On Christian Communion: Why is Killing Okay But Not Sexuality?

Last year our campus hosted a scholar from an evangelical university who has published extensively on the topic of same-sex attraction. Overall, the presentations were very good and I enjoyed them very much.

However, there were a couple of things that were brought up in one of Q&A sessions that I've been rolling around in my head.

The issues brought up in the Q&A had to do with a choice the speaker presented regarding the identity scripts available to Christians experiencing same-sex attraction. As described by the speaker there is, on the one hand, a gay identity script. This script basically says that the person should explicitly and intentionally "own" the label gay as both an identity marker and lifestyle choice. This would signal a departure from the Christian community and a movement into the gay community.

On the other hand, the person could also adopt an "in Christ" script where allegiance to Jesus trumps sexual experience. That is, this person might, for a lifetime, experience same-sex attraction but this experience doesn't become an identity marker. Rather, following Christ is the identity marker, and this, according to the speaker, would mean obedience to a traditional Christian sexual ethic (i.e., sex is only sanctioned by God when it occurs in a heterosexual marriage).

So the speaker presented this as a choice, a choice between a gay identity script and an "in Christ" identity script which adheres to the traditional Christian sexual ethic (in this latter script the person might experience lifelong same-sex attraction but would remain celibate). A Christian experiencing same-sex attraction, then, has to choose between these two identity scripts, gay vs. "in Christ."

But during the Q&A one of my colleagues questioned this dichotomy. Are these the only choices? Specifically, why couldn't there be a "gay in Christ" script? In this script the person would be committed to sexual relations under the same structures as hetero-Christians. That is, they would confine intimate sexual relations to a marriage covenant, only in this case the covenant would be same-sex. In short, why not a fusion of the two scripts presented by the speaker? Could this not be an option?

At this point, the speaker demurred stating that such a "gay in Christ" script wouldn't be in keeping with a traditional Christian sexual ethic. That's true, but the speaker seemed to suggest, though I could have read him wrong, that such a script would signal an effective departure from Christianity itself. That the traditional Christian sexual ethic was a boundary marker that couldn't be crossed if one wanted to be a Christian. That a "gay in Christ" script was, effectively, an oxymoron.

This is the part that set my mind wondering.

As I noted in a recent post, I'm aware that certain moral, doctrinal and theological accommodations may create too much of a rupture for the interpreting community. So I understand how a "gay in Christ" script could go "too far" for particular Christian communities. But I can't help but note that those communities have already accommodated hermeneutical moves that are just as rupturous1, if not more so, than a "gay in Christ" move.

Take, as an example, the moral issue of killing.

As we all know, Jesus expressly forbids his followers from killing:

Matthew 5.21-22a, 39, 44
You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, "You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment." But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.

I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.

I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.
As we are all well aware, many Christians, now and in the past, have read these passages in a less than literal way, making allowances for killing under various circumstances (e.g., self-defense, police work, just war). But that said, there have been other Christians who have read these passages literally and have argued that Jesus really meant what he said. Turn the other cheek. Do not resist an evil person. Love your enemies.

Now, I don't want to adjudicate between these two views, between, say, just war thinkers and pacifists within the Christian tradition. I simply want to make two observations and then ask a question.

Here's the first observation. Even if you are a proponent of just war I hope you'd admit that it takes a lot of hermeneutical chutzpah to override an explicit command of Jesus. More, a command that many would consider to be at the very heart of Jesus's ethical vision for Kingdom life. And while it is true that it also takes hermeneutical chutzpah to override the presence of homosexuality in Paul's vice lists, I think such an override isn't nearly as significant as overriding the Sermon on the Mount and the foundational ethical vision of Jesus.

This is my second observation. Though there is great debate and controversy between the pacifists and just war people within the Christian communion these believers seem, by and large, to recognize the Christian brotherhood and sisterhood of those who disagree. To be sure, each group might question the depth or level of Christian commitment of their opponents, but by and large the Christan community allows people to differ on this very difficult moral issue.

And these two observations lead to my question: If we are okay with diversity on the issue of killing--overriding an explicit command at the heart of Jesus's Kingdom vision on a topic of enormous moral consequence--why won't we allow for a diversity of views within the Christian communion in regard to Paul's vice lists?

That is, if you are willing to extend the right hand of fellowship to pacifists or just war advocates why not to gay Christians?

The point is, even conservative Christian communities, though they don't notice this, have already incorporated a hermeneutical rupture that is very much greater than anything in play regarding Paul's vice lists. Christian churches allow their members to go to war. Christians are allowed to kill. This, despite Jesus's explicit prohibition. And to be clear, I'm not challenging that position. I'm simply pointing out that if you allow for diversity on the issue of killing--an issue of the greatest moral consequence, theologically, biblically, and ethically--why not diversity and Christian communion on an issue--sexuality--of more marginal concern and importance?

1 That's a new word I've coined: "rupturous"--the adjective form of "rupture."

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119 thoughts on “On Christian Communion: Why is Killing Okay But Not Sexuality?”

  1. And to be clear, I'm not challenging this position. I'm simply pointing out that if you allow for diversity on the issue of killing--an
    issue of the greatest moral consequence, theologically, biblically, and
    ethically--why not diversity and Christian communion on a issue--sexuality--of more marginal concern and importance?

    As someone who was physically removed from a church on a Sunday morning and told not to come back until I'd repented because I mentioned to one of the pastors I was recently divorced from another woman (and then had the audacity to tell him to his face no, I would not accept prayer and counseling to convert myself to full blown heterosexuality, thank you, I am a bisexual), I sure as shooting would love to know the answer to this question.

  2. As a society, we appear much more comfortable with killing than sex.  TV news items will show killing and death (Gaddafi's death most recently), but never show the act of lovemaking.  Letters of complaint about TV programs are much more about sex and the harm viewing it may cause to innocent children, than about violence and killing and the harm that may cause. Apparently seeing sex and the act of lovemaking is far more destructive to a young mind than watching one person kill another.

    Funny thing is, when I step back and look at my reaction to these things....I _am_ more comfortable with televised killing than sex.

  3. Interesting and thoughtful post.  I'd love to see a side-by-side of the relevant/parallel passages on these two things.

    I think there's a difference in the minds of many because "killing" is a concrete thing that generally takes place at a specific point in time, and because it's generally regarded as a "regrettable but necessary" event (in the contexts you describe).  "Being gay" is something that is far from concrete, doesn't take place at a specific point in time, and is more closely associated with self-identity than an instance (or many) of killing someone in what is believed to be a just cause.

    I also think many Christians are more Old-Testament-oriented than we think - and there are people upheld as close to God - like David - who killed many people.  There are also people like Paul, who killed many Christians (or promoted their killing) and later converted.  There really aren't any stories in the Bible about gay people - not for sure, not that I know of at any rate.   

    I find this entire issue challenging.  I don't agree with what the Church has become regarding people who are gay - they're treated worse than people who murder, steal, or commit any other sin.  That's not a Christ-like attitude.  However, I also remain unconvinced that being "gay in Christ" isn't an oxymoron (I know this begs the question of what precisely constitutes "being gay," and I don't really know the answer to that either).

  4. I concur with Stuart. Now, let's look at our cultural mirror - media. Killing runs rampant through all form of media - news, music, movies, etc. Rarely do even Christians not attend (or protest for that matter) an event or experience some form of media because of the violence it displays (at least not those over 17 anyhow). We have become desensitized to all form of killing - watching deeply personal and vengeful murders and watching the massive destruction of human life via wars and battles. Granted, this was a slow and tedious process over the last few decades, but we've accommodated. Sex is still, at least in many Christian circles, very private and carries with it negative connotations of shame and guilt. We haven't been exposed to it enough (at least publicly) to cast off these psychological inhibitors and normalize the experience in a public forum. The disconnect is entirely interesting and I think Richard is right in revealing our lack of congruence with these issues. 

  5. It's because they can make it into a black-and-white thing. Most people can envision a situation in which they would kill someone (self-defense, protecting their family, or whatever), but if you're 100% hetero then you can't imagine yourself having that icky gay sex. The thing about sins is that they're things you do - being proud, losing self-control, hurting somebody - and if you condemn them you have to examine your own behavior and try to stop doing them yourself. If you're straight, condemning teh gays makes you feel morally superior because "being gay" is not something you would ever do.

    Moreover, queerness threatens the whole patriarchal structure of traditional Christian morality. It defies prescribed gender roles; dares to suggest that "male" and "female" are socio-biological constructs rather than essential categories, and that other genders exist too; challenges the very structures of power and dominion that have been perpetuated in Christ's name at least since Constantine. Queer theologians believe that Jesus stands against earthly power, dominion, and violence, and that is why we figure him as "queer" - as defying the dominant culture and overturning the status quo.

  6. I’m not sure what you are saying—should we in the ‘Christian
    churches’ renounce our sacred/secular split that leads to a type of Just War theory
    so that we can continue to be against homosexuality, or should we continue to
    be for Just War in order to be for ‘gay Christianity’?  While a split down these very lines is widening
    as we speak, I’m not sure where this gets us.
    In the end, I agree with you—we should have some sense of
    hermeneutic humility in light of our obvious picking and choosing of our
    various pet doctrines, and generous dialogue should always continue between these various

  7. You've once again pointed out a serious inconsistency in the application of "biblical morality." In addition to killing, I think we've got a serious problem with greed and envy in contemporary churchianity as well - and it's both subtle and overt. What I get out of this post is that we need to apply our morality across the line with scripture instead of picking and choosing which parts are more palatable.

    Having grown up with the issue of homosexuality and the irreconcilability of that with traditional Christianity, I've had a lot of reflective wisdom bestowed on me through one hell of a journey. One thing I've noticed is that we modern humans want who we are right this moment to be the desired end-state rather than a beginning point. Indeed who we are right now is loved by God because he loves us for who we are just by virtue of existing. However, as we follow the call to die to ourselves daily, transformation is inevitable, the mystery of Christ in us becomes more evident. When we talk about homosexuality in the Presbyterian Church (USA), my wife points out that the church's inconsistencies with dealing with sin and brokenness. The church sat by idle while her first husband cheated on her, and when they subsequently divorced, our church sat idle while a member was in an abusive marriage.  The church I grew up in tolerated living together from some members but came down on others living together, and to be sure, a Democrat would need to keep silent about their politics.

    Having said all of this, I appreciate this post as a call to take a hard look at my own inconsistencies when applying the Bible to my life.

  8. Hauerwas wrote an article a while back that made a similar argument http://books.google.com/books?id=IpRmx8twLAoC&lpg=PA519&ots=TjnjqU9FB6&pg=PA519

  9. I have laid awake for a couple of nights thinking about issues of Homosexuality and Christianity, and literally thought last night, "I hope Beck writes on the subject soon, or else I'm going to have to email him with a direct question."

    I most appreciate the pointing towards hermeneutical humility. I'm just a young man filled with all kinds of preconceived notions and prejudices, Biblical teachings and doctrines, beliefs and emotions. As I live my life trying to follow Jesus, it is comforting to me that I'm not the only one struggling to figure out how best to love others, how to find the narrow path between hyper-judgementalism and being overly accepting.

    I've got a few gay friends that I know of, and if nothing else, this post further motivates me to work to love them better. Thanks, Richard.

  10. First, society has become less violent, not more.
    Second, Jesus said infinitely more about violence than he did about homosexuality or homosexual practice.
    Third, the restriction of sexual practice to marriage between a man and a woman is in no ways biblical.
    Fourth, private sexual practice has indeed changed very much.

    If we are going to be the sort of people who have conversations about these things, surely we shouldn't be the type that spout untruths.

  11. We must be somewhat in sync, as I have recently stumbled upon a book about the effect of WWII on my denomination and been wondering about the relevance to homosexuality.  The key is that I come from a peace church, and apparently there was a large amount of support, either young men joining to fight, or people at home buying war bonds or supporting the effort in some way. 
    I find it somewhat inconceivable (and disheartening) that we can forgive something so iconic and central to our tradition, and my impression is that this was a huge blow to the identity of the denomination, yet we don't seem able to fully extend fellowship to the gays among us.
    However I understand it a bit more when one of the key conclusions of the book is that everyone should repent.  Those who fought, those who supported (or profited), and those who failed to stop the war in the first place.  Everyone was called to repentance and called to recommit to peace, which seemed to allow everyone back into the good graces of the denomination (although I don't know if this was true for those who actually killed someone).
    What it really seems to come down to in conservative circles is the imporance of repentance to the Christian community.  Wars, killings, and violence all have an endpoint that allow for one to repent and seek forgiveness.  Homosexuality is ongoing, and thus the only time for repentance is when one gives up a gay lifestyle or on their deathbed (I am not advocating that gays need to repent btw).  These, of course, are the actions being advocated by the conservative view.
    How that viewpoint can be overcome to achieve gay accepance is rather perplexing.  Currently it is getting played out in the it's sin/it's not sin debate, which I don't think will every get fully resolved.  A rejection of killing may be one of the Ten Commandments and in the Sermon on the Mount, but apparently repentance is far more a core value of American Christianity.



