Sunday, April 6, 2014

Anti-Gay Bigotry, Sincere Belief, and Christianity

There's a meme going around on social media that looks like this:


A recent Huffington Post article, "The Myth of Christian Discrimination in the LGBT Rights Movement," did a pretty nice job of explaining some of the key problems with this meme. But there are things I wish the article would have said--and there is a grain of truth in the meme that I want to acknowledge.

Let me start with the grain of truth. There are Christians out there--I've known many of them--who are sincerely committed to the love command of Christianity, who sincerely wish to show love for their gay and lesbian neighbors, who have no phobic response to homosexuality, but who are convinced of two things: first, that "the Bible" (scare-quotes explained in #3 below) clearly condemns all gay/lesbian sex; second, that anything clearly condemned by "the Bible" is immoral.

In some cases, the Christians I've know who fit this description seem to wish quite sincerely that the Bible didn't say what they take it to say--because they are uncomfortable with the implications. They have gay friends and, while trying to avoid the subject when they can, feel that their allegiance to their faith demands that they call all gay/lesbian sex wrong when asked. They say, almost apologetically, "I'm just saying what I believe. It's nothing personal against you."

There are three points I want to make relating to Christians who say this.

1. First and foremost, it is personal.

The problem is that this statement of belief is a categorical condemnation of the intimate partnerships of gays and lesbians, a pronouncement to the effect that their loving relationships are a sin against God that ought to be torn apart. The problem is that this statement implies that gays and lesbians should be systematically marginalized in society, that they ought to be excluded from participation in the most basic social institution, and so forever kept at the margins of full citizenship.

Imagine that you are married to someone you love with all your heart. Imagine that you have been together for years, supporting each other through life's challenges. Imagine that your marriage adds depth and meaning and joy to your life. And now imagine that there is a person who is committed to breaking you and your spouse apart, to seeing your marriage dissolved.

What would you think if they said, "It's nothing personal"? Maybe they're committed to it, not because they have anything against you specifically, but because their religion tells them there is something wrong with your marriage. That's a different motive than overt hostility, but it doesn't change what they're committed to. It may not be personal for them, but it affects you in the most intimately personal way imaginable. It cuts to the core of your personal life. It is very, very personal.

And the personal effects would be devastating, which leads to my second point.

2. Beliefs can be unloving.

Standing by certain beliefs can affect people's lives. And this means that standing by a belief can be loving or unloving towards your gay and lesbian neighbors. To stand by the belief that all gay/lesbian sex is wrong is to be committed to the systematic social marginalization of gays and lesbians, and to be committed to ending their meaningful, loving intimate life-partnerships. In the face of that, an assurance of love and friendship and a promise not to "bully" can sound pretty darned hollow.

Of course, we don't always stand by our belief. But if we do more than pay lip service to them, our beliefs will affect how we live our lives, the choices we make--and those choices can impact others, sometimes in devastating ways.

Living out a belief can be a very loving thing to do. It can also be a very unloving thing. Christian love isn't just about trying to maintain certain warm inner feelings. Christian love is far more demanding than that. It makes demands on how we treat our neighbors. A sincere desire to show love to them isn't enough if our actions devastate their lives.

And standing by the belief that all same-sex love is sinful can be devastating.

Let me explain what I have in mind with an analogy I've used before. If you sincerely believe that all childhood play is categorically sinful and act accordingly, you will fail as a parent. You will fail to treat your children in the loving ways they deserve, no matter how much affection you feel for them in your heart. Your children will grow up in stifling conditions that crush their creativity and their spirits. They will enter adulthood handicapped and full of resentment.

This is the counterpoint to the saying that you can "love the sinner while hating the sin." Sometimes, taking something to be a sin is unloving. A parent who takes play to be sinful is guilty of sin when they act on that belief. Is the same true of someone who takes all same-sex sexual intimacy to be sinful?

Yes. My experience with my gay and lesbian neighbors is unswerving on this. I've seen the devastating effects of the conservative Christian view on their lives. I've witnessed how it contributes to the high rate of gay suicide. There is no doubt in my mind, none at all, that the traditional Christian teaching about homosexuality damages human beings in tangible and often soul-crushing ways--no matter how well-meaning the Christians who stand by this teaching may be.

To categorically condemn homosexuality is to commit a sin against your gay and lesbian neighbors, a sin of no small gravity. If you commit that sin, I will keep on loving you. You may be oblivious to the scope and severity of your sin, as I am oblivious to some of mine. But out of love for you I will explain why I think what you're doing is wrong, and why it is so damaging, to the best of my ability. I hope you will return the favor (although I encourage no one to blindly accept criticism before thinking honestly and carefully about it).

If I tell you that I think what you're doing is ruinously harmful, I am not doing the same thing to you that you are doing when you do something ruinously harmful. Don't accuse me of name-calling or stereotyping, but consider thoughtfully whether there is any truth to what I say. Don't take my word for it: Go out and listen to the life stories of your gay and lesbian neighbors. Not just one gay or lesbian neighbor, but a wide range of perspectives.

While you're working up the courage to do that, consider a thought experiment that may give you a foretaste of what you'll hear. Imagine that any time you fall in love, your community will condemn you for acting on that love, calling it sinful no matter how you act on it. It doesn't matter how committed, loving, monogamous, or faithful you are. In fact, if you are committed to the partner you love, they will see that as a commitment to sin. If you build something precious, working hard to nurture your love, it will be dismissed as depraved.

Under those conditions, might you be less likely to form healthy intimate partnerships? Might you be more likely to fall into patterns of unhealthy sexuality? Might you be more prone towards depression? Might you begin to loathe that part of yourself that falls in love?

Of course you would.

Conservative Christians who really believe that all homosexual acts are sinful, who do more than just pay lip service to the teaching, are working hard to make sure that all of their gay and lesbian neighbors have this kind of experience.

I've heard it said that opposing "homosexuality" is like opposing alcoholism. It's true that condemning some actions as categorically sinful (such as excessive drinking) is a way of showing love. But that doesn't mean this is true for every action you might choose to condemn (as my childhood play example should make clear). So how do you tell the difference?

You don't consult people's desires. After all, alcoholics really do want to drink, just as much as children want to play. So how do you tell the difference? You observe how people's lives go. Love demands attention. You pay attention to the effects on their lives. Alcoholics do so much better in life when they abstain from drinking. The same isn't true for children who abstain from play.

If you pay sustained, loving attention to gays and lesbians who have set aside the categorical condemnation of homosexuality and who have formed stable, intimate partnerships with a person of the same sex--well, they look like happily married heterosexual couples. Their lives are the richer for the love they've found.

Compare that with the legacy of damaged souls--bitter, angry, suicidal--who have internalized the prohibition on same-sex intimacy.

If you ignore all of this, paying more attention to the most literal interpretation of three isolated, peripheral biblical text than you do to real effects on the lives of your gay and lesbian neighbors, then you care more about those isolated texts than you do about your gay and lesbian neighbors. Allegiance to what is peripheral has trumped allegiance to what is central, namely the law of love.

Is that believing "the Bible"? This leads to my last point.

3. The Bible is a complex collection of texts with varied messages, which can be interpreted in many ways--and the nature of biblical authority is controversial even among Christians.

