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Thursday, October 30, 2014

Reorient Yourself

Orientation.

That’s the magic word, isn’t it. That’s the game changer.

We used to talk about sin. Same-sex behavior, for example, was understood to be  sinful. Those who engaged in it were choosing to sin and those who didn’t were choosing not to sin. “Orientation” didn’t enter into it.

Matthew Vines says such an understanding was actually a failure to understand same-sex behavior:
“The concept of same-sex orientation did not exist in the ancient world. Prior to recent generations, same-sex behavior was widely understood to be the product of sexual excess, not the expression of a sexual orientation. The issue we face today — gay Christians and their committed relationships — has not been an issue for the church in past eras …”
— Matthew Vines
In Rachel Held Evans, who has spent five straight posts propangandizing Vines’ thesis that Christians can be practicing homosexuals at peace with God and in fellowship with other believers, Vines has found a full-throated and enthusiastic advocate with a sizeable audience. Why should we listen? Allegedly because Vines is “theologically conservative” and “holds a high view of scripture”:
“… Matthew’s aim with God and the Gay Christian is to show that ‘Christians who affirm the full authority of Scripture can also affirm committed, monogamous same-sex relationships.’ ”
— Rachel Held Evans
The Rationale for Change

The story is that Vines dropped out of Harvard to spend four years investigating the subject. And it is evident that he is passionate about his cause. This, he says, is the goal of his effort:
“The tremendous pain endured by LGBT youth in many Christian homes can become a relic of the past. Christianity’s reputation in much of the Western world can begin to rebound.”
That is certainly ambitious. Three issues immediately crop up here:

·         As to the Western world, Vines believes it will look at the church with greater respect if we embrace his views, but fails to note that the rest of the world may not look on us quite so favourably. Good luck, gay Christians and those who advocate for you, in your efforts with outreach to Muslims or in changing attitudes to homosexuality in the third world.

·         As to reputation generally, I’m less concerned about Christianity’s reputation than about whether we are being faithful to the teaching of scripture. If we are faithful to the Word and the Lord, then whether they love us or hate us we’re in the right place. Christians have been lied about, misrepresented and misunderstood over and over again throughout the centuries. Concern for our reputation, I’m afraid, is a bit of a non-starter for me.

·         As to the issue of pain, while “the tremendous pain endured by LGBT youth in many Christian homes” is undoubtedly a concern, Vines begs the question of whether that pain is primarily the result of unloving, unbiblical prejudice or whether it is actually the product of guilty conscience. Sometimes sinning hurts — and it should. Emotional pain is quite often a messenger of God to tell us to change our ways. To attempt to relieve pain without being very sure of its origin risks the spiritual equivalent of amputating a limb to treat a minor burn.

All in all, not a promising start to Vines’ thesis.

The Elephant in the Room

We also need to be aware that accepting Christian homosexuality is only the beginning. It is merely the thin end of the wedge. Vines opens up a can of worms, and we need to be aware of its contents at the outset. Evans refers to a need for “LGBT equality”. LGBT is short for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender. Within the Body of Christ, what exactly will that involve? Are we really talking about washroom accessibility for transgender professing Christians here? How exactly would a bisexually oriented believer express his or her sexuality in a biblical context? Evans also refers to “LGBT youth” as victims of tremendous pain that she believes Vines’ work will help relieve.

So for Evans and Vines, this may start as a homosexual question but it almost instantly expands to embrace other types of sexual behavior formerly considered deviant. And before even establishing that Vines can convincingly show that scripture admits the possibility of Christians practicing homosexuality, Evans has thrown open the door to bisexuality and people with transgender fixations in the church without introducing any evidence for it at all.

This is not well understood by Christians like Andrew Klavan who see no problem with having practicing homosexuals in the church but find the concept of transgenderism laughable

Klavan has missed the point: the thin end of the wedge is here already — that is, assuming we accept the notion of orientation as a trump card. If it is already being taken for granted that orientation gives rise to bisexuality and transgenderism (and therefore they must be accepted by believers), then expect polygamy, pederasty and other sexually deviant behavior to follow right behind.