  12. Jesus was a master at answering a question with another when the one asked was the wrong one.  Perhaps that's why the questions raised in this post provoke so many others...

  13. I'm definitely from one of those traditions where what you are writing would be too much, but I certainly hear the argument.  One bit of puzzling on it.  Just war is actually a putting two goods against each other.  Caesar is the appointed sovereign and deserves respect as such.  That isn't just Paul, but Jesus as well.  Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, or his words about Pilate's authority even though Pilate would use it badly.  Against that you have don't murder, in fact don't hate your brother.  So which is the trump?  When you apply the law strictly it always leads to can't win situations.  The law kills.

    Now most of Christianity gave to Caesar here with some places giving a conscientious objector status.  But even those CO's served as medics or the like.  In the sexual realm, marriage is a pre-fall (I'm western, sorry) thing.  God implemented it for children - be fruitful and multiply.  There is also a deep symbol of Christ and the church at work.  Does the good of a gay-in-Christ script trump the original children and Christology good?

    I think what you end up with a Matt 5:19 situation.  Just war is a tragic result of two laws hitting each other.  Lord have mercy.  Gay-in-Christ doesn't seem to have that as what it really does is relax the law in regards to marriage.  We can teach it and it probably shouldn't interrupt fellowship, but that is the least in the kingdom of heaven.   Relaxing the law always obscures the gospel that we find our salvation and identity in Jesus Christ.

  14. We make the distinction because we're victims of our own Unacknowledged Augustinian heritage. To Augustine sex was nasty to begin with and had to be allowed only in heterosexual contexts blessed by the marriage of a priest. That's how he read Paul, but things were getting hot with the northern invaders and a mind as fertile and massive as his worked out the rationale under Constanian Christianity to defend the now-Christianized state.

    We too are under siege. Now on a different front. So here we go.

  15. Richard,
    I’m still curious about all this (since you haven’t weighed in on your own questions). In a recent post you suggested that you liked acapella worship because it was, to you, counter-cultural. You said, “In my opinion […] As churches are increasingly co-opted and tempted by an American culture […] the acapella style of worship is a theological breath of fresh air.” But now it appears you are obfuscating the issues of pacifism/just war and sexuality in order to encourage a more pro-contemporary-cultural notion of tolerance (abandon the traditional church’s view on sexuality for one which is more appealing to contemporary culture). I guess I’m confused at how and when being counter-cultural becomes cool/un-cool. Why don’t we think practicing sexuality ‘a cappella’ (in the manner of the church) is counter-cultural enough for us? Or is this not yet adequately an underdog position to be considered cool to today's cultured despisers?

    But are there not other reasons why we disdain those who preach against homosexuality—isn’t it rather that we hate the fact that it often proceeds from an unkind, dogmatic, unhearing, kind of person/group; the kind that dissolves all alterity in the acid of its own group’s desires. They heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears, to have their already settled convictions reaffirmed; and then when they confront those in whom they disagree they feel completely justified in their complete lack of generosity.  In matters of sexuality (and I’m no saint), I’m a traditionalist—in such things, consider me acapella—but this should never mean I’m an ass about it…

  16. sdsf,

    In response to your points:

    1. I would like to see you demonstrate that society has actually become less violent. Measuring the violence of profoundly different forms of society against each other really isn't that easy. My point wasn't that society has become more or less violent, but that the form of human society, and of its violence has changed so dramatically since the first century, that it is prima facie odd that we should think the biblical teaching on this subject is still relevant. That we do think that the teaching of a carpenter's son from the sticks to a politically disenfranchised following in a small Roman province in the first century is relevant to the way that we think about the foreign policy of a twenty first century superpower with a population of about a third of a billion in the age of nuclear weaponry, unmanned drones, and cyberwarfare is testimony to the fact that we consider the teaching of God's Word to have a relevance that greatly transcends its original historical context. The shape of homosexual intercourse really hasn't changed that much at all when compared with this.

    2. First, Jesus didn't actually say quite as much about violence as some seem to think. Jesus' message on the subject of violence was primarily lived. Second, Jesus lived in a context where the Jewish tradition uniformly condemned homosexual practice. He never spoke against this, and the inspired authors of the NT continued this condemnation. Third, Jesus taught strongly on marriage, stressing the importance of sexual difference as the context for marriage (e.g. Matthew 19:4-6), and even suggesting that marriage as an institution was primarily oriented to procreation (which is why there no marriage in the new heavens and new earth, Luke 20:35-36). If anything, Jesus strengthened the tradition that opposed homosexual practice.

    3. Biblically, marriage is very clearly between a man and a woman. This holds even in the case of the permitted but disapproved practice of polygamy - a man entered into many marriages with different women, there wasn't just one marriage with many different individuals within it. Although biblical narrative frequently speaks of the occurrence of sexual relations outside of the context of marriage, it is condemned. When the Scriptures speak of the alternative to marriage, it is described in terms of sexual abstinence, sometimes even in the most radical of language, such as Jesus' description of the 'eunuch' in Matthew 19. Sexual activity outside of marriage is consistently spoken of as sexual immorality. 1 Corinthians 7 presents us with the choice between abstinence or marriage. Virginity is expected of the bride (and by implication of the bridegroom) prior to the wedding night in the OT. The biblical teaching on the two sexual partners becoming one flesh (although impossible in the case of homosexual intercourse), elevates the significance of sexual intercourse, and presents it as illegitimate outside of marriage, which alone represents the union truthfully.

    4. Private sexual practice has changed, but not so much that the biblical categories no longer clearly speak to it. It hasn't changed anywhere near as much as the shape of society in other respects. The practice of homosexual intercourse as it occurs today would be clearly recognizable as homosexual practice to the first century Christian, although the shape of society in many other respects - such as warfare - would be far less recognizable to them.

    What do you think has changed since the first century that Jesus and the Apostle Paul, teaching today, would not regard homosexual partnerships as an abomination, but as blessed unions that may even be regarded as marriages?

  17. I guess that following the repeal of DADT, gays are no longer superior as a moral group... ;)

    Hauerwas has directly addressed the gay marriage question (http://www.dukemagazine.duke.edu/dukemag/issues/010202/faith3.html):

    "The problem with debates about homosexuality is they have been devoid of any linguistic discipline that might give you some indication what is at stake. Methodism, for example, is more concerned with being inclusive than being the church. We do not have the slightest idea what we mean by being inclusive other than some vague idea that inclusivity has something to do with being accepting and loving. Inclusivity is, of course, a necessary strategy for survival in what is religiously a buyers' market. Even worse, the inclusive church is captured by romantic notions of marriage. Combine inclusivity and romanticism and you have no reason to deny marriage between gay people.

    When couples come to ministers to talk about their marriage ceremonies, ministers think it's interesting to ask if they love one another. What a stupid question! How would they know? A Christian marriage isn't about whether you're in love. Christian marriage is giving you the practice of fidelity over a lifetime in which you can look back upon the marriage and call it love. It is a hard discipline over many years.

    The difficulty, therefore, is that Christians, when they approach this issue, no longer know what marriage is. For centuries, Christians married people who didn't know one another until the marriage ceremony, and we knew they were going to have sex that night. They didn't know one another. Where does all this love stuff come from? They could have sex because they were married.

    Now, when marriage becomes a mutually enhancing arrangement until something goes wrong, then it makes no sense at all to oppose homosexual marriages. If marriage is a calling that makes promises of lifelong monogamous fidelity in which children are welcomed, then we've got a problem."

  18. Stephen Pinker's TED talk is a good place to start for evidence that the world is becoming less violent.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ramBFRt1Uzk

  19. With every other sin you can name (pride, violence, stealing, even lust), every single person has had to struggle with each at least a little.  And yet, I have no desire to be homosexual, and neither do a lot of straight people.  Doesn't that imply that "being gay" is so substantially different from all other sins that it might not even belong in the category "sin"? It would really be odd for a large percentage of people to be saved from this particular sin and no others.

  20. "I don't agree with what the Church has become regarding people who are gay - they're treated worse than people who murder, steal, or commit any other sin."

    I am sorry, but the hyperbole on this particular subject can become a little frustrating. Are gay people really treated worse than murderers? Really? In my experience of conservative evangelical circles, most churches are genuinely welcoming to persons with homophile desires who are not practising homosexuals, and seek to be supportive (even though the ways that they go about this are occasionally profoundly ill-conceived).

    Homosexual practice, however, is condemned, and those who continue in it are not permitted to participate in the sacramental life of the Church. This is the same approach that is taken with all who willingly and openly continue in other sin without repentance. Faith and repentance are integral to the life of the Church, and those who justify sin, rather than repenting from it, fundamentally undermine the health of the body of Christ. The reason why the Church goes on about homosexual practice rather than other sins is because few people are openly arguing that, say, adultery is not really a sin (although many are starting to define adultery out of existence in some contexts).

  21. Excellent, excellent point, Richard, and one I haven't heard so clearly stated before. 

  22. Richard, I love your work.  And another hermeneutical rupture that evangelicals have almost all incorporated very comfortably now, is over divorce!!                       

  23. http://www.twincities.com/news/ci_19167362?source=rss

    Here's one I read last week about society becoming less violent.

  24. I'm a bit confused.  I don't think this is the point of your post, but I'm confused nonetheless.  A person experiencing same-sex attraction can either choose a "gay identity script" or an "in Christ script," and they are mutually exclusive?  That's the idea here?  So then a person experience opposite-sex attraction similarly can either choose a "straight identity script" or an "in Christ script," but those aren't mutually exclusive.  How's that?
    And what if you experience same-sex attraction, and live life as a gay person, but aren't identified by your sexuality.  Since when are we, as humans but more-so as Christians, reduced in our personhood.  I thought we are all one in Christ.  Jew, gentile, male, female, jew, greek.  Aren't we all one in Christ?

  25. I see your point about God being able to carry out judgment through war and lethal force.  Where I get hung up is, what nation on Earth has God's ear so well that they execute war out of obedience on his behalf?  In the entire bloody history of Western Civilization, how has war been beneficial? 

  26. I am rather thankful that we stood up to and defeated tyrants like Napoleon and Hitler, for starters. While I may have issues with some of the ways that we went about doing these things, I am pleased that we were prepared to go to war on such occasions.

  27. Thanks for the great Hauerwas quote! It shook me loose from a momentary swirl of cognitive dissonance.

  28. Ummmm...no, they do not, at least in the generalized sense that you appear to mean.  In addition to the bombs dropped and bullets fired, U. S. foreign policy is a complicated amalgamation of money given away, military conscriptions to distribute rice and protect supply lines, and Marshall Plans both big and small.  Market capitalism's excesses (which even Adam Smith would decry) are admixed with a stream of global benevolence that is almost unimaginable absent the revenues that capitalism generates.  And prisons?  They house, among other folk, the rapist, the murderer, and the wife-beater, saving real people from untold numbers of additional, unnecessary casualties.

    I invite you to come down from your progressive, utopian tower and join us in the gritty, ambiguous reality to which your aesthetic judgments conveniently blind you.  The ferries that pass through our ports sail both ways...apparently millions of people the world over have decided that *landing* at Ellis Island is to be far preferred over embarking there.

  29. Hauerwas is a gift to the church.  He's not always right, but he seldom fails to cut through the haze.

  30. As I have commented elsewhere, Pinker's is far too simplistic an approach. Certain forms of violence may disappear or diminish, but other more subtle forms of violence tend to rise to take their place (my point was never that society has become more violent, just that the forms that violence takes in contemporary society are radically different, and in many respects incommensurable). There is a lot of violence built into our ordinary 'peacetime' ways of going about things, and while we may not inflict so much violence upon our fellow-countrymen, we can be rather adept at creating and sustaining political and economic systems that lead to oppression and violence around the globe. Has any earlier society inflicted so much violence upon the environment as ours does? Our society also has a peculiar imaginative preoccupation with violence, if our media is anything to judge by.

