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

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1. Masturbation is not really a sin... *

2. Still (despite point 1), do not masturbate...

3. But if you do masturbate (despite point 2), don't feel guilty about it (see point 1).

The result of this level of mixed messaging was, of course, the following:

1. Masturbate, since it is not, technically a sin;

2. Feel guilty, having been told not to masturbate;

3. Feel confused about feeling guilty about something that is not a sin.

Then, for the neurotic, a further flourish, as if to prove Nietzsche right about everything:

4. Feel guilty about feeling guilty.

This will sound like a tangent, but is not based on the guilty about feeling guilty thing. I must say that this reminds me, in addition to the issue specified above (I'm a little older, there were few to NO "experts" among evangelicals floating theories of masturbation being OK), of my own conflicted inner life over the issue of popular music (then called evilrocknroll). Went through the exact same thing, never resolved until later. This is not tangential because the guilt thing is not always a good indicator, so much as principle and one's beliefs. Guilt can be just as manipulative as the sense that something is "just right". Stephen Lamb, help me out here. Sound familiar?

(emphasis added)

Oh, absolutely. Continuing with the rock music example, I remember a time I went to a multi-artist concert that included rock music. I was probably 20 years old at the time, and during the latter half of the concert, and for a long while after it had ended, I had tears in my eyes and a physical pain in my chest over how much God was displeased with that music, and how many people had been deceived into thinking it was okay to listen to that music from Satan.

My experience with that kind of guilt, so easily manipulated and manufactured, is probably why I find it foreign and so artificial today.

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: "Abandoned"

Not sure I agree with you Rich. It could also just be rhetoric. After all the word is commonly used in English dialogue in similarly hyperbolic ways.

FWIW

Matt

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But that's rabbinic INTERPRETATION of the scriptures. The "Hebrew Scriptures" themselves say nothing about lesbian relationships.

I agree with you, but Jewish tradition doesn't. The question is, where did Paul's Judaism fit on the history of interpretation of Leviticus 18, which (at least) post-Paul applied it to female/female relationships in such a way that Maimonides seemed to think this is also what the text originally had in mind. The principle derived from the text seems to be that all non-procreative unions are "unnatural." Which frankly, makes sense in this context. Rabbinic interpretation often works in terms of principles that correspond to the specificity of a given text in varying degrees.

The more I read Christian essays on lesbianism in the OT, the more I see people whipping out Leviticus 18 without any sensitivity to the text's minimal meaning, which doesn't list female/female relationships. This gloss makes me uncomfortable. But again, the question is, where did Paul fit on this tradition history between Leviticus and rabbinic lit? I would have to do some more library browsing to find some sources on this. It is a very interesting question.

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But even if you don't believe this passage refers to temple whoredom, you still have the issue of men "abandoning" their innate desires toward women, for the prospect of something perverse. I have explained modern scenarios that fit that description perfectly, i.e. heterosexual men in a hostile environment, turning to homosexual acts. Situational homosexuality, if you will. I think there's some evidence that this scenario has existed-- not just in modern prison populations-- but in violent pagan cultures throughout the ages.

The characters in Paul's story aren't just abandoning, they are also exchanging. These different words indicate the intentional transfer from one set of beliefs or behaviors to another. The point of both words is that this transfer was so wholesale and culturally pervasive, that God let it continue unimpeded. I think getting hung up on the semantic domain of the English words here is a red herring.

And let's not forget that the big no-no in this text is not homosexuality. The big no-no is back in v. 21, "not glorifying God" and "not being thankful." This is the essential sin on which the text pivots logically and syntactically.

"Violent pagan cultures throughout the ages..." I am not seeing a correspondence here between Oz and some violent pagan cultus in Ephesus that may or may not have existed. I think you are right on in your description of the context and intent of this kind of violent sexual behavior, I just don't think that this is either a totalizing or necessary description of what Paul is talking about here. Most info we have on the period indicates that homosexuality as a religious exercise was more a matter of gender subversion than the exploitation of power in the way you describe it.

