Monday, August 24, 2009

Human Sexuality Syllogism

Mainline Protestant churches like the United Church of Christ (UCC), Presbyterian Church USA, the Evangelical Lutheran Church (ELCA) and others have been losing members on a steady basis for decades. There is a mass exodus of congregations leaving these and other mainline denominations over the issue of homosexual marriage. Since July of 2005, for example, 256 churches have left he UCC. The impetus for this massive removal of churches was a decision made that month and year by the UCC's General Synod in Atlanta when it decided to promote same-sex marriage by proclaiming its sanctity, and marketing the denomination as Open and Affirming (ONA). This means that UCC churches, under the direction and guidance of the decision made in Atlanta, would marry homosexual couples. (The UCC ordained its first gay minister back in 1972, so it is quite strange that this decision made 33 years later would produce such a backlash). The homosexual issue, while by all means not a new one, seems to have had its limits in the minds of many congregations. But now those limits have been by-and-large removed en toto. Hence, churches are simply leaving their denominational affiliations, taking their ball and going home.

I have seen the document set forth in July of 2005 by the UCC, wherein homosexual marriage was sanctioned. What I've noticed about it is that there is a significant lack of textual interpretation regarding Scriptures traditionally cited that seem to deny the legitimacy of homosexual practice as something pleasing to God. But this is understandable, because the document is merely stating its reasons for the decision to sanction gay marriage; it is not a polemic in defense of it. As a marketing tool and promotional guide, the document is listed in a form of theses, or statements. Now, the lack of Scripture within the document is a bit odd. But again, the only time Scripture mentions homosexual practice, it mentions it in a negative light. It even describes it as an "abomination" in Leviticus 18:22, and 20:13. Because of such language, other tomes have been written to explain these texts away, in order to justify homosexual behavior (a common objection to the traditional understanding of these texts is that the practice being condemned here is a pagan, idolatrous, sex-cult act, not monogamous marriage, but such is an issue to be tackled in a different post or article). But this explains part of the reason why there is a lack of Scripture in the UCC's General Synod document which sanctions homosexual marriage: not a defense of something, but a marketing of it. And since Scripture markets themes such as love, grace, justice, et al., this is the direction the UCC document takes.

Justice. Love. Grace. These are themes found on almost every page of the Bible. And this is the starting point in the homosexual marriage argument for those who promote it. Justice, love and grace are important virtues that every Christian should pursue. Christians are called to love their neighbor as themselves, they are called to be graceful (and hence, forgiving), and they are called to justice as well (taking care of orphans and widows for example). William Wilberforce was a Christian driven by a dire sense of justice in Great Britain during the slave trade. He sacrificed a magnificent career in politics in order to abolish slavery in the United Kingdom. He succeeded. Justice is a major theme in the UCC. The UCC rightly prides itself as a denomination that pushes its surrounding culture to reject things like racism, poverty, educational inequality, and the like. However, the Atlanta decision of July 2005 has overstepped an important boundary for many in its desire to promote justice and equality for all.

Enter the syllogism I promised in the title. Imagine if your starting point in determining the legitimacy of human sexual relationships begins with the concept of love (or justice):

1. Loving, committed relationships are not immoral
2. My relationship is a loving, committed relationship
3. Therefore, my relationship is not immoral.

And this is the approach the UCC and other Christian denominations have taken regarding this issue. Logically, it is a valid argument. That is, the conclusion follows from the premises. But the argument is not sound. That is, at least one of the premises is false. Which one is false? That would be premise number one. Premise one has a lot of problems with it. For example, how do we define "love" or "committed"? Furthermore, the premise can logically extend to other aspects of the human race, and indeed the creation. Why not a man and his sister as lovers? Or, a man and his animal (pantheism at its finest)?

The problems with love as a first premise is that it is abstract and subject to the vicissitudes of life. It lacks definition. It lacks staying power. What if the two people no longer feel love toward one another? Should the marriage dissolve? Virtues like love and justice cannot serve as the premises or starting point in this debate. We need something more concrete.

The better solution is found in a law. If there is a transcendent, moral law which guides, directs and defines which sexual relationships are permitted and which are not, then we have some solidity. We have something to which we can point. We have something from which we can start. The better way is to observe the law of God, which has very plainly defined marriage as between one man and one woman. This is what we find in Genesis 2:24 , "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh." If we start with what he law of God actually says about a subject, and not with concepts found within it, and try to apply them to the subject in question, we do ourselves big favors in understanding the nature of a debate such as gay marriage.


Anonymous said...

Chris I'm new to the bible, so forgive me if I get something wrong... I'm really only half way through the Old Testament and look forward to reading the New Testament.

From Leviticus to Genesis, you can use blocks of scripture to support lots of different points lots of different ways. I think this is why there are so many different interpretations of the same text and so many denominations. The argument could even be made that someone that does not read Hebrew or Greek has never even read the scripture. I don't want to digress here.

If we use Leviticus as our guideline, anyone who engages in adultery or homosexuality, should be put to death. We obviously have separation of church and state these days, thank God [pun intended] and people who commit either act are not sentenced to death.

But there is also a passage in the New Testament where Jesus forgives an adulteress woman who was brought before him to be stoned to death. The angry men who were insistent about her being stoned to death were confounded by Jesus' verdict when he told them that the first person who had not sinned should cast the first stone. He later forgave the woman and asked that she not sin again.

These are tough things to sort out and I appreciate your fearlessness in engaging in these tough topics of debate. I enjoy your posts my friend.

-Matt W

chris van allsburg said...

Hi Matt,

Thanks for your kind comments regarding my posts. I really do appreciate it very much.

As far as the application of the Levitical code concerning homosexuality and other such crimes committed under the Law of Moses, you will read that with the dawn of the New Testament, that we are no longer under the Law of Moses as a way of life. Paul says this in Romans, Galatians, and the writer of Hebrews says the same thing (forgive me for not listing detailed references--just read the NT, and you'll see).

Now of course, many Christians differ as to how far removed we really are from the Law of Moses. Some Christian Reconstructionists would like to see the Levitical code enacted by the State, albeit not as an imposition, but through the regeneration of individuals' hearts by the Holy Spirit and by popular vote. So, throw away any visions of a theocratic dictatorship idea there.

Nevertheless, most Christian theologians do not see these laws as in force because of the dawn of the New Covenant. Which parts of the Law of Moses do we let pass, and which ones do we hold on to? Well, I suppose we can break that down a bit...

Jesus eliminates the requirement of animal sacrifices. And, the dietary food laws are abrogated by Jesus in Mark 7. The high priesthood is abrogated too (book of Hebrews).

As the gospel is preached to all nations, all nations believe in Jesus--not Moses. They believe in Jesus, and they do not have to become Jews. This is the gospel message of the New Testament (see Romans 1:1-5).

I personally see that the Ten Commandments are a right rule for living. This is the teaching of John Calvin, the French Reformer (1509-1564). More could be said. I hope that helps!

Keep reading--the story gets REALLY good. :)