    In a culture of apathetic plenty there is a lot less to fight over. The fact that we don't believe in much worth fighting for doesn't necessarily mean that we have become less violent, though. A culture afflicted with postmodern acedia and sloth can have its own forms of violence, and the time may come when more primitive and obvious forms of violence erupt again, for instance, when the resources and privileges that we feel entitled to are no longer forthcoming as our unsustainable systems and practices collapse.

  31. qb,

    I did not intend to characterize those things as uniformly violent by any means: as you point out, they can be causes of good. Unlike many Christians, I actually think that empires can for the best in some periods of history, and that the world has benefited much from the significance benevolence of 'Christian' empires, such as Britain and America, despite their marked evils and failings. My point was merely that violence often has a presence within these systems. The prison system may keep a lot of evil people off the streets, but when about 1% is incarcerated at a time, one has to wonder whether we are dealing with a degree of excessive systemic violence.

    Capitalism can be an immense cause of good in the world, creating bonds of mutual interest and trade between nations where previously armies rather than goods crossed borders. However, the vast scale and character of our economic system can often be a means by which unethical practices built into the system are 'laundered' through many mediating parties to give us products that are increasingly detached from the compromised processes by which they are created. The globalized economy means that our lifestyle choices have an unprecedented impact upon the lives of people on the other side of the world, but that the voice of the oppressed worker may be less likely to be heard by his master than ever before. The worker's master once lived in the same neighbourhood: now he may be in an office in a skyscraper on the other side of the world. Evil and violence can easily become anonymous in such a system. We are far less likely to be aware of the damage that we are causing.

    The violent costs of our lifestyle are less likely to be borne by us than ever before. America's foreign policy has more of an immediate effect on the life of the person in Basra than it does on the person in Cleveland. It is in Africa that warlords will be producing blood diamonds for us, and in South America that drug lords will terrorize communities to serve our habits. American foreign aid is hardly primarily driven by charity, but is transparently strategic, and even designed as a means of control. Once American hegemony ends, it will be very interesting to see the world that results. I suspect that those voices proclaiming the coming of world peace will soon be silenced.

    My point here was not to be utopian - quite the opposite. I was merely challenging a one-sided portrayal of the world, and arguing that what we may view as the coming of world peace really might not be as simple as that when we begin to look closer. The means by which our lives come to feel more peaceful have a shadow side to them.

  32. Hello Everyone,
    I had a feeling this thread might get some attention. When you have pacifism, just war, same-sex attraction and reading the bible all in one post, well, that's a volatile mix

    Given that this comment thread is likely to go in a lot of different directions, let me just underline my intentions regarding this post.

    This post isn't an argument for anything. Though I think the agruments about just war and gay marriage are important and interesting, I wasn't trying to argue for or against anything in this post. So let me state this clearly: I expected readers who read the post with View X, whatever that may be, to continue to hold to View X after the post. I'm not trying to change anyone's mind--pacifict, just war propoent, gay affirming, or traditional Christian sexual ethic. Please keep the view you currently have on any of these issue.

    The point of the post, per the title, is to ask a question about Christian communion. I've just been puzzling over the question: If fellowship can be held there, then why not here?

  33. I had a similar conversation with my conservative mother the
    other day - and as I was talking about my gay friends and why I don't
    see how they live as an issue, she stated that it should be the duty of a
    Christian, to be concerned about these things because they concern the

    I posed a similar question to her that you ask here, is living gay a
    make it or break it for salvation? Do we really believe that a different
    reading of the biblical text denies an authentic relationship with

    I don't know that anyone reads and interprets the bible correctly, or
    that on any given issue we can see the mind and will of God any clearer
    than through a glass darkly. Because of this, I think that God's
    salvation, as you mention, is more
    open than closed; is more inclusive than exclusive. I find it difficult to make the assumption that ones same-sex marriage would destroy one's experience of God's ultimate grace. I cannot grasp that one would have to be "saved" first from being gay in order to be saved through Christ.

  34. Tricky problem, Richard.

    Killing is prohibited by Biblical texts. Killing is also commanded by Biblical texts. In order to avoid saying "the Bible contradicts itself" a lot of interpretive gymnastics come into play. Killing is, the church decides, occasionally a good idea. Clearly this is so, for doesn't the God of the Bible command genocides and infanticides and patricides and so forth throughout at least the beginning of the OT? Then killing in and of itself cannot be wrong. It's the context that matters.

    Given the Bible's ambivalence on the issue, killing isn't all that big of a deal. Biblically speaking, killing is a matter of personal choice, much the way that the pro-choice crowd suggests abortion ought to be. This is especially true when the state commits the murder. Despite Jesus' explicit directive that only one who is without sin may throw the first stone, that stone or hypodermic needle or missile or bomb, etc, is thrown all the time. Frequently the excuse made is that the government did it rather than a person. Because of Romans, the government can kill anyone that I've decided needs to die.

    Homosexuality is a much bigger deal. It is prohibited but never condoned. In fact, the killing of people specifically because they're gay is commanded. There is no apparent contradiction in the text to resolve, here. It's sinful, period.

    In order to overcome this in terms of communion, something has to be done about the lack of Biblical allowances for some people to be gay. David's relationship with Jonathan, for example, might be called into question. Or something.

    Someone else mentioned the fact that the church ignores Jesus' explicit and unambiguous command that nobody may be married more than once. The difference there is one of population. If gays are excluded, well, that's ok. There aren't that many gays. Certainly there aren't any in our church.

    Divorced folks, though, are up to 80% of the population of a church, depending on where you're living. We can't just tell 80% of the congregation that they have to either commit to lifelong celibacy or reconcile with their original spouse. (I mean, have you met him? He isn't very nice. Still has my circular saw he borrowed last spring.) So churches have to allow the explicit command of Jesus to be rationalized away for the good of the body. Amen.

    Maybe there's the solution: more gay people in the church. If the LGBT population grows to match the divorced population within a church, then the tide will turn.

    (Disclaimer: Many of my closest friends are LGB or T and that they're broken in some way because they're not straight is silly, in my opinion. Either the Bible's been misunderstood on this issue or it's wrong. Hence, I might be a bit irreverent about this.)

  35. Brilliant post Richard, and some very interesting comments too - which as you observed could spin off into many directions and sub-threads, as is the nature of on-line discussion. My two cents ...
    Your line "... the traditional Christian sexual ethic was a boundary marker that couldn't be crossed if one wanted to be a Christian." set me to thinking about that word "traditional". Many of us like our Christianity to be traditional. We like traditional hymns, traditional Christmas, traditional clerical garb, traditional pews and stained glass windows - and yet all of these are very historcially contingent and can be traced to a point in time before which they would have been recognised as novelties. In newer churches that reject these outward signs of tradition there is a sense that the tradition we look to is a doctrinal tradition - the traditional gospel, traditional Christian ethics, the traditional concept of God - but all these too are contingent and have been through some pretty radical and non-linear changes over the past two millenia.

    It seems that some churches today have drawn the moral drawbridge up around a model of sexual morality which is about boys and girls leaving the parental authority and often also leaving home, having romantic feelings and actions towards a number of potential partners over a quite long period of time (with or without varying degrees of sexual activity), an announcement of engagement which is at the initiative of the couple alone, a further period of romantic intimacy, a marriage event that combines civil and sacramental aspects, a period of cohabition (sometimes overlapping with one or more of the previous stages), (and then increasingly often) a civil process of divorce which is assumed to have sacramental effect also, rinse and repeat as often as required. A model that probably owes more to Rom-coms than the Bible.

    It may be "traditional", but it is also highly novel - and a very strange place to draw the line and say "this much change, but not an inch more". It may even be better than some of the patriarchal models of sexual ethics known to the Bible, which makes it even odder for folk to point to this novel creation and place their hand on the trusty Book and call this "Biblical" (per your recent discussion.)

    I end up coming back to the comments of a few of your posters "ew!" - this is about what disgusts ME, about what I like and what I don't. And because God is good chap he certainly would tolerate anything dirty and disgust-ing. And that leads us into some very fruitful theology...

  36. Put in reverse: Why would/should all issues of difference be made equal? Why wouldn’t we come to peace with a tension between some perspectives, and draw clear lines around others? Why does being clear on what sexuality and marriage mean in Christianity often elicit such a response of disgust?

  37. The divorce and remarriage texts simply aren't as clear-cut as those wanting to employ them in a tu quoque selectivity argument need them to be. See this for a helpful treatment from someone who has done doctoral work on the subject.

  38. The use of sexuality as grounds for identity is a modern phenomenon. There weren't any homosexuals in the first century AD. The 'homosexual' is a recent invention. Of course, there were people who engaged in homosexual practice, and persons who had a preference for such practice, but the idea that such preferences were constitutive and central to one's identity was not really held. The same thing can be said about 'heterosexuality'.

    The important thing here is sexual practice. You are not identified by your inclinations, but you can become identified by your practice. The one who murders becomes a murderer. The one who commits adultery becomes an adulterer. The one who commits sodomy becomes a homosexual. The Bible condemns homosexual practice. There is no reason why persons who struggle with homophile desires should be treated any differently from anyone else. However, those who are practising homosexuals should not be admitted to Christian communion apart from repentance, any more than adulterers, heretics, etc. However, where repentance does occur, they should be washed and welcomed, just as those in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11.

  39. Fellowship with those who disagree with us is possible under various circumstances. It is quite possible for a person who isn't persuaded that homosexual practice is a sin to be subject to the leadership of a church that is, provided that they are not seeking to undermine the authority of their church in the way that they hold and express that position. The practising homosexual cannot be subject to the authority of such a church in the same way.

    Also, while a pacifist church may admit members who hold different views on the subject, things would become a bit more complicated in the case of a member who was an active and proud soldier, or who acted as an executioner. Could such a person be treated as a member in good standing?
    Homosexual practice is an enacted heresy. I do not deny that many heretics are sincere in their beliefs and pious in many respects. I also suspect that God has gracious dealings with them, and that the orthodox are not the only ones who will be saved. However, I do not have the right to welcome the person who, for instance, openly denies and teaches against the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity as a brother in good standing, although I can definitely welcome many who are confused on the subject, while being subject to the guidance and leadership of the church.Differences on the subject of just war and pacifism are as old as the Church itself. Although this is an incredibly important issue, it isn't one on which the tradition has arrived at a consensus, and the biblical teaching on the subject allows for different interpretations. Homosexual practice, however, is uniformly and unambiguously condemned by the Scriptures and by the tradition, and this condemnation is only just beginning to be challenged.

  40. There is a danger we are going off topic here, but I think we are still on the ground staked out by Richard in terms of Christian communion.
    Just for a moment taking as read the notion "homosexual practices as sin" in your post, I wonder if you are being completely consistent, Alastair? Are you saying that all unrepentant sin is a grounds for the denial of the open hand and shared loaf of Christian communion? There's a woman at my communion rail who surely is less than repentant in her gluttony, and I'm sure that the one of the church wardens shoudl be doing more about his avarice, as for that thing I heard Sue tell Mary, was that really true - and does that make her a gossip or a liar, not to mention Tim's addiction and Katie's lapses into drunkenness. Pretty soon I'll be celebrating at the table on my own! Unless they all find out about the thoughts I've been having...

    I do appreciate Alastair that the limits of reading and writing something pithy in a few hundred words on a blog mean that I will have got you wrong, just as you may well pick up something in this that I did not intend - but I hope we can still break bread together (unless I'm gay of course).

  41. Excellent points! But I fear many will react in disgust by the idea that we should reconsider our modern groundings for self identity.

  42. Simon,

    Not all sins are equal and not all sins should be treated in the same way. Different sins are worthy of different punishments (the fact that homosexual practice was singled out for the death penalty in the OT should give us some idea that God does not regard it as a trifling matter). The gossip should not be treated in the same way as the person who murders another human being. The person who sins unwittingly should be treated differently to the person who sins wilfully. The person who is overtaken by temptation and repents should not be treated in the same way as the one who rationalizes their sin. The proper procedure of Church discipline should also be followed.

    When dealing with the sorts of sins that you mention, all of these considerations are taken into account. We also need to make sure that we identify sins carefully. For instance, many people have the notion that gluttony is about being fat, and fail to appreciate that many thin people are far more guilty of it than those who are overweight, and that in our cultural setting there are probably far fewer people who make a god of their belly than there are of those who make a god of their lack of a belly. The person who is struggling to overcome their drug addiction should be supported, and not just cut off.