The books of the Bible were written by many authors over a very long period of time, redacted and collated at various times in history. The Bible we have today isn't a single voice but a collection of witnesses testifying to their experience of God operating in the world at various times and places in history. And the mode of that testimony is varied. Because of the tensions and variations and ambiguities in that text, there are numerous and competing understandings of what allegiance to the text requires.

When you say you "believe the Bible," you are therefore obscuring an inescapable element of human choice. Humans have to choose how to approach the Bible, what kind of authority to attach to it, what interpretive strategy to bring to bear on it. If you believe that "the Bible" condemns all forms of same-sex sexual intimacy regardless of how loving or monogamous or faithful, it is because you have made certain choices--or allowed others to make those choices on your behalf and then chosen to follow them blindly.

Either way, you are responsible for what you believe. If your beliefs drive your gay and lesbian neighbors to suicide or underwrite systematic social discrimination, you can't beg off responsibility for that. You chose what to believe. And you have the freedom to change what you believe.

And you have a responsibility to choose wisely.


  1. May I ask how what you say is any different than what conservative Christians do? You seem as critical toward conservative Christians as conservative Christians are of homosexuals. The only difference is that our culture is now accepting of homosexuals and much less accepting of evangelicals. The meme you linked to describes my beliefs. What you misunderstand is that believing that gay and lesbian sex is sinful does not have to lead to unloving actions or pushing them to the fringe of society. I also know many people who are in a common-law relationship (which I think is just as much sin) and I have never tried to condemn them or push them to the side. Nor have I ever taken actions against anyone is gay or in a same-sex marriage. I need to deal with my own sinful tendencies, I don't have time to condemn others.

    1. I think we often forget that Jesus said that we can judge something according to its fruit. So while on a very superficial level, judging Christians for their views might be comperable to judging homosexuality as sin in that they both involve judgment, the fruit is radically different. Being judged for your views may make you uncomfortable. It may make you feel unfairly treated. It may even may you feel that your voice is unwelcomed and unsafe to share with others. But I doubt it ever made you want to die. Or caused you to revile yourself. Or sent you into depression and despair. The fruit is utterly different. And the fruit, according to Jesus, is what testifies to the source of something. No teaching which routinely leads people to despair of their own lives and hate themselves can be said to come from God. God's truth brings life, yet the teaching that homosexual behavior is sin routinely leads to death.

      The lead pastor of the Evangelical Vineyard church in Michigan says that what lead him to question his own beliefs regarding homosexuality was the fact that the results, ie fruit, of the teaching on homosexuality were markedly different than other traditional teachings. For example he noted that confronting other sins such as adultery, living together outside of marriage or substance abuse rarely, if ever lead people to attempt suicide. And while the sin itself might tear apart families, in the case of homosexuality it was not the person's same sex relationships which resulted in the destruction of families, but the teaching that homosexuality is a sin which destroyed families. It put parents in a position of having to choose between their child and their faith. Again, it is in the fruit that the difference between the teaching against homosexuality as sin and other sins can be seen. We cannot ignore the fruit.

      So, it's fine to say, I don't condemn, but if you ignore the fruit of destroyed lives and families and the most intense sorts of suffering, what does your condemnation or lack thereof matter? The damage is being done with or without the condemnation. The teaching itself yeilds the worst sort of fruit.

    2. Stephen,

      I don' think I could have put it better than Rebecca does in the comment above. But let me add a couple of brief remarks.

      First, consider the difference between what happens to gays and lesbians who internalize the message that acting on their sexuality is categorically sinful (even when they express it in loving and faithful monogamy), and compare it to what happens to Christians who internalize the message that it is wrong to categorically condemn all same-sex sexual intimacy.

      I know firsthand what happens in the latter case, because I went through it. I came to rethink certain convictions, joined a more progressive church, and ended up with a lot more gay and lesbian friends than I'd had before.

      And I know from listening to the stories of gay and lesbian friends what happens in the former case. Harboring "shameful" feelings in secret. Suppressing their instinct to love and be loved. Hating their own sexuality, and by implication themselves. Feeling rejected by God (especially after sincere and repeated prayers to be "freed" from their homosexuality have gone unanswered). Feeling as if they don't belong in the community of God, that they are imposters at church who can't live authentically if they want to avoid rejection.

      If you stand behind the belief that its wrong to condemning homosexuality, you are standing behind the belief that those who condemn homosexuality should undergo the kinds of changes that I did--changes that lead to...more gay friends.

      If you stand behind the belief that homosexuality is wrong, you are standing behind the belief that gays and lesbians should systematically suppress their own sexuality, deny themselves the kind of love that enriches the lives of those around them, and court the kind of psychological and spiritual malaise (even despair) that is the recurring experience of closeted or self-rejecting gays and lesbians.

      Now you point out that someone who believes that all same-sex sexual intimacy is wrong could do nothing about it. They could have other priorities and so never act on he belief--never vocally condemn the loving relationships of gays and lesbians, never send money to an organization trying to block marriage equality, etc. In other words, you could behave in a way indistinguishable from the way that those who don't think homosexuality is wrong behave--and so, for all practical purposes, act as if you don't believe what you say you believe about the "sinfulness" of homosexuality.

      Even there, if the belief hat it is sinful is to mean anything, it has to be linked to behavioral dispositions. Otherwise you're not standing by the belief but just paying lip service to it.

      And the problem is this: The things that those who believe homosexuality is always wrong are disposed to do are things that have bad fruits. But don't take my word for it. Go out there and start listening to the stories of gays and lesbians. Spend time with them, enough time that you can really start to experience what it is like to be gay in contexts where the categorical condemnation of homosexuality prevails.

      The last qualifier is important. If you want to know whether it is unloving to believe that no Christian should ever be allowed to hold public office, you don't explore what effect this belief will have when it is the bizarre and quirky view of Sam Harris and a couple of his less thoughtful followers. You envision what it would be like the be a Christian living in a society where this belief prevails. If it would be damaging to some class of people were a belief to be normative in a community, then the belief is unloving towards that class of people.

      In the case of the condemnation of homosexuality, we don't need to think about the issue hypothetically. Because the view in question used to be dominant in American society and still dominates in conservative Christian communities--so there are many gays and lesbians who have firsthand experience of what it's like for this teaching to prevail.

    3. I'm so tired of evangelicals whining about how oppressed they've become. What a crock!

    4. lol lots and lots of words, that love the sinner hate the sin nonsense is only for people who think the new testament applies to them and the old one to everyone else heres what jesus said about gays ---> " . . . . . " so get over it already, faith is not an excuse to be a jack ass and anyone whose judgemental is usually just mental

  2. If I may.. This list is Very different than what conservative 'christians' do.
    I Do take this sort of thing personally, because people who excuse their behavior because 'faith' are expecting me to personally take a personal part of my personal self, and destroy it, because My person makes them uncomfortable.

    I have never, and will never tell a person of faith that their faith is wrong, and they are wrong for believing the way that they do, but How can it be right and proper for them to tell me that I cannot believe the way that I believe?

    If a person reads the bible, really reads it, not just cherry picking, the Jesus, the New testament teaches things like Love. Things like not judging people because it's not your place.

    Mind you, Jesus is still just fine with slavery, and the idea that women are less than entirely human. It took Martin Luther to give us women the rights to half a soul.

    If you honestly believe that part of me is sinful, then you place yourself above me, and in doing that make me less than human.

