Depolarizing Political-Religious Issues

by Lambert Dolphin

Conflicts in society about which there are major differences of opinion over a period of time tend to become politically as well as emotionally loaded. Useful discussion and resolution of the issues often ceases and a stalemate results.

Three examples come to mind. The first is the creation-evolution debate which is well over a century and a half old in this country. Each side insists that they alone have the truth and that the other side is certain to be deceived, or lying--or worse. Balanced, even-handed discussions with productive dialog almost never take place--but there are plenty of public debates year after year.

Only recently has University of California Berkeley Law Professor Phillip E. Johnson successfully reopened the basic underlying issues in this debate by calling attention to the philosophical presuppositions and underpinnings which exist on both sides. By openly challenging the camp of the evolutionists according to the basic rules of philosophy and logic, Johnson has shown that evolutionary theory is actually not a scientific model at all, but a religious belief system. Therefore the debate between creation and origin has little to do with religion versus science. It is really a debate about two religious world-views.

The presuppositions of evolutionary theory are, first, that God does not exist, or is he does, He is irrelevant. Even if a god started the process called the Big Bang, there is no evidence of his subsequent involvement after creation got started. Secondly, natural processes which can be studied by science are sufficient to explain everything that exists. Given enough time and effort everything about man and his origin can be understood without recourse to a "spiritual" dimension or an outside cause. Finally, Christianity and other religion have nothing real to contribute to the discussion, since they deal with things which can not be proven which are of the nature of myth, folklore, and legend.

Obviously, the creationist begins with the assumption that God is responsible for the origin of all things--the creation of everything, and the daily management, moment-by-moment of the cosmos. Furthermore, far from being imaginary, the spiritual realm is real and universe consists of both spiritual and physical domains. The creationist also believes that science can not determine all truth by "natural" means of inquiry such as the scientific method. This is especially true in a fallen world where human beings can be mistaken, if not deceived. Additional information has been given, Christians believe, from outside the system, by divine revelation. This body of revealed truth must be taken into consideration in developing a wholistic world view.

The second example of a politically-loaded topic is the issue of abortion. The two camps are, as everyone knows, called "pro-choice" and "pro-life." One camp insists that a woman has a right to chose control over her own body. This applies especially with regard to her decision to abort or to carry to term an unborn child. The opposing camp defends the right of the unborn child to be safely brought into the world regardless of how it was conceived. As a result of long stalemates in the courts and in public debate, abortion clinics are picketed by Christian groups and the two sides have stopped any useful discussions aimed at discovering any new truth or reaching a compromise. The default posture is shouting matches and unproductive rallies. Lobbies on both sides fight both court and legislative battles to change the status quo. But so far neither side is winning. Tens of millions of babies have been disposed of legally while the debate goes on.

The issue which is never raised in this debate has to do with whether men and women have the right to conceive an unwanted child in the first place? Since most aborted children are conceived outside of marriage, the issue really is "do unmarried couples have the right to fornicate?" The Bible is certainly not silent on this issue! God honors sexual expression only when it takes place within marriage. Right from the start the question to ask is "How did that unwanted child come to be conceived in the first place and where is the child's father?"

An even bigger question which needs to be raised has to do with where so-called "human rights" come from in the first place. The somewhat vague references in our Constitution suggest that human rights come from God, some how. But the nature of God is not discussed. Exactly what are our rights as guests in a universe which was built and is owned by a Supreme Ruler? Evidently one could compose of list of what rights are reasonable under the rule of a just and holy God--and what rights are not. God allows us to make destructive, harmful choices in life--choices for which we must pay the consequences, but no where does the Bible support a claim for the right to lie, to steal, to murder, to commit adultery--or to express oneself sexually, genitally without marriage:

Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled; for God will judge the immoral and adulterous. (Hebrews 13:4)

The abortion issue can be discussed afresh by laying on the table two sets of contradictory presuppositions before starting the dialog. Either (1) God exists and what He likes and dislikes is important--all rights come from God, or, (2) God does not exist and human beings are free to determine their own destinies. If the latter assumption is made, then what follows by way of laws has to be done in the social context of a functioning society. The "rights" or various parties may impinge on the rights of the individual and thus mediation will be needed based on some humanitarian framework. The real issues in the abortion/right-to-life dispute depend on one's underlying assumptions, one's presuppositions about where life comes from, about accountability to God ,or to society, for one's action--and about the social good of all.

