each other and for aging parents with integrity.
  2. I respect the churches of all faiths who do not accept this as consistent with the moral teachings of their sacred texts.
  3. For that reason, I would never compel a pastor or church to conduct the marriage of a gay couple before God against conscience.
  4. There are streams of thought in Christianity and other faiths where these marriages are approved and conducted.  This is where our family debates as a body of Christ occur.  This is where some of the discussion with other believers landed Wednesday night in a smaller coffee club after the main meeting.
  5. If Christian churches in the United States are faced with an imperative to act against conscience by the federal government, then a voluntary first step seems obvious:  relinquish the tax exempt status of houses of worship.  If there is no federal subsidy to churches, then we can stand on Biblical principles and the Constitution with equanimity.

I expressed some of these views on Wednesday night and felt that I had talked too much.  I much prefer writing to friends.  Are my views internally consistent?


Pascal:  1:16

photo credit:  Doris Antony via Wikicommons, CC-BY-SA-2.5

Romans Recap: Chapters 1-2

How long will it take to get through 16 chaptes of Romans?  It took almost 8 months for the first 1/8th.  Just saying…  I’ll pause each two chapters along the way for an index with links and a few sentence summary of the section.  Then we’ll go on with Romans 3 and other domains of knowing truth and knowing each other.

Introduction – – as much as possible, a plain language, apply to today approach to what Christian believers call the greatest letter and skeptics call an example of fine ancient literature in high Greek.

Romans 1:1-7 – – Paul introduces himself as a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ.  Did Paul exist?  Did Jesus exist?  These are relevant questions of modern skepticism.  The text says yes – – open to all assertions of circularity.  We’ll have to look for external corroboration in scripture and in cognitive resonance.  All three persons of the trinity are introduced, a theme to which we’ll return.  The key word of Romans, in my opinion the key word of life, is penned:  grace.

Romans 1:8-15 – – Gratitude for believers and a constant desire for mutual encouragement.  A fellowship of believers can be, should be, a beautiful thing.  Why then do we fail?  We are selfish and fallen.  Paul is obliged to share the good news of grace to as many as will listen.  Burdened?  No.  Obliged.  There is a difference.

Romans 1:16-17 – – Not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  This is the core of who I am.  I believe that faith in Jesus is reasonable.  I’m not angry with atheists, agnostics, free thinkers or skeptics.  Neither am I ashamed of what I believe.  It is fair to ask me to explain it.

Romans 1:18-20 – –   Why is God angry?  The very concept of an angry God may be a reason to disbelieve.  However, is it consistent?  We are supposedly made in God’s image.  Do we get angry?  What can be known about God through nature?  Will biology and physics prove or disprove God?  Or – – can we know God’s invisible attributes:  eternal power and divine nature, through the limits of the very small and the very large?

Romans 1:21-23 – – Who are they?  The they that are without excuse.  Who are they?  Any definition of they that excludes us is fatally flawed.  Start here and stay here.  I am they, so I will not despise or marginalize another.

Romans 1:24-27 – – I wrote an introduction to this passage here.  I was (and am) concerned that believers have reduced Romans 1 to an injunction against the practice of homosexuality.  Read slowly and with compassion.  Hard questions came from this passage.  Please ask these questions.  Please listen to others for their answers.

Romans 1:28-32 – – Who are they?  We are they.  Any sin required all of Christ’s blood.  That is the offense of the cross.  That is what I want to yell from the pews in church this morning.  We are they.  Stop marginalizing.  No one needed a savior more than me.  You will never understand grace if you think wrath is for another.

Romans 2 introduction:  Romans 2 stands against Christian hypocrisy.  How many people have barriers to belief because I fail to follow Christ authentically?  More than a few.

Romans 2:1-3 – – The fallen heart in Romans 1 will be judged.  Not by me – – I’m just as corrupt.

Romans 2:4-5 – – How were we turned from God’s wrath?  By his kindness.  How then could we withhold his kindness from another?

Romans 2:6-11 – – Is it just for disobedient self-seekers like me to receive wrath and fury? Yes it is just. Is it just for me to receive trouble and distress for the evil I do? Yes it is just. Do I want God to be just? I do. I agree with the skeptics that a God of injustice clashes with the moral sense that I claim he put within me. Yes – – I want God to be just. Can I afford that justice? No. No I can’t.

Romans 2:12-16 – – What does this paragraph in Romans 2 teach me?  God will judge us by the knowledge that he gives us.  What about hell?  If you are not perplexed and disturbed by hell with the sense of justice that God authored in your soul – – you should be.

Romans 2:17-24 – – The only problem that I have with the comprehensive lists that skeptics have compiled of wrongs done by Christ-followers is this – – I think that the Christ-followers should have written the lists.

Romans 2:25-29 – – Who are the Jews, both then and now?  A small tribe in a vast land that just hasn’t gone away.  Does God break his promises when we do?  Is there a reasonable basis for Christian anti-semitism or should it be confronted as false?

Selah and shalom my friends.  I’m going to address Rafols as to why truth is truth.  Its time to expound on Plato, and the arrow of time, and the weight of history.  I will return, will always return, to scripture.  It is meaningful to me because it provides the lens through which I view the world.  But I am almost insatiably curious about life and the world and I hope our journey together will last many years.  Thank you so much for joining.






Romans 2: 1-3

Romans 2: 1-3 (ESV)

Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God?

The list in Romans 1:28-32 doesn’t sound like me at first.  Am I evil, covetous, and malicious?  Am I a gossipful, slandering, God-hater?  Am I:  foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless?  Apparently so.  And in my heart, I know it is true.

Now do you see my irritation toward my own people (those I call brothers and sisters) who believe that Romans 1 is primarily about the gay lifestyle?  Do you see my frustration with myself when I realize that I’m criticizing another and not applying the same standard to me?

Matthew, one of the disciples, recorded Jesus as saying much the same thing in one of my favorite passages in his gospel – – the sermon on the mount:

Matthew 7: 1-5 (ESV)

Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, andwith the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

There are two very important distinctions here that we should not lose.

1)  The fallen heart in Romans 1 will be judged

2)  Not by me – – I’m just as corrupt

It hurts to see that missing in the church today – – the balance between acknowledging that God has the right to set the standards we don’t meet, and the abdication of our right to judge.  It was never ours at all.

What questions does this raise?  Myriad.  I read this a few months ago.  In the blogging Kevin Bacon game I found a slightly sardonic, very funny feminist birder, who is now pregnant.  She has a section on her homepage titled Christians Read This.  I’ve always been a sucker for short imperative sentences, so I did.

I’ve been thinking about point number 3 every since.  Sin.  Is that my nomenclature for Romans 1?  Is that what I’m saying I was born to?  Is that what Romans 2 says I’m not qualified to judge?  Good questions.




And is a powerful word.  I’ve been wrestling with that concept for years.  I’m more inclined to think or, perhaps even but.  Yet and keeps coming up.  It last surfaced as Russell and I discussed our concepts of mystery.

I re-posted an excellent discussion of nature and nurture here and promised to return with comments once I had thought about it.  In the interim, a new reader shared this article with me about the Darwinian Paradox of homosexuality.  I’m thankful to Patrick Clarkin, who posted on developmental plasticity and to JS who expanded my vocabulary with the word fecundity.

What do these posts have in common?

Genes are important and environment is important.  The opposing photographs of Christian Bale illustrate this strikingly.  Genotype is the hardwiring of your DNA – – set at conception.  It is true that the blueprint can be copied (transcribed) in different ways by epigenetic (above the genome) mechanisms, but much more is at play.  Immigrants from healthier nations where most people are thin achieve American obesity within a generation – – far too short a time frame for evolution.  So – – the survivors of the human race have been selected for a very long time.  In conditions of scarcity, taking on excess calories and storing them as fat allowed you to live until the next meal.  In conditions of cheap food of poor nutritive value, that adaptation in the genes leads to diabetes.  Same genes, different conditions – – developmental plasticity.

What of the Darwinian Paradox that JS pointed me too?  It helps to answer a question that isn’t obvious.  If homosexuality is largely genetic (I maintain that it is), then why is it preserved in the gene pool?  The reason for my question was this – – same sex pairings do not produce offspring, so how is the trait passed on and maintained?  The article reveals that the trait may be related to increased fertility in maternal relatives.  That would work scientifically.  Homosexuality is not directly advantageos vis a vis natural selection.  Reproducing children certainly is.  The analogy I would draw is this – – sickle cell trait is protective against a common type of malaria.  Sickle cell disease is not desirable and has no selective advantage.  The trait (one copy of the altered gene) is maintained in the population because it allows more children to survive malaria and reach reproductive age.  In this analogy, increased fecundity (fertility) in the maternal relatives of gay men is the driving evolutionary reason (cause).  Homosexuality then is the effect.

