Friday, January 25, 2008

Hating the (Gay) Sin, Loving the (Gay) Sinner

The Christian opposition to homosexuality is one of the primary elements of the "culture war," yes? Christians are often accused of being hateful and bigoted, and the Christian response is to say "We can hate the sin of homosexuality, but love the sinner."

A lot of gays and gay allies refuse to take this statement at face value. They'll insist that this is an obfuscation or an excuse, that all it does is conceal a deep seated prejudice.

I disagree with them. I am perfectly happy to accept that many Christians do not hate gays. My problem is that the reason Christians offer is undergirded by something much more sinister that garden variety political incorrectness.

I would argue that when a Christian says "I hate the sin, but love the sinner," there is an unspoken supplement. I think that what this statement conceals, or perhaps really means, is the statement "I am just following orders."

I think the common Christian position on homosexuality is, in fact, "I don't hate gays. God says the act is evil, and I have to agree with him. I am just following orders." What the Christian does is push off responsibility for a moral judgment to another.

There are no other sins for which Christians constantly use that statement. It may occasionally appear when a family member is an alcoholic, for example. "I love my dad, but I hate his sin." I believe this statement is different in kind, however.

The Christian recourse to the Nuremberg defense has appeared because the place of homosexuality has changed in our culture, and this change has affected Christians as well. Christians recognize that a direct and outright condemnation of homosexuality is no longer possible -- even for Christians -- so they have to punt the condemnation to God. Christians don't make the same deferral in the case of child molesters, because it is socially possible to condemn child molesters in one's own name.

(I know Christians will read that last sentence and insist that they can only condemn child molesters in the name of God's law; such an argument is tangential to my own. It is simply not the social reality that Christians explicitly defer to God in the case of pedophilia, while they do make such an explicit deferral in the case of homosexuality.)

I think there are two consequences here. First, it says something about the nature of morality. Moral statements are constricted by social conditions. If this were not true, than Christians would not speak about homosexuality the way they do. Secondly, this shows that the gay culture's suspicion of church culture is justified, to an extent. No one likes to be on the receiving end of actions justified by the Nuremberg defense.

35 comments:

Jamie A. Grant said...

Ooh, I think that you make an excellent point here. Very nicely expressed.

As an added thought, if there are Christians that have their own specific reasons for being against homosexuality, they would rarely express these reasons because of the societal factors you mentioned. A full discussion on this issue is difficult to do since it might make the blog links and front page newspapers, etc. Heck, it's bold of you to have written this post in the first place.

I, for one, do have reasons beyond "God said so." I, for one, will hardly ever express those reasons. Especially in a blog forum, where I assume it will live forever.

dan said...

And I, for one, would take some pleasure in replying to whatever JAG has to say on this issue, should he ever choose to write out his thoughts. Hiding ignorant behaviour behind the old 'I don't want to get picked on for being ignorant but, trust me, I've got good reasons for being this way' is rather tiresome.

Mike,

While I agree with much of what you say, it is worth noting that there are some Christians who have no issue with homosexuality (and I would be one of those). I support homosexuality because of my commitments to the authority of Scripture, and the Christian tradition, and not inspite of those things.

Furthermore, it is also worth noting not only the way in which the place of homosexuality has changed in our culture, but the way in which homsexuality itself has undergone some significant shifts. That is to say, the type of homosexuality that exists today in North America was likely nonexistent at other moments in history (say, for example, at the time when the New Testament texts were written).

Peace.

Jamie A. Grant said...

"Yes, JAG, please speak so I can point out what an idiot you are." Such a sweet invitation, but I shall decline...

Mike said...

Jamie - I don't think this was particularily bold. There isn't anything at stake here.

When I said morality was socially constrained, I was being very imprecise. I'm not saying that Christians have to couch their moral judgment in this way because of something like peer pressure - ie, that a Christian would be afraid of contradicting "common sense." That sort of fear just makes one a pussy. It depends entirely on the contingent constitution of the person. What I'm saying is that our possibilities for thinking are always rooted in a particular historical and social context. Statements and concepts X and Y are obvious and nearby, ready to be picked up, while concept Z is covered over and obscured. To be really precise, X and Y are built into the power structures of our culture, while Z is simply excluded from the realm of thought. (Picking up Z would then constitute an act of resistence against those power structures; see "queer politics").