Edited by M. Leary

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"Violent pagan cultures throughout the ages..." I am not seeing a correspondence here between Oz and some violent pagan cultus in Ephesus that may or may not have existed. I think you are right on in your description of the context and intent of this kind of violent sexual behavior, I just don't think that this is either a totalizing or necessary description of what Paul is talking about here.
Maybe not. But clearly Paul describes these folk as not only having deliberately "left" their heterosexual affections, but also being "full of murder", heartless and cruel (in addition to a host of other very nasty attributes). Is Paul merely using hyperbole to describe an annoying segment of society he finds repulsive? Or was this truly an ultra-violent, hardened, depraved culture that had twisted everything virtuous in the ancient world into a sordid dung heap? Was it really that bad? To me the culture Paul describes, is the kind of world you would not want to be strolling around in after dark. Or be caught bent over, picking up something from the ground.

I'm no scholar, but I side with the latter based on things I've read about pagan practices and culture of the first century. Also from my own experience-- and this reasoning will probably be picked apart-- but Paul's list of itemized nastiness is much, much closer to the violent drug underworld of Bicentennial Park circa 1991 that i worked in, than the streets of say... Key West. If you catch my drift.

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mrmando wrote:

: No, I said that if the assertion is correct I have as much right to make it as anyone else does.

Which takes us back to the question of how anyone, including you, would know whether your assertion was correct, and how you would permit yourself to be corrected (and by whom).

: I am sure that if you could find anything wrong with my conclusion, you'd have done so by now.

Perhaps, but that's not the point, is it? Especially since I have no clue what "conclusion" you're talking about any more. Like I say, this tangent has become very abstract, or so it has seemed to me since I came back from my weekend hiatus.

: You yourself have suggested that it could be corrected by a "more authoritative extrapolation," so feel free to cite one.

It would help to know what sort of authority you'd recognize in the first place.

: I find an oblique reference in Encyclopedia Britannica to the Synod of Jerusalem producing a definitive statement about the Orthodox canon, just as the Council of Trent had done for the Catholic canon in the preceding century. But thus far I find no details.

Ah. Hmmm. Well, the Council of Trent was basically a reaction to the Protestant Reformation, including (on this point) the Protestants' rejection of the so-called Apocrypha. As Jaroslav Pelikan has explained it, the West had a basically ambivalent view of the so-called Apocrypha going back to St. Jerome's time, mainly because St. Jerome, while translating the Bible into Latin, couldn't find any copies of those scriptures in the original Hebrew (and the reason he couldn't find them is because the Jews in Palestine had decided, about a century AFTER the birth of Christ, not to use those scriptures any more); and when the West finally split into its Protestant and Catholic camps about a thousand years later, one side firmly rejected the so-called Apocrypha and the other side firmly accepted it. But in the East, which had always been using the Greek translation of the scriptures that the Jews in Egypt had made about a century BEFORE the birth of Christ, this ambivalence simply never existed.

The Orthodox may have felt a similar need to assert (or reassert) their own position on this issue, after it became such an issue in the West, but I don't get the impression that there was any big controversy within their own ranks that pressured them to do so.

: So on the one hand we have Protestants who can cite chapter and verse to "settle" a particular question, even if in so doing they misapprehend the meaning of one or more of those chapters and verses. On the other hand we have your assertion that the question is indeed "settled," although not in the way the Protestants say it is ... but when it comes to specifying where, when, how or by whom it was settled, you haven't studied the issue. At this point I'm not sure whose argument is more unsatisfactory.

Well, since the Protestants in question tend to appeal to the 2,000 years of traditional interpretation when you point out the ambiguities in the text, I'd say even the Protestants recognize that the "sola scriptura" approach is less satisfactory. ;)

But perhaps the word "settled" is the problem here. For some, it may imply that there was a time when things were "unsettled", and then there was a time when things were "settled" instead. Hence, people like you look for specific dates and people to peg the settledness on. But what if it has ALWAYS been "settled"? What if no one ever really argued the point? What if we can draw an organic development in Jewish thought (cf. M. Leary's posts) that carried over into Christian thought? Why is THAT not authoritative?

