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

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For what it's worth, I find these conversations immensely helpful. I've been a member of this board from 5 years, and read it for several years before that. And while I don't contribute very much, I read it several times a week and know I can count on finding thoughtful conversations here that help me reevaluate what I think and believe. When the official news broke about Knapp, I immediately decided that I wouldn't read any comments on the CT article, or in similar places, but that I would follow any conversation that developed here. (And on a side note, that is why I mourned the loss of the "Politics" forum here, as it was one good place I knew where I could read informed debate about various issues, in spite of sometimes heated arguments.)

Moving now to the issue at hand, Matt brought up one of the first things I usually bring up, Paul's argument about "nature."

Thirdly, whilst Paul’s arguments about “nature” initially appearing to be universal, they must be seen in relation to what he actually means by that term, and how we interpret that elsewhere in his writing. For example, Paul also argues from nature that men having long hair is disgraceful (1 Cor. 11:14)! Elsewhere in this letter Paul contrasts the “natural” Jews with gentiles, who are " wild by nature” (Romans 11:17-24). Some argue Paul’s use of the word is simply synonym for unclean.

My perspective on this is coming from someone raised in American Fundamentalism who was taught growing up the evils of men having long hair. I've read countless sermons from my great-grandfather - a leader in the 20th century fundamentalist movement - about the evils of men having long hair, and in the same vein, the evils of women having short hair, or, to be more precise, of a pair of scissors ever touching a woman's hair. My sisters didn't cut their hair until they were past 20. My grandmother, now in her 80's, has never in her life cut her hair. And I have an uncle who, when he was 17, walked away from the church, in part because he knew that, on one level, there wouldn't be a difference in his grandfather's eyes - or God's eyes - whether he had long hair or killed someone. They were both evil.

So any attempt at using Paul's argument that homosexuality is "against nature" has to start with explaining why they're willing to apply that argument today but discount the rest of his argument built on the same principle.

Second, there's this verse frequently used in the argument, what is commonly referred to as one of the "clobber verses." Leviticus 20:13 (KJV): If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.

A citation of that verse needs, I think, to include the complete thought present there - including "they shall surely be put to death" - instead of cutting of the thought in the middle, which is how I've always heard it used.

As a starting point for this argument, I find what N.T. Wright says in this video (sorry-not sure how to embed videos) helpful, and I think the discussion in this thread has followed what Wright lays out here, for the most part, which is why I'm grateful for it.

Here's the summary of that video on the YouTube page: "Bishop Tom Wright wants the Church to have a reasonable debate on the topic of homosexuality in place of the current “shouting match.” While acknowledging the complexity of the issue, he identifies the central question to be addressed, “What things about a person’s humanity need to be celebrated and what need to be repented of–and how do you tell the difference?” A thoughtful discussion on this question must then be framed by an understanding of God’s created order as revealed in Genesis 1 and 2, along with the historical knowledge that the Apostle Paul and his contemporaries in the ancient world would have been as aware of the reality of homosexuality as we are today."

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Here's the summary of that video on the YouTube page: "Bishop Tom Wright wants the Church to have a reasonable debate on the topic of homosexuality in place of the current “shouting match.” While acknowledging the complexity of the issue, he identifies the central question to be addressed, “What things about a person’s humanity need to be celebrated and what need to be repented of–and how do you tell the difference?” A thoughtful discussion on this question must then be framed by an understanding of God’s created order as revealed in Genesis 1 and 2, along with the historical knowledge that the Apostle Paul and his contemporaries in the ancient world would have been as aware of the reality of homosexuality as we are today."

Thanks for the link Stephen. N. T. Wright is brilliant.

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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.

Well, it is a tangent of a tangent, as far as this thread is concerned, so laying out one's extrapolations step by step would have to be done in a different thread.

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.

Speaking of things one hasn't said at all, I never said all extrapolations were equal, as you suggested that I did. So we're even.

You've already admitted that you do not object to extrapolations per se. Therefore, if you wish to object to an extrapolation that I have made, you'll have to find some basis for the objection, other than the mere fact of its being an extrapolation, or the mere fact that I was the one who made it. I was merely attempting to infer the basis of your objection; sorry if I inferred incorrectly. But again, if you have an objection and wish to explain it, that's probably best done in a different thread.

Nowadays, that has changed, as most churches expect Jewish converts to follow Christian customs and not Jewish ones.

Don't some Messianic congregations try to follow both?

And I wonder if something valuable has been lost because of this.

