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Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Look At Those Goalposts Move!

In addition to constantly meeting facts with feelings, you may have noticed that the religious left tries to avoid addressing opposing arguments directly — a canny strategy when one has little of substance to put forward.

Instead, by moving the goalposts, they reframe the question under discussion so that the other side finds itself inadvertently giving up intellectual or spiritual ground without ever having really lost it. The issue, or at least part of it, is conceded without any discussion at all.

The trick is to recognize goalpost shifting when you see it and refuse to reframe.

What I didn’t really expect was to find this strategy employed by an associate of John Piper. I’m not a big fan of Piper’s Calvinism or Complementarianism, but in my experience he usually meets his critics head-on. Nick Roen, however, does not. In this post at John Piper’s Desiring God website, Roen puts the whole leftie bag of tricks on display.

Disqualifying the Straw Man

Roen starts with the appeal to sentiment, quoting a typical Christian response to his platform ministry on the subject of same-sex attraction: “Young man, I appreciate your message, but you need to realize that most gay people are dangerous predators”.

Let’s be charitable and assume Roen’s story about the elderly churchgoer who confronted him in Wisconsin is legit. Many of the studies on the subject of whether homosexuals are more likely to be pedophiles are outdated, politically motivated or inconclusive. I may happen to believe on the basis of my own real-world experience that any given homosexual is more likely than a heterosexual to commit an offense against a child, but I will readily concede that there is currently no way to demonstrate that scientifically. In fact, the statement “most gay people are dangerous predators” seems a little unlikely even to me, perhaps a bit paranoid. Some are, some are not. I certainly don’t think the average Christian would argue that “most” are. All the same, the anecdote provides an awfully convenient straw man for Roen to take aim at. Adding the irrelevant detail that a gay man once made a pass at the speaker allows Roen to disqualify the old man’s opinion as merely an overreaction to a single bad experience and therefore clearly beyond the pale.

More importantly, it moves the discussion away from what the Bible says about homosexuality and toward how Christians feel about homosexuals, which is a different subject entirely.

Goalpost shift, right in the first paragraph.

From “Homophobia” to “Just Plain Creepy”

Roen’s second shift is equally deft. First he concedes the left’s definition of homophobia (“a fear of homosexuality and, more specifically, homosexual people”), a term that manages to be simultaneously etymologically inaccurate, pejorative and just plain silly. Then, without establishing that Christians are characteristically homophobic and without any evidence that “subtler” forms of this rampant hypothetical problem exist, Roen conflates fear of homosexuals with the feeling that attraction to the same sex is “just plain creepy”. Thus anyone who finds homosexual behavior repugnant is by definition homophobic.

That Roen manages this shift within a paragraph and a half is truly to his credit as a sophist, though not as a believer. Not mentioned anywhere in the post is the fact that it is not only possible but even desirable for Christians to find homosexual behavior (and other sins) distasteful — and yes, even to fear them. Jude says:
“To others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.”
It is said of the Lord Jesus himself:
“You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.”
There’s our role model for an emotional response to sin.

According to scripture, mercy and fear are not mutually exclusive. Neither are mercy and the hatred of sin. Nor, I suspect, are mercy and a visceral distaste for the distasteful. Mercy mingled with aversion is not an attitude to be deplored as intolerant, but recognized as normal and right for believers. It is those who have become so jaded that nothing bothers them anymore that ought to be worried about their attitude.

Where Did That Come From?

Roen’s third series of goalpost shifts is so subtle I almost missed it, but I’ve seen Rachel Held Evans do the same thing. See if you can pick them out. Roen asks:
“Does your opposition to homosexual practice include the ability to lovingly welcome LGBT people into a Sunday service or other gathering with other Christians?”
First shift: did you catch that ‘T’ he appended to ‘LGB’? It stands for “transgender”. Where did that come from? It’s not even the subject of the post. Transgenderism is its whole own kettle of fish. In the sense that it’s also a sin, I suppose lumping it together with homosexuality is no big deal, but I’m sure even people with transgender issues would appreciate being considered as individuals rather than as some kind of appendix or caveat to the gay agenda.

Thank you, Mr. Roen, we can have that discussion at another time. Nice job trying to squeeze it in there though.

Second shift: Roen also manages to slide in the default assumption that it should be the normal practice of the church to “welcome LGBT people into a Sunday service or other gathering”. That’s really a matter for the elders of any individual local church to thrash out, don’t you think? On the one hand, allowing anyone to walk in off the street and visit once or twice is standard church practice almost everywhere. The fact that the lady in the back row has five o’ clock shadow at 10:00 a.m. may be judiciously overlooked for a few Sundays. The fact that two male visitors are holding hands during the service may not.

It is well known that the Lord ate with “tax collectors and sinners”. But there is a vast difference between sharing the gospel with the unsaved over a meal in a private home or a restaurant and welcoming people who regularly engage in deviant behavior into fellowship in the local church. It’s an awkward thing to deal with, but the elders of each local church bear the responsibility for figuring out the best way to respond lovingly and biblically to unsaved visitors and to people who call themselves Christians but identify as LGBT.

Third shift: the words “other Christians” are smuggled in there about LGBT people as a given. But do we have any confidence from scripture that someone who willingly engages in sinful practices as a lifestyle is actually a believer? I leave you to work that out for yourselves, but I suggest it is not something we should take for granted.

Put Those Goalposts Back

Did you see those goalposts move?

By making opposition to homosexual practice all about our feelings, Roen creates an impossible situation. He asks us to humbly examine our hearts to reveal the motives and fears behind our attitudes toward people who identify as ‘gay’.

But the motives of the heart are not so easily revealed, and many of us are incapable of such self-awareness even if it were desirable. “I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me,” the apostle Paul reminds us. And Jeremiah says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”

This is why the appropriate metric for believers is not how we feel but what we do. If we behave lovingly and scripturally toward those with whom we disagree on this subject and others, we may find the Lord changes our feelings about them over time. But if we start looking into our own hearts for subjective answers, we are headed down a long and winding road with few clear signposts to guide us.

Roen asks Christians to examine their hearts to see if we find an entire group of people “yucky”. I submit that such considerations are irrelevant. I might as well ask Mr. Roen to search his own heart to see if it is the fear of being thought intolerant that leads him to write manipulative blog posts.

I suspect even Nick Roen may not know the answer to that one.

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