M. Leary wrote:

: The question is, where did Paul's Judaism fit on the history of interpretation of Leviticus 18, which (at least) post-Paul applied it to female/female relationships in such a way that Maimonides seemed to think this is also what the text originally had in mind.

Ah, okay.

: The principle derived from the text seems to be that all non-procreative unions are "unnatural."

Does this connect to the idea (in Jewish thought, not Christian) that it is okay for a man to divorce his wife if she doesn't give him any children?

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It would help to know what sort of authority you'd recognize in the first place.

Oh, any official Catholic or Orthodox source would do, as well as many Protestant commentators ... I just sincerely doubt that there was anything novel or controversial about what I said.

The Orthodox may have felt a similar need to assert (or reassert) their own position on this issue, after it became such an issue in the West, but I don't get the impression that there was any big controversy within their own ranks that pressured them to do so.

Well, yes and no. The main task of the Synod was to refute the Confession of Cyril Lucaris, a book by the former patriarch of Constantinople that had sought to bring Calvinist teachings into the Orthodox Church. You might call this a controversy within the Church's own ranks. But clarifying the Church's position on the canon, versus a Calvinist position on the canon, must have been a relatively minor part of all that.

Anyway, it seems there was virtually no controversy about canon, East or West, for a thousand years or so, until Protestants started questioning it -- but that controversy did apparently lead to councils that finally settled which books were in or out.

But perhaps the word "settled" is the problem here. For some, it may imply that there was a time when things were "unsettled", and then there was a time when things were "settled" instead. Hence, people like you look for specific dates and people to peg the settledness on. But what if it has ALWAYS been "settled"? What if no one ever really argued the point? What if we can draw an organic development in Jewish thought (cf. M. Leary's posts) that carried over into Christian thought? Why is THAT not authoritative?

Well, MLeary's recent contributions are much more the sort of thing I was looking for when I started posting in this thread. He just might have a line of thought that could be endorsed by Orthodox, Catholic and [some] Protestant Christians alike. It's interesting that Jewish sexual ethics seem to have been imported wholesale into Christianity when so many other lines of Jewish thought were discarded. Knowing how and why that happened (insofar as it's possible to know it) could, it seems, be helpful in debates like these.

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"Violent pagan cultures throughout the ages..." I am not seeing a correspondence here between Oz and some violent pagan cultus in Ephesus that may or may not have existed. I think you are right on in your description of the context and intent of this kind of violent sexual behavior, I just don't think that this is either a totalizing or necessary description of what Paul is talking about here.
Maybe not. But clearly Paul describes these folk as not only having deliberately "left" their heterosexual affections, but also being "full of murder", heartless and cruel (in addition to a host of other very nasty attributes). Is Paul merely using hyperbole to describe an annoying segment of society he finds repulsive? Or was this truly an ultra-violent, hardened, depraved culture that had twisted everything virtuous in the ancient world into a sordid dung heap? Was it really that bad? To me the culture Paul describes, is the kind of world you would not want to be strolling around in after dark. Or be caught bent over, picking up something from the ground.

I'm no scholar, but I side with the latter based on things I've read about pagan practices and culture of the first century. Also from my own experience-- and this reasoning will probably be picked apart-- but Paul's list of itemized nastiness is much, much closer to the violent drug underworld of Bicentennial Park circa 1991 that i worked in, than the streets of say... Key West. If you catch my drift.