The third example is the issue of the church and the homosexual. Actually homosexuals become Christians all the time and always have down through the centuries and they are regularly absorbed into the family of God without drawing much attention to where in life they came from before they gave their lives to Christ. The Apostle Paul covers this issue (along with a host of other sinful conditions) in a most concise way when he says,

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor sexual perverts, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)

Paul actually reverses the usual order in which God works in a person's life: he puts "sanctification" first when it usually follows being "justified." Interestingly also, the main verb is also in the past tense--"and such WERE some of you." That is, whatever you were before you came to Christ is not who you are now, by nature and by identity, "Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come." (2 Corinthians 5:17)

So the church has always understood and taught that being a Christian requires a life-style change from each and every convert.

As therefore you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so live in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. See to it that no one makes a prey of you by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness of life in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of flesh in the circumcision of Christ; and you were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses having canceled the bond which stood against us with its legal demands; this he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the principalities and powers and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in him. (Colossians 2:6-15)

Yet a debate rages in many churches today over the rights of homosexuals to be ordained into the ministry. A related argument is that homosexuals are born the way they are and can not change--"ex-gay" ministries, it is claimed, never cure anyone and are fraudulent.

What is not discussed is that the homosexual lobby is seeking to develop the right of all homosexuals to be sexually active, which is clearly forbidden in the Bible. Homosexual orientation or inclination is not addressed in the Bible--but homosexual acts are. Since the gay population is only 3 to 5% of the total population this vocal minority evidently wants "the right to commit sodomy" since the unmarried straight population has the right to fornicate.

A Note on Homophobia: The Greek word means "fear of man." Originally the term was applied to men who were uncomfortable showing affection or feelings towards other men (for any reason). Gradually homophobia came to be applied to men who discriminated against or who disliked homosexuals. Since it is taken for granted that homosexuality is a legitimate life-style and that there is no cure for being gay in the first place, then homophobics have something wrong with their thinking or else they suffer from repressed, unresolved sexual issues of their own. Two men or two women who love each other are called "Christians" in the Bible, because Jesus is the Third Party in interpersonal relationships and He makes intimacy possible without moral violation of one's own, or the other person's moral integrity. In any case, "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love," says the Apostle John, (1 John 4:8)

On an Internet newsgroup dedicated to providing "support" and affirmation for gays and lesbians the following unique posting showed up recently in the middle of a heated and fruitless discussion of whether ex-gay ministries actually cured anyone:

David Vann wrote,

Hi, My name is David. I am 21 years old. I also came out when I was sixteen. I am troubled that everyone seems to harp on the "ex-gay" movement. I simply cannot reconcile my homosexual practices and identity with my faith. Some from the anti-ex-gay camp have said that this confirms me as pathological. I assure you that I am not. I am a very intelligent individual, so you can't say that it is ignorance that prevents my embracing of gayness. I would like all of you to know that I am not pathological. People who wish to follow their faith in orthodoxy are not crazy, nor are they simply trying to find a way to guilt themselves in str8ness. I am not, nor will I ever be, str8, that is, heterosexual. For me, being an ex-gay, a term I abhor, does not mean being something I am not. Rather, it consists of sacrificing in this life a pleasure, as all holy men have sacrificed something, for the reward of communion with God. I am not altogether offended at the attack against gays who choose to be celibate as a religious imperative, but their words do pain me.

Gays, and gay issues, even when approached from the perspective of abstinence, are never popular issues when it comes to churches and doctrine. It is sad that those gays who choose to live out their lives in abstinence, i.e., obedience to God, are forsaken, not only by the Church (we get little support, and a lot of judgment), but by those alongside whom we have suffered. I was gay-bashed when I was sixteen. No, they did not convert me. God converted me. When I chose religion, I realized that it would be meaningless unless it was first and foremost in my life, and that I must be willing to give up everything to pursue God. My gay lifestyle was one of those trade-offs. I am not unhappy. I hurt at times because I know what kind of pain the world cooks up especially for homosexuals. I hurt because of loneliness. But these pains are, in the context of Christianity, the pain of dying flesh, of struggling carnality. I know that this may never get posted. I sincerely hope it does, however, because I and many others like me hurt every time we see the ones we fought for rise up and tell us that we have hurt them simply because we have convictions. I am not an ex-gay.

