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

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Be fruitful and multiply! What about the objection to homosex that it is not fruitful in the sense that it has nothing to do with procreation?

Neither is singleness, but that's not generally considered a problem. That is also outside the "blueprint for human relationships" that some consider Adam and Eve to be.

(I'm quite comfortable speaking about the historic Christian opposition to contraception, and I suspect that Judaism and Islam probably have convergent traditions here, but I don't really know.)

Well, I know that some scholars have suggested Song of Songs contains euphemisms for oral sex, but whether that's a valid reading, I wouldn't be able to say.

Are you aware of any scholars who are willing to go out on the limb of insisting that such euphemisms go beyond oral stimulation and foreplay to deliberate ejaculation in a woman's mouth?

Yes. The scholarship I've heard of suggests that the euphemisms signify ejaculation, not just foreplay.

(Now, to reiterate my disclaimer: I have no knowledge whether or not such a reading has any validity. I'm actually guessing not.)

I recently re-read SoS all the way through for the first time since I became a sexually active adult and man it's filthy in ways I wouldn't have grasped as a single man. Those euphemisms are definitely valid IMO.

Matt

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But have you ever seen anyone successfully "pray away the gay" using healing ministry techniques?

I've never seen it. I've never seen it requested.

The ministry I'm a part of is affiliated with John G. Lake's healing rooms revival led by Cal Pierce. It is sort of like a clinic, and it is only open for four hours on Thursdays. People come in, fill out a form, and then meet with a team of three trained volunteers, who have spent an hour or more soaking in prayer and worship. Some of it may be totally placebo effect, but some of it is very empirical.

Since people come in voluntarily for prayer, it is mostly for physical ailments, which is good, because that is the focus of the ministry. Including me, there are about four RNs that serve as volunteers. We don't pass on medical advice. The prayer is just a free service offered to any who are interested, and we do not advertise. Each week, more and more people show up. It is really an amazing and fulfilling ministry.

In closing, I've never seen a leg grow back. That'd be pretty awesome, but I have only seen a leg lengthen like a half inch. It could be dismissed, and I struggle with those thoughts fairly regularly, but to quote from the Life of Pi, "To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation." I can say it did not happen, or I can say it did. One answer causes me to shrug, and the other causes me to smile.

Edited by Michael Todd

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This particular sex law is as preposterous as the golden teeth issue brought up earlier

It may be contrary to reason, and I don't expect anyone to believe me, but I attest that I have a half dozen close friends with gold teeth. I also know of a ministry in Mozambique that has raised 70 people from the dead. It may be preposterous, but Paul resurrecting a dude that fell out a window is pretty wild too. Anyhow, as Paul said, there is gnosis and epignosis, so I will desist from bringing up the Holy Spirit.

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I think that earlier SDG clarified the "mortal sin" comment to suggest that Catholic doctrine does not declare that you would go to hell on the basis of this behavior.
Not exactly accurate. Steven clearly stated that such activity was technically a grave sin until the components of sufficient knowledge and consent were present at which point it did become a mortal sin. I can only speak for myself and say that, I am fully aware of this Catholic position, I reject it as any kind of viable moral code and do so consensually with my mate. There. I'm pretty sure I'm in moral sin territory now.

It is no secret that the fate of those practicing mortal sins, unless confessed and absolved, is eternal judgment.

Edited by Greg P

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I think that earlier SDG clarified the "mortal sin" comment to suggest that Catholic doctrine does not declare that you would go to hell on the basis of this behavior.

Not exactly accurate. Steven clearly stated that such activity was technically a grave sin until the components of sufficient knowledge and consent were present at which point it did become a mortal sin. I can only speak for myself and say that, I am fully aware of this Catholic position, I reject it as any kind of viable moral code and do so consensually with my mate. There. I'm pretty sure I'm in moral sin territory now.

Maybe so, maybe not. Are you clear what "sufficient knowledge" means? I told you it was a technical term.

Here is what the Church teaches. If a person [a.] does something gravely wrong while [b.] knowing that it is gravely wrong (that's sufficient knowledge) and [c.] fully embracing it with the will (that's full consent), by that act he fundamentally rejects God and grace. Sanctifying grace, divine life, is lost by this act; he is dead in sin. That is why it is called mortal sin, because it takes away the life of grace and leaves one in spiritual death.

"Sufficient knowledge" implies sinning in violation of one's own conscience: one's own last, best judgment of right and wrong. If I were to freely choose to sin gravely against the teachings of the Catholic Church, that would certainly be a mortal sin for me, because when the Church speaks, I know that I hear the voice of Christ. Someone else unable for whatever reason to hear the voice of Christ when the Church speaks may not be sinning, or sinning gravely, by refusing to listen to the Church. I say "may not" because there are all sorts of reasons for being unable to hear the voice of Christ, some more honestly come by than others.

While working on this post, it occurred to me that a person's acceptance or non-acceptance of truth may be formulated as a function of three factors:

  1. access to truth;
  2. capacity for truth; and
  3. receptivity to truth.

