Convention Update: Baptists worry about alcohol, Episcopalians worry about homosexuality

I simply cannot resist. I am sure there are some intelligent, critically-minded Baptists, but the 2006 Southern Baptist Convention is a joke. The whole denomination was messed up from the start, but this just makes them look foolish. And I quote:
Messengers to the 2006 Southern Baptist Convention adopted resolutions on such currently controversial topics as immigration and the environment June 14, but the debate time was dominated by an issue addressed repeatedly in the convention’s 161-year history -- alcohol. ...

When the back-and-forth on alcohol finally ended, the messengers passed with more than a four-fifths majority a resolution not only opposing the manufacture and consumption of alcohol but urging the exclusion of Southern Baptists who drink from election to the convention’s boards, committees and entities. Like other resolutions, it is not binding on SBC churches and entities.

The resolution’s supporters contended the action was needed because some Christians believe they may drink based on a wrong interpretation of the believer’s “freedom in Christ.” They said abstaining from alcohol preserves a Christian’s purity and testimony, while drinking can be a “stumbling block” for others and has destructive results.

In all, the SBC has approved 57 resolutions related to alcohol since [1886].
My favorite part is the "freedom in Christ" bit! That's a never-ending joke just waiting to happen. I can see myself at a bar with a friend: "So, do you plan on taking advantage of your freedom in Christ?" "Oh, no, I wouldn't want to be a stumbling block for you." At which point I order my pint of Guinness. God to SBC: "Stop making up rules that I don't care about, and start doing what I told you to do - caring for orphans, widows, the poor and the needy. I don't give a damn about alcohol." The Word of the Lord.

In other news - more like, in another universe - the convention for the renamed The Episcopal Church (TEC, no longer ECUSA) is underway in Columbus, Ohio, and talk about homosexuality has dominated the conference. A slight change from alcohol. A resolution was passed to uphold the Windsor Report as an attempt to keep the unity of the church. Bishop . Gene Robinson, the openly gay bishop elected in 2003, is arguing for the full inclusion of gays and lesbians - to which I am hesitantly sympathetic. Bishop Robert Duncan is not only the opposing voice, but he is also the voice of the future:
"We have reached a moment where it is very difficult, indeed, I think we have reached an impossible moment, in holding it together."

Sad, but true.

Read more here. And check out the NPR interview with some of the TEC leaders, talking about the resolution and the future of the church.


Halden said…
I think a case could be made that the SBC is operating under a form of hermeneutics that are akin to Bultmann's demythologizing. Namely in that one of the most crucial images of the Kingdom of God in the Old Testament is lavish feasting and abundant wine.

And of course, there's Jesus. An alchy if any Messiah ever was one. I'm with the rule of Benedict on this one, a brother should not have more than one bottle of wine per day.
Shane said…
I'd be more curious to hear your interpretation of "full inclusion' in the body of christ," since for Robinson, it presumably means adopting same-sex marriage rights and the ordination of practicing homosexuals.
Ben Myers said…
Well, there's another good reason not to become a Southern Baptist! Hopefully one day they'll see the dark....
Shane said…
I'd give up drinking to have the ECUSA actually care about basing their ecclesiastic decisions on orthodox theology.

As long as the SBC exists, the grape juice industry will continue to thrive. . .

I second Shane on "full inclusion." I'm finding myself more sympathetic these days as well, though I'm not sure if that translates into a more accepting position on my part. Along the lines of what Halden was saying, I'm wondering if and when it's okay to demythologize Scripture.

For instance, if we have new psychological information on homosexuality and find it convincing, can we as the Church correct Paul's cultural misunderstanding? Some have likened this to the interpreting of the demon-passages in the Gospels, where it's obvious that people were suffering from mental illness. Can we even do that?

By the way, I've sent out a question on Barth's view of homosexuality via the Barthian Milieu website.
David, why is it that God's speech in your post sounds like how you talk...hmmm... :-)

As far as the summer excitement, i just hope the TEC and the PCUSA let the fireworks go off so we get get this whole thing settled. Where is Carl McIntire when you need him...
Like I said, I am "hesistantly" supportive of homosexual inclusion. I am hesistant because of people like Richard Hays who make compelling cases from the NT text, but I am supportive because of the cultural environments that surround this text and the dearth of solid arguments theologically -- e.g., the argument from creation does not really convince me. I happen to like Karl Barth's famous line very much: "coitus without co-existence is demonic." I think this could be a solid rule for us to follow. It condemns frivolous divorces, adultery, casual sex.

There are two issues here: (1) the marriage of homosexuals, and (2) the ordination of homosexuals. I tend to think the former is the bigger deal, only because there is stronger textual support in favor of seeing marriage as between a man and a woman. However, I also think that homosexual marriage is the best thing that can happen to all of us, because (1) it provides child benefits for these families, and (2) they will be forced to grapple with the reality of "co-existence" and the challenge of staying committed. I have an ideal vision in my mind where the presence of gay and straight couples will be common enough that straight couples can help keep gay couples accountable in their marriages. And I have to wonder if the NT witness is really against this kind of relationship, even if between members of the same sex. It seems somewhat convincing to me that the homosexuality of that time would have been destructive to marriages, often between a grown man and young boy (à la Plato), and with no intention of co-existence.

The marriage thing aside, the problem with ordaining a homosexual for the priesthood seems to be that you inevitably turn that church into an activist church. This is mostly a problem with the whole gay movement, something which frustrates me to no end.

