October 21, 2020

When Science Changes…

nasa-solar-system-graphic-72In the year 1543, just before he died, Nicolaus Copernicus published “De revolutionibus orbium coelestium”. This treatise, in development for nearly 30 years, advanced the idea that the earth revolved around the sun (heliocentrism), rather than the long held idea that the earth was the center of the universe.  It is unclear whether Reformer John Calvin was aware of Copernicus, but it is clear that Calvin still held to the idea that the Earth was fixed in place, and everything else moved around it.  In 1554, in his  introduction to his commentary on Genesis he wrote:

We indeed are not ignorant, that the circuit of the heavens is finite, and that the earth, like a little globe, is placed in the center.

Luther on the other hand, was clearly aware of Copernicus, and clearly did not accept his theories.  He had this to say about Copernicus:

People gave ear to an upstart astrologer who strove to show that the earth revolves, not the heavens or the firmament, the sun and the moon. This fool…wishes to reverse the entire science of astronomy; but sacred Scripture tells us that Joshua commanded the sun to stand still, and not the earth.

Luther made this statement in 1539, four years before Copernicus’ book was published, but Copernicus’ ideas had already been circulating in Germany for quite some time.

For the most part Copernicus’ ideas were largely ignored by the church for decades.  It was a theory that was easily defeated with a strong apologetic.    The matter came to a head in 1616 when the Catholic church considered banning the works of Copernicus.  The astronomer Galileo traveled to Rome to try to persuade the church not to do so.  Galileo, while not the inventor of the telescope, had been using it to confirm Copernicus’ work.  The church did not accept his arguments and Galileo was eventually convicted of heresy in 1633. He died in 1642, almost 100 years after Copernicus.

The year Galileo died, another future scientist was born, Isaac Newton.  It was Newton’s work on gravity, published in 1687, that gave the conclusive supporting evidence for Copernicus’ theory.  The church realized that it had to reinterpret the Bible based upon this new evidence.  It was not until 1758, 71 years later, that books supporting heliocentrism were taken off the banned list by the Catholic church, and not until 1835, another 77 years, that the original works on the topic by Copernicus and Galileo were “unbanned.”

It had taken the church over 200 years to come to terms with Copernicus’ ideas.

The world is a lot smaller today, ideas fly faster, and technology is advancing at an exponential rate.  In thirteen years the cost of sequencing a human genome has gone from $100,000,000 to $1,000. Which of course brings me my second topic.  Evolution.

Darwin published his origin of the species in 1859.  From Copernicus to Newton was 144 years.  From Darwin to the completion of the human genome project in 2003  is 144 years.  (I just made that connection now as I was writing this.)  We are in what I would call the Newtonian age of Evolution.  The point at which the streams of evidence have become irrefutable.  How long will it take the church to accept this and change their interpretations to fit the science?  The change has already started to happen.  For most young people, Christian and non Christian alike, the matter has already been decided. Like heliocentrism, it will take a couple of generations for the science to be nearly universally accepted in the church, but its day is coming.

This brings me to my final thought.  I have been reading a lot of Rachel Held Evans recently. What you have read here has come about though interacting with her material.  In our sidebar we have linked to her post The Bible was ‘clear’. She writes:

 It’s easy to look down our noses at the Christians who have come before us and discount them as unenlightened and uninformed. But to accept Galileo’s thesis, our 17th century forbearers would have had to reject 1600 years of traditional Christian interpretations of passages like Psalm 93:1, Ecclesiastes 1:5, and Joshua 10:12-14.

It was another post on slavery from a year ago that really caught my attention:

I think it’s important to remind ourselves now and then that we’ve been wrong before, and that sometimes it’s not about the number of proof texts we can line up or about the most simplistic reading of the text, but rather some deep, intrinsic sense of right and wrong, some movement of the Spirit, that points us toward truth and to a better understanding of what Scripture really says.

The clearest association I make, of course, is with the gender equality discussion within evangelicalism—not only because it’s an issue near to my heart, but also because we are dealing with many of the same biblical texts. But I wonder about other things too—about homosexuality, for example—and I confess I spend some nights lying awake, watching the lights from passing cars make strange shapes on my walls, wondering if we’ve done it again, if we’ve marginalized another group of people because we believed the Bible told us to.

That is what causes me to lie awake as well.  When it comes to the churches attitude and beliefs about Homosexuality I can’t help but wonder if we are in another Copernicus moment.  Science hasn’t completely settled the question yet, but it certainly seems to be pointing in a certain direction.  I don’t think we have to wait for Newton this time. Perhaps Galileo will do.


  1. Cosmology is a matter of scientific fact. Slavery and homosexuality are ethical issues. “Progress” in science is not the same as social “progress,” where right and wrong are matters of opinion (including religious opinion) and swayed mainly by other social developments, not well-founded arguments.

    By formulating the issue as “science and religion,” I feel the opportunity has been missed to engage with scholarship in the humanities. Like Copernicus and Darwin,developments in religious and biblical studies (although not scientific per se) have called into question various Christian dogmas, to the point that the entire religion needs to be reconceived in order to be made intellectually viable.

    • Slavery and homosexuality are ethical issues. “Progress” in science is not the same as social “progress,” where right and wrong are matters of opinion (including religious opinion) and swayed mainly by other social developments, not well-founded arguments.

      But “science” has been and still is invoked in these debates by both sides.

      Much of it nonsense in my opinion but the invocation is there all the same.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Much of Stephen Jay Gould’s essay collections are about the history of science, and many of those (including one entire book, The Mismeasure of Man) were about how bad science was used to prop up White Supremacy for over a century.

    • Very good point, Wexel. We have to understand our categories or modes of thought before we draw conclusions.

      • It may help for understanding to separate whether an issue is scientific or ethical, but in the end, does it really matter? Ask a slave or someone who is gay if they care whether how they are treated is based on scientific fact or ethics.

    • Most of its have been taught that when the biblical writers were inspired, the Holy Spirit did not suppress their personalities and so different writers have different writing styles. Some writers are more elegant than others. Some writers used metaphors and some are more literal. We also know their views on astronomy weren’t suppressed. Perhaps their culture was not suppressed either. Maybe all were left with is a book about God’s love and redemption.

      However, I believe one of the first of the ten commandments is not worship anything before God. In other words, to make God’s our first priority. Sometimes that means God before culture. Maybe the Church is entitled to change slow and that expresses a value the world hates: a God first heart and mind.

    • “Cosmology is a matter of scientific fact. Slavery and homosexuality are ethical issues. ”

      Sexual identity and orientation are very much scientific. There is a wealth of scientific information regarding these issues. Too many people dismiss the social sciences as it does not offer “hard” facts as the other sciences do but that does not make it irrelevant. On the contrary, as it deals with God’s most Holy creation, humans, it is, in my opinion, the most important of sciences.

      • David,

        This is exactly my thinking on the matter.

      • There is a big difference between the natural “hard” sciences and the social “soft” sciences. The social sciences are at least as important but they leave much more room for debate and interpretation because they involve the least understood thing in all creation, mankind.

        Homosexuality is the perfect example; there is no “gay” gene so we are left to wonder and debate about the exact mixture of nature and nurture that causes someone to be a homosexual. And it is very much an ethical issue.

        • No gay gene? Not as of yet TPD, but the science of genetics is still in its infancy.

          • I have followed this debate for decades. If or when they do find a biological cause for homosexuality (no one has as yet) it probably won’t be genetic.

          • CM – So nurture can’t affect animals in such a way to produce homosexuality? On the contrary, animals are more easily conditioned than humans. Personally I believe it is a combination of nature and nurture but homosexual animals proves nothing either way.

            • I’m just saying it’s a phenomenon seen throughout nature, in small percentages. Generally speaking, if I were naturalistic in my outlook I would likely think that homosexuality is simply a regular anomaly in species, and that in humans we should expect a small percentage of the population to practice homosexual behavior and bonding.

          • They looked for a long time for a genetic link to homosexuality, they found none, they are now focusing on deviant behaviour, rapists, etc. They are finding no genetic link there either. To begin a genetic search, you look to biological families to see if there is a higher prevalence, true, but families are also more closely affected by environment (all siblings exposed to untreated radioactive material, or toxins in the womb due to a shared mother’s body, for example). So, when you do the traditional research by looking at adopted children, that is usually where you can find genetic (separated form post-womb environmental) influences. So, even if bio-families have a higher prevalence of homosexual men (or woman, they have not found similar patterns of homosexuality between the genders, which makes genetic links less probable), it still doesn’t distinguish between environment and genetics. So far, that hasn’t been shown.

            OK, animals. First, animals are driven by hormonal drives not so much orientation (or preference, as few animals mate for life). You can’t blanket animals. Fruit flies will attempt to mate with anything that moves, but are driven by instinct (as they can be raised all by themselves in a vile and still demonstrate this behaviour) to respond to certain ques by female fruit flies. (This was actually done in a lab), so, their mating dance is genetic, and some scientist spliced the mating response dance (female fruit flies do) into some male fruit flies (not sure how) and then had male fruit flies respond to other male f.f. advances, basically, they created a “gay” gene for fruit flies, however, I don’t know how it ended for the male f.f. couples.

            If you take more intelligent animals, you have herd animals and solitary animals. In herd animals, they display dominance and submissive characteristics that could be confused with sexual orientation responses. Dog will attempt to hump each other, but this is a display of dominance – even females will do this to males. They were bred by humans from wolves about 50 -30,000 years ago, wolves are pack animals and ONLY the Alpha male and female mate, the rest are driven from the pack if they attempt it – orientation is irrelevant for wolves, social order determines sexuality. Solitary animals such as bears or cougars live apart from one another except when the females go into heat (about once a year, for bears, that is in the fall). So, it is purely hormonal driven, if you spliced female hormones (I suppose you could inject them too) into a male bear, perhaps some Romeos would attempt copulation, but I don’t think it would end well – perhaps a fight? Who knows, why try? Other herd animals – horses, etc. show that dog-like humping behaviour when younger males attempt to take over from an older stallion. If a horse herd has more than one male (larger herds), one male is dominant, and will behave that way to reinforce dominance (this is more prison-like than orientation-like).

            Also, remember studying animals in captivity is a false environment, it is like studying humans in prison, they may not act this way if they were in the wild (free). Mice studies show a gay gene, sure, but mice also mate largely by instinctual habits and instincts are gene-driven. The ONLY human genes we have left are the moro-reflex (a grasping reflex present right after birth) and swallowing, other motor controls are learned. Mating dances, etc. are genetic, but not applicable to humans.

            Birds are pretty far removed from human lineage. They are the feathered dinosaurs that survived the 65 m.y.a. meteor hit and subsequent ice age (feathers helped). They too often have elaborate mating dances that are genetically determined. The penguins at the zoo (was it Toronto?) that everyone said were gay, ended with a desirable female was introduced, so that could have been loneliness – penguins are obviously mass herd (flock) animals.

            So, no, have had genetics around for a while, studies on the gay gene began in the 80s, but have turned up nothing, not even with the genome mapping. Also, it would be beneficial to turn up a “sexual orientation gene”, because it would be the locust for all human sexuality and then we could look at curing sexual deviance (pedophilia and rapist behaviours) since it would all be from the same general area on our genomes.

            If humans aren’t genetically driven, and there is no evidence we are, the question still remains: what do we do with people who fall in love and wish to marry someone of the same sex? In the Apostle Paul’s day, men were free to sleep with whomever they wanted, intact, I have heard it said all Roman/Greek (citizens) men in Paul’s day would have been considered bi-sexual. That is quite a genetic turn-around from today where most people are either straight and only about 5% (well, in Canada we have a less than 5% population who identify as gay) gay and about 2% bisexual (it is low because fewer woman than men identify as gay, so if it is 7% for men and 2% for women, it drives the overall % down). That complete turn around form 98% bi-sexual to 2% bi-sexual should signal to us there is more than genetics going on here.

            So, back to the Apostle Paul, would he have even known about someone being “gay” ? Would it have mattered? See, in his day, first-time marriages were arranged (by the upper – writing- classes). It wasn’t about attraction, but about family fortunes and business dealings. Yet, Paul still tells the men to stop going to the guild temple banquets and sleeping with the male or female prostates, he tells them not to have mistresses or male lovers, but to go home and love their wives instead. He is very, very unconcerned with orientation, as was the Roman society in general. Paul says go love your wife and stay faithful to her, Greco-Roman society said, go sleep with anyone and everyone. Quite a turn around from back then to now, far to quickly for genetics in my view.

      • No scientific discovery can ever establish whether homosexuality is right or wrong. Science may be able to show (if it has not already) whether homosexuality has a genetic basis, which will impact the factual basis of some of the ethical arguments. On the other hand, pedophilia may well have a genetic basis, and no one thinks this would make it okay.

        • Actually, there is already a fringe group arguing that sexual activity between adults and children is a normal variation of sexual expression and empowers children. I could not make this up….

    • Slavery is a matter of fact for the slave.

    • Au contraire. Most, though not all, Christians ultimately do think that when divine revelation teaches us something about ethics, that these ethics should relate in some intelligible way to the facts of the universe as it exists. This is where folks usually go when trying to develop any kind of an apologetic for their views on these areas.

      If it were the case that theological truth in no way related to the facts of the physical world and our life within it, if it were in fact so contrary as to harm us should we try to take it seriously, then what good is it?

      • U.S. evangelical Protestant ethics usually boils down to the “divine command” theory–i.e. that x is right/wrong because God said so.

  2. “That is what causes me to lie awake as well. When it comes to the churches attitude and beliefs about Homosexuality I can’t help but wonder if we are in another Copernicus moment. Science hasn’t completely settled the question yet, but it certainly seems to be pointing in a certain direction. ”

    What is the specific question you mention here? How is/will science address it?

    • Much of Christian thought on the matter has been about Homosexuality being a choice.

      • In Paul’s time Homosexulity was well known through the empire, but the big difference was that it was thought of as a behavior rather than a lifestyle or an identity. In fact there was a lot of different types of sexual activity going on, through aristocracy, fertility cults, even military training (think greeks and how they encouraged contact among fellow soldiers). Yet at the infancy of christianity, though rooted in Judaism, but also influenced by greek thought, it was still not accepted. So for me I have to consider this….

      • I remember all the excitement in the homosexual community around 2005-06 about finding a “gay” gene. It never materialized. All indications are that homosexuality is just like any other behavior, it is a mixture of nature and nurture. I just don’t get the big push to make this behavior different from ALL others in that it is not a choice. All behavior boils down to choice, it is just that some choices are harder for some people that others because of a combination of factors.

        • Daniel Jepsen says

          I remember this also. I was a little shocked that so few people were thinking through the logic of this. Homosexuality cannot be simply genetic, because homosexuals have only one fifth the offspring that heterosexuals do. A virologist in the Atlantic argued a few years back that any condition that reduced offspring by more than two percent could not be genetic, because the genes would get selected out of the gene pool over the many generations. He may not have the exact number, but the implication is pretty clear.

          That said, there may be other issues related to hormones in pregnancy that do play a large role.

