It’s been remarkable to see the relativists head for the hills in light of the Penn State sex abuse scandal. The moral outrage has been loud and immense (and justified). I’ve heard no one appeal to diversity, multiculturalism, situational histories, or different ways of being. Every person I’ve talked to, every sports talk commentator I’ve heard, every article I’ve read—they’ve all said the same thing: the abuse was wrong, the cover-up was wrong, the priorities of the school were wrong. Shame on everyone.

Which has me wondering why some sins are so obviously scandalous in our culture and others are not. The difference, as best as I can figure it, has to do with victimization. In general, Americans (like most people I imagine) don’t want innocent people to be hurt through no fault of their own. The equation is simple: if your actions make someone else suffer, they are wrong. It’s easy to see this logic at work in the Jerry Sandusky case. A grown man molests underage boys for his own perverse pleasure and to their great detriment. He wins; they lose. Big time. The moral calculus is clear. And in this case, spot on.

But this line of moral reasoning has its limits. Actions can be wrong whether they visibly hurt someone or not. And actions that provoke suffering or discomfort or disappointment in others (be it emotional or physical) are not always evil. Think of spanking or speed limits or prohibiting harmful substances. Some victimless crimes are still crimes, and sometimes insisting on the right thing produces “victims.”

Our culture is deeply moral. All our fiercest debates–from abortion to homosexuality to budget cuts and taxes–are about morality. What is fair? What is just? What is right? The problem is that too many Americans only trade in one currency of conviction. It’s victimization or nothing at all. This is why the pro-life movement has (rightly) been able to make some headway. Abortion hurts the women who get them and manifestly hurts the children it strikes dead. We can easily show others (if not always persuade them) that abortion causes suffering. There is no higher moral high ground in America.

The same logic works powerfully against Christians when it comes to homosexuality. Since the physical ailments associated with homosexual behavior have been buried deep in the ocean of “don’t you dare go there” there is little accepted moral force left on our side. What could possibly be wrong with two consenting adults expressing their love in private ways mutually agreed upon? No one is hurt by homosexuality. How is your marriage ruined by two other people getting married? Those are the arguments that are almost unassailable given our cultural climate. What’s more, it’s easy to see how advocates of traditional marriage quickly fall on the wrong side of the prevailing moral calculus. We are the oppressors. We are the ones causing innocent people to suffer. We make ourselves happy at the expense of others. Christians are the Jerry Sanduskys of the world.

Think of almost any issue: if you can find a victim, you can make a case. If not, you’ll likely end up the victimizer. So Christians can get quick traction in society by opposing sex trafficking. The oppression is obvious; the sin is scandalous. But we get little traction in opposing premarital sex and great pushback in opposing homosexual behavior. Abortion can go either way because the baby is a victim but denying the woman her choice seems cruel too. Economic matters are also tricky. Cutting the budget may hurt the poor, but confiscatory taxation feels unfair.

The postmodern world knows only one form of moral reasoning: show me the victim. And Christians in this country have played into their hand over the last decades by constantly presenting themselves as oppressed, persecuted, and discriminated against. While all those charges may be true at times, we’ve played that hand so frequently that it’s too late to realize the deck is now stacked against us.

In light of this reality, two things must be done.

First, we must do more to show the long term consequences of seemingly innocent behavior. This is not a call to play the victim card but to do our homework. The sexual revolution of the 1960s seemed like a good idea at the time. But now we know that communities were made weaker, women have not been made happier, and children have been put at greater risk. Just because everyone seems happy with the sin right now doesn’t mean people won’t suffer in the long term. Just look at no-fault divorce.

Second, and more important, as Christians we need to explain the true nature of sin. While oppression is always sin, sin cannot be defined solely as oppression. Sin is lawlessness (I John 3:4). An action is morally praiseworthy or blameworthy based on God’s standard. This definition will not be accepted by many, for God has largely been removed from our culture’s definition of evil. But try we must. The culture war is not the point except to the degree that God is the point. And our God rests too inconsequentially upon our country and our churches. The world needs to see the true nature of sin as God-defiant. Only then will it know the true nature of our sin-defiant Savior.