Undoubtedly. Many Christians (and I include myself in this) don't know enough about the Jewish context of the New Testament to fully understand how it might inform questions like the homosexuality question under debate here. Which is why I'm asking all these questions. Think I'll go watch that N.T. Wright video now.

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.

We can see that clearly enough in the NT. But what about now? Can the gospel be properly understood in the present day to mean different things for different people, in any way that makes a difference to the main topic being discussed in this thread?

Thanks, sincerely, for the unequivocal answers to the two-part question.

Edited by mrmando

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Regardless of whether or not it may be wrong, the Catholic doctrine on sexuality exhibits an admirable clarity and consistency.

I know you said this a few days ago Ryan, but it struck me as a very kind and respectful comment from someone who disagree's with (particular aspects) of the Church's teaching on sexuality. Thank you!:)

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Interesting how this is an all-guy discussion. And (imo) there is a very narrow focus here.

fwiw, Chrysostom was also an anti-Semite. I take what he said about many things with a grain of salt; ditto for the church fathers as a whole.

There really are some (imo) both weird and hurtful things in many of Augustine's writings re. women (and sexual intercourse); also true of many of the other church fathers. Who's to say that their views on LGBTQ people weren't equally skewed?

As for sex and procreation, gee - what if one partner is sterile, or the woman is post-menopausal, or... ?

I'll be honest: I think there is reason to monitor, if not close, this thread. But - as always - that's just my opinion.

But if the thread had been closed, we wouldn't have the benefit of your very contribution to it. :)

Edited by Cunningham

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The only thing I can add is to point out that the real expert in this area, from a Protestant evangelical POV, is Robert A.J. Gagnon, who literally wrote the book on the subject, The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics. It's a long book, and very complex and nuanced. Most people who critique it haven't actually read it, or haven't read it carefully or completely. He also wrote half of Homosexuality and the Bible: Two Views, with Dan O. Via of Duke Seminary. Most of the talking points in this thread, so far, have been dealt with by Gagnon, either in his books or online.

For those who don't have time to track down/read entire books, the salient points are summed up in this recent PDF.

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At the time I commented, recent posts had included phrases like "your arrogance is ____" and "I'm thinking of switching to lurking."

So it seemed worth an intervention.

Then things toned down a bit.

Which is good.

ryan - link

Yes? I'm aware of Greg Wolfe's comments.

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Greg W, thanks for your concern, yes, I think we're moving in a constructive direction.

Greg P, thanks, I appreciate your frankness, and the honest glimpse behind the mocking laughter.

As I see it, the offense you have taken is partly understandable and even partly necessary, but not entirely, and not without fault perhaps on both of our parts. As Ryan says, in these contentious waters we need to try to have thick skins; we also need to try to avoid giving or taking unnecessary offense. (In passing, you say you hurl no judgment against me, but you did speak of "arrogance" and accuse me of "seeming to enjoy making" the narrow way narrower. I take no offense, in part because I think I understand where your comments are coming from, and in part because, well, I have a thick skin.)

For the record, I have made no judgment whatsoever regarding your spirituality. I certainly do not consider you "lukewarm" or, um, worse than a "man-whore." While I said that "When it comes to sex, you have one foot in the world of traditional Christian morality and one foot in the world of pagan permissiveness," that is not the same as "blasting you as a person with one foot in paganism who has utterly rejected traditional morality." (Note the similarity between my qualifier and your "in this discussion (key distinction).") I am happy to embrace you a brother in Christ, and I'm confident that your faith is important to you and that you are not "lukewarm."

It is true that I consider the belief and practice of the vast majority of even devout Protestants today, and a great many Catholics as well, to fall well short of the requirements of chastity. In short, I am an orthodox Catholic. I am following Jesus the only way I know how, in the footsteps of saints and martyrs and doctors over 2000 years. To do this necessarily means giving offense at times. To that extent, I make no apology, nor do I wish to. The beauty of Jesus Christ and of the Holy Trinity, the beauty of the Catholic Faith in all its parts, including the beauty of true chastity, is my anchor, my north star, my heart's true home.

Inasmuch as I embrace you as my brother in Christ, I take for granted that my north star is also fundamentally your north star. We navigate the same waters, aiming for the same destination, taking our bearings from many of the same reference points. What unites us is far more significant than what divides us. Catholic theology recognizes a hierarchy of truth, of more important and central truths taking precedence over less important and central ones. The issue that divides us here is, I agree, a tertiary issue. (There are other more important issues that also divide us, but on the most important issues of all I hope we stand together.) In saying "I am not interested in a different gospel" I did, I acknowledge, overstate the present issue, and I apologize for that.