        • TPD,

          “I just don’t get the big push to make this behavior different from ALL others in that it is not a choice.”

          Well, if it’s completely genetic and determined, then that goes a long way toward the legitimation and toleration of the behavior. I believe that GLBT people should receive completely equal consideration with heterosexuals before the law and in the church, but not because I believe that homosexuality is a behavior completely or decisively predetermined by genetics. I think that is a fallacious argument. I think human sexual orientation is extraordinarily plastic, and that the argument for the protection of the rights of GLBT people should be rooted not in the biological inevitability of a specific behavior but in the inherent dignity and liberty of every human person, which includes the right to discover and develop their sexual identity from within their own lived experience, and in faithfulness to that experience.

        • The options aren’t not “genetically determined” or “a personal choice.” Any more than any predisposition is a “choice.” If I am raised with an absent father and have anger issues as a result, I did not “choose” to be angry. I may have a choice in how I respond to that anger, but it’s not a choice whether or not to have a deep-seated character trait.

          Much of the Christian rhetoric about homosexuality’s being a choice sounds almost as if, somewhere around puberty, a they have a conscious inner monologue and says….”Hmmm, I really want to go against the grain here, I’ll think I’ll be attracted to the same sex instead of the opposite sex.”

          I really don’t care which it is. It’s irreversible, 9 times out of 10 even if you believe that therapy can change it. People ought to be treated accordingly.

          • Exactly.

          • And that 10th person in your 9x out of 10 is more than likely bi. I know people who have spent small fortunes in an attempt to become straight.

            They’re still gay, many years and huge amounts of money later. And they really, really wanted to change, if there was even the faintest possibility of that happening.

  3. Did you track down a legit source for that Luther quote? I ask because I tried, and it turned out to be mythical, as near as I could find.

    • I’ve come across the quote in the philosopher Thomas Kuhn’s book, which unfortunately is at home in a box at the moment, so I can’t relay the original reference. (Kuhn is the man responsible for the term “paradigm shift.”) For what it’s worth, here’s Kuhn’s book’s bib info:

      Kuhn, T.S. The Copernican Revolution: Planetary Astronomy in the Development of Western Thought. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1957. ISBN 0-674-17100-4

      While I’m not surprised at the attitude expressed in the quote, I admit I’ve always found it a bit suspicicious that Luther is claimed to have been aware of Copernicus’ ideas prior to the 1543 pub of D.R. Still, I doubt it’s a hoax.

      • I looked up the reference in that book. It traces back to a 19th century science book. In that book, it is not properly cited at all. Floating around among the references is the claim that it comes from the “Table Talks.” It’s not in there.

        So if it’s a Luther quote at all, it has been improperly cited and thus at the very least we don’t know the date. But making up Luther quotes is a long-standing tradition, and a 19th century popular writer would be a prime candidate to do so.

  4. Michael Flynn has a fascinating series of posts on the whole Galileo controversy, why the Copercian system was supplanted by Kepler’s (better science) and how it was a tangle of politics, personal enmities, and people dobbing in accusations of heresy that the Holy Office (Inquisition) were bound to investigate, that got Galileo into trouble.

    The Great Ptolemaic Smackdown

    “12 April 1615. Carmelite priest Paolo Foscarini had written a book (see previous episode) defending Copernicanism and explaining how the Scriptures could be read contrary to the Church Fathers. In the context of the times, this personal Scripture-interpreting sounds an awful lot like Martin Luther, and Cardinal Roberto Bellarmino (now 73 and ailing) has to remind him that he is not in fact a theologian, saying inter alia:

    “[I]f there were a true demonstration that the sun was in the center of the universe and the earth in the third sphere, and that the sun did not travel around the earth but the earth circled the sun, then it would be necessary to proceed with great caution in explaining the passages of Scripture which seemed contrary, and we would rather have to say that we did not understand them than to say that something was false which has been demonstrated. But I do not believe that there is any such demonstration; none has been shown to me. It is not the same thing to show that the appearances are saved by assuming that the sun really is in the center and the earth in the heavens. I believe that the one demonstration might exist, but I have grave doubts about the other, and in a case of doubt, one may not depart from the Scriptures as explained by the holy Fathers.” (Letter to Foscarini)

    From a later post:

    Meanwhile, Galileo has been suckered by the Pigeon League into dabbling in Scriptural interpretation, never a good idea for an amateur during a Protestant Revolution. He’s been cleared of suspicion of heresy in a confidential investigation, but in the process Copernicanism has attracted the notice of the Authorities — who are mostly lawyers and politicians. Galileo tried to re-interpret Scripture because of his commitment to Copernicanism-as-physically-real and — much as people react to a mass shooting by concern over guns (rather than, say, lunatics) — the Authorities react to this free-lance exegesis by a concern over heliocentrism.

    A decree of the Index had removed Copernicus’ book from circulation for a few years pending a couple of corrections to statements that seem to assert the physical reality of the model. Galileo has been cautioned not to hold or teach the theory other than as a mathematical model. However, the late Cardinal Bellarmino had written that if a demonstration could be shown, there would be little problem in clearing up the Scriptural issues. The Church has never insisted on strict literalism. But while the Church, holding that Truth is One, would have no problem reading a scripture non-literally if the literal reading could be certainly demonstrated false, they are not about to do so for the sake of a plausible mathematical hypothesis. Given the history of science, this would hold exegesis hostage to phlogiston, or any other scientific fashion.

    So all Galileo needs to do now is present empirical evidence that the Earth has a dual motion. Piece of cake.

    Or is it?

    • flatrocker says

      “Meanwhile, Galileo has been suckered by the Pigeon League into dabbling in Scriptural interpretation, never a good idea for an amateur during a Protestant Revolution.”

      My vote for quote of the day.

    • Those posts are great. Fascinating, informative–and long. Don’t start reading them at work, or you will lose half your day. (Although you might find it a more productive use of your day.)

  5. The argument that “the church has been sure before and still been wrong” should give us all a bit of humility in interpretation, but at the same time it shouldn’t cause us to be unwilling to take a stand on anything. Could you imagine an argument going along the lines of, “How can you be sure God wants us to help poor people? After all, people used to be sure based on the Bible that the earth was the center of the universe.”

    • Marcus Johnson says

      I can’t really imagine an argument like that ever happening; besides, the Bible clearly states that Justin Bieber is the center of the universe (or maybe that was my Yahoo! home page…are we still fighting a war in Afghanistan)?

      I also think that we don’t have to confine ourselves to two options: arrogance and refusal to acknowledge the possibility that we might be wrong vs. timidity and refusal to assert certain tenets of our faith because we might be wrong. Somewhere in the middle are those who are aware of the difficulty of Scriptural interpretation, adopt a set of best practices in how to engage Scripture and then engage the world, and do so with a sense of both confidence and humility, making sure that they constantly revisit and re-examine their beliefs, especially when new evidence presents.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        …besides, the Bible clearly states that Justin Bieber is the center of the universe…

        GREAT LINE!
        And funny because it’s true (judging by media over the past two days)…

    • Richard Hershberger says

      Adiaphora. It’s an important concept that doesn’t get enough attention nowadays. The idea is that there is a core of a small number of beliefs that are not subject to opinion, surrounded by a much larger body of subjects that are. This larger body is the adiaphora: literally “indifferent things”. So the heliocentric versus the geocentric debate is adiaphora: belief in one or the other is not a vital matter of Christian faith.

      The hard part is fighting the urge to expand that core. This urge derives from our fallen nature: a prideful desire to declare our personal opinions to be God’s law. A pretty good working definition of “fundamentalism” is the movement to redefine all issues as vital rather than adiaphora. This is why you find fundamentalists breaking apart into armed camps against one another: you can always find something to disagree about, and if you declare this disagreement to be of fundamental import, the armed camps inevitably follow.

      So what do I consider core? A good start would be the ecumenical creeds and the great commandments: love God and love man. Helping the poor derives from that last bit, which is why helping the poor is not in the same class as geocentrism.

      • One of the best comments on this thread, imo.

      • I agree entirely. “Love God, love your neighbor.” (Not that I manage to do that consistently at all!)

        But “Love God, love your neighbor.” is why, after really considering the whole issue of whether homosexual behavior should be accepted by the church as readily as heterosexual behavior, I’ve come down on the “Yes” side.

        But it does raise other issues, though I’m not sure we want to go there. If sexual orientation is not a choice (and it doesn’t seem to be, since the rate of homosexuality is about 4% of everyone, consistent across cultures), then what about other sexual orientations? Is the pedophile my neighbor? He didn’t choose to be what he is, anymore than I chose to be a heterosexual woman. Of course, the pedophile simply cannot be allowed to behave as he wishes, because unlike the gay person, the pedophile harms others. So what is the church’s answer for him, except for what the church has said to gay people for generations: “Don’t!”

        For His most famous rescue story, Jesus chose the Samaritan as the hero. Samaritans, in Jewish society of the time, were despised and reviled about as much as gay people were 50 years ago in Western society, or as pedophiles are today. Making the Samaritan the hero must have been as offensive to the religious people of His time as the idea of accepting gay behavior is to many religious people of this time.

        I have no conclusions here, I’m just saying….

  6. Travis Sibley, aka BigLove says

    Excellent article, Mike. Thanks for writing it!

  7. “Scripture tells us that Joshua commanded the sun to stand still, and not the earth.” And Jim Morrison tells us, “I’m gonna love you, until the stars fall from the sky.” When Scripture speaks poetically, it speaks poetically.

    “And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.” And when the Bible speaks literally, it speaks literally.

    Like the existence of UFOs, which millions believe in, there’s not a single iota of scientific evidence that anyone is born gay. In fact, the evidence points to faulty imprinting at some point after birth. There’s a lot of discussion online that there was really no such thing as “the homosexual personality” prior to the 19th century — just a lot of guys who couldn’t rein it in. “The homosexual person” — in the end — is simply a social construct — a subterfuge.

    • The odd thing about the “no one is born gay” stance is that, if homosexual tendencies (as distinct from homosexual activity) are deemed sinful, then the “born gay” position is completely at home with the other 101 ways that we’re born sinners. Put differently, you’re instead presumably arguing that people are merely born as screwed-up heterosexuals in need of salvation. Whew!

      Isn’t the real question simply how we’re to behave as Christians with respect to our appetites for food, drink, sex, etc.? This question is entirely independent of the origins of the tendencies.

      But an understanding of where tendencies arise — an important role for science — DOES make a huge difference in how one approaches things. “Curing” a homosexual of his or her tendencies seems like a great idea to a some straight people, yet few seem to think they need to be “cured” of a bad temper — that’s just an anger management issue. Determining what urges can be eliminated vs. what urges can simply be managed is an important distinction to consider when allocating one’s finite internal resources.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        That’s because Homosexuality(TM) is the Other Guy’s Sin.
        Bad Temper — excuse me, Godly Righteous Anger(TM) — is Our Sin.

      • Actually… I do think a bad temper is a bad thing, mine comes out once in a while and I am always working on ways to diffuse it, and I take it seriously and don’t sluff it off. If someone could cure me of this I’d take the cure!

    • Susan Paxton says

      Clark, perhaps you’ll enlighten us as to how your “imprinting” turned you hetero. I’m all ears.

      I am neither a social construct nor a subterfuge.

      • And I was told it’s conservative people who reject hard science.

        • Clay Crouch says

          Clark, that really isn’t an answer. Would scientific evidence of homosexuality being an inherited trait change your position?

    • “Real” homosexual behavior (not just one-off experiments, but permanent attraction to the same sex)) seems to be practiced by about 4% of the population, consistently across cultures. That certainly points to *something* inborn.

      http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20091226100155AAzMI3B and I’ll find other references if you like.

      True, there is no gay genetic marker so far, (and once there is, I imagine gay fetuses will be aborted at about the same rate as Down syndrome fetuses are now: 94%). Perhaps it *is* something in the early nurturing of people that inclines them toward a particular sexual orientation. But if so, the orientation is branded into the child so early that it is as ineradicable as a genetic trait — as witness the failed attempts to “convert” gay people to being non-gay.

      But, in addition to the consistent number across cultures, common sense would suggest that (1) Neither you nor I sat down in our teen-age years and made a pro/con list of sexual orientations, and then decided which we wanted to be, and (2) Had we or anyone else done so, surely our very *last* choice would be an orientation which would put us at terrible odds with the majority culture. So why would gay people be any different in their reasoning?

      • All the more recent and larger studies cited even in that link (Yahoo Answers? really?) give a far lower number than 4%, though. More like 1-2%. And it doesn’t appear to be stable crossculturally, either. And the twin studies end up with an r that is lower than for a lot of other conditions we consider to be not solely genetic.

        Anyhow while we can debate how much choice people have over their desires or inclinations, we all have a choice about our actions. And that’s the only part Christian ethics is really interested in. Having an attraction is not itself the problem, it’s whether or not the action one chooses to take in response to that attraction is moral. Science really has nothing to do with determining the answer to that question, it’s a question of faith and authority.

  8. I don’t think any of us will ever have a constructive conversation about homosexuality as long as it keeps getting thrown together with slavery. To compare the treatment of slaves with the treatment of homosexuals is just plain ludicrous. People like Rachel Held Evans continue to do this without ever bringing the wealth of natural law thinking into the picture. It’s very frustrating when emotions cloud rigorous thinking about the differences between the two.

    • Marcus Johnson says

      RHE didn’t “compare the treatment of slaves with the treatment of homosexuals”; if you took the time to read her article, you would have come across this statement:

      Now, to be clear, I’m NOT saying that slavery is the same as the gender debates or homosexuality. So please don’t hear that. Each situation is different, and each should be discussed and debated on their own terms. It’s not fair to the people involved to treat them all the same or to make an unqualified comparison.

      True, the treatment of slaves and the treatment of the LGBT community do not share a lot of key points of comparison; however, both slavery and homosexuality are concepts which folks have used the Bible to condemn and/or affirm. There does need to be a conversation about that, and whether the Bible is really the proper tool to directly address these social issues, or the purpose for its existence transcends these issues. Personally, I think it’s the latter.

      • I’ve read almost every blog RHE has written. And one little caveat doesn’t change the clear message of many of her posts: Christians were wrong on slavery and used the Bible to support their position; therefore Christians must be wrong on homosexuality because they use the same faulty hermeneutic, i.e. cherrypicking verses that seem to speak about homosexuality. She constantly talks about the “treatment” homosexuals receive at churches. The difference is that homosexuals can go start their own church or find one that is welcoming and affirming. Slaves didn’t have that freedom. Slaves were routinely beaten by those professing to be Christians. How many Christians are beating homosexuals? It’s just not a fair comparison. She promotes dialogue, but refuses to dialouge about some of the core issues, like whether or not it’s natural for homosexual acts to take place. Those discussions are “offensive” to her. I just don’t understand why we can’t separate an argument from loving people. When someone wants to talk explicitly about the issue and then gets labeled a “homophobe” for doing so, it shuts down the argument. I’ve seen this happen on her blog repeatedly. The result is that everybody keeps talking right past each other. If homosexuals who are Christians aren’t willing to have an honest conversation about the nature of homosexual acts, and how that fits within a Christian understanding of natural law, then no progress will be made.