    Your very act of judging, is an unloving act. Your judgement is condemnation and it is pushing us to the side. Any wish to deny me and mine secular, legal rights, is an unloving act, and it not really working well at keeping your church out of my bedroom.

    This very same meme/logic/bs thing could easily say

    *Yes I am a christian, I believe the bible. I do not support miscegenation
    or Mixed race marriage*

    The same arguments used to stop people in love from marrying are still being used.
    Think of the children, how will they feel being in a family like that? I know many mixed race families, I'm from one, and you know what? A family is way better than not having a family, no one cares what color you are, or what gender you are, as long as you love.
    Or.. the argument that marriage is for making babies only.
    Many people marry, and don't breed at all, or can't. Does this mean they can't marry?
    Many people breed, and don't marry.. Does this mean they should be killed?
    If you really believe your bible, Yes, they should be killed.

    So, If you truly believe your bible, believe all of it.

    At least Fred Phelps was honest in his hate, he didn't sugar coat anything. He followed his bible, the words he read were a part of his life, and he preached to try and save people according to his beliefs, He never once said *I believe this, but it's not personal*
    He knew it was personal.

    Him I could respect far more than people who believe, and act like this meme.

    1. You are highly insinuating with your last comments about Fred Phelps, that somehow Christians are hiding hatred and harboring bigotry. There are those of us who have ZERO hatred, anger in our hearts toward gay people. The only anger I ever get is when someone doesn't allow me to be "me" the way they want to be "them". That's it and that's all. I do not understand how or why this could be so hard to comprehend. It's VERY clear, or should be.

      Fred Phelps with filled with toxic rage and hatred. Do NOT ever compare true loving Christians with such a man, let alone insinuate that you have more respect for his honesty. I am VERY honestly compassionate and loving toward gays. Many are FUN, compassionate, kind people. I have literally never committed any act against them that has contributed to them not being together, marrying, or living their lives. Unless it's a comment on the internet such as this ... I do not ever go out of my way to discuss the subject. Live and let live. But that does mean live and LET live, both ways. I simply happen to believe it's a sin. Just as I believe sex outside of marriage is a sin. That's it and that's ALL. It baffles me beyond belief that we are demanded tolerance of, but shown NONE when it comes to who "we" are.

    2. Darlanne,

      There's obviously an important difference between Fred Phelps and those like you who desire to love their gay and lesbian neighbors but think all homosexual acts are sinful. Unlike Phelps, you prioritize love and express a sincere commitment to loving your neighbors--including your gay and lesbian ones.

      But I think it is important to distinguish between loving motives and loving actions. When loving motives combine with certain false beliefs, they lead to actions that anyone with sincerely loving motives would be horrified by IF they knew what was really going on. So, for example, a loving mother who feeds her child poison under the false belief that this poison is medicine would be horrified by what she was doing if she knew the truth.

      I think holding to the view that homosexuality is categorically sinful is like that. Like the belief that a poison is medicine, acting as if the belief is true leads to behavior that anyone with sincerely loving motives WHO KNEW THE TRUTH would be horrified by. And I've tried in various ways to explain why I am convinced that believing in the sinfulness of homosexuality is like this.

      Were we to encounter a loving mother feeding her baby what we were sure was poison, and we tried to stop her by convincing her that it's poison, we would be expressing our intolerance for the ACTION that she is engaging in.

      But maybe she's not engaging in any actions. While she thinks the poison is medicine, she doesn't think her baby needs this particular medicine--or maybe she's too poor to buy the poison, or too lazy to treat her child. For whatever reason, she is not actively doing the things that we think are so dangerous. But she DOES stand behind the belief that the poison is medicine, thereby encouraging others to poison THEIR babies. In that case, out of love for babies everywhere, we'd try our hardest to convince her and others that the belief is wrong. I suppose you could say that we are intolerant of the belief, because--out of love for babies everywhere--we cannot tolerate the actions that are implied by the belief.

      And if she ignores us or refuses to look at our evidence, or dismissed the evidence with rote arguments that aren't any good, we might get seriously frustrated with her. We might try to minimize the harm that she is doing by taking strong steps to discredit her dangerous views about the poison. And she might feel affronted by the force and persistence of our arguments. But I don't think that's the same as being intolerant of HER--in the sense of rejecting WHO SHE IS.

      Things get tricky, of course, as soon as the dangerous belief becomes swept up into a community-defining ideology. Members of the community build their sense of self around community membership--and in turn around the beliefs that define the community. And so when the dangerous belief is challenged, it feels as if their very sense of self is under attack. They experience it as intolerance of who they are.

      As you can see, in the quest for tolerance, things get tricky pretty quickly. There are some ACTIONS I cannot tolerate--for example, efforts to sabotage or undermine or marginalize the loving relationships of my gay and lesbian neighbors. The belief that all such relationships are categorically sinful is the belief that it is right and good for them to end--and acting on that belief would mean attempting to sabotage or undermine or marginalize the loving relationships of my gay and lesbian friends. Hence, I need to stand against the BELIEF that underwrites the actions that I cannot tolerate.

      But what happens when a community clings so tightly to this belief that it becomes part of their collective identity? They are likely to experience my love-motivated efforts as intolerance, and accuse me of hypocrisy since I value tolerance in general. Is there a way to pursue the welfare of my gay and lesbian friends vigorously and with integrity while assuring those who feel cut down by this that I am committed to loving them as well?

    3. Thank you very much for your reply Eric ... I'm not sure if I'm understanding your analogy well enough ... so if I could clarify ... Are you essentially expressing that you would prefer my beliefs to not be that of homosexuality being a sin?

      If this is the case (and if it isn't, I apologize and would ask for clarification) ... Then I will say this:

      I have no ability to believe God's word to say anything other than what I believe it to say. I don't choose the belief. This may sound familiar from the other side, but "it's not a choice" for many of us. If that were the case, then I'd also like to believe that it's fine I had an abortion years ago. Try as I might, I sure don't believe that's fine, and I have no idea what my judgment will be, but I can't cast it off and dismiss it, simply because I prefer to believe otherwise.

      I re-read a few comments from Ang, who I was initially responding to, and I'd like to further clarify my position by replying to more that was said by Ang.

      Ang said: "because people who excuse their behavior because 'faith' are expecting me to personally take a personal part of my personal self, and destroy it, because My person makes them uncomfortable."

      (I could easily say this myself, from my own standpoint)

      Ang said: "I have never, and will never tell a person of faith that their faith is wrong, and they are wrong for believing the way that they do, but How can it be right and proper for them to tell me that I cannot believe the way that I believe?"

      (Again, that could have come from me, those words. Why am I expected to change what I truly believe is the truth, because someone else thinks it's wrong? How is that any different than Christians expecting gays to change?)

      Ang said: "If you honestly believe that part of me is sinful, then you place yourself above me, and in doing that make me less than human. "

      (Many do this and it's wrong. There are others like me, who do NOT do this. I am above nobody. My sins are just as sinful as anyone else's.)

      I do agree that the Christian community, the staunch conservatives, are far too judging and hostile. There's way too much focus on their "sin" and not other sexual sins in the world .. There's got to be a middle ground, where Christians and the gay community can accept one another, without name calling. I am simply saying that tolerance needs to be a two way street.