    The big issue here is repentance. The practising homosexual who isn't prepared to acknowledge the sinfulness of their practice and repent of it is in a very different category from the person who was overtaken by temptation and seeks to be restored. The first has no place in the communion of the body. The second should be welcomed.

  43. The thing I struggle with in your first paragraph is that there are many things singled out for the death penalty in the OT and that, by and large, if we acted up these today most of use would wonder about the morality of those actions. All that to say, for me at least, is that there is no easy relationship between the OT and the issues we are discussing, on both issues, killing and sexuality. But there are times, Alastair, when your movement from the OT to the NT to today is so smooth and easy that it gives me heartburn.

  44. Two thoughts. First, I admit it is true that homosexuality has been condemned by the tradition. My point is that the tradition has been, according to some,  heretically in error.  And just because this is a heresy we are used to we don't worry about it. It's not disobedience to Jesus. It's church tradition.

    Regarding Christian communion. I'm thinking less of members in the body than how diversity bodies fellowship each other. Of course, each church will have its own doctrinal and behavioral expectations and members should be, if they want to be members, should follow those. What I'm more interested in his how different faith groups view each other. The communion of, say, a gay affirming church and a traditional church.

  45. Wonderful quote.

    The part I'd add, by way of clarification, is that a "gay in Christ" script like the one posited in the post would sit very well with Hauerwas's view of marriage--the discipline of fidelity.

  46. I see the same hyperbole that you do and agree with your point in general, but I'd argue that "love the sinner, hate the sin" is generally not enacted very well (if such a thing is possible). The feelings of disgust and contempt that many Christians have toward homosexual activity are often projected onto homosexuals themselves. The conservative message that "The gays are coming to get your children" doesn't help in this regard (BTW, I really appreciate that you haven't engaged in any such rhetoric).

  47. Again, I'd quibble.

    What is "clear and straightforward" has everything to do with where you stand. Pacifists see the case as "clear and straightforward." "Clear and straightforward" should often just be translated "I've been convinced that this is true."  Tell someone like a Hauerwas that pacifism, in Jesus's teaching and in the practices of the early Christians, isn't "clear and straightforward."

  48. "The gossip should not be treated in the same way as the person who murders another human being."

    I agree that different sins have different consequences, but I question the logic that gossip is "better" than homosexual behavior.  In addition to Richard's comment regarding other sins that required the death penalty, I would suggest that perhaps we need to look at through the lens of "loving God and loving neighbor."  Gossiping destroys reputations and relationships, whereas a consensual, mutually monogamous relationship between two men or two women does neither.

  49. Richard,

    At the outset let me make clear that I am not advocating the use of the death penalty in such cases today. My point is merely that the fact that a particular sin is ordinarily exposed to the death penalty in the OT should give pause to any who would regard it as an adiaphorous matter.

    As I have argued elsewhere in this comment thread, the Scriptures have a radically different conceptual framework for thinking about the sin of homosexual practice than most modern people. We tend to think in terms of homosexual practice as a victimless crime between two consenting parties and consequently believe that it is completely inappropriate to condemn it that strongly. The biblical conception is of homosexual practice as a dishonouring of the human body, a wicked parody of marriage, an attack upon the image of God and the natural male-female form that God has created, and something bound up with an idolatrous misrepresentation of God. The fact that we struggle to see how God could ever command that consenting partners engaging in homosexual acts should be put to death arises in no small measure from the fact that we do not perceive sexual practices in the same biblical conceptual frameworks.

    There are indeed a number of things singled out for the death penalty in the OT. However, they are singled out because they were serious sins, whether against God's more general desire for humankind (and most of the sexual sins fall under this category, being regarded as aspects of the Noahic commands), or against the specific character of the covenant with Israel. Rather than brushing such things off, we need to ask ourselves why a just and loving God would command or condemn them in the first place.

    The relationship between the OT and the NT on such matters may not always be straightforward. However, there is a relationship between the position of the OT and the NT. The NT picks up the conceptual categories of the OT when speaking of homosexual practice, and reaffirms the continuing binding character of the commands against idolatrous practices and sexual immorality, in which class homosexual practice was included, on the Gentiles.

    If I move easily from OT to NT, I would merely claim to be following the example of the apostles on this matter. The Apostle Paul clearly regarded the OT as inspired primarily with the Church in view, including the Mosaic law, right down to the most obscure of details (Romans 15:4; 1 Corinthians 10:11; 9:8-10). Paul does not seem to treat the death penalty as completely abolished, but presents it as fulfilled in the church's practice of excommunication. He argues that those engaging in homosexual practice are 'worthy of death' (Romans 1:32), and he can also use the classic death penalty command as a sort of proof-text for the practice of excommunicating the sexually immoral in 1 Corinthians 5:13. The apostles simply do not seem to have had the same qualms about appealing to such OT commandments as most Christians today do. Although the apostles present the Law as completely fulfilled in Christ and his body, they do not regard it as abolished, so much as transformed and raised to a different plane. The OT law still has continuing bearing on how we ought to live, even though it is not enacted literally.

    What do you think that the Church ought to do with the texts that advocate the death penalty for homosexual practice? How do you think that the Church ought to relate to a God who would ever have commanded such a thing in a particular context? Historical contexts may change, but the Church has always confessed that God does not.

  50. I was tracking with that quote until the last sentence.  How is the idea of homosexual marriage inconsistent with "a calling that makes promises of lifelong monogamous fidelity in which children are welcomed"?

  51. I will just quote what I said in response to another comment here:

    "...the Scriptures have a radically different conceptual framework for thinking about the sin of homosexual practice than most modern people. We tend to think in terms of homosexual practice as a victimless crime between two consenting parties and consequently believe that it is completely inappropriate to condemn it that strongly. The biblical conception is of homosexual practice as a dishonouring of the human body, a wicked parody of marriage, an attack upon the image of God and the natural male-female form that God has created, and something bound up with an idolatrous misrepresentation of God. The fact that we struggle to see how God could ever command that consenting partners engaging in homosexual acts should be put to death arises in no small measure from the fact that we do not perceive sexual practices in the same biblical conceptual frameworks."

    God never commanded the death penalty for gossip, but he did for homosexual practice. That fact alone is worth pondering.

  52. Good questions worthy of deep reflection. I suppose some might point out that God not only permitted killing under certain conditions in the OT but actually commanded it. There is no comparable endorsement of homosexual activity in any context in either testament.

  53. In the PC(USA) there is an official communion with the United Church of Christ and the Episcopal Church, but ironically there is not an official communion with the more conservative Presbyterian Church in America, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, or the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.  Of course, this official communion came from the General Assembly and does not reflect all congregations in the PC(USA). 

    Here in Portsmouth, the closest thing we have to a relationship between gay affirming churches and non-gay affirming churches would be the Scioto County Ministerial Association which includes, Episcopals, Catholics, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Disciples, Baptists, Methodists, etc. I'm not directly affiliated with the group but it is definitely composed of both gay and non-gay affirming congregations.

  54. I do agree with you that there is a connection between the OT and the NT. But to suggest that the ethical bridge is straightforward would strike many to be a strange claim. Saying there is a connection and specifying the connection to everyone's satisfaction are two different things.

    It is true that God doesn't change. But unpacking what that means has been hotly contested. I mean, the Jews have been pointing that out to Christians for 2,000 years! There's a reason Paul is hot-footing it in Romans 9-11. And if you've ever read Romans 9-11 you know that Paul's defense of God's changelessness is, how should we say this, a bit of a head-scratcher?

    So I'm not saying you're wrong in arguing for a connection, just that 1) I don't share your confidence in how you are connecting the dots, and 2) I do think in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus is, in decisive ways setting out a "new commandment," with the love of enemies being one of its most distinctive features.There is both continuity and a rupture. Hence the break with Judaism (cf. Acts 15).

    Regarding Paul it is clear that he condemns homosexuality. But he also seems to tolerate slavery. That is, Paul seems to tolerate something that we'd consider, next to murder and rape, to be the most serious of sins. More, Paul's views about women (which, btw, affect how I think he views homosexuality) are also problematic to many Christians. This isn't to say we should jettison Paul and not wrestle with his moral vision. Just to say that this whole ground is contested. And in light of that it seems reasonable to think about Christian fellowship when we are all going to disagree.

  55. First, because marriage is a vocation that takes a particular form - a male-female union consummated in penile-vaginal intercourse and ordered towards the bringing of children into the world - not a right to bespoke close personal relationships. The institution of marriage is not oriented primarily towards the satisfaction of the desires of the spouses, but to larger goals that transcend them both, which is why it is a calling that we don't have the right to set the terms of, rather than a private relationship whose definition is open to reinvention.

    Second, because love per se is not the rationale of marriage. Rather marriage is about a calling to a particular form of union. The fact that two men love each other very much is completely irrelevant when it comes to their desire to enter into a union that is not designed for them.Third, because homosexual partnerships are incapable of expressing the monogamous ideal, no matter how committed they are. The monogamous ideal is not merely some vague idea of sexual exclusivity and personal commitment between two partners of whatever sex. The monogamous ideal is built upon the sexual complementarity of male and female, on the fact that only male and female can truly form 'one flesh', creating an organic union between two individuals. The monogamous ideal expresses the traversal of the fundamental reality of human nature - sexual difference - in committed marriages, and the fact that the sexual union formed through this is so real that it should be kept completely exclusive. In marriage the two halves of the human race become one. Marriage presents us with the ideal of lifelong committed and cooperative partnerships between men and women. A homosexual partnership is incapable of bridging the realm of sexual difference. It is also incapable of organic union, working contrary to the natural male-female phenomenology of the human body.

    Fourth, because homosexual intercourse is categorically different from the form of sexual relationship celebrated in true marriage. Marriage exalts a form of sexually relationship that operates according to the natural phenomenology of the body, which is capable of forming an organic bond between two persons, and which is naturally procreative. Homosexual intercourse is necessarily sterile and a homosexual marriage is one that stands as a parody of the form of relationship by which children are invited into the world. The sexual relationship between a man and a woman has the natural capacity to render itself public through procreation, which is the primary reason why wider society has the institution of marriage. Homosexual sexual relationships have no comparable capacity. Same-sex sexual partnerships do not have the public consequences that male-female partnerships can have. Sex is not a univocal reality and homosexual sex just isn't equal to or interchangeable with sex between men and women, whether or not we believe it legitimate.

    Fifth, because treating homosexual partnerships as interchangeable with marriage undermines the child-oriented character of marriage. It compromises the child's right to their biological parents, to one parent of both sex, and to an uncomplicated lineage. No longer is the child regarded as the natural conception from the communion of the bodies that the marriage partners rendered to each other in their wedding vows and in the consummation that followed, but practices that seek to circumvent or avoid the natural form of procreation are increasingly tolerated, and children, rather than being a very visible form of the 'one flesh' union of their parents, become something extrinsic to the bodily partnership between their parents. Rather than being the organic outgrowth of the marital bond, children come to be regarded as an optional second storey to the edifice.

    I really could go on, but suffice it to say that anyone who believes that a same sex partnership is interchangeable with marriage really needs to step back and take a wider look at marriage and family.

  56. I think, again, I'd quibble with how much theological weight you are placing on biological reproduction as the telos of marriage.

    No doubt, reproduction is critical in the OT as the covenant promises were passed along via kinship bonds. But I don't think Adam and Eve are the best theological model of marriage and covenant fidelity. The singular model for marriage is Yahweh and Israel. And that marriage is based upon election. Election and covenant are the models of marriage, not biological reproduction. This continues into the NT where God's election is what "unnaturally" unites the Jew and Gentile. In fact, the phrase "contrary to nature" used in Romans 1 is the same word used to describe God's uniting of Jew and Gentile. Grace--of which marriage is a human type--are "contrary to nature," not based upon biology but upon election.

  57. I understand where you're coming from on this, but there are, as Richard pointed out, any number of reasons to be less than dogmatic on this point.  For now, I will just say that you are reading an awful lot into the reasoning behind the condemnation of (male) homosexual behavior in the OT.  All of the things you say about it may, in fact, be true, but the evidence for it is pretty thin and depends a great deal on making certain assumptions about the nature and purpose of the Genesis creation story.

  58. And if "some" one were to point that out, I would say that the NT provides a new, more challenging ethic for both cases.  Instead of killing our enemies, we love them and bless them.  Instead of killing sexual sinners, we look at our own hearts and lives and root out the hate and lust that infects us.  If we were truly engaged with loving our enemies (and our neighbors) and judging the sins in our own lives, I doubt if we would be spending too much time worrying about who we should be in communion with.