        • Marcus Johnson says

          I’ve read almost every blog RHE has written. And one little caveat doesn’t change the clear message of many of her posts: Christians were wrong on slavery and used the Bible to support their position; therefore Christians must be wrong on homosexuality because they use the same faulty hermeneutic, i.e. cherrypicking verses that seem to speak about homosexuality

          I won’t speak to many, or all of, Evans’ posts. However, I can speak to this one, which is the only one that is germane to this conversation. And in this post, she clearly has no intention to link the treatment of slaves with that of homosexuality.

          She constantly talks about the “treatment” homosexuals receive at churches.

          Again, not in the post referenced in Mike’s article.

          How many Christians are beating homosexuals?

          Are you sure you want to die on that hill? The answer depends on what part of the world you want to acknowledge exists, and whether or not you consider emotional abuse, discrimination, or ostracism to be just as bad as physical beating. As far as physical abuse, we may never really know, as instances of bullying, like rape or child abuse, are often never actually reported.

          It’s just not a fair comparison. She promotes dialogue, but refuses to dialouge about some of the core issues, like whether or not it’s natural for homosexual acts to take place.

          Probably because there is a confusion about what “natural” means. Someone further down on this post claimed that, if we are all born with the tendency to sin, then all sin is natural, and if homosexuality is a sin, then homosexuality is natural as well. The term natural, in my opinion, is a useless term around which to frame a dialogue, because it is so incredibly broad. The need to expel gas stored in the bottom of your digestive tract is “natural,” but if you’re in a packed car with the windows rolled up, it’s not a question of what’s “natural,” but what’s appropriate behavior.

          When someone wants to talk explicitly about the issue and then gets labeled a “homophobe” for doing so, it shuts down the argument. I’ve seen this happen on her blog repeatedly. The result is that everybody keeps talking right past each other. If homosexuals who are Christians aren’t willing to have an honest conversation about the nature of homosexual acts, and how that fits within a Christian understanding of natural law, then no progress will be made.

          I’ll agree that some of the commenters on her blog are patently uncivil in their treatment of folks who do not affirm LGBT identity. However, you’re painting this as a one-way submission, in which only LGBT Christians have to lay down their arms, yet you are the truth-bearer who has nothing that needs re-examining. You are also presuming that LGBT Christians aren’t being “honest.” There’s a problem with semantics in those blog comments, and with conflicting methods of Biblical interpretation, but not with honesty. Your problem seems to be, not that you don’t want to be called a homophobe, or that you want to have an honest conversation, but you want to have a conversation in which you “win” the argument. And that’s just not going to happen.

          Which brings me back to the subject of Mike’s post, which is where I would rather be.

          Lee, I’m not sure how you’re defining “natural law,” but it seems to be in a way that is refuses to acknowledge scientific advancements in knowledge; rather it seems subject to your adherence to a traditional interpretation of Scripture. It’s your party if you want it done that way, but the increasing minority of which you find yourself in, especially among online Christian communities, is not due to a dismissal of a moral code of behavior, but to a evolving recognition of social and scientific dynamics that contradict your convictions. That might be why it seems as though people are talking past each other.

          • Maybe I should’ve addressed this one post from RHE. When you’ve read as much of her as I have, you tend to see patterns. Ok.

            As far as comparing treatment of slaves and homosexuals. I’m not in any way endorsing bulliying, rape, or any mistreatment towards homosexuals. I’m just saying that homosexuals in our country have freedoms that slaves could only have dreamed of. And I get tired of getting labeled a homophobe for simply holding to what the vast majority of Christians have believed throughout history, not to mention the other world’s major religions.

            As far as a discussion of what’s natural, let me give an example. Eating food serves two purposes. 1. Nutrition. 2. Enjoyment. If someone only wants to enjoy food, but not accept the nutrition, they may choose to vomit the food. We call that unnatural.

            In a similar way, the human body was made to function in a certain way. Certain places of the body are meant for excretion, not insertion, etc. When a person treats the body in a way that it is not meant to be treated, I would call that unnatural. The design of the body is clearly oriented toward heterosexual relations. When a person engages in homosexual acts, according to natural law, they are using their bodies in a way that they were not designed to be used. Paul hints at this in Romans 1.

            I personally don’t believe science has any bearing on the argument. If a person is born with a homosexual orientation, as a Christian, abstinence would seem to be the option. This aligns with “Side B” people in the Gay Christian Network. I understand the “Side A” people disagree. We can dialogue all day long, but at the end of the day there’s a fundamental disagreement as to what is morally acceptable to both groups. My problem is that if a “Side B” person tells a “Side A” person he or she is morally wrong in his or her choice, that person is typically labeled a bigot, even in progressive Christian circles, where “openness” is championed.

            Are there churches where homosexuals are mistreated and abused? Of course. Are there other churches that hold to “Side B” where homosexuals who may be struggling with the morality of their choices feel welcome? Yes, there are, but one rarely hears of them.

            I’m rambling, but again, if one holds that homosexual acts are sinful, not the orientation (as I and many others do), science has nothing to provide that would change that argument. I’m pretty sure science is not on the side of the incarnation and resurrection either. And if our numbers are dwindling, so be it. I would hope not to base my convictions on public opinion, as I’m sure you wouldn’t either.

          • Vega Magnus says

            I don’t think we can reasonably condemn homosexuality by calling gay sex acts “unnatural,” Lee. Straight couples are capable of doing every sex act that gays and lesbians do. So we then must define “natural” sexual activity as just standard penis in vagina intercourse and nothing else because that is the only sex act that only straight people can do, and I think everyone in the world would agree that that is taking it a bit too far.

          • Marcus Johnson says

            First, let’s deal with the “homophobe” label. I believe that term has been greatly misused, as has the term “racist” or “sexist.” A mere dismissal of homosexual activity as “unnatural” does not in itself make someone a homophobe, and it always offends me when someone uses it that way.

            That being stated, while it’s great that you don’t support mistreatment of LGBT people, a lack of acknowledgment that their mistreatment is real and continues even today is pervasive throughout the Church. Is it the same as, or should it be compared to, the treatment of slaves, or women, or the Japanese during WWII? Of course not. But the “it’s not as bad as…” argument often carries an inherent “quit whining” argument, which is just as demeaning.

            As for that awesome discourse on how anal sex is not natural…um…wow…I think there are a couple more reasons why you keep talking past people on this subject. I’m sure the scientific community will be pleased to know that they are no longer in the business of determining what “natural” body functions are. It would certainly alleviate the problem of having to pay one of those evil doctors to run an X-Ray. Seriously, though, if you want to make the issue of “natural law” a philosophical discussion separate from science, you’re going to find yourself an increasing minority, not because you are not popular, but because more and more people realize how little sense that makes.

            So again, back to the original discussion. I’m not sure if scientific discovery has anything to add that would change your argument, but isn’t that the point of the post? That kind of position has us throwing Galileo into the can because he’s saying the earth revolves around the sun. Public opinion aside, if you assume that your interpretation of Scripture, albeit based on a lengthy traditional approach that is centuries old, supersedes a plain and clear scientific advancement of knowledge, then your dwindling numbers have less to do with public opinion and more to do with the fact that you chose to be left behind. Kind of like Dr. Seuss’ The Zax.

    • I can’t really see where gay people were “victimized.” Long before this century, society accepted Walt Whitman, Oscar Wilde, Liberace. Rock Hudson, Roy Cohn, J Edgar Hoover, Tennessee Williams, and a thousand others who enjoyed wealth, power, and privilege.

      • Marcus Johnson says

        That’s probably because you don’t acknowledge the thousands of documented cases of gay people who lost their jobs, got kicked out of their homes and disowned by their parents, received substandard medical care, were labeled “insane” and sent to asylums, beaten up by bullies in high school, labeled as pedophiles, etc.

        You also probably don’t understand how privilege works. Often times, a person can have a privileged identity that intersects with one that doesn’t share privilege, so a poor White man may receive some privilege because of his racial identity and gender, but his socioeconomic status would leave him subject to discrimination. It works the other way around, too, so an LGBT person who is a prolific millionaire may have more than enough of a buffer to shield herself from discrimination because of her socioeconomic status. In other words, the list you have of celebrities is pure anecdotal evidence which doesn’t speak to the lived experience of other LGBT people who aren’t stinking rich.

      • Of those people, the one who was widely known to be gay at the time was put in prison.

    • In order to meaningfully compare them, we need to choose a specific time and setting. It’s not fair to compare the sufferings of antebellum American black slaves, or 21st century victims of trafficking and debt bondage in a country like Nepal, with the situation of 21st century San Francisco gays.

      • I wish you’d chosen another place besides SF, as it’s largely white, upper middle class, and in some ways plays into both stereotypes held by the public at large *and* fears and misconceptions held as truth in many evangelical circles.

        The media’s no better – witness Ryan Murphy’s shows and the way he portrays gay characters (gay men especially).

        • Marcus Johnson says

          Agreed about Ryan Murphy. The gay men and women on Glee have become as much a caricature of the LGBT community as blackface is to the Black community.

          • Yes, Glee and the short-lived The New Normal are both disasters in this respect (and in others, less germane to this discussion).

          • I’m also very irritated at Ryan Murphy’s portrayal of black people (and Asian Americans, and Latinos, and Jewish people), but that’s another discussion entirely – with the exception of the black transwoman on Glee. Minstrelsy to the utmost. I feel bad for the young man who plays the part, and wonder if he will ever get cast in any other kind of role. The fact that he’s both out and black makes his prospects even worse, imo.

  9. I get frustrated and discouraged reading the comments here at times such as this. To me the points and connections made in Bell’s fine piece are clear, accurate and convicting. There was a time in the past when “The Church” used lines from larger bodies of writing within the Bible to support incorrect science that might be instructive for “The Church” currently embroiled in similar controversies.

    But our discussion about this piece so far revolve defining scientific versus ethical stances, the danger of drawing wrong conclusions, mythological quotes,etc. By the way, here is the attribution to the quote from Luther (Quoted in Thomas Kuhn, The Copernican Revolution, Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard University Press, 1957, p. 191.).

    Yes, Copernicus didn’t have it all worked out, he stubbornly held on to the concept of spherical orbits, as one example. The fact that science discards that which does not support empirical evidence and continues to refine and define what is shown to be observed, inferred or mathematically derived , seems to be part of Bell’s point. While highlighting what can be “The Church’s” weakness: stubbornly holding on to incorrect ideas, and viewpoints in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

    Someone asked what question is being asked in the comments above. The question to me would seem to be this. Can “The Church” justify its theological beliefs that it is correct to shun a group of human beings based on proof texts from the larger body of Scripture in the face of an ever-enlarging body of scientific evidence that humans do not just choose their sexual orientation.

    I believe Bell was at least alluding to old racial arguments from Genesis, Deuteronomy, 1 Corinthians, Ephesians, Colossians, and 1 Timothy (Evan’s writings point out this list) when he spoke about slavery. I have heard some of these proof texts used in my lifetime as evidence that dark-skinned people are both morally and physiologically lesser than light-skinned people, thus it was okay to enslave them.

    And, that is my frustration. We sit and argue largely semantics while people hurt, cry and even die. Even with history showing us we’ve done so in the past, we still are content to do so again today. These are our neighbors, our brothers and our sisters. Scripture should ever point us to the love, salvation, and majesty of God’s Kingdom, yet we seem content to be indifferent to pain, we seek to judge, and we deny this Kingdom because it seems more important that our view of Scripture to correct.

    At the end of this all I can only say, Lord, have mercy on me a sinner.

    • Thank you John. You said it much better than me.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      We sit and argue largely semantics while people hurt, cry and even die. Even with history showing us we’ve done so in the past, we still are content to do so again today. These are our neighbors, our brothers and our sisters. Scripture should ever point us to the love, salvation, and majesty of God’s Kingdom, yet we seem content to be indifferent to pain, we seek to judge, and we deny this Kingdom because it seems more important that our view of Scripture to correct.

      Purity of Ideology, Comrade.
      (Ask any survivor of Cambodia’s Killing Fields about Purity of Ideology.)

      • Outside the US, yes I understand, and hypocritical especially in the Muslim communities that forbid, yet practice it as a cultural thing “women are for babies but boys…” as what I have heard from the disgusted soldiers coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan…

        But here in the US especially among the younger crowd… it is the “in” thing to be. It is the older guys like me, who hold to my church’s view, and think of this as a behavior and not an identity, that gets more of the grief for not conforming.

        Reminds me of the whole gender inequality thing, and how we need to do something about it, and then I look around and see that most of my management chain are women, at least half of my co-workers are women – so without getting on a soapbox – get my point?

        • I don’t think that anyone who is lgbt is so because it’s the “in thing.” People face very serious harassment and all kinds of pain and rejection in the process of self-acceptance and coming out to family and friends. The consequences of honesty in this can be very grave indeed.

          I think that if you take the time to listen to/read what folks actually go through, any superficial notions about faddishness will fall by the wayside pretty quickly…

          • Numo,

            I guess I wasn’t clear. My point wasn’t that being lgbt is a fad, but that acceptance by people, especially the younger crowd is at an all time high and the “in” thing so the harrassment the blogger had posted has diminished significantly. I also tend to be the curious type and have talked with those I know who will open up on this issue, and from a one-on-one level I have a feel for the struggle going on there.

          • Radagast – thanks for clarifying. I got a bit muddled somewhere along the line!

    • John – +1, many times over.

    • See above, Kuhn himself pulled the “quote” from a 19th century book, which pulled it from thin air. It’s more than 50% likely to be completely fabricated.

    • “…in the face of an ever-enlarging body of scientific evidence that humans do not just choose their sexual orientation.”

      The body of scientific evidence shows that homosexuality is just like any other behavior, it is the result of a complex combination of factors. No one “just” chooses a behavior. But choice certainly is involved.

      “We sit and argue largely semantics while people hurt, cry and even die.”

      This isn’t arguing semantics, it is about whether or not homosexuality is a sin. That is an important discussion. Because a savior implies the need to be saved from something and before forgiveness must come repentance. So, is it a sin or isn’t it?

  10. One of the big issues here regards the nature of Scripture. As long as people play down (or ignore) the human element in composing and putting together the Scriptures and fail to read it as an ancient book that conveys its message and its truth by means of ancient language and perspectives, they will fight any advancement in human knowledge that even superficially appears to contradict “the clear Word of God.”

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      I remember you theorizing that this hyper-literalism may have been given a push by the Age of Reason and/or Industrial Revolution. To “minds of wheels and metal”, the Old Old Stories become nothing more than a spiritual engineering manual of Fact, Fact, Fact.

  11. nothing constructive to say other than you lost me at “I’ve been reading a lot of Rachel Held Evans.”

    Internetmonk has become one of my “go-to” blogs I look forward to reading. But if it’s going to be reduced to regurgitating posts from Evans it will swiftly be removed from my feedly sync.