Once orientation is accepted as a legitimate reason for engaging in acts that were formerly considered sins, it logically and equally justifies every form of sexual deviancy that its practitioners call “harmless” and “committed”. Get this clear: if orientation justifies homosexuality, it justifies pretty much everything.

We need to consider this notion of orientation very carefully.

The Mechanism

That said, to be fair to him, Vines has not ducked the hard questions. He has painstakingly engaged the obvious scriptures, and these are the sorts of conclusions at which he arrives:

·         On Adam and Eve: “... the account of Eve’s creation does not emphasize Adam’s need to procreate; it emphasizes his need for relationship …” 

·         On the sin of Sodom: Vines says it “had far more to do with a lack of hospitality and a bent toward violence than with any sexual designs the men had on Lot’s visitors.” 

·         On the “abominations” of Leviticus: “... while ‘abomination’ is a negative word, it doesn’t necessarily correspond to Christian views of sin.”

·         On Romans 1: “[Paul] does not say that they were enamored of one another but that they were consumed by lust for one another! You see that the whole of desire comes from an excess which cannot be contained itself within proper limits.”

·         On the kingdom of God and those who inherit it in 1 Corinthians 6: Regarding malakoi, Matthew notes that most uses of the word in ancient literature are not related to same-sex behavior but rather to men who were self-indulgent and enslaved to their passions … for women … scholars … conclude that the term arsenokoites likely describes economic exploitation by some sexual means.”

·        On context: “Even if Paul had intended his words to be a condemnation of all forms of same-sex relations, the context in which he would have been making that statement would still differ significantly from our context today.” 

In every instance in which he addresses the teaching of scripture on homosexuality, Vines is able to dredge up a dubious historical or cultural precedent to justify maintaining that some act or attitude beyond the homosexual act itself is the real target of scripture’s condemnation: Sodom was “unhospitable”; Paul is condemning “excess”, “lust”, “enslavement”, “economic exploitation” and “self-indulgence”.

Vines’ argument is detailed, referenced and carefully built, but it amounts to nothing more profound than yet another attempt to undermine our confidence in what the text of scripture actually says. If we accepts Vines’ thesis, nothing at all in our Bibles on this subject is what it appears.

An Argument from Silence

But while Vines explains away every verse he can think to attack, he knows better than pretend scripture speaks positively of committed homosexual relationships. He recognizes that even if his critics accept his handling of the various passages to do with the condemnation of homosexuality in the word of God, his argument is at best an argument from silence:
“The bottom line is this,” writes Matthew, “the Bible does not directly address the issue of same-sex orientation — or the expression of that orientation. While its six references to same-sex behavior are negative, the concept of same-sex behavior in the Bible is sexual excess, not sexual orientation.” 
What his entire book amounts to, then, is an argument from silence and an appeal to (an entirely assumed) authority. The Bible, he admits, does not address same-sex orientation. And yet same-sex orientation, in the view of both Vines and Held Evans, is an incontestable absolute. This is stated by Evans in so many ways and is assumed to be so obvious that she offers no evidence for its truth at all: 

·         On Vines: Evans says, “he knew he was gay”, “Matthew couldn’t change his sexual orientation” and “Though he had always been taught by his church that homosexuality was a chosen and sinful “lifestyle,” this teaching did not match up with Matthew’s lived experience”. 

·         On Science: Evans says, “… new information about sexuality ought to compel Christians to rethink their interpretation of Scripture. [Vines] reminds readers that Galileo was accused of heresy by the Church …”

·         On the Evolution of Society: “… in recent generations, our understanding of sexuality has radically changed”, “Of course now we are beginning to understand that, while human sexuality is complex and is perhaps best understood as existing along a continuum, many people report having fixed same-sex orientations that do not change.”

“Of course”, Evans says. It’s the usual threefold appeal to authority: (1) the authority of Vines’ feelings about himself; (2) the authority of the pseudo-science of psychology; and (3) the authority of the herd. This is the power of the orientation myth.