A good example is abortion. If you look at what pro-lifers and pro-choicers argue about, it is never over the issue of murder. No one is out there arguing that murdering babies is fine; that possibility is not a "real" possibility. The argument centres around whether or not abortion is murder, and sometimes whether or not the "killing" of a fetus is justified in the same sense that some other killings are. Nearly everyone accepts that murder is bad; that is the fundamental social reality and all discussion takes place within that context.

It was the same with slavery. I've read a good number of 19th century American defenses of slavery, and not a single one ever argues that the ownership of another human being is moral. The argument was always about whether or not blacks were capable of being legal persons, or whether or not slavery was in fact a boon to blacks, as a legitimate form of "employment." Even for pro-slavers, the idea that owning another legal person is ok was not a legitimate possibility for thinking.

So to restate what I've said about homosexuality, a direct, public condemnation is not a legitimate possibility. Those that make such direct condemnations are instantly relegated to the fringes of society; consider the blank stares Falwell recieved when he blamed gays for 9/11. Of course, direct condemnations are possible in private (ie, within the church), but not in public.

You seem to be conceding that it would be very easy to make your private views on homosexuality look foolish. If this is so, why not re-articulate your ideas so they don't look foolish? And if you can't do that, you might want to consider that your ideas are, indeed, bad ones.

Dan - sure, I know what I'm saying doesn't apply to all Christians. I think I've said this to you before; when I use the unqualified word "Christian," I'm usually just speaking about contemporary North American mainstream Evangelicals. But that's a really long sentence, and who wants to type it out every time?

And I agree that I was too imprecise when I said that the place of homosexuality has changed in our culture. You're right, it is more a matter that homosexuality itself has changed. How to articulate this, I do not know. I've read at least one convincing critique of Foucault's idea that the homosexual subject did not exist before the 18th/19th century, and before that there were only people who engaged in the act of sodomy. The critique I've read dug up examples of much earlier (circa 12th century) descriptions of what would amount to homosexual subjects.

Jamie A. Grant said...

Well, my views on homosexuality don't hinge whether or not it's biological or socially acceptable or monogamous. There are a lot of ways to approach this topic, foremost being that it's about real people and not just a point of discussion.

I think that homosexual behaviour and relationships have a spiritual power. Similarly, the act of heterosexual sex is not just a physical act but it ties people together spiritually as well. And without the context of man-woman-monogamy, I think that any kind of sex will have negative spiritual consequences.

Mike, your post and your opinions might not seem very bold to you but it certainly seems bold to me. I think that I can live with these comments floating in cyberspace, though.

P.S. I appreciate Mike's openness to hear my point of view, hence my response.

Mike said...

Let's say there are "negative spiritual consequences." My answer to that is: so what? We can't judge morality or ethics based on consequences for a myriad of reasons. First and foremost, every serioues form of pleasure carries with it risk, every real form of excellence carries with it pain.

Secondly, basing all one's ethical choices on consequences just makes one a bureaucratic bean counter. Constantly spouting hypothetical imperatives that have the form of "If you don't want X to happen, don't do Y" will lead to a nice, safe life. You'll have a little pleasure for your day, and a little pleasure for your night, and you'll certain be the last man, because the last man is careful.

And yeah, this is about real people. So I'd suggest not walking down the road of "I'm saying this for your own good, boy."

Jamie A. Grant said...

Nice response, Mike. I can't say I understand your last paragraph but you make a solid point otherwise.

I can hear your argument hinting at some of your previous blog posts about why we do what we do. All I can say is, you and Dan were asking for my reasons and I gave the most important one that I have, in my mind.

I assume that you each disagree with my position and logic. I can't say that I'm prepared to hash out the depth of philosophical and theological arguments that you may each have at the ready. At least I've contributed more to this discussion then pure silence, eh? ;)

Mike said...

In that last paragraph, I'm suggesting that condemning someone elses' actions because it might hurt them is to treat them like a child.

Jamie A. Grant said...

I think the use of the word "condemning" says a lot there. Who was condemning anyone? I assume you were speaking in general, though, and not about me in particular.

Does mere disagreement with a homosexual lifestyle constitute condemnation? Many would say so, and that's why it's so dangerous to even voice an opinion for fear of being cast as a hate-mongerer.

Mike said...

Yeah, I'm speaking generally here. Any unqualified usages of "you" is the plural form.

Does mere disagreement with a homosexual lifestyle constitute condemnation?

But what does the phrase "mere disagreement" mean here? It could either mean a negative moral judgment, or it could mean that one believes pro-homosexuals believe false ideas.