According to Richard Cleaver's book, Know My Name: A Gay Liberation Theology, I am not gay because I do not group myself with other Gays and because I do not belong to a general "class-consciousness" known as the Gay Community. But, I do know that it would make my tough road just a little easier if the rest of the Gay community would cease from vilifying us simply because of our religion.

thank you, David

David's posting was immediately challenged as follows, (Eric Bohlman

Whoa there! You're talking about voluntary celibacy, which is fine if it's truly a personal, freely-chosen decision on your part. But the "ex-gay" movement tries to package celibacy as something it isn't, and implies that it's the only appropriate choice for everyone. The "ex-gay" packaging claims that all gay people were straight at one time and can go back to being straight if they just try hard enough (and that if they don't, it means they aren't trying hard enough; in scientific terms, this makes their claims into "non-falsifyable statements" which cannot be evaluated scientifically). That's entirely different from saying that one can choose to be celibate (note that celibacy only precludes sex with certain people; it doesn't preclude romantic attachments that are a lot more than just close friendships; you can be celibate and still kiss or "get mushy" all you want).

David's second posting followed:

Ok, being the guy on the newsgroup who has chosen celibacy as his way of life, I think I have a somewhat unique perspective. I would start by saying that asking whether sexuality is orientation or preference is absurd. Strike that, equating preference with choice is absurd. I knew that I liked other guys from the time I was 9 years old. I seriously considered coming out when I was 14. I even tried, futility, to trick in what I considered trickable places. However, that being said, I must also say that the psychological environment of my sexual development was classic. In other words, I actually found my profile in a book called the Homosexual Matrix. It is an old psych study. I was 15 at the time. I had a totally butch, though str8, mother, and an absent father. I was also abused by my mother physically and emotionally, and neglected by my father in like manner. As far as statistics went, it would have been a miracle had I been heterosexual.

But that is beside the point. If you prefer grits to whole hominy, you probably have a reason, i.e, you don't like hominy. We do not choose what we prefer. We prefer it because we like it. I prefer whisky to gin. I prefer whisky because gin is foul to me. All of these things are preferences, but not choices. Sexual attraction is the premise. Even if you use the term preference instead, it still means the same thing: for some reason or other, one type of body gives you that all important woody, and another doesn't. For me, my sexual orientation was one of the many presuppositions upon which I had to build a confessional faith. Faith never change my sexual predilections, nor will it ever. I believe that the moral imperative is that I abandon sexual activity. Believe me, celibacy is not that bad. You would be amazed at how an appetite diminishes when you don't feed it. But alas, I digress.

Sexual attraction is not a choice, any more than I chose to like having short hair as opposed to long hair. Whether our preferences are genetically coded, or psychologically influenced, is immaterial. The end is that the attraction is there, and that it is up to the individual to decide what course of action to take.


David Vann's e-mail address is:

The above three issues have several things in common:

All three issues are actually topics the Bible has a lot to say about. But Christians are not called primarily to debate issues in society as if we could some how persuade non-Christians to adopt and live by the standards Christians are called to live by.

The message of the church is a presentation to all peoples of the great good news of God's love for them as sinners.

So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (2 Corinthians 5:20)

The whole planet is in rebellion against God, and God's people are called to present the news that they have all been died for and need only be willing to be forgiven by their Creator, and restored to the life He desired for them in the beginning.

While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Why, one will hardly die for a righteous man--though perhaps for a good man one will dare even to die. But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we are now justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. Not only so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received our reconciliation. (Romans 5:6-11)

It is only after one has been forgiven by God and granted regeneration and eternal life that any of us has the power to change. We lack both the motivation and the ability to live a life acceptable to God.

Little children, you are of God, and have overcome them; for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are of the world, therefore what they say is of the world, and the world listens to them. We are of God. Whoever knows God listens to us, and he who is not of God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error. Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God; for God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins.

Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No man has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his own Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we know and believe the love God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. In this is love perfected with us, that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love. We love, because he first loved us. If any one says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him, that he who loves God should love his brother also." (I John 4)

I believe that the darkness of our present society is due in large part to ignorance over who God really is, what kind of Person He is, and what it is He wants from us. It is in the discussion of these subjects--our presuppositions about basic things-- that stalemates in the great debates of our day can be broken. This is the place to start. This is His universe, not ours. God calls the shots, He makes the rules.

In summary:

Who is God (if He really exists) and what are His standards and values? Can I know the answer to this question with certainty or must I remain in doubt?

If I choose to follow Jesus Christ, having discovered who He is and what He says, then what changes do I need to make in my life to come into accord with His plans for me and for the universe? What is my response to Him and what does he ask of me?

What price will I pay ultimately if I refuse to look at the possibility that my present choices and values may be built on faulty presuppositions?

Back to Lambert Dolphin's Library
February 18, 1999