Sex, Stealing and Scripture

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“You keep talking about what the Apostle Paul writes about homosexuality. What did Paul know about same-sex relations? We’ve learned so much since New Testament times about the complexities of sexuality!”

Good point. And I acknowledged the fact to the person who raised it as an objection to my views. I don’t believe that everything we need to know about sex is right there on the pages of the Bible. Freud had a lot of stuff right, and I don’t consider it a waste of time to read Kinsey, or Masters and Johnson, or even The Joy of Sex.

When I say that the Bible is my supreme authority on the subject of sex, I don’t mean that it is our only source of truth on the subject. To use the framework of “the Wesleyan quadrilateral,” in addition to the Bible we need to take seriously what we can learn from tradition, experience, and reason (including scientific investigation). But those four sources are not equally authoritative. While the other three can provide important information and insights, when it is clear what the Bible is actually teaching us on a given subject, the Bible trumps the other sources.

So, yes, we know more about sex in general, and about same-sex relations in particular, than the Apostle Paul did. It would be foolish to ignore what we can learn, for example, from what people tell us about the experience of same-sex attractions, and what scientific investigation can tell us about the complexities of sexuality. We need all of the genetic, psychological, cultural, social, and theological insights we can gather on this supremely important dimension of our humanity.

But again, the Bible trumps. But how does it trump? In what ways does this ancient text still speak authoritatively to a subject like sexuality?

Here’s a parallel to the sexuality topic. I firmly believe we know more than Moses did about stealing. The Decalogue makes its case against stealing in a simple and straightforward prohibition: “Thou shalt not steal.” No nuances there. No footnotes about extenuating circumstances. Just: “Don’t steal. It’s wrong.”

I had friend in the sixth grade who was a compulsive shoplifter. I discovered this when he got caught. A policeman came to school one day and my friend was called out of class. The policeman drove him home and told his parents about the fact that a shopkeeper had observed their son stealing candy and other small items on a regular basis. Later, when my friend told me about what had been happening, he wept: “I feel like I can’t help it.  I know it is wrong. I don’t even want a lot of the stuff I steal. It’s like a sick game that I play.”

My friend spent a number of sessions talking to his pastor about it.  From all appearances, he changed his ways. He seemed to have gotten some helpful insights into what led him to do what he had been doing.

I don’t know whether that pastor understood what the word “kleptomania” stands for, but my guess is that he had some grasp of the complexities that were at work in my friend’s pattern of behavior. In that sense, I am pretty sure the pastor knew more than Moses did about stealing, about what drives people who take things that do not belong to them. But whatever the degree of his sophistication on the subject, he still—I am confident—saw himself in full agreement with this unnuanced prohibition: “Thou shalt not steal.”

Here is my point. When it comes to the basics, what is right and what is wrong, the Bible trumps. It is our authoritative guide on ethical issues. Where the complexities come in is on the pastoral level. Some people steal because of a mysterious compulsion. Others steal because their children are hungry. Still others steal because they are caught up in an intricate economic system of exchanges. It’s always wrong. But in some cases we show mercy. In others we counsel. In others we send folks to jail.

Conservative Christians have often done a terrible job in dealing with the complexities and nuances of human sexuality. We have a lot to learn about empathy, compassion, healing, and restoration on such matters. We ought to take advantage of the fact that much knowledge and insight has been made available to us since the days of Moses and Paul. But there are some very basic guidelines, made available to them by the Spirit of God, that we ignore at our peril.

17 Comments »

  1. My comment isn’t about the sexuality debate, per se, but rather your comment on the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. I assume you’re familiar with the work by N.T. Wright, The Last Word. He has an interesting section on the Quadrilateral that I’d be curious to hear your response to:

    Basically, Wright notes that “For Wesley himself, scripture remained the primary authority,” but Wright also doesn’t look at “Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience” as “separate” sources, so much as different kinds of understanding. For example:

    …scripture, tradition and reason are not like three different bookshelves, each of which can be ransacked for answers to key questions. Rather, scripture is the bookshelf; tradition is the memory of what people in the hours have read and understood (or perhaps misunderstood) from that shelf; and reason is the set of spectacles that people wear in order to make sense of what they read…. “Experience” is something different again, referring to the effect on readers of what they read, and/or the worldview, the life experience, the political circumstances, and so on, within which that reading takes place. (pp. 101-102)

    In this understanding, one can’t really talk about Scripture as “trumping” other sources, because those very other sources are tied up in how we deal with Scripture itself.

    Comment by Mark Baker-Wright — January 8, 2009 @ 11:30 am


  2. Amen! I appreciate your graciousness in the postings that I’ve read in the past. I particularly like how you handle the question of listening to the Bible in the context of our age. As you say, “The Bible trumps” but we need to know how and why. We need to be able to interact with people in our society from a biblical base so that we can minister the Gospel, but we can’t do that if we are ignorant about the issues facing us today.

    Thanks for another fine post.

    Jason

    Comment by Jason — January 8, 2009 @ 2:26 pm


  3. Thank you, Dr. Mouw, for a gracious and insightful posting. You hit the nail on the head.

    We live in an age in which personal experience or “What I think…” is expected to trump God’s will as expressed in the Bible. It is so refreshing to read your clear and faithful counter to that me-centered way of thinking.