    I read Evans on my own for a good laugh and to be depressed at what passes for critical thought. I don’t need to hear others uncritically consume and spit out her drivel.

    • And I read Evans because I am a critical thinker. I want to expose myself to different ideas, and then think long and hard about it. Evans represents the thinking of a large segment of younger Christians today and so I want to critically interact with what she has written.

      To say that I have “uncritically consume[d] and spit out her drivel” is an insult which does not accurately the time that I spent reading and researching for this blog entry.

      • Daniel Jepsen says

        Good answer, Mike

      • you’re not critically interacting with her. Your post enumerated the common talking points of Copernicus, Calvin, Luther, Galileo, Darwin and the interactions of ‘science’ with the church. Superficially I might add. You didn’t cite Evans until the last few paragraphs and you certainly didn’t interact critically with her. You simply copy and pasted what she said and you echoed your own trepidations – echoing what she has said. Don’t take it as an insult so much as an observation. If you choose to ignore it – so be it. But I wasn’t intending the confrontational tone – my apologies.

    • It’s weird how I have found a much higher level of critical thought over at RHE than on many evangelical blogs where critical thinking is in itself considered suspicious & any ‘unorthodox’ thought shot down without investigation. You may disagree with her conclusions, but she is no air head, & she takes a vast amount of abuse for rocking the boat. What exactly is your problem with her?

      • My problem with her is that she’s an air head masquerading as a critical thinker. Her ‘year of biblical womanhood’ was nonsensical crap. She claims fidelity to scripture when in reality nothing could be farther from the truth. Simply put – she doesn’t take scripture seriously – her feelings are what takes priority over everything else. I disagree with her conclusions AND what passes for a thought process in arriving there.

        RHE is beneath this blog.

  12. It seems to me that fashionable ideas generate “scientific support” relatively easily, whereas unfashionable ideas languish no matter what scientific support they may have. Something Lewis said, through Screwtape I believe, about the desirability of getting everyone to pile up on the side of the boat that is sinking comes to mind.

    There’s no emergency calling for immediate policy change. I haven’t seen the “science” on the etiology of homosexuality. The normativity of homosexuality just suddenly became fashionable and I became a troglodyte. Neither have I seen any science on the etiology of autism or Turrets’ syndrome, but there are rumblings that theseneed to be accommodated as well. Are we going to be absolutizing the particular to such a degree that all neurologies are equally valid and there is no “normal”? That sounds like ideological AIDS, the total breakdown of a mimetic immune system.

    This post is a place holder for a more deliberative post, which will probably end up on my blog

    • Marcus Johnson says

      I haven’t seen the “science” on the etiology of homosexuality.

      You either haven’t really been looking or, like most folk who have trouble accepting scientific research that contradicts long-held convictions, you’re assuming that “science” is about establishing law, not developing theories. Non-heterosexual orientation is not like gravity; it is like evolution, so the research which seems to affirm that theory will probably never be 100% conclusive. That doesn’t mean it’s not science.

      The normativity of homosexuality just suddenly became fashionable and I became a troglodyte.

      Again, you haven’t really been paying attention. The normativity of homosexuality, especially in the United States, has been an evolutionary process that has spanned several decades. Granted, our nation’s obsession with shallow celebrity endorsement and the speed of communication has accelerated that normativity, much faster than the civil rights movements of the 60’s, or the debate over abolition, or heliocentrism, but it is definitely not sudden.

    • This is a good point, Mule. However, as I read Mike, I merely hear him saying that this is a contemporary issue with which he is wrestling. Frankly, I’ve tried to avoid discussing it at every turn because I keep finding myself chasing dead ends in my thinking.

      The bigger issue in his post to me is: how do we apply the teachings of an ancient book that we consider authoritative, that however reflects bygone perspectives on the world and life, to a world in which human knowledge inevitably increases and replaces some of those ancient perspectives?

      • Surprisingly, I agree.

        i don’t think enough attention is paid to the interpretive process. A lot of people bring up shellfish when people object to homosexual behavior on the basis of Leviticus, and entirely ignore the history of interpretation which has treated gastronomy considerably differently from sexuality. It is not a discussion that lends itself well to internet banter.

        Treating Mr. Johnson’s objections, let us examine the controversy concerning race and IQ, or sex and anything besides raw reproduction. Is there something there? We may never know for certain in my lifetime. The current intellectual climate does not allow it. The immediate and galvanic response to anybody bringing these questions up in a scientific milieu is “away with such a fellow from the earth, for he is not fit to live! ” [Note to the h8rs – my personal belief in or attitude towards studies concerning race and IQ does not affect my argument. I bring it up as an example of an unfashionable idea.]

        Anybody who wants to use the Bible as a guide for life is going to have to navigate the genocide, the ethnocentrism, the sexism, the lack of outrage about slavery, the casual cruelty, etc. Everyone has to decide which portions they are going to use as hermeneutical “steering currents”. The Orthodox tend to ask the question “does this inflame and empower the passions, or does it restrain and subdue them?” We ask this question even about marriage. Evangelicals have a different mindset. Ascetism, by and large, is not considered a good thing in Evangelicalism, so we can end up talking past each other a lot.

        • PS – I should add that statements like “does this inflame and empower the passions, or does it restrain and subdue them?” are presuppositional and not extracted from the text. They serve instead as a guide to the text.

        • Marcus Johnson says

          Treating Mr. Johnson’s objections, let us examine the controversy concerning race and IQ, or sex and anything besides raw reproduction. Is there something there? We may never know for certain in my lifetime.

          Or in mine. However, I certainly wouldn’t place the lion’s share of blame on “the current intellectual climate.” Some of these issues are just naturally very complex; we’ll be teasing out the issues of sexual orientation and racial identity for centuries.

          Also, I certainly don’t presume that scientific advancement and research has reached a final word on anything. I am, however, arguing that the solution to this quandry is not blind adherence to convictions based on flawed methods of Scriptural interpretation, especially in the face of contradictory historical and/or scientific evidence.

        • Oh, evangelicalism certainly does have its own kind of asceticism, but it’s not spoken of as such. I think it’s kind of unfair to make that kind of 1:1 comparison without getting into specifics of customs, mores, etc.

          Or have you never been around the no drinking/no dancing/no card-playing types? ( I jest, since I know you were in the AofG church for a while…)

          • And I do realize that asceticism in the Orthodox tradition is radically different to anything evangelicals might practice. It certainly is different to many ideas about asceticism in the RCC ( over many centuries). And I am certain that there has been an evolution in the ideas of what constitutes asceticism, in both East and West.

        • Mule,

          “The Orthodox tend to ask the question ‘does this inflame and empower the passions, or does it restrain and subdue them?’ ”

          A very similar question to the one Buddhists ask when determining if a behavior fits the criteria of “skillful means” for attaining nirvana. The second Noble Truth of Buddhism is that suffering is caused by desire/passion/craving/attachment, and in his Fire Sermon, Buddha taught that all things were on fire with the burning of ignorance and desire/passion/craving/attachment.

          • There is the body of an incorrupt Buddhist monk in southern Siberia that is giving the Orthodox plenty of opportunity for discussion.

          • Japanese monk of the Shingon sect actually used to commit suicide by long, slow starvation, in the hope that their bodies would remain incorrupt. It’s been illegal for many years now, but there are a few similar cases there. (Shingon is an esoteric sect and there’s relatively little info about it, even now, though some of their rituals are open to the public and vids are available in the usual places.)

          • The Buddha would not have recognized suicide by slow starvation as part of the Middle Way that he recommended between extreme asceticism and self-indulgence. In fact, according to the Pali Canon, right before his enlightenment, the Buddha rested from extreme asceticism and ate a nurturing meal.

          • Robert F – I know, and yet, it’s one of those weird things that developed as a regional variant within Buddhism…

          • In fact, Buddhism recognized early that the practice of extreme asceticism itself is the cause and result of inflamed passions/desire/attachment, a quest for control that had the paradoxical affect of fortifying the self, though the practice of asceticism is ostensibly undertaken to undermine the imperial self.

            On a different note, whenever I hear of the traditional interest among the religious in the incorruption of human remains, I always remember Dostoevsky’s fictional saintly staretz Zosima, who raised a righteous stink very soon after his death, causing endless scandal and ill words about the dead to be spoken.

      • Having trouble with that phrase “bygone perspectives of the world and life…” Isn’t this how many in the “modern” community treat the whole christian thing from start to finish ?? How are we to know what is “bygone” ?? Do we want to include premarital sex to the list… why or why not ??

        Also: I see a scriptural trajectory away from slavery…. I see one away from the pure strains of complimentarianism… easily see one away from “Jewish first , then the rest…” I’ve yet to see anything that would allow me to say the same for homosexuality. To paraphrase Lee: how am I to set this sail ??

        • “How are we to know what is “bygone” ??”

          Ah but that’s the great interpretive question, isn’t it? Distinguishing the timeless from the time bound in Scripture is exactly the issue.

      • An issue on which this question resonates deeply is that of the Church’s teachings on Judaism and the Jewish people. The Catholic Church finally came to grips with it in Vatican II, resulting in the declaration Nostra Aetate, particularly section IV. The build up to it makes for fascinating reading. If I may recommend, read “From Enemy to Brother” by John Connelly, which describes the revolutionary change in Church thinking from ’33 to ’65. It’s remarkable stuff and speaks profoundly to the question of how we relate to authoritative teaching that reflects bygone perspectives.

        • Thank for the book rec, Bass!

        • Cedric Klein says

          Trouble is we then move too far into “Dual-Covenant” nonsense in which the Gospel is “to the Greek, and the barbarian, but never, never to the Jew for that would be disrespectful…”

          • I think antisemitism was so deeply rooted in Catholicism that “erring” a bit on the other side of things is an understandable, even necessary, part of the readjustment process.

      • Patrick Kyle says

        You have to believe that somehow God had something to do with the Book and despite appearances would not lead us astray. As to distinguishing the ‘time bound’ from the timeless, be sure the time bound issue isn’t the current cultural trend.

    • Mule, you wrote –

      “Neither have I seen any science on the etiology of autism or Turrets’ syndrome, but there are rumblings that theseneed to be accommodated as well. Are we going to be absolutizing the particular to such a degree that all neurologies are equally valid and there is no “normal”? That sounds like ideological AIDS, the total breakdown of a mimetic immune system.”

      No, there is no objective “normal” The term exists for the sole purpose of sidelining and stigmatizing whatever we don’t find acceptable or workable. Thus, people are often not content merely say that an autistic person doesn’t function well in society and faces challenges based on differences; we resort to language that says that person is ‘broken’ in some way. We look down on the difference, and throw the person out. They are a problem to be managed, rather than a different facet of creation.

      Significantly, the world “normal” has a very long history in discussions of sexuality, and has always been defined against homosexuality.

      Normal SHOULD be dropped as a useful concept. It obscures more than it reveals. What we actually see is in human (and animal) populations is a great deal of biological differences. This is a genetic fact and even necessity. If you try to chart or picture these differences, you might picture points along a very broad spectrum. If someone is sitting on an extreme point on the spectrum, they may have problems functioning alongside a society made largely of people with different characteristics. We can conceive of that as a disability or a difference. But normal/abnormal? One is with nature and one is against? How silly – when there is nothing more “natural” and expected than biological variation. Let’s at least admit that ideas like “normal” function as bad shorthand for the facts — generalizations are always destroyed when you get down to the individual case.

      • There is nothing wrong with the term “normal.” It generally refers to that which falls within the majority section of the curve and it draws a distinction between itself and the outliers. Being an outlier isn’t necessarily a bad thing, the valedictorian of a class is not “normal,” they are an outlier in that they have superior grades. There is certainly a normal and a non-normal in all areas of life. I think what you are driving at is how we should treat the outliers. But pretending they don’t exist isn’t helpful.

        • I don’t have a problem with the use of the term “normal” to refer to the something statistical, say, the middle of a bell curve. Here we are talking above averages or pluralities vs. outliers.

          However, that is not the limit of the terms use. It carries additional connotations.

    • Mule, thanks for weighing in for many of we Cathodox. I feel blessed that I am not called to parse out every chapter and verse in Scripture based on my own limited understanding; and that I can rely on other avenues as well into the Heart and Mind and Will of the Father.

  13. I too read IM a lot and appreciate some of the perspectives.

    But I still see the underlying Evangelical roots in the tendency to be driven by cultural trends.

    At times it is almost as if the call is ‘hoist the sails, the wind she blows!’ and we don’t seem to care which way it blows because we have ditched all our ballast and we will just go.

    • It’s quite an accusation, Ken. Sometimes we depend upon our readers and commenters to provide the necessary ballast when we discuss issues that are “in the wind.”

  14. Joseph (the original) says

    hey! I take particular issue with the picture used to illustrate this article…

    yeah…you see that small orb at the upper right corner out there in distant space???

    well now that is the wannabe planet Pluto doing its best photobomb attempt to be included in the royal planet lineup! I cry foul! science, as well as the ‘theological’ viewpoints (YEC or old solar system) supporting it, has been rudely usurped by this, this, scrawny ‘planetoid’ charlatan!


    • I for one will always think of Pluto as a planet after all those years of being thought of as one by the scientific community. How degrading it is to relegate it to second class citizenship in the celestial family. We – as humans, are just not as inclusive as we claim to be! Planet Pluto! Planet Pluto! Planet Pluto!.. there I’ve said it….

      • Joseph (the original) says

        well…after a thoughtful reexamination of my sarcastic comment I must concluded that Pluto cannot be anything but what the Good Lord created it to be…

        and if science or any other religious group wants to classify, de-classify, vilify, or simplify its orbital ‘orientation’, who am I to argue???

        I suppose Pluto cannot be expected to throw its weight around in such a cosmological consideration…

        Lord, have mercy… 🙁

      • As Mork from the planet Ork (played by Robin Williams) said, “You wouldn’t like Pluto. It’s a Mickey Mouse planet.”

    • “Have you heard about Pluto? That’s messed up, right?”

  15. It amazes me time and time again how the church has always dropped the ball or chose to needlessly die on another hill. The problem is that Christians have been wrong so often through history that they have largely painted themselves into a corner. I like the views about Copernicus, Newton and Galileo because it poses serious questions. But I would also suggest that science is doing the same thing with creationism as well and the risk that many evangelicals are now making is that when we are discussing more important issues in the future (i.e. human cloning, etc…) many evangelicals won’t be able to contribute to the discussion because they are stuck on young earth creationism.

    Why do many evangelicals needlessly paint themselves into a corner? Why this all or nothing approach? By refusing to find a middle ground it puts people in the position when they have to choose between having faith or not having faith. In addition to homosexuality I wonder what other issues are looming as well?

    • Everybody talks about Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, and Darwin as if they weren’t Christians.

      To a large degree, even in a post-Christian worrd, this is still an internal debate.

    • Spot on, Eagle. I’ve used the same terms many times myself: “Why are we picking THIS hill to die on?” and “We’re painting ourselves into a corner.” We so much want to box God in and say that He operates “this way.” I’ve been taking a new approach lately and saying, “I refuse to box God in! I have no idea how He operates!”