Now, I might toss all of what I just said aside someday. At the moment, I do feel somewhat sympathetic. I am very hesitant because the gay issue in the TEC has made a crucial textual mistake. It is true that culturally women were oppressed just as homosexuals were ostracized, but the one major difference is that being a women is never portrayed in the Bible as a sin. And that's the main problem. Those in TEC and PCUSA who are making the case often point to a continuity with the "full inclusion" of women. But the continuity is not nearly as strong as they would like it to be.

So I waffle right now, but I will remain sympathetic as long as the homosexual community recognizes the centrality of co-existence such that they would want to be celibate apart from such co-existence — the same must be said by the straight community, which has manifestly failed on this point in virtually every way. I think with co-existence and strong accountability within the church community, I would come more on board. But the activism needs to cool down or stop, because I will never be in support of "full inclusion" at the expense of unity. Thus, TEC does not gain my approval with the way this is being handled. Rowan Williams does, because I agree with him mostly on the theological basis for affirming gays, but I agree with him even more on the importance of remaining a unified communion.
FYI, the PCUSA upheld the authoritative interpretation of the 1978 decision by a margin of something like 4 votes. It looks like it will be another 2 years of tension.
bcongdon said…
You said:
"I am sure there are some intelligent, critically-minded Baptists, but ... The whole denomination was messed up from the start."

Considering that the start of Baptists is all about anabaptism or "believers baptism" -- are you saying such a view is "messed up"?
Shane said…

My thinking on homosexuality has become much more conservative lately. At Wheaton, I wrote a Record article criticizing both the case contemporary evangelicals make against homosexuality and the lack of pastoral care for homosexuals. I think these criticisms stand. And I can agree with you that there is not a very well developed theology of marriage, perhaps because 'homosexual marriage' has only become a cultural possibility very recently.

You say,

"I am supportive [of gay marriage] because of the cultural environments that surround this text and the dearth of solid arguments theologically -- e.g., the argument from creation does not really convince me."

What about an argument from Divine Command? Suppose God loved you and told you not to do X and you could not figure out exactly why you aren't supposed to do X. Does your lack of knowledge justify disobeying? God forbid!

"But why not?" is essentially the gist of the pro-gay marriage argument. "Why not?" is a terrible argument. Fornication? Why not? Whoremongering? Why not? Pederasty? Why not? Incest? Why not? Bestiality? Why not?

[I think the standard answers people would give to these questions are insufficient. The pro-gay marriage party sees this line of argument as evidence of homophobia, because it is embracing an 'irrational taboo.' Marilyn McCord Adams thinks that the ECUSA splitting from the Anglican communion will be a prophetic witness to the rest of the communion to break them out of their chains of dogmatic ignorance and their primitive irrational homophobic taboos. Thanks Marilyn, but when did the mission of the Church become the Enlightenment? To which of the prophet did God say: "Go and teach my people logic?"]

In short, who the hell knows why not? Maybe we will figure it out eventually. I have some suspicions, but what is important is that you do what he tells you. If you think God loves you and that he chose to reveal himself and gave moral commandments as part of that revelation, then you ought to accept that homosexual intercourse is proscribed. (Because it is, I would encourage you to read R Gagnon's book for the most solid exegesis on this topic I have found]. If you do not believe those things, then it isn't really 'christianity' that you believe in and you should go find a nice universalist church.

"But I don't see what the harm is," someone might object. Things that are the most harmful to us are often invisible to us. Ask an psychologist. You don't have to know why God said it. You have only to trust in his love for you.

You said,

"The problem with ordaining a homosexual for the priesthood seems to be that you inevitably turn that church into an activist church."

No. The problem with ordaining a practicing homosexual is that it is promoting a person to active leadership in the church whose life is characterized by willful transgression of God's commands. How can this person minister effectively?

Gay Marriage and Ordination are tied, therefore, since they both have to do with the same basic problem of the character and (very sketchily laid out) theology of the divine command. If it were legitimate for a gay couple to marry, then it would be perfectly legitimate to ordain one of them a bishop. But it isn't.

Do I think the Church needs to do a lot better job counselling homosexuals? You better believe it. From what little I have seen of the psychological evidence, sexual orientation is very seldom changed with 'therapy' and recidivism rates are atrocious. Some gay christians who have been told that they should make themselves 'straight' eventuallly end up losing their faith because they can't change their orientation.

To me, telling a homosexual "you are denied a certain form of family life in this world" automatically implies "we will be your family now." I remain angry at evangelicals who dismiss the controversy as being all about sex.

I had a professor at wheaton who said this to me one time. My response was: "Did you marry your wife for the sex?" He said no, and then I said, "So why would gay people want to get married only for the sex?"

I think we are called to love and serve our homosexual brothers and sisters. Part of this love and service has to be sacrificial. You have to give some time up to be part of a family. But another part of our love and service is telling the truth in proclaiming the gospel.


I am not in any real disagreement with you on this matter. But you are in a tight place, because I do not see how a church can proclaim a divine command against homosexuality (and other things, I must add) and yet still keep homosexuals in their congregation who do not see a divine command against them. In other words, you have a pastoral nightmare on your hands.

On one hand, I like a theology of the divine command -- it's quite Barthian. On the other hand, I am not convinced there is really a divine command against homosexuality, unless we accept all of the commands in the OT literature. Romans 1 does not have the character of a command. Once again, I am not making a case, just stating where I am uncomfortable with this position.

Finally, your comment about a universalist church was a rather low blow, and completely unnecessary.
Brad, thanks for the comment. I was actually referring to the formation of the SBC in particular, not the Anabaptist tradition as a whole. But since you asked the question, I will address it very briefly.

The entire Anabaptist movement is problematic, it seems to me. It is a tradition that was born out of the rejection of tradition -- the tradition of the eucharist rejected for a memorial service, the tradition of infant baptism for adult baptism, etc. I should confess one area in which I think the Anabaptists had it right. They rejected the tradition of church-state unity, or christendom, for their tradition of the strict separation of church and state and the adoption of a pacifist ethic. I find it interesting that it is this aspect of the Anabaptist movement that American baptists have entirely lost.

On baptism, in particular, there is a two-pronged problem here: (1) on one hand, we cannot baptize infants as a way of protecting them from hell in case they die -- that is a very poor reason for this tradition, though not, by any means, the only reason; but (2) on the other hand, we cannot baptize adults just because we see that as the example in Scripture, in the same way that we do not sit around a table with a dozen or so people and have a full meal every time we partake of the sacrament of holy communion. As the church developed over time, so too do our sacraments and practices which necessarily reflect the development in tradition. The Anabaptists are part of a very dangerous trajectory that we see played out in megachurches, emergent churches, and pretty much all other evangelical Free Churches which split off whenever an ecclesiological disagreement forms in order to cater to a majority of people.

The Reformation was not about making autonomous decisions apart from tradition. Luther very hesitantly broke off from the RCC, but in departing from the Mass he still kept the real presence of Christ in a high understanding of the Eucharist, and he kept infant baptism because he saw the importance of that tradition. Calvin was similar, though less insistent on the Eucharist. Then Zwingli came along, and his quite problematic theology became the basis for the Anabaptists and other so-called 'radical Reformers.' Zwingli tossed out the real presence of Christ and made it about us humans remembering Jesus; he made it about us rather than about God -- a massive difference which has had serious ramifications for Christianity today. His direct pupils were the ones who then broke with him on baptism, since even Zwingli kept infant baptism intact. But not his followers. They began the Anabaptist movement and the rest is history.

Now the SBC has its own problematic history, as do other major denominations of that time. Just so we're clear, the SBC developed in order to support the slaveowners, who started to feel pressure from their previous denomination to give up slavery. The SBC broke off from their parent organization and became the haven for Christian slaveowners in the South. Similar break-offs occurred in other denominations, including Presbyterian, I believe. And while of course the SBC has apologized for this history, we can still see that it is a denomination that insists on the most conservative option, even at the expense of what is biblical and proper. Passing laws against drinking alcohol is simply making up a law that the Bible does not have. The SBC is the mirror image of what is occurring in the TEC and PCUSA, where the gospel has become wedded to a particular culture -- in this case, the culture of southern-midwestern fundamentalism. Their is little if any room in the SBC for the gospel to stand over against the church and proclaim the freedom of God from any political ideology, any social measures, any ecclesiastical structures, etc. God cannot be bound by us to fit what we want God to look like. That is the ultimate heresy, the ultimate denial of God. To fall into this trap is to call out 'Lord, Lord' but have Jesus tell us, 'I never knew you.'
Shane said…

Re: Universalism, I didn't mean that remark as a low-blow at all. What I mean to say is this: If you reject any idea of divine command and see the fundamental message of the gospel as tolerance and inclusion, there is already a church out there for you, i.e. the universalists. If this was where your convictions lay, I don't see why you would would want to try to make the ECUSA into the universalists, when you could just go be a universalist.

"I am not convinced there is really a divine command against homosexuality, unless we accept all of the commands in the OT literature."

I think this is too simplistic. I think the medieval moral/civil/ceremonial distinction is very helpful here. I am not saying that the distinction is made in the text itself, but clearly when the early church decided that the gentile christians were not beholded to the Law, they didn't mean that it was ok for them to break the ten commandments, for example.

In fact, I do think we see this command repeated (albeit with an allusion to the OT) in the NT, e.g. compare 1 Cor 5.9-6.10, 1 Tim. 1.5-10 (another passage I will have to think about more re: divine command). I have just emailed you a paper I wrote as an undergrad on this topic. I wrote it a couple years ago, so it isn't my best stuff, but I think it does get to the heart of the issue we are talking about now.

You are right to say that it would be a pastoral nightmare to have people in your congregation who didn't recognize a divine command against them. But, I think allowing ambiguity on the moral teachings of scripture is like laying in your bed being too scared to wake up from the nightmare. The thing to do after a nightmare is to stand up, wash your face and go to work. We have to confront people in love, because ultimately this issue is a very important one.


The only problem is that I have never rejected the concept of the divine command (my debt to Barth prevents this from happening), nor have I ever presented the gospel as one of tolerance and inclusion. That's viewing universalism through the lens of liberal theology; I have no desire to turn the gospel into such a watered down mess. If the word "universalist" is going to cause these kinds of semantic problems, I may try to find a new word.

I think what you have to assert, though, is that not all the laws in the OT are of equal status. The NT passages are important, and I will give them more thought. Overall, I just need you to realize that I am not seeking moral ambiguity, nor am I actively trying to conform Scripture and the church to what I want.

I think the main issue for me is that all of the NT passages present "unnatural" sexual acts as choices, alongside acts like murder, greed, and stealing. But such a portrayal of homosexuality is no longer acceptable; it is far more complex than that. So what do you do then? Do you tell people it's just a choice that God condemns, and therefore you need to get over it? At that point I have to question whether it's really the gospel you are presenting.
Halden said…
David, obviously you've already encountered Richard Hays' work on Homosexuality in the new testament, which I think is some of the most exegetically sound and pastorally authentic work on the subject.

Also helpful is Robert Gagnon's tome, The Bible and Homosexual Practice. Although there are plenty of evangelical works of the biblical issues at play with this issue, I think that Gagnon's position as a mainline biblical scholar (Evangelical Lutheran Church, if memory serves) makes for a bit more interesting reading. And I think it's hard to refute his case. A smaller volume co-authored by Robart Gagnon and Dan Via, The Bible and Homosexuality: Two Views is also helpful, and I think very revealing when it comes to the nature of this debate, especially with regard to the different conceptions of biblical authority and discipleship that are envisioned by both sides (though this is not uniform, to be sure).

At any rate, David I have much sympathy with your "hesitant sympathies." I find myself in similar places for many of the same reasons. However, in the end I think I'd describe myself as "hesitantly opposed" to such full inclusion, assuming that means legitimating homosexual practice, even in monogmous, committed relationships.

As to the issue of pastoral nightmares, my church has gone through just such nightmares and they are still issues in process. But I have seen something of the redemption that can come from subbordinating "sexual identity" for the sake of the demands of discipleship and the unity of the church. I have seen this in the lives of at least two homosexual friends who are living in celibacy for the sake of the percieved biblical position and the unity of the church. To my mind, this willingness to sacrifice and live cruciformly for the sake of the church and the gospel is what we are called to as disciples. And this is exactly what I do NOT see from Bishop Robinson who has absolutly no qualms about splintering his communion for the sake of an ideological crusade. Even if he is right about homosexuality his disregard for the sate of his communion appals me.
Halden said…
Also, regarding the issue of how the NT presents homosexual acts alongside things that are "choices", I don't think that quite goes to the heart of the issue. What the NT lists contain are actions and dispositions, not choices per se. Moreover, it seems prima facie true that most of the acts described in the NT vice lists issue from particular dispositions or orientations within the person committing them (i.e. greed, gluttony, etc). The condemnation of the vices, as I see it is not concerned with the orientations that incline people toward certain actions, but rather the practices through which persons give themselves to those appetites.

There may be all manner of orientations that incline persons toward different kinds of vices that are innate and such orientations my be permanently inscribed in our psyche. However, that in and ove it self does not legitimate our fulfilling that particular appetite. To say that to deny someone the right to practice thier sexual orientation sounds irreducibly oppressive in today's society. But that, I think is because of the idolization of sex in our culture. I think as Christians we must insist that sexual identity and expression is not the center of what it means to be a human person and as diciples we are always asked to subordinate our appetites to the demands of discipleship. This may seem to put innordinate demands on homosexuals, but no more so than on many heterosexuals and other persons who are physically prevented from sexual expression. On this point, Marva Dawn's moving book Sexual Character is especially helpful.
Halden, I think I agree with everything you said. You and I are of one mind on this issue; I'm just working through it at a slow pace to make sure that I do not rush toward a position on the issue at the expense of careful thought.

I still plan to look at a broad spectrum of exegetical works. I have a strong sense that Hays will be the one with whom I side in the end.

What you said about discipleship being placed over one's sexual identity is profound and important. That could easily be expanded to other important issues, e.g., discipleship over national identity, discipleship over familial identity, discipleship over social identity, etc.

Finally, I too am most appalled at the willingness of Bishop Robinson and much of TEC to sacrifice their communion for the sake of this one issue. What a disastrous witness to the world. It only spells the death of these churches.
Halden said…
Yes, I think we are of one mind about this. And the issue of different "identities" being subordinated to one's discipleship is of great importance. One of my ongoing beefs with the Ekklesia Project (of which I am an endorser) is the way in which they hold that discipleship superscedes national, familial and social identity and yet betray a strange sort of liberal permissiveness about sexual identity and practice, at least in regard to the issue of homosexuality.

To my mind this is just capitulating to the way in which sex has become constitutive in the contemporary view of the human person. And ultimately, I think this is about the commodification of human flesh is the form of pleasure. Consumerism at its most insidious.
David Wilkerson said…
Interesting thread here. I am moving from hesitant acceptance to advocate looking for constructive theological argumentation. The real failure of the liberal cause is its beginning in liberal "rights" talk.

Congdon is right that chastity and fidelity needs to be emphasized even for homosexuals. And something like unions need to be provided for them to practice this.

The existence of homosexuals is real and undeniable and not chosen. The biblical condemnation are also clear and are therefore going to have to be understood as another example of the ancient worldview we can not accept (examples of which are many).

I disagree with Halden in that I think Paul is saying their passions are wrong and evil. In his view their attraction to the same sex is a curse given to them by the creator for worshipping that which is not. In no way is he saying as many open minded evangelicals do that "homo-affective is okay just don't be a homosexual (act on it)".

I have seen the failure of reparative therapy in a good friend. I have seen a suicide at seminary of a homosexual student who couldn't fight it anymore. I think it is time that we realize that this anomaly just occurs in about 3% of the population.

I think it should be accomodated by providing unions not marriages. Marriage should be preserved for the norm or ideal of heterosexual couplings with its roots in the creation of male and female and biological need of reproducing. I think it is dangerous to lose the link between God and reproduction. Maybe that means heterosexuals who intend never to reproduce shouldn't marry just have an affective union, I don't know.

I think Bishop Robinson has been rather balanced in emphasizing his desire to be Anglican but not at the expense of what is prayerfully done in ECUSA. He sees this as a process. I don't think he is simply a crusader.

On divine command, I remember Hauerwas thinking this was Barth at his weakest for what it is worth. He linked it to Barth's problems with the doctrine of the church. At any rate we all pick and choose what to see God "commanding" including the apostles. In Acts 15 they could have kept circumcision, but they inferred from experience how to read the Scriptures. Luke Johnson book on Discernment and Decision Making in the Church (which really is trying to deal with homosexuality) was somewhat persuasive in changing my position on this issue.

Ordination and membership for homosexuals is far less problematic because they are not being offered as models of sexual preference but of fidelity or celibacy. Marriage it seems is what starts to screw up the symbols and our ties to creation/biology. Or is this just a bad argument from creation that Congdon finds unconvincing?

ECUSA is also trinitarian not Unitarian Universalist, so one shouldn't leave ECUSA just because you are universalist or accept homosexuality or women's ordination.

Finally ECUSA "cutting itself off" from the Communion I think is really not all that significant or detrimental. It is just a loose federation. Only bishops will notice. And remember the witness and morality is not all on one-side! ECUSA is trying to serve gay Christians and witness to that to the communion. It's like saying "I can't believe Martin Luther King is sacrificing civil peace with his cries for justice. He should wait until we have unanimity." Robinson may one day be a hero even among the orthodox! Rowan Williams though a great scholar may not be judged so kindly by history as an Archbishop.
Halden said…
I disagree with Halden in that I think Paul is saying their passions are wrong and evil. In his view their attraction to the same sex is a curse given to them by the creator for worshipping that which is not. In no way is he saying as many open minded evangelicals do that "homo-affective is okay just don't be a homosexual (act on it)".

This is quite a mischaracterization of my position. What I stated was that the vice lists in the NT refer to actions which all flow from dispositions or orientations. The dispositions are not sinful in and of themselves (though they may sometimes exist because of fallenness). What becomes sinful is when one gives ones self over to those appetites, be they sexual or otherwise.

So I don't think it is in any way sinful to have a homosexual orientation. However, I think the Bible does condemn homosexual practice and I can't shake that conviction because of the sensibilities of democratic liberalism and the trends of contemporary life. On this I'm going to stand with the mainstream of the Christian tradition.

As for this statement:

"The biblical condemnation are also clear and are therefore going to have to be understood as another example of the ancient worldview we can not accept (examples of which are many)."

All I can say is that I think this is complete bullshit and merely replicates Bultmann's approach to the New Testament. To be sure we must be sensitive to the context and trajectory of the Bible in interpretation, what's being articulated here is simply a hermeneutical selectivism that reflects nothing but the consumer preference approach to life that is replete in our culture.

Why could we not say by the same logic that the image of the Crucified as the wisdom and power of God is an example of an ancient worldview we must dispense with? After all, in this world it looks like military might and violence are ultimately sovereign. Why then should we hold to such and antiquated and primative notion of the suffering and death of Christ as being the power of God in action? Sounds like foolishness to me...
David Wilkerson said…
But Halden you just said it again:

"So I don't think it is in any way sinful to have a homosexual orientation. However, I think the Bible does condemn homosexual practice"

Paul in Romans is not open to that option. He condemns their God-given passions which led to the sexual practice. Unlike you he is not open to non-practicing homo-affective folks. They have degrading passions, unnatural sinful lusts of the heart. Paul is not calling them to celibacy but rather calling them warped humans.

On the worldview stuff, surely there is some disjunction. Or else how do you avoid fundamentalist "bullshit" science? Bultmann was surely on to something.
Halden said…
The whole thrust of Paul's arguement in Romans 1 is that everyone has been given up to such passions because they worshipped what is other than God. It doesn't call those passions sinful anywhere. People are delivered over to such passions because of their idolatry. It is idolatry, not homosexual or any other kind of orientation that is the focus of Paul's critique.

The whole thrust of the passage is not that homosexuals are "warped persons", it is that all humanity has become warped through idolatry and that has resulted in people engaging in all kinds of sinful practices (listed in v. 26-32). The force of Paul's arguement is against the practices of fallen humanity. This is espcially clear in v. 32.

Moreover, the reason that Paul isn't "calling them to celibacy" is because this passage isn't an exhortation to a group of people it is a description of the state of affairs in the world brought on by sin. This is a cosmic description of the world, not a recipe for how Christians are to address homosexuality.

Moreover, the verses that follow in chapter 2 make it clear that Paul is establishing that no one has any excuse before God because everyone engages in sinful practices. Again, the focus is on practices of sin, not on being "warped humans" as you allege.

As to the other issue, I think fundamentalist bullshit is just as much to be repudiated and Bultmann's radical modernism (in fact I see them as two sides of the same coin). After reading Thomas Kuhn, Michael Polanyi, and other postmodern philosophers of scient I have become convinced that there are much better ways to approach science and modernity than the kind of modernistic accomdation that Bultmann (and you apparently) advocate for. Scientific reasoning simply does not have a blank check as a form of reasoning that other traditions of inquiry must bow to. It is just as socially mediated and inter-subjective as theology or any other social practice.

I could give you some book recommendations on this topic or send you an article I wrote on theology and Science some time ago rather than hash all that out here. The point being that the alternatives are not Bultmann or fundamentalism. Both are modernist accomdation that grants scientific reasoning a level of authority that is unwarranted and increasingly shown in the postmodern context to be ideological.
Shane said…
Wow, i'm out studying logic for a day and a ton of comments appear.

I think there are way too many things going on here to really comment about in a meaningful way. (Who let Bultmann in?) I realize i've added to the confusion with the remarks about universalism. Let's just take that off the table. Perhaps I'll try to defend the claim again later and you all can skewer me then.

At any rate, I would be interested in a further conversation about divine command ethics. Suffice to say in response to D. Wilkerson, that I don't subscribe to the hermeneutic nihilism inherent in his position. (That everyone just reads their own favorite 'commands' into the text, the will to power projected onto the divine: Nietzsche + Feuerbach = bad theology.) Of course everyone interprets the text--that doesn't mean that one cannot interpret it better or worse (we can talk more about derrida and Gadamer on interpretation).

I also don't find any adequate exegetical ground for the statement that Paul views homosexual orientation as sinful as such. I think you could say that he views it as 'inherently disordered' as Benedict XVI's recent letter puts it. But of course, 'inherently disordered' and 'inherently sinful' are completely different things. A clock that doesn't keep good time is inherently disordered; murder is inherently sinful. I think Paul would clearly say that there is something wrong with a homosexual orientation in that it isn't 'natural,' but then we still have to figure out what 'natural' means for Paul. Reading a natural law theory condemnation of homosexuality into Paul as a part of the 'ancient worldview' which our science has now surpassed will require an awful lot of support. It certainly doesn't seem prima facie plausible to me.

Worldview issues are also interesting to talk about, but that would be quite a different discussion too. Here are some thoughts off the top of my head, thrown out for you all to dig into.

First, there are no such things as worldviews in the sense that ancient people had one worldview and we have a completely different one. Hilary Putnam has done good work on this and I can dust my notes off and find more about it if people are interested.

Second, I don't think that science is granted too much autonomy and is all just ideology anyway. Again, I disagree with the post-moderny epistemic nihilism involved in this statment.

Third, the big question is this: How does 'science' necessitate a revaulation of the 'ancient worldview' with respect to the moral status of homosexuality? Specifically, how is a scientist going to get from 'is' to 'ought'? The problem, strangely enough, seems to be that getting rid of the natural law argument against homosexuality is going to require making another natural law argument going the other direction. So it isn't any good trying to argue against the 'ancient worldview' by arguing against natural law theory, because you have to derive an 'ought' from an 'is' for science to inform your moral decisions about homosexuality. I don't see how
'science' is going to do this.

1. Halden, I think D. Wilkerson has a stronger point than you are willing to acknowledge. Let's look at Romans 1:26. In the NRSV, "For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions." Or in the ESV, "For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions." These passions are the "lusts of their hearts" (1:24), which Paul seems to imply inevitably lead to "the degrading of their bodies" (v. 24) and "shameless acts" (v. 27). I wonder if our modern sensibility makes us want to find a via media between calling a homosexual orientation sinful in itself (which Paul does seem to be closer to, in all honesty) and the legimation of homosexuality altogether. So we take the middle road: accept the orientation but tell them to be celibate. I think that's a good position, but even this I would agree is a modern deviation from Paul's view on the matter, in which he juxtaposes "degrading passions" and "shameless acts." We might agree that a passion is not an orientation, but then we must say this: the very concept of a "homosexual orientation" is a modern creation that would never have entered the minds of those even two generations ago. Does that mean there is no such thing? Some might say so, but I sure would not agree. But by accepting the idea of an orientation, I am thrown into a quandry which I do not think the passages on homosexuality in the Bible are all that fit to address.

2. Bultmann is not the devil. I actually think Bultmann is quite a good theologian, and I am very disappointed to see his name slandered. We do a disservice to him by conforming him to the stereotypical picture we have of the "liberal demythologizer" who seeks to get rid of the text and replace it with his or her own. That is not Bultmann, and we would do well not to impose that on his great work. Why? ...

3. Because we all demythologize, every one of us. To ignore that reality is one of the sadly ignored realities of contemporary American evangelicalism. Here's a quick and obvious example: Do any of us believe that the loss of a spouse or child is God's judgment on us for our sin? I sure hope not! But the fact is that such a view colors much of the biblical witness — most of it, save for the great example of Job. But we can see Paul himself presenting this in Romans 1:27 and even more so in Rom. 2:6-11; the retribution principle is deeply ingrained in the Jewish tradition as a whole. (Parenthetically, I cannot understand Paul's argument in Rom. 2:6-11 in line with what we see throughout the rest of the NT, that God does not save us for our good works. This is a passage that I am forced to interpret quite differently based on important theological grounds. Could the same be true for other passages?) Do we think that the blue sky means there is water above the clouds? Do we think that the sun can actually stop in the middle of the sky? Do we think that God actually created the universe in seven 24-hour days? (Some still do, unfortunately.) There are plenty of other examples of what we might call "demythologizing," some scientific while others theological. Another theological one is whether the order of creation, Adam first and then Eve, means that Adam has superior status. I happen to think that the belief in literal, created demons and a literal, created satan are mythological images that we need to demythologize. And I don't think any of this does injustice to the biblical text. In fact, I think what Bultmann rightly perceived is not that science needs to trump the Bible, but that cultures change and in order to properly transmit the gospel we have a responsibility to clarify what the biblical text is actually speaking about. Now that does not mean I lose the resurrection as truly a bodily resurrection, simply because this event is sui generis and asymmetrical related to all other events recorded in Scripture. However, I think I accept Pannenberg's interpretation of the virgin birth as a narrative gloss on the identification of Jesus as Lord, and not as some literal description of the Holy Spirit inseminating Mary. The point is, we all demythologize to some degree, even fundamentalists. It would be virtually impossible for a person living today to take absolutely everything as completely literal and scientifically accurate in every respect. The narrative contradictions in the text prevent this, but I think theologically we need to reject that while not capitulating to the extreme of conforming the text to whatever cultural ideologies reign in our present day.

4. We need to be really careful about natural law and natural arguments in general. Natural philosophy will not be the appropriate route for us to take. The tradition was mistaken in taking Rom. 1:19-20 as an affirmation of natural theology, as some recent commentators have demonstrated, and I think we need to avoid defaulting to natural law with regard to vv. 26-27. But we cannot deny that Paul (or the Pauline school) leans toward natural arguments or arguments from creation in tricky situations, most notably in 1 Tim. 2. It seems that if one is going to question the logic of 1 Tim. 2, we should be open to questioning the logic of Rom. 1, especially since homosexual passions are tangential to Paul's argument here, at best. Paul, I think we need to admit, is not perfect; he is a human writer who makes some less than persuasive arguments. The allegory of Hagar and Sarah in Galatians is a good example of a situation in which Paul is trying his best to make a solid case — a right case, I must add — but employs some rather questionable arguments in the process. Or take the inserted section in 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1, almost surely added by a later redactor. The question, "Or what does a believer share with an unbeliever?" and the corresponding quotation that emphasizes are separateness "from them" so that we "touch nothing unclean" are not statements that we feel should be accepted at face value — some fundamentalists do, however. We can interpret this passage differently to soften its emphasis, but we do that because it conflicts with other aspects of the gospel. Once again, I bring up Romans 2:6-11, a passage that conflicts with what I see elsewhere in the NT witness. Could we justifiably do the same with the passages on homosexuality, which are admittedly quite few and also quite marginal to the passages in which they appear? Could there be a theological case for homosexual unions in which mutual submission and fidelity are promised between partners? Could it also be that there is a cultural context for the passages seemingly against homosexuality — say, the practice of Greek men sleeping with young boys — that is no longer relevant for our culture today? I present these questions not as a case, but as someone who sees the validity of such questions and the possibility of more nuanced answers than are typically given.

5. I don't think science is the path that we should take in discussing the topic. Science is not the problem, nor is it the solution. However I agree with Halden and those authors he cited that science is a socially and culturally condition discipline that requires its own demythologization. Americans are more willing to trust a person in a lab coat than any other person in society, above even their pastor or priest, according to psychological research. This is a huge problem, and there is a place for a theological demythologization of scientism as it currently reigns in the West.
Halden said…
I don't know, David. I still think that Wilkinson's (and your) way of looking at Romans 1 is to make it so theologically extreme that we can dismiss it. Now of course I understand where you're at in trying to really wrestle through these issues, so don't take this as an attack on a position, because I know you're not taking one, just raising sincere questions.

However, I still think trying to import the modern idea of sexual orientation into what Paul means by degrading passions is anachronistic. He's reffering to lusts that result in sinful actions. In Scripture where it speaks of lusts or passions between a man and woman do we infer that the auther is referenceing a heterosexual orientation? Of course not! The issue as I see it is not whether a homosexual orientation is inherently sinful. Paul is simply not talking about sexual orientation as we definie it today.

Moreover, even if he were talking about a constituional predisposition, it would apply equally to all people in regard to whatever sin they engage in. Romans 1 indicts all of idolatrous humanity. So if Paul is talking about sexual orientation here, I think we also have to talk about a "greedy orientation" or a "gossipful orientation" that is inherently sinful and cannot be erased from the being of those suffering from it. All of which I think is ridiculous.

Moreover, how could the discussion of God giving people over to degrading passions be talking about an inborn orientation, given that the text explicitly states that God gives people over in response to their idolatry. This doesn't describe something that God imports into the fabric of created being, but the form of his wrath against those who engage in idolatry, namely handing them over to such desires.

I'm simply not conviced that thsi is taking a modern via media on this one to take to force out of the text. What seems unwarranted is importing the modern notion of sexual orientation into this passage.

As to the issue of demythologizing, that might take too long to really get into. However, I think there'd be quite a discussion to be had. I'm not literal six-day creationist, but I don't think I'm demythologizing the text to get to that point. However, I think that's another discussion. Also, I think Kevin Vanhoozer's forthcoming book Remythologizing Theology will address some of these questions in some interesting ways.
Halden, I see your point about Romans 1. I am just trying to read the text properly, and it seems ambiguous in places.

So, granted that Paul is not speaking about modern orientations, how then do we bridge the world of the text and our world today? Can we?
Shane said…

I think you are asking precisely the right question now! I would encourage you highly to read the work of Gagnon. He becomes a bit polemical at points because he is actively engaged in these debates all the time, but his work is absolutely top-notch on precisely these questions.