The first is a condemnation - and come on, let your yes's be yes's, your praises be praises, your no's be no's, and your condemnations be condemnations.

The second reduces the discussion to a triviality. Let's all agree to disagree and mind our own business.

dan said...

Mike,

I am familiar with Foucault's argument about the genesis of homosexuality, but my interest is more in the way in which so-called homosexual behaviour was ennacted prior to and at the time when the NT documents were written. Granted, homosexuals qua homosexuals may have existed at other moments of history (the 12th century or whenever), but it seems rather likely that they were nonexistent at the time the NT texts were recorded (or where such a small minority that they were not the focus of the NT texts). Consequently, our understanding of NT comments or injunctions, must bear this in mind.

Apart from that, it is also important to note the linguistic aspect of the NT texts, wherein most of the verses the are translated as referring to 'homosexuality' are actually references to general 'sexual immorality' or to the specific act of men engaging in sexual activities with boys (and, frequently, with slave boys -- sex and power were intimately linked within the Roman society). The only NT text that could be said to be relevant to our discussion of contemporary homosexuality is Ro 1, but here the focus is on idolatry; homosexuality is only given as an (from a Second Temple Jewish perspective) obvious symptom thereof. Given cultural shifts, we have had the opportunity to observe homosexuality practiced by dedicated Christians, and this should cause is to question how much of our stance on this issue should be dictated by this single passage (rather than, say, keeping in mind the broader themes and trajectories of the biblical narrative). We have all seen other ways in which single passages(say the two NT passages frequently used to relegate women to a minority status) have been employed to support a stance that contradicts the rest of the biblical witness (and the trajectory thereof) and so it is necessary to approach Ro 1 with a great deal of circumspection.

Anyway, I've gone on long enough. Peace.

Mike said...

All of which I find quite convincing, to the point that I look cockeyed at anyone who denies what you're saying.

SRH said...

I don’t follow. Homosexual behavior is a sin, God is clear on this. To take a position otherwise requires tortured use of language or rationalization that dishonors the authority of God’s word.

I follow Christ, but I am not “just following orders”, I desire to be transformed as my Lord commands out of love for Him, and my fellow man. In some sins it is easy for me to see the bad consequences; sexual immorality is clearly in this category. In some it is not so easy, but that does not mean the bad consequences don’t exist. But the existence of consequences only reinforces or further encourages me in what is good. The root of all good (ethics, morality) is God’s will for me.

There is a powerful spiritual (supernatural) element in all this. I ask God in prayer to make His message clear to me, and He does. In pride I spent years reading Scripture and trying to force it to conform to my agenda, now I ask God to show me His truth instead. Amazing grace is a humbling thing.

I have sin in my own life to deal with, the “plank in my own eye”. But it is also a sin to excuse, or worse, encourage rebellion against God. Y’all are in my prayers.

Mike said...
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Mike said...

Srh, you say you want to read scripture plainly, but then you say there's a supernatural element you need God's help with. Seems like you want to have your cake and eat it too.

David Grant said...

I think you're right on Mike in that this statement serves some strange purpose of following orders. Does it some noble validation to to the person who is saying it, No. Does it make a homosexual say, thank you for sharing, No.

So then why do people say it? Teaching a parrot to say, Polly wants a cracker, is a fun thing to entertain friends with. Maybe that's why it's often used. It's a twisted way of showing off our parotting skills.

SRH said...

Paul speaks to my own experience in 1 Corinthians 2; I know what its like not to understand. That any of us can approach God in prayer for understanding of His message is grace, pure and simple.

Are y’all suggesting that anyone who strives to live by God’s word is “just following orders”, or that this only applies to those who express their belief a particular way?

Mike said...

No, I don't think all moral judgments are about just following orders. Like I said in the OP, Christians can make direct moral judgments about other things.

SRH said...

Judgments based on society’s standards might be “moral” (reflect morality) but they are not truth. This thinking ultimately takes any society to a lowest common denominator of values. I said earlier “In some sins it is easy for me to see the bad consequences; sexual immorality is clearly in this category. In some it is not so easy, but that does not mean the bad consequences don’t exist”. The bad consequences help me see the good; they are not the basis for good.

The Bible is the word of God, so how is it that “Christians can make direct moral judgments about other things”? Doesn’t a Christian, by definition, follow Christ? Christians make direct moral judgments about positive law, but not God’s law.

Mike said...