      The only hill Jesus died on was the one at Calvary. What was good enough for him should be good enough for us.

  16. I have come to the conclusion that one of the effects of effects of our fallen nature (aka, “total depravity”) is that in taking steps to correct a wrong, be it scientific in nature (e.g., geocentric orbit, young earth creationism) or ethical in nature (e.g., slavery) we don’t know where to stop. Are there no “absolutes” anymore? Is there no more need for “revealed truth” in the Church?

    Does Leviticus 18.22, “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination” not apply anymore but Exodus 20.14, “You shall not commit adultery” still apply, or do we throw that one out too? What about Exodus 20.13, “You shall not murder”; is that to be outdated, perhaps applied to curmudgeons like me? What else will we throw out as we become more “enlightened”? Pedophilia? Incest? Bestiality? What if it’s proved that these are genuine congenital disorders–pardon me for lack of sensitivity, that would be “orientation”–for which there is abounding scientific proof? Does that justify anything?

    If a person experiences BIID (body integrity identity disorder) and insists that their legs be amputated below the knees not because of any tissue damage or physical pain but because they’re convinced that the limb shouldn’t be there, should the medical community condone the amputation of healthy limbs–or do we try and get the person some help in accepting that it’s good, not bad, to keep their legs intact? What about GID (gender identity disorder) where a man is convinced he’s a woman or vice versa; do we condone or even recommend sexual reassignment surgery? (oh wait, that one we already do). I mention these two because there is good “scientific evidence” that both BIID and GID are real to these folks, whether congenital or learned, and that most individuals who undergo these procedures “feel” better about themselves afterwards. But does that make it right? Is this the best approach the Church can come up with? Is this how we are “salt & light” to a rotting and dark world, by condoning such behavior, even recommending surgery? Or forget surgery, in the case of homosexuality, do we say, “You may now lie with a male as with a woman; it is good thing as long as you are being true to yourself.” Is this wisdom? Where do we draw the line? Does no one see the inherent danger in this kind of thinking?

    Goodness, gracious, I understand that there are issues with biblicism, literalism, creationism, fundamentalism, evangelicalism, …, xism. But is throwing out the baby with the bath water, as they say, the right response? Is holiness in the Church to be promoted by condoning, advocating even, for sin?

    With all due respect, this is sheer folly.

    • +1 but taking cover… INCOMING!!!

    • Marcus Johnson says

      …and here it comes…

      No, throwing out the baby with the bathwater is not the proper response, but I think Mike’s point was that those of us who cling to personal convictions, even in the face of contradictory scientific evidence, are not able to tell the difference between the baby and the bathwater. And that’s a problem.

      Let’s take Exodus 20:13, for example. I’ve come to understand that the Ten Commandments were part of a much larger discourse that formed the contract by which God became the God of the people of Israel. That conclusion doesn’t mean that murder is morally acceptable (I’m anti-death penalty and anti-abortion). However, if the only thing that’s stopping you from murdering someone is a four-word statement uttered 3500 years ago to a specific people for a specific reason, then you’re kinda crazy–keep your distance. Also, every society contemporary with, and preceding before, the issuance of the Ten Commandments, had laws against murder, adultery, theft, and perjury; you don’t need the Bible to support that moral imperative.

      However, you do need the Bible to understand that, for the people of God, everything in our existence comes under the lordship of Jesus Christ. That’s why the Ten Commandments are important–not because it tells us how to behave, but because we should recognize that the imperative to preserve life, for the Christian, is part of our relationship with who God is.

      Likewise, assuming our traditional interpretation of the Bible trumps scientific knowledge is not part of the Christian walk; it’s part of an unhealthy stubbornness to change. Calvin, I’m sure some of Galileo and Copernicus’ critics said things like, “We don’t know where to stop. Are there no “absolutes” anymore? Is there no more need for “revealed truth” in the Church?” Here’s the thing, though: Copernicus was right, so was Galileo, and their persecutors are now considered fools for their attempt to silence legitimate scientific advancement. Dropping the “you’re condoning sin” card every time someone contradicts a conviction, instead of accepting our tendency as humans to misinterpret Scripture, and re-examining where the parts fit, is neither productive nor respectful.

      • Very well stated. Just a few comments on your comments…

        Regardless of what Calvin, Luther, or the pope may have said about geocentricity, we all agree that Copernicus and Galileo were right. And if my recollection of events is accurate, I believe that Protestants accepted heliocentricity (e.g., Johannes Kepler, who was a contemporary of Galileo Galile) before Roman Catholicism. But that’s just a historical note.

        I do not doubt for one moment that homosexual, BIID, GID, pedophilia–you name it–orientations, have a physiological and learned something or other to do with it. All science, whether it be astronomical of medical can do is give us facts. But there is more to the truth than just facts. And I would argue that apart from Christ, who is the very embodiment of Truth and is the incarnate Word (John 14.6, John 1.1) we cannot know the truth. And I would further argue that Scripture alone (yes, the “sola” thing is exactly how I mean it) is the final authority on all matters with regards the Christian faith. And if Scripture tells us that there are behaviors which are just plain wrong then we need to accept that.

        And yes, I foresee numerous arguments about slavery, polygamy, women’s rights, etc. coming my way. As I see it, just because some practices were permitted (e.g., slavery, polygamy) does not condone their continuation now that we live under grace. But some behaviors are just outright forbidden, and such prohibitions were reiterated by the New Testament writers. One would need something more than a scientific, cultural, or even the possibility of errancy in Scripture to condone or accept what Scripture outright forbids. Surely, there must be a better way for the Church to show grace to this world and to handle these things than what is being argued here.

        • Marcus Johnson says

          First, Scripture never “permitted” things like slavery, polygamy, or the subjugation of women. These were already social practices that existed in every society contemporary with the people of Israel. The OT rules that regulated slavery, for example, never stated, “Thou shalt own slaves.” Instead, it recognized that it was a practice that was deeply ingrained into the culture. The regulation of these social practices was not to speak into existence a code of conduct that didn’t exist, but to establish God as authority over social practices that already existed. That’s what Ephesians 5 was all about, as well. So, if anyone tries to argue that the Bible affirmed slavery, that would be my answer.

          Second, I have no problem agreeing that truth is not all fact. But Mike’s article argued that, in past centuries, the Church has found itself on the dunce-cap-wearing end of social progress by assuming that people who affirmed scientific advancements in knowledge were condoning or accepting something that Scripture (which usually means “my interpretation of Scripture”) did not affirm. We have to be able to separate our interpretation of Scripture from Scripture itself; otherwise, we start calling our personal convictions and conclusions “truth,” when they are really still just our personal convictions and conclusions; that is the “better way,” rather than tossing Galileo in a jail cell.

          • Hey Marcus,

            Actually when it comes to polygamy there are several examples of it being affirmed. Nathan’ statement to David about God blessing David with many wives comes to mind. Also the command about Leverite marriage where a guy had to marry his sister-in-law if his brother became deceased, even if he was already married.

          • Marcus Johnson says

            Perhaps it’s a semantics issue; by “affirming,” I should have written “affirming as a practice instituted by God for man.” Great examples, though. In David’s case, the cultural norm was for a king to have many wives, as it was for practically every contemporary culture at the time; having a lot of wives was as much a sign of a king’s authority as a motorcade would be to a president. In the case of marrying one’s sister-in-law, that practice was instituted not because polygamy was affirmed, but because it was the only way that society would allow a widow to keep the property and name of her husband. In both cases, God was acknowledging a social practice already in existence, while at the same time bringing it under His authority.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            The OT rules that regulated slavery, for example, never stated, “Thou shalt own slaves.”

            No matter what convenient interpretations came from slaveowners. (During the run-up to the American Civil War, you heard such convenient interpretations, and even today you have Christian Reconstructionists and Extreme Islamic factions coming up with the same interpretation. Usually because they would personally benefit from slavery.)

            Some years ago, a Jewish contact of mine told me of “subversive wisdom of Torah”. Using the Torah’s regulation of slavery, first thing is slavery was universal in civilizations of that time; a fish doesn’t know it’s wet, and people of that era couldn’t imagine a society without slavery. If Torah had come out against slavery, the people would have just blown it off and went on with Normal Society. But be regulating slavery the way it did, if you followed Torah it would actually be cheaper and easier to just hire free workers. Yes it remained legal and regulated, but over time it would be impractical. So Torah worked against slavery without actually being against it. Subversive Wisdom.

            Of course, those who benefited from the system found loopholes around the regulations so they could continue what they were going to do anyway; many of the prophets railed against such workarounds of convenience, even to the point of “The Babylonians will keep you in captivity until you’ve made up all the Jubilees you denied to your captives/slaves”.

          • As you read through the Pentateuch and the history of the Kings of Israel and Judah you will discover that yes, both slavery and polygamy were permitted and regulated. Whether this is the result of practices of the cultures and kingdoms of the era is up for debate. But it’s there. My argument is that it is not ideal nor first in God’s heart. And for that I turn to the Creation.

            The Church has found itself in a “dunce cap” situation since Pentecost. But that neither validates nor invalidates anything. It simply means that the Church reflects the saint-sinner nature of its members.

            But it did not get everything wrong. And where Scripture explicitly prohibits a practice and the Church affirmed such–perhaps not always in the most excellent and elegant way–then it was doing the right thing. And so it is to this day.

          • If they accept and open their gates, all the people in it shall be subject to forced labor and shall work for you. 12 If they refuse to make peace and they engage you in battle, lay siege to that city. 13 When the LORD your God delivers it into your hand, put to the sword all the men in it. 14 As for the women, the children, the livestock and everything else in the city, you may take these as plunder for yourselves.

            Sorry, the god of the Bible DID command his followers to take slaves.

        • I have to tell you that nothing gets my feathers up then when Christians mention pedophilia and homosexuality in the same sentance. Pedophiles come in all shapes, sizes, and genders. They come male and female, as well as gay and straight. I also would suggest that it is faulty to suggest that people are gay because they have been molested. That’s an old wive’s tale and myth for many gays. But many evangelicals like to have their own “science” (hence Ken Hamm, etc..) and will actually ignore science. Maybe what I am saying is that some evangelcials need their propaganda.

          • flatrocker says

            Don’t read more into the above comment than was written.

            It is academically short-sighted and scientifically restrictive to not talk about various orientations in the same sentence. If we are willing to honestly discuss a single orientation (gay) and allow another orientation (bi) or still another orientation (trans) into the discussion, then it seems fair and academically prudent to look at all sexual expressions through the same non-judgmental lens.

            The challenge, it seems, is can we (or should we) seperate our ethical viewpoints related to each of these expressions from the academic discussion of the source of the orientation. If we can be created to be one type of expression, why then can not all types of expressions claim creation validity? This is the question that needs to be asked in the same sentence.

          • Marcus Johnson says

            Seeing as how pedophilia is not recognized as a legitimate, or healthy, sexual orientation by any legitimate scientific or medical organization, it is incredibly ridiculous to speak of homosexuality and pedophilia as orientations in the same discussion. One is an actual sexual orientation from which healthy relationships between consenting adults can occur; the other is a sexual disorder that wreaks violence on children. I should also point out that pedophilia is neither recognized nor condemned in Scripture…uh oh…

            Perhaps, if you are not willing to acknowledge the legitimate voices of the scientific and medical communities, it is not altogether appropriate to speak of what is or is not “scientifically restrictive.”

    • Never heard of BIID before. That is a head trip for me, and really alters the rhetorical playing field, imo.

      However: When it comes to Leviticus and Exodus, I know Calvinists are really fond of OT imperatives for the third use of the law and weed out the unnecessary with their distinction between civil, moral, and ceremonial laws, but that system only works in a Reformed framework of ideas. I think a more pervasive model is to throw out the OT ENTIRELY when it comes to ethical norms. When you use Leviticus as a proof-text to clobber gays, all they hear is hypocrisy when they see you eating shrimp. It doesn’t work, period.

      Christian ethics must be drawn primarily, if not exclusively, from the teaching of Christ and the Apostles in the NT, with reference to their heritage as people from the Old Covenant. The only “laws” from the Old Testament I think we need to hold Christians to are the ones that are repeated, reaffirmed, or reinterpreted by the New Testament. Christians do not reject homosexuality because Leviticus tells us to put them to death. We reject it because of the teaching of Christ and the Apostles on sexuality, natural law, marriage, and the created order. Start there, and move from moral demands to the person and work of Christ as quickly as possible. “Stop being gay” is not a pre-requisite to Christian faith, so we ought to ensure that isn’t subtly caught as an unintentional implication of our message. Start with the NT, refer to the OT only when it does.

      • It’s not just a Calvinist thing; I would argue it’s a long-held Christian thing. I actually like what you said, though,

        “The only “laws” from the Old Testament I think we need to hold Christians to are the ones that are repeated, reaffirmed, or reinterpreted by the New Testament. Christians do not reject homosexuality because Leviticus tells us to put them to death. We reject it because of the teaching of Christ and the Apostles on sexuality, natural law, marriage, and the created order. Start there, and move from moral demands to the person and work of Christ as quickly as possible.”

        In this regard I would throw in 1 Corinthians 6.9-11 and, with regards a good use of the law, 1 Timothy 1.8-11.

        And by the way, I have never said to anyone, directly or indirectly, “Stop being gay” to anyone as I agree with you that such “is not a pre-requisite to Christian faith.” My concern is mostly with condoning sin in the Church. I would also add that repentance is necessary to salvation, and whatever sin a person may be under the influence of, repentance of it is essential ASAP.

        • Right. I wasn’t implicating that you personally were saying “stop being gay,” so much as it is a general tendency of the culture to hear that message from theologically conservative Christianity, whether it is fair to us or not.

          However, as a Lutheran I would really challenge you on your understanding of what repentance is. I would argue that by your definition, not only can nobody be saved, but “repentance” suddenly becomes a meritorious work by which we earn salvation.

          Just because we are commanded to repent doesn’t necessarily mean it is something we do. It is about SO much more than the forsaking of sinful behavior, which we never ultimately do. Sure, disagreement with the law of God is unbelief, but at the same time, a perfectly right understanding and interpretation of it is not necessary for saving faith. All that is necessary is to recognize that the law condemns you as a sinner. You will never account for all the ways in which this is true, and God is plenty gracious and merciful to overlook the specific sins we miss.

          • The first of Luther’s 95 Theses was

            “When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said “Repent”, He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”

            As a Lutheran, what do you think Luther meant by this if not what it says at face value.

            Faith is not a work, neither is confessing or repentance. Genuine faith, however, must be accompanied by repentance and confession or it becomes faux faith. Genuine faith also persists throughout life and is evidenced by continual confession of Christ before men, continual repentance, and obedience to Christ.

            We are not justified by works nor we will be sanctified by way of theistic moralism. The same gospel that justifies also sanctifies, and that on the basis of faith. I understand all this.

          • Cal, the 95 Theses aren’t Lutheran. Neither is a large portion of what Luther wrote. Only what made the final cut in 1580 is “Lutheran.”