 

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32 thoughts on “The Currency of Conviction”

  1. David says:

    Yes. Yes. Yes.

  2. Rose says:

    I’m not sure the answer to your question has as much to do with victims as it has to do with identifying someone who is abusing his or her power. And I’m not entirely sure that is the wrong way to look at it, for a person who is abusing his power, domineering or lording it over another is himself challenging Christ, to whom all authority has been given. If we started to talk about the risky sexual behavior engaged in by homosexuals and involving one person domineering another, we would have to look at the same behavior engaged in by heterosexuals. Is that why we don’t dare go there?

  3. Marshall Johnston says:

    Kevin,
    This is profound insight. Thank you.

  4. Noel says:

    Very thoughtful post, Kevin. My only caution would be to consider that there is a subtle difference between ‘crime’ and ‘sin.’ All crime is sin, but not all sin is crime. In other words, crime has a victim. (And my understanding of OT civil law was that the goal regarding crime was always protecting the victim.) So addressing crime falls to the jurisdiction of the State. Some sin has no victim (other than ourselves and the Body) and falls to the jurisdiction of the Church.

  5. Truth Unites... and Divides says:

    “Christians are the Jerry Sanduskys of the world.”

    And don’t you forget it! Homophobic bigots. About time you soul-destroying Pharisees admit your own sins.

    (/off)

  6. Michael says:

    There are many victims of homosexual activity:

    1. Any children involved, including children left in previous marriages, children adopted into homosexual “families”, children who observe such a lifestyle, etc.

    2. Both participants in the homosexual act (especially the males) are victimized physically in a sense, because this is an unnatural act and will negatively effect the body. (see the report out of the San Francisco ER, which will make you sick!)

    3. Marriages are “victimized” because they must now legally conform to the new standards and laws, which are ever changing in a homosexual-supporting society. And how many divorces are now occurring because one spouse decides he/she is gay? The remaining spouse is then victimized.

    4. Society is a victim, because it will suffer the consequences of supporting such a lifestyle. (cf. Sodom, Gomorrah, Greece, Rome, etc.)

  7. Truth Unites... and Divides says:

    Jesus Christ was a victim.

    And my sin helped kill him.

    Lord, please forgive me.

  8. Renee says:

    Noel, I think you need to be careful when making a blanket assertion that “all crime is sin” and not defining the two words. If you’re using “crime” to mean “any action a government has deemed wrong and punishes,” then I would submit that your statement is false. Many things that are not Biblical sin can be legislated to be crime. A government label doesn’t trump the Bible.

    If you’re just using “crime” to define an action that creates a “victim” then I think you may need to reread Kevin’s third paragraph.

  9. Craig H Robinson says:

    Thanks. Very insightful and helpful article.

    I also appreciated the second to last sentence. Too often in the past I have heard Christians define sin as “missing the mark” as if we are somewhat good but not good enough. I understand the Bible, rather, to define sin simply as disobedience against God, which is rebellion. If the world does not believe in God, then they have no category for sin. They need a victim to show someone was “sinned” against.

  10. Trevor says:

    @Craig

    The reason Christians “too often” define sin as “missing the mark” is because that’s what it actually means in the original language of the New Testament–hamartia (Gk.). You may not like the archery imagery, but it’s what the biblical writers used.

  11. Craig H Robinson says:

    Trevor, I am well aware of the Greek. And I am well aware of why Christians define sin as “missing the mark.” But it is misleading if we look only at the meaning in Greek or Hebrew. We must look at whole theological development in the Bible and how the Hebrew and Greek terms are actually used in context. Adam is our first and best example of what sin looks like. He was told not to eat the fruit, but he willingly disobeyed and did it anyway. He wasn’t missing a mark as if falling short of something. You either eat the fruit or you don’t.

