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May 19, 2005
Syndicated columnist William Murchison argues that procreation lies at the heart of the best case against same-sex marriage. The society must put a premium on procreation to survive, so Murchison reasons that this should be sufficient to privilege and protect marriage as a heterosexual institution. Here’s how he made his case in The Cult of Non-Procreation, first published back in January 2004: “As it happens, a man and a woman go together in a way — blush, blush — that same-sex couples find utterly impossible and always will. There must be a reason, right? Right. No heterosexual relationship, no procreation. No procreation, no human future. That is where the state’s interest in this thing comes in. It comes in also in consideration of the massive evidence supporting the heterosexual family as the most successful setting for training up the products of conception, namely, children. Yes, we know all about the child-beating morons who disgrace marriage. They aren’t even a patch on the loving and hard-working parents who far outnumber them. I can’t imagine anyone who grew up with such parents favoring the undermining of traditional marriage.”
May 19, 2005
Do evangelicals care only about issues of sexuality, marriage, and personal behavior? That’s what Michelle Cottle thinks, and that’s what she argues in “Prayer Center,” her article in the May 23 edition of The New Republic. Cottle offers a sympathetic portrait of Sojourners founder Jim Wallis, reporting that, since his student days, Wallis “has been struggling to mobilize Christians against social problems traditionally identified as concerns of the political left, such as poverty and racism.” Nevertheless, Wallis and his agenda have been frustrated by the fact that, “in U.S. religious circles, such issues have long taken a backseat–especially in the political arena–to matters of personal morality like abortion and gay rights.”
May 18, 2005
Timed for release on the one-year anniversary of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force released a manifesto for revising our understanding of “biblical family values.” Articles of Faith: Biblical Values for American Families, written by Rev. Jay Emerson Johnson, is intended as a response to arguments put forth by those defending marriage against revision. Specifically, the document addresses the Nashville Declaration on Same-Sex Marriage, released by the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. [Personal disclosure: I am a signatory to that statement.]
Johnson, identified as “a member of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Religious Leadership Roundtable,” is also an Episcopal priest in Berkeley, California. His main objective is to convince readers that the Bible offers no normative picture of marriage or the family. In the way, he makes some rather striking claims. Take these, for example: “First, it’s important to recognize that the most common marriage pattern in the Bible is polygamy: not a union of one man and one woman, but a union of one man and as many women as he could afford to keep (see Solomon, and his 700 wives and 300 concubines). In the Christian scriptures, the two primary figures, Jesus and the Apostle Paul, are both unmarried and childless. Based on the model of Jesus and his disciples, the early church developed a radical model of family that broke with ancient kinship patterns in favor of a religious–and nonbiological–church family.”
Well, polygamy is not “the most common marriage pattern in the Bible.” Genesis 2 reveals a monogamous heterosexual couple as the biblical ideal. The same ideal is consistently maintained in the New Testament. Just take the writings of the Apostle Paul, for example. Paul may have been single, but he was no advocate of family revisionism or moral relativism, to say the least. Even where polygamy is involved in the Old Testament, it goes without saying that there were no same-sex partners within the circle.
In order to get to any idea of same-sex relationships, Johnson travels the well-worn path of insinuating that Ruth and Naomi were drawn together by something he describes as “same-sex devotion.” He argues that “when biblical figures act virtuously, they often do so outside the bounds of ‘traditional family.’” Really? Is the relationship between a woman and her daughter-in-law “outside the bounds” of the traditional family structure? Of course not. Johnson went on to suggest that “David and Jonathan’s relationship is presented with a tenderness lacking in most biblical marriages.”
Look closely at his concluding statement: “Societal definitions of marriage and family will inevitably change over the course of history. It’s clear that what is important in the Bible is not a family structure based on biology or even heterosexuality, but the quality of love exhibited in the relationships. And if same-sex couples exhibit such spiritual values, they deserve the legal protection and civil recognition of marriage. If we have any intention of preserving marriage or protecting families, we must base our support on values that are unchangeable: values such as faith, hope, and love. But the greatest among these–whether the couple is same-sex or heterosexual–is love.”
A generation of Christians largely untaught and unprepared for this kind of argument represents a vulnerable audience for such a message. If Christians can be convinced that the Bible lacks any normative concept of marriage and family structure, we will face a moral and theological disaster.