            Neither do we make so clear a distinction between faith and repentance. We would rather say that genuine faith will be shown in a true confession and accompanied by good works. But the question must be asked, “what is repentance?”

            We would say that repentance has two parts: Contrition for sin, and belief that Christ has covered it fully. It’s all about Law and Gospel: Repentance is first hearing the word of the Law which condemn you as a sinner and put you to death, and then hearing the word of the Gospel which forgives your sin and raises you to new life, and believing both words. In other words, repentance is to hear the Word of God, and believe (keep) it. Hearing is passive, and thus not a work any more than you could select what you do or do not hear, and believing is also not a work as it is something created in us by the Holy Spirit through the Word.

          • You have clarified much with regards to faith and repentance which wasn’t as clear in your original statements. I agree wholeheartedly with what you said here, especially the part about repentance consisting of contrition and covering it fully. Likewise I agree with you with regards the distinction between Law and Gospel and how the Law condemns us and the cross saves us. I have taught this in my congregation even using a caricature from a centuries-old Lutheran catechism showing a man kneeling down in repentance with the two tablets of Ten Commandments on his front-left and the cross on his front-right. Yes, I’m good with all that.

            But I’m still curious about this… You said that the 95 Theses are not Lutheran, that only what made the 1580 final cut is. I am not as well versed in Lutheran history as I am in Calvinist/Reformed history, but I’m always willing to learn something new. So here are my questions… If the 95 Theses are not Lutheran, but yet were composed by Martin Luther, why are they not Lutheran? Is it that post-Luther Lutherans disagreed with Luther and left them out? Is it that they did not agree with Luther’s statement that “When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said ‘Repent’, He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance”? Is it that they agreed somewhat but felt compelled to modify it or reword it? Seriously, I’m not being contentious.

          • Calvin, I think what he’s saying is that the 95 Theses are not part of Lutheran doctrine. I will refer you to the Apostles, Nicene and Athanasian Creeds + the Small and Large Catechisms; Miguel can refer you to the rest of the foundational doctrinal statements.

            Just because luther wrote something does *not* make it “Lutheran,” except in the extremely narrow sense of it having been written by Luther. For example: Luther’s venomous screed “On the Jews and their lies” is not only *not* part of Lutheran belief and practice, it has been thoroughly repudiated by an number of synods (including the one I belong to, the ELCA).

            If you can think of Lutheranism and Lutheran churches as roughly analogous to the “big tent” approach of Anglicanism (which has everything from Anglo-Catholic to Calvinist “broad church” practices and then some), you’ll start getting a better feel for the territory that’s covered. There are fundamentalist Lutherans, ultra-liberal (theologically speaking, though I hate using the word “liberal” in this context) and just about everything in between. There have been pietist movements in European Lutheran churches; there are just all kinds of Lutheran out there – in Europe that means several state churches (Sweden, Denmark, Germany, for starters), not just synods (as here) with widely varying practice and beliefs.

            Part of the confusion comes form the fact that most Lutherans don’t have a common language, or didn’t, anyway. That changed gradually in the US, but to give you another example: my ancestors came to PA in the mid-1700s. Their kids (etc.) would have been fluent in English about a century before the ancestors of the folks who began the Missouri Synod (LCMS, which Miguel belongs to) even made it here. One of the big 20th-c. transistions was from whatever native language people spoke/used in church to English. In many places in the US, the switchover is still comparatively recent.

          • I can see that Lutherans are not a monolith just as we Reformed folks are not one, either. And I very much appreciate your clarification of these matters. Still, I would have thought that the “95 Theses” would have been a more important matter in Lutheran circles.

            The few Lutherans (or former) I know are/were mostly Missouri Synod, which I understand to be a more conservative branch than ELCA. One such fellow I spoke with told me that in his catechism class he and the other catechumens studied the 95 Theses, which were hailed as important (essential?) to their tradition.

          • I would totally agree that the 95 Theses are essential to any understanding of the history of the Reformation, period (not just of Luther and the churches named after him), but still, they aren’t part of what Miguel will, I know, refer you to: the Book of Concord. You can check out a table of contents + many sections online, including via Amazon.com’s “search inside.”

            I think one important thing to realize is that being Lutheran doesn’t mean that churches take anything or everything or even a *lot* of the things that Luther wrote to be equal to Holy Writ.

            But hey, this is a big, big topic, and there’s no easy way to boil it down to blog comments. If you look at the ELCA’s website, you’ll see that one of the big things they say about foundational beliefs is: Apostles, Nicene and Athanasian Creeds. That really is where it starts for us – long before Luther was born or even thought of. 😉

          • OK, here’s one translation in its entirety:


            I would venture so far as to say that the Augsburg Confession is one of the single most important documents, as opposed to the 95 Theses, at least as far as being a crystallization of much early thought in the churches that have come to be known as “Lutheran” – with the proviso that it (and pretty much all of the rest of the documents) were written by many people, not Luther alone or even primarily by Luther, or by Luther at all. Philip Melancthon is very important in this respect, as well as in others.

          • Thanks again, Numo. Reformed churches generally accept the ecumenical creeds (Apostles’ , Nicene, Athanasian and Chalcedonian) and the more conservative among us consider Luther to be “one of us” (sans the diatribe against Jews, consubstantiation thing, and a few other minor matters).

          • A disclaimer: that Book of Concord site is run by the LCMS. As such, it reflects LCMS understandings of the doctrinal topics you can see on the left-hand drop down menu.

            The differences might not seem like much to non-Lutherans, and overall, they probably aren’t, but there’s a world of difference between, say, what the average ELCA member believes and what the Wisconsin Synod (WELS; fundamentalist) believes.

            The LCMS is kind of in between and has everything from fundies to “liberals” (oh horrors, even people who allow ELCA members to knowingly take communion!) in its ranks. 😉

          • Calvin – which is something (“one of us”) that, frankly, most Reformed folks have all wrong. He wasn’t one of you at all, not really..

            As for consubstantiation: we don’t believe in it either, though we do believe in something called Sacramental Union and the Real Presence. But neither of those things necessarily equals consubstantiation.

            I know; it’s complicated!

          • Man, it is complicated with you folks. By comparison the Institutes of the Christian Religion is an easy read!

            Now, I mean no disrespect or derision here… It appears to me that Calvinists are more in tune with John Calvin than Lutherans are with Martin Luther. It appears to me that even those of us who are credobaptists and others who are so-called “four pointers” accept more of Calvin’s teachings than Lutherans accept Luther’s teachings. Would you agree with those statements? I could be wrong, of course.

            But if I’m right, as I believe I am, then you can see–not agree with, I understand–why we like to claim Luther as “one of us.” In particular his emphasis on justification by faith, uses of the law (yes, yes, I know, we added to that) and predestination (I refer to his correspondence with Erasmus, etc.) is of much encouragement to me.

          • I don’t have enough experience with Reformed theology/Reformed churches to be able to judge, so i’ll have to take it on trust.

            Keep in mind that the Lutherans in the US emigrated at many different times, from many different countries – and that most did not have a language in common prior to becoming fluent in English. I have a feeling that American Lutherans might be quite different, on the whole, absent the many different cultures and languages involved.

            Luther was important, but he wasn’t the be-all and end-all, either in his time or after – in fact, that’s exactly what he *didnt* want for himself. His drive was for the reform of the church – in other words, the RCC. He wasn’t trying to create government(a la Geneva) or oppose existing forms of government. It might be heard to understand how it all works without spending some time in a Lutheran church or two. I certainly can’t seem to come up with a decent summary in this comment, that’s for sure! (And I was raised Lutheran.) Maybe Richard Hershberger can help out with this, as it’s his background as well…

          • I’ve never heard a discussion of predestination in any Lutheran church. What I think happens is that Calvinists tend to adopt what they like of Luther’s writing and look the other way on the rest.

            btw, I am much more with Erasmus on this and find it almost impossible to wrap my brain around the central tenets of Reformed theology. It just does not compute to my Lutheran mind (which is a tacit admission that in some central wasys, our thinking and theology is still quite Catholic – certainly more so than that of any other Protestants, apart from the Anglican communion, that is).

          • Thank you, Numo, you certainly have opened up my appetite to better understand my Lutheran brothers and sisters. I wish my church would be more accepting of your liturgical style and respectful worship. I very much admire and desire that.

          • Glad I could help, and apologies for any confusion. I think we all have a great deal to learn from each other, and have really enjoyed talking with you about this.

            The 95 theses redux: they were early. Luther’s thinking and ideas became increasingly refined as time went on. I doubt he would want anyone to consider them authoritative.

          • Cal, remember that Lutherans never took the name of Luther for themselves, it was given to them as by detractors as an insult. That being said, in the corpus of Luther’s own works there are numerous contradictory statements as his theology developed over extended periods of study and reflection.

            Lutheran doctrine was determined, as Numo said, by the consensus of the the Lutheran church, which as the time, was struggling for unity with different doctrinal movements. They eventually sat down at the table and worked out their differences in the light of scripture and made a “canon” of confessional documents which they believed were 100% faithful to the teaching of the scriptures. This canon, the Book of Concord, is to Lutherans what the Westminster Standards are to Presbyterians or the Three Forms of Unity are to the Reformed. It was quite a remarkable achievement that such overwhelming and strong consensus was ever reached, it brought peace to the churches (“concord”) which remains to this day for those who continue in its teaching. Luther was an influential early Lutheran theologian, but his contributions to the book were somewhat minimal.

            Similarly, though I never read the Institutes, from what I hear, the major Reformed confessions actually do differ significantly with Calvin on numerous issues. It is usually in soteriological calculus, namely, the TULIP, where true Reformed solidarity and consistency lies.

            I understand that liturgical worship and the greater Christian tradition is really on the rise within Reformed communities, especially traditional Reformation heritage denominations. But it is an uphill battle that must be fought against the Evangelical subculture and publishing industry. It’s a hard enough war to win even in Lutheran circles, some days I wish I could just be Catholic and be done with it. I don’t think you’ll have much luck finding it in a Calvinish Evangelical congregation.

            The best way to get an overview of Lutheran doctrine is the Small Catechism and Augsburg Confession. I’d be more than happy to answer any questions you have about either. But Reformed people always claim Luther as one of their own (I’ve even heard Sproul do this) because they see monergism and think “that’s OUR idea!” But this is because the Reformed truly do not understand the sacraments at all. Calvinism is sacrament-less monergism, and Lutheranism is sacramental monergism. The difference is huge, but I’ve never met a Calvinist that could explain the difference between Lutheran and Roman Catholic teachings of the Lord’s Supper. Figure that out, and you’ve got a stronger handle on us.

            ….or you could just watch this snarky video explaining it by making fun of the Reformed: 😛


          • numo,
            I think your comparison of the international family of Lutheran churches and the “big tent” of the Anglican Communion is very apt. The one difference is that, because the different Lutheran bodies have different approaches to confessionalism, some of them make claim to a kind of theological purity that is impossible in the Anglican Communion, where churches in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury, which by definition is essential to Anglicanism, will inevitably find themselves in international fellowship with those with whom they have deep theological disagreement.

          • Robert F – very much agreed. The analogy only goes so far, which is one of the reasons I mentioned the WELS. They wouldn’t consider me to be Lutheran, and likely would assume that I’m not even xtian.

            But that’s their problem, not mine, at this point.

      • Daniel Jepsen says

        I was going to make something of the same reply, but, as usual, you said it better than I would have, Miguel. Great comment. I agree completely.

      • “…with their distinction between civil, moral, and ceremonial laws, but that system only works in a Reformed framework of ideas.”

        Miguel- This does work outside of a reformed framework because we still use such distinctions today. For example, there is a legal difference between criminal law, civil law, and traffic law and even in who has the power to enforce them. In my State (PA) the Local and State Police can enforce criminal and traffic law, The State Constables can enforce criminal and civil law, and the sheriffs have the power to enforce all three.

        There are different types of laws and difference legal realms of authority. The civil and ceremonial laws of the OT have served their purpose while the moral law is still enforced. It is just like if we did away with motorized transportation then there would be no more need for traffic law.

        • TPD, it isn’t that the distinction doesn’t exist. The problem is, who gets to decide which types of laws are valid for today form the OT and which types are not, AND who gets to officially categorize each law? It’s much easier to just run them all by Jesus and see what He said about them.

          • “…who gets to decide…”

            The Church does. I know that is a very messy answer but it is part of the authority that Jesus gave Her along with the Keys of the Kingdom. It is just the same as the old question, who gets to decide which books are included in the Bible and which aren’t?

            But your method works as well and is certainly easier to explain to the theologically ignorant.

          • TPD,
            By church I assume you mean the Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox Church. So here we are again at the same old impasse. We Protestants do not acknowledge that the church has that authority, we think you misinterpret the text dealing with the keys, and we believe the Scriptures have not chronological but revelatory authority over the church. We do not accept the statement that the church decided which books to include in the Bible; rather, we believe that the texts which ultimately became the church’s canon asserted themselves through the Holy Spirit in the life of the church long before there was any universal church definition of their canonical status, and that to the degree that they are recognized as the finished canon of the church, the church is answerable to them.

  17. I don’t have time to read all the comments now, but I wanted to get this out now.

    This issue of gays will be the final straw for many older congregations, I believe. It seems people continue to insist upon taking the literal words written by Paul and making them the law of the 21st century. Other parts of the bible not so much. I rarely, if ever, hear of those same people stoning to death their disobedient children. They continue to become divorced and still call themselves Christians in good standing, even when the bible clearly says they are adulterers and fornicators which are abominations. The list is endless of the hypocrisy in these long held beliefs. It denotes a militant ignorance in the face of real proof to the contrary.
    This is why young people can’t worship in the old school churches. The logic of their arguments breaks down so quickly. To the thinking minds it seems simple….Jesus talked about love. The old school churches come off as hateful in their “love the sinner, hate the sin”, and “the bible says it, I believe it, that settles it” mentality. It is shallow, devoid of any sign of the love of Christ in them.

    They will know we are Christians by our love.

  18. I really do not think that Darwinian evolution is quite analogous to the discoveries of Copernicus in relation to faith, dogma, and hermeneutics. The church did not have to reformulate dogma to accept the teachings of Copernicus, but merely re-work their understanding of a few peripheral verses not intrinsically connected to the core teachings of the faith. With science overturning a Genesis-as-historical-account narrative of the origin and development of humanity, there are MAJOR theological hurdles involved in need of reconciliation: God as creator, the fall of man, the curse on creation, the entry of death into the world. See, evolutionary science teaches that death is a natural part of life. Christianity teaches that it is not, it is a curse from God, as a result of man’s sin, which let evil into the world, that God in Christ has overcome by the cross and resurrection, offering the hope of salvation to a condemned race. These are mutually exclusive truth claims, they can not be both be true.

    Copernican science also saved lives: the kind of advancements in astronomy it afforded helped many ships at sea navigate more accurately and safely. I’m not entirely certain the pragmatic benefits evolutionary science has afforded society, especially when it comes to the age of the earth, it seems like the empiricist’s version of the theologians debate about how many angels can dance on the head of a needle. I think I may have heard something about the adaption of viruses to combat new medicines, so in that aspect, understanding how those species adapt over time probably helps scientists develop better medicines. But I don’t understand how things like the age of the earth, fossils, or evolutionary “family trees” necessarily help with that.

