Wednesday, May 21, 2008

An Thought Experiment

When I was in High School in Atwater, California, I was involved in the debate team. My debate coach, Mr. Reese, was a wonderful coach who taught me many things about debate and about life. One of the things he taught me was that winning is not the goal in life or in debate. Doing your best is. Winning is simply a byproduct of doing your best.

One of the other things he taught me about debate is that we should understand the arguments on both sides of any issue so well that we can argue effectively against what we believe - that we can make the case the other side makes. As I have reflected on this bit of wisdom, I have come to accept it as true. First, it helps us to see that those who disagree with us are not evil or our enemies. They often have good reasons for their beliefs. Second, it helps us to strengthen our own beliefs. If we only argue the points we want to, our arguments become weak. One of the drawbacks of the blogosphere is that it tends to form echo chambers. Fr. Jake is one such echo chamber on the progressive/reappraiser side and Stand Firm is probaly the closest to Jake on the conservative/reasserter side. Over in either of these two places, people simply assert their beliefs and anyone who questions either their beliefs or their methods are obviously evil and wrong. They seem to lack the ability to have reasoned debate or discussion.

To try and stop that, I want to try an experiment. Concerning human sexuality and its moral expression, please try to argue the opposite of what you believe. This will show that you understand - really understand - the arguments against your beliefs.

Phil Snyder


Jill C. said...

Just a question about your subject line: are you sure you don't mean "A Thought Experiment?" ;)

Robert said...

I would question whether people are too concerned about debate and intellectual apologetics to begin with. I have never seen a person who was brought over to a different point of view by debate. Debate is inherently divisive by it's nature, you're either right or wrong. You are on the winning side or the losing side.

I have on the other hand seen people who were convinced of Christianity by personal example; in part I am one of those (although that was only a part of what went on... long story).

Granted that we have to decide such issues as gay clergy, but even there we might be better off to decide not to decide; not to make it a big issue. God knows too much energy has been spent on that one already. In other words, for the liberals to refrain from nominating openly gay clergy and for the conservatives to refrain from making a huge fuss if some are nominated.

The primary job of the Body of Christ is not yakking all day long and stirring up hornets, IMHO. It's praising God, praying for each other, tending the sick, feeding the hungry. The less time we spend on splitting up in debate, the more time we can spend coming together in Christ. A little forbearance on all sides would go a long way, in my belief. Nobody has to say the other side is right, just that it isn't that terribly critical. We'll survive either way.

Blessed are the peacemakers, not the debaters. :-)

plsdeacon said...


I would agree, except the sexuality issue is only the presenting issue in a very complex debate about the very nature of the Church and the source(s) and limits of authority.

I agree that this debate has wasted precious resources, but I doubt that we could do shared mission because have a very different idea of what that mission is. Feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, housing the homeless, visiting those in prison are all worthwhile goals and things I do on a regular basis.

My goal on this topic is to see if we really understand each other and can see each other as "worthy advesaries" who have legitimate arguments (which we may not find persuasive) rather than enemies who are trying to tear down the Church.

Your assertion that
"The primary job of the Body of Christ is not yakking all day long and stirring up hornets, IMHO. It's praising God, praying for each other, tending the sick, feeding the hungry." is a prime example. I believe that the primary job of the Church is to make disciples - apprentices of Jesus Christ. We are each to become Christ like and be the vanguard of the new creation that Jesus began in the Resurrection. Feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, housing the homeless are byproducts of living a life based in and on the Kingdom of God. They are not goals. God is the goal.

The purpose of this thread is not to rehass the arguments, but to see how well we understand those who have different arguments than we do.

Phil Snyder

plsdeacon said...

I was hoping that someone would attempt to show an argument for or against blessing SSUs that they personally didn't hold. I am (as I hope you can plainly see) opposed to the blessing of same sex unions. But I have read and listened to the arguments put forth by the progressives / reappraisers and there are four basic arguments

1. Holy Scripture does not directly speak against mutually monogamous homosexual relationships. It speaks against the temple prostitution rampant in the ancient world and against people acting against their own nature. Paul had no concept of a person being born with homosexual orientation and so could not be aware of the love and joy that comes when one finds a soulmate - even in same sex unions. A similar argument is that Jesus never spoke against homosexual sex.

2. The Episcopal Church, USA, (TECUSA) has been in discernment about this issue for over 30 years and has been prayerfully considering the implications of this change. We believe that our discernment process has been correct and are ready to step out and see the fruits of our discernment.

3. As part of this discernment, we see evidence of the same grace given in marriage being given to men or women who have lived together in a long term homoerotic relationship. Just as Peter demanded that the Centurion and his family be baptized in Acts 10:44-48 when the Holy Spirit fell on gentiles, so we see the Holy Spirit falling on the lives of our gay brothers and sisters. How can we deny them "baptism" or blessing when we see the grace of God so plainly.