Sorry, srh, I'm not sure I can reword the argument any further.

David Grant said...

It really comes down to which truth is vital. In the story of the prodigal son, if the elder brother had made the prodigal on his way way home he would have told him the truth. He had abused the family inheritance, brought shame on his father, lived recklessly and sinfully. The prodigal would likely have turned tail and went back to his misery.

But the father's truth, which is the key to the story, was, my son who was dead is ALIVE.

In the story the elder brother (religious truth) was sulking even after the father declared the greatest truth of all.

SRH said...

David, forgive me for not being clear in making my point. By "truth" I mean ultimate reality - the will of God, not "that which is factually correct”. One aspect of truth is the essence of good. I was guilty of shorthand, and I apologize.

The elder brother’s attitude does not represent that which is truly good (God’s will for us), because his attitude is self-serving. Your comment on religion is apt, although I hope you can see why I would use a word other than “truth” in your statement. That he can meet his brother on the road and accurately describe his sins is part of the truth (rather than “which truth”), because God’s whole truth is about repentance and looking to Him (as you said, “life”).

Don’t we water down God’s message if we avoid dealing with sin? Therein lies my concern with the idea that “Christians can make direct moral judgments of other things”, if I understanding the position properly. Back in the original post Mike says: “Christians recognize that a direct and outright condemnation of homosexuality is no longer possible -- even for Christians -- so they have to punt the condemnation to God”. Since God hates sin, and homosexual behavior is sin, what other basis for condemnation is there? As for what is “no longer possible” Jesus predicted the world would reject God’s Spirit and will.

Mike, don’t give up on me yet!

David Grant said...

I don't think we water down God's message by not pointing people to their sin. Somehow there has been an assumption that people need to admit their sinfulness in order to receive God's love. That is a hopeless endeavour as we can't deal with our sin without first receiving His love.

I have asked countless Christians if they really know and experience God's love for them. The answer is often a hushed silence. They are well aware of their sin but God's love, not so much.

Their is no comment whatsoever from the father saying anything about the prodigal's waywardness.

I have a personal friend who accepted Jesus as his saviour while still actively practicing the homosexual lifestyle. Eventually as his love for God grew and he could hear God's voice of love, he heard God speak to him, that it was time to leave that lifestyle.

It was a journey that took time and is bigger than this blog comment. Suffice to say the journey wasn't about leaving homosexuality but about abiding in God's love.

SRH said...

David, you might be reading more into what I’m saying than I’m meaning. I’m talking about addressing sin forthrightly, rather than ignoring it in the name of peace. I see a subtle difference here than in “pointing people to their sin”.

We might agree on the necessity (or not) to admit sinfulness in order to receive God's love. At best, it’s a “which came first” argument, and ultimately God’s love causes those who love Him to hate sin, regardless of how they might have felt in the beginning. 'I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him: "Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men."'

Your friend’s experience is a wonderful testimony for God’s love and grace, thank you for sharing it! I’m curious about conversations you may have had about his lifestyle before he left it behind, did he ever ask you what you thought about it? And if so, how did you answer? If you don’t mind sharing, and can do so without violating any confidences I think it would help me understand your position, and you mine.

Again, thanks for your friend’s story!

David Grant said...

His story is a bit of an indictment about Christians who love to say we hate the sin but love the sinner.

After fully being restored in his relationship with God, he got married and has a beautiful daughter. He would often join a church and after being there for over year he would feel safe enough to let out his past history. There was an immediate, unmistakable response of hide the children from the pervert. My friend and his family would move on to find another place that might accept him.

He did this several times and now simply doesn't tell that part of his life.

He describes this prejudice as exalting one sin way above sins. He continues to be judged even after many years of living a "normal" sexual lifestyle.

Sadly, the churches that did this were not some weird extreme groups but rather just everyday Christian churches. His past "sin" was greater than their sin of not loving him. But they are very comfortable with their kind of sin.

SRH said...

We live in a fallen world; your friend's treatment is a sad postscript to the story of his victory in God's love.

Jesus often says "fear not", and it took me a long time to understand Him. I was so comfortable in some of my fears I didn't realize they were there.

I remain a work in progress grateful for God's grace.

David Grant said...

The victorious part of the story is that my friend is not bitter over how he was treated by many Christians both while and after he was involved in the gay lifestyle. He recognizes his need for grace and mercy and therefore extends it to all.