    Also, we cannot reduce the Copernican debates to the sort of rhetorical simplicity it would have if it were to take place today. There were many other issues at the time which complicated the feasibility of objective debate for the sake of finding truth. The Church was having her authority (which at the time was FAR too much) challenged on every front, the church-state paradigm was in a state of high fluctuation, and the common folk were re-evaluating how they saw the church as an authority (esp. with “sola scriptura” gaining popularity). It is natural, then, for a “bunker-down” mentality to spring up which seeks to squelch rival claims to ideological supremacy by sheer might if necessary. This is how human institutions work.

    At the same time, perhaps the issues ARE somewhat analogous in that neither truly require the church to change her teaching. Just as Copernican discoveries do not directly contradict any statements in the Nicene Creed, neither does evolutionary science have to, if it is taken with a grain of salt and not given supreme epistemological priority.

    I see no reason not to conclude that the findings and research of science are accurate and valid systematizations and understandings of the empirical data we are able to gather. But if we are to believe that a God is truly God, then the laws of nature, at the end of the day, answer to a higher power, which has the authority to interfere and alter them at will. Such super-natural events are beyond the purview of scientific discipline, and thus they ought not be pitted against each other. The resurrection of Christ is un-scientific, and is taken, with or without consideration of the historical evidence, as a matter of faith. So is the creation of the universe, and so would be the curse of the world. These supernatural, cataclysmic events are severe game-changers to the natural realm, which we can neither explain nor explore.

    So when a scientist tells me that the world is nineteen bajillion years old, I have no problem accepting that his research and experimentation has led him there. He knows his discipline far better than I do. But I reserve the right to hold, as a matter of faith, that the laws of nature he depends on to remain constant in order for these calculations to remain constant have been tampered with in the past by a higher power.

    • Miguel!! Don’t say this bro!! I find evolution to be as scientific and proven as the heloiocentric universe. Evolution is the cornerstone of a large part of biology. I view them in the similar manner and I still believe that one can say God created the earth and allowed for evolution as well.

      BTW…When you heading down to DC? 😀

      • No worries, Eagle. I have no trouble accepting the scientific proof for evolution. I just don’t give scientific proof the last word in my epistemology. My major objection is to the extremes of YEC-or-burn-in-hell on the right, and science says it-I believe it-that settles it on the other (i.e., nothing supernatural could possibly exist, any “creator” has to operate completely within the confines of creation and not EVER violate the laws of nature He set in place to begin with). I find both extremes to be hopelessly foolish. Though I lean toward a young earth (for philosophical reasons, not scientific), I am open to old earth creationism, and like you, find no trouble whatsoever believing in both a Creator and a natural process. I am just highly skeptical of anybody who pontificates on the details of how the two interrelate with too much certainty. The further back in history something goes, the more difficult it is to obtain accurate information about it. This is just how scieintific and historical disciplines work. Whether we’re talking 6,000 years or 6 gazillion, it ain’t yesterday’s news.

        Believe me, we’ve been trying to plan a trip. I’d be pulling out my hair if I could just get one hand free. We most certainly won’t come without looking you up!

    • Serious question: If there was no death before the Fall, what the heck was everybody eating? And what happened if a cow stepped on a beetle?

      • Even though I believe there is enormous evidence for some form of evolution, I cannot subscribe to the theory of naturalistic evolution, because that theory requires that nature not be affected by non-natural causes; as a Christian, I affirm along with the Creeds that God, who is not a natural phenomenon, is the direct cause of at least some things that happen in nature, the incarnation of Jesus Christ being the foremost and most important example to mention.

        If I then go ahead and talk in terms of theistic evolution, I find that I’m talking not a language of science, which can only accept the existence of that which it can measure, that which is natural, but rather of faith, which here must inevitably contradict science, since Christian faith necessarily must talk in terms of that which it cannot measure, that which is real but not natural or quantifiable. Science must always hear this kind of talk as non-sense, because it requires a methodological atheism as part of its practice and language.

        • Right on. The premise of religious belief of any kind is that there some things human investigation are incapable of explaining. The premise of science is that there are not. Science has limitations, but it does everyone good for scientists to push back on those limitations as hard as they can. But they still need to recognize that they are not the de-facto supreme academic discipline. I wish evolutionary scientists would spend more time studying philosophy, especially epistemology and aesthetics.

          I always thought the resurrection was the supreme miracle, but after reflection, I believe you are right. The incarnation certainly doesn’t seem like a miracle, those who knew Jesus the first 30 years tended to not notice he was God incarnate. But that’s just the way God works: hidden. Underneath the ordinary.

          • The other thing that will inevitably cause conflict between science and Christianity is that as part of its methodological atheism science does not talk in terms of purposes or intentions. From the perspective of naturalistic evolution, life arises and evolves or develops purely as the result of random processes that have no intention or telos, and furthermore, to speak of a purpose behind things is to step outside the language of science.

            Now while its true that methodological atheism does not strictly require adoption of a whole scale philosophical atheism, its language and practice when undertaken rigorously do tend to have a hardening affect among those who employ them professionally that frequently results in philosophical atheism. But the fact is that once scientists venture into the domain of philosophical atheism they have left the hallowed halls of science and entered the territory of philosophy, where most of the time they are no more skilled or knowledgeable than any other well educated and informed citizen.

            And as a snotty aside, I’ve often wondered: if nature has no purpose, and life has no purpose, and there is no telos anywhere in any of it, how can it be said that science has a purpose, or that scientists have a purpose?

          • Of course, there is the paradoxical possibility that, just as God’s weakness is stronger than human strength, and God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, God may work through randomness and purposelessness because his randomness is more determinative than human control, and his purposelessness is more effective than human plans.

            But we’d have to use God-talk to explore that possibility, and science, in its certainty and no-nonsense focus on its purposes, would have none of it.

      • Those are excellent questions, and challenging, but they cannot be answered definitively. Sorry if that’s disappointing, but here’s why: The Garden of Eden was a utopian paradise. Sinful, fallen humanity is incapable of even thinking what that is like. Philosophers of centuries have debated what constitutes utopia under the delusion that if we could just figure it out, we could recreate it. But all they have proven is that we have no frame of reference for even conceiving of a world without evil or suffering. I could go this far: Adam and Eve were allegedly vegetarians, and so were (possibly) other animals. This is not a scientifically verifiable or falsifiable claim, because if carnivorous-ness was a result of God’s cursing the earth, it would be impossible for us to investigate what things could have been like prior to the curse. And for pete’s sake, cows were more careful back then. 😛

  19. Whilst admitting I’m no expert in questions of sexuality, the science behind sexuality and sexual identity, or in matters of biblical interpretation, my question remains, what is harmful, or destructive, about a committed, loving, stable relationship between two people of the same sex? Are they hurting anyone? I can’t see how, if that relationship enshrines all the principles of marriage – love, faithfulness, kindness, patience, forgiveness, grace, and so on.

    I am also very wary of talking about ‘a same sex couple’ in the abstract, I have not been fortunate (or selfless, perhaps) to have met many people in same-sex relationships. Rachel Held Evans once wrote that she refused to talk about the question of homosexuality without a gay person present in the conversation, to avoid reducing this to simply a ‘debate’ or an ‘issue’. Perhaps we need people (both Christian and non-christian) in same sex relationships to come forward, talk about their experiences, and how their relationships demonstrate everything that’s good about marriage.

    While I’m here, I don’t get why a marriage must be between a man and a woman. In Genesis, the union between two people is to solve the problem that ‘it is not good for a man to be alone, he needs a helper suitable for him’ (paraphrase). Surely the point of marriage is companionship, in this passage at least. Why must we say that, if a person is not heterosexual, it is in fact good for them to live without a spouse?

    One could argue that procreation is a key part of marriage, I suppose. But is it? Is it the central part? In an ancient culture it might have been, when there was a need to increase the society’s population in order to survive, but now? How is a relationship where one cannot produce one’s own offspring of less value than a relationship where one can? Adoption and IVF allow a same sex couple to bring up children. (I realise that this paragraph takes me out of my depth, on several issues. I’m no expert here.)

    What these questions do to the matter of biblical interpretation, and in particular to those passages in Romans and Corinthians, or to the authority of the church, I don’t really know. Maybe we need to ask ourselves what the bible is for. Is it supposed, in its entirety, to give us commandments on how to live? If so, what do we do with other’ ‘commandments’? a woman must have her head covered in church?

    This has turned into a bit of a mess. I’ll leave it here. My comments on same-sex relationship were intended to give no offense, of any kind. Please say if they have done so.

    • Ben – good thought, and not a bit of a mess, imo.

    • Ben,
      I would love to take part in such a conversation as a person in a same-sex relationship for over 11 years.

      I am at peace with God my Father, and seek His guidance in all things daily. I do believe it is the way the bible is read that is at issue. Just a quick sampling of Greek culture through the centuries will show the myriad of ways in which people engaged sexually, so it seems rational to say the role of male prostitutes in the temple for the purpose of sex with the priests would go against the grain of all things Paul held dear. I’m no scholar by any means, so Paul may not have written to anyone who was Greek, but I hope you get the point. Roman culture was much the same in that regard. It is a historical, cultural point to consider when reading the letters of Paul.
      To your point about what attention should be paid to the other “commandments”, ie women covering their heads in church…they shouldn’t speak in church if we are taking our cues from Paul. If they have questions about anything discussed in the church, they should wait until they get home and ask their husbands.
      Again, the logic just falls apart without much effort at all. It seems so much simpler and true to just err on the side of love, to leave people to live their lives according to their own convictions. I know when I tell a little white lie, immediately I know it in my soul that God heard me, I feel that conviction until I make it right. When I gossip, or am tempted to cheat….convictions. I think of my partner and my heart warms and I feel the love wash through me, and I know God is in the middle of that as well. He is with me now and always, and that is where I rest.

      • Debra,

        Thanks for sharing. I agree that ‘It seems so much simpler and true to just err on the side of love, to leave people to live their lives according to their own convictions’. What are the fruits of loving, comitted, stable relationships, of any gender? the answer is in the question.

        Regarding how we should read Paul and his comments on homosexuality, and what we should do with the ‘commands’ given in the bible I hope that our scholars and theologians will be able to suggest answers to these questions. For thes rest of us, perhaps it remains to love God and love our nieghbour, and help others to do the same.

    • Marriage is a man and a woman because marriage is a picture of Christ (the man) and the Church (the woman).

      Two men marrying denies the Church (that Christ saves). Two women marrying denies Christ.

      • Christiane says

        wow . . . I think it is the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood that casts ‘Christ’ as ‘eternally subordinate’ to the Father . . . the analogy being that Christ is then a model for WOMEN in how they should be subordinated to their husbands

        I guess Christ’s usefulness as a ‘model’ changes according to theological agendas. Sometimes a model for females as in the case of the CBMW folks, sometimes for males (as in your case);
        but for mainline Christian people, Christ stands as the Lord of the Cosmos in Whom there is neither ‘male’ nor ‘female’ . . .

        It’s really complicated, how people have ‘used’ Christ for their purposes in the battle of the sexes . . .

        For me, Christ’s Incarnation has brought mankind together as brothers and sisters in a way that transcends much of the power-struggle of who gets to have control over whom in relationships, marriages, or otherwise.

      • This makes no sense at all. Are there *any* constraints on your hermeneutic? Why not say that heterosexual marriage is verboten, because it is like mixing together two kinds of cloth, which symbolizes confusion between good and evil? And instead we should be like Jesus and marry a sheep.

      • I always feel that if Paul had said that Jesus’ relationship with the church is like a coach’s to his quarterback, someone would be out there arguing that we must never change the rules of football.

  20. Rather than asking “…what is harmful, or destructive, about a committed, loving, stable relationship between two people of the same sex?” you might ask what’s “right” with it. Rather than stating “I can’t see how, if that relationship enshrines all the principles of marriage – love, faithfulness, kindness, patience, forgiveness, grace, and so on.” you may consider in what context is that true.

    Outside of Christianity (or Islam, conservative Judaism, etc.) I suppose homosexual unions do not matter one way or the other. But for that matter, in such a context and model neither should we condemn any other permutation of human sexual relationship as long as the partners are committed to the arrangement . And while we’re at it, in such a system marriage doesn’t matter at all. Not really.

    But in the Church it most definitely matters. Arguments such as “what is harmful, or destructive, about a committed, loving, stable relationship between two people of the same sex?” do not apply in the Church. First, we should promote “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4.8) Second, Christian marriage is more than just companionship, pleasure, procreation, and so on. Christian marriage is a profound mystery with regards the very nature of Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5.32). That’s heavy stuff! No amount or degree of reasoning or eloquence can argue in favor of anything other than marriage between a man and a woman.

    • Christian marriage is a profound mystery with regards the very nature of Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5.32). That’s heavy stuff! No amount or degree of reasoning or eloquence can argue in favor of anything other than marriage between a man and a woman.

      The problem with this statement is that the Church has failed in holding up marriage to this ideal to a large degree. How many divorced people are in your church? How many are in a typical church?

      We’re going to have a hard time convincing people that we see marriage as a profound mystery when we ourselves don’t seem to respect it. By the way, I’m not saying we need to heap more condemnation on divorced people. I’m saying, though, we do need to realize that people notice when our words and our actions aren’t in line with each other.

      • I couldn’t agree with you more; we have been an abject failure in this respect. But are what we to do, throw in the towel? Not all Christian marriages end in divorce, most don’t. And not all marriage-divorce-remarriages continue this vicious cycle, either. Statistics aside, most first-married and twice-married folks in my church reflect the mystery of Christ and the Church. Perfectly, of course not; more like Calvin’s broken mirror metaphor. But still, by the grace of God it’s a good enough reflection, “not too shabby,” as they say, for a pair of Christ-loving saint-sinners

        But the point I’m making is that we need to uphold the ideal of marriage as initiated at creation and blessed by Christ and the Church. And we must continue to speak of it in spite of our many failures, even at the risk of coming across like hypocrites. Those who eschew morals will always call us hypocrites; what do we have to lose?

    • Calvin,

      thankyou for your reply.

      I’m not quite sure I understand the passage in Ephesians – the writer is saying that a heterosexual marriage mirrors the relationship between Christ and the Church? or that it is like a marriage? Are the genders of the people involved key, or could a union between two men or two women act as a mirror of how Christ relates to the Church?

      Regarding ‘whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely,
      whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise,’ I think we should look at same-sex relationships, and listen to our gay and lesbian nieghbours, to learn if their relationship demonstrates any of these qualities.

      Regarding ‘where do we draw the line?’ as you asked above, I understand the concern. I feel a little anxious about slipping past the boundaries of orthodoxy alltogether. Maybe the image of the wildnerness is helpful; of note being sure of one’s direction, or God’s guidance. I suppose that we could accept that God is beyond our confusions as to how we should live, what we should beleieve, and how we should relate to his word.