  59. Undoubtedly, Romans 9-11 isn't easy to interpret. However, the profile that Paul gives to the issue shows how serious it is to him. I would like to see those arguing for the legitimacy of homosexual partnerships giving the same profile to biblical texts that condemn it, and arguing for how a just and unchanging God could command such things, while sanctioning and even blessing homosexual partnerships today, perhaps even as interchangeable with marital ones. The fact that this question is seldom presented with such theological force by advocates for the legitimacy of homosexual partnerships suggests to me that they do not share anything like the scriptural and theological sensitivities of the apostle.

    The slavery issue is greatly complicated by our cultural experience of the institution, and by the fact that few people actually look far beyond the 'trigger words' of slavery to actually see how the institution of slavery actually functioned under the Mosaic law, for instance. The OT gives the death penalty for man-stealing, which would rather undermine the slave trade as it has traditionally been practised. The biblical form of slavery was primarily designed for dealing with debt and crime in a society without prisons and a welfare system, and in which property was not to be completely taken from its original owners. The emphasis throughout the law is on the release of slaves, and the law is geared to ensure this reality, with such things as sabbath years and the year of Jubilee. Within the society in which it was instituted, I see no reason why we cannot regard the biblical institution of slavery as quite just and even gracious. Let's not forget that the covenant was founded on God's deliverance of Israel from oppressive servitude and that it was designed to institute this as a standard aspect of Israel's national life.

  60. Alastair, not sure where to put this, but I wanted to make a meta-level observation.

    First, I greatly appreciate your whole demeanor in this thread. You're a wonderful illustration of how Christians can have civil conversation on matters on which they disagree. So thanks for that!

    In light of that, let me clarify why I'm chasing all your comments down to add my own reflections. Given how many comments you were making I thought I'd just add my own pushback to create a sort of Alastair & Richard Case Study. That is, if two intelligent, sincere, biblically literate and extraordinarily good looking Christians like you and I can't find agreement on two issue of deep moral concern (war and sexuality) then where does that place Christian fellowship? Thus my responses to you are less an attempt to criticize, rebut, or convince than to show, for all to see, the central point of my post.

  61. Biological reproduction is not the sole telos of marriage, but it is a primary one biblically, both in the OT and the NT. Where reproduction is no longer necessary, marriage ceases to exist (Luke 20:35-36). This has been recognized by the Christian tradition. Even though it has not been regarded as the sole telos of the institution, it has been regarded as central and integral to the institution (see, for instance, the Book of Common Prayer's form for marriage). Sexual difference is even more central to the biblical descriptions of marriage.

    Socially the same can be said: if the human race did not reproduce, society really wouldn't take the interest that it does in the institution of marriage. As Bertrand Russell observes: "it is through children alone that sexual relations become important to society, and worthy to be taken cognizance of by a legal institution." It is highly doubtful that society would have an institution of socially approved and celebrated sexual intercourse if men and women couldn't reproduce.

    Election and covenant are models for marriage, but the forming of unions across sexual difference and the creation of a new generation are some of the primary realities with which this election and covenant are concerned (e.g. Malachi 2:14-15).

    The use of 'against nature' language in reference to homosexual practice is clearly condemnatory (cf. Romans 1:26f). As Markus Bockmuehl observes, homosexual practice was regarded as the paradigmatic sin against the created order. Homosexual practice is a perversion of and violent affront to the order established by God. In the case of the grafting in of new branches into the covenant tree, Paul's point is that God's grace does not proceed according to some natural set course, but that radical initiatives can be taken and new creations be formed. Focusing on words isolated from their wider context really is poor exegesis. God has the right to make new creations and eclipse old natural orders: we do not have the right to arrogate this divine initiative to ourselves.

    Frankly, the idea that homosexual partnerships and true marriages can be regarded as interchangeable does incredible violence to the biblical teaching on so many levels that I really do not know where to start.

  62. As I read through the comments I try to see who is more incredulous and who exudes a greater sense of disgust: Is it those who think God loves everyone and yet places limits on sexuality (beyond that of mere fidelity of consenting adults)? Or is it those who want to deviate from the teaching of those who have gone before us? It seems clear that it is the later who seem more disgusted at the possibility of a God who sets limits that threaten even our deepest cultural values. But does this disgust not thwart our mission to be salt and light?Tradition aside, are we willing to hear how the bible defines love and holiness, or do we feel entitled to project our notions unto the text?

  63. Good question.

    There have been innumerable biblically literate, sincere, pious, and intelligent heretics in the history of the Church. The conditions for Christian fellowship are not the same as those of the academy and its collegiality, where we recognize that it is quite possible for an extremely intelligent person to hold radically contrasting opinions. The criterion of Christian fellowship is not knowledge, smarts, and sincerity, but faith. Christian fellowship is governed by the bounds of orthodoxy and orthopraxy, and positions that lead people to attack or compromise the fundamental principles of orthodoxy and orthopraxy - the principles of Christian faith - are inadmissible, no matter how intelligent and biblical literate the one holding them might be.

    I have many smart friends who hold very different views to me on the subject of the legitimacy of homosexual practice (including several friends in homosexual partnerships). They are intelligently wrestling with real questions, questions to which I don't want to pretend easy answers exist, and to which the Church needs to be more sensitive. However, there comes a point when most of these views have made clear and demonstrable compromises on such fundamental subjects as God's authority in Scripture (as they have followed the implications of their position further, rather than stepping back and reconsidering that they may have made a wrong turning somewhere along the line). No matter how intelligent and biblically literate the one making this compromise, full Christian fellowship can no longer be enjoyed at this point.

    At this point, I will have to leave this conversation: I have rather a lot of work that I should be getting on with. Thanks once again for being such a gracious host.

  64. I haven't read all these posts, so I might be repeating something someone else has already said.  If so, sorry.  That having been said, one dynamics I see playing itself out here (and this has to do with maintaining communion, not same sex relationships or killing per se) is the tendancy to use other peoples' behavior to sanction our own.  So, Jesus calls us to love our enemies, but we tend not to like that command, and so we use other poeples' behavior to rationalize our own hostility.  Comment flame wars are a great example of this.  "You" said something that made "me" mad, and now you have brought my wrath down upon your head.  My lack of love is "your" fault.

    In that context, I completely agree with you (Dr. Beck).  If someone sees no problem with "gay in Christ" and I do, how does that deminish my responsibility to love them anyway.  I am the only one that can be held responsible for how I treat people.  And as you said, we have already gone through the process of finding ways of maintaining relationships when it comes to other devisive issues.

    I guess what I'm trying to say is that the responsibility to maintain or build community falls on me, not the "other."

  65. A further question then: Is it necessarily for a lack of love that someone would be excluded from Christian fellowship? That is, is it possible to not admit someone into fellowship with the church, yet with true, heart-felt love and continued engagement and friendship? Perhaps I’m too young to be offended by homosexuality. So I don’t understand when people react to it with revulsion. But that said, just because I’m not offended by it doesn’t mean that it meshes with God’s theo-drama scripted for us in scripture—for which the church has been commissioned to perform and re-present in our day and age. My conditioned likes and dislikes can’t be the starting place for truth and practice—nor for unity and fellowship.

  66. I think this is getting to the heart of what I'm struggling with. Too be sure, the "gay in Christ" script is on shaky biblical ground. I mean, I'm not an idiot. I can read. But my point is that a lot of stuff is on biblically shaky ground, moral and doctrinal. Everyone not apart of my tradition/view is, by default, on biblically shaky ground. But for the most part, Christian fellowship extends across those divides. Not agreement, but a general sense that we're on the same team, doing our best to follow Christ, each in his or her own broken way and tradition.

    I mean, maybe I'm going to get to heaven and God's going to be angry with me, saying "Big mistake. You should have told those gay Christians they were going to hell." I'll admit it's a real possibility.

    But I'll likely respond, "Yeah, well, you shouldn't have died on the cross saying 'Father forgive them, they know not what they do.' Your whole Incarnation thing really messed me up."

    And you know how I think God will respond? This way: "Well, that was really a minor issue. But you know what really gets under my skin? All those millions of people killed by Christians. Many of them innocents and children, what they call 'collateral damage.' It's puzzling because I thought I was very clear in the Sermon on the Mount."

    And I'll nod and say, "I thought you were too. But it was tough being a human."

  67. "God never commanded the death penalty for gossip, but he did for homosexual practice. That fact alone is worth pondering."

    Who then should the sexually ambiguous (those with both male and female sex organs) practice sex with? Should they then be killed for having sex with either males or females, and should they only be allowed to have a relationship with other sexually ambiguous persons? If sexuality is a choice then I suppose that the sexually ambiguous chose their sexuality in the womb?

    Concerning your "choice" to be heterosexual, when did you make it... before birth or after? And when making that choice were you non-sexual at the time, and simply chose to be heterosexual in order to please God? Or perhaps you were attracted to both sexes... and children... and animals... but wisely chose to practice sex only with women?

    These questions are not meant to insult you, but to possibly inspire you to further insight.  And whether or not you, or I, or anyone else - including God - consider homosexual practice a "sin," the fact remains: Christ "took away the sins of the world."

    "God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their transgressions against them, but giving us the ministry of reconciliation."  2Cor. 5:19

    But are you practicing the "ministry of reconciliation" by telling homosexuals (or any of the rest of us sinners) that God has already reconciled them to Himself and is NOT counting their sins against them? Or are you simply spreading the ministry of the "traditions of men" by telling them that YOUR "church" speaks for God, and that He finds them repulsive?

    Please forgive me for what may come across as harshness towards you in these questions, but while your demeanor in these comments does avoid sounding like you are attacking homosexuals, that does not make your position any less judgmental towards them.

  68. Richard & Alastair --
    I see Richard's central point, and I agree that it is working.  By the same token, as an outsider, I find Alastair's comments to be cogent, on-point, thoughtful, well-reasoned, and very persuasive.  As one who was bullied mercilessly as a child (and I have read many of Richard's past comments about how he feels about bullies -- murder would not be too strong a word in this context), let me share a few thoughts.
    I was mistreated as a child and young adult due to severe orthopedic deformities.  This abuse came from both my peers and Phys. Ed teachers.  I get the part about not verbally or physically harming gay children or adults.  The issue of Christian Communion is one which is outside my purview due to my admitted disinterest and also lack of relevant experience.
    So I will just say this:  I was first made aware of the violent nature of humanity on a personal level on Nov. 22, 1963.  I was at that time in the 9th grade and at the height of the bullying which had over-whelmed me for the preceding five years.  Then Hollywood started to glorify hard-core gore with the release of "Bonnie and Clyde" in 1967, the film which in my opinion began the whole-sale desensitization towards violence in our culture.  Then came the VN war, but those who protested saw no problem with getting drunk on Saturday night and killing themselves and others on the highways.  In 1972 we began the slaughter of the innocents.  Now -- 50 years later we are unable to contemplate a world without random violence, home invasions, terrorism, and murder in our own neighborhoods on a daily basis.  Growing up in small-town New Jersey during the 1950's, I never heard of ANYONE who had been killed other than in an auto accident.
    With the issue of homosexuality, I, like many others, cannot get past the "ick" factor.  C. S. Lewis explained about "Natural Law", and how one breaks it at one's own peril.  Jump out a 20-story window, and the Law of Gravity will do you in.  You cannot ignore it.  It seems the same to me with homosexuality.  It goes against Natural Law.  Just because many people now see it as a "civil rights" issue does not make it so.  This, to me, is the power of Alastair's argument.  He is using logic and reason to refute what is essentially here an emotional issue.  
    Ask yourself if our culture today is more base, more vulgar, more rude, less hospitable, less accepting of others, than it was just 50 years ago.  Search deeply and BE HONEST.  From where I sit, it is without doubt a much less friendly world.  Why is this so??  And not just to certain types.  This is the myth exposed here:  in the name of inclusion and diversity, ALL are now more alienated and separated.  I'm not here singling out gays and lesbians.  Blame it on the Internet, religion, economics, crime, drugs, cars, housing, zoning, or government intervention in the minutiae of our lives.  Whatever.  Many people of good will would be more accepting of gays if their lifestyle were not being aggressively marketed to our children.  It is not enough to "accept" gays -- we are being asked to celebrate their agenda as if it were our own.  All for something which is not only unintelligible but also abhorrent to a majority of human beings.

  69. "Why does being clear on what sexuality and marriage mean in Christianity often elicit such a response of disgust?"