    When we look at the whole Bible and how the whole theology of sin is developed, we get a picture of sin as disobedience to God’s word, or as Kevin put it “God-defiant.” It is a conscious act against God.

  12. Really good article. It’s certainly easy to say, “stop the sex trafficking!”, “feed the hungry!” because by doing so we align ourselves with those being victimized and speak to “issues” rather than to people. But it’s much harder to speak to a person and tell them they the victimizer…the guilty one.

  13. DRT says:

    If I hear you right you are trying to argue that everyone should be subjected to your interpretation of the Christian bible. Is that right? I do not believe that the Bible teaches us that being gay is wrong, and many others feel the same way.

    If there is no victim, no one hurt (including the participant) and no rational condemnation then why would you possibly want to say it is wrong? I cannot understand you at all.

    If people are hurt then we certainly must consider whether something should not be allowed. But if no one is hurt, then it makes absolutely no sense to have it be illegal.

    Dang I wish I had as much ego as Kevin to think that I know what god wants better than everyone else and I will punish those who do not live up to my standard. Sheeesh!

  14. Chris Julien says:

    DRT, you’ve given the example that Kevin was talking about… he writes that our culture only understands something to be immoral and wrong if there is a clear victim. But there is an obvious blindside in our culture’s moral compass, because some things/decisions/sins do not immediately show us the “victim”- the consequences often take years to show themselves. Which is why he cites the examples of the sexual revolution and no-fault divorce.

    His point, in addition to pointing out our culture’s faulty method for determining right and wrong, is that God’s standard is the highest standard, and trumps us even if we can’t see who the “victim” is of a sin/action.

    For example, even if no one is hurt by something I do, such as fuming internally with anger, or lusting after a woman, it is still a sin because of the words of Jesus in the New Testament. Lack of victim doesn’t mean lack of sin. (Though in a sense, we could say that my inner thought-life hurts me; I am the victim. The same is true of those who engage in homosexual behavior; they are hurting themselves. But that is not discussed in the blog post.)

    God bless.

  15. DRT says:

    Chris Julien,

    I appreciate your response. What I am hearing you say is that it is often quite difficult to determine if there is, indeed, a victim or a problem with the actions we take and if we were to have perfect knowledge then we would appreciate that there are ramifications beyond what we see and god is in the position to see those ramifications and we should listen to god and the wisdom he purveys in the bible.

    If that is what you are saying then I agree with that.

    I have a couple problems with the implementation though.

    First, I believe that there must be a good reason for god to look down on any given activity. What kind of god would it be if we were to simply not be allowed to step on cracks because they may break our mother’s back or wear two types of cloth simply because he says so.

    Second, none of us has the preferred position in determining the truth of what the bible says. Christians in good conscience have argued that slavery is permissible in the bible, that it is sinful to not go to church on Sunday and many other things that we have since overturned.

    So, the question still becomes that we should have good reasons for condemnation of others. There really does need to be something that could be considered wrong about it since god must have the view that something is wrong.

    Then, we definitely have the history of picking and choosing what we follow in the bible and what we do not. Divorce, food choices, science, holy kisses, many things have become subject to us.

    Do you really think we should do something just because Kevin or Piper thinks that is consistent with their theology? Do you really not believe that we all pick and choose therefore the argument that the bible says so is not conclusive, particularly since we do not have access to what the bible actually says given that there are soooo many different interpretations of what it says.

    And further, and the most important point, is that Jesus gave us the rule of love, and many of the things that Kevin supports are not consistent with the big picture view of the bible. If we are to judge ourselves based on the rule of love, then we should do that.

    Look, I totally get that there are shallow people out there who will say things like “who is it hurting if I smoke a little pot?”, and they argue that there is no victim. Likewise those on the right will say “if you go for gay then you slide down the slope to bestiality, where is the harm there?” But those are shallow arguments by shallow people. For well informed people it does not take much argument to show that breaking the law or ignoring the law does have harm, even if the action does not have harm. And bestiality clearly has harm because one of the partners is non-consenting and the basis of the relationship can never be mutual consent.

