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I have made a decision.
October 26, 2010 1:22 AM   Subscribe

"I have made a decision. I will no longer debate the issue of homosexuality in the church with anyone." So begins Bishop John Spong's scathing assault on anti-gay Christians: 'I will no longer discuss with them or listen to them tell me how homosexuality is "an abomination to God," about how homosexuality is a "chosen lifestyle," or about how through prayer and "spiritual counseling" homosexual persons can be "cured." Those arguments are no longer worthy of my time or energy.'
posted by rodgerd (286 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite

 
It goes both ways, you know:
The question came from Christopher Glazek, a fact-checker at The New Yorker, who wanted to know whether Mr. Douthat and Mr. Salam believed that former RNC chairman Ken Mehlman, who has apologized on behalf of his party for the Southern Strategy, should also apologize for the Republican party's gay politics.

At first Mr. Douthat seemed unable to get a sentence out without interrupting himself and starting over. Then he explained: "I am someone opposed to gay marriage who is deeply uncomfortable arguing the issue in public."

Mr. Douthat indicated that he opposes gay marriage because of his religious beliefs, but that he does not like debating the issue in those terms. At one point he said that, sometimes, he feels like he should either change his mind, or simply resolve never to address the question in public.
posted by Rhaomi at 1:26 AM on October 26, 2010 [4 favorites]


I will not employ subordinate clauses.
posted by 7segment at 1:31 AM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


If his constant use of the term "mobocracy" to contrast with constitutional democracy, feel free to replace it in your mind with 'democracy' or 'Switzerland'.
posted by Dysk at 1:34 AM on October 26, 2010


I'll never understand why women and homosexuals have anything to do with the Catholic Church. Children are excused for not knowing any better.
posted by milkwood at 1:39 AM on October 26, 2010 [39 favorites]


Milkwood, Bishop John Spong. Also, the tags..
posted by Ahab at 1:43 AM on October 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'll never understand why women and homosexuals have anything to do with the Catholic Church. Children are excused for not knowing any better.

This guy's an Episcopal bishop, but yes, it's a mystery.
posted by kafziel at 1:45 AM on October 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


And unless I'm missing something, the post is about debates within the Episcopalian / Anglican churches.
posted by Ahab at 1:46 AM on October 26, 2010


If you choose to be part of a religion that has traditionally held back most attempts at equality and inclusiveness then I have no sympathy for you.
posted by Summer at 2:03 AM on October 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


I think that what he's written here is a eloquent as the writings of Martin Luther King.
In my personal life, I will no longer listen to televised debates conducted by "fair-minded" channels that seek to give "both sides" of this issue "equal time." I am aware that these stations no longer give equal time to the advocates of treating women as if they are the property of men or to the advocates of reinstating either segregation or slavery, despite the fact that when these evil institutions were coming to an end the Bible was still being quoted frequently on each of these subjects. It is time for the media to announce that there are no longer two sides to the issue of full humanity for gay and lesbian people. There is no way that justice for homosexual people can be compromised any longer.
And that's just a small part of it. I bet this is treated by Fox news as "concededing defeat."
posted by Catblack at 2:06 AM on October 26, 2010 [13 favorites]


>And unless I'm missing something, the post is about debates within the Episcopalian / Anglican churches.

Ahab, you clearly are missing something.
posted by Catblack at 2:07 AM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


The manifesto is powerful and I completely agree with its sentiment.

Regarding this from milkwood above:
I'll never understand why women and homosexuals have anything to do with the Catholic Church.
It can be argued that women have done very well by the Roman Catholic Church. Contrast the position in society of women in the Roman Empire at 0 BCE and their position now. Women have always been the more enthusiastic lay supporters of the church. And through denying themselves direct power, they have exerted enormous indirect power through the all male clergy.
posted by Pranksome Quaine at 2:21 AM on October 26, 2010


I like this bishop.
posted by Xany at 2:22 AM on October 26, 2010 [4 favorites]


Ahab, you clearly are missing something.

Step... clunk... step... clunk... step... clunk...
posted by pracowity at 2:24 AM on October 26, 2010 [46 favorites]


And what might that be Catblack? What I'm getting from the main article is:

I will particularly ignore those members of my own Episcopal Church who seek to break away from this body to form a "new church," claiming that this new and bigoted instrument alone now represents the Anglican Communion..

I will no longer be respectful of the leadership of the Archbishop of Canterbury..


And then there's the tags..

So while there may be a passing reference to the pope (which attacks him generally for being out touch, not specifically for being anti-gay), it does strike me very much that this is not a post about the Catholic Church.

(Ftr: I like this bishop, and what he has to say, very very much.)
posted by Ahab at 2:28 AM on October 26, 2010


I like it when people get sick of allowing church debate to be dominated by two minor religious arguments. Now if only the left would do the same and stop allowing the right to set the issues.
posted by shinybaum at 2:28 AM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh please.

This scans like that moment most teenagers have when they decide to not debate the evangelical nuts in the shopping mall. To me, seems a simple admission that he's been taking blatantly unchristian bigots seriously up until now.
posted by pompomtom at 2:34 AM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


If you choose to be part of a religion that has traditionally held back most attempts at equality and inclusiveness then I have no sympathy for you.

How can these institutions ever progress if not for forward thinking people within their own ranks? People like this are allies.
posted by twirlypen at 2:51 AM on October 26, 2010 [21 favorites]


It can be argued that women have done very well by the Roman Catholic Church. Contrast the position in society of women in the Roman Empire at 0 BCE and their position now. Women have always been the more enthusiastic lay supporters of the church. And through denying themselves direct power, they have exerted enormous indirect power through the all male clergy.
posted by Pranksome Quaine at 2:21 AM on October 26 [+] [!]


So congrats, Catholic Church! Your treatment of women has improved vastly since the year 0 (well, actually later than that, but whatever), that they are now treated like the general public treated women 200 years ago! This is such a ridiculous argument. People should be happy that women are treated better by the Church than they were almost 2000 years ago, 'though they still aren't treated like they are in general society? They should be happy to be "the women behind the men"? REALLY?! I'm sorry, but that is so total apologist BS.
posted by 1000monkeys at 3:08 AM on October 26, 2010 [30 favorites]


when they decide to not debate the evangelical nuts in the shopping mall

The problem is that, for this bishop, the bigots he's referring to aren't random nutjobs in a public place. They might well be people he's grudgingly been calling colleagues up until now, or members of his religion to whom he's been obligated to pay some form of respect. He's standing up to his own cohort and telling them that they are bigots, and he's not willing to stand around being uneasy while they continue on with their hate speech. It's incredibly commendable, and takes a lot of courage to do it. Without people like this, meaningful change just won't happen.
posted by Ghidorah at 3:29 AM on October 26, 2010 [22 favorites]


People like this are allies.

They are indeed. The long term agitation and activism of people like John Spong brought the Anglican communion to a position where it has bishops like Gene Robinson and Katherine Jefferts-Schori. He is (and has been for a long time) an immensely effective and valuable advocate for basic decency and tolerance. I sincerely hope that this is either a mere statement of fatigue on his part, or a rhetorical gambit, and not a total resignation from this particular debate.
posted by Ahab at 3:30 AM on October 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


At first Mr. Douthat seemed unable to get a sentence out without interrupting himself and starting over. Then he explained: "I am someone opposed to gay marriage who is deeply uncomfortable arguing the issue in public."

Naturally. Myself, if I enjoyed having a few beers, meet up with my mates, and curb-stomp a few fucking faggots ... I'd probably also be deeply uncomfortable arguing the issue in public. These days, anyway.

October 13 Savage Love makes a good point that it's the quiet rational-seeming letters-to-the-editor-type institutionalized homophobia that causes the Matthew Shepard stuff. It's always worth bring the discussion back to that one point.

That bit with Douthat is worth reading in full, the quote is in a context where he seems to concede that his religious views don't really gibe with contemporary ethics and what much of society thinks is compassionate.
posted by sebastienbailard at 3:32 AM on October 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


How can these institutions ever progress if not for forward thinking people within their own ranks? People like this are allies.

You're right, it is good that they progress, but only because in the UK at least the Anglican church still has some political and social power. If this weren't the case I would say I could not care less if they progressed or not, and the people that sign up to their doctrine get what they deserve.
posted by Summer at 3:32 AM on October 26, 2010


So basically, what we've got here is one of the leaders of the liberal wing of the Episcopal Church making a public declaration that he isn't even going to talk to the other side. The Episcopal Church is coming apart at the seams, and now he won't even talk about it anymore.

Yeah, that sounds productive.

'course, the flip side is that Spong isn't someone that most theologically conservative Episcopalians, i.e. the Episcopalians who adhere to the traditional Christian view of homosexuality, would have wanted to talk to anyway, as he's generally regarded as being a flaming heretic. I mean, forget gays for a minute, if you're going to argue against a supernatural, Trinitarian God, I don't know that you have any justification for calling yourself a Christian.

But I think that's the whole point. Spong's concept of Christianity is completely alien to the historic faith, so in a sense he's right: there really isn't any point in talking about issues which only arise way down the logical chain, e.g. homosexuality. If you're going to do systematic theology, sexual ethics is something that is highly dependent upon more fundamental and metaphysical doctrines, e.g. the doctrine of God, Christology, the anthropology, the doctrine of the Scriptures, soteriology, etc. If you don't agree about those things, what you believe about sexual ethics is almost moot, because you're never going to come to any kind of agreement.

This is partly why theologically conservative Christians tend to oppose homosexual practice: the only theologians who critique the traditional view are those who, like Spong, have abandoned more basic tenets of Christian theology.
posted by valkyryn at 3:44 AM on October 26, 2010 [8 favorites]


> but that is so total apologist BS

Then you misunderstand me. I am far from being an apologist for the Roman Catholic Church having never been a member and being agnostic.

But I do see it as a female religion, one that appeals more to women than men. It has a father figure as god who gives his charismatic son to the world, its clergy call themselves father and papa (the pope) and it promotes sexual monogamy within marriage.
posted by Pranksome Quaine at 3:50 AM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'll never understand why women and homosexuals have anything to do with the Catholic Church. Children are excused for not knowing any better.

Not sure why straight men do either: No masturbation! No sex before or outside of marriage! No divorce either when you're ready to move on and marry your secretary! Anything that is vaguely pleasurable and human is a bloody sin.

Frankly, to whom does it appeal, other than the brainwashed, the repressed or closeted and the pederastic?
posted by Azaadistani at 3:53 AM on October 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


I think rather than debate his opponents, John Spong would rather press a red button and see them dissolve in a wet, ketchupy explosion -- like the global warmers who made that horrid ad. Debating assholes is part of life. Get used to it, bish.
posted by Faze at 4:01 AM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


So basically, what we've got here is one of the leaders of the liberal wing of the Episcopal Church making a public declaration that he isn't even going to talk to the other side. The Episcopal Church is coming apart at the seams, and now he won't even talk about it anymore.

Yeah, that sounds productive.


Hell, after some fruitless arguments I've had with ir-religious people in here about how writing off a whole group just to spite the actions of a few may not be a keen idea, I can completely sympathize with his wanting to throw his hands up and say "fuck this noise."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:12 AM on October 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


So basically, what we've got here is one of the leaders of the liberal wing of the Episcopal Church making a public declaration that he isn't even going to talk to the other side. The Episcopal Church is coming apart at the seams, and now he won't even talk about it anymore.

Yeah, that sounds productive.


To me, it seems rather a macro-level version of my hardcore conservative Episcopalian grandmother throwing 6-year-old me and my 12-year-old sister out of her house over some Catholic-school-induced discussion involving St. Patrick back in '82, so it's not exactly new to the Church's discourse.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 4:26 AM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Importantly, Douthat did opine on the issue in public, in a column and subsequent blog posts in which he engaged with Andrew Sullivan, Ezra Klein and Glenn Greenwald, among others.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 4:29 AM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


*It has a father figure as god who gives his charismatic son to the world, its clergy call themselves father and papa (the pope)*

How does this appeal to women? I mean I am one, and I hadn't noticed my gender's attraction to father figures in particular.
posted by Phalene at 4:31 AM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


'course, the flip side is that Spong isn't someone that most theologically conservative Episcopalians, i.e. the Episcopalians who adhere to the traditional Christian view of homosexuality, would have wanted to talk to anyway, as he's generally regarded as being a flaming heretic.

It's true that Spong is not "theologically conservative" (he couldn't get through the Nicene Creed) and I doubt any Christian, or Episcopalian/Anglican, with anti-homosexual(ity) beliefs is going to be convinced by this, but you've done a jump there with that "i.e.". One can have a quite conservative theological views and not adhere to the "traditional Christian views of homosexuality" AKA the hateful ones.
posted by Gnatcho at 4:33 AM on October 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


milkwood: "I'll never understand why women and homosexuals have anything to do with the Catholic Church. Children are excused for not knowing any better"

I've met plenty of women (and gay people, for that matter) who honestly agree with the church's doctrinal position on both women's ordination and gay marriage. They're wrong, but they're not stupid.

I've also met plenty of women and gay people who don't, vehemently, people who run advocacy groups on both of those issues and a host of others. These people have genuine spiritual needs which transcend other elements of their identity, and so have chosen to make it work by pushing for change while continuing to draw necessary spiritual subsentence from the church that (often) raised them and taught them the difference between right and wrong. These people tend to be those who believe the true spirit of the church rests in the pews, and always has. Again, maybe doing the wrong thing, but they're hardly stupid people. I'd invite you to read this commentary by an anonymous Catholic lesbian parent who chose to keep her children in Catholic schools if you need some verification on this point.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 4:38 AM on October 26, 2010 [8 favorites]


I'll never understand why women and homosexuals have anything to do with the Catholic Church religion.
posted by londonmark at 4:47 AM on October 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


so it's not exactly new to the Church's discourse.

Your grandmother is not the Church.

The Episcopal Church is coming apart at the seams.

Says who? The Episcopal church has been through many breakaways over its two and a half odd centuries just as its parent Anglican church has since Henry VIII. So what if a handful of ancient bigots pining for the 1928 prayerbook and filled with loathing over women priests, gay bishops, and minor changes in Common Prayer language want to set up shop across town. Good riddance, don't let the door hit ya', frankly. Despite what sensationalist media reports may lead you to believe, the Episcopal Church USA is not coming apart at all, mearly shedding some dying baggage. Shocking as it may sound, you will even still find the old monied arch conservatives (like the Bush family for example, W included) faithfully kneeling in the pews each Sunday and ponying up when the collection plate comes by.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 4:49 AM on October 26, 2010 [4 favorites]


I'll never understand why women and homosexuals have anything to do with religion.

Why not? Not all religion is dogmatic, doctrinal, and/or bigoted.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 4:51 AM on October 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


This is partly why theologically conservative Christians tend to oppose homosexual practice: the only theologians who critique the traditional view are those who, like Spong, have abandoned more basic tenets of Christian theology.

Oh, so that's the reason!
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 5:00 AM on October 26, 2010 [11 favorites]


The Episcopal Church is coming apart at the seams, and now he won't even talk about it anymore.

Is it really your place to decide whether or not a man needs to have endless, unproductive arguments with homophobes?

I guess you have decided it is.
posted by Astro Zombie at 5:00 AM on October 26, 2010


The Episcopal Church is coming apart at the seams, and now he won't even talk about it anymore.

Well, there is the small point that he's been retired for ten years and is about 80.

It's true that Spong is not "theologically conservative"

Someone who discounts the relevant text as bound to that time and place and believes women should be ministers is "not theologically conservative." Spong, on the other hand, denies the resurrection of Christ, which approaches the "Well, then what's the point?" level.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:19 AM on October 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


The man is absolutely right. No decent person idly debates withholding the rights of gay human beings anymore, and anyone who does is a fucking joker who doesn't deserve to be talked to in 2010. In any case, there's nothing there to argue with, because there is no coherent argument for something so hideous and so transparently motivated by terror of buttfucking and dudes wearing pink. Unfortunately, these people are too powerful for everyone to ignore them. But it's still terrific that somebody has said this.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 5:24 AM on October 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


Even if he said it more than a year ago, as I just noticed.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 5:26 AM on October 26, 2010


Spong is cool. He's so close to being an atheist it's almost funny.
posted by Decani at 5:26 AM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


One can have a quite conservative theological views and not adhere to the "traditional Christian views of homosexuality" AKA the hateful ones.

You've made quite a jump yourself there, ascribing hate where it need not be ascribed.

But I challenge you then: name me one, single theologian of note who adheres to the historic understanding of the Christian faith in all points except for its stance on homosexuality.

Go on. I dare you. I think you'll find that every single theologian who wants to critique the church's stance on homosexuality has departed from Christian orthodoxy on a broader level than just sexual ethics.

And ROU_Xenophobe gets it: Spong is so far from Christian orthodoxy that the fact that he has his own views on sexual ethics shouldn't matter in the slightest.
posted by valkyryn at 5:39 AM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


I am so sick of conservative religions. If you're part of a church that even feels the need to wonder if it should institutionally discriminate against gays, just change sects and let the conservatives make it more conservative and irrelevant and let it die on the vine as young people with too many gay friends reject it and the old people retire/die/run out of money.

There's a reason God made like 9 billion branches of the Christian church.
posted by mccarty.tim at 5:40 AM on October 26, 2010 [4 favorites]


He's so close to being an atheist it's almost funny.

I don't understand what makes his statements atheistic? Anti-dogmatic, anti-church even perhaps, but not atheistic. As I said above, religion is not all dogmatic, doctrinal, and bigoted. Spong's words fit fairly well with the long history and tradition of liberal theology.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 5:41 AM on October 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


But I challenge you then: name me one, single theologian of note who adheres to the historic understanding of the Christian faith in all points except for its stance on homosexuality.

The historic "understanding" as understood by Evangelicals or by people that have actually studied history and theology? There are 9 billion branches precisely because there is no common understanding.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 5:43 AM on October 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


Why not? Not all religion is dogmatic, doctrinal, and/or bigoted.