As a lowly layman, and an English major at that, I'm sure many others here know much more about these matters. But it seems worth bearing in mind here--and indeed in any such discussion--the essentially diagnostic character of the passage in question. People often seem to think Paul is warning against these various opprobrious behaviors, which our engagement in will incur God's punishment on our heads. Typically, when we make this assumption we proceed to interrogate the text for one of two purposes: either to find positive condemnation of That Which I Excoriate, or to find the convenient absence of That Which I Endorse. Ultimately, either way leads us to a self-justifying perspective on divine wrath, from which vantage we will enjoy watching our neighbors perish while we breathe easy.

But Paul is giving a diagnosis of humanity's fallen condition. As M. Leary notes, Paul states the root of the problem in verse 21: "For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened." The subsequent index of depravities is not a list of proscribed behaviors, the participation in which will incur wrath. Rather, these behaviors themselves reveal God's wrath. They are symptoms of the general state of humankind, i.e., one of rebellion against God. Homosexuality is only one illustration thereof, neither more nor less indicative of the profound disorder signaled by "envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness," etc.

As such, when Paul enumerates that procession of "gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless" (29-31), i.e. those who, "since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done" (28), I see no compelling reason to suppose that these terms collectively describe any particular group of monstrous persons. Instead, I see a sort of Roget's Thesaurus of fallenness. No doubt Paul is drawing on contemporary practices to some extent, but that extent seems very, very hard to ascertain, and either way it only serves his broader trans-historical purposes. Furthermore, Paul's clear echoes of Genesis ("exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things") only reinforce the fact that he is getting at something much larger than a particularly pernicious group of his contemporaries.

This is why the temple prostitute reading is unhelpful. Do you really suppose Paul is saying, "don't be like those temple prostitutes, who not only whore away their bodies but also gossip and disobey their parents--you know, those prostitutes"? It constricts Paul's scope of reference to the point of absurdity. I believe he uses homosexuality as an illustration of mankind's rebellious condition for the sheer illustrative power it would have had for his audience, not in order to single out homosexual behavior as more egregious than, say, covetousness or malice. Just as homosexuals rebel against the created order, Paul is saying, mankind in its wantonness and viciousness of will rebels against God the Creator. You might say that for Paul homosexual practice is both the consequence and the symbol of fallen disorder.

I believe our ability to grasp these points today may be hindered by the popular conception (so to speak) of homosexuality as a lifestyle or personal identity, revolving as much around tasteful drapery as around any particular sexual practice.

Finally, in rereading these verses I am struck by the sheer, painful irony involved. It is very easy for exquisitely righteous people like myself to read that list in a smug way, heaping up excoriations against the wickedness of others while luxuriating in the sauna of my own piety. But here is where Paul hits me with his sledgehammer:

Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God's righteous judgment will be revealed.

In culminating the index of opprobrium with this forceful confrontation with me, the prideful reader, Paul joins the ranks of the great trap-setting Swiftian satirists. As Swift said, satire is the mirror "wherein beholders do generally discover every body's face but their own." How easy it is to treat the gospel as the same sort of mirror, myself the same sort of beholder.

Edited by du Garbandier

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du Garbandier:

People often seem to think Paul is warning against these various opprobrious behaviors, which our engagement in will incur God's punishment on our heads. Typically, when we make this assumption we proceed to interrogate the text for one of two purposes: either to find positive condemnation of That Which I Excoriate, or to find the convenient absence of That Which I Endorse. Ultimately, either way leads us to a self-justifying perspective on divine wrath, from which vantage we will enjoy watching our neighbors perish while we breathe easy.

But Paul is giving a diagnosis of humanity's fallen condition. As M. Leary notes, Paul states the root of the problem in verse 21: "For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened." The subsequent index of depravities is not a list of proscribed behaviors, the participation in which will incur wrath. Rather, these behaviors themselves reveal God's wrath. They are symptoms of the general state of humankind, i.e., one of rebellion against God. Homosexuality is only one illustration thereof, neither more nor less indicative of the profound disorder signaled by "envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness," etc.