He has said to me that the words that he heard repeated a thousand times, "God hates the sin, but loves the sinner," were not useful to him in his journey to know God. He would rather have a meal with his friends than debate over words that separated himself from those who need to experience the same love that has so changed his life.

Mike said...

I'm pretty skeptical about any sort of absolute shift from homosexuality to heterosexuality. Alas, any conversation about this would probably require details that can't be posted on the internet, for confidentiality's sake.

David Grant said...

I'm glad you're not skeptical about going from heterosexual to homosexual.

Proof, my friend was always dealing with that ingenious question from both the gay community and the Christian community.

dan said...

For the record, I have several gay friends who have learned that 'abiding in the love of God' means go home to the loving arms of their partners. Let's keep a little perspective here, folks.

Mike said...

[i]I'm glad you're not skeptical about going from heterosexual to homosexual.[/i]

Behavior shifts happen all the time. Someone gets married, has kids, then realizes they've made a mistake and leaves their spouse for someone of the same sex. I'm not skeptical about your friend's behavior; it isn't hard to believe that he is married. It isn't even hard to believe that he's having sex with his wife. What is hard to believe that it isn't just a surface change.

David Grant said...

I guess the difference between you and I is that I believe my friend and you think he's a liar.

What proof would ever be sufficient for your skepticism?

It's nice to see you aligning yourself so well with the political correctness of the gay and Christian communities.

It is rather ironic that he still has friends within the gay community and they do accept his changes whereas Christians are much more reluctant to do so.

Mike said...

Political correctness? Whoa, 'round these parts, them's fightin' words.

It's not a question of me needing additional information to satisfy doubts. I just tend to think that sexuality is something that is bound up with identity in a serious, deep way.

Do gays change? Let's ask Exodus International, an organization I assume you're familiar with.

These good folks say,

On the statistical side, careful reviews of research studies on sexual orientation change suggest that real change is indeed possible. Studies suggesting change rates in the range of 30-50% are not unusual, although "success rates" vary considerably and the measurement of change is problematic. For details and review of several studies, see the link below.

30-50% is "not unusual," though they are quick to say that the measurement of change is "problematic."

And how do they describe change?

No one is saying that change is easy. It requires strong motivation, hard work, and perseverance. But we find hundreds of former homosexuals who have found a large degree of change--attaining abstinence from homosexual behaviors, lessening of homosexual temptations, strengthening their sense of masculine or feminine identity, correcting distorted styles of relating with members of the same and opposite gender. Some former homosexuals marry and some don't, but marriage is not the measuring stick; spiritual growth and obedience are.

Uh-huh. They have a 30-50% success rate in achieving this utterly nebulous and weak sort of "change"?

If you can answer me a question without violating confidentiality, please do. Does your friend still have any same sex attraction? Could he have a few drinks in a gay bar, be hit on, and not have a problem with it? Or is he more like a recovering alcoholic - he has to avoid any and all temptation?

'Cause I'm pretty sure you and I could have a few drinks in a gay bar and not go home with a dude. 'Cause we're straight.

David Grant said...

Yes, he still has gay friends. Could he go to a gay bar and ignore being hit on? I don't know.

I don't think he goes around trying to prove he's not gay. He just lives his life.

dan said...

Man, when I was in college, I used to love going to the gay bars -- I had all the drinks I wanted, and I didn't pay for a single one. It was a great system -- go to bar, bat eyelashes at dudes, toss hair, drink free beer, go home (of course, I believe the technical term for the role I was playing is 'cock-tease' but whatever). Those were the days!

Mike,

I'd be curious to hear more about the tight relationship that you think exists between sexuality and identity. Perhaps unlike you, I suspect that sexuality is determined by a whole range of influences. Granted, they may one day discover a 'gay gene' but if, or when, they do, I suspect that they would also discover that not all people with the gay gene are gay, and not all gay people have the gay gene. I think there is also a serious contextual/experiential impact upon one's sexuality. Granted, this is a secondary influence, and one that is frequently overridden by the more primary 'genetic' influence, but it is still worth mentioning. What I think we need to avoid is an either/or in this regard.

For example, a large number of the women I know who are involved in sex work live in gay relationships. For these women, I think the most significant reason why they have gone this road, is due to their experiences with men. After working in survival prostitution for a number of years, many of these women don't/can't/won't look for intimacy with men.

Of course, whether a person is gay due to 'genetics' or due to experience doesn't matter all that much to me (or, I suspect, to God). More power to 'em.