I won't bait you about the bigoted bit, I at least accept that's a subjective view. But really? What religion is not doctrinal and dogmatic? You do know what those words mean, right?
posted by londonmark at 5:47 AM on October 26, 2010


The historic "understanding" as understood by Evangelicals or by people that have actually studied history and theology? There are 9 billion branches precisely because there is no common understanding.

Bullshit. That's all that there is to say about that: bullshit. The Catholic Church holds to essentially the same doctrine that it held to two thousand years ago, and the conservative wings of the Protestant traditions do too, Rome and the Protestants having chosen different sides of an argument that goes back to the very beginning. Traditional Christianity represents a vast swath of settled doctrine, disagreement with which means that you aren't a Christian. You may be something else, and you're perfectly welcome to do and believe whatever it is you believe to be true, but you won't be a Christian.

The "long history and tradition of liberal theology" goes back approximately 150 years, 200 at best. It represents a radical break with Christian tradition, not an organic continuation of it. Catholics, the Orthodox, and conservative Protestants have far, far more in common with each other than any of them do with liberal theologians. You find me one person outside the liberal tradition that wants to critique the traditional Christian understanding on homosexuality, and I'll eat my hat.
posted by valkyryn at 5:51 AM on October 26, 2010


You do know what those words mean, right?

I doubt it.
posted by valkyryn at 5:52 AM on October 26, 2010


See - even the church evolves.


I think you'll find that every single theologian who wants to critique the church's stance on homosexuality has departed from Christian orthodoxy on a broader level than just sexual ethics.

This is an argument I've never understood- and I've really tried. If you are a Christian, which is more important: Getting right with the church, or getting right with Christ?
posted by Benny Andajetz at 5:53 AM on October 26, 2010 [4 favorites]


Despite what sensationalist media reports may lead you to believe, the Episcopal Church USA is not coming apart at all, mearly shedding some dying baggage.

Yes, and that baggage is probably the liberal wing which is both graying and shrinking. The more liberal the church, the lower both the birth rate and conversion rate. It may not be more than a few generations before liberal theology disappears as anything other than a peculiar academic interest.

Conservative churches, on the other hand, even inside the Episcopalian church, are growing, both in terms of children and in terms of converts.

So you're trying to tell me that it's a good thing that the most vibrant churches in the denomination, and the only ones actually growing, are looking for the exit? That's gonna be a tough sell.
posted by valkyryn at 5:59 AM on October 26, 2010


You do know what those words mean, right?

Do you? Dogma and doctrine are established by religious institutions. They are not inherent in the religions themselves. Somebody could have their own interpretation of the bible that does not line up with the dogma and doctrine of a religious sect, yet is still religious.
posted by ekroh at 6:01 AM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


If you are a Christian, which is more important: Getting right with the church, or getting right with Christ?

The theory is that the former is what lets you know about the latter. You don't really get to call yourself a Christian without being part of some church, as ecclesiology is a pretty essential piece of Christian doctrine. The New Testament seems to indicate that the church is where you learn about Christ, and that if you're out of touch with church doctrine, i.e. apostolic teaching, you're out of touch with Christ. So, in the traditional view, there isn't supposed to be much of a difference.

Whether or not this is true is beside the point, but it is an accurate description of how Christians have historically understood the nature of the church and its relationship to both Christ and the individual believer.
posted by valkyryn at 6:03 AM on October 26, 2010


Somebody could have their own interpretation of the bible that does not line up with the dogma and doctrine of a religious sect, yet is still religious.

Religion isn't a pick 'n' mix; if you're not following something, what exactly are you doing?
posted by londonmark at 6:05 AM on October 26, 2010


Somebody could have their own interpretation of the bible that does not line up with the dogma and doctrine of a religious sect, yet is still religious.

But they wouldn't belong to the group with which they're disagreeing, and since groups are generally competent to police their own membership, you don't get to claim membership in the group if you fundamentally disagree with it. So striking out on your own in interpreting the Bible is something you certainly can do, you just can't claim to be a Christian when you do it.
posted by valkyryn at 6:05 AM on October 26, 2010


Almost all religion is doctrinal and dogmatic, but the Unitarian Universalist Church has little doctrine and no dogma. They are a rare exception.

The question has been raised as to why Bishop Spong would even be part of a debate on Christianity when his theology is so radical that he does not even accept the resurrection of Christ. Religion involves many different elements. It is among other things a social club. In this regard, the Episcopalian Church is not unlike a Masonic Lodge; people do not join it primarily because the theology appeals to them on a philosophical level, but because they want to be part of that group. I have also observed that conflicts between religions are in some way like football games. The reason you want your team to win is because that's how you play the game, not because your team has some moral quality that the opposing team lacks.

In principle any religion could be reformed to the point where it would be socially beneficial rather than a source of conflict and bigotry. Bishop Spong shows that even the philosophically untenable elements of the supernatural can be eliminated as well, if you really want to. From my perspective, it is simpler just to become a secular humanist. But your mileage may vary.
posted by grizzled at 6:10 AM on October 26, 2010


I understand Spong's weariness and frustration. I'm glad for the work he's done over the decades.
posted by rtha at 6:11 AM on October 26, 2010


Valkryryn-

Start cutting your hat into bite sized pieces. I'm on my phone now and about to take the kid to school, but I'll give you some names when I get back later this morning.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 6:13 AM on October 26, 2010 [10 favorites]


So striking out on your own in interpreting the Bible is something you certainly can do, you just can't claim to be a Christian when you do it.

On lack of preview: this will come as a massive, massive surprise to a lot of people. Like Martin Luther.
posted by rtha at 6:13 AM on October 26, 2010 [17 favorites]


valkyryn: The "long history and tradition of liberal theology" goes back approximately 150 years, 200 at best.

Um. Ok, let me make sure I understand this. Liberal theology is bad because it was invented after 1800? You think all this progress stuff is scary and wrong, and want us firmly back in the 1750s or earlier?
posted by Malor at 6:15 AM on October 26, 2010


valkyryn, you're a smart guy; much smarter than me, and just vastly more well-informed about the intellectual history of the church. I'm sure you're dead right about everything you've said in this thread.

So but I guess what my issue is, is a guy saying more or less "I'm not going to dismiss as sinful the behavior of this group of people using religiously-derived reasoning" to which you reply very convincingly, "Well, he's not actually very religious at all."

You'll understand that from the perspective of a lot of people, that reflects more poorly on the religion than it does the guy.
posted by pts at 6:17 AM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Liberal theology is bad because it was invented after 1800? You think all this progress stuff is scary and wrong, and want us firmly back in the 1750s or earlier?

Christianity is not a religion which puts much premium on the concept of theological "progress." Reform, certainly, but the core of the religion is an attempt to remain as faithful to apostolic teaching as possible. Striking out on your own is actively discouraged.
posted by valkyryn at 6:22 AM on October 26, 2010


You'll understand that from the perspective of a lot of people, that reflects more poorly on the religion than it does the guy.

Maybe, but that doesn't actually bother me. Christianity--indeed, monotheistic religion in general--is pretty comfortable with the idea that our arguments and conclusions don't make any sense to those who do not share our fundamental commitments.
posted by valkyryn at 6:24 AM on October 26, 2010


I'll give you some names when I get back later this morning.

This, I gotta see.
posted by valkyryn at 6:24 AM on October 26, 2010


So striking out on your own in interpreting the Bible is something you certainly can do, you just can't claim to be a Christian when you do it.

On lack of preview: this will come as a massive, massive surprise to a lot of people. Like Martin Luther.


Also to the thousands and thousands of people (millions?) living today who identify as Christians yet are not members of a prominent sect and are accepting of all people regardless of creed or personal beliefs. Some of them have even started their own churches and are building up congregations as we speak. I know of at least one in New York, and if you MeMail me I will give you their info so that next time you are there you can go to their services and argue in person that they are not Christians.
posted by ekroh at 6:25 AM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


The theory is that the former is what lets you know about the latter. You don't really get to call yourself a Christian without being part of some church, as ecclesiology is a pretty essential piece of Christian doctrine. The New Testament seems to indicate that the church is where you learn about Christ, and that if you're out of touch with church doctrine, i.e. apostolic teaching, you're out of touch with Christ. So, in the traditional view, there isn't supposed to be much of a difference.

Matthew 6 seems to indicate that things should work on a more personal level.

( I'm not blasting you or your beliefs. Defending man-made hierarchy over the tenets of Christ just doesn't sit well with me.)
posted by Benny Andajetz at 6:25 AM on October 26, 2010


Shocking as it may sound, you will even still find the old monied arch conservatives (like the Bush family for example, W included) faithfully kneeling in the pews each Sunday and ponying up when the collection plate comes by.

The larger Bush family may be Episcopalian, but W is (nominally) Methodist.
posted by jedicus at 6:27 AM on October 26, 2010


So striking out on your own in interpreting the Bible is something you certainly can do, you just can't claim to be a Christian when you do it.

Perhaps this is true within the Episcopal Church, but if you mean that in a broader context, it's about as ahistoric a statement as has ever been made on MetaFilter. Were that not the case, there would only be the Catholic church, and nothing else.
posted by Astro Zombie at 6:31 AM on October 26, 2010


>So striking out on your own in interpreting the Bible is something you certainly can do, you just can't claim to be a Christian when you do it.

Perhaps this is true within the Episcopal Church, but if you mean that in a broader context, it's about as ahistoric a statement as has ever been made on MetaFilter. Were that not the case, there would only be the Catholic church, and nothing else.


If that's your concept of church history, there isn't going to be much I can do to dissuade you. Institutional realignments and even schisms are not the same thing as deciding that individuals can be their own authoritative interpreters of Scripture.
posted by valkyryn at 6:36 AM on October 26, 2010


And I may be misunderstanding you, valkyryn, but are you arguing that the conservative faction within Episcopalian is the correct one, and those that embrace homosexuals in their church are some heretical offshoot?

The Episcopal church has supported gay rights since 1976, and has supported gay marriage since 2009. This has been done through the process by which the church decides things, and is now the mainstream viewpoint in the church. Those that split off for homophobic reasons right now are the heretics, not the other way around.
posted by Astro Zombie at 6:37 AM on October 26, 2010 [4 favorites]


>So striking out on your own in interpreting the Bible is something you certainly can do, you just can't claim to be a Christian when you do it.

On lack of preview: this will come as a massive, massive surprise to a lot of people. Like Martin Luther.


Luther didn't think he was striking out on his own and took great pains to align his thought with the ancient fathers. The same is true for all the Reformers except the Anabaptists, who everyone thought was crazy.
posted by valkyryn at 6:37 AM on October 26, 2010


Institutional realignments and even schisms are not the same thing as deciding that individuals can be their own authoritative interpreters of Scripture.

I disagree, and, again, it's an ahistoric statement -- many Christian movements began with individual interpretations. But, then, it isn't relevant to the discussion either. The Episcopal church, as a organization, has made the decisions regarding homosexuality.
posted by Astro Zombie at 6:40 AM on October 26, 2010


The Church didn't think Luther was striking out on his own? Isn't that what counts?

The Unitarians etc. that I know don't think they're "striking out on their own", but traditional/conservative branches of Christianity sure think they are.

You seem to be shifting goal posts.
posted by rtha at 6:40 AM on October 26, 2010


And I may be misunderstanding you, valkyryn, but are you arguing that the conservative faction within Episcopalian is the correct one, and those that embrace homosexuals in their church are some heretical offshoot?

The Episcopal church has supported gay rights since 1976, and has supported gay marriage since 2009. This has been done through the process by which the church decides things, and is now the mainstream viewpoint in the church. Those that split off for homophobic reasons right now are the heretics, not the other way around.


Yes, that is my position, and from the broader perspective of orthodox Christianity, it is accurate. You--and everyone else's--insistence that the only reason for the increasing schism in the Episcopalian church is homophobia are begging the question, i.e. a priori assuming that the traditional Christian position on homosexuality is wrong.
posted by valkyryn at 6:40 AM on October 26, 2010


The Episcopal church, as a organization, has made the decisions regarding homosexuality.

Doesn't Lambeth count?
posted by valkyryn at 6:41 AM on October 26, 2010


the core of the religion is an attempt to remain as faithful to apostolic teaching as possible

This is true of some, but not all, Christian traditions.
posted by shakespeherian at 6:46 AM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Doesn't Lambeth count?

According to the American Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada, no. Their decisions are completely consistent with their understanding of scripture and their own canons and constitutions.

I am curious as to why you would think it would? Are you Anglican? Or do you just want to rpesent a viewpoint that makes it impossible for somebody to be in favor of gay rights and also be a Christian, and you're going to manufacture an ahistoric argument about how churches have to function to be legitimate in order to bolster that argument?
posted by Astro Zombie at 6:46 AM on October 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


Religion isn't a pick 'n' mix

I assure you that, if you want it to be, it is just such a thing.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 6:48 AM on October 26, 2010 [8 favorites]


a priori assuming that the traditional Christian position on homosexuality is wrong.

There is no traditional Christian position on homosexuality, as definitively demonstrated by John Boswell's "Christianity, social tolerance, and homosexuality: Gay people in Western Europe from the beginning of the Christian era to the fourteenth century." There is a recent one of intolerance, and, yes, it's wrong. Please don't claim it as being the "traditional" viewpoint.
posted by Astro Zombie at 6:49 AM on October 26, 2010 [13 favorites]


But they wouldn't belong to the group with which they're disagreeing, and since groups are generally competent to police their own membership, you don't get to claim membership in the group if you fundamentally disagree with it.

See, that's the thing, liberal theology, the far from dead or dying theological movement that has had elements since long before Jesus was (or was not) born, is not a police state. Disagreement is not intolerable. You are welcome to claim membership and question the teachings, the "rules" and whatever else. Not all groups are fundamentalists, in other words, not all groups have such rigid fundamentals.

So striking out on your own in interpreting the Bible is something you certainly can do, you just can't claim to be a Christian when you do it.

People who loudly claim to be Cristians have been interpriting the Bible in different ways since before it was compiled in one volume. There are still extant churches that didn't even sign on to Nicea, some of them even dispute Jesus's divinity, so I'm not sure what you are driving at. Certainly a Nestorean wouldn't claim to be a Roman Catholic, but they would still call themselves Christian.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 6:50 AM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm an atheist, and whenever I read these religious debates I always get to the point where I kind of mentally throw up my hands and say: "What's the sticking point? All this stuff is just made-up anyway, so just rewrite the rules whatever way you need to! It's not like it's maths, or something." (I understand that sentiment may be lost on non-atheists.) Am I the only one who has that reaction?
posted by Ritchie at 6:50 AM on October 26, 2010 [17 favorites]


Okay, look: I'm done with this. I've described the reason conservative Christians don't and shouldn't care that Spong is done talking about this. The response that "But Spong is right!" is not only irrelevant but actually question-begging.

I'll state it one more time: Spong is completely outside the realm of Christian orthodoxy, so what he does or does not believe about homosexuality and the church's traditional position on it doesn't and shouldn't matter a damn for anyone who is faithful to historic Christianity.

With that, I resign myself to the fact that the accepted Wisdom of MetaFilter--and apparently the only position it is permissible to express--is that the only reason one could possibly believe that homosexuality is morally problematic is homophobia. Unless that can be questioned, this really isn't worth talking about. If I'm just the guy that's the token representative of traditional morality, I'm okay with that, but I'm not going to get drawn into an extensive defense of that with people who are clearly not really interested in a discussion that descends into allegations of bigotry and homophobia every damn time.
posted by valkyryn at 6:51 AM on October 26, 2010


Am I the only one who has that reaction?

No. I share that viewpoint. But I am not sure how it contributes to this discussion here, except to say, well, if it's all nonsense, why bother?

Why bother? Because there are gays who are Anglicans, and there is a battle going on within the church as to how much they will be tolerated, and that discussion is happening in terms of theology. And when theology is the language, even if it's an invented language, it's the only way the discussion can happen. And just saying, well, it's horseshit pretty much effectively condemns religious LGBT people to be outsiders in their own faith.
posted by Astro Zombie at 6:53 AM on October 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


You--and everyone else's--insistence that the only reason for the increasing schism in the Episcopalian church is homophobia

I'm not arguing that the break-aways are breaking away because of homophobia, they are breaking away because they lost political power in the 1960's and are still mad about the changes to the prayer book. Just because they also happen to have homophobic views is a seperate issue.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 6:54 AM on October 26, 2010


whoa... did valkyryn just pull a reverse-John Spong?
posted by dustyasymptotes at 6:55 AM on October 26, 2010 [6 favorites]


Spong is completely outside the realm of Christian orthodoxy

You can say it all you like, but you haven't demonstrated it, and you're not just speaking to an enclave of atheists, but also a group of believers who happen not to share your limited understanding of what is orthodox in the world of Christianity. And perhaps now you can understand why, at 80 and having retired, Spong doesn't wish to have these discussions anymore. Because, as far as I can tell, you didn't come in here to have a discussion, but instead to preach to us what the right path of the true Christian is, and then when you met any resistance yo backed out, said you had made your point and weren't going to talk about it anymore.
posted by Astro Zombie at 6:56 AM on October 26, 2010 [19 favorites]


valkyryn, I think the sticking point a few people are having here with you is that you seem to be arguing that theological conservatives within the Christian Church have a greater claim to Church history than do liberals, and I don't think that's accurate.
posted by shakespeherian at 6:56 AM on October 26, 2010 [8 favorites]


outside the realm of Christian orthodoxy

Who's orthodoxy?

Roman Catholic? Of course he is, that's why he's a bishop in the Protestant Episcopal Chuirch USA.

Eastern Orthodox orthodoxy? Depends on who you talk to.