    Perhaps because - at least in the case of sexuality - the evidence is (slowly becoming) overwhelming that a person's sexuality is not a choice. This would be like the old belief that the more pure of sin you are, the more white your skin is. It's no longer acceptable to say that someone with African heritage is black out of choice, because they're choosing to sin - that's ridiculous and to many a disgusting thing to say. To say that someone is gay out of choice, and therefore choosing to sin, is starting to feel just as ridiculous as time goes on.

  70. Here’s my thoughts as to Dr. Beck’s original question about
    how we share fellowship with those who believe (and perhaps practice) things
    that we don’t.


    I think the answer starts with admitting that understanding/interpreting/applying
    the bible is hard. *Really hard*. The narrative spans thousands of years and many
    cultures. It wasn’t written in our native tongue, and there’s significant
    disagreement in some areas of translation. Many parts of it had a context about
    which we can only speculate (Pauline epistles), besides our limited knowledge
    of the cultural context of its times. We don’t have the original documents, and
    there have been transmission errors along the way that are non-trivial to correct.
    On top of that, generations of Christians before us, faced with this same hard
    problem, have left their tries at interpretation on the text.


    On top of that, it’s hard to integrate a modern scientific
    understanding of the world into the text of the bible. When does life start?
    When does life end? How old is the earth? How are we related to the tree of
    life? And it can be hard to integrate our modern, 3-dimensional, complex ethical
    struggles with a 2-dimensional biblical text.


    And on top of that, since we believe that one God inspired
    it all – both the bible and the world itself – we believe that these must be
    harmony between them. So we try to fit a model that makes sense of these
    sources. And all our models are procrustean to the core – we chop off bits here
    and stretch the text there.


    I think some people see this admission as undermining the
    authority of scripture (and I think inerrancy and various forms of literalism
    is a reaction to this claim). But our fundamental inability to make sense of
    the bible doesn’t undermine its authority – it simply undermines our ability to
    claim a normative interpretation for ourselves. Which is probably good, because
    if all the rules for living could be written down clearly in a 1000-page book,
    the world would be much more boring and tragic.


    I think this kind of epistemic humility is at the core of
    building community between dissenting voices. Because when we admit how hard it
    is, when we really struggle with a text, we can sometimes see that happening in
    other people, and recognize that they’re not wicked – they’re just bozos on the
    same bus. And it makes it easier for us to lay down our models of how things *should* be to actually interact with the other person.


    But epistemic humility (or any kind of humility) isn’t
    something that can be forced on people. It’s something they have to learn for
    themselves. One way to go about this would be to struggle with the text


    I have a bad habit, when in bible study, of not trying to
    rock the boat. I don’t want to inject ambiguity into a text, especially with
    new believers. And it’s socially awkward to be the person who disagrees with
    everyone else’s reading and tradition. So maybe on my part, being more honest
    and open with my struggles with the text, even on little things, might help
    others be more confident and open with their struggles.


    But part of me is afraid to do this, because on the other
    side of epistemic humility lies doubt. 

  71. Sam, your comments contains some interesting ironies.  You refer to the "ick" factor, which is indeed an issue for how straight people view homosexuality.  Surely as someone with a physical deformity you can appreciate the fact that there are a lot of people whose bodies are not "natural" (whatever that means), some of which generate an "ick" factor of their own.  Does this mean that such people are less worthy of Christian communion?  Leaving aside for the moment the issue of what Scripture has to say (which an appeal to "nature" seems to do), why then do we withhold fellowship from those whose sexuality is not "natural"?

    You raise an interesting point about Gay Pride, which I, too, struggled with until recently.  Situations where rights are abridged often result in an overreaction by those whose rights are being abridged.  Think back to the "Black Pride" celebrations of the 60s.  I'm sure these made Whites uncomfortable and seemed over-the-top, but it was the only way Blacks could get the message of equality into public view.  I'm sure one could cite other examples.  Likewise, I think that Gay Pride celebrations will subside when being gay is not a cause for discrimination and is accepted by society.  You also refer to the gay lifestyle being marketed to children.  Given that sexual preferences are usually cemented long before the marketing occurs, I'm not sure that this is a serious problem, but, assuming that it is, I think one could place the blame for that squarely in the laps of society as a whole, which aggressively markets sexuality of all types to children.  Let's get our own house in order before blaming gays for doing what they think is necessary to gain some semblance of respect and dignity in society.

  72. Actually, they really are rather clear-cut. Unlike in the case of debates on divorce and remarriage, or pacifism, there has been a clear consensus throughout the history of the Church that the NT unequivocally condemns homosexual practice. It has only been subsequent to changes in society that exegetes have popped up arguing that they can't really be condemning homosexual practice as we understand it.

    Now, one can well argue that the biblical condemnation of homosexual practice is wrong, and that the Scripture writers just did not envisage loving, committed homosexual partnerships engaged in by Christians, and that their condemnation of homosexual practice per se should be reread as an overreaction to a particular wicked cultural form of homosexual practice. However, such a position moves us some distance from an orthodox Christian understanding of Scripture, and largely fails to address many of the deeper problems that the case for homosexual practice faces from biblical treatments of such subjects as sexual difference, marriage, sexual practice, and procreation.

  73. Just an observation that when you use the phrase "orthodox Christian" you're using a much narrower definition than the confession of the Apostle's or Nicene Creeds. A gay Christian could confess both creeds and be an orthodox Christian.

  74. I have little interest, and even less expertise, in challenging you point-by-point here, especially since your points are a considerable extrapolation from what is found in Scripture (however true they may or may not be). I would venture to say, however, that these ivory tower philosophical definitions of marriage, monogamy, etc. would be difficult to comprehend for most couples, straight or otherwise.  Any couple who stayed physically and emotionally faithful to their partner for life would consider themselves monogamous, regardless of how you parse the definition.

    As for children, the original quote questioned the ability of a homosexual couple to "welcome children."  Welcoming seems to include a lot more than just the traditional way of having children.  I readily admit that there are a lot of issues here with respect to children, but this quote did not seem to be getting at them.

    One final thought: how does sentencing gays to a lifetime of celibacy uphold any of the ideals that you have proposed here?  The Apostle Paul recommended that couples who struggle with sexual frustration should marry and it is widely recognized that there are great deal of physical and mental health benefits of marriage.  I admire those who voluntarily restrict themselves in this way (for this reason or for lifetime service to the Lord), but I think it is unrealistic to think that all Christians are going to be able to do this and thus it seems somewhat uncharitable to refuse to fellowship with those who are unable to do so.  You mentioned in a previous comment that an attitude of repentance is all that is needed.  Which is better: someone who recognizes their weaknesses and engages in a mutually monogamous relationship, or someone who desires to repent but is constantly falling off the wagon and making a mockery of their faith?

  75. Christian orthodoxy has always involved more than the mere confession of the Nicene or Apostles' Creeds. The Creeds are secondary documents. The primary document(s) of Christian orthodoxy are the scriptural texts and a person who explicitly rejects the authority of God exercised through these texts on a matter to which they speak clearly is not an orthodox Christian, however much they might want to regard themselves as one.

  76. As I said -- I speak as an outsider, not having been in attendance during my adult lifetime.  I find no irony in my post, other than the fact that I am white and was reared in a black inner-city church during the Civil Rights era.
    Having a genetic disease and being of a certain race are accidents of birth over which a person has zero control.  As a youth, I empathized with my black friends precisely on this basis if no other.  It is not at all difficult for me now to understand why close to 90% of blacks routinely vote down gay marriage initiatives.   
    I am not of the mind that a person's behavior falls into the same category as their native IQ, race, or handicap.  I knew as a child that some people were repulsed by the sight of me, but this did not usually bother me long as they kept their hands and comments to themselves.  The stares I learned to expect and remember learning about human behavior by watching people watch me when they were not aware that I could see them -- such as after we passed by each other and I could see them turn around to stare in a plate-glass window next to me.  But it has never occurred to me, during the entirety of my lifetime, that I am somehow entitled to "special" treatment or status simply by virtue of being handicapped.  In fact -- I find this idea to be demeaning and condescending.  The only special treatment I ever asked for in my entire life was to be excused permanently from pointless gym classes.
    I consider any "science" which posits genetic predisposition to such things as addiction or homosexuality to be dubious at best.  The "proof" I require is simply not there, or, at least, I am not aware of any such studies.  I have a medical background and also a sensitivity to that which I do consider immutable based upon personal experience with "bad" DNA.
    None of the folks who mocked me was an exceptional physical specimen.  I always retained the option of "considering the source", as it often turned pain into humor.  Moreover, for me there is a transcendent beauty and meaning in the male-female archetype, such that even the thought of same-sex union is grotesque.  It is as if someone were to attempt to perform Handel using a food processor. 
    I am not here to argue for or against the church's acceptance or condemnation of homosexuality.  I agree with Richard that intelligent and caring adults should be able to have a sincere debate.  I was moved by Alastair's posts, and thought I would add a perspective from someone who really has no "skin in the game" as far as church fellowship goes -- but who -- nonetheless, has been on the receiving end of both bigotry and violence. 

  77. I think one problem I'm having is that there are very clear cases where something is disapproved of in the OT that we don't carry forward. Has God changed? Suddenly he likes mixed fibers and pigs?

    Regarding gay Christians not having the sensitivities of the apostle, that's close to a character attack. They don't have those sensitivities because, what, they disagree with your readings of the text?  I'm not trying to attack you back, just pointing out how your rhetoric is shifting to commenting on the virtues of those who disagree with you.

    Finally, I'm also detecting some moving goal posts. For example, here in your comments about slavery (and Paul wasn't talking about a "biblical institution" but Roman slavery), you get to have it both ways. When we disagree with Paul on something you agree with we're not as "sensitive" as Paul. But when the issue is something we're all sensitive about (e.g. slavery) we can just say that slavery was "just and even gracious." Which is a remarkable thing to say.

  78. I think this is missing the point a bit. The bible, as we are ably illustrating in this thread, is all over the place and, thus, unable to be used as a definition of orthodoxy (Do you baptize the dead?).

    For example, you used the Trinity in another comment. That's not a biblical concept. Hence the controversies. So, yes, the creeds are secondary documents, but they regulate the grammer of the faith given that the "primary" documents are unable to do so. Thus the creeds, and not the bible, define orthodoxy, traditionally understood. This was, we all know, was the whole point of the creeds--the definition and establishment of orthodoxy.

  79. The early church creeds were more or less summaries of Christian belief, not treatises on Christian ethics. They really don’t speak to any specific morality. You are right that practicing homosexuals could confess these creeds, but merely confessing them did not make one a Christian (James 2:19). If we read the early church writers in how they apply the ‘rule of faith’ I think we’ll see that it is they that have the narrower view of ‘orthodoxy’ than we do today.

  80. I understand that "contrary to nature" was condemnatory in Romans 1. The point of Romans 1 was to play upon the moral stereotypes Jews had of Gentiles, only to turn on them in Romans 2. The point was that Gentiles were perceived to be "by nature" morally inferior. And yet, God does something just as "unnatural" by electing them and joining them with the (in their own minds) morally superior Jew ("there is neither Jew nor Gentile"). The point being, the language of "nature" you seem to be basing a lot of your theology of marriage on isn't doing what I think you think it's doing. The marriage of the church to God isn't based upon nature. It's based upon election and covenant. And that, I think, is the proper theological foundation of marriage. It's the covenant bond best described by Ruth to Naomi, a woman-to-woman vow we use to seal marriages:

    "Don't urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I
    will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people
    and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be
    buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything
    but death separates you and me."

  81. “The marriage of the church to God isn't based upon nature. It's based upon election and covenant. And that, I think, is the proper theological foundation of marriage.”

    Richard, isn’t that a hysteron proteron? The relationship between God and the church is mirrored in the metaphor of marriage before it is the case the other way around.

  82. I understand where you're coming from (I think), but I still want to push back on your view of same-sex relationships.  (It's actually refreshing and helpful for me to understand this from the perspective of someone with no Biblical axe to grind.)

    You say "there is a transcendent beauty and meaning in the male-female archetype,
    such that even the thought of same-sex union is grotesque."  I would probably agree with you.  But does that make same-sex union "unnatural"?  Suppose gays see things the opposite?  (I know of at least one that does.)  Would it be appropriate for them to regard opposite-sex relationships as "unnatural"?  There are a lot of things in life that are abnormal, unnatural, unusual, grotesque, etc.  Who gets to decide which of these things should be singled out for special discrimination?