This is not to diminish or downplay the issue. Chastity matters, as your very offense and outrage indicates. Whether Christianity is or is not compatible with cohabitation, same-sex relationships, open relationships, polyamory, masturbation, contraception and so forth matters. St. Paul teaches that the immoral and licentious will not inherit the kingdom of God. What counts as immoral and licentious behavior matters. Just because we follow the same north star doesn't mean we can't be misled by mistaken charts or miscalibrated instruments. We can go off course, with serious or even, God forbid, disastrous consequences.

To be sure, God's mercy is wide, the Spirit blows wherever it wills, and many ships may find their way home in spite of flawed charts and navigational errors. This doesn't excuse us from the duty of doing what we can to alert others to problems with their charts and instruments.

I understand that you reject this, you insist that it is my charts that are not only wrong but ridiculous. That's an understandable first reaction from someone who's never been exposed to this before. But there's a whole library of wisdom behind these charts that I've only scratched the surface of here, that you haven't investigated. Like Benchwarmer, I'm gratified by Ryan H's appreciation of the clarity and consistency of Catholic thought (and am happy to return the compliment regarding Calvinism, at least Calvinism at its best). I think it behooves anyone who has encountered Catholic thought to become learn more about it.

On this subject, there is a wealth of material worth investigating. Dr. Janet Smith's Why Humanae Vitae Was Right, Christopher West's Theology of the Body For Beginners and John Paul II's Love and Responsibility are good places to start. (Don't write off JP2 because he was celibate. His commentary on the physiology of male and female orgasm and the practical and moral implications thereof is pretty eye-opening.)

Edited by SDG

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Steven, thanks for the response. I've been an active part of A&F for nearly six years. Newcomers here may have felt things were getting a little hot, but you and I have tangled before on other issues over the years and I've never harbored any real anger or taken things too personally. I enjoy the rigorous debate, even on occasions when a few sparks fly. I think you're a vital participant and leader here and your contributions have helped shape the intellectual and spiritual climate of these forums.

In the words of Larry David, "having said that..."

I understand that you reject this, you insist that it is my charts that are not only wrong but ridiculous. That's an understandable first reaction from someone who's never been exposed to this before.
Your "chart" is neither wrong or ridiculous. I think the sex law about semen is. There's a huge difference. This has been stated ad nauseum. Your responses have consistently exhibited this kind of all-or-nothing, dichotomous thinking, as if to find the ancient sex law silly is to assault the precious Blood and Body of Christ. A person can find serious fault with a particular peripheral practice and yet honor and respect the whole.

I realize that not everyone is willing or able to do this, either out of stubbornness or fear of compromising some vital, structural beam in the faith. But the ability to balance these realities without condemning or belittling others, makes for a more gracious Christian community in my opinion.

And for the record, I have several immediate family members who are dedicated Catholics as well as a close friend-- who used to preach side by side with me on the streets back in the day-- who converted to Catholicism several years ago. He's an even more rabid Catholic now than he was a Charismatic Evangelical, and so the teachings and practices of the Catholic Church are not "new" to me.

Peace, dude.

Now back to the real debate...

Edited by Greg P

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Greg P,

When I talked about whose "charts" are wrong, I meant, wrong to the extent that they differ, specifically on this point. The analogy is robust enough that we can see where either of us examining the other's chart sees fundamentally the geography he knows, though with particular notable differences.

Perhaps I've been remiss in letting you get away with repeatedly reducing what I've been saying to "sex laws about semen." This is about as reductionistically inaccurate as ridiculing differentiating between men and women by reducing it to "having sex organs on the inside or the outside." Man as male and female goes deeper "where sex organs go," and the difference between conjugal union and unchaste acts is more than "where semen goes." Chastity matters. It is not the most important thing, but it does matter.

Notwithstanding whatever familiarity you may have with Catholic teaching, you did seem surprised and taken aback more than once in this discussion. It's my impression that you may have heard a few things here for the first time. You might find more surprises if you dug deeper.

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Notwithstanding whatever familiarity you may have with Catholic teaching, you did seem surprised and taken aback more than once in this discussion. It's my impression that you may have heard a few things here for the first time. You might find more surprises if you dug deeper.

My surprise came with the "traditional morality" hook-- which I clearly chomped on-- at the outset and also the degree to which you seemed to write off the authenticity of my faith shortly thereafter. The sex laws themselves, in regard to masturbation, birth control and proper emission receptacles is not new to me.