    So I strongly object to the ideas of this post. Kevin is just as fallen as everyone else and he is not in the position to know what god truly says any more than I am. I especially think this since he believes in a god that plans evil and that is a monster by any measure.

  16. Chris Julien says:

    DRT,

    Thanks for sharing all of your thoughts, it was good to read them. I will say I am of the odd strain of Christians that believes we shouldn’t pick and choose what we believe from the Bible, but rather we should read and believe in the whole counsel of God. It’d take way too long to explain how I understand, read, and interpret the Bible (though if you have a question about how I read a specific passage I could take a stab at it.) There are many interpretations of the Bible, yet I believe we must stand on something, and I’d choose a messed-up interpretation of the infallible word of God rather than a messed-up thought that proceeds solely from me or my culture. I choose to place my starting point in Scripture, because it’s a more steady and sure base than I ever could be.

    That being said, I take very seriously the words found in Romans 1 that pertain to homosexuality as well as other very common sins. That’s the passage that’s often quoted with regards to this topic, and I’d be happy to talk about that passage if you’d like.

    As for why God says that homosexuality is wrong? Well, let’s go beyond the general belief that marriage is for man and woman, and that this design reflects the relationship between Christ and the church (I’m sure you’ve heard those thoughts before, so I don’t want to beat a dead horse.)

    Instead, I would like to hear your thoughts on the following: Assume that we believe that evolution is the explanation for how we got here today. Evolution is the theory that random mutations have occurred over a vast amount of time, and those mutations that have been beneficial have caused the specimens with those mutations to live longer/evade death/create more offspring. Therefore, eventually negative traits are seen less and less (because those creatures die off) and positive traits remain, develop, and then more randomly mutated traits come in the future, further enhancing and growing a species.

    My question is this: if we take the above assertion about evolution to be true, how can we support homosexuality as a natural and beneficial trait to be allowed, because by its very nature it does not allow its species to reproduce? By the law of evolution, homosexuality should be eventually rooted out, because those who engage it in cannot further their genetic code. Any thoughts on that?

    In short, one reason I think homosexuality is wrong is because it doesn’t allow for the continuation of our race. Should we let people do something, even something that feels good and natural such as homosexual love, when it inherently cannot contribute to the continuation of our race? How is homosexuality “natural” in light of these thoughts?

    And if homosexuality is not explained by evolution, then how do you explain what it is? I’d say it’s due to man’s sinfulness and the brokenness of this world. But what do you think?

    Anyone have any thoughts on that? Concerns? Clarifications?

    God bless.

  17. DRT says:

    Chris julien,

    I will write more later, or perhaps in the morning, my son brought some friends over and they are entertaining :)

    I will give a brief view of my homosexuality argument. It contends that the hebrew word tow ‘ehbah is primarily used for actions that are deemed bad for a particular society. Egyptians believe that shephards are tow ‘ehbah. They are contextually based.

    And Paul’s view is based on the action being unnatural as would be expected given the OT context and the fact that those who sin via homosexuality are about as numerous as those who are truly homosexual. But due to increases in communication and examination we have seen that homosexuality is quite natural and prevelant outside of the perverts who do it just to be bad.

    So, given the justification for it is not that it offends god, but instead it is tow’ehbah, and that Paul makes an argument from nature, it seems obvious to me that it is something that should be based on context.

    This is, of course, all arguments outside of the rule of love which obviously would support lifelong monogomous same sex unions.

    So you know, I was homophobic my whole life. My kids have pushed me on this over the past 10 years and have asked me to honestly research it and the more I researched it the more I have been convinced that we should allow gay marriage. And by the way, aside from Paul, no one says anything bad about girl on girl.