As such, when Paul enumerates that procession of "gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless" (29-31), i.e. those who, "since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done" (28), I see no compelling reason to suppose that these terms collectively describe any particular group of monstrous persons. Instead, I see a sort of Roget's Thesaurus of fallenness. No doubt Paul is drawing on contemporary practices to some extent, but that extent seems very, very hard to ascertain, and either way it only serves his broader trans-historical purposes. Furthermore, Paul's clear echoes of Genesis ("exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things") only reinforce the fact that he is getting at something much larger than a particularly pernicious group of his contemporaries.

This is why the temple prostitute reading is unhelpful. Do you really suppose Paul is saying, "don't be like those temple prostitutes, who not only whore away their bodies but also gossip and disobey their parents--you know, those prostitutes"? It constricts Paul's scope of reference to the point of absurdity. I believe he uses homosexuality as an illustration of mankind's rebellious condition for the sheer illustrative power it would have had for his audience, not in order to single out homosexual behavior as more egregious than, say, covetousness or malice. Just as homosexuals rebel against the created order, Paul is saying, mankind in its wantonness and viciousness of will rebels against God the Creator. You might say that for Paul homosexual practice is both the consequence and the symbol of fallen disorder.

I am shaken by this post. And stirred. Thank you for this.

Edited by Overstreet

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I believe our ability to grasp these points today may be hindered by the popular conception (so to speak) of homosexuality as a lifestyle or personal identity, revolving as much around tasteful drapery as around any particular sexual practice.

Clearly you haven't seen my apartment.

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This is why the temple prostitute reading is unhelpful. Do you really suppose Paul is saying, "don't be like those temple prostitutes, who not only whore away their bodies but also gossip and disobey their parents--you know, those prostitutes"? It constricts Paul's scope of reference to the point of absurdity.
No one has suggested that Paul is stating anything like that. However, the scope of reference is most definitely constricted, by the unique culture of that time and place and by the basic rules of hermeneutics. The text cannot mean what it never meant. First century Rome was not like 21st Century Miami, or 18th century Massachusetts.

No doubt Paul is drawing on contemporary practices to some extent, but that extent seems very, very hard to ascertain, and either way it only serves his broader trans-historical purposes.
Difficult perhaps, but the curious nature of this reference behooves us to investigate more carefully. There are universal principles and commands to be applied in Romans 1 & 2, for sure, but that quest is subordinate to the understanding of the historical setting and unique culture considerations of that day. One problem with your reading of this passage-- if this is not referring to a specific, historical practice -- is that it simplistically attributes the cause of homosexuality to turning away from God. Edited by Greg P

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I believe he uses homosexuality as an illustration of mankind's rebellious condition for the sheer illustrative power it would have had for his audience, not in order to single out homosexual behavior as more egregious than, say, covetousness or malice. Just as homosexuals rebel against the created order, Paul is saying, mankind in its wantonness and viciousness of will rebels against God the Creator. You might say that for Paul homosexual practice is both the consequence and the symbol of fallen disorder.

Good stuff, du G. This is the gist of why Hays (in Moral Vision of the New Testament) can describe homosexuality as the "sacrament of sins" in the midst of constructing an argument in favor of gay ordination. The text is sin's myth.

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Clearly you haven't seen my apartment.

So, some good HAS come from the demise of "Politics" here. Just one more thing revealed that we have in common.

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Greg P, as a once-Catholic convert, and later, Reformed Protestant, and now, possible Catholic "revert," I find Steven's arguments about sexual morality and practice eminently reasonable. The simple, historical fact is that for 1, 920 years (until 1930, at the Anglican Lambeth Conference), all historic Christian churches condemned artificial contraception as wicked interference with God's natural design for our sexuality.

Before you scoff at this, think very seriously about it. Catholics, Orthodox, Protestants-- all condemned artificial contraception until 80 years ago. Is that something to take lightly and mock? Luther and Calvin were just as "anti-contraception" as any Catholic-- as was the stance, again, of all Christian churches until the last 80 years.