As I see it, a man is responsible for the third, but not for the first two -- except insofar as the choices he makes with respect to the third influence his condition regarding the first two.

For example, consider the larger question of accepting Christ and the Gospel. Contra (I believe) Ryan H, I believe that it is possible for Jews and Muslims who have never heard the Gospel to be saved by the redemption of Jesus Christ. I say it is possible, not that they will be. It is possible for a non-Christian, not having heard the Gospel, but moved by divine grace to desire union with God, to be aware of their own shortcomings and need (however inchoately) of some sort of divine help or salvation, to open his heart to God in such a way that he receives the grace of redemption won by Christ even without hearing or accepting the Gospel. In his case, his failure to accept the truth is simply a matter of access to truth.

Now, to leap to the other end of the spectrum, suppose a non-Christian hears the Gospel from missionaries, and by the working of the Holy Spirit is convicted that this Gospel is actually the truth and that God wants him to become a Christian. However, he decides that he prefers his life of sin and so refuses to become a Christian. That person is in a very different position from the non-Christian mentioned before. If his act of refusal is both free and fully willed, he cannot be saved. He freely rejects God and so condemns himself. His refusal is sheerly a matter of receptivity to truth.

Those are the extremes. But there are all sorts of middle cases. Moving up a step from the last case, suppose that a non-Christian hearing the Gospel wants to become a Christian, but is afraid of social ostracization or even martyrdom. In his heart he asks for Christ's forgiveness, but outwardly he rejects the missionaries and shows every sign of refusing the Gospel. His condition is, I think, very dire, but whether he is still certainly lost or whether it might be possible for his hidden act of faith, even in the face of an outward rejection contrary to Christ's call to take up his cross, to be the occasion of his salvation (squeaking into life by the skin of his teeth) is for God to judge.

Now consider a case closer to the other end of the spectrum. Consider a devout Jew whose sole knowledge of Christianity is his catechesis in the historic sufferings and persecution of his people. One day he encounters Christians proclaiming the Gospel -- but proclaiming it in a form that is not without distortion and even antisemitic entanglements. Naturally this experience reinforces his existing conviction that Christianity is the bane of his people's existence and is contrary to G-d. Even if he has technically heard the truth that the Messiah Jesus came to save the world, he may have been unable to appropriate that knowledge into his worldview because of his own cultural circumstances and how the truth was presented to him.

His condition is not much different from that of someone who has never heard the Gospel at all. The problem in this case is partly access to truth, but also something more complicated: capacity for truth. Circumstances beyond his control are operative in him in such a way that he is unable to perceive even the element of truth to which he has access.

But what if, on the other hand, the Gospel presentation was not inadequate, that the missionaries clearly rejected antisemitism and proclaimed the truth in a cogent and compelling fashion? Even so, the entire weight of the hearer's worldview and cultural conditioning (in this case a devout Jew steeped in the sad history of Christian antisemitism) colors his perceptions of what they say. He hears, but does not hear. The missionaries' talk of God's love manifested in the cross -- a cross that he knows only as a sign of oppression -- strikes him as preposterous and bizarre. He refuses even to consider what they are saying, convinced in his own mind that he is doing God's will.

How responsible is he before God for his rejection of the Gospel? To what extent does his refusal reflect capacity for truth, and to what extent receptivity to truth? Only God can judge.

It may be that his cultural heritage and worldview have so shaped his ability to hear and assimilate the truth of the Gospel that his responsibility for his rejection is either nonexistent or at least somewhat limited (what Catholic moral tradition calls venial sin). It may also be that he doesn't hear because he chooses not to hear -- that he clings to his existing notions and rejects the new ideas of the Gospel not simply because he is unable to do otherwise, but in part because he catches a glimpse of what the world would look like if what the missionaries say is true, and he decides that he doesn't want to deal with that world, so he chooses to reject it preemptively, as it were, and not seriously consider and investigate the possibility that it might be true -- not to cooperate with the grace calling him to seriously consider and investigate the possibility that it might be true.

How does all this apply to the present circumstances?

In this thread I have defended an aspect of historic Christian praxis that is sharply at odds with the cultural heritage and worldview of many people today, specifically at odds with what has now become Protestant error (really Enlightenment license corrupting the Gospel). The conflict is so sharp that in many cases I think it is difficult for people even to fully understand what I am saying, even if they think they understand. (The Jew surely thinks he understands very well the Christian gospel he rejects, but does he?)

If through my own faults or limitations my defense has been in any way flawed or deficient, that could constitute another layer of difficulty. As it happens, I don't think that my presentation has been particularly deficient. I suspect that the difficulty lies fundamentally with the violence of the conflicting worldviews themselves, and with the choices people may make in view of that conflict. It is a matter of capacity and receptivity.

I have no window to look into another man's conscience. Only God knows to what extent anyone is or is not responsible for his rejection of the truth -- to what extent the obstacle is, variously, limited access to a particular truth, limited capacity for a particular truth, or limited receptivity to a particular truth.

Incidentally, the same basic principles apply to the obligation not only to accept Jesus Christ, but also to be a member of His Church.