    As far as evolution goes, we must realize that all of the natural world is a continuum, not a black and white deal. For instance, people exist all the way from a deep voiced throw up if you see gay men sex guys (like me), to people with one kind of genetilia to people with both sets to people with everything inbetween. The natural world is not a world of black and white, it is a world of continuum.

    gotta go, but want to talk more….

  18. Jason Nicholls says:

    Kevin, once again this is an excellent and very thought-provoking post. Dare I suggest another title? “The Perils of Playing Victim.” But maybe that’s simply the line of thought that spoke loudest to me. Thanks for sharing this.

  19. Trevor says:

    @Chris

    The evolutionary origins of homosexuality are not as simple as direct heritability like hair or eye color. In fact, studies have shown that women whose males relatives exhibit homosexuality are often more fertile than other women with heterosexual relatives. And besides, your nieces and nephews carry about half of your genetic code, so your genes (partially) survive if your next-of-kin can more successfully reproduce (even if you can’t directly). Thus, the heritable traits that make expression of homosexuality possible (via some combination of nature & nurture) remain in the gene pool. This seeming roadblock to reproduction may actually be a reproductive advantage. http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn6519-survival-of-genetic-homosexual-traits-explained.html

    You argue that homosexuality is “wrong” because it cannot contribute to the survival of the human race. How would you respond to couples who either choose not to have children or cannot physically reproduce? Are their romantic relationships somehow immoral now because they can’t or won’t make babies?

    And I can’t think how homosexuality—exhibited in 1-5% of all people—can really pose a challenge to our ~7-billion-strong population. If the evolutionary explanation of homosexuality is true, it actually contributes to fertility!

  20. aaron schulte says:

    My main problem is the assumption that long term consequences is a better way of understanding God’s standard than victimization. The thrust of reformed thought should suggest that preknowledge of what someone does is an insufficiant catagory to describe God’s providential plan – as we recognize it does not allow God’s choosing to be independent of our own understanding. This may be a salvatational catagory, but then, we often debate the doctrinal validity of homosexuality, so I argue it is relavent – at least in appreciating that long term consequences do not have any more validity theologically than victimization.

    Also, given that both Deuteronomy and Jesus summarize the law as a matter of loving God and neighbor, shouldn’t the converse (hating others to point of making them vitims of our own behavior) be the test of what should be confessed as it would 1) miss the mark of the standard of love, and 2) be a matter of disobedience to Christ’s command to love our enemy? What is missing here is legitmate confession, and I don’t know how you can claim humble obedience to the word of God without it.

  21. Michael B. says:

    If social conservatives can show that letting 2 gay men be together is somehow hurting people in the long run, then I think they’ll have an argument. But if their argument is that it’s wrong because they cherry-pick their Bible for a verse, then expect to be dismissed. The argument “My God is going to get really mad if 2 gay guys are together” is going to be quickly dismissed as something a kindergartner would say.

  22. Chris Julien says:

    Hey Trevor, thanks for adding your thoughts.

    I see what you’re saying, that homosexuality can remain in the gene pool, but my point is that it cannot be propelled forward/it cannot take precedence or grow for the very fact that they cannot reproduce their genetic code. Sure, some of their code is carried in their nieces and nephews, but that’s not due to their own reproduction. This is the difference between survival and flourishing; while it’s interesting that homosexuality can survive, a large part of my point is it cannot flourish and self-replicate, and therefore, it is unnatural for humans to engage in. There is a sense in which we could say reproduction is the single, most important trait for the survival of any species. Evolution can’t happen where reproduction doesn’t occur.

    Perhaps I should’ve said that it’s unnatural, rather than “wrong.” That’s what I’m (attempting) to argue for right now. Well, here’s one thing to consider. Heterosexual couples have 2 traits associated with their sexual reproduction: they are 1) desire, and 2) capability. What I mean is, a normal heterosexual couple is 1 of 4 things: willing and able, unwilling and able, willing and unable, or unwilling and unable. In contrast to this, a homosexual couple is by default unable to reproduce, and so they get lumped into an entirely separate category from heterosexual couples.