Perhaps I've been remiss in letting you get away with repeatedly reducing what I've been saying to "sex laws about semen." This is about as reductionistically inaccurate as ridiculing differentiating between men and women by reducing it to "having sex organs on the inside or the outside." Man as male and female goes deeper "where sex organs go," and the difference between conjugal union and unchaste acts is more than "where semen goes."
Your tricky attempts to maturate this topic will not work on me Catholic Jedi. You will not be able to rescue those laws, about where married men are allowed to put semen, from Giggle Territory. Sorry, friend. By my chart, the marriage bed is undefiled. You're not a bad person for disagreeing with common sense. Edited by Greg P

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I never wrote off your faith.

It's amazing how easily the parochial prejudices of our own cultural moment seem to us "common sense." In the words of Ronald Knox:

Practices hitherto connected with the unmentioned underworld have found their way into the home ... it is not merely a Christian principle that has been thrown overboard ... Ovid and Juvenal, with no flicker of Christian revelation to guide them, branded the practices in question with the protest of heathen satire. It is not Christian morality, but natural morality as hitherto conceived, that has been outraged by the change of standard.

If you tell me (as I take to be more or less Ryan H's view) that you believe, after grave consideration, that innumerable Christian writers of generations past, including the generation of the Reformers and those who wrote in the Protestant tradition for centuries, labored under sexual scruples from which, in the last century, Protestant Christendom has finally broken free, and that, with due humility before your ancestors in Christ, you humbly side with the modern Protestant consensus over the previous Christian consensus ... well, that is one thing. To attempt to paint the previous consensus in this area as laugh-worthy, to shrug it off with a giggle, to say "It's only common sense" ... well, let's just say that seems to me a woefully deficient response, and an easy sophistry.

It is more or less inherent to Protestantism to be open to cross-examining and rejecting a previous consensus in almost any area. To ridicule and jeer at such a consensus of generations of believers past, in whatever area, tends to reflect badly on us, not on them.

Edited by SDG

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To attempt to paint the previous consensus in this area as laugh-worthy, to shrug it off with a giggle, to say "It's only common sense" ... well, let's just say that seems to me a woefully deficient response, and an easy sophistry.

It is more or less inherent to Protestantism to be open to cross-examining and rejecting a previous consensus in almost any area. To ridicule and jeer at such a consensus of generations of believers past, in whatever area, tends to reflect badly on us, not on them.

Do you also subscribe to the bad science of the early church fathers? I mean c'mon dude, lighten up. Scriptures, History AND -- last, but not in no ways least-- REASON.

The understanding of Human Sexuality among ancient religious men was frequently a matter of superstition and distortion, most notably with Augustine but certainly others as well. I don't write off Augustine at all. But when he spouts off about sex, I can wink knowing that he had, as they say around these parts, "issues" and did not have the light subsequent generations enjoyed. Other celibate men, offered what amounts to armchair pontification about the mechanics of sexuality. That's like taking guitar lessons from someone who's never played a note but only read Mel Bay's "This Is a Pick".

Once again, I am allowed to dispose of the personal dross in someone like Augustine's writing and cling to those essentials which unite us. You don't seem to enjoy such liberty and I'm sorry. Sincerely.

If you tell me (as I take to be more or less Ryan H's view) that you believe, after grave consideration, that innumerable Christian writers of generations past, including the generation of the Reformers and those who wrote in the Protestant tradition for centuries, labored under sexual scruples from which, in the last century, Protestant Christendom has finally broken free, and that, with due humility before your ancestors in Christ, you humbly side with the modern Protestant consensus over the previous Christian consensus ... well, that is one thing.
I have no desire to deliver the precise combination of acceptable words in order to pass your online catechism and perhaps that's why you misunderstand me. I trust, after six years of posting here, you would at least know that I'm not some armchair religious crank. If the facts somehow escape you, PM me and we can chat freely. Edited by Greg P

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First an apology. Having been in and out of town recently with a death in the family and then playing catchup at church and at home, this thread and others have gotten away from me. I've spent parts of the past weekend following this thread. Sorry that Anna and Greg Wolfe had to step in.

You know, this is one of the few places in cyberspace where Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox can be comfortable together. We are showing that here despite what some have gotten a bit panicky over. Still. I was reading 1Cor. 13 today. I've always passed over the opening verses as bombastic while racing to the Great Definition in verses 4 through 8. But today, the first two verses struck me in relation to this thread. Speaking in "the tongues of men and angels" fits here. Much eloquence and forthright give and take has been processed here, but without love in the actual act of communicating (obviously my gloss), it is wasted and worthless. "Explaining all mysteries". There's been much of that as well. Also bouncing off the computer screen in terms of value if not communicated lovingly.

