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Sexuality and Christian belief (Was: Homosexuality and the Bible)

541 posts in this topic

20 hours ago, kenmorefield said:

Not to deny the especial vitriol addressed towards LBGTQ people, but hasn't every Evangelical American teenager been told that?

Yes, unfortunately. At least the teens in more conservative/fundamentalist sex-is-awful-and-sinful-so-wait-until-you're-married-to-enjoy-it contexts often hear some form of this message, that one's desires and emotions are flawed (at best) and sinful (at worst). At least that's the message I personally heard growing up in a conservative Baptist home and church. I suppose the message was told with good intentions, trying to keep teens "safe" in some way, but it's essentially a form of Gnosticism with its anti-bodies, anti-emotions paradigm. So, take that message, and add on the homosexuals-are-inherently-sinful-and-destined-for-hell message, which has been fairly pervasive in some conservative circles, and one could see why LGBTQ teens would find it difficult to view the evangelical church as a community of love or grace.

 

20 hours ago, Peter T Chattaway said:

Joel Mayward wrote:
: I've heard a pro-gay stance from teens/young adults who otherwise hold conservative sexual views, (i.e. waiting until marriage for sexual intercourse) . . .

So do they think gay people should wait for marriage too, then?

: As puberty hits earlier (10.5 in girls, and getting younger), and the average age for marrying increases in Western cultures (27 for women, 29 for men) . . .

Puberty is biological, marriage is cultural. Should the church -- which is essentially counter-cultural on some levels -- be encouraging people to put off marriage like that?

Peter, I can think of specific teens and college students who have shared this view with me, and as far as I know, those young people hold both themselves and others--including their gay friends--to such a sexual ethic, where marriage is normative and the best/only context for sex. Whether or not they actually *practice* this ethic in their romantic relationships is beyond me, though I'm not aware of any human being (apart from Jesus...maybe Mary, depending on your tradition) who could claim full avoidance of sexual immorality. I believe some of the proponents of same-sex marriage I've read also think gay people should wait until marriage; they denounce the hook-up culture for all sexual orientations.

Regarding the puberty/marriage relationship, I just think it's an interesting phenomenon compared to what was practiced in ancient Judaism or the Greco-Roman culture. It's unclear exactly when puberty began in those days, but it was likely later than it is now, like 14-16 in girls. Betrothal and marriage ages are also a bit unclear, and perhaps determined by family households or circumstances, but they're also around the same age, or even earlier, like 12 or 13. So, it's highly likely that one could be married *before* hitting puberty in those cultures. Whether or not this is healthy or a good idea is totally debatable. I think our sexual climate, where many people wait to get married until nearly age 30 (or simply *never* get married and choose cohabitation or the single life absent of any religious commitments) is a unique phenomenon in history.

The question of whether the church *should* be encouraging people to put off marriage is an interesting one. I'm not sure the church should be encouraging people to put off marriage, but I also don't think it's healthy for the church to push young people to get married ASAP. It was interesting growing up in an evangelical church, where the messages were decidedly mixed. When I was in high school, the message from the church was "Don't date anyone, don't have sex, be modest and pure!" Almost as soon as I graduated high school and entered college, the message swung to "Who are you dating? When are you getting married? Time's a-wasting!" These last messages are personal and anecdotal, but I imagine they're indicative of many Protestant young adults' (18-32 year olds) experience.

Edit: This conversation reminds me, I need to watch Henry Gamble's Birthday Party.

Edited by Joel Mayward

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Joel Mayward wrote:
: At least the teens in more conservative/fundamentalist sex-is-awful-and-sinful-so-wait-until-you're-married-to-enjoy-it contexts often hear some form of this message, that one's desires and emotions are flawed (at best) and sinful (at worst).

I'm happy to say I don't recall ever hearing that. I remember being kind of surprised when I saw the 1988 version of Inherit the Wind (the one with Kirk Douglas), and the Jennings Bryan character said that sex was the "original sin". Didn't this guy know that the Fall came *after* the command to be fruitful and multiply? Bizarre.

Leo Steinberg says the Church fathers were of the opinion that sex was necessary for the continuation of the human species, just as eating and drinking were necessary for the continuation of the human body, but that these activities had been tainted by "the passions" which arose in us as a result of the Fall. Hence, in Orthodox circles at least, couples are often expected to abstain from sex during Lent and other fasting seasons, just as we abstain from certain kinds of food. (Not all Orthodox agree that abstention from sex is necessary, though; see, e.g., here.)

: It's unclear exactly when puberty began in those days, but it was likely later than it is now, like 14-16 in girls.