Edited by SDG

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Contra (I believe) Ryan H, I believe that it is possible for Jews and Muslims who have never heard the Gospel to be saved by the redemption of Jesus Christ.

You believe correctly.

Thanks for confirming. (Heh. It just occurred to me that "You believe correctly" could be taken here in a rather paradoxical sense ... ;))

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I say it is possible, not that they will be. It is possible for a non-Christian, not having heard the Gospel, but moved by divine grace to desire union with God, to be aware of their own shortcomings and need (however inchoately) of some sort of divine help or salvation, to open his heart to God in such a way that he receives the grace of redemption won by Christ even without hearing or accepting the Gospel. In his case, his failure to accept the truth is simply a matter of access to truth.

Steven, I assume this is orthodox Catholic teaching? Interesting.

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FWIW, when it comes to contraception, there is a range of Orthodox views. I don't know that the Orthodox would be impressed by a merely "medieval" doctrine, since what Westerners mean by "medieval" is often something particular to Catholic and/or Protestant culture. But the Orthodox ARE very open to "ancient" doctrines, and in this respect, I think many of us would agree with SDG.

Many, that is, but not all. It is expected that married couples will have children at SOME point, if it is possible for them to do so, but the question of HOW married couples might prevent the conception of new children at any given point in their lives is one of those "ask your priest" things. And this is possible, I would argue, because the Orthodox view on sex within marriage emphasizes the unitive aspect of sex AT LEAST as much as the procreative aspect (and perhaps more, at least in cases where contraception is permitted).

As a side note, Orthodox couples are also supposed to refrain from sex during the fasting periods (e.g. the nearly two months of Lent, the 40 days before Christmas, and a few other points on the calendar), just as we are supposed to refrain from meat and dairy during those periods. (It might not be an accident that our two-year-old was born almost exactly nine months after Easter.)

mrmando wrote:

: I mean whatever Paul means by "to the Jew first and also to the Greek." To what degree do the old covenants have to be reassessed in order that the new covenant can truly apply to all people? That is another way of asking the uber-question.

I see nothing about "covenants" in Romans 1:16. (Or were you quoting another passage?) The very phrase you cite implies a distinction between Jew and Gentile, and this seems, to me, to be perfectly consistent with the way some Jews saw themselves and their role in the world, as mediators between God and the rest of the world who would one day welcome the Gentiles in a more inclusive way (but without necessarily ceasing to be Jews themselves).

You see hints of this in, for example, Isaiah 56 (the passage that Jesus quotes when he "cleanses the Temple" and calls it a "house of prayer"), where foreigners (and eunuchs!) are welcomed into Jewish Temple worship -- and this, despite Deuteronomy's insistence that castrated men and certain racial groups were barred from the Assembly of Israel. You also see it in the subtle change that the LXX translators made to Amos 9. In the original Hebrew, it says:

In that day I will restore

David's fallen tent.

I will repair its broken places,

restore its ruins,

and build it as it used to be,

so that they may possess the remnant of Edom

and all the nations that bear my name,"

declares the LORD, who will do these things.

In the LXX (i.e. the Greek translation of the scriptures), that last bit was changed to:

so that the remnant of men

and all the nations that bear my name may seek the Lord,"

declares the LORD, who will do these things.

And, interestingly, it is this GREEK version of the passage, rather than the original Hebrew version, that was quoted at the Council of Jerusalem to persuade the Jewish Christians to be more tolerant of the Gentile believers, according to Acts 15 (though of course, it's also possible that the author of Acts invented this speech to articulate one of his key themes, the same way Thucydides and other Greek historians openly admitted to putting speeches on the lips of their characters in order to articulate key themes):

When they finished, James spoke up: "Brothers, listen to me. Simon [Peter] has described to us how God at first showed his concern by taking from the Gentiles a people for himself. The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written:

" 'After this I will return

and rebuild David's fallen tent.

Its ruins I will rebuild,

and I will restore it,

that the remnant of men may seek the Lord,

and all the Gentiles who bear my name,

says the Lord, who does these things'

that have been known for ages.

And this, of course, was the same James who insisted on living as a Jew and observing the Jewish covenant and noodging his fellow Jewish Christians into observing the Jewish covenant as well. So he was okay with Gentiles being Gentiles (to a point, as per the letter sent by the Council of Jerusalem to Antioch), but that didn't mean he thought Jews should stop being Jews.

Like I say, a lot of these issues presumably became "clearer" to the Church as time went on and the Temple was destroyed and the number of Gentile believers (and Jewish believers who had already assimilated into Hellenistic culture, or what I earlier referred to as the "liberal Jewish" believers) increased proportionately within the Church. But they weren't so "obvious" at first ... and, come to think of it, they remained kind of fuzzy for centuries after the apostles died, at least to go by the sermons that certain saints reportedly gave in the 4th century telling their parishioners to stop attending Jewish synagogues in addition to their local church.