    So as far as the couples you mentioned: to the couple who chooses not to reproduce, I would ask why they don’t want to have children. Are there medical or heritable diseases they don’t want to pass on? Are they looking to serve the Lord in radical ways and so they feel that they should not have children due to the extra burden they bring? I would also point them to Genesis 1, where mankind is told to fill the earth and subdue it; having children is one of the natural and common goals of sexuality. In short, the first couple may have legitimate reasons for not wanting to have kids, or they might be immoral in that decision. I’d have to talk to them to find out.

    To the second couple, those that cannot reproduce, of course they are not acting immorally, because they often fall into the 3rd category above: willing but unable. In talking with them, I’d echo what Jesus said about the blind man in John 9: when his disciples asked who had sinned to make him blind, Jesus responded, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.”

    But that’s my very point: in the example of the couples, something has “gone wrong.” They should be able and willing, but something is strange and they cannot fulfill this. In the case of homosexuality, they *always* are unable to reproduce, and thus it is unnatural. Nothing has *gone wrong* to make it so that homosexuals can’t reproduce; it’s unnatural from the start, and they are impeded in what should normally follow from sexual intercourse in marriage- children. Thus, homosexuality is unnatural.

    God bless.

  23. DRT says:

    I think I understand your argument and I do not agree with it on several levels.

    First, there are plenty of natural things that happen that make it so people cannot procreate. Everything from dying of any number of afflictions during childhood to missing genetilia or brain death etc etc. All of these things are natural.

    So natural conditions can easily lead to a lifetime of inability to procreate. Nothing unnatural about that.

    Next, part of what has happened over the past 100 years is that there has been much more research done into same sex attraction. As it turns out, there is a more or less constant rate of same sex attraction throughout the world, and also within the animal kingdom. This is very compelling evidence to make the statement that same sex attraction is within the normal range of living beings.

    Next, we should consider why there may be a difference in view about this subject now as opposed to any time in history. So let’s dive into that just a bit.

    First, let’s differentiate between kinky people getting gay and people who are genuinely homosexual. There are clearly many people who are out there that take a wide stance in airport restrooms and engage in homosexual behavior while being heterosexual. I am not talking about these people. I am talking about people who are significantly put off by the thought of hetero acts in much the same way that I am put of by same sex acts in men (same sex women don’t bother me at all). Further, I am talking about people who wish to engage in monogamous same sex unions for life. That is the population that I am talking about.

    Now it does not take too much of a worldly person to realize that given 97% of my theoretical population is hetero, and there are quite a few people who will swing just for fun, that we will have a big problem in differentiating whether the truly same sex attracted people are different from the swinging types.

    Now imagine a nominal first century situation where there are significant numbers of people engaging in same sex acts who are not the population of long term monogamous types. I would say that it would be nearly impossible to see the difference between these two populations.

    Further, imagine that you were a same sex attracted person living in Israel and you are a good jew. Now, given that the population only has about 3% same sex attracted people in it, and that the punishment for coming out of the closet is quite severe, what do you think the odds would be for you to actually come out and say something? Basically nil.

    So, sadly, that is the situation we have had for most of history. The honest and upright people who have same sex attractions are largely silent, and the only visible ones, or the most visible ones, are the sinning people who are doing it for kicks.

    Enter the 20th century and our advances in communication. Suddenly, we are able to communicate with others in ways that we could not throughout the rest of history. This increase in communication has enabled people who would have been oblivious to similar people in the past to be able to get together and realize that they are not alone in the world. The godly same sex attracted man in the first century must have felt that there was something quite wrong with him. Now, the godly same sex man can realize that there are millions of other people just like him in the world and that he is not alone, let alone sinful.

    So that is why this is happening now. This is not some breakdown in the moral fabric of our society where we are becoming an “anything goes” type of society. It is a natural evolution of our awareness that people are created in a broad array of types.