    We really don’t know better than God about these kinds of matters, and we hurt others and ourselves when we operate as if we have superior insight that trumps God’s revelation of himself and his will in Scripture.

    Bless you for your grace-filled and thoughtful musings!

    Jim Berkley
    Bellevue, WA

    Comment by Jim Berkley — January 9, 2009 @ 4:21 pm


  4. Thanks to you Dr. Mouw for continuing to engage in the conversation. One of the difficulties I find in your kleptomania analogy is that kleptomania is universally recognized as an illness (that has the potential of “cure”- as your friend’s story illustrates), while fewer and fewer professionals in medicine or psychology would say the same of homosexuality.

    Blessings to you,
    David Pickett
    West Chester PA
    FTS/SOT ‘03

    Comment by David Pickett — January 14, 2009 @ 11:54 am


  5. It is evident homosexuality stands apart from other sins (including other sexual sins) and presents a challenge to the contemporary church. It is also good we have all this additional knowledge in our arsenal. Our approach should be missional as with every other issue: we need to love the homosexual person, allow genuine conversion to take place, and then disciple and nurture the person like every other new believer. If the person relapses and returns to a life of sin, he/she will invariably feel all the emptiness that is so characteristic of a life away from God. That emptiness can result by the way, by any sin, and not just homosexuality.

    Comment by Konstantinos Kalpakidis — January 15, 2009 @ 1:17 pm


  6. Dr. Mouw, I’m in the process of reading your book, “When The Kings Come Marching In” for my DMin class. I “googled” you just to learn more about you and came across your blog. The person at the top of the blog questioned Paul’s knowledge about homosexuality. Ecclesiastes 1:9 says “…there is no new thing under the sun.” From what I understand we don’t have anything on the Corinthian culture. The society in which Paul lived gave him ample understanding of homosexuality and all of the other sexual issues about which he wrote. It was an accepted practice in that day, as they practiced things openly that we wouldn’t tolerate today. It was accepted in that day to have a wife to raise a family with and a young man to satisfy your sexual appetites outside or your marriage. Paul may not have been an active participant, but I do believe that he had far more to observe about homosexuality than we have at the present time.

    Comment by Tony — January 21, 2009 @ 7:48 pm


  7. I do agree with Tony in post 6 that Paul knew enough about human nature in general and homosexuality in particular to speak with authority. In 1 Corinthians, Paul wrote to a church full of quarrelers (1:11), “wordly infants” (3:1-3), a man sleeping with his father’s wife (5;1), and greedy men suing fellow believers (6:1). The church probably included believers who were guilty of many serious sins listed in 6:9-11 and include homosexuality. Thus, it is obviously possible to be a born again believer and be gay, and this,indeed, becomes a challenge to the church.
    Since human nature did not change that much since the times Paul lived, the best thing we can do today is avoid pharisaism, and extend the same grace Paul did to his fellow believers. Despite their faults, Paul always thanked God for them, and always labored hard to see Christ formed in them. This is called progressive sanctification. Raising children we all know is a hard job.
    On the other hand, we have enough new knowledge today to know that most homosexual persons do not choose their sexual orientaion,which makes it indeed a very special case. Thus, at a minimum, Christians need to avoid all sorts of judgemental attitudes toward them, and even be be careful when they teach anything to them and about them. That certainly means no Adam and Steve messages (especially from pastors), and generous doses of love for these people.

    Comment by Konstantinos Kalpakidis — January 24, 2009 @ 6:44 am


  8. Hello,

    I have one comment, not regarding this blog. I would like to know what you think about Haggard’s interview with Oprah yesterday. How has his previous behavior affect the image of evangelicals among non Christians?
    Thank you.

    Charlene

    Comment by Charlene — January 29, 2009 @ 4:33 pm


  9. Dear President Mouw:

    I am responding to ” My Turn” in Newsweek 2/9/09. you seem like a gracious person who is striving to understand the modern world and resolve the dilemma presented by ancient texts (Scripture), the traditional interpretation of those tests as they are perceived to direct human life and the realities of today’s choices. I appreciate your call for more listening, less shouting. however the tone of this article strikes me as darkly familiar as the patronizing attitudes of men who patiently explained why women really couldn’t be allowed to vote. “why are these women being so unreasonable- don’t they understand society is set up this way because God ordained it so and because it just works better to have men in charge”? I -in all honesty- truly suggest without any note of sarcasm or irony- that you seek out and read some religious leaders of the turn of the century and truly “listen to heir “reasonable’ arguments against women’s suffrage and indeed any aspect of women’s “liberation”. What seemed so same and calm in 1900 now sounds incredibly backwards and bigoted. I think you will find that your words have the same tenor to them. your concerns- “what about family values”? as if a gay family has any less values or morality than a straight family. one reality that you like so many similar thinking persons, seem to miss is that those family already exist, they are already raising their children, making lives together and have been for decades. they aren’t asking for you permission to “normalize”. they are asking for basic human rights. they have already proved their normalness, their humanness. they aren’t suffering from ” a sense of emptiness, a sense of distance from God, they just need legal protections, to feel safe and to be treated fairly.