Orientation, once accepted, trumps everything.

What is Sexual Orientation?

Since they’ve already defined it for us, let’s be generous and use their language:
sex·u·al o·ri·en·ta·tion
noun
a person’s sexual identity in relation to the gender to which they are attracted; the fact of being heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual.
That’s probably too simple, so let’s try the American Psychological Association:
“Sexual orientation refers to an enduring pattern of emotional, romantic, and/or sexual attractions to men, women, or both sexes. Sexual orientation also refers to a person’s sense of identity based on those attractions, related behaviors, and membership in a community of others who share those attractions. Research over several decades has demonstrated that sexual orientation ranges along a continuum, from exclusive attraction to the other sex to exclusive attraction to the same sex.”
In fact, an orientation is nothing more profound than a preference, the question-begging nature of the definition notwithstanding. We may call it an “identity”, but it is simply a statement about what we like. Psychologists call it an “enduring” preference and tell us it cannot be changed, but it remains a preference, period. The Association’s literature uses “orientation” and “attraction” as synonyms. These words simply describe what the individuals examined by psychologists said appealed to them at the time they were interviewed. In fact, the Association plainly states:
“… we can choose whether to act on our feelings …”
So while we may have a preference, it is clear we also have to choose whether to act on it or not. Even Matthew Vines would surely agree that it is unreasonable for those of us with non-heterosexual “identities” to insist we have no control over what we do with our bodies. “Science” has spoken!

False Assumptions Arising from Orientation

The biggest false assumption that arises from this — and homosexualists in Christendom and their enablers make it constantly — is that “God made me this way, so I must be acceptable to him as I am. It’s only those nasty Christians who misinterpret the Bible that are the problem.” Or “It can’t be wrong when it feels so right”, as Debby Boone sang so many years ago I can hardly keep track.

That is pretty ancient. Perhaps something a little closer to the 21st century then:
“I have forgiven Jesus
For all the desire he placed in me
When there’s nothing I can do with this desire

Why did you give me so much love
In a loveless world?
When there is no one I can turn to
To unlock all this love

Jesus, do you hate me?”
— Morrissey
That’s more like it, at least as far as stating the assumption in language to which our culture can relate. I won’t say it’s not sincere and it’s most certainly pained. But it is theological nonsense. Somebody placed desire in Morrissey, but it sure wasn’t Jesus.

Nature, Nurture and Nonsense

Let’s leave aside whether the predisposition we’re talking about is genetic or arising from being raised in a damaged society or a damaged home (nature or nurture), because in fact the source of an orientation is irrelevant. The Bible does not teach that the natures we are born with and the impulses we feel naturally are good. Far from it! In fact, it teaches the very opposite. We are not just called sinners because we sin; we sin because we are by nature sinners.

How on earth have we forgotten this truth?

Adam was made in the image of God, but he “became the father of a son in his own likeness, according to his image”. Adam passed on bad genes. He passed on a sin nature that manifests itself one way in me and another way in you. It manifests itself one way in Matthew Vines and another way in Rachel Held Evans.

David says, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me”. Sometimes David acted on his genetic predispositions and when he did, they got him into spiritual trouble.

If you tell me that you have an orientation, my rather simplistic answer, I’m afraid, is “So what? So do I.” I may earnestly desire my neighbour’s wife in the just the same way you desire your neighbour’s husband. But if I give in to that desire, I have no more right to expect Christians to pat me on the back for my expression of my sexual identity than if you bring your male lover to church on Sunday.

What Morrissey feels in his heart and what Matthew Vines wants naturally are no more relevant to the question of how they ought to behave themselves sexually than the question of whether an intemperate man has an inalienable right to express his orientation by punching out the lights of the man on the barstool beside him, or the question of whether a greedy man has an inalienable right to express his orientation by breaking into a bank.