MattPage wrote:

: I recently re-read SoS all the way through for the first time since I became a sexually active adult and man it's filthy in ways I wouldn't have grasped as a single man. Those euphemisms are definitely valid IMO.

Heh. Y'know, I don't know if I've read that book all the way through since getting married. I probably should, eh? :)

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I have writing to do this weekend, so I can't continue to participate as I'd like. Just a few quick notes.

Christian opposition to contraceptive and non-coital sexual acts found throughout Christian history, in both the East and the West. These are not always distinguished from one another; any act intended to satisfy desire in ways that deliberately exclude fertility (whether by interrupting coitus, using medicinal contraceptives or practicing other forms of gratification, including masturbation) were condemned in an undifferentiated way. The crime of Onan, who spilled his seed on the ground in order to prevent conception, is often cited in this regard.

Here is one of the great luminaries of the East, John Chrysostom: "Why do you sow where the field is eager to destroy the fruit, where there are medicines of sterility, where there is murder before birth? ... Indeed, it is something worse than murder, and I do not know what to call it; for she does not kill what is formed but prevents its formation. What then? Do you condemn the gift of God and fight with his laws? ... Yet such turpitude ... the matter still seems indifferent to many men —- even to many men having wives. In this indifference of the married men there is greater evil filth; for then poisons are prepared, not against the womb of a prostitute, but against your injured wife. Against her are these innumerable tricks" (Homilies on Romans, 24).

Here is another, Clement of Alexandria: "Because of its divine institution for the propagation of man, the seed is not to be vainly ejaculated, nor is it to be damaged, nor is it to be wasted ... To have coitus other than to procreate children is to do injury to nature" (The Instruction of Children).

Here, very early -- first century, while the NT was still being written -- is an allusion to the immorality of oral sex: "You shall not be like to those whom we hear of as committing wickedness with the mouth with the body through uncleanness; nor shall you be joined to those impure women who commit iniquity with the mouth with the body through uncleanness" (Letter of Barnabas).

I'll follow up with quotations from the Reformers as time permits.

Edited by SDG

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I have writing to do this weekend, so I can't continue to participate as I'd like. Just a few quick notes.

Christian opposition to contraceptive and non-coital sexual acts found throughout Christian history, in both the East and the West. These are not always distinguished from one another; any act intended to satisfy desire in ways that deliberately exclude fertility (whether by interrupting coitus, using medicinal contraceptives or practicing other forms of gratification, including masturbation) were condemned in an undifferentiated way. The crime of Onan, who spilled his seed on the ground in order to prevent conception, is often cited in this regard.

I find these attitudes on the whole completely alien, and don't really worry about the fact that I find them alien. Which is interesting in itself, but anyway, here's a question: what, in your understanding is the "traditional' Catholic position on female masturbation? Since the arguments against male masturbation don't really apply, so far as I can see. Or is it a case of it not even being on the Father's radar?

(Also, out of interest - has anyone who's been participating in this discussion read Charles Taylor's A secular age? Because if not, the final section of the book (which is enormous), especially the chapters entitled 'Cross pressures' and 'Dilemmas' are, for me, indispensable in coming to terms with the differences in perspective shown by the posts by Greg and SDG above. I can't witness discussions like the one above without thinking of Taylor's picture of the contemporary ethical and religious landscape. It may be the most worthwhile book I have read in the past few years.)

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stu wrote:

: . . . here's a question: what, in your understanding is the "traditional' Catholic position on female masturbation? Since the arguments against male masturbation don't really apply, so far as I can see. Or is it a case of it not even being on the Father's radar?

Exactly. This is at least the third time that someone has made this point since the discussion of Knapp's lesbianism got started here -- and we still haven't really heard an answer to it. Yes, we have heard people say that homosexual activity is a negative thing no matter which gender is involved, which is consistent enough on that level; but when it comes to more detailed arguments about bodily functions and fluids, the arguments seem to rest almost entirely on the notion that semen belongs in a certain place, and only in a certain place -- which is obviously not going to be a concern for Knapp or her girlfriend.

SDG wrote:

: The crime of Onan, who spilled his seed on the ground in order to prevent conception, is often cited in this regard.

It would be interesting to know if this interpretation of the Onan story was original to the Christians, or can be traced back to the Jews. (In its original context, Onan's sin was arguably not contraception per se but his refusal to perpetuate his brother's lineage.)

: Here is one of the great luminaries of the East, John Chrysostom . . .

I have heard this quote before, but always in relation to abortion, not to contraception. And yes, Orthodoxy absolutely forbids both abortion and contraceptive methods that provoke miscarriages.

: Here, very early -- first century, while the NT was still being written -- is an allusion to the immorality of oral sex: "You shall not be like to those whom we hear of as committing wickedness with the mouth with the body through uncleanness; nor shall you be joined to those impure women who commit iniquity with the mouth with the body through uncleanness" (Letter of Barnabas).

So does this apply only to women who go down on their menfolk, or does it apply in some way to men who go down on their womenfolk, too? If the latter, then what is the rationale behind this prohibition, given that no semen is involved?

