A blog of politics, law, religion, and the tricky spots where they collide.

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Lost In Translation…

Austin Sanangelo has submitted some thoughts on homosexuality and the church. I’m always happy to publish opposing views—but in a case like this, I’m inclined to add a few thoughts of my own.

If it looks like a fish, and swims like a fish, then it is simply…a fish. And something is very “fishy” with today’s more liberal Christian “doctrine!” Yes, the emerging trend is to accept same sex couples into the church. It is “politically correct,” but that doesn’t make it right!

I don’t think anybody’s really concerned about what is “politically correct” in this case. They’re more concerned about what is right. And, along with a rapidly growing number of believers, I firmly believe that welcoming everybody into the church is right.

Yes, it seems more “Christ-like” and accepting of others, but it is a delusion perpetrated by Satan!

I’m not exactly sure why you’d conclude that those striving to follow Christ’s radically inclusive example are suffering “a delusion perpetrated by Satan.” It seems a lot more likely that those counseling the church to reject Christ’s example are the ones to worry about.

We endeavor to stretch first century cultural practices and word translations to such a point so as to make them justify whatever we want them to.

Okay … I agree that those opposing inclusivity are goofing around with first century practices and mistranslating things to justify their exclusion. I don’t know why anybody would want to continue doing that, though.

But the plain truth is this: God has been specific and consistant [sic] throughout scripture about what is acceptable sexual behavior and what is not.

So … that’s really not true. There’s a whole range of sexual behavior that just isn’t covered in the Bible. There are also a slew of (apparent) inconsistencies—particularly when it involves divorce and polygamy. While I think we can draw some pretty good conclusions on sexual morality from the Bible, claiming that it’s clear, specific, and consistent suggests you haven’t read those sections particularly carefully.

Those things which are right in the sight of God are still right today. However, those things which were wrong in the beginning are still wrong…unacceptable in every way to God!

No matter how much we want to “make right” the things which are not of God, we cannot do so. God is the same “yesterday, today, and forever.” Our Lord takes us in regardless of whatever condition we are in. But, He loves us too much to leave us there!

I hear you. And I think the call to trust our flaws and failings to God is a good one. But … trusting God to help us identify and rectify the failings in our own lives is a different thing than excluding others until they remold themselves into something we are more comfortable with or insisting that the God-given love of others is inherently sinful because we’re bad at interpreting scripture.

There are, of course, cases where we might call the behavior of others sinful—or just wrong. I think Christians can and should condemn torture, injustice, and invidious discrimination. But scripture does not tell us to discriminate against people who are gay.

We cannot expect to receive God’s grace for sins if we continue to practice sinful ways as His children. We live by His precepts above our own, because we choose to love Him as He loves us. This is a fallen world and we must be careful not to be carried off by the false teachings of anyone on any subject!

Again, I wholly agree with you. We simply disagree on who is getting carried off by false teachings.

Obama won't defend DOMA, but he will enforce it


So … maybe we shouldn’t get overly excited about the Obama administration’s decision not to defend DOMA. Because Eric Holder’s letter also includes the following:

Notwithstanding this determination, the President has informed me that Section 3 will continue to be enforced by the Executive Branch. To that end, the President has instructed Executive agencies to continue to comply with Section 3 of DOMA, consistent with the Executive’s obligation to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, unless and until Congress repeals Section 3 or the judicial branch renders a definitive verdict against the law’s constitutionality. This course of action respects the actions of the prior Congress that enacted DOMA, and it recognizes the judiciary as the final arbiter of the constitutional claims raised.

As Joel Mathis notes in his post about this part of the letter, “I’m … not so impressed by this. ‘It’s unconstitutional, but we’ll enforce it’ is … lousy. Possibly even indefensible. I’m not certain what the federal government actually does to enforce the law, so it might be a moot point, but it’s possible the president is making a very loud noise over very little substance here.”

I’m not convinced it’s as lousy or that the noise Obama is making is without substance. I think the idea is that the administration can’t pick and choose which statutes it will enforce … but it can signal that a statute ought to be reconsidered by the appropriate branch of government so that, in future, the executive won’t be put in the position of having to enforce  statute that’s likely unconstitutional.

HT: Tim Carmody.

I agree with Ari. The Obama administration has put a gigantic “challenge me” sticker on Section 3. Somebody can sue. If somebody else wants to defend it, they may get a chance. If they lose, there will be binding precedent to prevent the next administration from enforcing it. Obama is over half-way through a first term. I think he’ll get a second term—but that’s not guaranteed. It’s much better to have a permanent result than to leave this sort of issue to the caprice of the next administration.