The Christian is different, or he ought to be, if he remembers who he is. Paul says,
“… those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”
(Galatians 5:24)
Acting on my impulses and desires may well be an expression of my natural identity. It may be an expression of my orientation too. We can’t change our orientation, but we can certainly manage our behavior.

We all need to be re-oriented.

4 comments :

  1. One of the arguments I hear and is stated above with the the Levitical ref is that it is "the Old Testament" and that somehow that invalidates it in the Church age. I of course do not mean we are to keep the Law, that explanation is dealt with in Galations. The dietary potion of the law was dealt with in the vision the Lord had shown to Peter. The sexual moralities of the Law are still there I would say and they are taught again throughout the new testament by the Holy Spirit. Stonings are out (I am quite glad I don't need to do that) but we are given new instruction now on what to do with sinful situations. In all this, a verse I rarely here concerning the topic above is Matt 5:17 “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill." That is the Son of God (God) Himself upholding the truth of the Law. The Law was God's standard that we could not fulfill and so Christ came as man and God and fulfilled it perfectly and righteously in the sight of the Father and everyone. The gospel believed, gives us that righteousness (His) that we did not have, nor could achieve, by our own efforts in any way. Something/One beyond us was needed to give us what we do not have eternally.

    I like (and use it myself) the "bad tempered man" example you use. Other things are stated as sinful with equal emphasis using the word "abomination" like those found in Prob 6:16 where "lying" and six other things are declared an abomination before the Lord. The idea is not that we are to think one sin as greater than another -- though the baggage admittedly of some sins in this life are heavier with consequences than others to carry. Rather, we need to view sin mentioned as abominations (or sins described in other ways) in the Bible as God sees them: against Himself and in no way righteous or good or wholesome to our existence.

    Whatever sinful inclinations found in me in my old nature, whatever orientations (lying, anger, or others) I or others have, cannot simply be reassigned to the "acceptable pile" because it is legislated or because I want to indulge and please myself. God has spoken in His Word and the answer is "no." Our culture has spoken and it says "yes." I have found practically in my life that taking God's side on matters is the right one every time and so I will stand with Him. I don't have to burn books or have shouting matches nor be arrogant. I do need to be obedient and faithful to what I know from His Word, for I will be evaluated on what I did or did not do in the name of Christ regardless of what my culture says is right (or wrong).
    WiC

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  2. Really well put, WiC.

    In a sense, this post isn't really about sexuality. For me, Tom's most important point is the last one: that as Christians, we are not to be controlled by any "orientation" with which we may (or may not: the jury's still out on that one, and so far no "gay gene" has been found, despite how the press often talks) or may not have been born. Rather, we are to be "reoriented" away from perverse, destructive and selfish desires of any kind, whether those come in hetero- or "homosexual" form. We are not slaves to our flesh, not chained to genetic fate, not (as Dawkins would have it) "just dancing to our DNA." We are freed sons of God, joint heirs with the Lord, and destined to glory and eternal fellowship with Him. Forever.

    I'm reminded of Jim Elliot's dictum: "He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose." So if having that requires I reorient myself away from my near-sighted,fleshly desires, then it is a most excellent trade. And please, don't waste your time pitying me because I don't get to indulge my destructive desires...instead, come along side me and strengthen me against them, so that I may win the prize.

    Go Tom.

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  3. Comment part 1.
    You realize of course that you are up against a powerful and organized lobby with this topic that has managed now for the longest time to pull wool over the eyes of the complacent public. They have developed a number of strategies that have been quite effective in silencing even common sense in the public arena. Some of these are,

    1. If you disagree with homosexuality you hate homosexuals and you are not up to speed with contemporary values.

    2. Homosexuality is inborn and not acquired and pursued by an individual as an intelligent and deliberate choice.

    3. There is nothing wrong with homosexuality, it has no really detrimental effects on anyone and it is just that you are scheming to portray it as such because of your dislike and hate for homosexuals.

    The tactic to portray you as a hater rather than dealing with your actual counter arguments, is of course widely used nowadays with all types of groups that want to legitimize behavior and opinions that have always been seen as socially unacceptable.