We are all too human and prone to hubris and self focus in many things. The attempt to avoid this will often fail. Still, there HAS to be a humble acknowledgement that when things go wrong or don't sound right, it's always us that is the cause, not the Lord and not His Word. If I'm right on this, it means that we always have to give the same break to what and whom we read here that we would hope for our own statements. Whatever our notions of truth are and whatever our notions of theological correctness are, they are subject to all human failings and are declared provisionally. Provisionally in the face of eternity and the inevitable rightness and truth of what is yet to come by His grace and judgement.

Further, let's let each other be who we are. e2c is always going cringe at a heated argument. SDG will always be concise and lengthy at the same time, never mincing words over "Protestant errors" (that's a quote, not a mocking locution). Peter is nothing if not thorough, whether relevant to the topic or not. Greg, always contolled, is a contolled nuclear explosion on this topic. Given that we are all to human and always risk getting something wrong, we should give each other the space to present and counter.

Finally, burying my mother-in-law has brought to the fore the necessity of translating each other. Last summer, I organized and helped preside over her husband's funeral. One of the last things she said to me was, "You did a great job las summer, but you're not needed now." She was wrong. In the end, I had to compose and run the whole thing, building on the lessons and mistakes of last summer. More importantly, had I taken her literally, I could easily have been offended. What she was actually saying was, "You did a great job, but everything is taken care of this time." Bretheren, we need to translate each other when things get dicey. And when they aren't. No one is perfect in communication. We need to appreciate the possible intentions of each other in dialogue while assuming and hoping for the best. We owe that to each other even as HE who "knows our thoughts and our hearts" has done for us.

His, Rich

Edited by Rich Kennedy

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I recognize this is a non-starter, but what the heck--you may as well know where gay christians are coming from. From my vantage point, it seems like lunacy to defer decision-making on sexual ethics to a population that doesn't just abstain from healthy adult sexuality, but also systematically excludes women from the highest level of leadership.

Kristof is on point

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Rich, thanks for your wise perspective.

Greg P, FWIW, I wasn't looking for a set of acceptable words ... obviously, though, you're more than ready to be done with this, so I'll say no more for now.

Holy Moly, your comments about "deferring decision making" about "sexual ethics" as well as "excluding" or not excluding women assume that there's [a.] anything to be decided, [b.] anyone capable of engaging in such decision making and [c.] anyone in a position to "defer" such decision making or not. Assuming we're talking about the subjects under discussion in this thread, this is not how the bishops understand their mission or how those who follow them understand it. The bishops see themselves as having no mandate or authority to engage in "decision making" about fundamental sexual morality, or about the reservation of ordination to men only. From the Catholic perspective, there's nothing to be decided, and no one in a position to defer such decision making or not; it's simply a question of fidelity or infidelity to the commission given by Jesus Christ to his Church and in particular to the apostles and their successors.

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although I kinda think my mention of Doestoevsky's "Grand Inquisitor" chapter is hardly the definition of "cringe." wink.gif

Ignoring Dostoevsky (forgive me), I was referrring to both my reflex NOT to close threads and your suggestion that even temporary closing was an option. Sorry, I was trying to characterize with light phrases on the fly.

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I recognize this is a non-starter, but what the heck--you may as well know where gay christians are coming from. From my vantage point, it seems like lunacy to defer decision-making on sexual ethics to a population that doesn't just abstain from healthy adult sexuality, but also systematically excludes women from the highest level of leadership.

Kristof is on point

Wonderfully put. And a great article as well, thanks.

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Greg P, FWIW, I wasn't looking for a set of acceptable words ... obviously, though, you're more than ready to be done with this, so I'll say no more for now.
I'm not done with anything!

You absolutely were looking for the proper combination of words. You want to hear phrases like "grave consideration" and "due humility before my ancestors in Christ". Ryan passed the test, apparently, I did not.

If you tell me (as I take to be more or less Ryan H's view) that you believe, after grave consideration, that innumerable Christian writers of generations past, including the generation of the Reformers and those who wrote in the Protestant tradition for centuries, labored under sexual scruples from which, in the last century, Protestant Christendom has finally broken free, and that, with due humility before your ancestors in Christ, you humbly side with the modern Protestant consensus over the previous Christian consensus ... well, that is one thing.
My point was, I felt no need to jump thru those hoops with you in order to receive the assuring pat. The fact is, in regard to the Bible and human sexuality, I have given grave consideration to the matter(s) but based on my history here at A&F I didn't feel the need to reiterate that with you. My earlier statement stands: if you want to know more about my personal history in the faith, my spiritual education, my life commitment to Christ and my sacrifices for the Church of God in the trenches, you can PM me. I won't enumerate here in order to justify a hearing.