Episcopal Church orthodoxy? Not really, particularly since the 60's.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 6:57 AM on October 26, 2010


With that, I resign myself to the fact that the accepted Wisdom of MetaFilter--and apparently the only position it is permissible to express--is that the only reason one could possibly believe that homosexuality is morally problematic is homophobia. Unless that can be questioned, this really isn't worth talking about

Okay. Fire away.

You're contending that there can be some other (internally consistent, not hypocritical) reason for moral opposition to homosexuality, besides institutionalized homophobia.

I'm all ears.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 7:13 AM on October 26, 2010 [16 favorites]


I resign myself to the fact that the accepted Wisdom of MetaFilter--and apparently the only position it is permissible to express--is that the only reason one could possibly believe that homosexuality is morally problematic is homophobia.

I've actually never seen you or any other conservative Christian explain why homosexuality is morally problematic, aside from 'God says so.' I'm not sure if your view is that it's problematic just for that reason, or if you can give an actual explanation that doesn't rely on an appeal to godly authority. Actually, I have seen some Christians attempt to explain what's wrong with being gay without resorting to God, but every argument I've seen completely falls apart upon closer examination. They rely on bigoted assumptions about the 'gay lifestyle' (gay people are diseased, depressed, suicidal, promiscuous, pedophiles) or implicit value judgments that really are about religion (promiscuity is bad, life is empty if you can't make a baby through sex, the union of one man and one woman is better than all other forms of family or social organization).

I think there's a spectrum of anti-gay bigotry. Christians who recognize that their personal religious beliefs don't justify denying other citizens their civil rights bother me a lot less than those who oppose gay marriage etc. I don't recall that you've ever explained which type you are.
posted by Mavri at 7:18 AM on October 26, 2010 [5 favorites]


But I do see it as a female religion, one that appeals more to women than men. It has a father figure as god who gives his charismatic son to the world, its clergy call themselves father and papa (the pope) and it promotes sexual monogamy within marriage.

Um, what the fuck?

posted by Pranksome Quaine

OH! Haha, well played, sir.
posted by Saxon Kane at 7:19 AM on October 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


Needs more Unitarian jokes.
posted by warbaby at 7:23 AM on October 26, 2010


but there is a debate within the confines of biblical text as to the veracity of condemnation of homosexuality. It is based on both interpretation and translation of specific passages that are often pointed to as the dogmatic origin of how "morally problematic" homosexuality is.

Surely that is within the canon of Christian Orthodoxy?

I do understand Valkyryn's position that Bishop Spong exists on the fringe of Christian Orthodoxy but i think that maybe framing his framing of Christian Orthodoxy as an unchanging monolith is silly. For example: Where is the uproar over usuary? Has Christian Orthodoxy always resigned to not being serious on this issue?
posted by ten year lurk at 7:25 AM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


How can these institutions ever progress become completely irrelevant if not for forward thinking people within their own ranks? People like this are allies.
posted by Brocktoon at 7:29 AM on October 26, 2010


I fail to understand how his position on ecclesiology, Christology, and other bits of obscure dogma have anything to do with his religious position on homosexuality in the church. V, it sure seems like you're saying that he's a heretic in everything else, so this extra bit of heresy shouldn't persuade anyone. Or are you saying that ecclesiology demands the anti-homosexual theological position? Because I don't see that at all.
posted by norm at 7:29 AM on October 26, 2010


The Religious Institute is an interfaith organization advocating for sexual justice in religious practice. They're for LGBT inclusion (along with reproductive justice, abuse prevention and sex ed), and include members of different faiths. They have this nifty denominational statements tool where you can look up what various sects believe on sexuality issues.

Here are all the denominational statements on homosexuality. The results are all over the map. There are straight out condemnations, statements of support, and statements of supreme waffling.

All of these statements, right and wrong, come from institutions made of people who have put a lot of time and energy and theological thought into the process. These statements are made by ministers (who have gone to divinity school) and church leaders, and I have issue with only certain people being "Christian enough."

Now, I come from a liberal faith tradition; I'm a Unitarian Universalist. I have friends in divinity school who consider themselves to be Christian. They are devoting their lives to faith and believe that tolerance of the other is one of Jesus' teachings. But they aren't real Christians? Really? I'd say that they are fairly far along in their faith development (as explained by Fowler) and past the mythic-literal state.
posted by JustKeepSwimming at 7:30 AM on October 26, 2010 [4 favorites]


It's true, as dustyasymptotes notes, that valkyryn has pulled a reverse John Spong maneuver. Both Spong and valkyryn consider the issue of whether homosexuality to be morally acceptable to be closed, but for opposite reasons. Personally I would like to know why it is that valkyryn believes that homosexuality is morally problematic for reasons other than homophobia, but since he has stated that he is done and refuses to argue about it, presumably he is not going to tell me. However, I am going to speculate. Here are some possible reasons:
1. (the Fred Phelps argument) God hates fags. This is difficult to reconcile with the assertion in the New Testament that God is love. In any event, while it is possible in principle that the universe was created by a mean-spirited being who hates homosexuals, even if that were true I would see no reason to respect that opinion. It would just mean that even God can be wrong.
2. Homosexuality does not lead to reproduction, so if everyone becomes gay, the human race dies out due to lack of reproduction. A very odd argument since there is no likelihood that the everyone will become gay, and at the present time the global population is very high and still increasing. If anything, the non-reproductive nature of homosexuality should be taken as a point in its favor, since it helps to control overpopulation.
3. Homosexuality is icky. This is a very subjective judgment (although shared by many) and for those who find it distasteful, there is no need to engage in it. Those who do engage in it do not consider it to be icky. I do not like paremesan cheese, but I have no objection to the consumption of parmesan cheese by those who enjoy it. Live and let live.
4. Homosexuality spreads STDs. It is equally true that heterosexuality spreads STDs, and in any event, there is such a thing as safe sex, for those who do not wish to spread STDs.
5. (The Puritan argument) Nothing should be done purely for pleasure; that is sinful and self indulgent. I would argue that it is important to enjoy one's life, and those who fail to enjoy their lives will suffer from a psychological problem called anhedonia, which can contribute to depression and even suicide. Puritanism is not very plausible.
6. Think of the children. I have thought of them. Gay couples, if allowed to do so, can adopt children and generally make excellent parents. Children benefit.
7. But surely Jerry Falwell, Pope Benedict XVI, and innumerable other religious authorities cannot all be wrong in condemning homosexuality; even the Dalai Lama has stated that the purpose of sex is reproduction (seemingly giving his endorsement to the Puritan argument). But yes, they are all wrong. If they have no valid arguments to present other than "you must believe me, I am an authority!" then they have no leg to stand on.
8. Homosexuals are not Real Men. So why do they want to have the right to serve openly in the military? In any event, no one is obligated to live up to some arbitrary concept of what constitutes a Real Man. They can be Real Homosexuals if they prefer.
I think that's pretty much it. If I have left something out, let me know.
posted by grizzled at 7:32 AM on October 26, 2010 [6 favorites]


Why bother? Because there are gays who are Anglicans, and there is a battle going on within the church as to how much they will be tolerated, and that discussion is happening in terms of theology. And when theology is the language, even if it's an invented language, it's the only way the discussion can happen. And just saying, well, it's horseshit pretty much effectively condemns religious LGBT people to be outsiders in their own faith.

I get that the stakes are high, but if I were to participate in these debates then the only honest way to do it would be to state from the outset that in my opinion religion is founded upon a delusion. There's no point pussy-footing around that - to do otherwise would be unfair to everyone, believers and atheists alike. And I certainly can't go arguing church doctrine when in my eyes that doctrine is a castle in the air.
posted by Ritchie at 7:35 AM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


I get that the stakes are high, but if I were to participate in these debates then the only honest way to do it would be to state from the outset that in my opinion religion is founded upon a delusion.

Why is it you feel the need to participate in this debate?
posted by Astro Zombie at 7:36 AM on October 26, 2010 [7 favorites]


But I challenge you then: name me one, single theologian of note who adheres to the historic understanding of the Christian faith in all points except for its stance on homosexuality.

Dr. Jack Rodgers

He a full-fledged evangelical Presbyterian (he was a professor at Fuller forever) who has changed not a bit of his belief, except he has persuaded himself that the traditional teaching on homosexuality is dead wrong. And he wrote a book about it. Which you should read, because it's really good.
posted by hydropsyche at 7:36 AM on October 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


In The Sins of Scripture Spong tackles not only how the Bible has been used against homosexuals, but also against women, the environment, the Jews, and even children. This book was published in 2005, but he has been fighting the abuse of Scripture a lot longer than that, and I'm not surprised that he is tired.

I have heard him speak twice now: Spong's love and masterly knowledge of the Bible cannot be doubted, and neither his belief in Jesus and the way. He came to change his early beliefs on homosexuality after he decided to study it. For over a year he interviewed scientists, doctors, and scholars, and his new beliefs are consistent with his seeing God as a loving father.

Talking about some (unnamed) televangelists Spong says:

...Regularly they claim the authority to speak for God and justify their hatred of homosexual people on the basis of what they perceive to be God's hatred of homosexuality. The validating authority that maintain this evangelical furor for these people is found in the sacred texts of the Bible. The "Word of God" is clear, they say. The word of hate is in the Book!...

I love that man and his books! He is one of my better weapons against the dark. And if he is a quitter, I'm a quitter too: I refuse to debate evolution with people who have not read a single textbook on the subject!
posted by francesca too at 7:38 AM on October 26, 2010 [6 favorites]


Although Valkyryn seems to have vacated the scene, I would like to say one more thing about Lambeth, and it's this: I am puzzled as to why he brought it up. Yes, the Lambeth Conference of 1998 called homosexuality "incompatible with Scripture." But that conference is universally understood as being exclusively advisory, as the Anglican church has no communion-wide legislative bodies.

So, again, in answer to the question of "does Lambeth count," the answer is no.
posted by Astro Zombie at 7:39 AM on October 26, 2010


Yes, and that baggage is probably the liberal wing which is both graying and shrinking. The more liberal the church, the lower both the birth rate and conversion rate. It may not be more than a few generations before liberal theology disappears as anything other than a peculiar academic interest.

Conservative churches, on the other hand, even inside the Episcopalian church, are growing, both in terms of children and in terms of converts.


This sort of thinking is what keeps me awake at night.

I've typed out several paragraphs only to delete them. The sadness and fear for the future that the trends you've described instill in me is hard to put into words.

I'm left with a cold, inarticulate dread.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 7:45 AM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


But I challenge you then: name me one, single theologian of note who adheres to the historic understanding of the Christian faith in all points except for its stance on homosexuality.

I can't be the only one who sees this as an impossible challenge, because there is no one historic understand of Christianity. I mean, what are we talking about? The Judeo-Christians who were Jesus's first followers, and who believed that to be Christian, you had to be an observant Jew? The Diggers, who believed that the earth was a common treasury, and everybody should have an equal share in it? The Shakers, who rejected all sexual relationships?

Throw out a name, and they can always be shown to be inconsistent with some form of Christianity at some time.
posted by Astro Zombie at 7:46 AM on October 26, 2010 [5 favorites]


Pater Aletheias: I'll give you some names when I get back later this morning.
valkyryn: This, I gotta see.


Being divinely favored and a lawyer must make living among the sublunary so frustrating.
posted by octobersurprise at 7:52 AM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Ritchie wrote: "Am I the only one who has that reaction?"

No. It all seems very Xbox vs. Playstation to me.

dustyasymptotes wrote: "whoa... did valkyryn just pull a reverse-John Spong?"

Yes, but while making a bunch of shit up about what others were saying; trying to pass them off as some sort of accusation of homophobia rather than what looked to me to be attempts at reasonable discussion regarding the way religion works.
posted by wierdo at 7:53 AM on October 26, 2010


Bishop John Spong

I loved his monkeys in that commercial for Quizno's.
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 7:53 AM on October 26, 2010


Reform, certainly, but the core of the religion is an attempt to remain as faithful to apostolic teaching as possible.

Man, the church I go to every Sunday -- which has Christ right there in the name, and which incidentally hosted Bishop Spong for a series of lectures just a few weeks ago -- would disagree PROFOUNDLY.
posted by KathrynT at 7:54 AM on October 26, 2010 [4 favorites]


Start cutting your hat into bite sized pieces. I'm on my phone now and about to take the kid to school, but I'll give you some names when I get back later this morning.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 8:13 AM on October 26


It will be a shame if you waste your time, although I guess it might be instructive for others. Here is valkyryn's tactics in a nutshell: you start with

the only theologians who critique the traditional view [on homosexual practice] are those who, like Spong, have abandoned more basic tenets of Christian theology.

A couple hours later the position has been "clarified" -

But I challenge you then: name me one, single theologian of note who adheres to the historic understanding of the Christian faith in all points except for its stance on homosexuality.

Oops, now you have to produce a theologian "of note" (according to valkyryn's definition of who's of note) who adheres to "the historic understanding of the Christian faith" (according to valkyryn's definition of the historic understanding of the Christian faith, because, you know, that's a pretty settled topic) "in all points except for its stance on homosexuality".

Gee, did that goalposts get way smaller all the sudden? Oops, no, it's just that someone quietly moved it much further away. I bet valkyryn is an excellent lawyer: after staking out his position he almost immediately refines it such that defining any answer out of relevance to his definitions of theological notability or sufficient adherence to his definitions of "this historic understanding of Christian faith" will be a trivial effort. Talk about begging your questions.
posted by nanojath at 8:15 AM on October 26, 2010 [6 favorites]


Go on. I dare you. I think you'll find that every single theologian who wants to critique the church's stance on homosexuality has departed from Christian orthodoxy on a broader level than just sexual ethics.

Ahh No True Scottsman becomes no true orthodox christian theologian?

The "long history and tradition of liberal theology" goes back approximately 150 years, 200 at best.

The long tradition of conservative theology goes back about the same amount of time. Much of what is considered orthodoxy today was created during the so called great awakening of the early 1800s. Christian practices have evolved and changed substantially since the early days of the religions emergence.

Conservative churches, on the other hand, even inside the Episcopalian church, are growing, both in terms of children and in terms of converts.

Not true. I've heard this garbage for 30 years. The fact is that Truro and East Falls Church two of the showcase churches in Virginia for conservative Episcopalians have relatively stable numbers of members. The new members they attract are not converts, they are Christians from other conservative congregations (many Baptists or evangelicals). This is true for all the unaffiliated mega-churches out there. When you look closely at their membership they are just attracting the same people who always believed. They aren't growing in any sense of the word, they are just taking a bigger piece of a smaller pie. The fact is there are large and vibrant liberal congregations (come visit Epiphany Metro Center in downtown DC, or Arlington UU off RT 50). If it was really true that the conservative churches had some amazing ability to grow then the church would have become more conservative over time since the Episcopal church does most things through elections. We would see new conservative congregations emerging and the schism groups like the CANA folks would see new churches opening all the time.
The fastest growing church in the United States is the church of not attending because there are more interesting things to do on Sunday morning.
posted by humanfont at 8:17 AM on October 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


The Shakers, who rejected all sexual relationships?

Haha, I guess there can't be many of those around to argue the toss now :)
posted by londonmark at 8:20 AM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


> I'm an atheist, and whenever I read these religious debates I always get to the point
> where I kind of mentally throw up my hands and say: "What's the sticking point? All
> this stuff is just made-up anyway, so just rewrite the rules whatever way you need to!
> It's not like it's maths, or something." (I understand that sentiment may be lost on
> non-atheists.) Am I the only one who has that reaction?
> posted by Ritchie at 9:50 AM on October 26 [+] [!]

Spong does rewrite the rules, in a way that is entirely incompatible with theism (as, say, Richard Dawkins, or any other self-respecting atheist would define theism.) But so far from actually owning up to being an atheist, he still calls himself a Christian, has not left the Episcopalean Church, styles himself "Bishop Spong," and prominantly wears a priest's dog collar on the front page of his own personal site. Hardly surprising, it's his bread and butter and there will be many more speaking and publishing gigs for John Spong, retired Episcopalian bishop that there would be for John Spong, Guy With Website. But having re-written the rules as radically as this...

Since God can no longer be conceived in theistic terms, it becomes nonsensical to seek to understand Jesus as the incarnation of the theistic deity.

...to continue to cling to some vaporware notion of "God" (and continue wearing that dogcoller) looks to me like either massively garbled thinking or snake oil. As thoughts go, that one's like stating "2 can no longer be conceived in numerical terms" but still for some reason trying to preserve the notion of 2.

N.b. I personally find nothing to argue with in Spong's proposition that I just quoted. I think it's exactly right. But having said so I could not then go around in Christian priest drag calling myself "bishop," so I don't.
posted by jfuller at 8:23 AM on October 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


But having said so I could not then go around in Christian priest drag calling myself "bishop," so I don't.

Spong has rejected theism, but argues for a new way of understanding God. His position is considerably more nuanced than you're suggesting, dedicated to scholarship and a non-literal interpretation of scripture. This is unusual, but certainly valid. In fact, I suspect a lot of religious people view their religions metaphorically, rather than literally, a point that often gets lost in debates about theism v. atheism.
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:31 AM on October 26, 2010 [9 favorites]


Dear AskMe:

I have studied (and teach) theology, philosophy, philosophy of religion, metaphysics, and so forth for years. I was just curious how much further education I should pursue to justify my latent homophobia so that when I hide behind ecclesiastical history, my fellow MeFites respond with respect instead of the derision I deserve. Is a divinity degree sufficient? Thanks in advance!
posted by joe lisboa at 8:32 AM on October 26, 2010 [9 favorites]


Also, you seem to be suggesting that he continues to identify himself as a Bishop because it's good for business. That's a pretty crass suggestion; it's the sort of thing that fair people don't make without evidence.
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:32 AM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


so that when I hide behind ecclesiastical history, my fellow MeFites respond with respect instead of the derision I deserve.

What on earth are you talking about?
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:33 AM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


You're contending that there can be some other (internally consistent, not hypocritical) reason for moral opposition to homosexuality, besides institutionalized homophobia.