    I also need to tell you that churches teaching negative and untrue stereotypes about homosexuality does much more harm to families then any one raising a child in same sex marriage. their is much needless homelessness and abuse among GLBT youth that is direct result of false teachings form the church that lead parents to believe they should “beat sexuality out of their child” and if that doesn’t work – cast out their child. if only 10% of the population is GLBT than why is 42 % of the homeless youth population GLBT? churches need to take responsibility for what they teach to vulnerable people. that’s why views like this “my turn” are so damaging and why educated peopele with wide influence need to understand the impact of their words.

    Comment by pam sabey — February 3, 2009 @ 12:45 pm


  10. Dear Dr. Mouw,
    I’m posting this here because I don’t see an e-mail for you on this site, and this blog post is about a subject related to your “My Turn” piece in the latest issue of Newsweek to which I want to respond.

    I would say that, as your fellow citizens in a pluralistic society, gays and lesbians have the right to ask you, rhetorically, what right you have to impose your “sincerely held convictions” on their personal lives, and to tell you, forcefully, to mind your own business, which their decisions to contract civil marriages with one another most certainly are not.

    You state that your opposition to “normalizing” same-sex marriage is rooted in concerns about the raising of your children and grandchildren. The problem is that those concerns are implicitly rooted in the malignant lie that sexual orientation is a choice. You ask what children will be taught about sexual and family values in our schools. If they are taught that sexual orientation is inherent, that a minority of people are born homosexual, and that their desire is in no way inferior to that of the majority born heterosexual, then they will be taught the truth, and the truth will make them free: the straight ones free of bigotry, and the gay and lesbian ones free of the self-hatred that, along with rejection by peers and parents, so often leads to psychological illness and even suicide among homosexual youth.

    You ask whether you will be allowed to “counter those influences” without being accused of hate speech. The answer is that, if you teach your children that homosexuality is a choice, and a wrong one, instead of an inherent trait about which people have no choice, and a morally neutral one,* then you will indeed be guilty of hate speech, whether anyone accuses you or not.

    You ask whether there are limits to what you can be asked to tolerate when it concerns matters that violate your convictions. Of course there are: you cannot be asked to tolerate the sexual abuse of children, or rape, or theft, or murder, or any other behavior that violates not only your convictions but the rights of any individual directly affected by the behavior. You can, however, be requested and required to tolerate any interaction, any agreement, any contract between consenting adults that does not directly involve you, including both same-sex and plural marriage. The claim that if we allow same-sex marriage, we have no basis to disallow plural marriage (between freely consenting adults in any combination of sexes, mark you — not the enslavement of several female children to one rapist disgustingly labeled their “husband” that the polygynous Mormons, Muslims, etc. practice) is true, but in the parlance of computer programmers, that’s not a bug, it’s a feature — that slippery slope you fear leads to a far better, fairer, and freer world than the one we live in now.

    You asked to hear from folks who worry about your views, and I, being one of those folks, was moved to reply. I would not have used some of the intemperate language some others have (”fascist,” “worst kind of fundamentalism”), but then my rights, as a heterosexual, are not directly threatened by your opposition to gay marriage — although as a polyamorist, who may someday wish to contract a plural marriage, I am of course somewhat oppressed by your and the majority’s opposition to that. For the proponents of marriage equality, Prop 8 represents a different kind of slippery slope, leading back to an era when gay people in most places had to stay closeted for fear of discrimination and even violence to which they were routinely subjected with the tacit or explicit approval of the state and society in general. People like you, as you put it, do not frighten me, but you do often irritate and occasionally infuriate me. For me, you see, reason — which does not merely include scientific investigation but is synonymous with it — is not one point of a quadrilateral, but the summit of a pyramid, subordinating both experience (a.k.a. anecdotal evidence) and tradition (including the Bible and all other supposed “holy books). Experience and tradition are unreliable sources of knowledge, which must be tested with the tools of reason before it can be accepted as true or rejected as false. And if reason alone is insufficient for evaluating a question of ethics, it can be paired with empathy to determine the right course. Seeing the world through the twin lenses of reason and empathy, it becomes obvious that racial justice, gender equality, peacemaking, care for the environment, and equal rights for gays and lesbians, including the right to marry, are all right on their own merits, regardless of whether the Bible supports them or not.

    My vision of a flourishing pluralistic society can be seen in many of the more optimistic works of science fiction: the world of Tellus Tertius from Robert A. Heinlein’s Time Enough for Love for example, or Beta Colony in Lois McMaster Bujold’s “Miles Vorkosigan” novels, or Beowulf in David Weber’s “Honor Harrington” series. The Federation posited by Star Trek comes close, but Roddenbury was overly optimistic, I think, about the potential of secular humanism to replace religion altogether, and was limited by the rules of broadcast television in the 1960’s from fully exploring the possibilities for sexual liberation inherent in such a free and secular society. Moderate evangelical Christians such as yourself fit into such a society as an eccentric minority, viewed with bemused tolerance by the secular majority as long as your beliefs do not interfere with their lives or lead you to abuse your children.