Is it that simple?  Likely not.  Much has been written about other associations (not sure if causality has been proven) with homosexuality.  So the and conjunction comes back again.  Due to genetic and environmental reasons 5-10% of people identify as LGBT and often have the first inklings of this identity in childhood.

And.  God made us and we are not mistakes.  Yet we are fallen and God has high expectations.  I’m not talking about gay people.  I’m talking about all people.  How are we fallen?  In myriad ways, but primarily because we worship created things rather than the creator.  That is the core of Romans 1 and the chief sin of man.  I’ve taken my fellow Christians to task for making Romans 1 only about homosexualty.  It is so much broader and worse than that.  It is about being human and the desperation that comes from being able to realize you fall short.  Romans 1 is not about gay people.  It is about people.

If one is born gay, then how can scripture prevent that person from expressing himself or herself naturally?  Isn’t that cruel?  That is a fair question.  Can Christ call someone away from their very nature and ask them to deny a part of themselves to meet his inexplicable expectations?  It depends on who he is.  How could a good and loving God do this?  It depends not on how you define good or loving, but how you define God.  Here is a reasonable point of departure for many justice loving, people loving, moral atheists.  I know and respect several.

And.  God loves all people yet calls them to put him first in all things.  He calls me to himself against my nature.  I struggle with that.  Forgive my rambling, but that’s my current synthesis on how one Christ-follower should view gay friends.



When to give, Where to stand

Wow.  Forgive my delay, but as we communicated offline: the post on your challenge to inerrancy required me to chew, swallow, and digest.  In truth, I’m still doing so.  I read it slowly several times, and thought over the course of several trail runs.  And yes – – I prayed.  I still do that.  Any agnostic, skeptic, or atheist should value your post.  It is of higher quality than so many I have read.  Maybe that is not strictly true.  But it is of more value to a Christian because you speak the language as a native.  Any Christ follower should carefully consider your post.  It was not written out of hate or ridicule.  It is an honest presentation of serious doubt and as such it, like you, deserves respect.

Where to even start?  I ordered David Fitzgerald’s book Nailed.  As you know, I’m willing to listen to adversaries, perhaps even enemies.  Be careful.  I assert before reading the book that your reasons are better than his.  Why?  You get to the heart of many issues.  Is biblical inerrancy a biblical teaching?  That deserves an answer.  Fitzgerald asks, “did Jesus exist at all, or is he like Zeus?”  Wow – – in a very different way.  You asked if writing is a valid way to communicate truth (I’m paraphrasing).  Your writing is.  I’ll read Fitzgerald and try to be objective.  Neither you nor I claim to be experts in biblical scholarship.  But – -both of us must realize that this man is on the fringe.  More after reading.  Maybe not.  As of now, your arguments are better.

I read (am reading) a book that was waiting for me.  N.T. Wright’s Simply Christian.  I realize that we should not argue from authority alone.  You probably wouldn’t put up David Fitzgerald or Bart Ehrman.  I probably wouldn’t put up John Piper.  He is so thoroughly convinced that he less to say to those who do not acknowledge Christ.  His arguments would seem circular, and in the truest sense of the word – – they are.  As a Christ follower, Piper has been so helpful to me in growing deeper in faith.  As an apologist who cares about skeptical friends, I need a different teacher.  I might choose Tim Keller.  He lives and preaches in Manhattan.  He defies the (un)truism that all Christians are conservative Fox News pundits.  I like him as a person and I read him with ease.  I like Piper too, but it is like reading Jonathan Edwards: rewarding, but difficult.  Both Piper and Keller defer to biblical scholars for scholastic arguments beyond the scope of their popular works.  That is where N.T. [Tom] Wright’s name kept coming up.

So, how can he help me reply to a sincere skeptical friend?  First, he offers a correction:

“The twenty-seven books of the New Testament were all written within two generations of the time of Jesus–in other words, by the end of the first century at the latest–though most scholars would put most of them earlier than that.  The letters of Paul are from the late forties and the fifties, and though disputes continue as to whether he wrote all the letters that bear his name, they are the first written testimony to the explosive events of Jesus himself and the very early church.”

I like this quote because it comes from one who has studied his field as much as I have studied mine.  I respect study and expertise, but again – – arguing from authority can be a logical fallacy.  I like this quote because it does not dismiss Ehrman’s claims that the authorship of several New Testament books are disputed.

What else helped?  This is an extended quotation from chapter thirteen (all emphases those of the author), but helped me to frame my thinking.