I'm all ears.


I actually got something coherent out of a Christian the other day. Well, sort of coherent. It goes:

God said having gay sex is bad and so it's bad because God can't ever be wrong about anything. It's not the Christian's homophobia, you see. It's God's. And since Christianity must assume that God is 100% right about everything all the time then even if the piddling little Christians want to accept homosexuality, they can't because God told them not to.
posted by Doublewhiskeycokenoice at 8:34 AM on October 26, 2010


In The Sins of Scripture Spong tackles not only how the Bible has been used against homosexuals, but also against women, the environment, the Jews, and even children. This book was published in 2005, but he has been fighting the abuse of Scripture a lot longer than that, and I'm not surprised that he is tired.

Thanks for mentioning it. Looks fascinating. Put it on hold at my library.
posted by zarq at 8:34 AM on October 26, 2010


Sorry, AZ. Poorly executed satire. Off to caffeinate.
posted by joe lisboa at 8:34 AM on October 26, 2010


(of valkryn, not Spong).
posted by joe lisboa at 8:35 AM on October 26, 2010


prominantly wears a priest's dog collar

Is this really necessary?
posted by shakespeherian at 8:35 AM on October 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


At the risk of piling-on:

Valkyryn, you are someone I generally agree with, and whom I respect even when I don't agree with you. But this is ridiculous.

Frankly I am, like you, also confused as to why Bp. Spong remained in the ECUSA whilst holding views that were very different to the dogma and doctrine that he was supposed to be defending as an Episcopal bishop. I feel the same way about him as I do about closeted gay Catholic bishops: why? Why would you take an office which is supposed to uphold beliefs that you do not agree with? Nevertheless, the people of the Diocese of Newark duly elected him, and he accepted the office, and that is between them and God.

On the issue of gay rights, though, Bishop Spong is indisputably within the bounds of Episcopal belief and practice.

Look, I stand in church every Sunday and recite the Creed. And I believe it all, even the crazy parts. I believe that the Holy Spirit got Mary pregnant. I believe that God brought Jesus back from the dead and took him up to heaven. I believe that I will live forever.

I also believe that if two guys want to commit to living together and having sex together for the rest of their lives, they should be able to get married in the Church.

I am not convinced that it is the "liberals" who are playing with the Creed and sacred tradition -- which has always included within itself the caveat that rules and dogma are secondary to the great task of working out what it means to love God and neighbour.

I believe that people who are conservative on this issue can be orthodox, and I don't know why people continue to insist that because I believe in the full inclusion of gays in the Church, I must not believe in the Trinity or Resurrection or the authority of Holy Scripture, read and heard by the people of God.
posted by tivalasvegas at 8:36 AM on October 26, 2010 [10 favorites]


I read that as The Sins of Scripture Spong, which sounds like an LSD-influenced underground film from the 60s that I now desperately want to read.
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:40 AM on October 26, 2010


name me one, single theologian of note who adheres to the historic understanding of the Christian faith in all points except for its stance on homosexuality

If by "adheres to the historic understanding of the Christian faith" you mean practicing Christians
I can think of Fred Craddock, retired pastor and B. Brandon Scott, Seminary Faculty, Tom and Barbara Boyd professors at the University of Oklahoma and pastors at a Norman (OK) church.
posted by francesca too at 8:41 AM on October 26, 2010


And yet he stops short of the clear conclusion that you just can't take the Bible all that seriously, and anybody using it as the only basis for any argument shouldn't be tolerated. Oh well, maybe next time.
posted by atbash at 8:50 AM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


You find me one person outside the liberal tradition that wants to critique the traditional Christian understanding on homosexuality, and I'll eat my hat.

As promised, here you go. It's a shame, too--such a lovely hat, and you look so fetching in it.

First, I don’t think it’s too hard to imagine a conservative critique of anti-gay theology. There aren’t that many Biblical verses that deal directly with homosexuality. It’s not as though anti-gay theology appears in the creeds. You can believe in God the Father, Creator of Heaven and Earth and in Jesus Christ, his only begotten son, our Lord, and think it’s fine if gays marry and live openly. In fact, you could think that it is essential that Christians openly press for full equality for gays, because the justice of God demands it.

Here’s one very prominent theological who is open in his views: Luke Timothy Johnson.

Johnson is a well-known critic of the Jesus Seminar, and has written The Real Jesus : The Misguided Quest for the Historical Jesus and the Truth of the Traditional Gospels, which is just as conservative as you might imagine. Jesus is the Son of God, the resurrection was real, the gospels are reliable, so on and so forth. He is completely orthodox Catholic in creedal matters, although he stands for the ordination of women and the acceptance of homosexuals.

In another book, Scripture & Discernment: Decision Making in the Church, Johnson argues that we should take the Jerusalem Conference in Acts 15 as a model for church decision making. That conference dealt with the acceptance of Gentles as full members of the new Jewish sect of Christ-ians, with apostles and prominent leaders coming together to decide the matter. John’s point, in short, is that while scripture had a role to play in that decision, it was the experience of God’s grace falling on the Gentiles that had the largest role to play. It certainly would have easy to mount a case against Gentile equality based in clear Biblical teaching, but do to so would have been to violate the expressed will of the living God which was seen in the way He was already accepting Gentiles before the church was willing to. Johnson goes on to specifically apply this model to homosexuality, arguing that scripture itself demonstrates that scripture is not the final word in making these critical decisions of inclusion and exclusion. As I recall, Johnson didn’t positively say at the time that our experience has demonstrated that God has called gays to full inclusion, just that we should be open to the possibility. Since then, he has begun to openly advocate for gay equality, as seen in this Commonweal article from 2007.

Here are a couple of others that I am less familiar with, but I think can be fairly said to be conservative theologically:

Victor Paul Furnish, The Moral Teaching of Paul. Argues that the NT is against sexual exploitation, not all same-sex relationships, and the Paul specifically has pederasty in mind when he is writing of homosexual behavior.

Walter Wink, Homosexuality and the Christian Faith.

As far as Spong goes, I agree that he might as well stop debating conservatives about homosexuality. He’s a world away from them theologically, and there just isn’t enough common ground for them to even talk. Folks like Johnson and Wink will be much better conservation partners for orthodox believers.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 8:52 AM on October 26, 2010 [37 favorites]


Oh, crap, I lost all the hyperlinks when I pasted that from Word. Well, here's the big one: Johnson's Commonweal article.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 8:54 AM on October 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'd like to point out that Spong not only continues to call himself Bishop, he is free to do so because the Episcopal Church has not found it necessary to kick him out for his "unorthodox" comments*.

*He was censured in 1979 for the ordination of someone who then went on to make highly inflamitory public statements, but not for his own statements.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 8:55 AM on October 26, 2010


> Also, you seem to be suggesting that he continues to identify himself as a Bishop
> because it's good for business. That's a pretty crass suggestion; it's the sort of
> thing that fair people don't make without evidence.

Smiling guy in dogcoller, "New Christianity" in Second-Coming type, twelve "Buy Now" buttons.
posted by jfuller at 9:03 AM on October 26, 2010


Again: the church I go to every sunday -- the University Congregational United Church of Christ -- does not hew to a strictly theistic interpretation of God, nor of Christ. They also don't teach that Christianity is the only path to heaven or to righteousness, and they don't believe in Hell. (They barely believe in Heaven.) That does not make them not a Christian church. They teach that walking with Christ leads to a unique relationship with God and Creation, and they teach that the fruits of that walk are fruits that benefit the whole world.

So, yeah. You can be a Christian, in love and faith, without believing in an anthropomorphic, interventionist God. You can be a Christian, in love and faith, without believing in Jesus Christ as any particular anything apart from a name attached to ideas about how to get to know God better. And you can CERTAINLY be a Christian, in love and faith, without believing that God only sanctions relationships with the appropriate number of dicks in them.
posted by KathrynT at 9:08 AM on October 26, 2010 [6 favorites]


I have a lot of sympathy for atheists who say they're atheist because they personally don't believe that God exists, or reject religion because it's inherently sexist, racist or homophobic. The latter question is one I wrestle with on a regular basis. At the point, though, where one goes out of their way to declare to everyone else that the debate over whether religious folk should be inclusionary is irrelevant because all them god-worshippers are just mindless idiots anyway ... well, at that point, you're just calling people you disagree with about metaphysics names. And that's just silly.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 9:12 AM on October 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


the accepted Wisdom of MetaFilter--and apparently the only position it is permissible to express

Oh, please. Nobody is denying your right to express whatever position you want.

Also, nobody is denying anyone else's right to disagree with your expressed position.
posted by erniepan at 9:12 AM on October 26, 2010 [4 favorites]


I think it should be noted that Bishop Spong posted this over a year ago. This isn't news to those of us following the issue. And if I can add my own horn-tooting to the UCC name-dropping above: Open & Affirming in the UCC.
posted by Mur at 9:13 AM on October 26, 2010


Frankly I am, like you, also confused as to why Bp. Spong remained in the ECUSA whilst holding views that were very different to the dogma and doctrine that he was supposed to be defending as an Episcopal bishop

WTF are you talking about. Spong is only slightly on the left of the mainstream views of the House of Bishops and House of Deputies. The fact is Spongs views on the subject of ending the debate are rapidly gaining acceptance. We've had almost 40 years of women priests, and 30 years of the new prayerbook. We accepted to conscience clauses and compromise with conservatives. We've been extremely accommodating of their views in the interests of trying to hold the church together so we can focus on our larger mission in the world. The conservatives refuse to move on though. They refuse to reciprocate the conscience clauses given to them. Instead they keep dividing and distracting the church threatening a schism each general convention. The reaction to the farce of the Windsor report has been to decide perhaps we don't need the CoE afterall. I mean we got along fine without it. We also don't need the Ugandan bishops advocating the death penalty for homosexuals. We are confident in our believes and we are moving forward on our mission.
posted by humanfont at 9:19 AM on October 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


Spong differs significantly from ECUSA in that he does not agree on the resurrection of Christ and other points of the Nicene Creed.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:26 AM on October 26, 2010


Smiling guy in dogcoller, "New Christianity" in Second-Coming type, twelve "Buy Now" buttons.

That in no way demonstrates that he identifies as a Bishop only for the sake of making money. Quit it.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:35 AM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Spong differs significantly from ECUSA in that he does not agree on the resurrection of Christ and other points of the Nicene Creed.

Sure he does. He just doesn't believe that they must be taken literally.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:42 AM on October 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


The fallacy of No True Valkyrn.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:47 AM on October 26, 2010


Sure he does. He just doesn't believe that they must be taken literally.

That's what I mean by disagreement.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:48 AM on October 26, 2010


This may well be a revolution. For years, liberal Christians have allowed themselves to be shouted down by bigots in the church who did their shouting in the name of godliness. We liberal Christians are like that, though: It's hard to argue a point of theology in an abstract sense with someone sputtering hellfire and brimstone.

But the recent suicides of gay teens and the subsequent "It Gets Better" movement have taken this issue out of the realm of abstract "others" outside the church to teens, many of whom are still in the church and maybe even are being persecuted by the church. Here in Fort Worth, Joel Burns has no doubt influenced a local pastor to publicly support a positon similar to Spong's.

It's hard to fight for an abstraction (which, in many churches, is what gays are; they are not openly active in many denominations and churches). It's a lot easier for us to stir up our righteous indignation to defend the rights of those who are defenseless- namely gay teens who have been so oppressed as to want to end their lives. These teens are sympathetic figures in a way that openly gay people outside the church are not. Liberals can argue passionately about this issue in such a way that conservatives can no longer dismiss.

I hope this is the revolution.

For the record, I was onboard a few years ago [MOFB]
posted by Doohickie at 9:51 AM on October 26, 2010 [6 favorites]


Sure he does. He just doesn't believe that they must be taken literally.

That's what I mean by disagreement.


Our leader is an oceanographer with a PhD in Oceanography and a masters in Biology. I seriously doubt you'll find much support for the literal truth of the virgin birth as a necessary article of faith within our ranks.
posted by humanfont at 10:10 AM on October 26, 2010


You find me one person outside the liberal tradition that wants to critique the traditional Christian understanding on homosexuality...

Oh, ha, I missed the third transformation of the "requirements" for being a Christian who doesn't condemn homosexuals who valkyryn has to pay attention to. Nailed it.
posted by nanojath at 10:11 AM on October 26, 2010


So basically, what we've got here is one of the leaders of the liberal wing of the Episcopal Church making a public declaration that he isn't even going to talk to the other side. The Episcopal Church is coming apart at the seams, and now he won't even talk about it anymore.

Yeah, that sounds productive.

'course, the flip side is that Spong isn't someone that most theologically conservative Episcopalians, i.e. the Episcopalians who adhere to the traditional Christian view of homosexuality, would have wanted to talk to anyway, as he's generally regarded as being a flaming heretic. I mean, forget gays for a minute, if you're going to argue against a supernatural, Trinitarian God, I don't know that you have any justification for calling yourself a Christian.

But I think that's the whole point. Spong's concept of Christianity is completely alien to the historic faith, so in a sense he's right: there really isn't any point in talking about issues which only arise way down the logical chain, e.g. homosexuality. If you're going to do systematic theology, sexual ethics is something that is highly dependent upon more fundamental and metaphysical doctrines, e.g. the doctrine of God, Christology, the anthropology, the doctrine of the Scriptures, soteriology, etc. If you don't agree about those things, what you believe about sexual ethics is almost moot, because you're never going to come to any kind of agreement.

This is partly why theologically conservative Christians tend to oppose homosexual practice: the only theologians who critique the traditional view are those who, like Spong, have abandoned more basic tenets of Christian theology.


Practical and theoretical philosophy can, and must, be separate activities. If conservative Christians are incapable of this, they're the ones who are failing, not Spong.
posted by polymodus at 10:12 AM on October 26, 2010


I'm still done with this thread, but Pater Alethias has returned with a possible counter-example to my challenge, i.e. "You find me one person outside the liberal tradition that wants to critique the traditional Christian understanding on homosexuality, and I'll eat my hat."

His suggestion is Dr. Luke Timothy Johnson.

I submit for your consideration this article, where Dr. Johnson lays out his position on the subject. In it, he self-identifies as a liberal theologian, who despite his fine sounding language, is explicitly willing to reject the clear language of Scripture and explicitly substitutes human experience for divine revelation.

This is one of the hallmarks of liberal theology, and Dr. Johnson says as much. He tries to be diplomatic about it, unlike Spong et al, but he makes no bones that the only way to reach the position he does is to adopt a liberal theologian's doctrine of Scripture.

I'm not sure why I should treat this as a satisfactory answer to my challenge.

I can't find any links from Varnish or Wink as good as the one from Johnson, but what information is available leads me to believe that they fall into exactly the same category.

So, yeah. Hat is still pretty firmly on my head.
posted by valkyryn at 10:12 AM on October 26, 2010


So, yeah. You can be a Christian, in love and faith, without believing in an anthropomorphic, interventionist God. You can be a Christian, in love and faith, without believing in Jesus Christ as any particular anything apart from a name attached to ideas about how to get to know God better. And you can CERTAINLY be a Christian, in love and faith, without believing that God only sanctions relationships with the appropriate number of dicks in them.

Yeah, sure, and you can go to a diner and get a cheeseburger without meat or cheese or lettuce or condiments, but wouldn't it be simpler to just ask for toast?
posted by Pyry at 10:13 AM on October 26, 2010


Just to put up a note, because I was giggling over the FIND ME A TRUE SCOTSMAN as much as anyone else, I think that valkyryn's position comes from an opposite bias from many of those here — Valkyryn's belief seems to be, and correct me if this is wrong, V, that conservatism itself is a virtue with regard to religion. Obviously, many (including most liberals and arguably Jesus himself) disagree. But from that position, it's easy to see why he would defend the antipathy toward homosexuals embodied in the bits of scripture: That's been held as a doctrinal position for over a millennium. Likewise, ordination of women, or any number of other "modern" departures from "traditional" belief.

I can definitely understand that position, especially if it comes from a couple of foundational beliefs on faith: That God was fully and totally revealed through Christ, and that man's nature (especially his sinful nature) corrupts. From those beliefs, every doctrinal shift away from the "historic" church is likely to pervert more and more of the message, especially when it coincides with something that humans want to do anyway. It substitutes man for God, when God's message was in large part about the impermissibility and ultimate consequences of doing so.

However, this requires a bunch of inconsistent or fallacious assumptions about doctrine and faith. It requires the assumption that the Gospels and Bible as we have them are essentially unchanged from the moment of Christ's transmission of them, which doesn't jibe with the historical record. Unfortunately, the answer to that, that the changes made were made under the aegis of the Holy Spirit or Divine Inspiration (as it's nearly impossible to argue that there haven't been significant changes made) is unsatisfactory, in that it gives no outside authority save the purported faith of the believer. Who is to say that doctrinal changes being made through liberal theology aren't equally divinely inspired? There the argument falls back to doctrinal consistency, but that's a large way of begging the question, as the only way to find something doctrinally consistent is to start out with a set of assumptions that may not be shared about doctrine. Some changes, certainly, can be said to be wildly out of line with historic understandings of faith or the purported message of Christ. Spong's beliefs are pretty close to mine, but I don't call myself a Christian. But there simply is no way to tell whether theological positions are divinely inspired or not — popularity, common opinion, even doctrinal consistency all pale in comparison to the invoked authority of God as spirit, blowing his breath through a person.
posted by klangklangston at 10:17 AM on October 26, 2010 [9 favorites]


So, yeah. Hat is still pretty firmly on my head.

So basically your challenge is 'Find me a conservative who is a liberal'?
posted by shakespeherian at 10:20 AM on October 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


Yeah, sure, and you can go to a diner and get a cheeseburger without meat or cheese or lettuce or condiments, but wouldn't it be simpler to just ask for toast?