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I'm not done with anything!

Oh dear. I guess I misread your PM comment as a hint toward gracefully tying things off here ...

You absolutely were looking for the proper combination of words. You want to hear phrases like "grave consideration" and "due humility before my ancestors in Christ".

Not at all, and you might want to think twice about telling other people what they meant.

I wasn't looking for you to say anything at all. I was simply offering a possible alternative to what I consider a woefully inadequate response to a historic Christian consensus as "giggle territory."

Here is how I see it. To consign something to giggle-worthiness is to place it beyond the pale of serious consideration-worthiness. What you accept or reject defines the inner borders of your world of discourse; what you consider to be within or beyond the pale of serious consideration-worthiness defines the outer boundaries. I loathe Dogville, but if someone tells me they think it's one of the greatest films ever, that's a point of view I take seriously. OTOH, if someone thinks that The Phantom Menace is one of the greatest films ever, I would consider that giggle-worthy, even though I can enjoy watching TPM, certainly more than Dogville. Likewise, I consider Jehovah's Witness belief ridiculous and Buddhism not, even though in many respects my belief is much closer to the Watchtower than to the Buddha.

It doesn't mean a thing to me if Christopher Hitchens or Hugh Hefner consider the historic Christian consensus on sexual morality to be ridiculous. It would be pointless even to attempt to engage them on the subject; there are much more important gaps that would need to be addressed and at least narrowed if not closed before an issue like that would even begin to come into play. On the other end of the spectrum, if an ostensibly practicing Catholic tells me that he considers the Church's teaching on contraception ridiculous, I obviously consider that to be much more problematic.

You might consider taking it as a compliment that I consider you close enough to the latter end of the spectrum rather than the former that I take giggling from you as such an inadequate response. If I wrote you off as a half-pagan, I would similarly write off your giggling. As it is, I think that as a serious Christian you ought to be in a position to respect the historic consensus however strongly you reject it.

Perhaps it's simply a matter of further exposure and familiarity (though you say not). For example, you compare the historic consensus on sexual morality to the Fathers' ignorance of science. Did Jesus send the Holy Spirit to bring us into the knowledge of science, or the knowledge of God's will? Is fifteen centuries of Christian ignorance about, say, germ theory or heliocentrism an obstacle to the Church's mission on Earth in the way that nineteen centuries of erroneous Christian belief, as an article of Christian faith, that Christian morality excludes, say, homosexual acts would be? Scientific ignorance is one thing; the firm, constant and universal belief in X as an article of Christian faith is something else. It is with the latter, not the former, that the Holy Spirit is concerned.

Suppose someone says, "Oh sure, Jesus gave the Holy Spirit to the Church on Pentecost, and the Holy Spirit inspired the New Testament scriptures and guided the early Fathers to canonize the New Testament, and He gave zeal and charity to all those saints and mystics and martyrs, but when it came to them identifying the moral dictates of that Faith with their own hidebound ignorance and prejudice against homosexuals, He didn't bother to work with any of them on that. He decided to wait till the 20th century to liberate Christendom on that one." Can you see where this might be a more problematic scenario than saying "The Holy Spirit didn't teach the Fathers heliocentrism because it doesn't pertain to the truth he came to bring"?

The fact is, in regard to the Bible and human sexuality, I have given grave consideration to the matter(s) but based on my history here at A&F I didn't feel the need to reiterate that with you. My earlier statement stands: if you want to know more about my personal history in the faith, my spiritual education, my life commitment to Christ and my sacrifices for the Church of God in the trenches, you can PM me. I won't enumerate here in order to justify a hearing.

See, this is where you keep losing me, perhaps because you aren't following me. Over and over you suggest that I've cast doubts on your spiritual bona fides as a Seriously Serious Christian, and nothing I say to the contrary seems to make a dent. Get over it. You have nothing to prove to me and I haven't asked you to. I'm not your judge, I've convicted you of nothing, I've called you to account for nothing, I've accused you of nothing but being wrong (and perhaps a bit flip, and a bit touchy). I'm not looking for you to make your defense to me. I'm as happy as you are for you not to vindicate yourself to me, and probably more so. Peace.

Edited by SDG

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Holy Moly, your comments about "deferring decision making" about "sexual ethics" as well as "excluding" or not excluding women assume that there's [a.] anything to be decided, [b.] anyone capable of engaging in such decision making and [c.] anyone in a position to "defer" such decision making or not. Assuming we're talking about the subjects under discussion in this thread, this is not how the bishops understand their mission or how those who follow them understand it. The bishops see themselves as having no mandate or authority to engage in "decision making" about fundamental sexual morality, or about the reservation of ordination to men only. From the Catholic perspective, there's nothing to be decided, and no one in a position to defer such decision making or not; it's simply a question of fidelity or infidelity to the commission given by Jesus Christ to his Church and in particular to the apostles and their successors.