I am curious, as to whether you would attempt to argue that artificial contraception is not a deliberate interference, by human beings, with how God Himself designed sexual intercourse to function. On what moral grounds does one justify such human interference with our Creator's clear design for male-female sexual union?

(Note-- there is always the option to practice Natural Family Planning, in which a married couple does not contracept-- thereby changing the sexual act itself-- but instead, chooses to abstain at times of fertility. In this way, the sexual act, when it is consummated, still conforms to, and does not rupture, God's natural, physical design. NFP is not the notoriously unpredictable rhythm method.)

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The text is sin's myth.

Well put.

I can't claim the idea, unfortunately.

From Barth's commentary on Romans:

Wherefore God gave them up: The confusion avenges itself and becomes its own punishment. The forgetting of the true God is already itself the breaking loose of his wrath against those who forget him (i.8). The enterprise of setting up the 'No-God' is avenged by its success. Deified nature and deified spirits of men are, in truth, very gods; like Jupiter and Mars, Isis and Osiris, Cybele and Attis, they come to be the very breath of our life. Our conduct becomes governed precisely by what we desire. By a strict inevitability we reach the goal we have set before us. The images and likenesses, whose meaning we have failed to perceive, become themselves purpose and content and end. And now men really have become the slaves and puppets of things, of 'Nature' and 'Civilization', whose dissolution and establishing by God they have overlooked. And now there is no higher power to protect them from what they have set on high. And, moreover, the uncleanness of their relationship to God submerges their lives also in uncleanness. When God has been deprived of his glory, men are also deprived of theirs. Desecrated within their souls, they are desecrated without in their bodies, for men are one. The concreteness of the creatureliness of their lives now becomes dishonour; and lust - sexuality both in the narrower sense and the wider sense of the word - becomes, as the primary motive-power of their whole desire and striving, altogether questionable and open to suspicion. The whole ignominy of the course of the world they must now bear and bemoan and curse as ignominy; and further, in their separation from God they must continue to give it ever new birth. They have wished to experience the known god of this world: well! they have experienced him!

On farther down

God gave them up to a reprobate mind (on the list of sins in 28-31): Here is the final vacuity and disintegration. Chaos has found itself, and anything may happen. The atoms whirl, the struggle for existence rages. Even reason itself becomes irrational. Ideas of duty and fellowship become wholly unstable... this is not a picture merely of Rome under the Caesars! The true nature of our broken existence is here unrolled before us.

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First century Rome was not like 21st Century Miami, or 18th century Massachusetts.

But if you had to choose, it was probably more like the former than the latter.

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First century Rome was not like 21st Century Miami, or 18th century Massachusetts.

But if you had to choose, it was probably more like the former than the latter.

Prolly. But I'm convinced there's more morality in 21st century America than Christians generally acknowledge. By the same token, first century Rome was far more evil than we generally acknowledge. More sadistic and pornographic than America? Yes.

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Some thoughts, 12 pages into the thread:

Much of the discussion in later part of this thread has been formulated in terms of propositions based on the biblical text and our own presuppositions, and responses to other's propositions. This is, of course, the nature of debate and fine as such. In recent years, debates like this, particularly those regarding homosexuality, have left me in a frustrating tension. I find inside myself different sets of presuppositions, which lead to incompatible conclusions. For instance, the belief that the content of the bible is somehow essentially and always true (very loose definition of true) leads me to suspect that Romans 1 really does say something about homosexual sex, probably in the negative direction. Yet, my presupposition that the Holy Spirit works in my discernment leads me to hear the wisdom of my lesbian friend and to deeply appreciate the freedom that she finds here in Switzerland and in our church to live openly gay with her partner and children.

So what is to be done? Well, I've been reading Richard Rohr (The Naked Now). In this book Rohr claims a few things that have been helpful to me:

1. The essence of contemplative thinking is an initial, full openness to the experience that presents itself.

2. Rational thinking, where a proposition is either true or not true, is a useful tool that needs to be carefully bounded.