    All this has been applied successfully in today's political and judicial sphere and the public arena mostly because there is no other moral compass accepted (no bible, no Christ) other than flawed human opinion existing in often the highest stratosphere of human society where such decisions and opinions carry legal and enforcement weight (e.g., Obama, supreme court and lower courts, pandering politicians).

    Here is an important point. That upper level of support for basically immoral and deviant behavior has successfully managed to neutralize and silence the authority of the " village", i.e., the "village" elders, local community, neighbors, family and extended family in disciplining and instructing the young (and not so young) concerning right and wrong contributing to today's situation. This is now even starting to effect the halls of the religious institutions.

    Let's address points 1 to 3.

    To Point 1:
    It is clearly a cynical and strategically advantageous claim that disagreement with homosexuality implies hatred on your part. There are people who have and will act inappropriately towards someone with different values, appearance, and behavior but that is not generally the case, especially for a Christian. To portray it as such is therefore no more than a transparent political strategy to achieve your aims in society. It also allows you to sidestep the issue of having to present a rational defense of your behavior.

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  4. Comment part 2.
    To Point 2:
    Some years ago I watched a TV special (a longer than usual series of several one hour segments) presented on this topic by PBS. They covered a huge study that was conducted over a long period of time by a multidisciplinary team of scientists concerning homosexuality and transgender behavior. This included competent authorities from psychology, social science, anthropology, historical, physical, behavioral, etc. They included identical twin studies, the study of compulsion, motivation, choice, free will, transgender, genetics, and so on. In other words the study in an extremely professional, credentially high powered way examined lifes, attitudes, mores, history, test data (of all types) to arrive at conclusions that were finally summarized in one single and powerful statement agreed upon by all different disciplines, which I will never forget.

    Slightly paraphrased, this multidisciplinary scientific conclusion was "There is little credence to the notion that you are born with genetically strong preferences and inclinations towards homosexual and/or transgender behavior. Rather, one can conclude that regardless, even with a perhaps weakly perceived inclination, it is clear from the results that Nature is not cruel and cannot force or compel you at any state of your existence to become what you do not want to be. I.e., you are what you are based on your freely exercised will and choices."

    As I said, this conclusion was so powerful and so contrary to this ongoing false narrative that is continually being propounded nowadays that I will never forget it and that I have used as a guidepost for my own actions.
    It basically confirms what I and most people already knew just on account of honesty and common sense.

    My own additional observation to this topic is, look at ancient Greece and its homosexual culture. Clearly hat shows that homosexuality is engendered and propagated by social norms and pressures. It would be silly to claim that the ancient Greeks all had a similar genetic defect or that there was something in their food or water that made them do it.

    To Point 3:
    It is sad to see how blind, by choice, individuals prefer to be concerning the implications of poor personal behavior that others, ultimately, have to pay the price for. This includes many types of behavior, for example, unhealthful habits and living that I and you are having to pay for by way of public medical and social care and expense. HIV is just one example. Destroyed and distraught families is another.

    Poor behavior engenders consequences and often these take the form of addiction, which includes homosexuality. As I recall from the Bible, God warns us about that (perhaps someone knows the exact passage?) when he says that his punishment for homosexuality is that you will burn for it (for wanting more of it) so as to become addicted to it. In other words, being in God's face is part of the thrill to the homosexual act and, let's face it, thrill, even of self-destruction, is what it is all about for the homosexual. To cover it up they misrepresent thrill as love.

    Quite cleverly, like the abortion lobby, they have usurped the imagery of language to dress up and disguise a poor and distasteful activity. They stole the word Gay, which is the exact opposite of what the homosexual act is, which is in reality Sad. They should therefore be called the Sad crowd for so many reasons, not least is their family, friends and acquaintances. If any parent pretends that it is not sad that their child has selected that route, they surely have serious problems themselves. They can always be assured though that they and their child will remain in the compassion, prayers and love of the true Christian.

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