Or you can go to dinner and get fillet mignon, but hey, if all you want out of an omnipotent creator is a cheeseburger, be my guest.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 10:23 AM on October 26, 2010


klangklangston, you've pretty much got it. Conservatism is a virtue with respect to Christianity. Not going to venture a guess about all other religions, but my instinct says it isn't alone.

I'd only add that if your fundamental axiom for understanding all of life is held and recognized as an article of faith, the fact that everything ultimately devolves on a logical circle isn't that big of a deal.

Of course, the thing about that is that everyone's fundamental axiom is held as an article of faith, so it's hard to argue that people of faith are somehow unique here. We just make no bones about it.
posted by valkyryn at 10:24 AM on October 26, 2010


valkyrn in this thread is an excellent example of someone who isn't here to converse, but rather is here to convert. In this case, it wasn't about being part of a discussion, it was about Being Right. Those types, when encountered on MetaFilter, either argue until everyone is worn out and the thread is no fun for anyone, or they leave early on when it's clear that they won't find anyone immediately leaping onto their bandwagon.

Personally, I'd like to see less of that and more of people sharing viewpoints without having the full force of their ego linked to whether others agree with them or not.
posted by hippybear at 10:25 AM on October 26, 2010 [5 favorites]


So basically your challenge is 'Find me a conservative who is a liberal'?

My challenge is to find a theologian who argues that the church's traditional understanding of homosexuality is incorrect without relying upon liberal theological principles in making his argument, i.e. punts on the authority of Scripture.

That may be impossible, but it isn't a logical impossibility.
posted by valkyryn at 10:27 AM on October 26, 2010


valkyryn from way back in the thread:

If you're going to do systematic theology, sexual ethics is something that is highly dependent upon more fundamental and metaphysical doctrines, e.g. the doctrine of God, Christology, the anthropology, the doctrine of the Scriptures, soteriology, etc.

Pater Aletetheais touches on it in here, but I still feel the question needs addressing. Did Jesus himself (ie: The Gospels) ever have anything direct to say on the topic of homosexuality? I don't believe so. Yes, he refers to the old Hebraic laws and scriptures at various points but the fact that he never felt it essential to single out homosexuality (pro or con) is a lot more than just interesting. And as such, it's not just hairsplitting to suggest that homophobia is not inherent in a faith in Christ, while it seems to be in pretty much all mainstream Christian Churches (at least, historically).

You don't really get to call yourself a Christian without being part of some church, as ecclesiology is a pretty essential piece of Christian doctrine.

Who wrote the Christian doctrine? The Church. That is, humans (men) who, for whatever reason (inspiration, manipulation?) decided it was time to formalize (in writing) that thing they believed in. So, of course, in the interest of "keeping the group together" and/or maximizing power, they were going to quickly exclude as irrelevant any and all who hadn't paid their membership dues. This is the Church, separate from Christ.

Whatever happened (assuming ANYTHING happened, assuming such a man EVER existed), Christ's life (his teachings, his rise, his fall, his crucifixion) would be the REAL THING, the truth. You can believe in this (and what it implies to you) without believing in what the Church (any church) says it implies. To argue otherwise is to confuse idea with application (ie: insisting that Soviet Russia and Karl Marx are one and the same). No?
posted by philip-random at 10:32 AM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm wondering where Stanley Hauerwas and radical orthodoxy fits into this discussion, as Hauerwas is very antagonistic to liberal theology a la Spong, and yet very not anti-gay. (But then, radical orthodoxy itself is pretty difficult to classify.)
posted by thomas j wise at 10:33 AM on October 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


Conservatism is a virtue with respect to Christianity.

Why?
posted by KathrynT at 10:34 AM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


i.e. punts on the authority of Scripture.

Y'know, it's interesting, because while I'm fairly sympathetic to the idea that Paul is often full of it, I've never heard that as the basis for an argument against the church's traditional understanding of homosexuality. I've always heard arguments based around the fact that we have no real idea of what malaokois and arsenokoitai mean, that Leviticus lays out a holiness code for nomadic Jews and not an eternal infallible moral code, and so on and so on. There are plenty of arguments. Whether you want to discount those arguments based on who makes them is up to you, but like I said, none of them that I've ever seen are based around monkeying with the authority of Scripture.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:34 AM on October 26, 2010


If conservatism is a virtue for Christianity, let's just drop this whole Trinity heresy then. Arianism predates belief in the divinity of Christ.
posted by jb at 10:34 AM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


God said having gay sex is bad and so it's bad because God can't ever be wrong about anything.

Quite the contrary! My strict reading of the Hebrew Bible reveals that God, himself, is a homosexual.

From 1 Sam 16, starting around vs. 8:
Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen any of these.” Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.” He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.” Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward...

and bonus round!

...vs. 19 So Saul sent messengers to Jesse, and said, “Send me your son David who is with the sheep.” Jesse took a donkey loaded with bread, a skin of wine, and a kid, and sent them by his son David to Saul. And David came to Saul, and entered his service. Saul loved him greatly, and he became his armor-bearer.

His armor-bearer? You don't say...
posted by Baby_Balrog at 10:35 AM on October 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


From the Episcopal Church website:

Q: What is the significance of Jesus' resurrection?
A: By his resurrection, Jesus overcame death and opened for us the way of eternal life.

Q: What do we mean by the resurrection of the body?
A: We mean that God will raise us from death in the fullness of our being, that we may live with Christ in the communion of the saints.

These are things I am NOT saying:
-- Bishop Spong is a bad person.
-- Bishop Spong is not a Christian.
-- Bishop Spong should be excommunicated.

These are things I AM saying:
-- Bishop Spong does not believe certain things that the Episcopal Church as an institution, as well as most Episcopalians individually, believe to be true and important.
-- It's weird to be in a position where you are supposed to safeguard the truth of things that you do not believe.
-- I would not have voted for Bishop Spong.

In: re: the whole TEC / Anglican Mission in America / Lambeth debacle: Yeah, I don't think anyone ends up looking particularly pretty there. I support the right of TEC to ordain whoever the hell we think should be bishops without having to answer to Canterbury or Kigali. I do think that discretion is the better part of valour when it comes to ordaining bishops that are going to piss off people needlessly, but I also see the point that sometimes you have to take provocative steps in the interest of justice, the fierce urgency of now and all that. I am also under the possibly mistaken impression that we agreed at Lambeth not to ordain any more gay bishops for a while and then went ahead and did it anyway, which is kind of unbecoming. I also think the African & S. American bishops who refused to take communion with Bishop Katherine were being assholes and probably need to rethink what charity means, especially if they're going to be supporting anti-gay bigotry at home and fomenting sectarianism on TEC and ACC turf.
posted by tivalasvegas at 10:36 AM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


That may be impossible, but it isn't a logical impossibility

Don't be daft. You established impossible parameters in order to make a nonsensical point. I don't know why anybody is playing that game with you. No matter who they name, you'll find something about them that doesn't fit criteria that you yourself get to make.

I won't take that wager. You don't get to define what is and isn't proper in religion, or how religion may properly be interpreted, by individuals or by organizations, and I thought you said you were done with this thread.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:36 AM on October 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


Yeah, sure, and you can go to a diner and get a cheeseburger without meat or cheese or lettuce or condiments, but wouldn't it be simpler to just ask for toast?

I don't get your point here. Oh, wait, is it that if I reject the same interpretation of God that you reject, I don't have any business having any interpretation of God at all?
posted by KathrynT at 10:40 AM on October 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


Bishop Spong doesn't "call himself" a bishop; within the canons of the Episcopal church he IS a bishop (even in retirement). Just as when, when one is ordained to Holy Orders, one is ordained a priest forever.

(There is a process in the Episcopal Church by which one may request to be laicized.)
posted by apartment dweller at 10:47 AM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


valkyryn: I was serious about my nomination of Dr. Jack Rogers (traditional, reformed theologian with an evangelical streak) as meeting your criteria (or at least one set of your criteria at some point) and I'd love to hear what you think is wrong with him.
posted by hydropsyche at 10:49 AM on October 26, 2010


Bishop Spong does not believe certain things that the Episcopal Church as an institution, as well as most Episcopalians individually, believe to be true and important.

I'm not sure you are correct in your interpritation of the website links you provide. Those weren't statements of rigid dogma. You may have missed the introductions to the catachism: "we are a sacramental and worship-oriented church that promotes thoughtful debate about what God is calling us to do and be, as followers of Christ." and "This catechism is primarily intended for use by parish priests, deacons and lay catechists, to give an outline for instruction. It is a commentary on the creeds, but is not meant to be a complete statement of belief and practice; rather, it is a point of departure for the teacher, and it is cast in the traditional question and answer form for ease of reference."
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 10:52 AM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


"I submit for your consideration this article, where Dr. Johnson lays out his position on the subject. In it, he self-identifies as a liberal theologian, who despite his fine sounding language, is explicitly willing to reject the clear language of Scripture and explicitly substitutes human experience for divine revelation."

Unfortunately, you simplify and you miss an important point by it. Johnson is less saying that he is liberal, rather he is saying that he is already being cast as liberal due to his views on homosexuality.

And frankly, the article lays down a pretty good rebuttal — The conservative position that slavery was justified by the Bible is clearly wrong to all right-thinking people. It took a "liberal" theological position to argue that. Ergo, conservatism for conservatism sake with regard to Christian theology of the 19th century supports slavery. It's a small leap to make in pointing out that this same philosophy would have us support slavery now. If you do not, you are a "liberal" on the issue. I realize that this is an uncouth rhetorical tactic, forcing you to either accept liberalism or condone slavery, but it's effective mostly because we all recognize that the liberals were right.

"I'd only add that if your fundamental axiom for understanding all of life is held and recognized as an article of faith, the fact that everything ultimately devolves on a logical circle isn't that big of a deal."

But the circle isn't a full one; it's broken in every place where Divine Revelation has been used to justify change in one instance, but discarded as a rationale in another. Further, that it devolves into a circle is of no consequence when that circle is kept subjective, but as soon as you argue for the correctness of your beliefs over others, you must submit to the process of reason and logic in order to see whether your conclusions can justly be said to come from your premises. While their specific conclusions have often been found wanting, I have no doubt that both Augustine and Aquinas would agree.
posted by klangklangston at 10:58 AM on October 26, 2010 [7 favorites]


Hat is still pretty firmly on my head.

Your error is in assuming that the parts of abstraction hierarchies are prioritizable. Present-day public issues such as homosexuality aren't subordinate to higher-level theological concerns. The two ends go hand in hand, because basic tenets derived from the Bible still have to find connection to real events.

…the only theologians who critique the traditional view are those who, like Spong, have abandoned more basic tenets of Christian theology.

This statement illustrates what is very wrong—if those theologians are incapable of critiquing their own tenets, then they have no way of validating what they believe to be true. Thus they form a rotten, nonsense-generating core, and indeed deserve to be abandoned by everyone else.
posted by polymodus at 11:01 AM on October 26, 2010


Way above, valkyryn used the term "homosexual practice." I know that this is a term of art for conservative Christians, used to advance a particular point of view, but it bugs the living hell out of me.

My homosexual orientation and my homosexual practice are indistinguishable (although I realize that certain Christians would love to sever them). I am a homosexual. I don't practice homosexuality. Do heterosexuals practice their heterosexuality?
posted by blucevalo at 11:07 AM on October 26, 2010 [6 favorites]


As often as I can.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:14 AM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Do heterosexuals practice their heterosexuality?

Every chance I get, am I right fellas?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 11:14 AM on October 26, 2010


I don't need practice, I'm already perfect.
posted by Ahab at 11:15 AM on October 26, 2010


Jinx, you owe me a beer, AZ, in a totally macho, platonic, hetero sort of way! *swaggers, scratches self*
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 11:17 AM on October 26, 2010


*tongue kisses T10thRoF*
posted by shakespeherian at 11:18 AM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Man I am SO glad I previewed.
posted by KathrynT at 11:18 AM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't get your point here. Oh, wait, is it that if I reject the same interpretation of God that you reject, I don't have any business having any interpretation of God at all?

That was not remotely the impression I was trying to give. My point was that if you self-label as Christian but have to keep on adding qualifications to that description so that people will understand your beliefs, it may be more parsimonious to just drop the label 'Christian'. That is, if you keep on adding and removing stuff to your cheeseburger to the point that most people would not recognize it as such, maybe it would be simpler to find a base sandwich description that more closely matches what you want. Maybe the 'deist reuben' would be a better fit in your case?
posted by Pyry at 11:20 AM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


And yet many Christians still argue that they're basically the real Jews. And usephrases like Judeo-Christian, despite the fact that they're much closer to being pagans than being Jews.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:23 AM on October 26, 2010


So striking out on your own in interpreting the Bible is something you certainly can do, you just can't claim to be a Christian when you do it.

Perhaps this is true within the Episcopal Church, but if you mean that in a broader context, it's about as ahistoric a statement as has ever been made on MetaFilter. Were that not the case, there would only be the Catholic church, and nothing else.


Well, Orthodox, really, I'd argue.

More to the point, a decent understanding of history would illuminate to what degree othodoxy is tied to temporal power an politics. The acceptance of the dual nature of Christ owes a great deal more to the adoption of Christianity as a state religion in the Roman Empire, and the governments of the day chosing to throw their weight behind certain views; monophysites and Nestorians didn't die out in Western Christianity because they were convinced their arguments were wrong, they died out literally - recant or die.

In a similar vein, had the Cathars been as useful to the kings of France as the Protestants were to the Kings (and Queen) of England we would still have a Cathar orthodoxy to go with an Anglican orthodoxy.

Spong is completely outside the realm of Christian orthodoxy

Then why's he still a bishop?
posted by rodgerd at 11:23 AM on October 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


My challenge is to find a theologian who argues that the church's traditional understanding of homosexuality is incorrect without relying upon liberal theological principles in making his argument, i.e. punts on the authority of Scripture.

There is no such theologian. This just goes to show that the Bible (and accompanied works) is an unsound and incomplete source of morality.
posted by polymodus at 11:25 AM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Everyone could probably use a bit more practice in their sexuality, just to improve their skillz.

But, joking aside, blucevalo, you make an excellent point. Many anti-homosexual people claim that being gay is just a practice, not an inherent part of a person, and that's why they can condemn it. My husband claims that this shows that all anti-gay people must be actually bi, because he knows that he has no choice about what sex he is attracted to.
posted by jb at 11:26 AM on October 26, 2010


My point was that if you self-label as Christian but have to keep on adding qualifications to that description so that people will understand your beliefs, it may be more parsimonious to just drop the label 'Christian'.

I don't have to keep adding qualifications to the description. I'm doing it here because this is a discussion specifically about who is qualified to call themselves a Christian. I call myself a Christian because I go to a Christian church, because I try to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, because I seek a relationship with God that is like the one Jesus spoke of, and because I try to act in the way Jesus recommended people act. Seems like it would be pretty damn disingenuous to call myself anything OTHER than a Christian.
posted by KathrynT at 11:27 AM on October 26, 2010 [5 favorites]


And yet many Christians still argue that they're basically the real Jews. And usephrases like Judeo-Christian, despite the fact that they're much closer to being pagans than being Jews.

I'm unfamiliar with Christians who argue that they're the real Jews. Where have you seen this? (This isn't a challenge, I've just never heard of it.)

ALSO: I think the term 'Judeo-Christian' is largely one of political usage rather than religious definition.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:27 AM on October 26, 2010


Many Christians believe that Judaism was, essentially, the warm-up act for Christianity, and is now a historical oddity that should have been supplanted when Jesus brought a new testament to supplant the old one. It was the basis for a lot of historical antisemitism, and still is a weird theological sticking point for some -- If Jesus was the King of the Jews, and his followers are Christians, why are there even still Jews around?
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:33 AM on October 26, 2010


All right, well, I've heard that, I've just never heard it phrased the way you put it. Thanks.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:34 AM on October 26, 2010


now a historical oddity

Perfect example of people willing to hold naive lines of reasoning in order to preserve their own flawed beliefs and simplistic lores.
posted by polymodus at 11:39 AM on October 26, 2010


Maybe the 'deist reuben' would be a better fit in your case?

This corned beef is heavenly.
posted by zarq at 11:42 AM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Be warned, however: there will be no divine intervention for your cholesterol.
posted by Pyry at 11:46 AM on October 26, 2010


I claim this coronary artery disease in the name of AAAAAAarrrrgggghhhhhhhhh!
posted by KathrynT at 11:47 AM on October 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


If Jesus was the King of the Jews, and his followers are Christians, why are there even still Jews around?

Why do we still have monkeys?

Wait...wrong thread.
posted by T.D. Strange at 11:55 AM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Maybe the 'deist reuben' would be a better fit in your case?

There is debate as to whether a grilled corned beef on rhy with swiss and thousand island can call itself a Reuben or if only Russian dressing can qualify one as a TRUE REUBEN.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:03 PM on October 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm still done with this thread, but...

Um, no your not.
posted by ericb at 12:11 PM on October 26, 2010


*you're*

An edit window for the Kingdom of [Deity].
posted by ericb at 12:11 PM on October 26, 2010


He's standing up to his own cohort and telling them that they are bigots, and he's not willing to stand around being uneasy while they continue on with their hate speech.

Yeah, I read this as a little more than just a message to his colleagues. He really is pointing the way to rest of us. We should stop trying to convince the bigots that they are bigoted and just get along with the process of encoding into law what is obviously the moral way to behave. We should treat statements condemning homosexuals and relegating them to a second-class citizenship the same way we would were someone making those statements about women or racial minorities. To be as dismissive as possible of even the debatability of the issue is one way to bring the debate to a final end. If the "screaming" news media outlets realize they can no longer get a fiery debate going, they'll stop promoting the bigots and having them on their shows. They'll be relegated to the "Christian" channels and will no longer pollute the wider body politic. I think it might be the most effective course of action at this point.
posted by Mental Wimp at 12:12 PM on October 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


The Church Of England and the Birth of the Anglican Church as explained by Eddie Izzard. I think this pretty much settles any question about our flexibility with regards to scripture.
posted by humanfont at 12:15 PM on October 26, 2010


Yeah, sure, and you can go to a diner and get a cheeseburger without meat or cheese or lettuce or condiments, but wouldn't it be simpler to just ask for toast?