FWIW, one other thing to keep in mind here is that many early Christians (e.g. Augustine) were of a rather stoic or ascetic temperament, and were of the opinion that people shouldn't really ENJOY sex, but should only participate in it as a way of perpetuating the species, the same way they should participate in the eating of food as a way of perpetuating their bodies. I quote from my notes on page 133 of Leo Steinberg's The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art and in Modern Oblivion:

[st. Augustine, Sermon I, 23-24 (Ben. 51):] There are two works of the flesh upon which the preservation of mankind depends. ... The first ... has to do with taking nourishment. ... But men subsist by this support only as far as they themselves are concerned; for they do not take measures for a succession by eating and drinking, but by marrying. ... Since, then, the human race subsists in such wise that two supports ... are indispensible, the wise and faithful man descends to both from a sense of duty; he does not fall into them through lust. ... If these prudent and temperate people were offered the opportunity of living without food and drink, with what great joy would they welcome this benefaction. ... [The parallel was stated earlier:] If they could be given the opportunity of having children without marital intercourse, would they not embrace so great a privilege with the greatest enthusiasm?

On page 144, Steinberg also notes that St. Jerome believed all married couples "who have not remained virgins, following the pattern of the pure chastity of the angels and that of our Lord Jesus Christ himself, are polluted". This matches St. Jerome's innovative idea that the "brothers" of Jesus were actually his cousins and not his step-brothers (as most Orthodox believe) or his half-brothers (as many Protestants believe), because it was not only Mary who remained ever-virgin, but Joseph as well.

So if we're going to push the idea that sex is primarily for procreation, and if we're going to quote ancient Fathers to that effect, then let's go all the way and say that sexual pleasure itself is, at best, a necessary evil and the best Christians around are the Christians who don't enjoy it.

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The conflict is so sharp that in many cases I think it is difficult for people even to fully understand what I am saying, even if they think they understand. (The Jew surely thinks he understands very well the Christian gospel he rejects, but does he?)If through my own faults or limitations my defense has been in any way flawed or deficient, that could constitute another layer of difficulty. As it happens, I don't think that my presentation has been particularly deficient. I suspect that the difficulty lies fundamentally with the violence of the conflicting worldviews themselves, and with the choices people may make in view of that conflict. It is a matter of capacity and receptivity.
The arrogance of this is comical.

For some of us, it's a matter of simply rejecting a particular Catholic law about semen on the grounds that it is largely based on superstitious tradition. This sex law is not the veiled mystery of the ages of which Paul spoke. As is so often common with deeply religious people throughout the ages, you have elevated a tertiary church doctrine to a place of primary import and in so doing effectively banished all those who simply disagree. Rejection of this one doctrine about ejaculation upturns all Christian foundations and places one on a slippery slope of permissiveness and paganism, in all likelihood leading straight to hell itself.

Christianity is indeed a narrow way. You seem to enjoy making it more narrow.

Edited by Greg P

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The arrogance of this is comical.

Why? I'm describing myself no less than anyone else. It took me years -- years of e.g. corresponding with Peter Kreeft, no mean explainer himself, trying to understand a teaching that for a long, long time seemed to me to make no sense -- to come to fully understand what I'm trying to explain here. It took me years to explain it to my father, a Dutch Reformed pastor, before he finally poped. And frankly since it's far from clear that I have been perfectly understood, why should it be arrogant, let alone comically so, to ascribe that to radically divergent worldviews? What should I attribute it to, ill will?

For some of us, it's a matter of simply rejecting a particular Catholic law about semen on the grounds that it is largely based on superstitious tradition.

See, you cavalierly and even jokingly dismiss centuries of Christian conviction as "superstitious tradition" and "Catholic law" (despite all the Protestants who held it), and then you accuse me of "comical arrogance"! Where is your humility when it comes to your ancestors in Christ? Was everyone stupid until eighty years ago?

Christianity is indeed a narrow way. You seem to enjoy making it more narrow.

Even though I am the one saying that Jews and Muslims can be saved. My burden is simply this: Christianity is what it is, what Christians have always believed it to be. I am not interested in a gospel different from what was believed two, seven or twelve centuries ago, any more than I want my children and grandchildren raised in a church that may teach a different gospel a century or three or five from now.

You seem determined to find me narrow and judgmental. You have been trying for some time now to get yourself convicted by me of mortal sin, a conviction I will not render. I could speculate as to your reasons for wanting to be condemned by me, but I will not condemn you and I will not speculate why you want me to.

Edited by SDG

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It would be interesting to know if this interpretation of the Onan story was original to the Christians, or can be traced back to the Jews. (In its original context, Onan's sin was arguably not contraception per se but his refusal to perpetuate his brother's lineage.)

It would indeed be interesting to know. BTW, a difficulty with the proposed interpretation is that the OT differentiated between offenses that were and were not deserving of death, and the mere refusal of levirate duty merited only social shaming, not death.

: Here is one of the great luminaries of the East, John Chrysostom . . .

I have heard this quote before, but always in relation to abortion, not to contraception. And yes, Orthodoxy absolutely forbids both abortion and contraceptive methods that provoke miscarriages.