    * I make this point because a trait which is inherent may incline a person to behavior which truly is morally wrong. It may be (I don’t think there’s strong evidence one way or the other) that pedophilia is as inherent and unchangeable as homosexuality, but that does not give pedophiles the right to have sex with children, who by their nature cannot give informed consent and are far more likely than not to be harmed by the experience.

    Comment by Alex Harman — February 3, 2009 @ 11:29 pm


  11. Dr. Mouw,
    Do you really think Jesus would object to two people of the same sex loving each other and wanting that love to be legally recognized in their community the same way a heterosexual couple would? I agree with your disgust in the violence between the two sides of this debate, and I appreciate your “non-fundamentalist” take on being an evangelical, but it’s hard to fathom how you can believe Jesus would welcome “racial justice, gender equality, etc.” yet stop short of accepting homosexuals. As a heterosexual atheist, my beliefs and values are not shaped by religion or personal experience. They are shaped by the belief that other human beings deserve to live their own private lives and make their own private decisions without my opposition. Why would two people who love each other and wish to seal that love with a public agreement that allows them hospital visitation rights and tax breaks make the slightest ripple in my life, or yours for that matter. I may not believe Jesus is my savior, but I do believe he was a man who walked this earth years ago and loved his fellow man dearly, every one of them.

    Comment by Matt — February 7, 2009 @ 3:25 pm


  12. Dear Dr. Mouw,

    I grew up in the same evangelical tradition that you did, and I struggled with the question of same-sex marriage that you discuss in your Newsweek column. Some years ago, I found a Biblically-based resolution and wrote the following essay . . .

    ————

    In discussions of same-sex marriage, people often cite the Bible, which describes marriage as being between a man and a woman. However, God can change customs, even ones that seem fundamental.

    I would ask people to read Acts 10 and 11, in which God tells Peter that the word of Jesus is not only for the Jews, but he is also to bring it to the Gentiles. It’s hard for us now to understand how shocking this was at the time (but see Acts 10:28).

    Peter was hungry when he fell into a trance. He had a vision of a sheet let down from heaven, with all kinds of birds and beasts, and a voice told him to kill and eat. But Peter answered: Certainly not, Lord; I have never yet eaten anything profane or unclean. Again, a second time, the voice spoke to him, `What God has made clean, you have no right to call profane.’ (Acts 10:14-16)

    After receiving this vision, Peter accepted an invitation to preach to a family of Gentiles. When they were converted, he baptized them and said, “Could anyone refuse the water of baptism to these people, now they have received the Holy Spirit just as much as we have?” (Acts 10:47)

    When he was challenged by the apostles and other Jewish believers, Peter told them about his vision and said, “I realized then that God was giving them the identical thing he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ; and who was I to stand in God’s way?” (Acts 11:17)

    You may ask, “When did God tell you that gay marriage is OK?” Look back at this story and ask, “When did God tell Peter that it was OK to preach to Gentiles?” As so often happens, the lesson is taught in symbols, which we must figure out. But to paraphrase Acts 10:47, “Could anyone refuse the sacrament of marriage to these people, now they have made a promise of love and commitment just as much as we have?”

    A number of years ago, when my friends Steve and Jim asked for our church’s blessing on their union, I was deeply troubled. A same-sex marriage just didn’t seem like the same sort of thing as a “real” marriage. But then I went through my own marriage vows, word by word, and asked myself, “What part of this promise do I feel it would be wrong for Steve and Jim to make to each other, before us and before God?”

    I could find nothing wrong. I supported their marriage, and it was the right thing to do. Only much later did I remember Acts 10 and 11.

    What is new and strange is often troubling, but it may still be right. Years from now, we will look back and wonder what all the fuss was about.

    If you struggle with this question, read Acts 10 and 11. Get to know a specific committed same-sex couple, and ask yourself how you, or society, is harmed by them making and keeping a lifetime promise to each other. Pray for guidance, and you will get it.

    (Update a few years later . . . )

    A friend drew my attention to Matthew 10:5-6, where Jesus is instructing his disciples: These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them as follows: “Do not turn your steps to pagan territory, and do not enter any Samaritan town; go rather to the lost sheep of the House of Israel.”

    It seems, then, that teaching the Christian message to Gentiles (including most of us), is not only based on Peter’s interpretation of the word of God conveyed in his dream, but directly contradicts the instructions that Jesus Himself explicitly gave to Peter and the other disciples.

    It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that God can change His mind (or at least His instructions to us) about what is and is not allowed. Furthermore, the word of such a change can come to an individual, directly from God, not through a bureaucratic process.

    Comment by Benjamin Kuipers — February 9, 2009 @ 6:07 am


  13. Dear sir,
    I read with interest your recent column in Newsweek. I tried to understand our point of view, and in particular I feel opposed to, say, a three-partner marriage. However, I am in favor of same-sex marriage, and I’m curious what your stance would be on the following issue.

    I have a friend, a top-notch academic, best in her field, etc. Her life partner is a foreign-born woman. They are engaged, in love, but cannot marry — and hence have run into visa issues. Soon they will both leave the country. They would like to stay here, but the U.S. is discriminating against them, much as Germany discriminated against Jews before WWII, losing some key scientists in the process.

