Saturday, August 7, 2010

Who owns the term Christian?

Greetings to all.  This is the first post of D. Seiple Online, which serves as the discussion annex for  Philosophy's Labyrinth (more on that later.)  And, as luck would have it, this launching coincides with the new ruling by Federal District Judge Vaughn Walker, which (for the moment at least) overturns the referendum known as Proposition 8 (the one banning same-sex marriage in California).  I expect this event to add some robust flavor to the discussions I've already been having with friends on both sides of this issue. 

I'll start out by indicating how grateful I am that those I continue to be in discussion with cherish the value of civility in debates --  debates that try our patience, imagination, and judgment.

Having said that, I'll begin next with a comment about language.  Some of my conservative friends, especially those who self-identify as (for example)  "born-again evangelicals," often use "Christian" to designate their own understanding of doctrine, and exclude those of us with more liberal or progressive "Christian" views.  I understand the temptation to do this. Discussions that occur "in-house," so to speak -- among those we already agree with -- may reflect a tone that might be puzzling (or worse) when raised among others outside one's own fold.  Here I am especially grateful to Danny Mann (author of the blog Mann's Word, which I heartily recommend for anyone who wants a very different point of view from my own.)  Danny has been gracious enough to include me in some of his in-house communications, so I can hear what goes on in those precincts.  Though what I hear is sometimes irritating, it is always challenging. 

I am looking forward to advancing these kinds of discussions as time goes on.  And the California decision presents a perfect opportunity. 

So let me start by asking -- for anyone within ear shot -- whether you all think that people's basic rights should be a matter of popular vote. To the conservative evangelical, I'd ask: If a bunch of atheists prevailed in  a referendum against giving Christians equal protection under the law, I wonder what your reaction would be…


  1. David,

    I'm sorry to quibble about terminology, but I feel that it’s necessary at the get-go to defend myself regarding my exclusive use of the term “Christian.” This is not going to be easy to do, because my usage will appear so judgmental and exclusivistic -- that some are "in" (Christians) and some are not. (It also deeply grieves me that I can’t confidently apply this term to you – someone who has been so gracious to me!) However, I hope that you understand that I must remain faithful to my faith and commitment before the Lord to speak correctly about His revelation.

    It comes down to this -- although we are all sinners, "Christians" are those who live according to His Word (1 John 2:3-6) and confess their sins (1 John 1:9), and thereby are forgiven and cleansed. Those who don't aren't forgiven and cleansed!

    Love requires that I warn others of their erroneous hope in God. To not warn is to enable them to continue in their self-destructive path. This doesn't just apply to the gay life, but to all sin. I just had to reprimand a close friend who sometimes considers divorce. I informed him that even considering the option of something that is sinful is sin. He is angry at me now, but I pray that he will see that the position I am taking is one out of love and utmost concern for his family.

    To include those who are unrepentant and unwilling to regard the Bible as the Word of God under the term "Christian" is misleading and enabling. I would be doing these people a disservice. Jesus stated,

    • Matthew 7:21-23 "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'

    How can I indicate otherwise?

  2. Danny

    I certainly understand where you are coming from and I know that you feel deeply compelled to do what you do. And that's one mark of love: to be able to see things from another's point of view and trust that God will point the way for both of us. But one comment you make in this response strikes me as limiting you in that regard somewhat, when you say that even considering an option you deem sinful IS sin: what that means is that you never really see certain things from the other point of view, perhaps because you fear being drawn into some kind of sinfulness (and I'm honestly not making any point about gayness in particular here: I think it's simply an operating principle with you, which applies to all such topics -- in this case, for example, divorce.)

    But why not trust God at that point? If I had never considered suicide seriously (and I have in the distant past), I would never understand what someone in that position goes through, and I would have far less compassion. And I would not have learned some very important things in the process.

    I think the gospel message is that though life is serious, there is ultimately nothing to fear. As Luther in particualr tried to teach us, we don't have to "do" anything, including saving others: all we have to "do," so to speak, is be real with them and act faithfully out of love.

    As to your response here, I would simply and gently ask two things

    (1) What was your reaction to my question at the end of my original posting?

    (2) Do you not run the risk of speaking for God rather than letting God speak? How much of your sense of being guilty translates into projection onto others and then making an idol of that projection? The attempt to protect other people from self-destruction has unfortunate consequences in many cases -- though of course one does that with one's children, as one should. The reason we do it with them is just that: they are children. "But now I am an adult, and I put away childish ways" -- including the need to be protected from myself by other adults. God will take care of that. What's for you to do? Not certainly to infantilize your friends.