I think i emailed you a short article by Gagnon. If you didn't get it, i'd be happy to send it again.

bcongdon said…

You cherry-pick what you consider correct doctrine and correct practice by sometimes appealing to the original gospel and sometimes appealing to centuries of tradition, as suits you. It's only when you dogmatically assert your cherry-picks are correct that it sounds silly.

For example, you said, "we must be aware that the anti-capitalism, anti-consumerism, anti-militarism that flows out of the gospel is intended to be embodied within the church."

And later, "we cannot baptize adults just because we see that as the example in Scripture" because "As the church developed over time, so too do our sacraments and practices which necessarily reflect the development in tradition."

So... getting back to a supposed first-century communism is good; getting back to a first-century baptism is bad. Got it.

Brad, I know you're a smart man, so I assume you are able to see why that deceptive logic falls apart. Let's be clear about what you are saying:

(1) On one hand, we have the communitarian example of the early church that was in opposition to the state, while

(2) on the other hand, we have the practice of adult baptism in the early church.

You claim that we either need to hold on to both, or neither, but we cannot pick and choose our positions.

Even a cursory glance at church history and Scripture should show the clear difference between (1) and (2). The former position -- communitarian, nonviolent, non-materialistic -- is prescribed by Scripture. That is, Jesus and the early apostles proclaimed and lived out these ideals as the proper way to conform to the gospel account. In other words, you cannot justify capitalism, materialism, and militarism from Scripture. It just doesn't work.

However, the practice of adult baptism is never prescribed but only described. The NT texts record this as the norm in the early church, but by nowhere is there a clear argument for why the church must follow this practice. In other words, we can justify both adult and infant baptism from Scripture. One popular and appropriate way is to view baptism as the Christian counterpart to Jewish circumcision -- which it is. Baptism then takes on the character, as it should, of establishing from the start of one's life what one's identity is and will be. This also reflects an important development between the male-only practice of circumcision and the egalitarian practice of baptism, in which all are one in Christ Jesus. A more theological justification can be found in the identity of Jesus as the mediator not only of the objective side of salvation but also the mediator of our subjective life of response (both of which are part of the atonement). For more on that, read T. F. Torrance's great little book, The Mediation of Christ. Only $12 on Amazon and worth $120.

(Furthermore, we have no way of knowing that the early church did not baptize infants as well as adults, and since they baptized whole families, it seems logical than infants were part of this process of familial conversion. I think we would do well to remember that the emphasis on adult baptism among the Anabaptists corresponded with their high emphasis on the individual before God over against anyone and everyone else. The individual had priority, rather than the family or the community. That has become far more pronounced today such that there is no compelling reason why American evangelicals don't just baptize themselves. I think there are reasons why adult baptism is still a good idea, but we've lost the theological underpinings for this practice in the Protestant West. Karl Barth offers the only really compelling arguments for believer's baptism today, but many scholars of Barth rightly criticize him on this point because he comes into contradiction with some of his other held positions -- e.g., election and Jesus Christ's mediating role, his doctrine of creation, etc.)

Now, if you do not buy the Scriptural argument -- and it would clearly be problematic if you did not -- I can give you the historical argument. The church departed from (1) for worldly reasons that were not in conformity with Scripture. In other words, the church for obvious reasons did not want to face persecution any longer; they wanted to spread the gospel throughout the world in peace. This proper concern resulted in a very improper marriage of nation-state and a church that was supposed to embody servanthood, slavery to Christ, the suffering of the cross, and death for the sake of life. The Constantinian captivity of the church was a departure from the gospel, not an outworking of it. A glance at Scripture again would make this case rather clear.

However, the development of (2) came about as part of the church's attempt to adapt the practices of the church to a new cultural situation. The church has always had to deal with the reality of change in society, and infant baptism came about for precisely this reason. In those days, persecution and disease and war were realities that meant very few lived beyond one's early years. Baptism was viewed by the early church as more than a sign; it was indeed the event of salvation itself. Contemporary evangelicals have forgotten this, and emphasized the liberal "conversion experience" instead. But for the early church, baptism was where the change occurred, and that being the case, it was their duty to make sure their children would be fit for eternal life with God should they die young. Baptism was thus carried out shortly after birth.

Theologically, we may find these reasons suspect, but the intentions behind them were quite proper. And the Scriptures did not invalidate this as a sacramental practice. We should be clear that infant baptism at that time was comprised of two events: (1) baptism, and (2) confirmation. They took place at the same time. The former could be done by any clergy, but the latter required a bishop. The two events were unfortunately separated when the church was in need of many more bishops. This separation is still in effect today.

Here we can insert a proper criticism of the Catholic Church: their high valuation of tradition -- which is a very good thing, I must add -- was too high, in that they were prevented from thinking self-critically about the decisions made in the past. The church has always (though slowly) adapted to the changing culture around them, but it has not been able to "adapt back," so to speak, because these changes become sacred rather than being contingent.

This does not mean that we can revert to adult baptism and reject tradition altogether, but it means we need to be self-critical about both the infant baptism tradition and the adult baptism tradition, in its modern Anabaptist form.

But to compare adult baptism with the communitarian ideals of the early church simply does not work. The logic is deceptive, but erroneous.
Brad, I've posted your comment and my response in the recent post which you quoted to make it easier to access.