    I don’t think that Christianity’s stance should be to preventing non-Christians from immigrating to the U.S. However, this is effectively happening in this case. Much as you might consider gay marriage to me a “slippery slope” leading to plural marriage, etc. I find the case equally valid to consider preventing immigration (and encouraging emmigration) for non-Christians or non-heterosexuals to be a slippery slope towards a Nazi-style state.

    You seem to agree in your article that the Bible should not dictate U.S. policy — amen to that. I would appreciate it if you would thoughtfully reconsider your position of using the Bible to determine marriage law and immigration potential for our country.

    Respectfully,
    Eric Nichols

    P.S. I would be honored if you would reply personally so that I could understand your position more, as I suspect a couple paragraphs by me above will not have changed your mind! :)

    Comment by Eric Nichols — February 11, 2009 @ 5:56 pm


  14. President Richard Mouw
    Fuller Theological Seminary Feb.16, 2009
    Pasadena CA

    Dear President Mouw:
    I am writing in response to your NEWSWEEK “My Turn” column of February 9, in which you argue against the legal recognition of same-sex marriage. I delayed writing because I figured that you might be deluged by angry letters, and I wanted you to have a chance to get over that. My intent is not to send you an angry response, but to try to get you to understand a bit more about why the gay community is so upset by Proposition 8.

    If you are truly sincere about wanting to have a conversation, I am volunteering to do so. But it is not only a question of “Can we talk?” but also “Can we listen?” I was raised Christian, and so I know intimately the arguments against homosexuality in the Bible. When I was a child I was very religious and my goal was to become a minister. However, my awareness of my feelings of attraction to other males led me, finally, to reject Christianity and leave the church. Because I remain a spiritual person, ultimately I became a Buddhist. I feel that Buddhism is morally superior to Christianity in its view of what is moral and what is not moral. Instead of seeing sex as sin, Buddhism says the greatest moral good occurs by creating happiness for others. By devoting oneself to compassion and loving kindness to others, that is how to improve the world. I know this theme sounds a lot like the teachings of Jesus (I am sure you are aware of the scholarship that suggests Jesus was influenced by Buddhism, which had spread to his area of the world by his time). But the big problem with Christianity is that it is not limited to the teachings of Jesus, which I greatly respect. In my view Christianity was polluted and perverted by Paul and his followers.

    I agree with you that the Bible, both Old Testament and New (not Jesus, but Paul) condemns homosexuality. I do not deny that. But, though the Bible has many good ideas, it also expresses great evil. In my view, the Bible is so filled with evil that it is a morally corrupt text, and should be no guide for modern society. In fact, I think the Bible is as great a danger to American democracy than anything else. If you wish to discuss these ideas further, I will be glad to do so.

    Now, these are my ideas, and I do not hold out any hope that I can convince you to my way of thinking. But imagine if my Buddhist temple paid a lot of money to enforce a law that said, because Christianity is so evil, we are going to bring a Proposition before voters to declare that marriage between Christians should be illegal. If I tried to impose my will and my beliefs on all of society, that would be a gross violation of your equal rights.

    We live in a democracy. The First Amendment to the Constitution says “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” Yet, because the Catholic Church, the Mormon Church, and your brand of Protestants think that homosexuality is a sin, you have supported the establishment in law of your religious views to be imposed on everyone. The 14th Amendment to the Constitution guarantees to every citizen of the USA “the equal protection of the laws.” That means that every person should have the same rights as every other person. Yet, all the legal rights of marriage (over 1,300 specific legal rights) are restricted as a “special right” of heterosexuals.

    This is not just an abstract issue. It is an issue that has affected me personally. Let me give you just one concrete example (I can give you more cases of other kinds of discrimination I have faced due to unfair laws, but here I will just mention one). A number of years ago I was sent by the U.S. government to work in Indonesia. While there, I met a wonderful person, and we fell deeply in love. We lived together for over a year, and became as close as any married couple. But when my work was finished in Indonesia I wanted to bring him back to live with me in California. He was a very smart accountant, and would have been an advantage to our economy. Yet, it was impossible for me to get a visa for him. In sharp contrast, when I returned, one of my colleagues had gone to China, fallen in love with a woman, and he was able to bring her back to America on a marriage visa. It was almost the same exact situation as mine, with the only difference being the sex of the partner. I was happy for my colleague, but sad that the laws of the USA did not permit me to apply for a marriage visa for my partner. This is not the equal protection of the laws.

    I pay my taxes just like you or any other person, yet I cannot do with my life what people like you take for granted. In California, the state constitution says that there shall be no discrimination on the basis of sex. Yet, forbidding people to marry another person because that person is of the same sex, is at base, discrimination on the basis of sex. It is as clear a violation of all these principles of democracy as that two plus two equals four. When the California Supreme Court wisely recognized the unconstitutional nature of preserving marriage as a special right of heterosexuals, and they made marriage equality for everyone, it was the Christian churches that organized and paid for the removal of this basic right. If it were not for the millions of dollars raised by the Mormon Church, the Catholic Church, and evangelical Protestants, Proposition 8 would never have occurred.