For those who do support the blessing of SSUs, did I get the arguments right or did I set up a strawman (or strawmen)?

Phil Snyder

Robert said...

I in fact would not disagree that making disciples is at least one of the primary jobs of the church. :-)

John D said...

I've bitten the hook you left at Jake's, but I don't know if I can comply with your request, cordially offered. With Luke Timothy Johnson, the usually "orthodox" Roman Catholic theologian, I believe we must seriously read what the whole Bible has to say about loving human relationships, blessed by G-d,to inform our own theology of same-sex love. And, sorry, but I also believe that the Holy Spirit continues to work, through the love of Jesus the Christ, in my experience with gay and lesbian people.

I am an obstetrician. My (Atlanta) practice with six other physicians(all straight, Jewish, Christian, and other) has been honored with a "gay-friendly" designation around town.The overwhelming majority of our patients, however, could have driven their SUVs to the appointmant from Plano. I have experienced such love and devotion with my lesbian parents that I can't even consider taking up your gauntlet for debate.

I know you are a Christian, but you can't imagine the harm you are abetting by supporting homophobic propaganda with your reasonable, nuanced writings. For those of us on the other side of the divide, the issue is stark and clearly drawn: our gay and lesbian sisters and brothers ARE children of G-d, in whom we see the mystery of Christ. We will not label their love a sin. We cannot dispassionately "argue" about their rights to step up to the altar with all of the rest of us.

I don't hate Episcopalians who disagree with me, but I, clearly, can't give one bit of value to the arguments they propose.

So... I guess it will be, as I consider your oft-stated theology: "hate the sin, love the sinner."

John D

plsdeacon said...


If homosexual sex is sinful, then saying so is not homophobic. If it detracts from our relationship with God, then saying that the Church cannot bless it is not homophobic. It is actually the loving thing to do.

However, to say that all LGBT are damned from the start is unloving and homophobic. To support violence against them is homophobic. I am not against homosexuals in the Church nor am I against some form of legal recognition for homosexual relationships. I am against court ordered changed in the definition of marriage. If we are to change the definition of marriage, then that is something the people or legislature should do, not the judiciary.

Phil Snyder

Anglocat said...

1.Your Challenge

OK, Phil, I'll take up your challenge.

As I see it, the argument against SSM is three-fold: First, and foremost, it rests on the belief that scripture speaks clearly on this subject, and that what have been pejoratively called the "clobber verses"--and I don't adopt that usage, I'm just using it as shorthand--provide a prima facie case that blessing SSM would be declaring hallowed that which is in esse sinful.

Second, that argument is strengthened by a tradition--the fact that for centuries the Western legal systems have barred homosexual behavior (at least by men), and done so in highly stigmatizing terms. (In English law, for example the phrase the "detestable crime against nature" was often used.

Third, the appeal to reason in understanding scripture is made based on the function of marriage, in significant part at least, in bringing forth children.

In other words, as I understand it, the burden of proof is placed by most reasserters on those who would revise our understanding of scripture and their import, and that they feel that we reappraisers have not carfried that burden.

So, how did I do?

2. Leaving aside the translation questions that those who are better versed, my argument against these three positions is based on the scriptural position that the gifts of the Spirit can be recognized by their fruit--and that the fruits of these prohibitions, as applied to SSM, have been a significant increase in human suffering, a tradition of bigotry and persecution of gays and lesbians that is still very much with us. (I argue this position at greater length at my own blog, but the links are not posting--my fault, I'm sure).

3. How Did You Do?

Not bad, actually, although I think you miss the argument from results that I'm proposing, and the difference between homosexuality in the ancient world, and the sort of loving, faithful relationships we are talking about here.

Arkansas Hillbilly said...

Wish I had more time to go into this more. One thing you seem to have forgotten in your arguement is this:

4. We believe that for whatever reason, homosexuality is not a choice for many. It is simply something that is. To ask someone, anyone for that matter, not to act on their desires, whether gay or straight, is impossible. The scriptures did not take this into account, as it was something that man at that time could not understand.

I will have to get back to you on the other side of the coin. It is the position that most of my family(who aren't Episcopalian) take on the matter, so I am familiar with it.

plsdeacon said...


Not bad. But I would hesitate to link the (assumed) sinfulness of homoerotic behavior to the sinful responses of bigotry and hate. I would rather lay the bigotry and hate at the feet of bigots and those who want to hate. Bigots will always find reasons to hate, they don't need to be handed them by a misuse of religion.

In critiquing my own side, I would say that there has been an excess of focus on homoerotic behavior and a tendency to make it "The Chief Sin." Homoerotic behavior is not that bad of a sin (if you want to rank sin). It is usually a sin of the flesh (but finds its source in the will) and not a sin of the spirit. Spiritual pride ("Your sin is sooooo much worse than my sin.") is a much deadlier sin than homoerotic behavior.