Hmmm. This doesn't necessarily negate your point, but I am reminded of this bit from my summary of Rodney Stark's The Birth of Christianity:

Christian women also married at a substantially older age than their pagan counterparts, who "frequently were forced into prepubertal, consummated marriages" (Octavia married at 11, Agrippina at 12, Quintilian's wife bore him a son at 13, Tacitus wed a girl of 13, and so on). Hopkins, studying Roman inscriptions, concluded that 44% of pagan girls were married by age 14, compared with 20% of Christian girls.

Interestingly -- and on a side note -- Stark also notes that one of the early Popes allowed women of higher social rank to live in "just concubinage" with men of lower rank, rather than marry them outright, because pagan Roman law would have required those women to give up certain legal privileges as well as control of their wealth if they had married those men outright. The women were basically in a position where they were being forced to choose between marrying pagan men of higher rank or marrying Christian men of lower rank and losing all those privileges, so the Pope in question allowed those women to live with the lower-ranking Christian men without being married in the eyes of secular law -- though I imagine he still expected life-long monogamy from those couples. What precedent that might set for our current debates, I don't know.

: When I was in high school, the message from the church was "Don't date anyone, don't have sex, be modest and pure!" Almost as soon as I graduated high school and entered college, the message swung to "Who are you dating? When are you getting married? Time's a-wasting!"

I do remember a bunch of weddings in my early 20s -- but a friend of mine also got married mere weeks after she finished high school, and she's still married to that guy 28 years later. Another friend of mine started dating a girl in Grade 12, married her four years later, then left her the moment she gave birth to their first kid six years later. So there's all kinds of stories.

Personally, I've never understood *dating* for four years, particularly if you're a wait-for-marriage-before-having-sex type. If you haven't decided that this is the one for you within a year or two, why stick with the relationship? And if you *have* decided that this is the one for you, why put yourself through a few extra years of sexual tension?

For what it's worth, Frederica Mathewes-Green and Frank Schaeffer -- two converts to Orthodoxy who are at completely opposite ends of the political-cultural spectrum -- have both written in favour of young marriages and have pointed specifically to how happy they were to be grandparents in their 50s (if not earlier). Which is kind of reminiscent of how grown-ups always tell you to start putting money in an RRSP as soon as possible. Time's a-wasting, indeed.

: Edit: This conversation reminds me, I need to watch Henry Gamble's Birthday Party.

Someone still needs to merge our two threads on that film.

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On 6/17/2016 at 0:42 PM, J.A.A. Purves said:

Not only are you heard here, Andrew, but your calling yourself an ex-Christian is an additional reason for reasonable people to listen to you.  I identify with how strongly you feel about this, especially in reaction to the “evangelical/fundamentalist perspective.”  Honestly, I’ve given up any further conversation with that perspective.  At its best, it is uncritical, closed to any real dialogue, contradictory and incapable of comprehending the modern roots of its own assumptions.  Their treatment of this issue has been inexcusable for decades now, and they are on their way out.  Mainstream evangelicalism has been disintegrating for years, and the evidence seems to point to their having essentially lost both Generation X and the Millennials.

As far as “gender identity” or “sexual orientation” goes, I do think there is room for questioning whether, as modern concepts, they are right, useful or healthy.  I am not sure that telling someone that their feelings and desires constitute their identity and makes them who they are is healthy.  Even outside Christianity, I doubt that Plato, Aristotle, Cicero or Seneca would agree that one’s physical desires or appetites form one’s “core identity,” nor would they accept that one could possess some subjective, purely mental “identity” that could be entirely separate from one’s physical, bodily existence.  For that matter, Buddha and Confucius certainly wouldn’t, given their teaching on restraining desire and appetite.  I’ve been reading some Charles Taylor, Alasdair MacIntyre and Thomas Pfau recently, and it seems that modernity has adopted a great deal of Enlightenment/Cartesian assumptions that may actually be damaging on their own.  To a great extent, the LGBT position seems have adopted many of these assumptions.

I am curious what you'd think of this.  Note: I know that, because of your experience in your profession, you understand far more about "identity" and the complexity of related psychological and emotional issues than I ever will.  In your profession, I'm not sure how often the sensibility of Seneca or classical ethical philosophy comes into play.  Does it ever?  Just so you are aware, there is a growing number of theologians and Christian thinkers who have begun to the question the very idea of “sexual orientation,” and they have begun to ask whether the idea of “heterosexuality” and “homosexuality” really fits into the older classical and/or Christian virtue ethics. (Of course, it seems little late now after so many churches have taught about how sinful a wrong "sexual orientation" is.  But, there are still some theologians how have consistently questioned things over the entire spans of their careers.) 

(I know that's a big ol' quote, but the conversation has moved in a few different directions.)

I appreciate your gracious and thoughtful response, Jeremy.

I hope you're right, that the evangelical powerhouse is on its way out.  If so, it seems to be taking its sweet old time around here, since the majority of politicians in my neck of the woods reflexively have to express their right-wing Christian bona fides for any chance of winning an election.  This seems to be the case in Republican presidential politics, too.  And am I wrong, but it seems like that evangelical flagship publication Christianity Today still gets a fair amount of respect around these parts, and my impression is that they're fairly monolithically anti-LGBT.

But on to the more interesting part of your comments (to me as a shrink, anyways).  I still see identity as a useful psychological construct, as a composite of a multitude of parts (self-worth, social role, family role, interests/passions, beliefs, cultural affiliations, affinities/attractions to others, sexual desires, motivations, emotional steady state or baseline, and lots more).  Gender identity and sexual orientation are just a part of that.  

I do perceive that identity and sexual orientation are an interesting mix of the fluid and static.  To take just a couple of examples:  the same gender sexual experimentation that teens and young adults will very typically 'try out.'  Or conversely, the individuals who as young adults will marry someone of the opposite sex in an effort to conform socially, prior to divorcing and partnering with someone of the same sex later in life, in a way that is more authentic to their sexual identity.

Personally, professionally, and pragmatically, I'm content with the terms 'identity' and 'sexual orientation,' though I'm open for better terms to come along.  Just wondering, are you aware of any such better terms?

As far as philosophical influences on the practice of psychotherapy, it's more by cultural osmosis than anything overt.  The big exception would be the ascendance of dialectical-behavioral therapy, which melds classical cognitive-behavioral therapy with some tenets of Zen Buddhism.  To a lesser degree, Irvin Yalom's existential psychotherapy has its fans (I'm one, though I'm not knowledgeable enough about it to claim that I practice it).  There's also a fascinating but rather small movement called philosophical counseling, wherein counselors will draw from whatever philosophical school they most admire (I've heard stoicism cited here, for instance) in offering guidance to their clients.

I hope I've at least addressed your queries in part.  You're much more conversant with philosophy than I am.  No false modesty here, but I feel I'm a mere dabbler by comparison.

 

 

  

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Andrew wrote:
: And am I wrong, but it seems like that evangelical flagship publication Christianity Today still gets a fair amount of respect around these parts, and my impression is that they're fairly monolithically anti-LGBT.

A few of us contribute occasionally to CT and its sister publications (and a few of us used to be a lot more than occasional), but more than one CT contributor has expressed pro-LGBT sentiments either publicly or privately to me over the last two decades -- just not within the pages of CT. The strongest not-pro-LGBT sentiments I can think of that were expressed recently in CT (in an editorial by Mark Galli) were, in part, a reaction to former CT editor David Neff speaking out in favour of LGBT acceptance -- after he had left the magazine.

So, whatever you say about CT, I don't think "monolithically" is quite the word for it, really.

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7 hours ago, Peter T Chattaway said:

Andrew wrote:
: And am I wrong, but it seems like that evangelical flagship publication Christianity Today still gets a fair amount of respect around these parts, and my impression is that they're fairly monolithically anti-LGBT.

A few of us contribute occasionally to CT and its sister publications (and a few of us used to be a lot more than occasional), but more than one CT contributor has expressed pro-LGBT sentiments either publicly or privately to me over the last two decades -- just not within the pages of CT. The strongest not-pro-LGBT sentiments I can think of that were expressed recently in CT (in an editorial by Mark Galli) were, in part, a reaction to former CT editor David Neff speaking out in favour of LGBT acceptance -- after he had left the magazine.

So, whatever you say about CT, I don't think "monolithically" is quite the word for it, really.

If the sentiments within the mag are consistently anti-LGBT, and the only dissenting statements are made off the record or after leaving CT, then monolithic seems like just the right word.  

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Andrew wrote:
: If the sentiments within the mag are consistently anti-LGBT . . .

Depends on what you mean by "anti-LGBT". I consciously avoided using that kind of loaded rhetoric. Would you characterize this 16-month-old review of Transparent as "anti-LGBT"? Is it "monolithically anti-LGBT"?

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10 hours ago, Peter T Chattaway said:

Depends on what you mean by "anti-LGBT". I consciously avoided using that kind of loaded rhetoric. Would you characterize this 16-month-old review of Transparent as "anti-LGBT"? Is it "monolithically anti-LGBT"?

I could've been more nuanced in my rhetoric, but in this week following Orlando, I decided to say to hell with nuance.  With all of the ugly rhetoric around bathrooms, gay marriage, etc., my gut told me it was only a matter of time before an unhinged individual became violent in response to it.  I'm not saying evangelicals are responsible for the Orlando shooting, but the religious right has created a Petri dish environment that nurtured the growth of violent hatred.  Humans are biologically and socially wired to recoil from that which is different, but religion untamed by the Enlightenment legitimizes this response and makes it a moral imperative.

The Transparent review strikes me as far more devotional than critical.  In focusing on the extreme dysfunctionality of the family in this show and God's love for all dysfunctional people, it sidesteps questions of LGBT morality.  It's a good example of playing it safe and inoffensive on a hot-button political topic.

Edited by Andrew

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Andrew wrote:
: The Transparent review strikes me as far more devotional than critical.  In focusing on the extreme dysfunctionality of the family in this show and God's love for all dysfunctional people, it sidesteps questions of LGBT morality.  It's a good example of playing it safe and inoffensive on a hot-button political topic.

The review is about more than transgenderism, yes. As it should be (and as the series should be; no good drama is ever about Just One Thing). But if CT can publish a sentence like "The transgender community is misunderstood, mistreated, and Transparent shows again the beauty of fiction’s ability to increase our empathy," then I don't think the label "monolithically anti-LGBT" is warranted. At all.

And I'm sorry, but does it make any sense to respond to an extremist by saying "to hell with nuance" and adopting a position of counter-extremism? Whether you think we're in the middle of a religious conflict or a clash of ideologies right now, it is only things like nuance, tolerance and empathy that will help us to bridge those divides. And the increasing fundamentalism of the pro-LGBT camp -- which, in some corners, no longer settles for respectful tolerance but demands that everyone change their belief systems to conform to the new conventional wisdom (I believe we've even seen some quotes to that effect within this thread) -- will only encourage the fundamentalism of their opponents. As I keep telling my kids -- and so, so many of the current political arguments remind me of my squabbling kids -- make it better, not worse.

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And with the deeply offensive labels of "counter-extremism" and "LGBT fundamentalism" being tossed about (along with an ironic call for empathy), it's time for me to exit this conversation.  It was productive for a while, at least.  Y'all know where to find me on Facebook.    

I'll just end by sharing this photo of a church sign in my city this weekend.  The atmosphere must be different in Vancouver...

beech.jpg    

Edited by Andrew

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I'm sorry you find the labels offensive. I find what they describe offensive. Perhaps, in replying to your "to hell with nuance", I consigned some nuance to hell myself. Which, in its own way, would make the point.

And yes, I don't believe I have ever seen a church sign like that in the Vancouver area. It distresses me that such signs exist where you live.

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Popping in here to ask if anyone read the essay I posted by my friend Rebecca and what your thoughts were on it? It is posted right before NBooth's first comments on the Orlando Massacre

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The debunking of Boswell's poor scholarship is decades old news.

Using John Boswell as a credible source on church history is about as useful as, oh say, using David Barton or Dinesh D'Souza as a credible source on any history at all.  Even legitimate liberal scholars who support gay marriage refused to endorse Boswell's shoddy work.  (See classical scholar Camille Paglia: "The cause of gay rights, which I support, is not helped by this kind of slippery, self-interested scholarship, where propaganda and casuistry impede the objective search for truth.")

From the conservative side, see also Richard John Neuhaus.

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I vaguely recall that Frederica Mathewes-Green or one of her readers once said that *they* had taken part in a friendship binding ceremony while traveling through an Eastern Orthodox country. There was nothing sexual or marital implied in the ceremony at that time, so presumably there never was to begin with.

Re: "How could these marriages have been forgotten by history? One easy answer is that — as Boswell argues — the Church reframed the idea of marriage in the 13th century to be for the purposes of procreation. And this slammed the door on gay marriage." One huge problem with this argument -- on the surface, at least -- is that there was a huge split between the Eastern and Western churches -- between the Orthodox and the Catholics -- at least two centuries prior to the 13th century. And there was a similarly significant split between the Oriental Orthodox churches on the one hand (the Copts, the Armenians, etc.) and the Eastern Orthodox/Catholic churches on the other hand in the 6th century or thenabouts. And *all* of those churches are equally opposed to same-sex sexual activity. So any argument predicated on what the Pope did in his corner of the world after the 13th century is insufficient; the person making the argument needs to come up with a theory that would account for the opposition to same-sex unions in all of the non-Catholic churches, too.

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yeah, as soon as a friend shared that article on Facebook a gay friend of mine who is a church historian said he questions Boswell's claims, so it's definitely not that liked even in liberal circles.

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