A Reflective Christian

All for God’s Kingdom

Homosexuality, society, and the Church – Different sexual ethic frameworks

The conflicts that that takes places between morally conservative forms of Christianity and homosexuality isn’t in any innate evil or disdain for persons or selfishness, per se. The divergence takes place not because of arbitrariness either. Rather, the Biblical ethic has a different rationale and raison d’etre for sexuality than Western society. In the many emotional arguments over the topic of homosexuality, it is a clash of entirely different justifications.

The Biblical ethic roots itself within the creation narrative of Genesis 1 with the command to humanity to “Be fruitful and multiply”, which is followed by “fill and subdue the earth/land.” There is a correlation between these two components, first as it requires many people to fill and then subdue the land. There is a sociological component between these land and reproduction, as a family’s, tribe’s, and nation’s hope for survival was in increasing their numbers. First, it provided more workers for the land to produce food. Secondly it protected the groups claim to the land by increasing in manpower. Interestingly enough, both Psalms 127 and 128 corresponds to these two ideas. Psalm 127 uses a combat metaphor in speaking of children like Arrows (127:4). Then as a result of being blessed with many children, a person “will not be ashamed when they speak with their enemies in the gate” (127:5). As for Psalm 128, children are compared in a simile to olive plants (128:3), which corresponds to the person being blessed/happy when they “eat the fruits of [their] hands” (128:2).

Because of this relationship between reproduction and the land, sex was given the primary purpose for reproduction. To participate in improper sexual acts was to violate this relationship and if practiced exclusively, would lead to taking away from the strength and productivity of the families, clans, and the nation of Israel as a whole. Furthermore, it could drive other persons to follow the same example, further multiplying the problem. Generally speaking, it would then be necessary to expel said sexual offenders from the group in order to preserve the sexual behavior that was beneficial for Israel.

So Leviticus 18, which is the outworking of the Biblical sexual ethic and includes homosexuality (18:22), links sexuality (in a more broad sense) with the land, as to participate in these acts defiles the land (18:25). In addition, the punishment for violation of Israel’s sexual ethic was to “be cut off from among their people” (18:29) so as to prevent the offenders from swaying others. Although, this punishment might be said to only apply generally, as particular violations such as acts of homosexuality where elsewhere called to be punished by death (Leviticus 20:13). Despite that exception, Leviticus 18 reveals the rationale for the sexual ethic in general. As a result, that explains why sexual relationships were to be practiced exclusively in heterosexual relationships, as opposed to bisexuality that might still draw other persons away from a potential reproductive relationship to exclusive homosexuality.

So, sexuality was linked with survival. Violation of sexuality was not punished out of arbitrariness, disdain for something different, or some innate disgust, but because it potentially harmed the well being of Israel, its tribes, and its families.

However, in Western and American society today, there isn’t the same importance placed upon reproduction for multiple reasons. First off, the prosperity of Europe and North America allows persons not to reproduce since it doesn’t affect the whole as drastically. Secondly, the population numbers also doesn’t put quite the onus upon individuals to be in child bearing relationships. Thirdly, even if the population of an area is being depleted, because of individual mobility of today and more toleration of other cultures (relative to ancient times), immigration from other populated areas is an option. Finally, individuals are not as directly reliant upon land for their livelihood, but instead rely upon larger farms and corporations for farms and mines to produce the goods needed for survival. Corporations hire workers, whereas families produce workers (As a side note, these things also relates to abortion). So, European and American society is free to embrace another view of sexuality without it seeing it as imperiling its survival.

Currently, sexual ethics are holding together two different principles in tension. First, there is a the romanticized and existential ideal of finding that person in “love” and to find that person who “completes you.” This is by no means exclusive to any population. For instance, many Christians assume marriage was made to be a union that reaches a spiritual level. Considering the “pursuit of happiness” mindset in Western society (although, perhaps subtly different from the phrase in the US Constitution). But the logical conclusion then is if a person is not attracted to a person of the opposite gender, but a person of the same gender, then they should be able to pursue that happiness that is to be found in finding another complete person.