Yeah ... but at first that doesn't always work out.
"I'm sorry, we don't have any side orders of toast. An English muffin or a coffee roll?"
posted by ericb at 12:15 PM on October 26, 2010


From valkyryn, way back in the thread:
If you're going to do systematic theology, sexual ethics is something that is highly dependent upon more fundamental and metaphysical doctrines, e.g. the doctrine of God, Christology, the anthropology, the doctrine of the Scriptures, soteriology, etc.
(Embedded links lost, sorry).

Valkyryn, if you're going to do systematic theology, it would be helpful if you clarified your understanding been the components or parts of a systematic theology (some of the items you listed) and doctrines. The two are not the same.

Christianity is not distinguished by "a" single systematic theology, nor by doctrines (teachings) that are the same within every branch of the Christian tradition.

There is not "a" doctrine of the Scriptures (even the use of that terminology shows that you are approaching the matter from a Reformed theological perspective). There is not "a" soteriology. There is not "a" canon of scripture. There is not "an" agreement within Christianity as a whole today, or historically, that there is one hermeneutic only for reading the Scriptures.
posted by apartment dweller at 12:18 PM on October 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


If you're going to do systematic theology, sexual ethics is something that is highly dependent upon more fundamental and metaphysical doctrines, e.g. the doctrine of God, Christology, the anthropology, the doctrine of the Scriptures, soteriology, etc.

Oooohhh, you mean they got all this shiny, academic-sounding terminology to make it all intellectual-like? It must be really deep and stuff, then, and not based on a magic man in the sky type of deal, huh? I mean, they've got a big, thick book and all, and it talks about all sorts of important stuff, like owning slaves and stuff, but we got some really rigorous and tight terminology to put around our incoherent treatment of that text and the practices that have grown up out of who-knows-what historical accidents, so, geez, if you don't bow down to that terminology, then you got no bidness 'round here.

And, no, this isn't some enlightened discussion of sexual ethics rooted in a formal ethical system. It all gets back to bigotry.
posted by Mental Wimp at 12:18 PM on October 26, 2010


Many Christians believe that Judaism was, essentially, the warm-up act for Christianity, and is now a historical oddity that should have been supplanted when Jesus brought a new testament to supplant the old one. It was the basis for a lot of historical antisemitism...

...including Anti-Judaic polemics from Church clergy, forced conversions and other atrocities.
posted by zarq at 12:21 PM on October 26, 2010


blucevalo: I am a homosexual. I don't practice homosexuality. Do heterosexuals practice their heterosexuality?

I've had people explain to me that according to their denomination (Presbyterian), "It's okay to be gay. It's engaging in homosexual acts that's against God."

Gay celibacy is right with God, gay sex isn't, according to them.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 12:34 PM on October 26, 2010


Yes, that's what I was obliquely referring to above when I said it's a term of art for some Christians. In any case, it has no meaning or relevance to me except insofar as people who believe it use it as a justification for agitating for legislation that circumscribes my "practice," er, life.
posted by blucevalo at 12:37 PM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've had people explain to me that according to their denomination (Presbyterian), "It's okay to be gay. It's engaging in homosexual acts that's against God."

Gay celibacy is right with God, gay sex isn't, according to them.


I remember the first time I heard this horseshit. It was in Catholic school in my (surprisingly accurate and rational) sex ed class. The teacher said it as if it was the height of enlightened magnanimity. Of course, after two seconds of thinking it through I realized that it imposed a burden on gay people that was not imposed on myself. Once you get there you realize that it's just more separate but equal nonsense parading around with a "who me?" smile on its face.
posted by Doublewhiskeycokenoice at 12:43 PM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Gay celibacy is right with God, gay sex isn't, according to them.

That fits with a lot of churches, the same with fornication in general. Of course some churches (not necessarily God's Frozen Chosen) believe that and say that they are working for the redemption of sinners anyway and we're all screw so come on down and bring your boyfriend too, i.e. the whole "hospital for sinners not a hotel for saints" view.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:45 PM on October 26, 2010


screw ups.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:46 PM on October 26, 2010


Perfect example of people willing to hold naive lines of reasoning in order to preserve their own flawed beliefs and simplistic lores.

Surely one need look no further than the trinity for a perfect example of that. "Oh geez, no other gods? But now we've got two, and some people are arguing that there's a spirit too... I know, let's make them all the same thing! If we abandon the plural in our grammar, that makes it only one thing, right?!?‽"
posted by atbash at 12:46 PM on October 26, 2010


If I'd wanted to remain celibate I'd have become a monk. If at the end of days I'm at the Gate of St. Peter and the only thing that bars me from entry to heaven is whether I renounce every "homosexual practice" I'd ever pursued, I'd say, "I'd be renouncing some of the best moments of my life. Off to hell I go, I guess."
posted by blucevalo at 1:02 PM on October 26, 2010 [4 favorites]


With that, I resign myself to the fact that the accepted Wisdom of MetaFilter--and apparently the only position it is permissible to express--is that the only reason one could possibly believe that homosexuality is morally problematic is homophobia. Unless that can be questioned, this really isn't worth talking about. If I'm just the guy that's the token representative of traditional morality, I'm okay with that, but I'm not going to get drawn into an extensive defense of that with people who are clearly not really interested in a discussion that descends into allegations of bigotry and homophobia every damn time.

No worries. Want to get together for some beers, mate? We can go work out a cogent and persuasive set of arguments as to why folk should believe that homosexuality us morally problematic besides homophobia. Then we can preach those arguments to people. And then watch, perplexed, while they curb-stomp gays.
posted by sebastienbailard at 1:04 PM on October 26, 2010


And then watch, perplexed, while they curb-stomp gays.

I think you may be underestimating the reaction of many MeFites, particularly after a few pints of courage.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 1:07 PM on October 26, 2010


Valkyryn's tipped his hand quite a few times in his responses.

1) punts on the authority of Scripture.

One of the great dividing points in Christianity from the very beginning - even before Marcion decided that the entire Hebrew Scriptures were worthless way back when - has been the "authority of Scripture". Roman Catholicism considers Tradition, as interpreted by the Magisterium (teaching authority) of the Church, as another source of authority. Orthodoxy goes even further - I think it was St. Silouan the Athonite who said that if every single Bible in the world were burned, the entire Scripture could be recovered from the hearts and example of the saints. Pentecostalism considers the Holy Spirit to actively speak today, not only in the pages of the Bible. And that's not even mentioning the "Sermon on the Mount" Christianity of the Anabaptists and Quakers.

Even the phrase "authority of Scripture" is kind of a dog whistle - it's generally used by a very specific subset of Protestant denominations, usually those who identify themselves as "Reformed" (the spiritual descendents of Luther, Calvin and Zwingli - these days it's often the "Young and the Reformed" neo-Calvinists who go around excommunicating everyone they meet). The very question of the "authority of Scripture" doesn't entirely make sense in many other Christian contexts. It assumes that "authority" is the main question. But is it? What about experience (John Wesley would certainly disagree that experience is less important than Scripture - in fact, that's how Methodism and its offshoot evangelicalism got started)? What about mercy (the Orthodox idea of ekonomia is based on the idea that sometimes, mercy is more important than the Law)? These are only two examples, and I've deliberately kept them as orthodox - no pun intended - as I could. They're not specific to homosexuality. But they do shoot a battleship-sized hole in the idea that the "authority of Scripture" is somehow necessarily the key thing to all right-thinking Christians.

2) But I challenge you then: name me one, single theologian of note who adheres to the historic understanding of the Christian faith in all points except for its stance on homosexuality.

Depends on what you mean by "all points", which, again, can be pretty different (and a code word itself). Even denominations who use the same terminology can mean very different things by common words. Again, the phrase "historic understanding of the Christian faith" is a bit of a dog whistle as well, being used by many of same people who use phrases like "the authority of Scripture".

Most theologians simply didn't talk about homosexuality. This wasn't a gigantic concern until the past few decades. Neither, for that matter, did Jesus Himself. You'd think that, for all the ink spilled recently, it would have been important enough for Jesus to give us a few words on the subject. And if you want to go back to the Church Fathers, we can do that, too. Again, not a whole lot there. A little, but not their burning preoccupation. Their concerns were largely elsewhere.

Even in the early days, "homosexuality" meant something far different than it does now. Sarah Rudens, the author of the amazing book Paul Among the People (she's a Quaker, though, so she's probably immediately disqualified) describes the almost unspeakable brutalization common in pagan Rome that Paul likely was talking about when he wrote certain passages that are today used to club gay people over the head with. Being a translator of Latin classics, she's in a good position to know just what the Romans thought about these things, and what the world that Paul was writing in actually was like.

And as for today, I'm not sure I can answer in a way satisfactory to valkyryn. He shoots down Luke Timothy Johnson because he uses the word "liberal", so obviously adhering to the Nicene Creed and being one of the foremost critics of the Jesus Seminar's attempt to create a Jesus in the Seminar's own image isn't good enough. I'd hate to see what he'd say about Stanley Hauerwas or Jurgen Moltmann, who I think would be hard to call not "of note" with a straight face. Julie Clawson writes this about Moltmann's view of homosexuality and the church:

When the schismatic nature of sexuality in the American church was brought up, Moltmann replied that the whole discussion isn’t a problem in Germany. He said they have never had a struggle about this in the churches and in between the churches, because the church is about the gospel and not about sex. Christians believe in the justification of human beings by faith alone, not by faith and homosexuality. That, according to Moltmann, is adding heresy. I find this tendency, especially in the American church, to add things to the gospel to be disturbing. I’ve recently been told that I obviously am not a true Christian if I, say, read gender neutral Bible translations, do yoga, refuse to spank my kids, or become a vegetarian. As farcical as it sounds to turn the gospel into “believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and continue to eat meat and you will be saved,” it is unfortunately representative of a growing trend in the church these days. When prominent church leaders regularly question the salvation of those who don’t follow the teachings of Calvin, the warped idolatry in the church is apparent.

Julie Clawson's probably not a true Christian either, though, being one of those Emergent people like Brian McLaren.

3) Luther didn't think he was striking out on his own and took great pains to align his thought with the ancient fathers. The same is true for all the Reformers except the Anabaptists, who everyone thought was crazy.

Yeah, those crazy Anabaptists, with all their crazy talk about coercion having no place in the Church and refusing to take up arms like those crazy soldiers in the Roman army in the early days who, upon converting to Christianity, would refuse to kill, inviting certain death. Good thing Constantine fixed that, or else who knows where we'd be. No wonder both Catholics and Protestants tried to kill them all (way before those psychos in Munster, mind you, which seems to be the standard Reformed line when confronted with Anabaptist nonviolence).
posted by jhandey at 1:18 PM on October 26, 2010 [24 favorites]


No worries, The 10th Regiment of Foot . No true representative of traditional morality would physically assault a homosexual.

They're too busy making sure that society and our laws reflect a belief that homosexuality is inherently morally problematic. And then, watching, perplexed, while ...
posted by sebastienbailard at 1:24 PM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


the only reason one could possibly believe that homosexuality is morally problematic is homophobia

Using "homophobia" in its normal English usage of "prejudice against homosexuals," then of course that's the case. How on Earth could it possibly be any other way?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:25 PM on October 26, 2010


You find me one person outside the liberal tradition that wants to critique the traditional Christian understanding on homosexuality, and I'll eat my hat.

Axios is a such a group within the Eastern Orthodox church.
posted by kaibutsu at 1:29 PM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Why is it you feel the need to participate in this debate?

I'm not participating in the debate, I'm merely commenting on it. That's allowed, right? It should be possible to remark upon a contest without stepping into the squared circle, as it were. And to be honest, for all that they baffle me, I find these discussions fascinating.
posted by Ritchie at 1:54 PM on October 26, 2010


Dunno, ROU_Xenophobe. valkyryn states there are valid reasons backing him up, and motivating him, but refuses to lay them out, presumably because metafilter is a hostile space for his views. It's a bit disingenuous on his part.

But honestly, how's he going to pull it off? "Setting aside the whole beatings, murders, and suicides of gay youths issue, homosexuality is morally problematic for the various reasons: ..."
posted by sebastienbailard at 1:54 PM on October 26, 2010


Thank you, jhandey, for your much more elegant take down on the pretentions of the theological approach frequently used to justify homophobia on a religious basis. I was basically just snarking. You were actually engaging. Kudos.
posted by Mental Wimp at 2:23 PM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


If I'm just the guy that's the token representative of traditional morality, I'm okay with that,

Oh get off the fucking cross already. Somebody beat you to the punch.
posted by joe lisboa at 2:25 PM on October 26, 2010 [4 favorites]


> Bishop Spong doesn't "call himself" a bishop; within the canons of the Episcopal
> church he IS a bishop (even in retirement). Just as, when one is ordained to
> Holy Orders, one is ordained a priest forever.

Here are the canons themselves (note, pdf file.) It's entirely possible for a bishop (or a priest) to leave the Episcopal Church (Sse Canon 10: Of Abandonment of the Communion.) His Grace has not done this.

Why might he want to? First because of the attitude expressed by Summer earlier in this thread...

> If you choose to be part of a religion that has traditionally held back most attempts
> at equality and inclusiveness then I have no sympathy for you.
> posted by Summer at 5:03 AM on October 26 [+] [!]

...and also expressed vehemently in every other metafilter religion thread I have ever read. Of course Spong could say "I can fight the bigots more effectively from the inside." But the whole thrust of the "announcement" linked in the fpp is that as of about a year ago he was no longer going to do that.

Second, of course, is the whole business of remaining a high-ranking Christian cleric and accepting the benefits of being a prince of the Church while denying the Church's most fundamental teachings about the nature of God and Christ. As has already been pointed out, the Episcopalian hierarchy seems to be able to live with Spong, or at least to think it has bigger fish to fry. I'm more curious to know how a person in such a logical cleft stick inhabits his own divided mind. The cognitive dissonance would get to me pretty quickly ("quickly" = oh, thirty seconds.)

AZ ("...a lot of religious people view their religions metaphorically, rather than literally") may have the answer, of course. Nobody ever went to the stake (or even mildly inconvenienced himself) over a metaphor.
posted by jfuller at 2:25 PM on October 26, 2010


Smiling guy in dogcoller, "New Christianity" in Second-Coming type, twelve "Buy Now" buttons.

Army of burly men coming down the aisles with baskets you must put your "donations" in?
posted by Mental Wimp at 2:33 PM on October 26, 2010


Of course Spong could say "I can fight the bigots more effectively from the inside."

The Episcopal Church is one of the more liberal Christian denominations, and fully supports gay marriage and the ordination of women and all that good stuff, so I don't think Spong needs to leave the Episcopal Church because it's 'traditionally held back most attempts at equality and inclusiveness.' ECUSA is the good guys.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:38 PM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


explicitly willing to reject the clear language of Scripture

This. This is the delusion that allows folks to use "the Bible" as a cudgel against whomever they want to torment. Anyone who believes that "Scripture" is clear is not living in the real world.
posted by Mental Wimp at 2:41 PM on October 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


ECUSA is the good guys.

Careful, now. You might be perceived as attacking the view that our fellow (gay) human beings are somehow sub-human (i.e., even more irreparably broken than the rest of us, per this bizarrely self-loathing metaphysic) but nonetheless deserving of our condescending love. But you know, not like THAT.

Haters gonna hate. Film at eleven. (Scriptural exegesis to follow). God made the appendix for a REASON!
posted by joe lisboa at 2:52 PM on October 26, 2010


I'm not participating in the debate, I'm merely commenting on it. That's allowed, right?

Of course you can. My point is that this is the sort of thing we atheist are historically pretty bad about, because it's our tendency yo just say, hey, it's all nonsense anyway, so what's the big deal?

The truth is, I feel that way, pretty much, about the institution of marriage and about the military. But there is not much use in me popping into any available thread on, say, marriage, and saying that I think it's all a lot of hooey. Generally there will be a more specific subject being discussed, and discussed by people who are invested in marriage in a different way, and, rather than contributing to the discussion, my comments distract from them. And, in the case of gays and lesbians, who are, in most parts of the US, aren't even given the right to decide for themselves whether they think marriage is hooey or not, it actively dismisses their struggle, taking it down to the level of a bunch of people arguing about nonsense.

So, while I am sympathetic to your point, my question is why it needs to be raised here, and if it contributes to the discussion or distracts from it, and how it helps get people who are trying to put themselves on an equal footing within the church?
posted by Astro Zombie at 2:54 PM on October 26, 2010


"Look, there's this bishop who's sick of homophobes!"

"LOLCATHOLICS."

"Actually he's not Catholic. He's Episcopalian."

"LOL HE'S NICE MUST BE FREAK IN HIS CHURCH."

"Actually a lot of people in the Anglican Communion at all levels feel this way."

"I SAY HE'S NOT RL XTIAN."

And so on, and so on.
posted by mobunited at 3:41 PM on October 26, 2010 [9 favorites]


jfuller, (sigh). Yes, a bishop or priest may be removed for "open renunciation of the Doctrine, Discipline, or Worship of this Church." Some posters in this thread, perhaps you yourself, may think that Bp. Spong is guilty of those things. The canons themselves, however, establish the procedure for removal, providing the means for due process by means of the Review Committee, other bishops, and the Presiding Bishop. So unless someone is holding out on us in this thread on their role IRL, no one here has that authority.

The ideas that Bp. Spong has raised in his books, such as how the Nicene Creed, whose wording was formulated in a time when heaven was understood to be "up there" and hell was "down there" are to make sense in our time, are not forbidden to be discussed (else every seminary would be empty).