“It helps, in all this, to remind ourselves constantly what the Bible is given to us for.  One of the most famous statements of “inspiration” in the Bible itself puts it like this: “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).  Equipped for every good work; there’s the point.  The Bible is breathed out by God (the word for “inspired” in this case is theopneustos–literally, “God-breathed”) so that it can fashion and form God’s people to do his work in the world.”

In other words, the Bible isn’t there simply to be an accurate reference point for people who want to look things up and be sure the’ve got them right.  It is there to equip God’s people to carry forward his purposes of new covenant and new creation.  It is there to enable people to work for justice, to sustain their spirituality as they do so, to create and enhance relationships at every level, and to produce that new creation which will have about it something of the beauty of God himself.  The Bible isn’t like an accurate description of how a car is made.  It’s more like the mechanic who helps you fix it, the garage attendant who refuels it, and the guide who tells you how to get where you’re going.  And where you’re going is to make God’s new creation happen in his world, not simply to find your own way unscathed through the old creation.

That is why, although I’m not unhappy with what people are trying to affirm when they use words like “infallible” (the idea that the Bible won’t deceive us) and “inerrant” (the stronger idea, that the Bible can’t get things wrong), I normally resist using those words myself.  Ironically, in my experience, debates about words like these have often led people away from the Bible itself and into all kinds of theories which do no justice to scripture as a whole–its great story, its larger purposes, its sustained climax, its haunting sense of an unfinished novel beckoning us to become, in our own right, characters in its closing episodes.  Instead, the insistence on an “infallible” or “inerrant” Bible has grown up within a complex cultural matrix (that, in particular, of modern North American Protestantism) where the Bible has been seen as the bastion of orthodoxy against Roman Catholicism on the one hand and liberal modernism on the other.  Unfortunately, the assumptions of both those worlds have conditioned the debate.  It is no accident that this Protestant insistence on biblical infallibility arose at the same time that Rome was insisting on papal infallibility, or that the rationalism of the Enlightenment infected even those who were battling against it.

Such debates, in my view, distract attention from the real point of what the Bible is there for.”

So, where does that leave me in my reply?  I haven’t answered one of your key questions – – does 2 Timothy 3:16-17 refer to the New Testament, which by the admission of my scholar of choice had not yet been codified?

Let’s go back to our current presuppositions and hold them in an open hand.  I presuppose that there is a supernatural, a creator of and purpose for creation.  I don’t argue against the mechanism of Big Bang cosmology, age of the earth, or mechanism of biologic natural selection of salutary mutations.  But I do, in my supernatural beliefs, hold that there is a Holy Spirit who can and does give wisdom to imperfect men.

Are we at an impasse?  We both acknowledge our presuppositions and the possibility that we are wrong.  We are both in circles, but I believe that our circles can and will intersect in common ground.  Perhaps we can reconstruct Gould’s non-overlapping majesteria for our benefit and for the benefit of our readers.  More likely we’ll make something new – – an area of intersection.  That’s what this blog is about – – that intersection.

The extended quote above represents my heart more fully than the Chicago Statement.  Why?  Because I want to pretend that Romans is true.  Why?  Because I think the Christian approach to gay people, skeptics, agnostics and atheists is wrong.  Why do I think this?  I think this on the basis of scripture and that is basis on which I’ll argue to my tribe.

Are you willing to start in the center of the bullseye before working outward?  Show me your objections to Romans 1 and the interpretation that I’ve offered.  Start there.  If scripture is unreliable, perhaps it will be self evident.  If we respect gay people for different reasons, then lets explore that common ground.

Your friendship remains a blessing to me – – pushing me to understand, grow and care.



Hard questions deserving honest answers – – part 2

CC:  So what about gay couples who are dedicated, monogamous? What about gay couples who strive to be free from lust in marriage as you or I do? Do you view their union any differently than yours? Does God?

Pascal:  Are you speaking about gay couples who are Christians or who are not? I have a different answer to each. I view either group with compassion and respect although to my shame, only recently.

CC:   I didn’t have either group in mind–just a man and man or a woman and woman who love each other and are committed to each other as I am to my husband and as you are to your wife. A couple who has kept their relationship free from lust and infidelity. A couple who uses sex to act out their love for each other–the way I do in my marriage. The way you do in yours. A couple whose relationship you would admire and perhaps strive to model yours after, if they were a man and woman. How does Pascal view this relationship–where each loves one member of the gender they are genetically wired to be attracted to, in the purest way? How does God view this? Let’s say they are a Christian married couple who sees the Bible’s language against homosexuality as out-dated law that some people chose to hang onto (along the lines of not eating shellfish or wearing clothing woven of more than one type of material)–could such a marriage even honor God?