The second aspect is more purely hedonistic and primal in the basic fulfillment and pleasure in the sexual act. That being the case, context of the sexual act is not important so far as it produces pleasure in the individual, Thus homosexuality is “justified” (although this principle if absolutized would categorically reject any restriction of the sexuality, so there is no true need to justify the act). However, it is being held in the romantic ideal, so it does not have free reign. Varying individuals may work from the first principle more than the second.

These two aspects being in held in tension together in society that celebrates liberty and equality (the modern notion of “equality”, not necessarily “equality” in earlier times), it is natural for homosexuality and homosexual marriage to be justified and approved of. The Biblical ethic, however, does not specifically endorse liberty and equality, nor the two principles in tension. This does not mean they are mutually exclusive and are always contradictory. But it does mean that there can come some points where there is a difference and conflict, such as on the issue of homosexuality.

In the end, the two divergent views are held because the traditions and person are formed by diverging belief systems (although, again, not mutually exclusive and inherently contradictory). But there is either the ignorance of the knowledge that persons on the other side have different justifications for their beliefs and that all people do not think alike, or there is the absolute demand to conform regardless of beliefs backed by insulting, threatening, and accusatory (such as a comment on the first post in this series) rhetoric.

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April 28, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

Dichotomy between doctrine and morals

One of the more pronounced differences between “liberal” and “conservative” Protestantism is the dichotomy that has been seemingly had been morality and doctrine. While both groups properly have some doctrinal beliefs and some call to morality, conservative theology can be seen as the appropriation of doctrine above morality, whereas liberal theology does the opposite.

In classic Protestantism and the doctrine of justification by faith alone, doctrinal acceptance becomes the basis for acceptance. What one believes has its value in that correct belief is the necessary and sufficient condition for forgiveness and eternal life. What one does, morality, is not the means to forgiveness and eternal life.

Although to be fair, Luther, Calvin, and others did say that the one who believes and has eternal life will do what is good. However, the link between belief and goodness was not direct. It instead had a third variable, regeneration of the Holy Spirit, where the Holy Spirit performs a supernatural work to change the heart and mind of the person. This was consequent on belief, and so morality came as a result of belief, but it was not tied directly with it. But this result could only be had if one continued to maintain that all the save would be upright. If one either rejected the necessity of regeneration to created morally upright creatures, or saw faith enabling the forgiveness that allows for a simultaneous acceptance and yet evil state, then there resulted a divorce between doctrine and morality.

Of course, this antinomian tendency was thoroughly denounced because the Bible and the New Testament in particular was not antinomian. But the correlation between doctrine and morality was only had because they were both contained within the same source of knowledge, not because morality was consequent upon doctrine. So both would have been proclaimed by the majority of Bible believers, but there would be a seemingly divergence between the morality Jesus seemingly proclaimed and the attitude of Protestantism as it was in which doctrine was the foundation of the Christian faith. Because faith and works were not contingent upon one another, one could reject the content of faith while still maintaining the works proclaimed as morally upright.

This leads us to modern thinking, best exhibited in Kantian philosophy. For Kant, he could have a skepticism about what exists beyond the realm of our five senses, and yet making moral necessity the basis for belief in God (although never allowing us to be absolutely sure of the existence of the world we can not see). Whereas doctrine was placed above morality in classic Protestantism, now morality was placed above doctrine. However, there is a subtle distinction as Kant saw morality as allowing for certain beliefs in the existence of God (a “categorical imperative”), whereas Protestantism didn’t make a well developed direct connection between doctrine and morality.

But combine deism’s and the Enlightenment’s skepticism of miracles and things that defy a natural understanding as derived from reason, not only was the content of faith made in part contingent upon morality, it rejected all articles that were not contingent upon morality. If belief’s were not practical, whether it be from morality or from reason, then there were to be viewed with skepticism, if not rejection.