Taken at face value, Chrysostom's language seems broader than that: He speaks of "sowing where the field is eager to destroy the fruit, where there are medicines of sterility." "Sterility" seems to imply contraceptive methods, not just abortifacient ones. He also distinguishes between "killing what is formed" and "preventing its formation."

One might attempt to deflect some of this by appealing to ignorance of fetal development (perhaps "preventing its formation" simply means preventing it from reaching birth, etc.). But that business about "sowing" in a hostile field seems to imply prophylactic measures, i.e., contraceptive sex. In any case, the whole premise seems predicated on what is today called "openness to life."

So does this apply only to women who go down on their menfolk, or does it apply in some way to men who go down on their womenfolk, too? If the latter, then what is the rationale behind this prohibition, given that no semen is involved?

Yeah, the same male-centricity is found in the Bible itself, from the phrasing of the ninth commandment (which exhorts men not to covet their neighbor's wives; nothing about women not coveting their neighbor's husbands) to the Levitical death penalty pronounced on a man who lies with a man as with a woman (nothing about a woman who lies with a woman).

The comparative silence on the subject of female homosexuality (and masturbation), along with the implications of the physiological differences between male and female sexuality, is a subject worth exploring ... and I do have some thoughts on the subject ... but I'm going to let it pass for now. Enough cans for the moment.

So if we're going to push the idea that sex is primarily for procreation, and if we're going to quote ancient Fathers to that effect, then let's go all the way and say that sexual pleasure itself is, at best, a necessary evil and the best Christians around are the Christians who don't enjoy it.

That's a fascinating argument, one worth pursuing also. It would take more research than I can spare at the moment. For now, I will simply note that however unhappy certain fathers like Jerome and Augustine may be with the whole subject of sexual pleasure, they do admit, however reluctantly, the lawfulness of satisfying appetite within marriage. Prickly arguments about "necessary evils" and who "the best Christians around" are are one thing; outright moral condemnation of acts considered beyond the pale of Christian praxis are another.

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I really wouldn't want to take the conversation too far off track, but while we are on the general topic, what about sperm donors? There's a possible but not a definite procreative purpose.. and whatever way you spin it, it is masturbation.

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I see nothing about "covenants" in Romans 1:16.

No, but Rom. 1:16 refers to "the gospel of Jesus Christ" and also to "salvation." Which are the basis of the "new covenant." So what we have here is another clear case of extrapolation. Which, as you've already admitted, you don't necessarily have a problem with, since some foundational Christian doctrines have been based on extrapolation.

If, then, you wish to start a thread explaining why "the gospel of Jesus Christ" and "salvation" are meant to apply to a different group or groups of people than the "new covenant" does, please be my guest.

Otherwise, kindly desist from distributing red herrings. I've already eaten my fill.

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SDG wrote:

: BTW, a difficulty with the proposed interpretation is that the OT differentiated between offenses that were and were not deserving of death, and the mere refusal of levirate duty merited only social shaming, not death.

True, as far as humans governing humans goes. But God kills whoever he wants, for whatever reasons he likes. (In Leviticus, God forbids the sort of sexual relationships that had already been enjoyed by Hebrew patriarchs such as Jacob -- relationships without which the nation of Israel could not have existed. And according to Leviticus, God was casting the Canaanites out of the Promised Land because they had engaged in these sorts of relationships. So why did he judge the Canaanites like so and not the Israelites? Beats me. But God does what God does; he is above the laws that he gives us.)

: Taken at face value, Chrysostom's language seems broader than that: He speaks of "sowing where the field is eager to destroy the fruit, where there are medicines of sterility." "Sterility" seems to imply contraceptive methods, not just abortifacient ones.

I'm not sure how the ancients could have made such a distinction. It's not like they had The Pill or anything.

: He also distinguishes between "killing what is formed" and "preventing its formation."

Well, yeah, but where does one draw the line between "formation" and "formed"? Especially in a culture that didn't have access to all the data that we now have about the gestation of human life? Augustine, supposedly, held to the view that the soul became embodied only after the body had reached a certain stage of formative development -- and that this stage could be detected by the mother when the baby kicked within her womb. So when Chrysostom talks about "preventing its formation", he may be referring to that time after conception and before the embodiment of the soul. Or he may be referring to the ongoing formation that takes place AFTER the baby starts kicking, when it is still incapable of surviving outside of the womb. (Fetuses can kick as early as 16 weeks, but they generally can't survive outside the womb before 24 weeks, because that is when their lungs develop; I remember this last bit very well from when my wife was put on bed rest three months prior to the premature birth of our twins.) There are any number of ways to parse this.

: But that business about "sowing" in a hostile field seems to imply prophylactic measures, i.e., contraceptive sex.

Hmmm. Possibly. It seemed to me that he was describing the same phenomenon (whatever it is) three different ways, but you seem to be suggesting a progression from prophylactics to The Pill to abortion. That's an interesting take, I'll admit. But again, I'm not sure that such distinctions could have even been made in that day and age.