    Which brings us to biology.  You'll notice I didn't bring up genetics.  Homosexuality (as I understand it) is a combination of genetics, congenital factors, and perhaps early childhood factors.  The point is, the vast majority of gays do not get to choose their sexuality, it is already determined by the time they are aware of the implications.  Yes, some can change; many cannot.  Did you ever wish, when you were being bullied, that you could be healed of your deformity?  Why would a gay youth stubbornly hold to their sexuality in the face of bullying, if it was something that they could easily change or be healed from?

    Some people (precious few) can compartmentalize their disgust with homosexuality and still love and accept and fellowship with gays.  Unfortunately, most cannot, and anti-gay rhetoric, such as that presented by Alastair, only serves to perpetuate the bullying.  This is the irony to which I was referring.  To me, the rhetoric serves no positive purpose; everyone is entitled to their own views, but airing them publicly seems to do more harm than good.

  83. Declaring something as "immediately apparent" doesn't make it so.  Despite claiming a "biblical" basis and referring to biblical concepts I don't see where a biblical case has actually been made.  Likewise, a claim that something is biologically or sociologically self-evident requires biological or sociological proof.  Philosophical arguments that depend on an a certain a priori definition of marriage just ring hollow in the light of everyday life experience.  As to the details....

    It's hard for me to imagine why a woman would agree to marry a man who prefers other men.  I'm sure it can work and has worked, but it doesn't sound any more natural than the other alternatives.

    The difference between a straight single who desires marriage and a gay single is that the straight single can hold out hope that God will provide an acceptable mate.  There is no such hope for the gay single.  If God is calling them to such a life, more power to them, but I think we should accept the rest at whatever stage the Holy Spirit is working on them.

    I'm not sure how "what is wanted" got into this discussion.  Richard's post was about fellowship and communion with gay Christians.  In any case, as far as I know, most gays want equal legal protection for their partnerships.  Denying them this does nothing to address your root concerns and only serves to provoke and divide.   Deciding whether to give "honor and status" to a same-sex marriage is something that individuals (and perhaps churches) should be able to decide for themselves.

  84. The broader argument of Romans 1-2 hardly nullifies the specific statements that are made about homosexual practice that are made in the context. In fact, the moral judgments of Romans 1 are affirmed as just in Romans 2:1-16. Your whole argument here really is extremely tenuous. The idea that Paul's later use of 'contrary to nature' language in a different context strips its earlier use of any force really constitutes a questionable form of exegesis. Can the same be said about the description of homosexual desire as a 'vile passion', or homosexual practice as a 'dishonouring' of the body, or as an 'error' and 'shameful'? Where does Paul rehabilitate this terminology? Frankly, this whole argument strikes me as bizarre speculation based on wishful thinking. Also, your suggestion that being 'contrary to nature' is somehow a gospel virtue that can be used to justify other 'contrary to nature' practices really does strain credulity. When we have to form such overly subtle theological arguments as the only means by which to make our case, there is a good indication that we have gone wrong somewhere (or perhaps God really does like to mess around with his people by giving them a misleading impression on the surface of the text, while reserving a deeper meaning for smart and enlightened people with greater insight...).

    Marriage undoubtedly does involves covenant and election and a commitment to companionship (which is why non-marital examples of committed covenantal friendships, such as those between Naomi and Ruth, or David and Jonathan, are appropriate models for certain aspects of the union, without exhausting its meaning), but it also involves sexual difference and procreation. The biblical use of the language of marriage is consistent, for instance, in its identification of God as the husband of his people and his people as the wife. There is a grammar to the institution of marriage, and sexual difference is an inescapable part of this.

    If you detect a tone to my argument that suggests that I do not respect your position on this matter, then you are reading it correctly. I don't doubt for a moment your brains or your biblical literacy - I respect your intelligence and knowledge - but what you are giving me here is not a biblical argument but an incredible feat of exegetical gymnastics designed to rationalize convictions that do not arise from the text itself, and which are openly resisted by it in numerous places. I quite understand why someone might hold such convictions, especially as our cultured liberalism (in the best possible sense of the word) leads us to regard cruelty as the worst of all possible vices and to call into question any biblical teaching, no matter how clear, that doesn't appear to satisfy this touchstone. Although I have great respect for the enlightened humanism of this approach in its proper place, if we are truly going to uphold the authority of Scripture, we must recognize the possibility that our liberal sensitivities will sometimes be sorely offended by Scripture and be prepared to hold onto Scripture regardless. When the clear teaching of Scripture (and, yes, it is clear) is sacrificed to our modern sensitivities and we seek to put new words into God's mouth there is a real problem (at the very least we should be prepared to say that the Bible is wrong and not deny what it teaches).

    I don't see this discussion progressing much further. I have stated my position, and I don't think that the differences that we have on this matter are going to be resolved without pushing this whole discussion back to a deeper level of discourse about such things as the character of authority and Christian moral reasoning, something that I doubt that either of us has either the time or inclination to do. For this reason, I will bow out completely at this point and leave others to have the final words.

  85. I think you've missed my point. My comments about nature aren't about homosexuality. We were talking about marriage and which, theologically speaking, is primary: reproduction or election?

  86. I think this thread illustrates that we have no way of *quantifying* how "clear-cut" biblical texts are. So, how are we supposed to draw a line in the sand? How do we differentiate between "clear-cut" biblical proscriptions (on which we could presumably disagree, but still be in fellowship) and non-"clear-cut" ones? Because if we can't agree on that, we're basing our fellowship not on the commands themselves, but on our interpretation of just how clear cut they are.

  87. Yes. Which is ironic given Paul telling us (1 Cor 14:33) that God isn't a God of confusion...

    "Official doctrine" is ultimately a function of what works for a given set of believers. The Bible is notoriously malleable. The beliefs and biases the Bible can be used to reinforce are legion.

    Take the Divorce and Remarriage concept mentioned and responded to earlier. No one thought there was any need to research what the Bible "really says" about divorce until we figured out for ourselves that something was wrong with the general attitudes towards the subject. Gabriel didn't appear to anyone in a dream saying, "Be not afraid, for thy understanding of the Greek context is a little fuzzy." We just sensed that there was a problem. It felt wrong.

    Now, we're getting the idea that there's something wrong with the traditional attitudes towards homosexuality. So some are researching to find out what the Bible "really says" about homosexuality. Lo and behold! we turn out to be wrong about that one, too.

    I submit that there comes a point when we have to trust ourselves. To put it another way, we trust the spirit of God working in us. Maybe this is what Paul refers to when he talks about being "led by the spirit" (Gal 5:18; Rom 8:14). We can tell through some inner sense of rightness, balanced by a strong sense of scripture, what is or isn't appropriate anymore for the church.

  88. Alastair,

    I am the church, I am part of the body, I share in the blood, and I share the sacrament with all who come to my table. Please do not presume to speak for 'the Church' in its entirety when stating,

    "Homosexual practice, however, is condemned, and those who continue in it are not permitted to participate in the sacramental life of the Church."

    That may be true of your church, but it is not true of mine. There is grace for us all here. The sacrament, the visible expression of God's love and grace, is shared by us all. In my church. In this family of battered and searching people. In this cluster of losers and lovers and hopers and dreamers. In this foolish collection of sojourners and doubters. At our scratched up table, we eat together. We do the simplest of things that reminds us that we are all of us, part of one body, and that all are welcome. Participation in the struggle, in the gasping for divine air, in the groping for holy hands and simple love, is open to all. This sacramental life is not mine to presume ownership over, nor dare I say it, is it yours to own. But I am happy to share it.

    [Incidentally, Moses, David et al were murderers and the Church often venerates and celebrates them. So if one wanted to draw extreme hyperbolic examples, one could quite easily say that murders are held as positive role models in a way that practising homosexuals are not. There are many shades of grey here.]

    In any event, you would always be welcome to share a glass of wine and some good food at our church table.



  89. I think that many Christians who believe that homosexuality is sinful (and I am one) hear the very word and put walls that stand in the way of understanding. Richard, I don't want to put words in your mouth, and I know its possible that I have interpreted what you're saying incorrectly, but here's what I got...

    The Bible says homosexuality is a sin and is therefore wrong.
    The Bible says killing is a sin and is therefore wrong.
    Why do we allow killing and not homosexuality?

    I want to be clear that I agree in part and disagree in part. I think that we label too quickly the cases of scripture saying "don't kill." I think their is a clear difference between killing and violence. Paul in Romans will say that governments "do not use the sword in vain." (Rom.13:1-4) Well, what about Christians who are agents of those governments? Police officers, soldiers, etc.? Let me be direct, I hate situation ethics, I think that we can use them to find loopholes in our theology that we want versus the ones that actually exist. But we have to be honest in our assumptions here. If a policeman who is a Christian finds himself in a situation where he is forced to take the life of a person to save the life of child (such as a hostage situation) would we call this action sin? Which is the greater evil? Taking the life? Or letting the child die? 

    Again, I don't think this gives us a clear and definite to the questions you raise, but what I think it does do is show us that these two topics are not interchangeable. Honestly, how many people are being forced living actively homosexual lifestyles? The only instance I can think of would be the action of rape, and I don't think any of us are heard-hearted enough in our theology to actually suggest that such an event would mean sin for the victim.

    One great point that I think you do make is showing the lack of cohesion we sometimes face when we reexamine our personal theology. One example I like to use is normally when we find out that a faithful Christian is struggling with alcoholism or substance addiction, we circle the wagons and show them that we're there for them. But when we find out that a Christian is struggling with homosexuality or sexual addiction, we give them a wide berth. (This touches on some excellent points you made in Unclean)

    Where I would differ in my interpretation of what I think you were saying is that the problem lies not in the doctrine, but the theology. That is, not in the rules that God is giving us, but rather our application of those rules. That is what you said, but I would take it from a different standpoint. The problem should be solved not by deciding that we should fellowship homosexuals without calling them to repentance, but rather we should reevaluate and reconsider our theology on violence.

    Again, I hope I'm not representing you incorrectly. Thanks for getting my mind spinning on this. You raise some good questions. 

  90. "That is, this person might,
    for a lifetime, experience same-sex attraction but this experience
    doesn't become an identity marker. Rather, following Christ is the
    identity marker"
    It's not a question of being an identity marker. It's a question of sinful behavior.

    "Are these the only choices? Specifically, why couldn't there be a "gay in Christ" script?"

    Maybe because he ruled that out in Mt 19 by restricting sexual activity to heterosexual marriage? Perhaps you think you can do 90mph when the sign says 55mph, since that sign doesn't explicity mention 90 mph?

    "Even if you are a proponent of just war I hope you'd
    admit that it takes a lot of hermeneutical chutzpah to override an
    explicit command of Jesus."

    erm, no it doesn't. I love my enemies but I also love my neighbors. If people are trying to kill my neighbors the nation has a duty to protect them no? Is it love to let an enemy kill a loved one while I stand idly by?
    I note the strategy that is being
    used. The sleazy, sly wink saying "C'mon, you compromise on issue X.
    Won't you, please compromise on issue Y as well??? Puh-leaaase??? (wink
    wink) 'cause it's my favorite sin." If this person is right, then all
    Christians should oppose all wars, including WWII. Including the war
    against the Philistines in which David slew Goliath. But if that proves
    exegetically untenable, people like you should not be
    humored in your attempt to compromise Christian moral integrity.

  91. Maybe I am being narrow minded and bigoted, but unless you can show why, it seems that on the face of it you are being dishonest and trying to encourage people in being slaves to sin, instead of allowing Christ to free them from bondage to sin.Scripture seems very clear on this, but maybe you have a very cogent point that you have kept back until now. I'd really like to hear it.

  92. You do not want to be free of your sins. Why would you want to stay in a place for people who want to be free of their sins? Read 1 Co 5. Why should a congregation tolerate someone who wants to convince people that immoral behavior is moral? Would you allow someone to come into your family in order to argue that your behvior is immoral, because if not, it seems you are being hypocritical, no? I'm not even arguing that you are wrong at this point. I'm just saying that if you disagree, isn't it a bit hypocritical to try to indoctrinate this congregation when you would not tolerate the same?

  93.  In addition, let's say that it was questionable about whether a particular war was justified (note the post frames this question in terms of a just war). Does that mean we cannot decide more mundane questions like theft, incest, zoophilia, or rape? Please. You can't justify unambiguously immoral behavior by pointing to a completely different ambiguous case and observing that it is ambiguous. That looks on the face of it like a dishonest rationalization. No?