  21. Jesus fulfilled the law so that we are no longer under the law but under Grace. So why are people still demanding people follow the laws and commandments? Only by Grace through faith am I able to be the living body of Christ, not through the laws or commandments. I will extend this love and Grace to others as God has extended it to me.

  22. It seems that the “Copernican idea” on homosexuality is that being gay is hard-wired – it’s not a choice. It then follows that if being gay is not a choice, then they are born that way. If they are born that way, then God made them so. If God created gays, then we should respect their sexual identity as such by not discriminating against them.

    My state has just been through a highly contentious legislative session focused on whether to legalize gay marriage where thousands of people testified for and against the issue. Among the testifiers against the bill were numerous delegates from local evangelical churches. One of their key talking points was that the “homosexual lifestyle” is a choice.

    By not accepting the “Copernican idea” on homosexuality, persons with the traditional notion that being gay is a choice can justify conversion therapy, “praying away the gay,” opposing gay rights, and calling homosexuality an “abomination.” I fear that one of the most hurtful effects of rejecting this “Copernican idea” is that it can justify denying that homosexuals are part of God’s creation. Ultimately, the church will have to answer for its treatment of gays.

    • +1!

    • But as I have commented above, being gay isn’t hardwired. Behavior is much more complex than that. There may very well be a physical component, but to say “I was born that way” is a huge oversimplification. If someone believes that there is nothing wrong with being gay then there should be no shame in saying “I choose to pursue this behavior” and not hide behind a fiction. Progress on the issue of the morality of homosexuality will only be made in an atmosphere of honest discussion.

      • You’re lumping orientation and behavior into one thing; they’re not.

        Ditto for what some term “sexual fluidity”; some people are bi but more attracted to people of the same gender as themselves, while others are more attracted to people of the “opposite” gender, and some are equally attracted to people of both genders.

        Personally, I think bisexuality is far more common than anyone wishes to admit, because if they did they would

        – destroy their “straight” cred

        – make it clear that they can’t hold a “gay is evil” view without being, at best, self-harming and hypocritical

        – would be admitting that orientation is innate, whereas behavior is something we do

        Most people (both gay and straight) seem not to know what to do with that “b” in LGBTQ, insisting that people play for one team or another. And it’s *not* about wanting to have sex with people of both genders; it’s about whether one can be attracted to/fall in over with (etc.) people of either/both genders.

        People just **love* to reduce this discussion to who has sex with whom, and it’s so very much more than that.

        • It’s perceptive of you to notice that I am talking about both orientation and behavior. But I am not lumping them together, rather I am implying that orientation is not nearly as important as behavior. We all have competing desires. but I am not defined by my competing desires, I am defined by my behavior. In fact, I find that what I choose to do actually has an impact on what I desire to do in the future. The LGBT spectrum that you refer to can be interpreted in light of how far people have chosen to go down certain paths. We all start out with certain orientations but we are also self programing to a large degree. I have seen and personally experienced this.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Among the testifiers against the bill were numerous delegates from local evangelical churches. One of their key talking points was that the “homosexual lifestyle” is a choice.

      Both the extreme Gay Pride types and the Evangelical Church types are tunnel-visioned on homosexuality; the only difference is one goes “Yeah Yeah Yeah” while the other goes “Thou Shalt Not”. Like funhouse-mirror reflections of each other. Long ago I concluded that Christians(TM) are just as messed-up sexually (and just as sexually obsessed) as everyone else, just in the opposite direction.

      Now as for “a choice” vs “born this way”, in the Eighties I had some run-ins with a former friend who around his 30th birthday either outed himself spectacularly or had a Damascus Road conversion experience to homosexuality (only way I can describe it) and started witnessing like a street preacher. Guy was well on the way to becoming a sexual predator; I remember him pressuring me to choose (“You’re obviously in denial…”) while trying to get into my pants (he failed). Yet when the AIDS epidemic took off and he went on the defensive, suddenly it wasn’t a choice and he went full-honk into “born this way, so you can’t change me”. Found it very convenient that “just a choice” or “born this way” depended on whether he was on the offense or the defense, whichever was to his advantage. (Guy became a real jerk.) At the very least, that sort of offense/defense predatory behavior really confuses the whole issue.

      Regarding Conversion Therapy and “ex-gays”:

      This usually gets me shot at from both sides. I think “born this way” is one end of a spectrum and “not really gay” is the other end, and every individual is different in how they acquired their orientation. I’m especially reminded of an account by a Christian therapist in Canada whom I read years ago. He related being molested by a (Protestant) youth minister around the time he hit puberty. He wrote that up until the time of the same-sex molestation, he was starting to develop arousal to girls (even pictures) but after the molestation he became aroused by pictures of male genitalia. This continued for a couple years, then the male-male arousal faded and the male-female arousal reconstituted itself. Like he experienced a homosexual-arousal “overlay” over a basically straight orientation because of the molestation (his first sexual experience) that faded over time without reinforcement. Two things to think about regarding this:

      1) What if he had been diagnosed as “gay” at the time of the overlay and been reinforced with Gay culture, Gay Pride, even a special Gay high school like we have somewhere here in CA? In that case, could the overlay have been reinforced until it became his identity as if he was “born that way”?

      2) Regarding conversion therapy and “curing the Gay”, I wonder if it does work on some individuals — those whose same-sex orientation was an “overlay” as in the above case. In such cases it would simply be removing the overlay and allowing the original straight orientation to show through. And these are the successes and ex-Gay testimonies; the conversion therapists emphasize their successes and do not publicize their failures, skewing the perception. (Of course, then the tribal identity battle lines are drawn and it’s Us or Them…)

      • about that 1st part: you’re talking about 1 guy, and he can only speak for/of himself. He’s not representative of all gay men, let alone all LGBTQ folks, by a long chalk.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Like I said, the guy was a jerk. Looking back, it was all about justifying What I WANNA.

          And he was the highest-profile non-straight in his social group. At the very least, he was very BAD publicity for his sexual orientation.

      • HUG – My own personal experience to add to your observations. As a youth of 5-7 I was repeatedly molested by older children of both genders. I grew up with all the confusion you would expect. I dated both guys and girls. Both my best friend in high school and my college roommate are gay and ended up married to men. I chose to be heterosexual and am 26 years happily married to my wife. At one point I was where they were. We were confused but as we made our choices and went down our respective roads the confusion cleared up. I still struggles sometimes with old desires but the farther I go down my chosen path the more those fade. Our choices impact our desires.

        • I think your situation is very much complicated by what was done to you in childhood. And I am so very sorry you went through that.

          Still, it sounds (to me) like you’re bi, but chose to marry a woman. I don’t really think one I can choose their orientation, though you have chosen to act according to one part of yours. That really isn’t the same (again, imo) as choosing to *be* straight.

          That said, I’m at a loss to imagine how confusing things were for you earlier in life, and would never seek to invalidate what you’ve lived.

          • In my best Batman voice:

            “It’s not who we are underneath, but what we do that defines us.” 🙂

          • I hear you, but tha only addresses one part of this discussion, since it puts orientation off to one side.

  23. Anyone who thinks that scientists don’t sometimes write fiction hasn’t taken a hard look at string theory. Apart from any truth value, science, like religion, is a narrative that seeks to explain life, the universe, and everything. Scientists generally turn in the results they are paid to turn in. Stalin had his scientists; so did Hitler. The notion that science doesn’t serve ideology, well, excuse me, ROFL again.

    • Thank you.

    • Just like there are unethical doctors, lawyers, pastors, there are unethical scientists. These people usually have a way of getting found out one way or another, though. String theory can actually mean different things depending on who you’re talking to about it. The thing is it’s not made up completely from whole cloth. Its origin lies in the fact that it’s where the equations derived from quantum theory (which I will say seems to be gaining more and more experimental support all the time) lead. I do think that it does quickly lead into the realm of speculation.

    • Amen!

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Scientists generally turn in the results they are paid to turn in. Stalin had his scientists; so did Hitler.

      And so does Ken Ham.

      Cuts both ways, dude.

    • Marcus Johnson says

      So…let’s reject all scientific advancement, because scientists are paid? Because some scientists waste money on research that goes nowhere? Because some scientific studies are later refuted (by subsequent scientific studies)?

      Seriously, the odium towards the scientific method and the scientific community is hardly warranted. With each passing year, the checks and balances system that prevents illegitimate studies from becoming accepted within the general scholarly community are becoming more and more comprehensive. The claim that people are paid, so they can’t be trusted, is more than just a little ridiculous as a justification for dismissing legitimate findings.

  24. Patrick Kyle says

    We need to tread carefully here. It seems like a whole bunch of “Hath God really said?” It’s one thing to re-interpret metaphors and figures of speech in light of scientific findings about the Cosmos, it is quite another to take the moral imperatives and exhortations and deal with them in a similar manner. There is little doubt that the Scriptures prohibit homosexual behavior (except among some radical exegetes) What happens if ‘scientific proof’ is found that homosexuality has some basis in genetics? Then what? Is God’s word wrong? Were the writers mistaken, or culturally bound, unable to recognize their sinful attitudes towards homosexuals? Was Paul wrong excluding women in the ministry? (And no it wasn’t a local prohibition, he argues from creation to explain it.) The re-interpretations of these passages are less than convincing. I don;t even buy the whole ‘re-interpretation’ meme in this particular case. It is really a rejection of the teaching justified by shoddy exegesis and the wrenching out of context certain passages in Galatians. Hey, why not just get rid of Paul like the Ebionites and just go with the Gospels and the words of Jesus? (Except those nasty passages about hell…and divorce)

    Opening up this Pandora’s box leaves you with an ever shrinking corpus that can be trusted and at the end of the day even what you think you can believe is suspect. ( Either it is not true, or you are incapable of interpreting/understanding it correctly.) This eventually leads to two questions: ” Is any of it true? ” And finally, even if some of it is ‘What’s the point?” Has God really said…?

  25. Another source insisting that “Luther was anti-science” is a myth.

  26. The science of homosexuality is an entirely unrelated question to that of evolution or the earth-centered universe. Science can only tell us what is; it cannot ever tell us what we ought to do. Neither evolution nor the Copernican model determine our behavior. (And to the extent that people would erroneously claim evolution ought to determine behavior, the Church has and I hope will continue to stand firmly against it: survival of the fittest is the opposite of the moral imperative of Christianity. But applying evolution to ethics is bad science as well as bad theology.) Is doesn’t make ought.

    But the real question is not whether some people have an innate attraction to the same sex, but what any one person ought to do with the muddled mess of sexual attractions they find within themselves. To think we ought to simply act on whatever sexual impulse we find within ourselves is not just unChristian, it is unHuman. Few people conclude, from discovering that many middle-aged men have a deep and instinctive attraction to younger women, that it is appropriate for men to dump their aging wives for fresher meat. Is does not make ought.

    To discern which attractions and desires ought to be acted upon and which ought to be denied–that is the work of morality and Christian ethics, and it continues unaffected by proof one way or the other of which desires occur innately.

  27. I’m not a scientist (nor do I play one on TV), but I’m pretty sure the science on the following issues is settled (as settled as science can be at least).

    1. Virgins don’t conceive children.
    2. Men don’t walk on water.
    3. Five loaves of bread and Two fish don’t feed 5,000 people.
    4. Water does not turn into wine (or Welch’s Grape Juice for us baptists)
    5. Dead men don’t come back to life, certainly not after a horrific death like the crucifixion.

    One may protest that those are miracles and miracles by nature transcend the laws of science. The issue of homosexuality is not one of the miraculous but one of ethics/morality, and since homosexual desires are natural for some, it isn’t a sin. So, that raises a question, well several questions. Is pride a sin? Is self-righteousness a sin? Is heterosexual lust a sin? Is greed a sin? Are not all of those natural?

  28. While I do indeed have my own opinions on the topic of homosexuality and gay marriage, some firmly held, more that I’m struggling with, please forgive any phrasings or expressions that may arise out of ignorance or poor judgement that could be viewed as hurtful or antagonistic to those more deeply involved with the topic or facing these issues as that isn’t my intent.

    My current stance could likely be similar to many others on this site, I’m struggling with understanding all that relates to the issue, and while trying my best to broaden my understanding via articles/books/talks etc, I still default to homosexuality being a sin. Most cases against this are discussions/arguments about the 6 (or however many) verses in the Bible that specifically address homosexual behaviour. While there are many good arguments for both/many viewpoints, ultimately I haven’t been convinced by these, as of yet.

    But my question is, even if later I might be convinced otherwise on these verses and moved beyond them in my thinking on the subject, how do others move beyond the depiction for marriage in the positive, that are brought up more often, than the specific(ish) thou shalt not verses.

    While I know it’s easy to take verses out of context, especially for this topic, my Bible-fu is lacking, so I’ll just be going off those I can find from memory. My specific question is how do others view verses like Genesis 2:24 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh”, coupled with Matthew 19:1-12, specifically from verse 10, “The disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” But he said to them, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.”

    While I know the Bible speaks of marriage differently elsewhere, from these I see that from the beginning God created marriage as a good thing, between male and female, which Jesus then affirms as the design and practice after the fall. Leading with marriage being a blessing for those whom it is given, but there are many circumstances where it is not for everyone, often outside their control. From other verses it can be seen that sex is a good thing, bringing children and unity among other blessings, but to be confined solely to marriage (arguments could likely be made against this, I know I’m being general). A lot can be read between the lines with these verses and I’m not immune to it myself (for instance I could see potential future application if a genetic cause is involved (eunuch by birth)), but that’s secondary to what I’m really wanting other views for. I’m kinda trailing off now, struggling to put my thoughts into words, so I’ll finish here and see what others think.

  29. If we’re going to go down this road, why not go the whole way and start questioning the church’s stance on incest as well?

    More of my thoughts on this here: http://baptisttheologian.com/?p=118

    • Sheep-shagging turns out to be surprisingly mainstream. It’s only a matter of time before theology catches up.

  30. Just a small side note.

    In defense of Luther and Calvin (and others who insisted geocentric model at that time), Copernicus’ model had errors that it was reasonable to think his model was wrong at that time. It wasn’t just the religious people that rejected Copernicus, but many scientists did as well. Ptolemy’s model with series of epicycles, while completely unrealistic, was actually able to predict the location of planets much better than Copernicus’.

    If someone wants to convince others that an existing model is wrong, he/she might have to come up with a new model that actually produces a better data. Copernicus’ model, while closer to the reality, was nevertheless erroneous that it was not widely accepted at first.

    Of course, the reason was that heliocentric model was fresh and not fully developed. Copernicus hypothesized that orbits were circular, instead of elliptical, which was his theory’s biggest flaws. (But granted, the idea of gravity and the mathematical tools were not in place at that time for Copernicus to think of an elliptical orbit)

    It took the church more than 50 years to suspend his work, and I personally blame Galileo for this. Some believe the church had other more urgent things to do but was eventually going to ban Copernicus. But there were politic/power involved in Galileo’s time that made the struggle between church and science.