FOR FURTHER READING: Rev. Jay Emerson Johnson is identified as co-chair of the Gay Men’s issues in Religion Group of the American Academy of Religion. For a look at what they have been up to, check out my column of October 14, 2004, “The American Academy of Religion’s New Theme–Sadomasochism.”
May 18, 2005
Yesterday marked the one-year anniversary of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts, thanks to an audacious and overreaching decision handed down by the Bay State’s Supreme Judicial Court. This was another case of judicial activism (in this case, of the worst sort) for the people of Massachusetts did not demand same-sex marriage–it was simply imposed upon them. Now, just one year later, Newsweek reports that 6,142 same-sex marriages have been performed in the state–something close to one out of every six marriages registered. As expected, the majority of these couples are lesbians, not gay men. In its “Periscope” column, the magazine reported 3,972 female same-sex marriages, but only 2,170 male unions. The strategy is also clear. Same-sex marriage activists hope that a large and growing number of legal same-sex unions will represent a social trend that will be difficult, if not impossible, to reverse.
May 17, 2005
“Visit the household of any expectant parent, and you are likely to see a printout of a sonogram on the fridge. You may even be offered the chance to watch a live-action video of a three-dimensional fetus, the newest ultrasound option,” reflects Gayle Kirshenbaum, writing in the “My Turn” column of this week’s edition of Newsweek. But, Kirshenbaum’s article is not sentimental in the least. To the contrary, when she saw her baby on the screen, she didn’t feel “maternal” at all. She described the image of the fetus as “suggestive of the human,” but with “its oversize head and flipperlike appendages,” it looked “closer to the amphibious.” Later, she described the baby’s image as “a squidlike creature.”
May 17, 2005
A major report on Mary was released May 16 in Seattle by the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission. The document, known popularly as “The Seattle Statement,” is more formally titled Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ [see this introduction and explanation of contents] The document was long anticipated, and it deals with one of the crucial issues that has divided the heirs of the Reformation from the Roman Catholic Church. The veneration of Mary, along with the doctrines of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption, have long divided evangelicals from Catholics. In the case of this document, those divisions are not so much resolved as redefined. In the text’s most signifcant statement, the differences are declared to be no reason for continuing eccclesiastical division. “Affirming together unambiguously Christ’s unique mediation, which bears fruit in the life of the Church, we do not consider the practice of asking Mary and the saints to pray for us as communion dividing…. we believe that there is no continuing theological reason for ecclesial division on these matters.”
May 17, 2005
Missed by many observers, a task force of the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod recently released a report on men and women in the church. The report, The Service of Women in Congregational and Synodical Offices, came in response to a 2004 action by the denomination, requesting clarification on crucial issues related to how women can properly and biblically serve in the church. The Lutheran report makes a proper distinction between offices revealed in the Bible and adminstrative offices developed by the church. Standing on firm biblical authority and their own church tradition, the task force report affirmed that the teaching office [specifically, the pastor] is limited to men, and went further to specify that roles allied to the teaching office, such as elders, must also be men. Women may properly serve in any number of other positions and may fulfill many other responsibilities. The text is carefully constructed. Consider this statement: “In their relationship to one another as followers of Jesus and members of His family, all questions of rank or authority and the insistence on individual “rights” must be set aside (Mark 10:35–45; John 13:16–17). Rather, in their common life together, they are to give themselves to each other in humble and loving service (Phil. 2:1–4), seeking ways in which they might encourage each other to good works (Heb. 10:24). When we speak, therefore, of the service of women in the church we are referring in the first instance to nothing else than the common work that belongs to all Christians which they faithfully and joyfully accomplish until the Lord comes (Phil. 4:4–7).” As the report makes clear, the office of pastor is biblically limited to men: “In addition to the moral and vocational qualifications required of those divinely placed into this high office in the church (1 Tim. 3:1–7; Titus 3:5–9), the Scriptures teach that the incumbent of the pastoral office must be a man.” But, the report also offers an important and eloquent statement about the unity of all believers in Christ, and our common call to service. “The Scriptures without qualification affirm that all believing Christians, both men and women, are priests of God (1 Peter 2:9; Rev. 1:6). Through Baptism God has made them all, equally and without distinctions of importance or value, members of the one body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:12–13; Gal. 3:27–28; Rom. 12:5). No one is baptized to be either man or woman.” In striking this balance, the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod has offered the whole church an important witness. Their balance comes very close to the statement adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention in 2000 as it adopted a revised version of the Baptist Faith and Message: “While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”
May 16, 2005