This leads to one of two logical conclusions. If one rejects the argument that morality is a sufficient reason for belief in God, atheism becomes a tenable conclusion. The other conclusion (if one accepts or rejects that morality is a sufficient for belief in God) is that of liberal theology in which there is the tendency to deny the more miraculous and supernatural things, and in which the individual feeling reigns as authoritative (for instance, with Schleiermacher), not the doctrine that comes from tradition. But both groups (atheists and liberal believers), coming from the Enlightenment and being part of a somewhat Christianized culture, would still maintain the importance of morality.

However, the question comes down to where the source of morality would come from? With the rejection of the supernatural and the Bible proclaiming miraculous events, the Bible was no longer to be trusted as a whole. And that opents the doorway to the eventual skepticism of Biblical morals. Where does the source of morality come from? From one’s own experience (rooted in Schleiemacher) and reasoning (rooted in the Enlightenment). But in the end, both of these are largely the result of one’s own cultural upbringing, which for liberal theology was still largely influenced from the past traditional Christian values maintain in the culture. But morality itself went under the scalpel and much of it was rejected (for instance, in regards to sexuality). So on one hand, there is some similarity in ethics and morals from conservative and liberal parts of the Christianity (for instance, helping the poor), but yet there is a wide divergence on others (such as exclusivism/inclusivism, sexuality, etc.).

In the end, you have a conservative sector that sees liberals as immoral and heterodox, whereas the liberal sector sees conservatives as superstitious and unethical (in part due to the divergence of ethics, but in part because of the lack of a direct connection of beliefs being the actual basis for ethical actions). Conservatives are right to critique liberal theology because for them, the acquisition of truth is purely the result of our own rationale and experience. On the other hand, liberals are right to critique conservative theology because of its seeming divorce between doctrine and morality (only maintained together because they both come from the Bible).

I would contend that doctrine rooted in revelation is grounds we work from in theology, not human experience and reason. Furthermore, the doctrine as revealed in history, such as the resurrection, serves both as the logical basis and psychological basis for morality. For instance, the resurrection guides us to be willing to lay down our lives for the good of others, but also it enables us to lay down our lives because our trust that we will be raised just as Jesus was. There is a direct relationship between belief in doctrine and morality (both logically and behaviorally) that does not require a third variable of a supernatural regeneration by the Holy Spirit (although by no means denying any role for the Spirit in the realm of doctrine and morality). This maintains a critical posture regarding supernatural explanations (by which anything can be justified) while still allowing for the sensible belief in the miraculous, and also accepting morality as critical and equal with the contents of faith. It is both pragmatic and humble regards human knowledge. It requires God to reveal first, but it doesn’t see God’s revelation as distant, abstract propositions to be merely believed, but at it’s core about the human experience and action (both revealing what should be done and psychologically allowing for a person to do what should be done). In which case, faith’s importance is not that doctrinal acceptance is the way to be accepted, but faith molds us through giving proper moral knowledge and moral freedom to do what is good and righteous. Faith is the instrument we play to create the music of righteousness, but faith itself is not the goal nor bare faith the means of acceptance.

It serves as no coincidence then that the two Christian traditions that are the most powerful worldwide are those who never entertained a divorce between doctrine and morals. Catholicism (which I am including the Anglican church in to some degree) never made the Protestant doctrine of justification by faith alone as central (with Roman Catholicism never accepting it), so it still worked to maintain a tension between faith and works (although not always having a healthy tension). Also, the denominations that are rooted in the Wesleyan holiness movement (such as Methodism, Pentecostalism, etc.) are very influential. Wesley himself saw the importance of practicality in faith, saw works as themselves critical, and even formed some correlation between faith and the psychology of individuals (such as the relationship between faith and the freedom from the fear of death). Both of these two traditions have been very powerful within South America and Africa, the primary mission field for Christianity.

And while both have some conservatizing and liberalizing tendencies within them (the United Methodist denomination I am in the US has very liberal tendencies right now), these two traditions have already formed the nucleus by which it can allow for a group that maintains the proper tension, balance, and correlation of faith and works, and of the natural and supernatural.

October 17, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment