Where is the redeeming grace?

There is one aspect of the conversation about gay marriage and so on which is really starting to become clear to me, which is, put simply, that to get from a conservative premise to a conservative conclusion you need to resort to some distinctly ungracious arguments. This is what I understand the conservative argument to be:

1. In the beginning were Adam and Eve, male and female, with no confusion between them. This establishes the pattern for human sexual relations, viz, monogamous, essentialist and heterosexual.

2. Through the Fall, disorder enters into the world. Homosexual desire is ‘objectively disordered’ and not part of God’s original intention for humanity.

3. To enable the consummation of homosexual desire is to assist in perpetuating the Fall, ie to connive in the furtherance of sin. As such, any support of homosexual relationships is to be rejected. Hence, no to gay marriage, no to gay partnerships, no no no no no….

I hope this is a fair summary, albeit a brusque one.

Where I think the ‘distinctly ungracious’ arguments come in is between points 2 and 3; that is, I think it is logically possible to accept premises 1. and 2. but reject the consequence of 3.

A parallel could be drawn with a physical disability. I am completely deaf in my left ear, since birth. I have no doubt that this is not part of God’s original intentions for humanity and counts as something which is ‘objectively disordered’. Yet society does not see the need to confine me to the natural consequences that follow from this disorder – indeed, it has very kindly provided me with a hearing aid, which I use as occasion demands. Also, unlike ancient Israel, I am not barred from a full participation in human life and the common assembly as a result of my human imperfection.

Why is the same grace not extended to those in the LGBT community, even when these conservative premises are accepted? In other words, why is the reality of the ‘disability’ not acknowledged but room given for God’s redeeming grace to come in and transform the situation as each context makes possible? Perhaps for some the redeeming grace might indeed be a life of celibacy, but for others might it not be the case that the way in which God’s redeeming grace takes effect is precisely through the stability, companionship, fidelity and so on that a covenanted and monogamous relationship gives? It’s still possible to say ‘this is objectively disordered’, but there is so much more human grace and compassion involved, and an openness to the God of Surprises. I say this because it also seems to me, given what Jesus says, and Paul writes, that heterosexual marriage is itself a falling short of the ideal, and not part of our eternal destiny!!

No, even though I remain sceptical about gay ‘marriage’, I’m more and more persuaded that the arguments against a full acceptance and inclusion of our LGBT friends in Christ are rooted in a theology which is itself objectively disordered. Where there is no law, there is no transgression. I’ll start taking such arguments seriously again when they recognise that Jeffrey John would make a good bishop.

23 thoughts on “Where is the redeeming grace?

  1. Have you got the wrong Conservative argument? The one I am familiar with is that sex between husband and wife is a sign and symbol of the union of Christ and his Bride. Sex outside of this says something wrong about the saving work of Christ.

    The disability analogy doesn’t work. First, Jesus very clearly over-rules some of the purity codes around disability (in that he makes all things he redeems clean in him). Secondly, the “local moral maxima” argument about making the best of your situation misses the point that even local moral maxima can be immoral. If your maximum height is 10 metres underwater, you still drown.

    • Peter, Sam,

      I rather like the idea of a disability. I think the example works well.

      Sam: you’re not expected to REMAIN in your disability, but to be helped by compassionate people to live as normal a life as you can, given that you have the disability that you do have.

      A person who has such a disability can be at a disadvantage in “normal” society. No one claims that deaf people should (i.e., morally) do what they can’t do. In the same way, no on claims that those who have the disorder of a same-sex attraction should have “normal” sex, unless, of course, they overcome their disordered attractions and marry.

      I like your analogy for another reason. Some people are born with the disability, but not everyone is, and so there’s no NECESSARY genetic component to deafness (or to soddomite attraction, for that matter).

      Is the reason you don’t like the Catholic position simply the fact that it is (in your mind) the Catholic position?

      How reasonable would you think it if I said that not only should everyone recognize that I’m deaf, but that there was nothing disordered about being deaf, and that deaf people needed special rights within our society? (I suspect you’d think I was quite daft.) If I suggested that you needed to let me teach people how to be deaf and to stop discriminating against deaf people by practicing deafness, you might accuse me of being any number of things.

      Let’s examine your other idea: that if homosexual desire is intrinsically and objectively disordered, it is not wrong to assist people to act on that desire.

      Abusing children is wrong, so would it be wrong to help a person abuse children?

      Perjury is wrong, so is suborning perjury to be encouraged?

      Alcoholism is a debilitating condition, even if it is not a moral evil, in which the person who has it may often ask for an alcoholic beverage. Is it rational or good to encourage people who have alcoholism to put themselves in the position of having access to alcoholic beverages, and to encourage them to imbibe?

      What name would you give to any action or omission which is contrary to God’s plan?

  2. It’s not the ‘wrong’ conservative argument Peter, it’s just not that one! To be precise – and I would have thought the language of ‘objective disorder’ would have given it away, it’s the Roman Catholic one, or at least an approximation of it. I find the bride of Christ argument, which is the evangelical metaphor of choice, a bit baffling, but I might do a post as to why.
    As to the other two, firstly, the point isn’t that Jesus changed the rules but that he did away with ‘rule-following’ as a means to become right with God (which Paul then unpacks and develops, as in my penultimate sentence); secondly, I’m with the Lutheran strand of ‘pecca fortiter’ – we are all drowning, all the time, we are none of us righteous, no not one. So I don’t think those two arguments help.

    • ” I find the bride of Christ argument, which is the evangelical metaphor of choice, a bit baffling, but I might do a post as to why.”

      I would love to see that.

      ” the point isn’t that Jesus changed the rules but that he did away with ‘rule-following’ as a means to become right with God”

      Yes, but we’re discussing how Christians should behave, not what they should do to get saved. Your argument is a non sequitur.

      “I’m with the Lutheran strand of ‘pecca fortiter’ – we are all drowning, all the time, we are none of us righteous, no not one”

      Once again, you confuse salvation with sanctification.

      • Confusing salvation with sanctification – actually I think I would identify them! Which needs a lot more fleshing out, I realise that. Interesting point.

  3. Why equate same-sex relationships with disability? They’re not defective, just different.

    This might be a useful stop on the road for conservatives, but if they’re traveling towards equality, why not skip the layover, and jump to the destination of affirmation and marriage?

    • “Why equate same-sex relationships with disability?”

      No-one’s doing that. You need to read the Roman position carefully. The equation is with same-sex erotic desire.

  4. “The equation is with same-sex erotic desire” as a punishment from God for idolatry, yes. Not exactly relevant to our contemporary dialogue, is it.

    • ‘who worshipped and served the creature more than the creator’. (Romans 1:25)

      Yeah right! Prioritising worldly affections and the zeitgeist above the love of God’s revealed will for human behaviour never happens today…NOT!

      • Only that the text isn’t about any Zeitgeist.. What it says is “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.

        24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires ..

        I don’t know if you recognise the lgbt members of your church in that description. Do these people sit in the back pews whittling away at craven images?
        The passage says nothing about “behaviours”, far less about the kind that people might not even consider to be sinful.
        What you claim to be the sin is the consequence, it’s the punishment God heaps on those who have made images looking like birds, animals and reptiles.

        • The problem with your narrow definition of idolatry is that the same St.Paul describes ‘pleonexia’ (properly, the desire for more, i.e. lusting for temporal things that go beyond what God determines is eternally best) as idolatry.

          Even churchgoers are capable of that sort of idolatry without whittling away at graven images.

          Your attempt to reduce sin to the mere outward action of making physical images also misses the whole point of Christ’s challenge to internal desire in His Sermon on the Mount. That low bar of externalised obedience is no better than the scribes and Pharisees. (Matt. 5:21. 28)

          The concomitant of homosexual acts really is the final consequence of idolatry, in all of its internalised and externalised forms. The idea that God only heaps the punishment of reprobation on externalised idolatry is dispelled by the very next chapter of Romans (Romans 2:22)

          • So what do we have, David – young people who are no different from their peers suddenly finding themselves punished by God with homosexuality? Is that what evangelicals really believe?
            12-13 year olds punished for life with being gay and required to lead diminished lives for some sins they’re not even aware of and that no-one in their families and among their friends can detect either?

            If that’s really what people here believe it is not surprising that the discussion in church is being progressed without you and that more and more of your own churches are not following your anti gay line any longer.

          • “So what do we have, David – young people who are no different from their peers suddenly finding themselves punished by God with homosexuality? Is that what evangelicals really believe?”

            No, because that’s not what Romans 1 says. Romans 1 says that God allows them to do that which they desire to do. He doesn’t force it on them, he turns them over to what they want. He doesn’t force anyone to do anything. They do what they want to do.

            “12-13 year olds punished for life with being gay and required to lead diminished lives for some sins they’re not even aware of and that no-one in their families and among their friends can detect either?”

            That’s not what Romans 1 says. it’s just a silly straw man. And note what the Scripture actually says?

            ‘Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonouring of their bodies among themselves,’

            The impurity is not the lust of the heart but the actual carrying out of the act that is desired. The fact that your 12-13 year old is gay never comes into it. The fact that she desires another woman is not the issue. What the Scripture says is that men and women, knowing the character of God reject it and instead create for themselves a god of their own liking, who will approve their sin. And so God lets them in their rebellion do the thing that they want to do, in this case engaging in the sinful activity of having sex with someone of the same sex.

            It is the sexual act that is sinful, not the desire (even when the desire is fallen). And clearly some 12-13 year old gays understand this perfectly because they choose to worship the true and living God, not a deity of their construction, and grow to become men and women who continue to honour God with their bodies and don’t feel repressed in the slightest..

          • Erika,
            The starting point of Paul’s explanation of the outworking of divine retribution is his eagerness to preach the gospel in Rome as much as anywhere else.

            His reasoning is that it is the only means by which God’s gracious redemption in Christ is effected. He declares that without Christ, we are all hostages to our own desires. The rejection of what is evident of God through nature eventually results in the rejection of what is self-evident of our own originating nature.

            Those who claim superior religious privilege and instruction fare no better in Romans 2. They commit the same sins, albeit less conspicuously.

            Whether young or old, Jew or Greek, Paul leaves no-one without the hope of reversing this very human descent into honouring ourselves before God. That grace that we all need can be imparted by the gospel arousing repentance over personal complicity in the rejection of God and faith towards Christ as its cure.

            Paul is very clear about what the gospel’s reversal of reprobation looks like.

  5. I’m guessing the notion of “disability” would be a hard sell to our LGBT friends and neighbors.

    For my own part, the position articulated by Christopher C. Roberts on First Things seems defensible, when he differentiates between the idea of marriage as “a vow men and women take to humanize procreation, to embed fertility in faithful community,” and “a portable contract, suitable for any two autonomous individuals, by which the state may facilitate their care for each other.” http://www.firstthings.com/article/2013/04/wendell-berrys-marriage-reversal

    The question then, it seems to me, is the status of gay relationships. Why should such relationships be treated any differently than any other committed friendship?

    I have many close friends, both male and female. I neither feel the need to ask the church to bestow upon those friendships the status of marriage; nor would I reject out of hand an argument that society might benefit from conferring certain advantages upon such friendships.

    • The problem with that differentiation is that a couple may assert the latter definition of marriage until they want the State to prioritise their parental intentions as a married couple above the rights of a known and committed parent who actually fathered the child.

      Only then will they insist that it would be homophobic for marriage not to confers automatic parental rights on same-sex spouses who consistently have no blood relationship to the child.

      Instead of humanising procreation, you will then see how easily procreative rights become commoditised and legally transferrable via marriage in patent disregard for the genetic mother and father’s parental rights.

      This is a stated aim of the International Lesbian and Gay Association: ‘Article 12 Spouses and registered partners
      A person who is the spouse or registered partner of a child’s parent at the time of that child’s birth shall also be considered as a parent, regardless of genetic connection.’ http://www.coe.int/t/dghl/standardsetting/family/ILGA-Europe%20Response%20to%20Professor%20Nigel%20Lowe's%20Report%20FINAL%20VERSION.pdf

      • Wouldn’t the same difficulty arise with heterosexual unions? If, for instance, a married woman were to have an affair, what rights does the biological father have then?

        As I said, I don’t reject out of hand arguments conferring certain advantages upon people who want the state to facilitate their care for each other; but neither am I cowed by charges of homophobia if I challenge them.

        • For heterosexual unions, the presumtion of paternity is rebuttable by clear and convincing evidence to the contrary. The biological father’s rights are normally recognised.

          In contrast, for the presumption to be applied to a same-sex spouse involves making the legal fiction unrebuttable by the genetic parent.

          Although I agree with your last paragraph, I recognise that conferring the status of marriage on same-sex couples can legally override natural parenthood with nothing more than written proof of the intention to be a parent.

  6. “2. Through the Fall, disorder enters into the world. Homosexual desire is ‘objectively disordered’ and not part of God’s original intention for humanity.”

    Can I ask how can anything not be part of God’s original intention for humanity? How can an omnipotent deity not have foreseen the Fall?

  7. I can agree with your point 1, sort of, but 2 and 3 don’t seem to follow, but then I suppose that is because I’m not much enamoured of conservatism.

    In all these arguments no one seems to pay much attention to the B of LGBT. Will any proposals for same-sex marriage currently being discussed enable bisexual people to marry someone of each sex, thus establishing a menage a trois, or larger? If uit doesn’t, all the arguments arer specious and a lot of hot air.

    I still think that The State should get out of the marriage business | Notes from underground.

    • Thanks Steve – I’m very sympathetic to the idea that the church and the state should be kept very separate vis-a-vis marriage.

  8. Steve,

    Thank you for coming so adroitly to the point: those who defend the one-man-one-woman definition of marriage recognize the point you’re making. You’re absolutely correct that if two men can marry each other, why can’t a threesome or any other combination exist. In fact, a state-side publication called the New Oxford Review has been making a catalog of sorts of people attempting marriage with bits of the Berlin Wall, non-human animals and such.

    Part of the reason is simply this: marriage isn’t mostly about the adults and their desires. It exists (at least in part) to create a stable environment in which children can be begotten and raised. Societies need children to have a future.

    No amount of Sodomite copulation can result in the creation of a child, so societies (which have an interest in the future) can’t and shouldn’t sanction such arrangements. Please notice that the Catholic Church doesn’t rely on THEOLOGY to make this argument. Frankly, no “church” which does support Sodomite copulation or serial monogamy or other sorts of arrangements does so with THEOLOGY either.



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