The bookstores love the summer season and tables are filled with books targeted for summer vacation. For women, the big development in publishing has been the development of a new form of pornography disguised as a “romance novel.” These ripping romantic tales feature detailed sex scenes in the text and airbrushed eroticism on the cover. Now, publishers have developed pornography for the younger generation of women, targeting teen girls with tales of romance, sexual exploration, and empowerment. The sex is front and center, with some books offering what amounts to advice on sexual technique for teens. Most parents know that teenage boys are tempted by visual pornography. How many parents are paying attention to what their daughters are reading? Consider two books by author Hailey Abbott. In Summer Boys and Next Summer, Abbott introduces a cast of beautiful, wealthy, fashionable, and over-sexed teenagers. The sex scenes are far too explicit to be quoted here, but just consider this run-up to the real steam, taken from Summer Boys: “Ella walked into the dunes, not knowing what else to do. She climbed the first mound of loose sand, her feet sinking with each step. She descended to a small valley, then climbed again. She reached top and froze. Down the hill in front of her, Peter was lying on his back, his body propped up against the next rise. He’d taken his shirt off and tucked it behind his head. He looked incredible, sprawled against the sand, his bronze skin glinting in the moonlight. Ella looked at his flat stomach and noticed that the top button of his shorts was undone.” The boy’s greeting was rather direct. “No one is allowed to talk until they’ve taken their shirt off.” Very little is left to the imagination. Next Summer is even more explicit, with scenes and story lines that will send parents into cardiac arrest. The girls are presented as sexually-driven, while the boys are described in terms of physical attractiveness–something of a role reversal. The characters, especially the girls, wear the latest fashions from Abercrombie and Anthropologie (items carefully chosen for maximum erotic effect in order to attract boys) and carry Kate Spade purses. Popularity, attractiveness, consumerism, and sexual adventures are packaged as the avenues to an idealized adolescent adventure. And note this–the books are published by Scholastic, Inc. through its Alloy Entertainment division. Many parents will remember Scholastic from school book fairs. As they say, times have changed. Parents–look in those book bags.
May 16, 2005
Mark Lilla, a University of Chicago professor, decided to jump into the deep end of the church/state pool, and his article in Sunday’s edition of The New York Times is all wet–or mostly, at least. Lilla surveys the contemporary political scene and sees that everyone seems to want to “get religion.” The press is trying to understand all this, he explains, since conservative Christianity is “an alien world the press typically ignores.” Offering his own explanation, Lilla suggests that the Enlightenment-driven founders of the American experiment, along with the British, has made two wagers. “The first was that religious sects, if they were guaranteed liberty, would grow attached to liberal democracy and obey its norms. The second was that entering the public square would liberalize them doctrinally, that they would become less credulous and dogmatic, more sober and rational.” Alas, that has not come to pass. At the very least, the liberalizing of evangelical Christianity is taking longer than the secularists had hoped. To his credit, Lilla is clear about what he means by liberalism. In theology, liberalism means the following: “It includes a critical approach to Scripture as a historical document, an openness to modern science, a turn from public ritual to private belief and a search for common ground in the Bible’s moral message.” Why hasn’t that happened? Well, Lilla understand that evangelicals witnessed the collapse of the liberal churches and denominations that liberalized their theology. And he offers this insightful observation: “It appears that there are limits to the liberalization of biblical religion. The more the Bible is treated as a historical document, the more its message is interpreted in universalist terms, the more the churches sanctify the political and cultural order, the less hold liberal religion will eventually have on the hearts and minds of believers. This dynamic is particularly pronounced in Protestantism, which heightens the theological tension brought on by being in the world but not of it. Liberal religion imagines a pacified order in which good citizenship, good morals and rational belief coexist harmoniously. It is therefore unprepared when the messianic and eschatological forces of biblical faith begin to stir.” And those forces do stir, he warns. “The leading thinkers of the British and American Enlightenments hoped that life in a modern democratic order would shift the focus of Christianity from a faith-based reality to a reality-based faith,” he instructs. “American religion is moving in the opposite direction today, back toward the ecstatic, literalist and credulous spirit of the Great Awakenings. Its most disturbing manifestations are not political, at least not yet. They are cultural. The fascination with the ”end times,” the belief in personal (and self-serving) miracles, the ignorance of basic science and history, the demonization of popular culture, the censoring of textbooks, the separatist instincts of the home-schooling movement — all these developments are far more worrying in the long term than the loss of a few Congressional seats.” Professor Lilla is very worried about home-schoolers, Intelligent Design advocates, and those who simply will not accept the “reality-based faith” he would promote. He concludes by wondering “how long this dumbing-down of American religion will persist” before evangelicals give up our strange ideas about a “faith-based reality.” Well, if those on the evangelical left have their way, he won’t have to wait long.