: The comparative silence on the subject of female homosexuality (and masturbation), along with the implications of the physiological differences between male and female sexuality, is a subject worth exploring ... and I do have some thoughts on the subject ... but I'm going to let it pass for now. Enough cans for the moment.

Well, considering this latest discussion was sparked by the coming-out of a Christian lesbian, I don't think references to female homosexuality would be particularly tangential. They are, indeed, central to the discussion, or at least they ought to be.

mrmando wrote:

: No, but Rom. 1:16 refers to "the gospel of Jesus Christ" and also to "salvation." Which are the basis of the "new covenant."

But Romans 1 never mentions covenants, whether old or new. Indeed, the first time "covenant" comes up in Romans (in the NIV, at least) is in Romans 9, where Paul includes the "covenants" in a list of things that make the Jewish people so important to him.

The point I've been making all along here is that Jews did not cease to be Jews when they became Christians -- at least not in those first few decades, when the heart of the Church was still in Jerusalem, within walking distance of the Temple. Indeed, the big debate at that time concerned whether or not Gentiles could become Christian WITHOUT becoming Jewish first -- and the Council of Jerusalem, one of the first formal attempts to address this issue, didn't even take place until nearly 20 years after the Resurrection.

: So what we have here is another clear case of extrapolation. Which, as you've already admitted, you don't necessarily have a problem with, since some foundational Christian doctrines have been based on extrapolation.

Well, let's not be silly here. You might just as well say, "So what we have here is another clear case of text. Which, as you've already admitted, you don't necessarily have a problem with, since some foundational Christian doctrines have been based on texts." I don't think any reasonably half-sane person would argue that all extrapolations have equal validity, any more than any reasonably half-sane person would argue that all texts are equally valid.

So, y'know, if you don't like red herrings, stop serving 'em up and saying that they are mine. Just because I send them back to the kitchen, that doesn't mean I'm "distributing" them.

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I don't think any reasonably half-sane person would argue that all extrapolations have equal validity, any more than any reasonably half-sane person would argue that all texts are equally valid.

I'll continue giving you the benefit of the doubt by assuming that you are a reasonably half-sane person. Do you think the extrapolation I made is a valid one? You've succeeded in worrying it apart and creating another tangent in the process, but I still can't tell whether you agree with it.

I'm heading toward lurker status on this thread awfully fast, so here once again, as plainly as I can state it, is the question I've been waiting for you to answer. It's a two-part question.

One: Is it still your position that the sinfulness of homosexual behavior cannot be satisfactorily established by appealing solely to scripture? Two: If so, please specifically cite the additional sources to which you, Peter, would appeal to decide the question. (Church fathers? Councils? Jewish sources? Two thousand years of Church teaching?)

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Dear Friends:

Because this board is now administered by an organization that has employees who work from Monday to Friday but not Saturday or Sunday, there will be occasions when things are unattended over weekends.

I have been at a conference all weekend and I have not had a chance to follow this thread carefully.

But I've seen enough to see that not everyone is happy with everyone else. Perhaps that is an understatement.

I am the last person to believe that a board like this will never see raised tempers and temperatures.

At the same time I have a responsibility to reflect on when things are getting out of hand and intervene as necessary.

I don't know yet if I should close this thread. It's not my first choice. It's not something I'd ever do lightly.

But I'm concerned. And I will monitor any subsequent posts carefully before I make a decision about what to do.

All I can ask in the meantime is that everyone seek to agree or disagree respectfully.

That is all.

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Speaking personally, my temper is fine. I respect Peter's insights when he deigns to provide them. If he replies to my most recent post and I conclude from his answer that he's more interested in gamesmanship than in sincere engagement (at least as far as it concerns me and this thread), I will, as promised, cease posting in this thread. It doesn't mean we can't find satisfactory engagement at another time in another thread.

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I really wouldn't want to take the conversation too far off track, but while we are on the general topic, what about sperm donors? There's a possible but not a definite procreative purpose.. and whatever way you spin it, it is masturbation.

It all comes down to the inseparability of the unitive and the procreative. Union and procreation are inseparably intertwined in God's plan; we may not attempt to seize either in a way that excludes the other. There is no lawful union where procreation is deliberately excluded, and no lawful procreation where union is deliberately excluded.

Life is a gift of love, and only in an act of loving union can we dare to cooperate with God in bringing life into existence. We do not have a right to a child; we may not pursue procreation at any cost. The integrity of marriage is adulterated, and the child's claim to its own biological parents is trampled, when parentage is sought from third parties. Even when the donors are the spouses, out of respect for the dignity of the human person it is only in a concrete act of conjugal love between father and mother that the triad of father, mother and child lawfully comes to be. Man must be the master, not the product, of his technology.