    Now, with this increased awareness of the population that is same sex attracted, we also have an increase in the study of those types of unions. Many studies have now been conducted to see if there is some sort or difficulty with these types of unions and the evidence is clearly in the camp of saying that there is nothing wrong with it from a psychological or physiological basis. Even the kids in a same sex family are not wildly (or even midly in many studies) different from kids in other types of families. Remember, there are lots and lots of abusive fathers, druggie mothers, sick perverted uncles and such out there. Same sex families are within normal.

    So, that is why we are now saying it is natural, and fine.

    I can elaborate on why the bible allows for this if you like.

  24. Bob Dunn says:

    I think, in this case, Kevin’s logic is sloppy. A relativist isn’t someone who says, “Anything goes.” It’s someone who thinks that ethics are constructed collectively and individually by human beings. (That’s a problem, but a different problem.) So it seems facile to bring up Sandusky and wheel out the bugaboo of relativism, mention the bad words (“multiculturalism,” “diversity,” etc.), and try to tag on some argument about “victimization” (another bad word), and then make the point (once again!) about homosexuality (which has nothing to do with Sandusky). I sometimes wonder if Kevin is a conservative who happens to be a Christian; there’s a little too much dovetail between his particular theology and run-of-the-mill conservative American thought. Witness recent articles about the good side of capitalism, that mention of “confiscatory taxation” (??), the ode to America on the 4th of July, and so on. My point? Kevin is heavily influenced by “our culture,” just as much as those who supposedly fall prey to contemporary ideas about homosexuality; or, for that matter, to emergents who take a liberal line and insist that they are following God’s way. For Kevin, it’s a different part of “our culture,” but prominent enough to make his bold resistance seem not so different than your average American conservative who is fighting the good fight.

  25. Jonathan says:

    Inevitably in raising the question on the permissibility of same-sex relationships, I come to the point in the discussion that people say same-sex marriages can’t accomplish God’s intended purpose of marriage, which puzzles me. That purpose is to be an example of the relationship between Christ and the church, pure and simple. Having children has so little to do with it, and there is nothing immoral about not wanting to have children.

    In Genesis 1:28, God gives his first command, to be fruitful and multiply. The rest of the former testament’s commands flow out of God’s beautiful obsession with healthy, sustainable growth and maintaining a connection with him. This growth obsession is most evident in Leviticus 18 in which all of the sexual laws pivot on building large, healthy family units. William J. Webb proposes in Slaves, Women, and Homosexuals that the flow of these laws is God saying what women one CAN have sex with (vv 6-20), what to do with the product of sexual relations (v 21), and that non-opposite-gendered humans are not permissible for sexual relations (vv 22-23). He interprets the flow in this manner because many supporters of same-sex relationships say that the TYPE of same-sex relations being condemned are only those which are cultic in nature because this ban is in the shadow of another cultic practice. Such same-sex cultic practices were common in that setting, such as male temple prostitution.

    However, Webb is mistaken. First, he is mistaken on the grounds that laws have to flow together nicely. Yet, in this case they should as they are book-ended with “I am the LORD” statements. However, he seems to make verse twenty-one, what others say is a randomly inserted command, stick out even more. He claims God jumps from sexual relations to products of sexual relations and then back to sexual relations. However, if you look at the whole group of commands in light of God’s desire for healthy growth of his kingdom, then they make sense. At every turn, these commands are given as means by which family will be stable and have healthy children. These rules do their best to keep out birth defects as incest is banned. They eliminate jealousy, strife, and confusion over parentage and familial roles (i.e., who’s my real dad?). These rules make sure that children are protected. And, finally, these words guarantee that any sexual intercourse may lead to the production of a child.* You see other such commands on non-reproductive sexuality, such as the ban on hybrid breeding which often produces offspring which are unable themselves to reproduce (which is in the very next chapter, no less) and negativity associated with even a seemingly innocent nocturnal emission (Deuteronomy 28:10).

    You see, the former testament is concerned with the here-and-now. When David says he wants to live forever in the land God gave him and not go down to the grave, he literally means he wants to live forever. There is no clear understanding of heaven and hell. The people literally covered their bad deeds with the blood of a literal lamb. We see things more clearly developed in the latter testament and understand that much of the former served to foreshadow the latter. Genesis 1:28 foreshadows Acts 1:8. Suddenly, the growth of God’s kingdom is not in giving birth but in being born again. Jesus demands more of marriage, making adultery an “easier” sin to commit (i.e., looking at someone lustfully or by divorcing). And Jesus says he’s only fulfilling what marriage was supposed to be from the beginning but could not be done due to the hardness of their hearts (Matthew 19). This “crack-down” on marriage signifies to me that its purpose has changed. We don’t marry multiple partners and divorce as we please because the focus is no longer on physical but spiritual growth. Married couples learn better how the Christ-church dynamic works. An the way I see it, two people marry because their callings line up so exactly that it only makes sense they should serve as one entity. Whether or not they have children really doesn’t matter anymore.

    So, are we to conclude that same-sex couples are incapable of loving sacrificially? Because that really seems to be the root of the problem in all of my discussions. God didn’t MAKE one sex compatible with the same sex, so there’s no way they can love one another deeply. Is that the argument? Truly, I do not believe this unless you’re talking in reproductive terms, which is true but futile in this conversation. Do you mean to say that gender roles are what make a marriage work? If so, you will be hard-pressed to find commands on how marriage should work which are gender specific. Wives submit to husbands and husbands submit to wives. That’s about it. Or is the argument that the Bible never speaks of same-sex relationships in a positive light?

    Given the study on the former testament’s command on same-sex relations, I truly hope we can focus on the latter testament in discussing this much. If you’re concerned about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, I refer you to Ezekiel 16:49-50 in which the Bible interprets itself for us. Yet even so, this destruction serves as a great segue to the fact that the New Testament only condemns PROMISCUOUS same-sex encounters.
    –Romans 1, a passage which is about the failing of natural revelation, mentions same-sex relations as being unnatural. I won’t believe that Paul would say that what’s natural isn’t always right and then intend to point a finger at same-sex relations and say, “It’s not right because it’s not natural.” Instead, look at how people were inflamed with lust for one another.
    –1 Corinthians 6 condemns two types of people who engage in same-sex relations. These terms are “malakoi” and “arsenokoitai.” These words are difficult to define. “Malakoi” literally means “soft ones,” and “arsenokoitai” is a word Paul seems to have made up, combining the words for “man” and “to lie down,” undoubtedly invoking Leviticus 18. “Malakoi” seems to be a term used for male temple prostitutes, though scholars today have just about made up their minds that it means the “passive partner” in same-sex relations.” Then they just assume that arsenokoitai are the active. I find this disturbing in that sexual roles aren’t stratified and classified. I can see where they might get that idea, but it’s a gross oversimplification that doesn’t regularly apply to any human sexual relationship whatsoever. How insulting to assume that every gay man is either the “man” or the “woman” in a relationship! Instead, I turn to the fact that Paul is talking about sexually immoral people, which would be the temple prostitute and men who have sex with men as they please. What is immoral in and of itself that two same-sexed people want to spend the rest of their lives committed to one another? I do not hide behind the answer that some things are just not for us to know and God to keep all to himself.

    In the end, I have assume that there has been an over-literal reading of the Bible, and fundamentalists almost always sway the masses because they can always say, “That’s what the words SAY!!” People just don’t like to think, especially when it may lead to a difference in opinion with authority figures.

    *Yes, God later commands that any child who disrespects his/her parent should be killed, but this too is in line with maintaining the stable, healthy family unit.

  26. Joe says:

    “The culture war is not the point except to the degree that God is the point.”

    Hooray for saying this. I am amazed that in all the arguments over gay marriage, you hardly ever hear anyone opposed to it simply because it is wrong.

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (RCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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