May 16, 2005
Jen Littlefield’s decision to donate her eggs was, she says, a way of “giving back.” Of course, “donate” in this case does not mean that Ms. Littlefield was not paid. Indeed, the University of Chicago undergraduate was paid $5,000 for her eggs and for undergoing the procedure that secured them for use by another woman. Ms. Littlefield told The Chicago Maroon, the university’s student newspaper, that she was motivated, at least in part, by the knowledge that she was conceived with the use of donor sperm–a fact she did not know until age 19. In her article, reporter Kat Glass described the payment as “nothing for a college student to scoff at” and explained that egg donors can be paid much, much more on the market. As Ms. Littlefield described the process, she had applied to a local agency for the role by filling out a 14-page medical history form and sending in the required pictures of herself and her mother. After psychological screening and legal briefings, followed by hormonal treatments, she underwent the egg-removal surgical procedure. As she sees it, this is simply a business transaction that might help someone have a baby–even if it is with her eggs. “You kind of separate yourself and know that, yes, your genes are going to be there, but it’s not your child because you’re not raising it,” she explained. “And genetics are a crap shoot anyway,” she added. Well, maybe not a crap shoot after all. Ethicist Mary Mahowald of the University of Chicago Hospitals understands that these egg donors are not chosen at random. “A U of C [University of Chicago] student–especially if she’s tall, athletic, attractive, and white–can probably get a fair amount” for her eggs, she told the paper. Tellingly, the only ethical issues raised as significant were related to economic inequality–the fact that only wealthy persons have access to the technology, and can afford to pay for expensive donor eggs. This article, published in the student newspaper of a major American university, reveals a reality unknown to most Americans. This country has become an open market for human gametes. The lack of legislation, combined with technological sophistication and the profit motive, allows would-be egg and sperm customers to advertise for designer genes, and “donors” to sell to the highest bidder. We must all know we are living in a new age when a woman conceived with donor sperm decides to sell her own eggs. What will the next generation sell?
May 15, 2005
Henri Blocher, Professor of Systematic Theology at the Faculty Libre de Theologie Evangelique in France, argues that the persistent question of evil finds resolution only in the cross of Christ. Blocher’s cross-centered theodicy is well summarized in this remarkable paragraph: “Evil is conquered as evil because God turns it back upon itself. He makes the supreme crime, the murder of the only righteous person, the very operation that abolishes sin. The maneuver is utterly unprecedented. No more complete victory could be imagined. God responds in the indirect way that is perfectly suited to the ambiguity of evil. He entraps the deceiver in his own wiles. Evil, like a judoist, takes advantage of the power of good, which it perverts; the Lord, like a supreme champion, replies by using the very grip of the opponent. So is fulfilled the surprising verse; ‘With the pure you show yourself pure; and with the crooked you show yourself perverse.’” The verse cited is Psalm 18:26. Blocher’s book, Evil and the Cross, has been recently republished by Kregel Academic & Professional.
May 14, 2005
Those who control the vocabulary win the argument. If strategic words can be redefined, arguments become meaningless. Take the word ‘conception’ for example. Until recently, conception referred to the moment when a baby is ‘conceived.’ This would define conception in terms of the egg’s fertilization by the sperm, initiating the the process of development. No longer–at least among many medical professionals and interest groups. Now, conception has been redefined as a state which requires the embryo’s successful implantation in the uterine wall. This shift allows birth-control advocates to package a drug like the “morning after pill” as a contraceptive, when it actually prevents a fertilized egg from being successfully implanted in the womb. Indeed, such drugs and mechanisms operate by an abortifacient effect, and should be understood as early abortions. Using the same slippery vocabulary, some reseachers now refer to human ‘pre-embryos,’ which are just embryos in the earliest stages of development. This explains why some scientists and politicians pushing for human embryonic stem cell research protest the use of the term ‘embryo’ in the first place. We must face the reality that the term ‘conception’ has been redefined by those who would want to deny full human dignity at the earliest stages of human development.