    I do not hold out any hope that I might convince you, a writer who seems like a decent person, to abandon an evil religion for a more morally superior religion. But I do hope I can convince you to support democracy.

    The Declaration of Independence says the purpose of government is to promote “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” What is more central to “the pursuit of happiness” than being able to marry the person of your choice? The Preamble of the Constitution says the purpose is to “secure the blessings of liberty.” In the pledge of allegiance it says “with liberty and justice for all.” These bedrock phrases do not include the words “except for homosexuals.” Liberty means freedom, and democracy means everybody.

    Almost all of the organized opposition to equal rights for gays and lesbians has come from the Christian churches. You ask “What is it about people like me that frighten you so much?” We are not just frightened by the 2,000 year old war against homosexuals conducted by the Christian church, in which many thousands, indeed millions have been killed in the name of Jesus. Today, instead of fright, I would say the dominant mode is that we are angry, because we know that it is people like you who continue to make our lives so needlessly difficult. Please, just stop interfering in our attempt to exercise the same exact rights that every other American has, and leave us alone. Believe me, if you leave us alone, we will leave you alone.

    You have every right to believe whatever you want, and your church has every right to say “we do not support same sex marriages, and if you want to do that you must leave our church.” But you do NOT have the right to impose your views onto everyone. That is exactly what Proposition 8 does. Proposition 8 takes the standards of one religion, that marriage should only be between a man and a women, and forces that on everyone. That law is an establishment of your religion. That is not constitutional, it is not right, it is not democratic. But it is morally shameful. I am sorry you feel angry because people have said bad things about you for your support of Proposition 8. Try to imagine, if you can, how much more angry you would feel if I and my Buddhist friends passed a Proposition with 52% of the vote saying that Christians cannot legally marry. Can you see that if we did so, and I wrote a “My Turn” essay in Newsweek saying that I was angry because you Christians called me bad names, that you might have just a tad of justifiable resentment against me? Can you see that point at all?

    The Constitution is there to protect everyone, and that includes Christians. As much as I feel that the Bible is evil and foolish, and that it ought to be prohibited to read it to children, I do not have the right to prohibit that by law. You have rights, and by living in a democracy I have to accept your right even to the deluded way of thinking that you espouse due to this horrid book.

    Living in a democracy means that we have to tolerate others of different beliefs. And it means that, no matter how much we differ and condemn others, we have to respect equal legal rights for all. That is what the California Supreme Court ruled, and that is what people like you overturned in Proposition 8. So many young people are turning away from Christianity because of its prejudiced beliefs, so I would think that Christians might be worried that one day you will be the minority. If so, you will have to appeal to the equal protection of the laws just as I have done. The Constitution is there to protect everyone.

    We do not have to agree. We do not have to like each other. You can condemn homosexuality all you want to in your churches, or any other crazy ideas you get from that awful book. But the minute you try to enforce your standards on everyone else, through legal means, then you have crossed the line and at that point you become my enemy. I, and others like me, will do everything within our power to discredit you and remove you from political influence. We will not give up, because we know that justice and true morality is on our side, not yours. Time is on our side as well, as most young people agree with my position. They see what you do not.

    I am sorry to have to be so blunt, and I would rather not be antagonistic toward you or any other Christian. It does not have to be like this. You ask “What would you need to hear from us that would reduce your anxiety?” My answer to you is succinct: “Nothing.” That is, if you would just stop talking about the issue of sexuality, and recognize that the ideas in the bible are antiquated and incompatible with modern scientific understandings of sexuality, then the whole issue would just disappear from public discourse.

    When I was growing up in the South, I used to hear many white preachers saying that interracial marriage was sinful. They said idiotic things like “God put the races on different continents so they would not mix, and we need laws to prevent people of different races from marrying.” They were called miscegenation laws, and in making it illegal for people of different races to marry they are exactly parallel to Proposition 8 prohibiting people of the same sex from marrying. Yet, today, I never hear Christian preachers saying interracial marriage is a sin. In 1967 the United States Supreme Court ruled that the right to marry is a fundamental part of human liberty, and the whole issue just went away. Now, our nation has a President who is the product of an interracial marriage. Religion not only can change, but has changed. Drastically. It is now long overdue to make this change on same-sex marriage.

    What I would like to see is for Christian churches to treat homosexuality exactly the same way they treat slavery. 150 years ago my ancestors in the South used the Bible to justify their support of slavery. There are many more passages in the Bible that support slavery than there are passages condemning homosexuality, yet I never hear preachers advocating slavery because it is in the Bible. If someone did so, they would be condemned as an idiot. What does your seminary teach about slavery? Whatever that is, I suggest doing the same on homosexuality. I predict that within the next generation or so, homosexuality will become exactly the same kind of unmentioned verses as the Bible verses on slavery. Those verses encouraging heterosexuality may have been justified back then, when people needed to produce children to provide care for them in their old age, but those rules simply have no applicability to modern life.