I’ll simplify and use your words–what about a homosexual relationship that exemplifies “unfallen sexuality”–or as close to it as we can get? You said “Within the circle we all inhabit is another – – the case of homosexuality. This too is lust of heart.” Is homosexuality by default “lust”? Or are there circumstances in which it can be pure? I think it can be as pure as any pure heterosexual relationship, and I have a hard time believing that God would create some people gay and then condemn their natural, even pure behavior.

CC asks a question out of compassion that must be answered.  Russell asked in a different way.  He too is compassionate in a less emotive way.  When I replied to Russell’s concerns that Paul did not understand unnatural, I insisted that we are all naturally unnatural.  What should I say to CC?

What is lust?

lust, n.  a)  Pleasure, delight.  b) spec. in Biblical and Theological use: Sensuous appetite or desire, considered as sinful or leading to sin.

What is sin?

sin, n.  An act which is regarded as a transgression of the divine law and an offence against God; a violation (esp. wilful or deliberate) of some religious or moral principle.

CC is not splitting hairs.  She is asking the core question that deserves an answer.  Does God approve of same-sex marriage?  She is not asking the broader question – – does God approve of homosexual lifestyle including sexual activity?  I am between Scylla and Charybdis.  Or not.

I’ve said before that I believe inconsistency and dishonesty amongst believers is repulsive to skeptics.  My four foundations of faith:  supernatural, scripture, saints, saviour.  Here is the point where saints (believers) can be like the same poles of a magnet to the heart of a seeker.

No, CC.  I don’t believe that God approves of men or women acting on homosexual orientation.

“You and your God are cruel.”  That is a fair reply to my answer.  The core of my significant doubts in faith – – expressed mainly in my third decade of life – – were based on just this argument.

How could God actively make or passively allow you to be one way then insist that you deny an important part of yourself?  Let me pause to ask CC, Russell and other intelligent readers a question.  When the Bible says that we are fearfully and wonderfully made or that God knit us together in our mother’s womb do you believe that God ordered the base sequences of your DNA?  What does he personally imbue and what does he leave to the mechanisms that he created?  I’m not a deist in any sense, but I do ask these questions.  Why is one born with phenomenal gifts, oriented homosexual or heterosexual, and another born with phenomenal challenges, oriented homosexual or heterosexual?

Does God have any claim on my actions, behavior, and the orientation of my heart?  Be clear – – I don’t speak only of sexual orientation here.  I speak of the way my heart and mind approach life and people; everything that makes me me.  Does God have the right to order even my thoughts?

I say yes.  I follow Christ.  For the gay Christian this could mean heart breaking sacrifice.  It could mean denying an intrinsic part of herself.  Have heterosexuals done the same?  Perhaps Mother Theresa was asexual by nature.  I don’t know.  I do know that she denied her sexuality to follow Christ in an extreme, even radical, way.

Others say no.  I do not recognize the authority of Christ.  What do I say to them?  I say this – – I can not and will not judge you.  I am the chief of sinners and it is only by extravagant love that my heart is inclined to God at all.  My approach to skeptics, agnostics and atheists is the same whether heterosexual or homosexual.  I don’t believe you come to God by addressing any sin in isolation.  I believe you come to God when he comes to you and breaks your heart – – replacing it with a heart that once again worships the creator rather than the created.  I did not change and then come to him.  He found me, took me as I was, and has been changing me since.

What about same-sex marriage?  I said in a previous post that I believe in civil union (secular marriage).  Here’s where I stand.  I live in a pluralistic society and I’m happy to do so.  I consider religious marriage to be forbidden for Christian gay people.  Marriage for the Christian is a covenant before God to follow Christ together.  How then can you be consistent?

Here’s where I feel radical.  Those who follow Christ should marry in a church in a religious ceremony.  Those who do not should not marry before the God they do not believe in.  I do not believe that unbelieving heterosexual couples should marry in religious ceremonies.  A religious marriage is a promise not to divorce each other and not to divorce Christ (the groom of the church).  So – – I have so much more to say to Christians than skeptics on this topic.

What of secular marriage and civil society?  I stand against Christian separatism.  I think secular marriage should be available for heterosexual and homosexual couples.  This has implications for property, liberty, parenthood and many other things.