This certainly helps me see what you're coming from.

Yet it all seems a bit abstracted, divorced from the day-to-day decisions that DO have to be made, every day, and in a pluralistic world, simple fidelity to tradition/obedience to current authority aren't by themselves compelling reasons to dismiss the question. Facts being what they are, the church has often been on the wrong side of history, (trite but true examples being Galileo, Darwin, etc.) and I'm no Church historian, but I know the church has changed. Even constraining our discussion to Catholicism, there are a multiplicity of Catholic perspectives, and what you call "the Catholic perspective" is, in fact, one Catholic perspective, among many. One must ultimately decide whether he/she is a Dorothy Day Catholic or a William Bennett Catholic or a John Neuhaus catholic or a St Francis Catholic or a Gustavo Guiterrez Catholic. That is a choice. From my perspective it's not a question of fidelity or infidelity, but a question of which vision of fidelity is most compelling. If you say "the decision is already made for me, so it's not really up to me", well, that TOO is a choice--you're choosing to accept the assumptions that accompany such a worldview.

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Here is how I see it. To consign something to giggle-worthiness is to place it beyond the pale of serious consideration-worthiness.

On this we agree.

I consider Jehovah's Witness belief ridiculous and Buddhism not, even though in many respects my belief is much closer to the Watchtower than to the Buddha.
Here's your error. I don't consider Catholicism ridiculous. Nor do I consider the contributions of the Church Fathers to be ridiculous. I consider the tradition about the sinfulness of ejaculating outside the birth canal-- within the confines of a Church-recognized, heterosexual marriage-- to be ridiculous.

On the subject of JW's, it's very interesting to note that the Watchtower Society considers doctrinal matters like the Celebration of Christmas/Easter/birthdays or blood transfusions on par with belief in the Name of God. You could for example adhere to all of their most didactic beliefs, be a good and faithful steward by preaching door to door, etc,... and YET to have a Christmas tree in your house would be a grave matter worthy of confrontation by Kingdom Hall elders. To dissent on this single issue -- regardless of tone-- is considered nothing short of an affront to Jehovah's ordained order. If you persisted in your sin, you would immediately find yourself outside that Church tradition. Note: I am not equating Catholicism with the Watchtower Society. But your demand for uniformity on this single tertiary tradition as a criteria for Christian morality, is very similar.

Edited by Greg P

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Thanks for your comments, HM, I appreciate the thoughtful engagement. Will respond later. Cheers!

Greg: If you read my response carefully, you'll see that I'm not making the error you think I am (n.b. the paragraph beginning "It doesn't mean a thing to me..." as well as the one that follows). It is precisely your singling out as ridiculous this particular teaching -- always with your willfully reductionistic insistence on reducing the subject to body fluids to justify your ridicule -- with which I take issue.

(You're making too much of the fact that in my examples I generalized about finding Jehovah's Witness faith ridiculous ... obviously I'm not referring to the entirety of their faith, including their belief in God, creation, the fall and so forth, but specifically to beliefs like the claim that the Bible teaches that Jesus is Michael the archangel, that the Bible teaches that eternal life on the new earth is for those of the saved who are not among the 144K elected for heaven, etc.)

Edited by SDG

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Guest stu

Holy Moly, your comments about "deferring decision making" about "sexual ethics" as well as "excluding" or not excluding women assume that there's [a.] anything to be decided, [b.] anyone capable of engaging in such decision making and [c.] anyone in a position to "defer" such decision making or not. Assuming we're talking about the subjects under discussion in this thread, this is not how the bishops understand their mission or how those who follow them understand it. The bishops see themselves as having no mandate or authority to engage in "decision making" about fundamental sexual morality, or about the reservation of ordination to men only. From the Catholic perspective, there's nothing to be decided, and no one in a position to defer such decision making or not; it's simply a question of fidelity or infidelity to the commission given by Jesus Christ to his Church and in particular to the apostles and their successors.

This certainly helps me see what you're coming from.