Rather, one gets a more complete understanding of the challenges in making creedal statements when questions are allowed to be raised. Why, for instance, did the early church have statements of faith in the first place? Why are there so many church councils intent on clarifying the nature of the relationship between God and Christ? (The questions didn't suddenly stop after 381.) Why do the Eastern Church and the Western church have a different number of councils that they recognize as authoritative? Why is the wording of the Creed of Nicea of 325 different from the wording of the Creed of Constantinople of 381 [which is the 'Nicene Creed' used today in worship]?

Nobody ever went to the stake (or even mildly inconvenienced himself) over a metaphor.
2000+ years of Christian engagement of theological arguments, debates, arguments over what was heresy, and wars between Christians suggest otherwise.
posted by apartment dweller at 3:43 PM on October 26, 2010 [4 favorites]


I was at one of the triennial meetings of the Episcopal Church in the early 1990s. I went to a number of meetings on human sexuality. The Church had been discussing the issue at the diocesan level during much of the 1980s. Anyway after a rather disapointing committee hearing, I was walking back to the hotel when who do I see but Fred Phelps with his bull horn and god hates fags signs. Anyway I decided I'd had enough of bigots shouting all week. So I ran up to him and shouted into his face (to the horror of a relative who was with me). He got pretty agitated and there was a bit of an escalation. My fists clenched and I resolved to give him a lesson in what it felt like to be the victum of a hate crime. I was prevented from beating the stuffing out of him by my quick thinking relative managed to pull me away with the aid of a few helpful lesbians. Our paths have not crossed then. Honestly it's probably a good thing. It seems like it would be awkward.
posted by humanfont at 3:44 PM on October 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


Haters gonna hate.

Sorry, forgot to cite:
It will be like this at the end of the age: the angels will go out and gather up the evil people from among the good and will throw them into the fiery furnace, where they will cry and gnash their teeth.
Look, either love your fellow man or do not, but stop hiding behind ancient texts to justify your misanthropy.
posted by joe lisboa at 3:55 PM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


bluecevalo: Off to hell I go, I guess.

Yes, sorry, I didn't mean to endorse that view at all. I was just paraphrasing. Condemning gays to either celibacy or hell (and shame, regardless, for being not-of-God and less-than-hetero) doesn't go along with a loving God, not any God that I could consider "loving," anyway.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 3:56 PM on October 26, 2010


cybercoitus: I didn't think you were endorsing that view.
posted by blucevalo at 4:47 PM on October 26, 2010


God made the appendix for a REASON!

Yep. So that one could actually see what the sources were for the religious text in question!
posted by ericb at 4:50 PM on October 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


A man should know that a devil's sickness is on him if he is seized by the urge in conversation to assert his opinion [as fact], however correct it may be. If he behaves this way while talking to his equals, then a rebuke from his elders may heal him.

St. John Climacus
posted by thesmophoron at 5:04 PM on October 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


... my question is why it needs to be raised here, and if it contributes to the discussion or distracts from it, and how it helps get people who are trying to put themselves on an equal footing within the church?

But that's not up to you or me or anyone else to decide on behalf of other people. The best I can do is to say what I mean as clearly as possible and people will take it as they will. I can't help what other atheists have said in the past.

If you've pre-assumed (not saying you have) that this thread is for the purpose of achieving something specific, then I guess I understand why my comments might seem unhelpful - maybe you've already got a rough idea of the direction you'd prefer the conversation to go and my remarks become boorish cross-chatter. I don't know, and I don't know what you want from me.
posted by Ritchie at 5:51 PM on October 26, 2010


So if you are a Christian and you believe homosexuality is not a sin, how do you explain away the Bible verse about a man laying down with another man? Is it the whole "what was true in the old testament is not true in the new?"

innocent question from an ex-Christian-turned-agnostic who has never understood this
posted by IndigoRain at 6:17 PM on October 26, 2010


mobunited wrote: ""LOL HE'S NICE MUST BE FREAK IN HIS CHURCH.""

Freak on a leash, amirite?
posted by wierdo at 6:31 PM on October 26, 2010


So if you are a Christian and you believe homosexuality is not a sin, how do you explain away the Bible verse about a man laying down with another man? Is it the whole "what was true in the old testament is not true in the new?"

Lots of ways. (NB: I am not a Biblical scholar.) First of all, there's LOTS of Levitical law -- like, nearly all of it -- that is not considered binding by the vast majority of Christians; there's the kosher laws, the regulations about clothing, the prohibitions against certain kinds of shaving, the burnt offerings instructions, &c. In fact, glancing through Leviticus, I'm hard-pressed to find ANY verse other than that that is considered applicable to contemporary Christians.

Second of all, there's Paul's bit about how in Christ, there is neither male nor female, neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free.

Third of all, there's the fact that many Christians just plain do not consider the Bible to be a completely inerrant, Divinely Inspired document. "The word of God is in the bible; but not EVERY word in the Bible is the word of God." There's ten tons of crap in there that everyone, and I mean *everyone*, ignores. I mean, "Blessed are they who dash the little children against stones?" Really? It's a historical book as well as a religious one, and it's far more interesting (and imho useful) to look at what it says that's *contrary* to the established culture of the day, rather than what *confirms* it.

Finally, given that the Bible is inherently contradictory, you kind of have to decide which message in it is the central one. For me, I'll take what the man himself said, as written in three of the four Gospels: "You shall love God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength; and you shall love your neighbor as yourself." This is IMMEDIATELY before the parable of the Good Samaritan, in which it is demonstrated that "your neighbor" is defined as "those who would walk with you and help you," even if you consider them an enemy.

That's the big deal of it, to me, the central message of all of Christianity; treat each and every person you meet as though they were a child of God, because they are. That is consistent with honoring the full spectrum and diversity of human experience, and recognizing that different people have different routes to happiness, and honoring the ways in which people choose to live their lives with love. It is not consistent with setting yourself up as the arbiter of whose love is OK and whose isn't.
posted by KathrynT at 7:11 PM on October 26, 2010 [11 favorites]


So if you are a Christian and you believe homosexuality is not a sin, how do you explain away the Bible verse about a man laying down with another man? Is it the whole "what was true in the old testament is not true in the new?"

Not 'explain away,' please, and keeping the theology of Leviticus and the other 4 books of the Torah in mind as a parameter: here is one perspective from a biblical studies standpoint--with credit given to Dr. Amy-Jill Levine at Vanderbilt, and to the late Dr. Mary Douglas, anthropologist, and Douglas' lifelong work on the book of Leviticus.

The Hebrew text literally reads, 'you shall not lie with a man the lyings of a woman.'

Is the reason for the regulation in order to prevent participation in Canaanite cults, or avoid ritual prostitution? But there is no clear evidence that homosexuality marked Canaanite worship.

Or is the reason for the regulation that no children will result? After all, the injunction is to be fruitful and multiply. The story of Onan, found within the story of Judah & Tamar (Gen. 38), has been used to draw that conclusion, but it is clear from the narrative that Onan did not want to practice levirate marriage (raising up children as heirs to his dead first-born brother--children that would displace him from inheriting).

The answer may be found in the story of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19), and its sister story in Judges 19. Both stories concern violence by a mob who seek to “know” (here, meaning to rape). In Genesis, Lot offers his virgin daughters to the mob; in Judges, the master of the house offers up his virgin daughter and his male guest's concubine to the mob. The daughters and the concubine have no say in the matter.

The men who seek to rape are seeking to “feminize” the strangers (as is stereotypically seen with prisons today). The main focus seems to be violence rather than homosexual acts.

In the ancient Near East, a man who lies with a male as with a female was putting another male in the (subordinate) woman’s role. In antiquity, this would have been considered to be an insult to a man.
posted by apartment dweller at 7:17 PM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


So if you are a Christian and you believe homosexuality is not a sin, how do you explain away the Bible verse about a man laying down with another man? Is it the whole "what was true in the old testament is not true in the new?"


So the big NT bit is Romans 1:26-27(niv): 26Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. 27In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.

Note the terms unnatural and indecent. This could also be interpreted to be a prohibition on participating in orgies in pagan temples. If homosexuals are naturally attracted to the same gender it ain't unnatural is it. This text is from a letter Paul wrote to the Christian community in Rome. In the larger context he's firing up the base.

Now when we look at the prohibitions in Leviticus, it is useful to note that there are hundreds of rules in there most of which Christians happily ignore. You did remember to let that apple tree fruit for four year before taking fruit right? Also no mixed fabrics, like say cotton dockers with wool socks. Also you did have your penis ritually mutilated right? Cause the pope didn't and he's the pope. Also don't round the corner of your beard, keep kosher, etc. It seems fairly arbitrary to pick law that is found in a couple of passages, and was so unimportant that the talmud ignores it, in spite of heaps of notes on all the other sexual prohibitions like don't marry two sisters while they are both alive, that's just trouble. Finally some folks have also noted that the phrase could be translated as don't lie with a man in the sam bed where you would lay down with a woman. That could mean that the scripture is more concerned about the location.
posted by humanfont at 7:49 PM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Thanks everyone. I was only exposed to an extremely bigoted church and I just never knew anything else.

Humanfont, I didn't know about that Romans verse. Thanks.
posted by IndigoRain at 7:57 PM on October 26, 2010


In fact, I suspect a lot of religious people view their religions metaphorically, rather than literally...

Well, hell, I've been trying to tell people this very thing for THE PAST TWO YEARS in here. Good, it's finally sunk in!
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:29 PM on October 26, 2010


Hey! I've been making the same argument for the same amount of time! Have we just been missing each other?
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:35 PM on October 26, 2010


Now when we look at the prohibitions in Leviticus, it is useful to note that there are hundreds of rules in there most of which Christians happily ignore.

There's better reason to ignore Leviticus than just because everyone else is doing it, though. Leviticus spends a lot of time laying out the Jewish purity laws, the basic purpose of which is to keep the Hebrew tribe distinct and separated culturally from the pagan tribes around them. So it's not that God thinks mixing fabrics is evil, it's that this is how you'll know that you are different: you keep kosher. As far as Christians are concerned, a few thousand years later along comes Peter, and he's supposed to have this gentile over to visit him so that he can explain the gospel to him, and Peter's all like 'Ew, gross, a gentile,' and God gives Pete a vision of a sheet filled with all sorts of non-kosher foods, and Peter, being a good Jew, refuses to eat it, but then (in the vision) God says 'Don't call unclean what I have made clean.' The point being don't turn the gentile away, but Christians have since then taken this story in Acts also to mean that, as Paul says, in Christ there is neither Jew nor gentile, and thus maintaining the old purity laws is no longer necessary. So it's not that Christians are like 'But shrimp is tasty, so fuck Leviticus!' it's that those passages aren't relevant to contemporary Christianity. It's easy to cherry-pick out the parts that you still want to enforce, though, like the bits about homosexuality or what have you, but it is cherry-picking, have no doubt about that. The folks who point to Leviticus and say that Christianity therefore has no truck with homosexuality are the folks who have no respect for scripture, and prefer to take bits of it out of context in order to suit their own political purposes.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:11 PM on October 26, 2010 [4 favorites]


Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones.

It's also worth nothing that it's really only pretty recently that people have seen this bit to be about female homosexuality. For the better part of (at least English language) interpretation of scripture, this verse has been understood to refer to anal.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:14 PM on October 26, 2010


The point being don't turn the gentile away, but Christians have since then taken this story in Acts also to mean that, as Paul says, in Christ there is neither Jew nor gentile, and thus maintaining the old purity laws is no longer necessary.

Well, except that Paul also wrote that "neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God." (1 Corinthians 6:9-10) There are arguments about what Paul meant when he wrote this, and what he meant when he wrote the condemnation of men lying with men in Romans 1, largely focusing on the use of the unusual term ἀρσενοκοίτης (a word variously translated as "pervert" or "temple prostitute" or merely "man who habitually lies in bed with another man"), because that word had only rarely appeared in Greek texts prior to Paul's usage and seems to have neither any direct analog to any usage in the Old Testament nor any direct analog to what we would consider homosexual relationships today.

But what's without dispute is that many Christians believe (and have believed, throughout the history of the West) these writings of Paul to be an unequivocal New Testament negation of homosexuality. In the words of Stanton Jones and Mark Yarhouse, the scriptural passages "that do address homosexual behavior speak with one voice on the subject and are crystal clear in condemning homosexual behavior, male and female, every time it is mentioned." (Emphasis theirs.)
posted by blucevalo at 10:17 PM on October 26, 2010


What did he mean by "revilers"? Sounds like he's revilin'; and there's a fair amount of reviling aimed at homosexuality.
posted by klangklangston at 10:25 PM on October 26, 2010


blucevalo, I was only addressing the passage(s) in Leviticus.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:30 PM on October 26, 2010


In fact, I suspect a lot of religious people view their religions metaphorically, rather than literally...

Hell, some of us go so far as to deem all metaphysics, yes including science, to be essentially metaphors. We all understand this enigma of existence by way of stories.
posted by nanojath at 11:01 PM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


shakespeherian: The folks who point to Leviticus and say that Christianity therefore has no truck with homosexuality are the folks who have no respect for scripture, and prefer to take bits of it out of context in order to suit their own political purposes.

blucevalo: ἀρσενοκοίτης . . . had only rarely appeared in Greek texts prior to Paul's usage and seems to have neither any direct analog to any usage in the Old Testament nor any direct analog to what we would consider homosexual relationships today.


I've gotten the impression that "crystal clear" anti-homosexual Scriptural passages, in both Old and New Testament, are murky when 1. considered in historical context, and 2. attention is paid to multiple possible translations of certain key words.

Is this an arguable position? One I could reasonably defend (after I've read and digested all the terrific links in this thread), in discussions with folks who point to Scripture to back up their justifications for denying LGBT rights? I don't know anything about what Scripture supposedly says about the issue, beyond what I've read at places like religioustolerance.org.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 11:33 PM on October 26, 2010


Cybercoitus, you're already onto a pretty good source for arguing the translation stuff. That's a neat summary of the arsenokoitai issue.

But, as others have noted above, other things relevant to whether there is any scriptural prohibition on homosexuality are Mosaic law, the 613 Mitzvot (Ctrl F for sex), the abandonment of most of Mosaic law (at least for non-Jewish converts) at the Council of Jerusalem, the fact that our earliest known manuscripts of the documents in the New Testament date from between the 2nd and 4th centuries, and the fact that those documents have been relentlessly translated and rewritten since to fit with the social, cultural and political mores of their time and place.

I'm sure that someone else who actually knows their stuff can step in with something much better than wikipedia links, but I think that lot might get you off to a flying start. Also have a look at the references and links in wiki's Homosexuality in the New Testament article. It's not particularly well written, but there seems to be some handy sources scattered through it.
posted by Ahab at 3:08 AM on October 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Is this an arguable position?

Or one could skip that and say the Paul's attitudes are of a "converted" but still uptight woman-despising homophobe who, through energy and enterprise, managed to pervert much of Jesus' teachings.
posted by Mental Wimp at 6:41 AM on October 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


The Levitical laws and the letters of Paul were written to a specific audience with a specific context. When Paul speaks of fornicators, revelers, etc he is talking to Christians surrounded by a pagan mediteranian culture. A culture built upon terrible violence with mass cruxifictions, pagan orgies, conquest and slavery. He is trying to separate from those customs. Leviticus is attempting to do the same for the Hebrews as they prepare to enter Canaan.
So is it legitimate to use these strictures to apply to our modern culture and understanding of relationships? Was Paul living in a world where men and women lived very separate existences, really giving advice on the acceptability of two men in a committed relationship. Even the notion of what is effeminate is radically different in a world where women arnt property to be inherited and sold.
posted by humanfont at 7:05 AM on October 27, 2010


Is this an arguable position? One I could reasonably defend (after I've read and digested all the terrific links in this thread), in discussions with folks who point to Scripture to back up their justifications for denying LGBT rights?

It's an arguable position, but it's not one with which I agree -- because if it's a valid argument, it means that my life and my identity are essentially meaningless, or if not, completely at odds with nature and the universe.
posted by blucevalo at 7:09 AM on October 27, 2010


Sorry, cybercoitus -- I was referring to Jones and Yarbrough's position in my comment above, not to your position.
posted by blucevalo at 7:11 AM on October 27, 2010


Thanks for the pointers and links, all. I feel better equipped to dig into the topic now.

blucevalo, gotcha. I agree, "crystal clear" is arguable but invokes a "Fuck you I got mine" God, not a compassionate loving God.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 8:04 AM on October 27, 2010


Or one could skip that and say the Paul's attitudes are of a "converted" but still uptight woman-despising homophobe who, through energy and enterprise, managed to pervert much of Jesus' teachings.

I sorta tried to make this point a long time ago, with a notable lack of succinctness. Bottom line: you really have to look hard and deep (with particular biased magnification) to find the Jesus of even the most uptight Bible saying anything particularly damning about homosexuality. Not so the various Jewish scholars, leaders, visionaries who proceeded him, or Paul and his gang of bureaucrats who came after.

So, is the Bible homophobic? Definitely, at least in places.
Is Jesus? No.

I love the smell of contradiction in the morning.
posted by philip-random at 9:36 AM on October 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think, ultimately, any time you're engaging with someone who has a Religious Text That Claims To Be The Word Of God about anything which is actually contained in that text, you're going to have an uphill struggle to try to convince them that their Holy Book says something other than what they want it to mean.

The best you can do is to plant seeds of doubt that maybe they don't know the text as well as they think (in which case, working from original languages and archeological history of the text is probably your only real standpoint), or to simply state that you don't hold those writings in the same esteem as they do.

Either way, it's the kind of conversation which is like teaching pigs to sing. As the subject of the FPP here has finally learned, it doesn't work and is annoying to all those involved. Maybe it's best to just sidestep the issue altogether and find common ground to work forward together from rather than try to reprogram those who hold bigotry as a core tenet of their belief system.