3. God cares much less about whether my statements and beliefs about reality are correct, and much more about whether his creation flourishes.

And so, the tension still exists for me, but it's less frustrating. I feel more able to genuinely love and accept as God's creation gay folks than I was before, because I don't have to run through any arguments as I try to figure out how to love them. But I don't have to jettison the real beliefs and questions I have about the true of scripture and the moral proscriptions therein. They can live in paradoxical opposition while I wait for God to send experiences that may (or may not) further change what I believe and how I act on those beliefs.

In keeping with my sense that strictly rational thinking needs to be bounded, I find it unfortunate that message boards like this are so good for traditional debate, and rather less so for a broader, both/and sort of inquiry. Traditional debate rarely changes anyone's mind, while experience often changes people. There's lots of debate here, but a rather limited flavor of experience.

Edited by Jeff Kolb

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Traditional debate rarely changes anyone's mind, while experience often changes people.

I'm not sure I agree, if only because traditional debate has done a great deal to change my opinions. The change, however, has rarely been immediate. It's later, when the debate has time to settle, that I find my opinions changing. The power of debate most often lies in the aftershocks.

Amen. My opinions have been changed in small ways and in large ways right here at A&F many times as the result of a thought-provoking debate. Including this one.

But then, I often come to these debates quietly because I know I haven't done enough study or had enough experience to make much of an argument. I've learned a great deal about ethics, church history, and a whole world of film and music history, here at A&F, and that continues to be a humbling experience for which I'm deeply grateful.

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(Note-- there is always the option to practice Natural Family Planning, in which a married couple does not contracept-- thereby changing the sexual act itself-- but instead, chooses to abstain at times of fertility. In this way, the sexual act, when it is consummated, still conforms to, and does not rupture, God's natural, physical design. NFP is not the notoriously unpredictable rhythm method.)

While I understand the intent behind Natural Family Planning, I am suspicious. It seems to contradict the thrust of much that has been quoted here from the Early Fathers. This is something that has occurred to me today doing "mindless" work on my job. With respect to modern technology and scientific advances with respect to conception, fertility, and basic human plumbing, it would be more consistent with historical Christian teaching (as opposed to its evolution in Catholic as well as other denominations), to refrain from sexual activity (to completion) unless fertility were reasonably predicted to be present. I'll bet this argument has been alleged from both sides in recent history. If procreation is the chief end of sexual intimacy, and early fathers argued for its exclusivity in permissable sexual activity, if there is a known fertile cycle, or if there are known clues as to fertility, sex should properly be reserved for the peaks of those cycles or the confluence of the many clues.

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While I understand the intent behind Natural Family Planning, I am suspicious.

You need to understand it better. :D

(still lurking until sometime next week)

Not that Suz and I have ever bothered much with NFP. We're very N, and we're all for F ... but we've never really given much energy to P. :lol:

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While I understand the intent behind Natural Family Planning, I am suspicious.

As am I. Contemporary Catholicism's endorsement of NFP seems to me to be a serious chink in their position. Couples relying on Natural Family Planning have intercourse without intending to procreate. It obviously requires more discipline from a couple than, say, condoms do, but it nonetheless separates sex from procreation all the same.

No. That is exactly what it does not do.

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Contemporary Catholicism's endorsement of NFP seems to me to be a serious chink in their position. Couples relying on Natural Family Planning have intercourse without intending to procreate. It obviously requires more discipline from a couple than, say, condoms do, but it nonetheless separates sex from procreation all the same.

Taking what you said at face value. It seems to me, that what you are getting at is: Natural Family Planning seems to contradict the church's teaching that intercourse should "always be open to the possibility of procreation". Instead of encouraging this, NFP seems to encourage something similar to what Planned Parenthood encourages, which is "control over the outcome of a couples sexual practice."