      But as to your initial analogy ... if I'm understanding it right ... it's a nice thought but I don't have any way to change what I believe are God's words and laws. This is how I wish it would go:

      Gays already know many Christians believe it's a sin. IMO they don't need to have it bashed into them, as it's their right to believe otherwise. Christians already know gays claim they are born this way. Whether they believe it or not, they need to just accept this is their belief, and stop inflicting change on those who are gay. It is one thing to pray for that person, but the Christian needs to just love their neighbor as themselves. As for the gays, they need to accept this is what and who we are, believers in the Bible who accept that it says it's a sin. So long as we are not trampling on anyone's rights to live their lives as they want, so long as we are respectful to one another ... we need to be TRULY tolerant, on both sides, and not just keep repeating the word for the sake of saying it.

      This is my sincere wish, though it's too naive to believe this can be, so long as there's hate that accompanies these beliefs on both sides.

      I do appreciate the commentary and discussion. Some people post just to be heard and to inflict their opinions ... I value real communication about this issue, as it weighs heavily on my heart.

    4. Darlanne,

      Apologies for the slow reply--I've been traveling.

      You bring up an interesting question: How voluntary is belief? There is considerable debate among philosophers about this very thing. My own view is that it varies among our beliefs: Some are adopted voluntarily, while others are "thrust upon us." But it's even more complex than that. There's a difference between something that I can't help but believe because my senses testify to it unequivocally, and something that I've been taught to believe since childhood with a consistency that makes it hard for me to fathom what it would be like to live my life not believing it. And then there are the things that I have been taught to believe and have built so many other beliefs upon that the psychological costs of abandoning the belief would be serious--my belief system crashing down around me and leaving me with a sense of being lost, etc. My voluntary choices play into these various kinds of beliefs in different ways and to different degrees.

      What is also clear about beliefs, however, is that the can be changed by changes in external conditions even when they are not voluntary. A mother keeps believing that her missing son is alive--in fact, she can't do otherwise, because the cost of letting go of the belief is psychologically unbearable. But then the boy's body is found. And now--no matter how much she might wish to keep believing he's alive, she can't. Neither the old nor the new belief were voluntary.

      Or consider the following: I might believe something based on the evidence and arguments available to me--and be unable to believe otherwise, given that body of evidence and arguments. But then someone comes along and lays out an argument I haven't heard before. And this new argument calls into question my original belief. And now I find myself ABLE TO CHOOSE. The belief wasn't voluntary before, but if I keep believing it in the face of the new argument, it's because I have chosen to keep believing.

      I happen to think that what you believe about homosexuality is logically connected to ways of behaving towards my gay and lesbian neighbors that harms them. You may not personally act in ways that rise to the level of harm--but sometimes collective action is harmful even when individual behavior is not, such that a community of people who believe a certain thing will collectively harm others even if no individual engages in anything that by itself rises to the level of causing harm. In the case of the belief that all homosexual acts are sinful, I think there are ways of believing it that are logically linked to individual acts that cause harm--and I think there are ways of believing it that don't culminate in individually harmful acts but do cause harm at the collective level. I think that no version of the belief is harmless.


    5. --> Continues

      Now, you disagree. But were I to convince you that this is true--that your belief is inevitably harmful to the spiritual and psychological welfare of gays and lesbians, is it possible that this would rattle your conviction such that it is no longer the case that you cannot help but believe that homosexuality is a sin? I can't answer that, obviously. And, unless I've already convinced you of the harmfulness of believing in the way that you believe, you might not be able to answer it either. Sometimes we don't know what will change within ourselves under certain conditions--unless we confront those conditions.

      What I will say is that many people committed to loving their gay and lesbian neighbors who were convinced that homosexuality is always sinful have changed that view once presented with the range of experiential evidence and philosophical argument that I have encountered over the years. Some change gradually, and some describe a moment of trembling awakening, in which they find themselves begging forgiveness for the damage they've unwittingly done.

      I can't present the experiential evidence I'm talking about in a blog post or comment. My best advice is to go out there and start listening to the life stories of gays and lesbians who grew up within conservative Christian communities--not only those like Westboro Baptist, but also ones which sincerely teach that gays and lesbians should be loved even while their "sin" is condemned.

      If you haven't see the documentary "For the Bible Tells Me So," that's a place to start--since it tells the stories of Christian families that were conservative on this issue coming to grips (in different ways) with a gay family member.

    6. Here is where I think choice is an INEVITABLE feature of beliefs, even if the beliefs as such are not chosen: We can choose what kinds of evidence and arguments to expose ourselves to, and how extensively, and how openly and sincerely. My belief may be unchosen as such and resistant to direct change, but that doesn't mean there is no element of choice involved with the belief. Sometimes, a belief is subject to being changed indirectly by my choices--because I have choices about what to pay attention to, what to ignore, what to take seriously and what to dismiss out of hand, etc.

      One of the greatest challenges in life, I think, is figuring out how our beliefs are being shaped, what we are doing to shape them indirectly, and what we should be doing in order to ensure that our beliefs embrace as many truths as possible and as few falsehoods. While there are no easy answers here, I think that anyone committed to an ethic of love can agree that compassionate attention to those affected by our beliefs--or who claim to be affected--is important. Genuinely compassionate attention is hard--especially when it comes to people who are hostile to us. It sometimes requires getting past put downs and judgments to reach for the personal feelings and needs and perceptions that lie beneath. It is hard to do, but when it's done it always changes our beliefs--not necessarily about some philosophical question or ethical precept, but certainly about the person we are listening to.

      In any event, I appreciate how you are wrestling with this and showing a willingness to engage with those whose views differ so clearly from your own.

    7. Wow for some reason I got an email that someone replied to this very VERY old comment section of this blog post. I read through what I had originally said. SO interesting to note that as of the past year or two I have called ALL of my faith into question. Not all of it was because of feeling forced into punishing gays or anyone who doesn't believe in my god, but for a variety of reasons. I'm not an atheist. I believe in a creator and in fact I still love Jesus, but I now believe the Bible was largely re-written in order to control the masses and force us all into feeling like sinful creatures.

      Sure I could be wrong and that still haunts me sometimes but I definitely feel a lot better being able to FULLY embrace and love (without "hating the sin") of my fellow neighbor, gay or otherwise.

      This was an interesting flashback!

  3. My response will be "short". They say the Bible clearly says homosexuality is wrong. It also says a lot of other things are wrong that no one has any trouble accepting (shell fish, blended fabrics, etc). It also says a lot of things MUST BE DONE, like hitting rebellious children over the head and killing them. Why do they not worry about those statement? Because they would say, "we know better know." Just because this has to do with sexuality, what is the difference. As a mental health professional, our profession long ago stopped thinking homosexuality was deviant, or optional, for those who have that orientation. It just is. And since some people are just born that way (yes, they are), why do we deny them the fullness of the human experience? Just asking

  4. "Just because the Lord has uncoditional love for all does not mean he has unconditional love for one's behavior."

    This quote came from a man who turned from his homosexual lifestyle once he finaly came to the realization that he was leading a lifestyle that was not pleasing to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Now he travels speaking to those who are lost down the same rode.

    There is hope for those lost in homosexuality. We as Christians must pray that their eyes will one day be opened and their hearts convicted.

    There is no need to bash my comment. Those of you accepting of homosexuality ask those of us that oppose it to be accepting of your view point, but I will tell you this: you don't have to accept my view point, the only view point you need to accept is that of the Lord above and what he has commanded to be acceptable in his sight.