That said, after all the gay suicides and this recent poll which shows that 2/3 of Americans believe that church attitudes contribute to them, I'm taking a more aggressive approach with my mother these days. She's a big mover and shaker in the Christian Ed department at her church, and I think it's time she realize how much damage even small, offhand moments during sunday school and youth group can cause. I started a conversation with her about what exactly is being taught to the youth in her church recently, and I don't plan on stopping until at least she's heard the whole story. What she chooses to do with that information will be up to her at that point.
posted by hippybear at 9:47 AM on October 27, 2010 [5 favorites]


Either way, it's the kind of conversation which is like teaching pigs to sing. As the subject of the FPP here has finally learned, it doesn't work and is annoying to all those involved.

I hear you when it comes to Mind-Already-Made-Up crowd. However, for those young enough (at heart, in mind) to still be picking through the evidence, there's a lot to be said for pointing them in the general direction of stuff that soberly questions certain assumptions about certain widely held beliefs.
posted by philip-random at 10:04 AM on October 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Either way, it's the kind of conversation which is like teaching pigs to sing. As the subject of the FPP here has finally learned, it doesn't work and is annoying to all those involved.

Definitely true, and I'm sure Spong is better practiced at his hermeneutical arguments than any of us here will ever be. To echo philip-random, though, I know that I personally have benefited a great deal from learning the arguments presented above, and I have been able to use them effectively to change the minds of some people I know who were on the fence. For many people who are liberal-minded and still profess the Christian faith, it can be heartbreaking to feel that you have to choose between two different moral systems, and this has caused a lot of people to leave the church. While that may or may not be a Bad Thing altogether depending on your particular perspective on theism and organized religion, it is nevertheless a very painful decision that can separate you from loved ones and family members, and it's decidedly a Good Thing to realize that the Bible and common sense humanism and human rights aren't necessarily in conflict.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:17 AM on October 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


teaching pigs to sing

Yes. And, planting seeds of doubt is what I'm after, with certain people I can actually have conversations with. My secular reasoning, I have finally learned, has no chance of overcoming their "it's crystal clear here in these Scripture verses" but Christian reasons for doubting the supposedly God-given authority of those verses has a chance.

I'm thinking of the friends who told me that after our last discussion on the topic, they talked about it together and agreed that if they were homosexual, they would find it really difficult -- being homosexual, while still holding to this belief system that meant their choices were to either be celibate for their entire lives, or know they'd end up in hell for engaging in sexual activity. What a choice! They closed by saying they were glad they weren't homosexual.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 11:39 AM on October 27, 2010


For many people who are liberal-minded and still profess the Christian faith, it can be heartbreaking to feel that you have to choose between two different moral systems, and this has caused a lot of people to leave the church.

I guess my fear is similar in that I feel that too much aggression on the "your bible says no to gay" or "if you're going to be a Christian you must be a bigot" front shuts down people's receptivity to further discussion and pushes them away from an accepting liberal theology into more traditional and unaccepting positions, thereby further polarizing the issue into something like God v. Homosexuality, and setting up the whole debate for an even uglier rerun. As Spong and friends (and any number of smaller churches) have shown, that's just not necessary.

As you say, the Bible and common sense humanism and human rights aren't necessarily in conflict. To effectively bridge the perceptual gulf that suggests they are, gentle understanding, reasoned discussion, and quiet persistence are (at least) sometimes (and maybe often) more effective than in your face argument.

Or maybe we just a generally softer brand of Christian here in Australia than you do in the States. I dunno.
posted by Ahab at 11:41 AM on October 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


To effectively bridge the perceptual gulf that suggests they are, gentle understanding, reasoned discussion, and quiet persistence are (at least) sometimes (and maybe often) more effective than in your face argument.

Yes yes.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:51 AM on October 27, 2010


Another great Christian ...
Midland School Board (Midland, Ark.) member Clint McCance has created a firestorm with comments (now deleted/disabled) he posted on his Facebook page:
"Seriously they want me to wear purple because five queers killed themselves. The only way im wearin it for them is if they all commit suicide. I cant believe the people of this world have gotten this stupid. We are honoring the fact that they sinned and killed thereselves because of their sin. REALLY PEOPLE."
After being challenged by a commenter, this was Mr. McCance’s reply:
"No because being a fag doesn't give you the right to ruin the rest of our lives. If you get easily offended by being called a fag then dont tell anyone you are a fag. Keep that shit to yourself. I dont care how people decide to live their lives. They dont bother me if they keep it to thereselves. It pisses me off though that we make a special purple fag day for them. I like that fags cant procreate. I also enjoy the fact that they often give each other aids and die. If you arent against it, you might as well be for it."

"I would disown my kids they were gay. They will not be welcome at my home or in my vicinity. I will absolutely run them off. Of course my kids will know better. My kids will have solid christian beliefs. See it infects everyone."
Facebook page: Fire Clint McCance.
posted by ericb at 12:39 PM on October 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


planting seeds of doubt is what I'm after, with certain people I can actually have conversations with. My secular reasoning, I have finally learned, has no chance of overcoming their "it's crystal clear here in these Scripture verses" but Christian reasons for doubting the supposedly God-given authority of those verses has a chance.

Someone upthread linked to a page on the religioustolerance.org web site -- they have a couple of data poits which may work for you.

1. A passage in the letter of Paul to the Romans which some point to as one of the passages condemning homosexuality is more accurately referring to homosexual behavior in a particular context -- the passage is actually condemning a bunch of Christians who'd formed a schism church which incorporated free-for-all orgies as part of the worship service. THAT was the bit that Paul was up in arms about -- not so much the homosexuality itself. Other similar passages in other letters refer more to a particular context FOR sex than homosexual sex in and of itself (i.e., a child molestation).

2. There's a story from the book of Matthew, where a Roman Centurion asks Jesus to heal...well, most Bibles translate the word as either "servant" or "slave". Jesus praises the centurion for his faith and cures the person. The Gospel of Luke tells the same story, and goes on to say that this particular servant was "dear to" the Centurion.

The exact Greek word, though, describes this servant as more of a...concubine. So -- if Jesus had really had a problem with this kind of arrangement, don't you think He would have said something? But he didn't - instead he healed the boy and sent them both on their way, praising the Centurion. Now, that says to me that Jesus wasn't especially bothered by the fact that this guy was having sex with another guy.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:05 PM on October 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm sorry, between Tony Perkins saying that kids are killing themselves because they know they're abnormal, and that Clint McCancer fucko, I'm just kinda going into full-on Hulk rage mode. I'm surprised that there aren't groups of LGBT folk roaming rural America and just beating the shit out of homophobes.
posted by klangklangston at 2:17 PM on October 27, 2010


the passage is actually condemning a bunch of Christians who'd formed a schism church which incorporated free-for-all orgies as part of the worship service.

There was a time when I would have joined that church, let me tell you.
posted by Mental Wimp at 3:10 PM on October 27, 2010


I'm surprised that there aren't groups of LGBT folk roaming rural America and just beating the shit out of homophobes.

As I've heard it, that's pretty much what happened in Vancouver a decade or so back with regard to gay-bashings. It finally reached the point that when a car full of Loogans from the outer suburbs showed up looking for some fag to pummel, they often encountered a mob of rather buff, not entirely effete gay men who pounded the shit out of them and then, often as not, handed them over to the cops.

Not that there haven't continued to be incidents. It's just become far less common.
posted by philip-random at 3:26 PM on October 27, 2010


I'm surprised that there aren't groups of LGBT folk roaming rural America and just beating the shit out of homophobes.

Oh, believe me... we've considered it.
posted by hippybear at 3:27 PM on October 27, 2010


ericb wrote: "Midland School Board (Midland, Ark.) member Clint McCance has created a firestorm with comments (now deleted/disabled) he posted on his Facebook page:"

I grew up not far from there. It's unfortunate how these vocal morons end up painting the whole area as sharing their moronic views. I went to high school farther away from that area, but still in Arkansas. It was a relatively liberal enclave in a sea of Republicans, and was (and still is) rather gay-friendly, for Arkansas anyway. The sort of place where a couple of years before the Central High School bullshit where Gov. Faubus decided to prevent integration in Little Rock (mainly for political reasons, from what I've been told by people who knew him), the high school was integrated completely uneventfully.

Anyway, the reason I mention it is that, even there, one of the gay kids got severely beaten while I was going to school there. It's that sort of relatively isolated incident that ends up ruining our reputation. And yes, it's completely unacceptable, and I'm in no way trying to excuse the violent homophobes. Thankfully, the kids who decided to be literal gay bashers were successfully convicted of felony battery and ended up being sued by the victim, who at least managed to end up with a decent payout to help with the medical bills.

The point being that like blatant racism is finally, at long last, being confined completely to fringe idiots, even in places like Arkansas this sort of anti-gay attitude is slowly becoming socially unacceptable. It already is in most of the populated places, but in places like Midland (population 300 or so), progress is still badly needed.

What I really don't get is why the hell the Midland School District still exists as an independent entity, but that's a discussion for another day.
posted by wierdo at 3:32 PM on October 27, 2010


Arkansas' Midland School District:
October 27, 2010

For Immediate Release:

The Midland School District, Board of Directors, administration, faculty, and staff do not support or condone the comments Mr. Clint McCance posted on his personal social networking page. Mr. McCance was not acting as an agent of the school board, but as a private citizen when this comment was posted. This post does not reflect the thoughts of the board or administration of the Midland School District.

The district strives to foster an environment that discourages all forms of bullying and an environment that encourages a safe and productive educational climate of all of our students. The district is very diligent in pursuing and addressing bullying of any variety on our campuses.

Sincerely

Dean Stanley, Superintendent
Midland School District
posted by ericb at 3:48 PM on October 27, 2010


Yeah, yeah, whatever. If they're really "diligent in pursuing and addressing bullying of any variety on [their] campuses" and they really believe that McCance's posts "[do] not reflect the thoughts of the board or administration of the Midland School District", then they need to FUCKING FIRE the man who publicly stated before a global audience that he hopes all gays kill themselves and that he would disown and shun any homosexual children that he has.

Because that's bullying, my fine School District friends. Pure and simple, and nearly identical to some of the Facebook comments contributing to the despair felt by some now-dead gay teens.
posted by hippybear at 3:54 PM on October 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Can they fire him? In the places I've lived, school board is an elected position.
posted by klangklangston at 3:59 PM on October 27, 2010


They could at least suggest that he not show up to any future school board meetings for the remainder of his tenure. That is, if they have no mechanism for removing him from his position.
posted by hippybear at 4:04 PM on October 27, 2010


No, he can't be fired. School board members are indeed elected in Arkansas. AFAIK, there is no provision for a recall election, even. He could, perhaps, be encouraged to resign.

How stupid would it be if school board positions weren't elected? The whole point is to provide accountability and input by the people paying for the school, while the superintendent manages the overall operations (hopefully) as a professional educator.
posted by wierdo at 4:04 PM on October 27, 2010


On not-preview: The problem is that, if he really believes his BS, he can't be legally barred from participating in school board meetings, no matter what the other members think. Hopefully the voters of Midland and surrounding areas within the district will not re-elect him or will pressure him to resign.
posted by wierdo at 4:05 PM on October 27, 2010


I wonder if his continued participation on the school board exposed him or the board to any legal liability?
posted by humanfont at 4:55 PM on October 27, 2010


...they need to FUCKING FIRE the man...

They can't, since he is an elected official. McCance needs to be recalled or voted out during the next election. Or, better yet, he should retire now.

I've been impressed with the coverage of this by Max Brantley (Arkansas Times). Here is his interview regarding the situation on MSNBC this afternoon.

Brantley broke the story and continues to update it here.
posted by ericb at 5:13 PM on October 27, 2010


Or, what others have already said!
posted by ericb at 5:14 PM on October 27, 2010


Statement from the Arkansas Education Department:
"The Arkansas Department of Education strongly condemns remarks or attitudes of this kind and are dismayed to see that a school board official would post something of this insensitive nature on a public forum like Facebook. Because Mr. McCance is an elected official, the department has no means of dealing with him directly. However, the department does have staff who investigate matters of bullying in schools and we will monitor and quickly respond to any bullying of students that may occur because of this, as we have with other civil rights issues in the past.

The department also has worked with the State’s Office of the Attorney General during the month of October to provide training to counselors across the state regarding cyberbullying, 'sexting' and texting, which included a portion on how to watch for and deal with bullying of this kind."
Statement from Dan Farley, executive director of the Arkansas School Boards Association:
"Members of the Arkansas School Boards Association Board of Directors and staff were appalled to read the comments purportedly made by the Midland School Board member in which he denounces gay students. Our organization expects school board members to support the education and promote the welfare of all students in their districts. With 1,500-plus school board members in Arkansas, we are saddened that the comments made by one individual will reflect poorly on other board members who work hard on behalf of the children in their communities.

ASBA has no tolerance for bullying or attacks on children, and we certainly would not tolerate such actions, either physical or verbal, by adults.

When school board members take the oath of office, they swear to uphold the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Arkansas. ASBA expects board members to adhere to state and federal laws, and bullying would certainly fall under those statutes."*
posted by ericb at 5:18 PM on October 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


So what ideally needs to happen here is: a letter-writing campaign, urging Arkansas to persuade the guy to resign.

I'd send an email or a postcard, how about y'all?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:49 PM on October 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


There's a site that collecting petitions. Change.org?
posted by five fresh fish at 6:54 PM on October 27, 2010


Anderson Cooper Rips Arkansas School Board Member Clint McCance: 'We Think You Should Know His Name.'
posted by ericb at 6:35 AM on October 28, 2010


I think, ultimately, any time you're engaging with someone who has a Religious Text That Claims To Be The Word Of God about anything which is actually contained in that text, you're going to have an uphill struggle to try to convince them that their Holy Book says something other than what they want it to mean.

It does take a lot of work to be able to engage the infidels. I found that in the perennial friendly debates with Mr. Francesca fundamentalist family, I have to know the Bible at least as well as they do, I have to be able to put quotes in context, I have to be able to present the real historical background, all of this maintaining respect and love, looking for our common ground. They are after all loving charitable people, who would not willingly hurt anybody, and who do a lot of do-gooding.
posted by francesca too at 8:29 AM on October 28, 2010


Instead, make this a story about how 4chan got payback.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:34 AM on October 28, 2010


Watch: Protesters Call for Resignation of Homophobic Extremist School Board Member Clint McCance in Arkansas.
posted by ericb at 5:34 PM on October 28, 2010


Ark. school official to resign after posting anti-gay screed.
posted by ericb at 9:41 PM on October 28, 2010


I'm am gals he is resigning. I am gals he apologized.

Still, fuck you, Clint McCance. Fuck you. You are not excused for a lifetime of bigotry and meanness.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:08 PM on October 28, 2010


Forgive and move on. From the article on CNN


I'd like to extend apologies to those families that have lost children, for all those children who feel that suicide is the only way out, especially for the five families who have already lost children," he said, referring to a rash of recent suicides by gay teens. "I brought more hurt on them... they didn't deserve that and I do feel genuinely bad for them."
McCance said that he has received an outpouring of criticism over his comments, including "thousands of phone calls, hate mails, people threatening to kill my family and me."
He said he has sent his wife and two kids out of the state because of fears for their safety and that he is installing a security system at his home.
"I'm reaping what I've sown," he told CNN. "I've had a lot of hate speech thrown at me and my family on every level."


The guys family is now threatened, his professional career and reputation are ruined and he's willing to go away quietly. Let him walk away perhaps gain some wisdom.
posted by humanfont at 10:56 PM on October 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Is there a link to the complete text of his statements anywhere? I'm intrigued to see if there's anything else along the lines of "I'm reaping what I've sown," because that's a specific Biblical reference that will resonate with other bigots who might agree with him and his actions. It's a metaphor that crops up in the Bible over and over again, this idea that your actions have consequences, and that if the consequences suck, maybe your actions did too:

Galations 6:7 Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.

Proverbs 22:8 He that soweth iniquity shall reap vanity: and the rod of his anger shall fail.

Hosea 8:7 For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind: it hath no stalk: the bud shall yield no meal: if so be it yield, the strangers shall swallow it up.


If he chose his words with any care, that would indicate that he's trying not just to placate his critics, but to communicate something specific to his sympathizers. From just this excerpt, it looks like he's saying "No, seriously, I was an ass and God doesn't want people acting like asses," but I would like to see the full text to be sure.
posted by KathrynT at 7:12 AM on October 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Is there a link to the complete text of his statements anywhere?

You can see McCance's full statement made to CNN's Anderson Cooper last night - part 1 [14:16] || part 2 [13:10].
posted by ericb at 7:32 AM on October 29, 2010


Wow, that interview with McCance on AC360 is pretty intense. Cooper just keeps pushing him repeatedly about each of his statements, and makes him refute them and have to take them back and have to confront them on a national stage with a camera pointed at his face.

I don't really feel much sympathy for his feelings of being threatened and how all this has gotten "out of control". That he's maybe learning some lessons about how hateful speech can destroy lives, that may be good. But has he really changed his attitudes at all? Somehow I suspect not. I think mostly he regrets not realizing that Facebook is a global publishing platform.

Still, I think I just fell in love with Anderson Cooper just a little bit.
posted by hippybear at 8:36 AM on October 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


"gals"?

I hate iPhone autocorrect.

Forgive and forget? Do you think the kids this guy bullied back when he was a teen have forgotten? Do you think the bigoted lawmakers he has elected have been harmless? Do you think the repercussions of his lifetime of bigotry will evaporate?

He'd have to do one helluva lot more than mere words to earn forgiveness, and his bigotry should never be forgotten.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:39 AM on October 29, 2010


Yes. But how many dames did it make you?
posted by Senor Cardgage at 12:27 PM on October 29, 2010


Dr. Phil Lambastes Clint McCance's 'Non-Apology Apology'.
posted by ericb at 12:26 PM on October 30, 2010


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