As for the fruits of the spirit, I see the fruits of this change to be schism, anger, hatred, envy, strife, party spirit, etc. There is a tendency to "circle the wagons" around those who agree with us - even if they have bad or heretical theology on other things. For example, the progressives/reappraisers do not get angry with anyone who denies the physical resurrection if that person also supports blessing SSUs. These are the works of the flesh as pointed out in Gal 5.

Phil Snyder

plsdeacon said...

Arkansas Hillbilly

There are many sins for which a person does not have control. A strong compulsion to a certain behavior does not make that behavior good or ordained by God. I know several people who have strong compulsions - no choice - in their behaviors regarding adultery, masturbation, drugs, food, theft, physical agression, etc. The argument "I find myself this way" does not automatically lead to "God made me this way." We are all fallen creatures in a fallen universe.

Phil Snyder

Anglocat said...


I agree that the connection between the traditional view and the violence, bigotry and hatred I discuss is not a necessary one, but it is a historical fact, and a persistent one at that.

I do appreciate your willingness to shine the spotlight on your own side. In the same spirit, I think that the strife wracking the Church and the Communion is a mix--the attitude you note on the part of some reasserters and a responsive anger, sometimes amounting to intolerance, on the part of some reappraisers. We're neither side guiltless, here--including me--and I think both sides need to improve in responding to the other in a Christian manner.

Obviously, we won't convince each other in short blog comments--but I am glad to reach across the aisle to speak with you as a brother in Christ. Only tiome and the Spirit will tell which of us is right--but we can strive to minimize the anger with which we try to discern God's will for us.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Phil,

Thought I'd stop by, and talk. Well, for sure, I can agree with alot of your points from first hand experience. My own husband, and most of my family, really don't agree with my inclusive views. And, I struggled with this matter for along time myself.

So, I know for sure that not everyone who disagrees with me personally is this hate-filled, idolotrous bigot. Most, I think are sincere Christian people who love the Lord, and who want to do the right thing.

They are deeply concerned for the possible consequence of a redefinition of marriage, and the family.

They are concerned not to do anyone spiritual harm by a compromise of the church's traditional position.

But, in all fairness, I've found on the conservative side, many who would take the view that everyone like me is this unbelieving heretic, who has rejected the authority of the Scripture, and is only using the church to push their own agenda.

Lord have mercy!

Personally, I have no trouble at all agreeing to disagee, realizing our unity in Christ, around the gospel. I know God will give us great clarity together in time. It's inevitable. God's spirit is always drawing His people to greater oneness in Him.

Truly our lives are hidden with Christ in God.


Anonymous said...

For a good starting point for the type of argument that Phil is talking about, start here:

Tobias Haller has written a good series of articles that are worth your serious consideration.

-Barry Fernelius

Anonymous said...

And no, I didn't make an argument against what I believe in the previous post.

Phil, once you can demonstrate that you can make an argument AGAINST your position that is as eloquent as Tobias Haller's argument FOR his position, I'd consider doing what you've asked.


John D said...

Sorry to be so delayed in response, but I've this day job you know.

I know you read my comment regarding same-sex love, partnership, marriage, but I want to be certain that you understand: I, and those like me, not only deny that same-sex relationships separate people from G-d, we assert that such relationships are beloved by our G-d. In fact, we strongly believe that the institution of the Church is thwarting the work of the Holy Spirit when it refuses to honor the holiness of gay partners.

Perhaps a little Texas comes out, too, when I see you echo George 43 and the rest of the right-wingers when you fret about judicial imperitive giving "rights" to the great gay army. Sad to say,the important balance the courts have provided to the hubris of our other two branches of government is in full retreat with our overwhelmingly Republican judiciary.

Are there fifty, or forty, or even five "reasserters" who are even slightly progressive in their secular politics? I doubt it.
Perhaps you're all in some sort of reaction to the fact that TEC is no longer the Republican party at prayer.

G-d's Peace(which is no peace, but strife closed in the sod)


plsdeacon said...

I've also been remiss in responding - day job and all that.

I know several "resserters" who are progressive in their secular politics.

Now about judicial activism. I don't object to having some form of civil union or homosexuals. But (and it is a big "but") that decision should come from the populace - either through the legislature or through the people directly via initiative or some such activity. If you want to change the definition of marriage, then let's do it through the legislature and not through the courts.

Since the founding of the United States - and even before that in Western European common law, "Marriage" has always been understood to be one man and one woman. There is nothing in any of the state laws or constitutions that prohibit gay men from marrying any woman that can get to marry them. Likewise, there is nothing preventing lesbian women from marrying any man that will consent to marry them. What is being proposed is a change in the definition of marriage such that, instead of being one man and one woman, the definition is being changed to any two people, not related, who desire to be married. Isn't that change something that should happen through democratic chanels and not through judicial ones? I submit that this change is a fundamental change in our society and should not be forced on us by the judiciary.

Phil Snyder