    1. No one should accept another's viewpoint based on mere assurances. But if someone thinks there are very good reasons to conclude that your viewpoint is mistaken, it can make sense to consider those reasons. And offering reasons why you think something is mistaken isn't the same as bashing it. Bashing a view, as I see it, is about name-calling and rhetorical slams. Critiquing a view based on reasons and arguments and evidence is something we should all welcome, because our own fallibility makes such critique a potential gift. Sometimes a critique is intriguing but ultimately unconvincing, or requires considerable further reflection an discussion to assess. Sometimes a critique is so powerful as to be almost "staggering"--and can be erroneously mistaken for "bashing" because of its power. But it's important to consider thoughtful critiques.

      A few remarks about what you say above. First, I agree with the quote you open with. But, as I noted in the post, the truth of this quote does not imply that neighbor-love permits us to condemn any behavior whatever. Sometimes condemning a behavior expresses love. Sometimes condemning a behavior damages people (as is shown by my example of the hypothetical parent who condemns all childhood play). The question is how we decide which is which.

      My second point is related to the first, but it will take a moment to see why. "The homosexual lifestyle" is a highly ambiguous term. In a culture of rejection--in which any expression of a homosexual orientation is condemned--gays and lesbians will internalize the idea that expressing their sexuality is wrong whether they express it in furtively anonymous encounters or in committed loving monogamy. The only difference is that it hurts so much more when the loving relationship you work hard to nurture is called an abomination. And so it is common to avoid the pain and fall into patterns of deeply unhealthy sexuality.

      This is common enough among persecuted sexual minorities that it's often what conservatives have most vividly in mind when they talk about "the homosexual lifestyle." And furtive promiscuity is poisonous, no matter who pursues it. Ex-gay ministries offer an escape from it that may feel like a liberation.

      I've known many gays for whom the ex-gay movement was a first step in self-transformation, that was good insofar as it took them out of the self-destructive patterns that cultural rejection of their sexuality had driven them to. But as they shook of the fog of that poisonous pattern of self-destruction and self-hate, they began to see that a homosexual orientation did not condemn them to that lifestyle--and that self-denial and self-rejection were not the only or the best alternatives.

      This is the story for so called "EX-ex-gays," who came to accept that their sexuality was not inherently evil and that expressing it in the context of loving monogamy with a life partner was NOTHING like the ruinous pattern of furtive prmiscuity they'd fallen into--and was an more life-affirming and spiritually uplifting path than the one of self-denial that the ex-gay movement offered.

    2. The problem with that is that there aren't many people (I know none personally, and do not believe I have come across any writing from any) who argue both that homosexual relationships are not sinful, and that the only non-sinful context for a sexual relationship is a lifelong monogamous one.

      Indeed, I think such an argument is logically impossible to make, but for the moment I will simply point out that in my experience those who argue that same-sex sexual activity is not sinful also hold the same of all kinds of extra-marital sexual activity, whether polyamorous relationships of all kinds, simple casual sex, or, well, as adventurous as you care to imagine and probably beyond.

      To me the desire to legitimise same-sex sexual activity seems to be simply another step along the path of legitimising all sexual activity on the ground of, 'if it feels good and makes both (or more) of you happy, then do it'.

      If I really saw people advocating same-sex marriage because they thought that the only legitimate expression of sexual activity was within a single lifelong monogamous relationship then I would have more difficulty in being against the idea. But I have never seen anyone take such a position: all I have seen is people take the position that marriage is one lifestyle option among many, no more or less legitimate than a lifestyle of casual sexual encounters or a web of polyamorous couplings, and that thereofre this lifestyle option should be available to homosexual as well as heterosexual couples.

    3. I think you really need to look at those who "turned from their homosexual lifestyle" more closely. John Paulk was once the darling of those who "turned from their homosexual lifestyle"... married, father of 3, frequent speaker of his "deliverance"... until one day he found he was living a lie. He has since divorced his wife, and is currently dating a man. And he has stated he has never been happier in his life, because, for the first time ever, he is being who God created him to be. The same goes for John Smid, former leader of Love in Action -- an "ex-gay" ministry. Now married to a man. So many went through these types of programs... only to come out the other side, sometimes many years later, just as gay as they were before.

    4. The meme justifies actions made to the minority groups. For instance, when I hear people say, "Christ came to save those lost in sin" in the Americas post 1492 - that validates the genocide and forced conversions of millions of Indigenous people in the Americas. Instead of meeting half-way with Indigenous culture or respecting another's perspective - just as this person mention about not bashing the comments - sometimes people take it upon themselves to IMPOSE their culture on others, which is disrespectful and damaging.

      I say this because after all these years - homosexuality is something that is valued and appreciated in worldwide culture - or at least the areas where others did not impose their beliefs on them. They are NOT in sin or lost in darkness. The Universal God loves them for who they are. Each person has a path to walk on. And if homosexuality is a part of it, there is a blessed reason for it that you and I will never understand.

  5. I suggest that, like the legal age of sexual consent, philosophical or religious education should be presented to young people at an age of maturity when they are able to choose what they feel is right.

    I was raised in a conservative, very conservative, Christian Southern home and grew up completely convinced of the "rightness" of our faith. From their perspective, my parents were teaching me habits and truths that they felt were vital for a successful life and after-life (both mine and theirs). Even in my early college years I was afraid to think certain things, or do things like taste alcohol, dance, listen to rock music, say a swear word, etc, because God would know and I would be condemned for being a sinner. I'm posting this anonymously because my relatives may see it, and I love them, and don't want to upset them with the fact that my beliefs have changed.

    I mention my past because the indoctrination that I experienced from early childhood was incredibly powerful, hard to break, and not uncommon in the part of the country where I'm from. It was part of my life, and fears, and any suggestion of fallacy in it was simply unthinkable.

    The reality, as noted by the OP, is that a large part of that doctrine is exclusion of those who don't "believe" similarly. This was can be taken to the extreme, as in my case: Southern Baptists are too liberal, Catholics are pretty much the same as Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Atheists ,or Gays. When this is drilled in to your psyche from a young age, it isn't prejudice, its truth. All the original intent of Christian "love" is lost in exclusionary thinking. Anyone who doesn't accept 100% of your belief is wrong. No compromise is possible because God is on your side. All others MUST be wrong (unless they convert).

    So how can one address the issue of fundamental Christian vs. same-sex marriage? The problem, as the author suggests, is, the "Christian."

    But telling them they are wrong won't work! Appealing to "Love" won't work! One can't "convert" a life long Christian person any more than one can effectively "convert" an LBGT person. LGBT may be an inherent trait at birth, but Christian indoctrination starts almost immediately after. I know its different, but if one is taught something from earliest memory, its like being born with that thought. Two intractable positions.

    Like the legal age of sexual consent, philosophical or religious education should be presented to young people at an age of maturity when they are able to choose what they feel is right. At an age when they are mature enough to weigh the logic and values of a particular position in context with their life and surroundings (and friends). If Christianity holds up in that light, then it is right for them.

    1. I suggest that, like the legal age of sexual consent, philosophical or religious education should be presented to young people at an age of maturity when they are able to choose what they feel is right.

      This implies that it is possible, up until that age, to bring a child up in a kind of vacuum chamber, where they are exposed to no philosophy or religion.