  94. I think I might have an idea of why church communities often find it easier to endure disagreements about just war and turning the other cheek than to endure disagreement about the inherent sinfulness of certain forms of sexuality that are condemned in scripture.

    Many would agree that the Sermon on the Mount has greater significance for Christian ethics than Paul's vice lists, but the Sermon on the Mount is meant to be shocking; it turns our assumptions upside down. I love to watch teenagers and recent converts read the Sermon on the Mount for the first time because they react appropriately, asking "How is that even POSSIBLE!?" By its very nature, the Sermon on the Mount sparks debate. It dares you to disagree.

    Paul's vice lists, on the other hand, assume that his audience would never, ever--even in a million years--disagree that the vices are bad. He spends no time explaining WHY these vices are contrary to God's will--why would he? The exact nature of some of the vices in his lists are not entirely clear today, but presumably they would have been crystal clear to members of the church at Corinth.

    When faced with a surprising statement in the Sermon on the Mount, there are a variety of rational responses: (1) "Duh. The Sermon on the Mount is surprising." (2) "It is surprising, but so is the cross. Perhaps we really should take this ethic at face value." (3) "Jesus is describing an impossible ideal that Christians should strive for but can never really achieve." (4) "Jesus was speaking to a powerless, marginalized group. It is possible, though speculative, that he might have said something different to a group that had the power to stop Hitler's armies of darkness."

    Most of those rational responses would make for an interesting, friendly small group discussion.

    When faced with a surprising statement in Paul's vice lists, there are a completely different set of rational responses: (1) "AHHHH! If some of these vices seem okay to me and my culture, then we're even more depraved and confused than the pagan nations Paul describes in Romans 1!" (2) "Perhaps the things I imagine when I read a particular English translation of these vice lists are not very similar to the things Paul was thinking about when he wrote them in Greek." (3) "Maybe Paul meant what I think he meant, but maybe Paul was wrong."

    The first rational response predicts the behavior of the religious right. A great deal of education is necessary to pursue the second response beyond speculation, and among those who have the education, there is still fierce disagreement. The third response is popular now among some members of younger generations, but very very troubling to many people, and places half of the New Testament under scrutiny.

  95. Dr. Beck,

    This was a great blog post. I'll be keeping it for further reference. I've ling been a follower of this blog, as it is one of my favorite blogs, but never commented before. I went to Wheaton College ('08) and then did some graduate work in philosophy and somewhere along the way (I believe through reading Keith DeRose), found your blog.

    Anyway, I myself am "gay in Christ". My bf of almost 2 years is a music director at an ELCA church. It's been funny reading all these comments as if there aren't gay Christians in your blogging audience. Everyone debating about what to do with me and my friends, and whether or not I'm actually a Christian. I actually have an article on this very subject coming out this fall in a christian student journal at UC-Berkeley.

    One of my points is that I am legitimately Christian. I accept that I'm a sinner, and joyfully accept Christ's gift, and I'm eager to participate in the redemption story. I accept the Nicene creed. However, I do not accept the "traditional Christian sex ethic" regarding homosexuality. Like you, it surprises me that this issue is such a decisive one for so many.

    I, for one, am ready to dialogue and work with Christians who believe I'm sinning, *even though* I believe their attitudes, actions, and beliefs are sinful (because from my perspective they are calling perverse what is actually a part of God's good creation). It is possible, even if quite hard, to be in community with people who you believe are harming you. It is largely because of my faith that I am willing to do just that.

  96. And I should also say that I think there is real hope regarding Christians living in community while disagreeing strongly on this issue. I keep in daily contact with about 12 close friends from Wheaton College (the rest of whom are straight) and there is a wide variety of perspectives on homosexuality -- from the gay affirming, to the unsure, to the non-affirming -- however, none of us questions that we are all brothers in Christ. This experience is fairly common among my other gay friends from Wheaton. Furthermore, there's the widespread popularity of the Marin Foundation, based out of Chicago, that is an evangelical organization working solely to foster dialogue on this issue. If this substantive anecdotal evidence is becoming a commonplace reality in evangelical circles, then in the not too distant future, I do believe a substantial percentage of Christians will be able to live in peaceful communion while disagreeing on this issue.

  97. Alastair, I've taken the time to read most of your comments on this thread and it sounds like you're under the strong influence of Robert Gagnon's work :P

    First, I want to make clear that I consider Alastair a brother in Christ, even though he does not consider me a brother in Christ. I consider his beliefs sinful and harmful to me, but I'm still willing to enter into communion with him as a brother in Christ.I have a couple of sincere questions:Are there any other social issues besides homosexuality under which you think it's impossible to hold Christian communion with someone who disagrees? Do you think that there were many educated Christians in the past who thought that taking a particular position on social issue X meant necessarily undermining the authority of Scripture, but which today the vast majority of Christians would say that taking that same position on social issue X does not mean undermining the authority of Scripture? (Was that clear?)

  98. Hi Jon,
    Thanks for weighing in. I appreciate your Christian spirit, to keep communion with those you disagree with, particularly so when they aren't reciprocating. It's exactly what I was calling for in the post.
    When your article comes out I'd love a heads up so I can read it.

  99. Thanks for such a lengthy and detailed reply Alastair. While I appreciate your thoroughness and passion I must respectively disagree.

    "Christ takes away and forgives our sins, but...."

    The only "buts" in this truth are those of the "traditions of men" - those doctrines which try to limit Christ's success to the "acceptable" few - those who meet the requirements of "fellowship" that you allude to.

    While you understandably try to separate yourself from those who outrightly attack "others" (homosexuals, non-Christians, etc.) by your agreement with the notion that we do not "choose" our sexual orientation, you still reach the same judgmental conclusion that we must DO what is "right" in order to please God... be a member of the "fellowship".... etc. etc.... which is nothing less than salvation by works - being "good enough" for God.

    We are "good enough" as we are.

  100. O.K., Richard. I agree that "clear and straightforward" has to do with where you stand. But a communion that sees pacifism as "clear and straightforward"--e.g., the Mennonites--is not, as far as I can tell, called "judgmental" when they hold to what THEY find clear and straightforward and exercise discipline in THEIR communion based on the will of God as they understand it. Do people just go out and kill people in ways that THEIR community considers disobedient to the words of Scripture--and do they do so supposing that their community will not rebuke them?

    What (often) makes homosexuality (and certain other sex sins) so egregious, as I see it, is that people clearly and intentionally remove themselves from the discipline of the church community. That community is now itself under judgment (for being "intolerant") if it attempts to exercise discipline on issues that it considers clear and straightforward.

  101. I just replied to what you posted below, but this addresses it more specifically. Of course you are right that on the whole different faith groups could fellowship if they simply disagreed on this one issue. In some ways I think that homosexuality has simply been a symbol for a much larger set of disagreements. On various "just war" positions, we can all at least pretend (hopefully more than pretend!) that we are trying to follow Scriptural morality in some sort of continuity with the historic church. Hauerwas may say that's not what we're doing, but we think it is what we're doing. But some of us are no longer sure that the communions that affirm gays are even interested in trying to follow Scriptural morality in some sort of continuity with the historic church.

    Perhaps I'm doing some of those communions an injustice. And perhaps some communions that allow war are not seriously trying to follow Scriptural morality either (maybe Hauerwas is right). But I do think that at times the seriousness of the issue (surely killing is more serious than sex) may not correspond to the obedience-level of an issue.

    My TV is far less valuable than my car. But I'd rather my son wreck my car due to an honest mistake than smash my TV in deliberate disobedience. Maybe most Christian homosexuals are not deliberately disobeying, and maybe most just-war Christians are deliberately disobeying--but we at least have to ask the question.

  102. Is the biological background of attraction relevant? Lots of us are attracted to lots of different things--Christian sexuality has never been that impressed with whom we are attracted to.

    I'm pretty sure that most middle-aged heterosexual males are more sexually attracted to teenagers than to their own wives, and I'm pretty sure that this is "not a choice." But how I respond to the attraction is clearly a choice.

    I sometimes feel that the rules are different for homosexuals--they get a pass on pursuing whomever they feel attracted to, when I (as a heterosexual) am expected to either remain celibate or to remain in a faithful committed relationship with a woman who grows less attractive (and less sexually available) every year? What's up with that?

  103. "Yeah, well, you shouldn't have died on the cross saying 'Father forgive them, they know not what they do.' Your whole Incarnation thing really messed me up."

    Pure genius....

  104. Unfortunately, Dr. Beck appears to have missed a key point here: The word translated "kill" actually means "murder." I doubt you will find division in the Christian community about whether or not murdering is acceptable.

  105. Thanks so much for your thoughts on this. Currently, my church is studying the roles of men and women in the church and how they partner together in ministry. In the Churches of Christ this has long been a volatile topic of discussion, and I imagine it will be for some time. Much like the issues you described there are 2 opposing view points that you can pretty easily find a theological thesis in support. The study has certainly been emotional and tense, but I have to admit that our leadership has been focused more on how to keep our church family together despite the fact that we may not always agree with each other. As you pointed out, in a given church family an individual will fall on a spectrum on any number off issues. The real question is why we select certain ones at a given time to suddenly become "core values"  of our faith that seperate us from other beleivers.

  106. Quote : "So the speaker presented this as a choice, a choice between a gay identity script and an "in Christ" identity script which adheres to the traditional Christian sexual ethic (in this latter script the person might experience lifelong same-sex attraction but would remain celibate). A Christian experiencing same-sex attraction, then, has to choose between these two identity scripts, gay vs. "in Christ." "

    ==============remaining celibate while holding the same sex attraction in ones head is spoken to in Matthew chapter 527 Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: 28 But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.  basicly the same issue
    basicly the same issue

  107. Jonathan, you may never read this comment since I'm responding  2 months later.  Anyway, I am a lesbian, and it seems absurd that you think gays "...get a pass on pursuing whomever they feel attracted to."  Then you go on to describe how you have to be celibate or remain in a relationship with someone who you think is becoming less attractive and less sexually open to you.  That seems sad to me, and I think that it reflects where you happen to be in terms of your own sexual identity and how that connects to your significant relationship and your faith.  That says far less about "the gays."  I do not think I can just pursue whomever because I am a lesbian.  What an absurdity!  Also, as just one example, there are plenty of gays and lesbians who have chosen not to "pursue whomever" by trying to live as heterosexuals because of their sense of shame and sinfulness.  Jonathan, you are NOT "the other" in this narrative about homosexuality.  Please do not act like you are.  It's frustrating and offensive that you speak about yourself as some kind of sexual victim.  There are so many people, gay and straight, who fiercely love the one they are committed to, even--can you even fathom--those who are no longer teenagers.  Your situation is just that: your situation.  Please do not project your sexual issues onto the issue of being gay as a choice.  

  108. I won't comment on the analogical relationship between war and homosexuality. However, I do think it interesting to note that while Rome and Protestantism followed Augustine on Just War, the Orthodox world largely did not. While the latter did not consider killing in war the same as murder, it did nonetheless require it to be sacramentally confessed and traditionally ascribed three year's penance (following the canon of St Basil). Orthodoxy has thus developed the notion that while killing (in war) may sometimes be necessary, it is still sinful and needs to be confessed.

  109. I will also say that the distinction between killing in war and murder/manslaughter appears or originate in the Old Testament. All three make a person ritually unclean. But only pre-meditated murder bears the death penalty. In the case of manslaughter, a form of house arrest occurs in a city of refuge. In the case of war, governments are held to account for the killing of innocents (Joel 3:19; 2 Kings 21:16). Yet, from the Amalekites to the Maccabees, God seems to assist in wars. Thus, it seems that the moral distinction between the two is already long established by the time Christ begins His Sermon on the Mount.

    In the case of homosexuality, however, this is not the case. It is condemned by all the Old Testament laws. It is condemned implicitly by Christ (Matt. 19:4). It appears in Paul's vice lists. And, most notably, it appears to be the primary result of the fall of mankind in Romans 1.

    The implicit assumption in your analogy is that it is we who "overrode" Christ's teaching on the mount for war and that we can do the same thing for homosexual acts. I think this is incorrect. The distinction between war and murder appears in the Old Testament. It is not something we bring to the text. There is no such distinction for homosexual intercourse.

  110. Great post. I've heard many respond to this notion with a need to equalize the text: refusing that the "red letters" may have a greater place than Paul's theological gymnastics. Or that Jesus's teaching about Torah, particularly his argument that much of the way the Pharisees understood Levitical laws broke The Law is not greater than a "plain" reading of the laws themselves. I have always found that response unbelievable. Your response is artful.

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