What of gay Christians?  I am thankful for any Christ follower as a brother or sister in faith.  Being gay is not a sin.  Acting on being gay is no different in the eyes of God than acting on other inclinations:  pride, greed, selfishness.  I am so prideful, so greedy, so selfish by nature that I just don’t have time or authority to throw stones at gay people.  I love them.  Believe me or not.  Thats where I stand.

I’m willing to reply to both the religious and secular reasoning that I’ve offered.  I know that we have readers in both camps – – that is the whole purpose of our effort.



Hard questions deserving honest answers – – part 1

Before we complete Romans 1, there are sincere questions from the last two posts that deserve honest answers.  I’ll answer Russell today, CC tomorrow.  Your questions are welcome too.


Question: Do you believe that men or women who are born gay and currently involved a sexual relationship with their spouse of the same gender whom they love, are sinning by virtue of said sexual relationship?

If the answer is, “No, they are within God’s will”, then I’d like to understand the biblical justification for this. I think many Christians are searching for a way to hold this belief. Few Christians likely want to be intolerant to others for loving the gender they were born to love. I believe that most are intolerant mainly because they feel forced to be by their understanding of what the Bible teaches.

If the answer is, “Yes, they are sinning by acting upon their sexual desires”, would you be willing to consider that, at least in this instance, Paul’s lack of understanding of what is “natural” may be an example of a conflict between the Bible and science? If this is the case, wouldn’t the appropriate response be to reduce confidence in the trustworthiness of the Bible? We agree that motivated reasoning (in this case the strong desire to see the Bible be in-line with science) is less likely to lead to truth.

Russell first asks if I believe acting on the natural desires of homosexuality in committed marriage is sin.  This is a fair question and the binary multiple choice is not a false dichotomy.  Yes or no?  My answer is yes.  If you find this answer harsh, please review my introduction.

What is sin?

sin, n. – –

An act which is regarded as a transgression of the divine law and an offence against God; a violation (esp. wilful or deliberate) of some religious or moral principle.

The conflict that Russell attaches to either yes or no answer gives me pause.  If my answer was negative (this is not sin), then he could not see the biblical justification but could understand the deep desire not to be intolerant.  I’ll agree with Russell that I don’t find the biblical justification for this view.  But a desire to love others (let me call tolerance what it is – – love) in no way equates to endorsing all actions of others.  The way out of this morass is to never claim the moral high ground.  We are all fallen and there is no superior way to be fallen.  I think his understanding of the authentic Christian heart toward gay people is insiteful.  They want to love gay people fully as people and yearn for the Bible to say something other than, “this is sin”.  I see that in CC’s comments which I’ll address tomorrow.  She asks if the Bible’s assertion that homosexuality is sin may not be contemporary, akin to the older Hebrew levitical laws like temple worship or animal sacrifice.

The conflict that Russell attaches to my affirmative answer (this is sin) is more subtle, and is in my view, incorrect.  Doesn’t Paul misunderstand nature?  Paul is certainly a rhetorical genius but he inhabits the pre-scientific world.  I say that homosexuality is primarily genetic and I believe that Russell agrees.  Paul says it is unnatural.  Isn’t genetics the very definition of nature?  Paul must be wrong.  Not because he is evil or purposefully deceptive, but because he wrote human words with the knowledge that he had.  How then can biblical authority stand?  What does it have to say to us today?

I don’t agree that Paul misunderstood natural.  Paul uses unnatural desire in the sense that same sex activity is not able to produce progeny.  And in that sense he is right.  Even with modern genetic engineering a same sex couple can not produce a child that has equal genetic contribution from both parents.  Can they be loving, effective  parents?  In my opinion, yes.  What would Paul say about dyslexia?  Would he call it unnatural?  Probably.  Is it genetic?  It certainly has a genetic component.  Why then are unnatural natures preserved?  I’ll answer with my scientific mind first – – there is a reason that genes are preserved – – a selective advantage, often conferred in the carrier state.  Malcolm Gladwell makes this case about dyslexia in David and Goliath.

Would Paul say that we are naturally born with unnatural desires?  That is exactly what he would say.  This is one way to approach the concept of original sin.  He would and does go farther – – we are all born naturally unnatural.  Paul doesn’t misunderstand nature.  He wrote 1800 years before Mendel and 1900 years before Watson and Crick.  But his understanding of unnatural nature is harmonious with science.

CC’s question is different and requires a different approach and a different, perhaps stronger, cup of coffee.  She thinks like I think.  I’m learning from both my friend Russell and our welcome guest CC.