I sincerely apologise if I have misinterpreted you Ryan, by all means feel free to correct me if I have read you wrong. But if this is accurate (or at least close to what you were trying to say), I think this link from their website is helpful in understanding what NFP is all about.

I think the key point is where it says:

Fertility is a normal part of every person's life - something to be appreciated and value. We aim to raise your awareness about the bodily changes associated with fertility and infertility so that you can identify:

  1. the fertile phase of the menstrual cycle, that is , the days of the menstrual cycle when sexual intercourse or genital contact are most likely to result in a pregnancy; and
  2. the infertile phases of the menstrual cycles, that is, the days of the menstrual cycle when pregnancy is unlikely to occur.

So instead of trying to encourage people to control the outcome of their sexual practices, they are trying to encourage people to share the human responsibility to understand, accept and manage their fertility with their partner.

Hope that is somewhat helpful.

Oh, and that link is from the Australian NFP website. Sorry, I sometimes forget that I am communicating with people overseas. :)

Edited by Benchwarmer

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(Note-- there is always the option to practice Natural Family Planning, in which a married couple does not contracept-- thereby changing the sexual act itself-- but instead, chooses to abstain at times of fertility. In this way, the sexual act, when it is consummated, still conforms to, and does not rupture, God's natural, physical design. NFP is not the notoriously unpredictable rhythm method.)

While I understand the intent behind Natural Family Planning, I am suspicious. It seems to contradict the thrust of much that has been quoted here from the Early Fathers. This is something that has occurred to me today doing "mindless" work on my job. With respect to modern technology and scientific advances with respect to conception, fertility, and basic human plumbing, it would be more consistent with historical Christian teaching (as opposed to its evolution in Catholic as well as other denominations), to refrain from sexual activity (to completion) unless fertility were reasonably predicted to be present. I'll bet this argument has been alleged from both sides in recent history. If procreation is the chief end of sexual intimacy, and early fathers argued for its exclusivity in permissable sexual activity, if there is a known fertile cycle, or if there are known clues as to fertility, sex should properly be reserved for the peaks of those cycles or the confluence of the many clues.

I understand your suspicion, Rich (and yours as well, Ryan). What it comes down to, for me-- what makes NFP make moral sense, in terms of respecting the integrity and design of the marital sexual act-- is that unlike artificial contraception, NFP preserves the sexual act, whenever it is consummated, exactly as God designed it. In NFP, couples are either giving themselves to each other, sexually, fully, with no barriers between them, as God designed-- or they are abstaining, which is perfectly allowed in the Bible. By contrast, with the use of artificial contraception, the man is saying to his wife, "I'm not giving myself to you fully; I'm choosing to hold part of myself (that God Himself designed) back," and the wife is agreeing. It's not the total self-giving experience that sexual intercourse was designed to be. To put it bluntly, something is in the way!

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Ryan, I attempted to address Rich's suspicion (and yours, to some extent) about NFP in the above reply. I don't know if it will be helpful, but I tried. :)

As for bisexuals, I believe the Biblical principle would be chastity, not necessarily a "seeking" of heterosexuality (although if that is one's wish, one can certainly pray and seek it). I empathize strongly with the emotional and sexual struggles of bisexual and homosexual Christians who strive for chastity. I am 36 years old, single (not willingly), with no prospects on the horizon, and certain realities in my life that, to my daily heartbreak (a bit melodramatic, but not too far from the truth), may well mean that I will never be married. Almost every one of my friends, male and female, is married, including people almost fifteen years younger than I am. I truly do STRUGGLE with my single status, in every way that a healthy person can struggle-- and it likely will not change, unless God does the near-miraculous in my life. Yet I am still called to pursue chastity. I could say that the Bible is not clear about the sinfulness of premarital sex and justify it to myself. In many ways, that would be easier for me than what I am trying to do every day. However, in the end, I would rather simply bear the burdens, face the pains, and attempt to be obedient to my best understanding of the Bible's teaching on sexuality.

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