(Source: kohenari)

The Department has a longstanding practice of defending the constitutionality of duly-enacted statutes if reasonable arguments can be made in their defense. At the same time, the Department in the past has declined to defend statutes despite the availability of professionally responsible arguments, in part because – as here – the Department does not consider every such argument to be a “reasonable” one. Moreover, the Department has declined to defend a statute in cases, like this one, where the President has concluded that the statute is unconstitutional.

Faith, Reason, and Marriage Equality

SDS, Daniel Holter, and Matthew J. Franck disagree on marriage equality. Franck accuses marriage equality proponents of wanting to “drive a wedge between faith and reason” and to marginalize and anathematize opponents. Holter says we should drive a wedge between faith and reason and anybody who insists on sticking with faith can marginalize themselves. SDS says that marriage is either a social construct—in which case it doesn’t matter because it’s all subjective—or it’s some sort of natural law thing and, by implication, we can’t be blamed for hurtful discrimination. I disagree with all of them.1

Franck is wrong to assume that opponents of marriage equality represent a static group. The primary strategy for marriage equality activists is to engage, educate, and persuade those on the other side. (As always, some people are better at and more earnest about engaging the other side than others.) Step one is to make people aware that the issue is worth considering seriously. “Because the guy on the TV said so” is a perfectly good reason to believe a lot of things. If the weatherman says it’s likely to snow, I’ll generally believe him. If another weatherman says it’s not going to snow, I’ll conclude that there may be a debate—but since I’ll be inside all day, I don’t really care. But once the issue becomes important and personal, I’ll do my own research and my own thinking on it. It’s not an abstract issue. It’s an issue that effects me or those I care about. We to make sure that nobody continues to believe that gay marriage is an issue that only gay people need to care about. It’s an issue about fundamental equality.

Step two is to debunk some myths about same-sex marriage. Some people believe, for example, that a lasting, monogamous relationship between two men is impossible. They’re factually wrong. Some believe that homosexuality is caused by child abuse or bad parenting. They too are wrong. Some believe that homosexuality is simply a “lifestyle choice”. Again, this is debunkable. Some believe some the Bible says some things about homosexuality that it doesn’t actually say. This can all be checked and rationally discussed. Some people believe that same-sex couples aren’t capable of creating a stable environment for children. Again, we have data on those things.

Behind all this is a belief that most people will eventually come out on the right side. Hearts and minds change slowly. But in twenty years, hopefully the vast majority will end up where they ought to end up. And at that point there will still be a few proud people who are too proud to admit they could ever have been wrong about anything. They’re certainly marginal. But have they been marginalized? Or is it just a matter that everybody else left and they’re determined to hang tight and be crushed under the turning wheel of history?

Daniel Holter is wrong on decoupling faith and reason. First two are not opposing forces. Reason is an epistemological tool. Science is another epistemological tool. Faith is (among other things) a third epistemological tool. In the interest of long-suffering brevity, I won’t go too deeply into what faith means here. But I will say this: idolizing reason is folly. If you’ve studied any epistemology at all, you realize the limits of rationalism. Why should we trust reason? Any reasoned answer to that question is inherently circular. We might as well go with either 1) because God wants us to, or 2) why the heck not? Reason provides its own warning lable: not for exclusive use. But this isn’t the primary problem with treating reason as the end-all-be-all of epistemological tools. The biggest problem is that we suck at reason. People on both sides of the issue consider themselves “reasonable.” Daniel Holter is reasonable. SDS is reasonable. In the current exchange, both have alluded to arguments from reason. Yet they come to shockingly different conclusions.

I have nothing against reason. It’s a great thing. It’s helped me a lot. But I can’t help feeling that we’d be in a better world if every time people said “Be reasonable” to quell the passions or discount the experiences of others they got punched in the nose.2

Finally, SDS is wrong to suggest that if marriage is a social construct nothing about it matters any more than the choice between two flavors of ice cream. Because something fluctuates and changes over time does not mean that it is meaninglessly fluid. There was a time, for example, that the continents were not in the shape and arrangement they’re in now. There will be a time—in the very, very distant future—when they’ve changed arrangement again. This does not mean that North America does not exist.