Yet it all seems a bit abstracted, divorced from the day-to-day decisions that DO have to be made, every day, and in a pluralistic world, simple fidelity to tradition/obedience to current authority aren't by themselves compelling reasons to dismiss the question. Facts being what they are, the church has often been on the wrong side of history, (trite but true examples being Galileo, Darwin, etc.) and I'm no Church historian, but I know the church has changed. Even constraining our discussion to Catholicism, there are a multiplicity of Catholic perspectives, and what you call "the Catholic perspective" is, in fact, one Catholic perspective, among many. One must ultimately decide whether he/she is a Dorothy Day Catholic or a William Bennett Catholic or a John Neuhaus catholic or a St Francis Catholic or a Gustavo Guiterrez Catholic. That is a choice. From my perspective it's not a question of fidelity or infidelity, but a question of which vision of fidelity is most compelling. If you say "the decision is already made for me, so it's not really up to me", well, that TOO is a choice--you're choosing to accept the assumptions that accompany such a worldview.

I've been lurking in this discussion, but the above remarks made me want to stick an oar in.

As I see it, the real tension within the Catholic position at present, is of whether or not there really are any people who, in their deepest sense of self, the way in which they desire to give themselves to another, etc, are homosexual.

The teaching, as I understand it, is this: that homosexual inclination, whilst not in itself a sin, is nevertheless an orientation towards acts which are immoral, and it should therefore be considered gravely disordered.

This seems to pull its punches in two ways. It draws back in from saying that this inclination is sinful in itself (presumably, because it appears that some people cannot help but experience homosexual inclination, and thus it is ridiculous to say it is sinful, not to mention pastorally disastrous); and it also draws back from saying that there is no such thing as homosexual inclination, that homosexual orientation is either a perverse assertion of sinful will, or a tragic accident of upbringing (presumably, because this would be to claim too much insight into why some human beings experience homosexual inclination).

So it seems slightly awkward, to me, especially when thought in relation to the Catholic teaching on desire, nature and grace. As I understand it, the Catholic position would be something like this - that sanctification is a process of grace perfecting nature, not overcoming nature, or put differently, that the call to holiness is a call to flourish, so that one becomes what one really is, and desire is liberated rather than suppressed, because desire is always for the good - that is what desire is, "desire is love trying to happen" (Sebastian Moore).

So, it seems to me that a more consistent teaching would need to either more confidently assert (but on what basis?): "there are no homosexuals; homosexuals are, really, confused or wilfully perverse heterosexuals." But it doesn't go that far. And then, it would assert: "the appearance of homosexuality, which is really confused or perverse heterosexuality, is a result of sin (actual sin, not simply some ambiguous "grave disorder").

I presume that the reason it doesn't go as far as this is because - as we appear to be learning - there really are homosexual people, people who, in their deepest sense of self, the way in which they desire to give themselves to another, physically, emotionally, and spiritually, are homosexual. But to do this would be to make (or make explicitly, rather than implicitly) a very large claim, which a great number of people honestly experience as false, namely, that homosexuals are really heterosexuals.

Because if grace perfects "nature" (assuming, that human nature is not simply genetic, but always cultural), then it is important to understand as much about the humanness that is perfected as possible. And important, therefore, to want to know. To me, that seems to be the key question: are there really any gay people? This is why the teaching seems unhelpful, because it doesn't stop long enough over the question, or seem to put enough emphasis on the question, even though we are in a unique position to begin to actually ask the question in a genuinely exploratory way. Are there really any homosexuals? If the answer is 'yes', then, from a Catholic perspective (not necessarily from, say, a Calvinist perspective) you would then have to say: "ok, well, in that case, we need to have a re-think..."

I feel deeply uncomfortable about reaching an answer based primarily on reasoning frmo principles, or scriptural interpretation, simply because of the following: if there is such a thing as homosexuality, then it is obviously something that is, for whatever reason, the subject of a massive and fearful social taboo, one that reaches very, very deeply into the human psyche. In other words, if there was such a thing as homosexuality, then the peaceful ok-ness, the humanness of it, would have to be learned through encountering its ok-ness, its humanness, in the lives of real people, who somehow manage to be, simply be, without resentment or aggression, in the midst of the taboo.

So far as I can see, this is what appears to have begun to happen, and that is why in my fairly limited experience, the answer seems to be 'yes'.

I struggle with the realisation that this means that the Christian tradition has largely been wrong about this, or has been itself part of the mistake; but what I find exciting is the thought that it really is possible to learn things.

Edited by stu

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On a train on my way to a screening (Babies, hooray!), and reading Stu's thoughtful comments above with growing consternation ... How am I going to meet my deadlines this week with a growing list of thoughtful queries in this thread to respond to? Looking back, I see I missed comments from Darren and Ryan that I'd like to respond to. Yikes. How am I supposed to have a life with all this going on here? More tomorrow, probably.

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