      This is, of course, impossible. The absence of religion is itself a religious position; the refusal to mention philosophy will colour the child's entire attitude to philosophy in the future.

      You might as well suggest that a child be brought up with no moral values until it is old enough to decide for itself what moral values it ought to have.

    2. I was going to make a comment something along these lines, but taken a bit further by following the spirit of Hegel. Hegel thought it was impossible to think critically about a worldview without a context of assumptions from which to critically reflect.But then. aren't you just uncritically accepting that context? His solution was to advocate that we adopt some worldview, but live it out critically--with an eye towards noticing where human experience is hard to fit into the worldview we've adopted. When we find such tension points, we revise our worldview and then live it out critically, too. This puts us on a developmental trajectory where our worldview is constantly evolving in the light of lived experience, so that over the course of our lives it comes closer and closer to reflecting the reality that intrudes upon us through experience.

      On this view of things, it's not that we should withhold from children any philosophical or religious education until they are mature adults. That would essentially amount to requiring that everyone put off the process of developing their worldview through critical engagement with reality until later in life.

      The key isn't to withhold all philosophical and theological ideas from children. They key is to teach the spirit of critical reflection, the willingness to ask questions, the openness to adjusting and refining one's assumptions in the light of experiences.that challenge them--and the eagerness to seek out, rather than hide from, experiences that might call one's way of thinking into question.

      I have no problem with parents raising their children in a religious tradition. I do have a problem with those who tell their children to embrace that tradition uncritically and to resist and ignore any experiences that might inspire doubt.

  6. You've called God a sinner with your statement "To categorically condemn homosexuality is to commit a sin against your gay and lesbian neighbors." because God categorically condemns sin, including homosexuality.

    Yes, sin is devastating. The whole earth was cursed (devastated) because of sin and we have to live in that sin-cursed world. But there is hope for all of us. Jesus Christ died so that we don't have to continue to live in our sin and can be delivered from it's curse. And we even have the hope of some day living in a completely sin-less world, a new heaven and new earth.

    Whether we choose to believe a fact or not does not make it any less a fact, or truth. God is the creator and has absolute authority over His creation. He has the power to work to bring about the preservation of His Word regardless of what mankind believes or doesn't believe. The Truth of God's Word will stand forever, regardless of what interpretation any human may put upon it. It also has absolute authority, regardless of what pieces we may pick and choose to believe, and regardless of what level of authority we choose to give it.

    The truth is that God created the heavens and earth and everything in it. It was sin-free and good as He created it. It was sin that caused the earth to be cursed and brought death and destruction into the world. EVERYTHING changed from that point on. But God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, who lived a sin-less life. He alone was undeserving of death. But He chose to die so that we do not have to live under the curse of sin. It is our faith in what He accomplished on the Cross that saves us personally from the curse of sin and will ultimately deliver us from a sin-cursed world.

    1. In your passion to articulate your religious vision, you seem to have attributed to me assumptions I don't hold. You say, "You've called God a sinner with your statement 'To categorically condemn homosexuality is to commit a sin against your gay and lesbian neighbors.'"

      Your reasoning appears to be this: If condemning homosexuality is sinful, then anyone who condemns homosexuality is a sinner. But God condemns homosexuality. Hence, anyone who thinks condemning homosexuality is sinful thinks God is a sinner.

      But that is not my thinking at all. My thinking goes in the other direction, as follows: God is not a sinner. But the act of condemning homosexuality is sinful. Therefore, God does not condemn homosexuality.

      You apparently adopt a belief system whereby the premise that God condemns homosexuality is somehow beyond question. But my experience with homosexuality is this: The act of condemning it has all the poisonous fruits that are the markers of sin, whereas committed monogamy between loving same-sex partners has none of them. This experience has, for me, been very consistent and very clear. Based on it, I can't resist the conclusion that categorically condemning homosexuality is a sin whereas homosexuality as such is not. And if this conclusion is correct, then a teaching which leads one to think that God condemns homosexuality has the unacceptable implication of implying that God commits sin--and the teaching must therefore be false.

      A doctrine of plenary verbal inspiration (the idea that God inspired every word of the Bible so as to make sure that everything says exactly what God intended for it to say without any human errors or prejudices), combined with conventional interpretation of the scattered biblical passages that mention same-sex activity, implies that God categorically condemns homosexual acts. But given that I think such an implication is at odds with divine moral perfection, I'm led to conclude that either the conventional interpretation of the scattered biblical passages is wrong, or the doctrine of plenary verbal inspiration is a mistaken human theory about the nature of the Bible, or both.

      In fact, I think the actual content of the Bible--along with its history--so consistently and completely undermines the doctrine of plenary verbal inspiration that this is human theory about what sort of text the bible is must be a false human theory. There are many other human theories about the Bible to choose from--including ones that attribute to the Bible a very high authority--that sticking with plenary verbal inspiration is a bad idea. And I also happen to think that the conventional readings of the gay-bashing texts are fell less clear when we are introduced to the meanings of the texts in their original languages and read them through the lens of the cultural context.

  7. I've had so many of the same thoughts that the author has had, but haven't been able to concisely lay them out as he has. Thank you for this article.

    I was a prominent leader within the ExGay movement for over two decades. I held fast to the perspective that the anonymous comment did and prayed for hundreds of people personally that they would come to reason, see the light and allow God to free them from their homosexual compulsions. After many, many years I saw no one who's live was so dramatically changed that their homosexual desires went away. I did see some who had gotten married to straight partners. Some of those marriages turned out to be full of joy and fulfillment, but only some.

    After all of those years of experience, I saw the fruit of our mission to be depression, conflicts, disjointed faith and in many a distancing themselves from God. I have heard from many that they moved on in secret to pursue their inner desires many in indiscriminate ways that caused endless pain and addictions. Their conservative traditional roots led them to shame, and condemnation which I believe led to the seamier choices.

    In these later years, some are being restored to health as they have come to accept their homosexuality and reunite themselves to their foundation of faith. As they have learned of the true grace of God they are finding freedom from condemnation and beginning to pursue healthier relationships and discovering the fruit of joy.

    Sadly, this journey is like going through a knothole backwards and excruciating to walk the journey. Some have had the courage to stay the course of their authentic selves.

    I'm one of those people. I prayed, begged and pleaded with God to help me find satisfaction, joy, and attraction in my 24 year marriage. I was faithful. I was one of the most obedient Christians I knew. Not to sound prideful, but my motivation to obedience was the hope that God would come to save me from my homosexual compulsions and desires. I desperately wanted to feel the love I saw others had within their romance and marriages. I truly wanted it and spent years with counseling, prayer, workshops, conferences with some of the most respected leaders within the ExGay movement. I believed some day it would happen.

    The shame, anxiety, fears, and sadness grew. I was told that I was not allowed to enjoy that which was natural and desirable. I was told it was abominable for me to even think about it. Like a drunk and a bar, I was told to stay as far away as possible from any temptation that may draw me back into my homosexuality. I experienced a drying up of my emotions, my passion, creativity, and personality. I counted it as good and worth it if I was living obediently as I was taught to.

    I made the decision several years ago to trust more deeply in the grace of a loving God. Through that choice, I began to embrace the authentic me without shame for who I am. I began to come alive. I made another decision for life. I separated from my wife and released her from the unrequited love of a gay man for her as a straight woman. I also released myself to search for a future that would allow me to be who I am, naturally.