    I know this last point must sting a bit, but I trust more in our friendship than in the riskiness of speaking plainly. And nothing is say here (please hear this) is any kind of deep impatience or unbridled anger with you. I certainly don't want this last paragraph to be a suggestion that I'm weary of dealing with this!! I relish our discussions, and I can deal with being infantilized! So please continue

  3. David,

    No need to apologize. Let me just try to assure you that I'm not trying to infantilize the gay community. In fact, all of our laws serve to control individual behaviors -- whether it's a matter of double-parking or paying taxes.

    Of course, you will respond that these behaviors affect others. Indeed, but so does the gay lifestyle. Just take a look at its impact upon laws or the invalidation of popular referendums or school teachings.

    Another point: Perhaps I didn't express myself clearly when I wrote "that even considering a sinful deed is sin." I can understand your reaction. It does sound like an unwillingness to try to understand others' perspectives. Instead, I should have expressed myself this way -- "Considering to act upon a sinful behavior, when you know it's a sin to do so, is actually sin." Just look at what Jesus taught:

    • Matthew 5:28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

    Just the consideration of performing a sinful act is therefore sin. What goes on in our heart and mind should match what we say and do. If we don't bring thought into harmony with practice, we make ourselves into hypocrites.

    Now let me address your question. I'll rephrase it this way to help facilitate our exchange -- "You are denying our rights. You wouldn't like it if we denied your rights."

    I hope I haven't misunderstood you, but I'll proceed as if I didn't. There are many things wrong with this equation, but I'll just mention one. The question isn't one of my rights against yours, but which rights are we talking about! The USA doesn't grant the right to vote to five year-olds. Should they pose a similar challenge -- "You haven't granted me the right to vote. How would you like it if someone took away your right to vote?"

    Why this favoritism? Perhaps there are other considerations at play here!

    As ever, I appreciate your patience and civility -- most of all, for putting up with me!

  4. Danny,

    Well, it's interesting that your example in the last part of the email is one that you deny you are using, which is to infantilize your interlocutor. The analogy with voting rights for five-year-olds is just that. The reason we don't give them voting rights is that children are incapable of exercising those rights responsibly, and so the question we should be concerned with in the gay issue is whether gay people are capable of exercising what gays take to be a right and you take to be special consideration.

    I think we should dispense with this issue of special consideration. I'd prefer to treat this a matter of prima facie rights: In this country we START from the assumption that citizens should be given due process and equal protection under the law (our Bill of Rights guarantees this). And THEN we acknowledge that there may be overriding considerations that outweigh those prima facie rights. I don't think popular referenda are binding in such matters -- and of course the Prop 8 ruling agrees with that. As our Founding Fathers recognized (and for reasons that made some almost reject the Constitution, and explain why we even have a Bill of Rights to begin with), you just don't put prima facie rights up for to a general vote. That would be like asking the Germans to vote on the rights of Jews. (Notice, please, I'm not saying that Christians who disagree with me are like Nazis in this respect -- though some are: remember the main churches backed Hitler; I'm only saying that this applies as a matter of legal principle in our democracy). IF you can find mitigating reasons, which will have to be in terms of social consequences, then fine. But let's start there, and not with referenda, and not with charges of favoritism. Those are specious charges. Gay people may (conceivably) be uninformed as to the larger consequences of their actions (that's another discussion); but let's move on to that.

    I know you're not "trying" to infantilize the gay community. But sometimes what a person ends up doing escapes self-awareness. (And, of course, you could make a similar argument against my position.... which is a great topic for philosophical consideration in and of itself.)

  5. OK David,

    Let's play on your ballfield with the Ball of Rights -- that we have certain unalienable rights. But what are they? The right to marry my dog? Well, no. The right to marry my daughter? Fifteen two year-olds? 20,000 starving women from the Congo? Should marriage have no meaning at all? Should adultery be protected? Bigamy? Child porn? Involuntary euthanasia of our elderly parents? Should there be no limits on rights? Was the Bill intended to cover anything we might want to do?

    Should I have the right to defecate on the street (no parallel to gay marriage intended here.)? To streak in public? To speak any lies that might come into my mind?

    Many of these behaviors are not only proscribed by the Bible and all other world religions, but they are also destructive to the fabric of society. I would also add to this list the gay lifestyle. History has unequivocally given it the thumbs-down. Your job will be to show that they're all wrong.

    Here’s another thought – rights come from God (Gen. 1:26-27) and therefore, they are unalienable. If our rights do come from God and not the caprice of the State, then shouldn’t we inquire what rights He has extended to us? Or should we just assume that He has given us whatever rights we so desire?

  6. Ok, Danny, we have our work cut out for us. I will take up your challenge when I come back from Vienna and Budapest, and look forward to continuing this discussion then. Thank you for your matchless civility and clever rhetoric. Look for a new post when I return.