The most undebatably constructed of social constructs I can think of off hand were the “two bite club” and “the clean plate club” in Kindergarten. These “clubs” promoted 1) trying at least two bites of all food before declaring that you don’t like them, and 2) eating all the food on your plate to avoid waste and (more importantly) to avoid you complaining that you’re hungry again in fifteen minutes. They weren’t even real clubs. They were meant to instill very simple virtues in very young people. And they worked. Because we all wanted to be in “the club” even if we rationally knew the club was stupid. They were social constructs—but that did not mean they had no value, they had no rules, or that any nonsense could be said about them. You couldn’t be in the two bite club if you refused to eat something, unless you had allergies or it became so much of an issue that it was disrupting everything and then you could have an honorary membership if you would just shut up about it already and take half a bite.

With marriage, the stakes are a whole lot higher than they are with the two bite club. But marriage does not need to be something that predates civilization to be valuable and worth discussing. We can discuss what marriage has historically been. We can also discuss what it should be. It is not simply a matter of opinion. Real lives and real people are at stake.

For that reason, I think we should talk about marriage as an institution that is relevant to and changing in response to today’s society. Those who oppose marriage equality may find the natural law approach where marriage is deduced from some conveniently chosen first principles comfortable. After all, it allows them to say, “Hey! It’s not my fault I’m voting for policies that hurt you and the ones you love. It’s just that I’m ruled by reason, unlike you flopsy post-modernists (who are probably also gay gay gay). I’ve used my reason to deduce that it turns out I was right about everything I believed all along. Don’t call me prejudiced. Call me brilliant!”

In conclusion, you’re all wrong—and get off my lawn.

  1. As always, I would encourage you to read all of their posts in full. I attempt not to be terribly unfair in my characterization of others posts—but it’s really better to let them speak for themselves. Besides—these are three very intelligent people who state their positions eloquently and intelligently. 

  2. I worry that if they let me design the world, there would be a lot of violence. It’s not that you get to punch somebody in the nose who tells you to “be reasonable.” After all, they might have had a good point. It’s just that somebody jumps out of a tree, punches them, then runs off. After a decade of this, perhaps people will start getting anxious after telling somebody to be reasonable, look around, panic a bit, then punch themselves int he nose to end the suspense. Also in this world, you get your ear cut off if you ever claim that “reason” belongs primarily to any one group of people. Since this is a cool futuristic world, there’s hopefully some way to regrow those ears in a week or two. 

(via sds)

What it means to be faithful

If you hadn’t noticed, I believe faithful Christians should affirm the call to ministry of people who are gay or lesbian. I believe this because I have studied and wrestled with scripture and what it demands of our lives. (And SDS, this post may come off a bit strong. You’ve accused my church and me of willfully abandonning what we hold most dear. Fine. But can you back that claim up with anything other than vague assertions about orthodoxy and stereotypes about mainsline Christians?)

SDS reads scripture differently—and he’s so confident in his interpretation that he is presumably comfortable telling those who have heard a calling that they are not needed. Our views differ. So, why is SDS so confident that his views are orthodox while mine are heretical that he is willing to reject the gifts of those who want to serve? As far as I can tell, he believes his views are more traditional. He may be right (though our awareness and understanding of homosexuality is a relatively recent phenomenon—so these “traditions” are neither as long nor as reliable as some pretend.) As far as I can tell, this is SDS’s primary criteria for scriptural interpretation.

But church tradition is not scripture. So SDS, despite his professed love of the Bible, has rejected sola scriptura. He’s got it wrong. In the reformed tradition, we interpret scripture not through the lens of our flawed history, but through scripture itself. When we see some confusing, contested passages, we interpret them in light of other passages. And we interpret them in light of the surrounding passages rather than selecting other, disjointed passages to reinforce our preconceptions

If we’re still struggling or still in disagreement, there are a few other sources we might turn to. First, we might turn to historic principles of interpretation to make sure that we’re at least using a consistent standard in our interpretation. We might also look atwhat we know of the world and see if one particular interpretation flies against reason and observation. We might also try to consider the historic context a particular passage was written to address. What concerned Paul when he wrote a particular text? How good is our translation?

Alternatively, we might turn to somebody else who is better at this sort of thing. Faithfulness need not require a lot of scholarly brilliance. Trusting somebody you trust to discern better than yourself is a perfectly legitimate epistimalogical tool. Of course, “my pastor says so, ergo your pastor is wrong” is as audacious as it is preposterous. It’s a terrible reason to tell a seminarian that they’re in the wrong profession—or possibly the wrong faith.

Ultimately, we may get to a point where we simply disagree. And if it helps SDS to question the faithfulness or sincerity of those who disagree with him, I suppose it’s allowed—but it’s as obnoxious as heck. (“This faith ain’t big enough for the two of us, partner.”) I suspect we share the belief that 50 years from now we’ll get past this issue. One of us will be repentant—though we probably don’t agree on who. I’m patient.