    I found a relationship with the most amazing, faith filled man I've ever known. My life has come alive. I am rediscovering my passion for life, creativity, and others. The shame is gradually going away.

    What has been written here is deep, rich, and truthful. I concur totally with the summarization that the teaching of condemnation for homosexual relationships has cost many their lives, physically, emotionally, and relationally. The condemnation of homosexuality relationships is an abomination.

    1. Thank you for this. For me, the most important line in my post is this one: "Don't take my word for it: Go out and listen to the life stories of your gay and lesbian neighbors." Thank you for sharing your story. It was through hearing so many stories so much like yours that I came to see the gravity of the harm that the traditional teaching has done and continues to do.

  8. Okay. Firstly, the only important question about a belief is: is it true? If doesn't matter whether it causes harmony or strife, happiness or despair, makes lives or breaks them; the only thing that matters is whether it is true.

    Secondly, is the belief that same-sex sexual acts are sinful true?

    And here the thing is, I can't see how one can construct (and I've thought about this) a logical way that same-sex sex can not be sinful, and extra-marital (ie, adulterous and pre-marital) opposite-sex sex can be sinful.

    Every possible reason for extra-marital opposite-sex sexual activity being sinful is rendered null, if same-sex sexual activity is not sinful. If same-sex sexual activity is not sinful, therefore extra-martial opposite sex sexual activity is not per se (ie, by the very fact of being extra-marital, rather than because it's, for example, rape) sinful.

    Therefore by modus tollens, same-sex sexual activity must be sinful.

    And that's all there is to it, surely?

    It's just logic.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Okay. Firstly, the only important question about a belief is: is it true? If doesn't matter whether it causes harmony or strife, happiness or despair, makes lives or breaks them; the only thing that matters is whether it is true.

      That is correct for beliefs about reality, but incorrect for beliefs about morality. The former exists independent of what we believe, and thus our beliefs about it are either true or false; the latter exists as a mental and social construct, and thus can be harmful or beneficial, but not true or false in the sense that a statement like "a molecule of water consists of two atoms of hydrogen and one atom of oxygen" is true or "an atom of hydrogen is heavier than an atom of oxygen" is false.

      Secondly, is the belief that same-sex sexual acts are sinful true?

      Category error. You may as well ask, "is the belief that lobsters are ugly true?" The characteristics "sinful" and "virtuous," like the characteristics "ugly" and "beautiful," do not have objective truth value, and thus a belief ascribing them to anything can be neither "true" nor "false" -- it's "not even wrong." The closest we can get to giving those concepts truth value is defining "is it sinful" as "does it harm others?" As Robert A. Heinlein put it, "Sin lies only in hurting other people unnecessarily. All other sins are invented nonsense. (Hurting yourself isn't sinful -- just stupid.)"

    3. Comment continued, due to length restrictions.

      And here the thing is, I can't see how one can construct (and I've thought about this) a logical way that same-sex sex can not be sinful, and extra-marital (ie, adulterous and pre-marital) opposite-sex sex can be sinful.

      You haven't established that non-marital (extra-marital means "extraneous to an existing marriage," i.e. adulterous -- it does not include pre-marital sex) sex is sinful; you haven't even give any reasons for assuming that it is. You also clearly haven't given much thought to the possible reasons why extra-marital opposite-sex sexual activity might be sinful, if you think that "Every possible reason ... is rendered null, if same-sex sexual activity is not sinful."

      Extra-marital sex, in the correct, adulterous sense of that term, is wrong because it violates the commitment that at least one of the people involved made to his or her spouse, and thus harms the spouse. Pre-marital sex is arguably, potentially wrong because it can result in a pregnancy between sex partners who are not sufficiently committed to each other to work together as parents; it can also be wrong for the same reason as extra-marital sex, if it involves cheating on (and thus harming) a partner with whom one of the people involved is supposed to be in an exclusive relationship.

      Same-sex sexual activity that does not involve cheating on anyone's partner cannot not wrong for either of those reasons, so your statement that "every possible reason for extra-marital opposite-sex sexual activity being sinful is rendered null, if same-sex sexual activity is not sinful" is demonstrably false.

      If same-sex sexual activity is not sinful, therefore extra-martial opposite sex sexual activity is not per se (ie, by the very fact of being extra-marital, rather than because it's, for example, rape) sinful.

      Since, in moralities based on harm minimization instead of on arbitrary rules, non-marital opposite sex sexual activity actually isn't wrong by the very fact of being non-marital, this statement would prove nothing even if it were true, which, as already demonstrated, it isn't.

Therefore by modus tollens, same-sex sexual activity must be sinful.

      Or non-marital opposite sex sexual activity must not be sinful; since you haven't established the premise that it is, that alternate modus tollens is equally valid.

    4. Anonymous,

      While I don't agree with everything Alex Harman says above (especially with respect to the nature of morality, which I find to be a very difficult question that cannot be answered in a blog comment), I do share his perplexity over your assertion that any reason one offers for treating same-sex intimacy as permissible would also render extra-marital sex permissible.

      Why think that? Whatever the reasons for believing sex should be limited to the context of faithful, loving monogamy, it would be quite a surprising result, I think, if those reasons also happened to be good reasons for condemning the sexual intimacy of two people capable of having sex within the context of faithful, loving monogamy (just because they happen both to be of the same sex). This result would be so surprising, in fact, that your claim that the two sexual issues stand and fall together strikes me as presumptively false. Unless you provide really good reasons to think it's true, I'll remain deeply skeptical.

  9. Hi Eric - I discovered your blog recently and have been reading voraciously. I'm also (slowly :)) making my way through God's Final Victory, and am greatly enjoying it.

    I don't have much to add to this specific post, but I just wanted to let you know that this blog has been a great help to me lately. I am in a somewhat high position in a parish in a church tradition that is 100% against same-sex marriage. This has been causing me quite a bit of anxiety; I'm not gay, but over the past few years, I have come to support LGBT rights, and I cannot be open about this belief at my church. I know I will eventually have to break my silence. So thank you for your engaging and compassionate writings on this topic - they have given me hope and determination, and much to think about. Keep up the great work!

    1. Thanks, Laura. This kind of feedback reminds me why I do this sort of thing. Glad I've been of some help on your journey.

  10. It's loving to tell someone they are sick when they are in denial.

    Nowadays major portions of the culture are in denial that homosex is is sickness. Just saying this I'll be labeled a hater, unloving, etc. Ironic when it's those who want to keep the homosexual practitioner stuck in their "lifestyle."

    1. In the original post, if you read it carefully, you will discern the problem with your assertion here. But in case it isn't obvious, here it is: I AGREE, completely, with the claim that it is loving to tell someone they are sick when they really are sick and in denial about it...because it is only in such a case that they can seek out the help they need or stop doing the things that are damaging to them. But it is also equally true that to call someone sick when they're not sick can be damaging to them.

      To label something a sickness that isn't a sickness can have very damaging effects. Left-handedness was, in effect, labeled in such a way, with left-handed people often forced to write with their right hands and stigmatized for their failure to succeed. etc.

      To treat someone as sick when they're not, and in relation to something that isn't a sickness, can do very serious harm. And this means that we have a serious responsibility to determine whether or not something is a sickness before we call it a sickness.