    Please go and reread all of Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, and tell me if you would seriously advocate all of those rules for modern society. Would you follow the orders of god in those books, to go out and massacre whole cities, including children, and rape the women? If your answer is no, then why can’t you do exactly the same attitude toward only four verses (two in Leviticus, and two in Paul’s letters). If you are really interested, I will be happy to show you the verses that persuade me that Jesus was accepting of same-sex relationships [it was only Paul who was condemning; if it were not for two verses by Paul I do not think Christianity would have even become anti-gay in the least].

    Again, when you ask “Can we talk?” I say yes, but I also ask “can you listen?” Though I will be happy to listen to what you have to say, in all truthfulness I know your viewpoint all too well. It has been crammed down my throat for my whole life. In contrast, I doubt that you have ever seriously listened to a viewpoint that suggests the whole idea that sex is sinful is itself perverted. I really do feel that Christian ideas on sex are so wrongheaded as to be a great danger to the world.

    To give a few examples, the Catholic Church opposition to the use of condoms is directly responsible for millions of people becoming infected with AIDS. Christian opposition to abortion is directly responsible for the deaths of many women. Christian statements that “the only purpose of sex is reproduction” (an idiotic statement) and Christian teachings against birth control are directly responsible for the vast increase in human overpopulation, to the point that we are driving many other species to extinction. Christianity has a lot of blood on its hands. Before trying to impose your standards on everyone, Christians should express sincere apologies for the millions who have suffered and died because of the teachings of your religion.

    Practically every week there is a story in the newspapers about a man killing his wife. Part of the reason for that is the Christian notion that marriage should be for life. There are numerous cases where a woman wants to leave her husband and he responds by killing her. I know the churches do not directly advocate this, but the whole idea of marriage for life and that divorce is evil are the supports that underlay such insane actions.

    You say that you want to prevent gay and lesbian people from having the legal rights of marriage, because you have “deep concerns about the raising of our children and grandchildren.” Well, I have deep concerns also, about the psychological damage that is done to children by telling them that they will go to eternal hell if they masturbate. To me, that is child abuse, to say such a terrifying thing to a child. When puberty hits, it is natural for teenagers to have strong sexual feelings. Christian teachings against sex, suppressing not only sexual activity but also even masturbation, are ludicrously wrongheaded. Christian ideas have caused millions of people to feel misery as they try to repress or deny their natural sexual feelings. The damage that I feel in my life was not due to sex, but due to the years of torment that I put myself through in trying to repress my sexual feelings. I drove myself nearly to an ulcer, in trying to conform my body to Christian teachings. Only after I rejected those ideas was I able to rescue my health. How many millions of people like me died because they were NOT able to free themselves from such unnatural, delusional thinking?

    You say that you are worried about children who are taught to respect same sex marriages. If you really want to know what is and is not damaging to children, take a look at the research that has been done on the psychological status of children raised in gay and lesbian households. What this research clearly shows is that such children are on average a bit more psychologically stable and mature than children raised in heterosexual households. The research shows clearly that what is important is not the sex of parents, but whether or not a child is raised in a stable loving household. Children can get plenty of role models for their gender development from society in general, and it does not matter if they have two mommies or two daddies at home. Do not worry yourself about the children raised in an accepting society. The kids are alright.

    Modern research shows that sexual orientation is something either inherited, or deeply part of the individual psyche. Gay people are part of humanity, and it is more wise to accept that and to look for the good that they can contribute to society, than to drive them to suicide and self hatred. Acceptance was the attitude of most world religions before the spread of Christianity. Same sex marriages were accepted in most societies before Christian influence changed that. I wrote a book on this subject as applied to American Indian religion: THE SPIRIT AND THE FLESH (Beacon Press). I also recommend you read a book by Professor Louis Crompton HOMOSEXUALITY AND CIVILIZATION. It was the Christian church that “redefined marriage” by restricting it only to a man and a woman. And now Christians have the audacity to claim, falsely, that marriage “has always been” only between a man and a woman. Any anthropologist and ancient historian knows that this statement is a lie.

    Homosexuals were an advantage in the past, but they are an even greater advantage for the 21st century world, for several reasons. To give only one reason, homosexuals tend not to reproduce. This lower rate of reproductiveness is needed because of overpopulation. It took all of human history until the year 1830 to reach one billion people. By 1930, only a century later, human population had doubled. However in the 79 years since then, something quite terrifying has happened. The world went from two billion to almost seven billion people. This drastic increase in population is a catastrophe. If humanity is going to survive, we are going to have to drastically reduce our birth rate. Demographers estimate that the ideal population for humans to live without destroying the environment is between two to three billion. One part of the way to accomplish a reduction in human numbers is by encouraging (not just tolerating) same-sex marriages. By encouraging population growth, Christianity is part of the problem instead of being part of the solution.

    In my opinion, government should not be involved in matters of sex or religion. Marriage should be removed from the law altogether, and become solely a religious institution. So, in your church, you can restrict marriage to a man and a woman only. My Buddhist temple can perform marriages without discrimination on the basis of sex, so gay and lesbian couples can marry. And, yes, if the Mormons want to have plural marriages then they can do that within their church. I never understood how Christians are so condemnatory of polygamy when King David, King Solomon, Abraham, and other patriarchs had plural wives. Did god change his mind?