P.S. I'm prescinding here from the fact that techniques like in vitro fertilization deliberately create multiple embryos that will never be implanted, embryos that languish in freezers, are disposed of, become the subjects of medical experiments, or at best are flushed away. I'm not talking about one embryo naturally conceived not implanting, I'm talking about six or eight embryos in a petri dish created in the hope of bringing one to birth. Then sometimes three or four of them actually implant and it's time to start talking about "selective reduction." All of that is bad enough, but even if our artificial conception techniques became as good as nature's, which they aren't, it would still be an affront to human dignity for a child to come into existence in a petri dish rather than a marriage bed.

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mrmando wrote:

: Do you think the extrapolation I made is a valid one?

Let's just say I'm more interested in substance than labels, so tossing a label like "new covenant" around without showing how it extrapolates from Romans or any other text under consideration doesn't impress me much. Especially when said tossing includes suggestions that I have said the "new covenant" applies to a "different group" than the "gospel". I haven't said that at all.

What I HAVE said is that the Church began as an essentially Jewish movement, but as one that was thinking bigger than just the Jewish people. It was an inclusive Jewish movement that welcomed non-Jews but did not require or expect Jews to become non-Jews themselves. Nowadays, that has changed, as most churches expect Jewish converts to follow Christian customs and not Jewish ones. And I wonder if something valuable has been lost because of this. But as far as the "gospel" is concerned, it covers BOTH Jews AND Gentiles, of course. But to say that it covers both of them is not necessarily to say that it's a one-size-fits-all kind of thing. Certainly it doesn't seem to have been in the apostles' lifetime. (Though, yes, you can see the early Church beginning to cut its ties to Judaism in the Didache, or in the way Hebrews -- one of the last books to be accepted as part of the New Testament -- makes use of Jeremiah 31, which is the OT passage where the term "new covenant" first originated.)

(Side note: as far as the NIV is concerned, there are only three other references to "new covenant" in the Bible. In II Corinthians 3, Paul uses it briefly in what seems like a nod to Jeremiah as well, though he certainly doesn't milk it the way Hebrews does. And then there are the parallel accounts of the Last Supper in I Corinthians 11 and Luke 22, where the meaning of the term is not spelled out in any particular detail -- though the reference to Jesus' blood there certainly dovetails with what Hebrews has to say about the different kinds of sacrifices made by the two different kinds of high priests. And note, even if the Jewish Christians believed that they were no longer bound by the covenants with Moses or even Abraham, we might ask whether it necessarily follows that they believed we are no longer bound by the covenant with Noah.)

: One: Is it still your position that the sinfulness of homosexual behavior cannot be satisfactorily established by appealing solely to scripture?

Yes, I believe I have been pretty clear on that point. I wasn't aware this question was still in play.

: Two: If so, please specifically cite the additional sources to which you, Peter, would appeal to decide the question. (Church fathers? Councils? Jewish sources? Two thousand years of Church teaching?)

Two thousand years of Church teaching, yes. That's kind of nebulous and all-encompassing, I know, but there you go. And I believe I at least pointed in that direction earlier in this thread, too (e.g. here).

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FWIW, I was working on that last post for a while, so I didn't see the last few posts before it until after I had hit "Add Reply". (It used to be the case here at A&F that we could see the most recent posts whenever we hit "Preview Post", thus enabling our replies to be as up-to-date as possible. But now, if someone like me gets stuck noodling a reply and loses track of time, it is possible for multiple posts to come along in the interim that are completely off our radar.)

I apologize for any contribution I may have made to any acrimony here, and I think I'll avoid looking at this thread for the rest of the weekend at least, just to let it cool down. And hey, maybe I'll finally be able to get some work done, too.

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My burden is simply this: Christianity is what it is, what Christians have always believed it to be. I am not interested in a gospel different from what was believed two, seven or twelve centuries ago, any more than I want my children and grandchildren raised in a church that may teach a different gospel a century or three or five from now.

And the frustration I feel with you Steve is precisely this: the issue of seminal emission is somehow a vital part of "the gospel" for you. In your view, to disagree with that single peripheral point is to discard 2,000 years of Christian history, to cast a vote for paganism, to compromise the most holy faith, to find oneself possibly slip-sliding into the land of weeping and gnashing of teeth . For a person to vehemently disagree with the Catholic view of where semen is permitted to go in the confines of the sacred marriage bedsomehow translates into accepting a "different gospel" to you. I personally see it as a peripheral doctrinal matter, not worthy of one minute of division or strife.

You have been trying for some time now to get yourself convicted by me of mortal sin, a conviction I will not render. I could speculate as to your reasons for wanting to be condemned by me, but I will not condemn you and I will not speculate why you want me to.
You've made a few attempts to soften the issue of my apparent mortal sin, while at the same time issued plenty of personal judgment regarding my spirituality (of course based on my rejection of this one sex law) and you simply can't have it both ways. You've labeled me as a lukewarm christian, compared me unfavorably to a sexually promiscuous man-whore, and blasted me as a person with one foot in paganism who has utterly rejected traditional morality.

For the record, while I have laughed and mocked most of the accusations, I hurl no such spiritual judgments against you. I've made no bones that I think you're religiousness blinds you in this discussion (key distinction), but I have no doubt that you are a good person and a devout and sincere follower of Christ.

Edited by Greg P

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