      The question is how we decide. Suppose my cousin loves opera, and I was taught that this is sick and disgusting. I investigate, and opera seems to enrich my cousin's life with no visible signs that it is doing them harm. But the person who taught me that it's a sickness points to a society in which this teaching is rampant. Because society doesn't accept them or their music, the opera lovers there engage in furtive. guilt-ridden indulgence in late-night clubs, drinking away their shame but unable to keep away from the music they love. The advocate of the opera-is-sick view points to this and says, "See! See! Opera is driving these people into deeply unhealthy lifestyle practices, so I'm right!" The mistake, of course, is that what's causing the problems isn't opera but the stigmatization of it.

      Out of love for opera-lovers, we should pay careful attention to how the stigmatization of opera affects the lives of our opera-loving friends. And when we pay the kind of attention that love for them demands, it seems that the reasonable conclusion to draw is that, out of love for opera fans, we should refrain from calling opera sick.

  11. Love him or hate him, Rodney King had it right when he said, "Can we all get along?" Such a plea regarding our humanity is timeless on so many levels.
    This particular blog topic has been very insightful and thanks Eric for opening up the dialogue on a very divisive issue.

  12. Eric,

    So what you're saying is, it's a sin to call it a sin because as a result of doing so someone might choose to do themselves in?

  13. I'm assuming you are talking about monogamous, loving homosexual relationships here? That's fine.

    But what does the Christian say to his homosexual friend who is living a promiscuous lifestyle? I've been called a homophobe for critiquing the promiscuous lifestyle (even though I support the monogamous lifestyle). I mention I'm also against heterosexual promiscuity but it still doesn't help. It's like you can't critique anything having to do with homosexuality anymore.

    So what case can be made that allows for monogamous same-sex relationships but is critical of promiscuous same-sex activity?

  14. Hi Dr. Reitan,

    It's refreshing to hear an intelligently articulated understanding of Christianity. it's a nice reminder that not Christians and Christianity isn't lost, especially when that isn't often reflected in the Christians whom I most often see.

    On a personal note, it's refreshing because I'm sure my sister would have loved this post if she could have read it. I imagine she would have sent it to me with great enthusiasm (as she had been a clandestine follower of your blog since I took your class in 2008) hailing it as a beacon of light amidst a muck of moronic memes that seem to saturate Facebook. She always said she read your blog when she felt down as it restored her faith in mankind; not an easy task to accomplish, as a self-proclaimed starry-eyed idealist, she often and lost her faith.

    So thank you for your words. Both these words, and the many one's you have written in the past. I know they have greatly influenced someone very dear for me. Congratulations on your 500th blog post and the number of views to this one!

    Take care.


    1. Tim,

      It's good to hear from you. Thank you for the kind words. It sounds from your comment that you've lost your sister. If so, I'm very sorry for your loss. I'll keep you and your family in my thoughts and prayers.

      In a sense, your sister--although I never met her--helped to launch this blog. When you were my student, you forwarded to me a post your sister had sent to you--Greta Christina's "angry atheist" blog post. I began commenting on several of Greta Christina's posts--and as my comments grew increasingly lengthy, I decided I should really be posting these things on a blog of my own, which it would make sense to start up in tandem with the release of Is God a Delusion? (You may have noticed that the very first post on this blog was a discussion of Greta Christina's angry atheist piece).

      I hope that otherwise all is well with you.


  15. The Bible states that homosexual relations is sinful in both old and new testament (Romans 1). In both cases, they are explicit statements, no argument to be had. And to love your neighbor as yourself, of course, is important. We should love homosexuals as we do all other sinners. Love the sinner, hate the sin. For it is Christlike to hate sin because God himself hates sin. Everyone sins, except for Christ. There is no worse sin than the other, except of course blaspheme of the Holy Spirit seems to be pointed out as a higher offense in Scripture. Interpretation of Scripture should be guided by God, not by ourselves. It is that simple.

    1. It is always possible to love the sinner while hating the sin, because if something genuinely is a sin then hating it is good for those who are gripped by it. But there's a flip side to this. Because it is always possible to love the sinner while hating the sin, we have strong reason to think that certain things can't possibly be sins, since hating them fundamentally compromises our capacity to love our neighbors as we should.

      I happen to think that is the situation with respect to the same-sex intimacy of our gay and lesbian neighbors. I say this because I have paid attention to them, to their lives, to how their lives and their spirituality is affected by the categorical condemnation of their love. It is utterly soul-crushing.

      Now you will say the Bible is clear. I'm not so sure, but suppose you're right. What follows? Maybe what follows is that your theory about the Bible--your *human* theory about *how* the Bible is related to God and God's word--is not only mistaken but dangerously mistaken, leading you to treat as sins things that we cannot treat as sins without fundamentally harming the neighbors we are called upon to love.

      That is the possibility I invite you to consider. Are you so sure that your theory about the Bible is correct that you cannot consider that you might be wrong about it? I'm not asking you to consider whether God is wrong. I'm asking you to consider whether the human theory about the Bible which leads you to attribute every sentence in it to God might be a mistaken way of understanding the Bible, its relationship to God's Word, and its proper role in Christian life.

      This is not a simple question. It requires wrestling with the actual content of the Bible and its history (including its more troubling elements), as well as other things: the concept of divine revelation, the place of uncertainty and ambiguity in a life of faith, and the demands of living by an ethic of love.

      I'll leave you with these questions: Where did you learn the most about love in your life--from the people who loved you, or from books? And if God is love, how would God be more likely to reveal His nature--in a person who loves us (say, Jesus) or in a book? If the former, then the Bible is better seen as a testament to God's revelation than as the revelation of God (which, rather, would be Jesus). But should we expect that testament to be free of errors? We should expect it to be a helpful guide, but should we expect it to be an inerrant one such that we don't have to bring our own minds or consciences to bear on it but can simply follow it blindly? If God were to provide the latter, wouldn't human beings be then inclined to pay more attention to it than to the neighbors they are called upon to love? If God is love, would God do that, creating a world where followers of God pay more attention to a book than to the creatures created in His image, creatures capable of loving and being loved, creatures capable of manifesting the divine?

      Surely, he would provide wisdom and guidance, a repository for human witness accounts of God's most profound revelations in history. But the Bible can be all that without being inerrant--and without inerrancy, we may actually have to listen to each other, struggle together, learn by loving in the midst of uncertainty, and thereby be pushed closer to God.

  16. Christians are fucked and that the bottom line. "We don't bully or force our beliefs on anyone", then they have children or even adopt and force them to sit there listening to bullshit attempts at brainwashing. Since you Christians like those "I was that miracle baby who survived abortion tales". well guess what "I was that child who survived your insane rhetoric that was a oxymoron in itself". I choose the scientific method over your divided self convictions anyday.

    "My favorite "part" of the bible is when god gives everyone free will, and then kills them all along with everything else on this earth for not behaving they way he wanted, even though he knew that's how they would behave when he created them."
    Because: Fuck Logic....

    1. Methinks thou dost make sweeping generalizations about what Christians believe, how they approach ethical issues, how they raise their children, how they understand biblical stories, etc.

      I'm a Christian philosopher. As a philosopher, logic is for me a big f***ing deal.

  17. To deny a person Service because there life style is a sin then yes you are judging them for there sin when you yourself have your Owen next time you eat any kind of sea food remember that a abomination under God just like homosexuality and I don't see a lot of christians out there trying to close down my lobster