    The whole idea is that government should get out of peoples’ sex lives altogether [except for rape, which can be condemned and prosecuted not because it is sex but because it is an assault. Rape should be prosecuted under assault laws]. No one should be forced to marry against their will, or to suffer sexual imposition when they do not want it, but government should not be trying to enforce one religious view over another. Each church should be free to define marriage however they wish, and government should not take sides [which is what Prop 8 does, on the side of your Christian view]. Government should be a level playing field.

    Though I respect the teachings of Jesus, Christianity does more harm than good when it comes to questions of sex. It is exactly parallel to the damage done to our country by Christian opposition to the teaching of evolution. The United States today is under increasing challenge by rising powers like China and India. For us to keep our top economic position requires us to be on the forefront of scientific research. Yet, Christian opposition to the teaching of evolution—which is central to an understanding of any of the biological sciences—is extremely damaging to science education. In the 150 years since Darwin, so much evidence for evolution has been amassed as to be evident to any unbiased observer. However, Christians are not only prevented from accepting evident fact, but they insist on denying American children a good education in biology.

    Three hundred years ago, Christians believed that lightening was God’s thunderbolts. If a person’s house was struck by lightening, that was seen as God’s displeasure. Yet, when Benjamin Franklin did scientific experiments with lightening he found it was electricity. He saved countless lives by inventing a weather vane that conducted the lightening charge into the ground. Would you pass a law saying that weather vanes are illegal, because lightening is God’s judgment? If so, that would make about as much sense as statements by Christian leaders from Emperor Justinian to Pat Robertson, saying that earthquakes and hurricanes are caused by homosexuality.

    Christian ideas about all things related to science have been proved wrong so often that Christians should withdraw from trying to dictate to others in the form of laws that relate to any aspect of science. And that includes the science of sexuality. That is all we want. Keep your delusions if you must, and you can even believe that the sun revolves around the earth if you wish, because your book of authority says so. But stop imposing these idiotic ideas on everyone else in the form of laws that deny us the same rights that you take for granted. Can you understand that distinction?

    If you are truly sincere about wanting to have a dialogue with opponents of Prop 8, I offer to do so. But it means you need to listen as well as talk.

    Comment by Walter Williams, Ph.D. — February 16, 2009 @ 9:17 pm


  15. If the Bible trumps everything else – reason, tradition, experience, and common sense – then why are you so obsessed with no more than five verses that *may* condemn homosexuality, yet you give no attention whatsoever to the bulk of direct commands from God?

    Most Christians don’t even have a clue what the Ten Commandments are. We are taught what is in Exodus 20, including for example “Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not commit adultery. Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.”

    But those are NOT the Ten Commandments.

    The Bible explicitly states that the Ten Commandments are in Exodus 34. Most Christians have probably never even heard these phrases!

    behold, I drive out before thee the Amorite, and the Canaanite, and the Hittite, and the Perizzite, and the Hivite, and the Jebusite.

    12Take heed to thyself, lest thou make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land whither thou goest, lest it be for a snare in the midst of thee:

    13But ye shall destroy their altars, break their images, and cut down their groves:

    15Lest thou make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and they go a whoring after their gods, and do sacrifice unto their gods, and one call thee, and thou eat of his sacrifice;

    18The feast of unleavened bread shalt thou keep. Seven days thou shalt eat unleavened bread, as I commanded thee, in the time of the month Abib: for in the month Abib thou camest out from Egypt.

    19All that openeth the matrix is mine; and every firstling among thy cattle, whether ox or sheep, that is male.

    20the firstling of an ass thou shalt redeem with a lamb: and if thou redeem him not, then shalt thou break his neck.

    22And thou shalt observe the feast of weeks, of the firstfruits of wheat harvest, and the feast of ingathering at the year’s end.

    23Thrice in the year shall all your menchildren appear before the LORD God, the God of Israel.

    24For I will cast out the nations before thee, and enlarge thy borders: neither shall any man desire thy land, when thou shalt go up to appear before the LORD thy God thrice in the year.

    25Thou shalt not offer the blood of my sacrifice with leaven; neither shall the sacrifice of the feast of the passover be left unto the morning.
    26The first of the firstfruits of thy land thou shalt bring unto the house of the LORD thy God.

    Thou shalt not seethe a kid in his mother’s milk.

    28And he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights; he did neither eat bread, nor drink water. And he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the ten commandments.”

    THESE are the Ten Commandments, not the don’t steal, kill, commit adultery, bear false witness list.

    As a culture, Christians are so profoundly ignorant of the Bible that they can make no claim to be following it.

    Comment by Dan — April 16, 2009 @ 7:46 am


  16. […] Richard Mouw’s response ~from Mark Aaron Humphrey, Worship & Creative Arts Pastor http://www.netbloghost.com/mouw/?p=101 […]

    Pingback by Staff Picks – Q: What is God’s Plan for sexuality? « god-answers.com — March 23, 2010 @ 3:29 pm


  17. […] Richard Mouw’s take ~from Mark Aaron Humphrey, Worship & Creative Arts Pastor http://www.netbloghost.com/mouw/?p=101 […]

    Pingback by Staff Picks – Q: Why do we believe in God? « god-answers.com — March 23, 2010 @ 3:33 pm

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