Monday, October 30, 2006

Southern Baptists from Vermont(!) and Marriage in Virginia

Yesterday we had a couple from Vermont visit us in Sunday School and worship at JPBC who are considering relocating to our area. They come from what sounds like a really dynamic dual SBC-BGC church, Christ Memorial Baptist Church, with a Reformed, Baptistic, and evangelical identity. Check out especially the New England Theological Seminary ministry started by this church and its church planting efforts (listen to this pitch: NETS is looking for a few good men. Do you have what it takes to plant a church in dry New England soil?).

Couple of thoughts: First, these folk found us the way most of our visitors and new attendees seem to these days—through our website.

Second, as the conversation heats up concerning the upcoming vote on the marriage amendment in Virginia, one of the arguments made by those in opposition is that it will drive away homosexuals and their supporters from taking up residence in Virginia. This is a weak argument on many levels, not the least of which is the fact that the opposite might also be true. Conservative folk, like these Southern Baptists from Vermont (of all places!), might be attracted to a place like Virginia, precisely because it is more conservative and does not allow gay marriage.

The polling data on the marriage amendment is alarming. The recent Mason-Dixon poll showed only 52% in Virginia in favor of the amendment. Hardly a landslide. For pro-amendment info look here. See the recent Baptist Press article: "Homosexual activists eye victory in the South." Even the South is drifting away from its Christian influenced social conservatism. The Bible belt has been loosed a notch or two. The marriage amendment in Virginia is, no doubt, having trouble picking up steam, because it threatens not only the legality of the marriage of homosexuals but also, indirectly, heterosexual cohabitation. Some advocates seem apologetic on this front, but from a Christian perspective, should we not also be outraged by cohabitation as an end run around marriage?
OK, so let's assume the marriage amendment passes (even narrowly) this year. Here is the question. What will the vote say about our culture in 2006? What would the percentage of approval have been 100 years ago in Virginia? Or even 10 years ago? So, it passes this year. What will happen ten more years from now after even more relentless exposure to homosexual advocacy in the general population through media, education, etc.? What kind of culture will my children and my children's children be living in? The pressures on them to conform will be immense. How vital it is that we instill a Biblical worldview in them now.


Bill Garnett said...

Perhaps at some future Judgment Day, we will be called on to answer for our actions and perhaps then we will not be able to justify those actions as being the way we were taught or told – the clear message of unconditional love and non-judgmental behavior may overrule. Perhaps the ability God gave humans to independently think, reason, and question, is both a way we are related to God; and the use of that gift, the criteria on which we will be judged.

We are privy to the lessons of history and to the evolution of civilizations – and the lessons we might learn about how peoples have been misled by religious zealots and fundamentalists are many. In a lifetime in America we have witnessed substantial change in attitudes about black Americans, about women, and about the mentally ill. And, much earlier in time, issues such as whether the Earth is flat, whether the Earth is the center of the universe, and whether scientifically proven evolution is to even be considered, have been disputed – against the rhetoric and beliefs of fundamentalists.

The Bible is not the exclusive property of fundamentalists – and their interpretation is not necessarily the interpretation God intended. And when fundamentalists seize on a few scattered somewhat ambiguous verses out of context and possibly out of character of the overriding message of Jesus, then this is particularly suspect.

Scientific study accepts that perhaps five percent of the population – or one out of twenty – is exclusively homosexual. These people have been with us though this journey of civilization. They are our brothers and sisters, our children, our friends, neighbors, colleagues and acquaintances – often without us even knowing. This large population is subject to bias, discrimination, and prejudice, at least, and violence at worst. And as science now accepts, these people did not choose their sexual orientation any more than they did their other characteristics of chance – these are the varieties and variations that God created.

After slavery was abolished, most people came to realize how bad it had been. As women were given equality with men, most people came to realize how bad it had been. As mentally ill were treated humanely, most people came to realize how bad it had been. But the heroes to me were those who saw the evil when it was in place and took a stand against it then. Those are the ones in favor in my eyes and I would imagine in God’s. I think there will be a time in the future when two adults in a loving committed relationship will be celebrated whether that be a traditional husband-wife or a same sex couple. Enlightened peoples, enlightened countries, and in America, enlightened states and religions, are today seeing the truth to this.

Jeffrey T. Riddle said...


Thanks for your post. Let me offer a few responses:

1. On Judgement: I do believe that at some future date we will be called to account for our actions. But the chief action to which we will be called to account is whether or not we have confessed faith in Jesus (see Matthew 10:32-33).

2. Does the Bible teach "unconditional love"? No. Jesus saved the woman caught in adultery from certain death at the hands of hypocritical men, but his parting words to her were, "Go and sin no more" (John 10:11). Jesus makes demands. In Luke 9:23 he says that anyone who comes after him must deny himself daily, take up his cross, and follow him. At one point he says if we really love him, we will keep his commandments (see John 14:15). This includes his commandments on marriage (see Matthew 19:4-6).

3. What have we learned from history? Friend, I respectfully submit that you have bought into the idea that Christianity has been the source of backward thought and evil. But have you ever considered that hospitals, orphanages, and universities all began in the church? Why do you think that science and technology arose to ascendency in Western Europe and North America? Do you think it had anything to do with the influence of the Christian/Biblical worldview?

4. Is the Biblical argument against homosexual behavior drawn from scattered, ambiguous verses? Hardly. The Bible throughout exalts marriage (between one man and one woman for a lifetime) as divine institution and it specifically rejects homosexual behavior as a rejection of God's good, orderly design (see especially Romans 1). No serious Biblical scholar would challenge this. Want to read a non-fundamentist take on this? See Richard B. Hays (of Duke University), "The Moral Vision of the New Testament." The problem is not understanding what the Bible says on this topic but our rejection of it.

5. Did God make people this way? First, your 5% figure is way too high. At any rate, I find this argument irrelevant. The Bible's message is that we are all sinners. 100% sinners. The fact that a person is born with homosexual desire does not mean he should act on it. We would not say to someone born with a genetic predisposition to alcohol that he should drink himself into oblivion because God "made" him that way. Sin has invaded even our biology. Most married heterosexuals would commit adultery if they acted on their lust. But we are not animals. We exercise self-control, including curbing sinful desires.

6. Is opposition to homosexual behavior the moral equivalent to support for slavery? I reject the premise of this. Slavery was not part of God's pre-fall design. It only shows up after sin enters the picture (in the Bible, after Genesis 3). Marriage between a man and woman, however, is rooted in the pre-fall creation order (see Gen 1:27; 2:24). By the way, who do you think did away with slavery? Enlightened liberals? No. Christians like William Wilberforce in England and Harriet Beecher Stowe in America.

Bill, I do not want to express an unloving attitude to those who struggle with homosexuality. My conviction based on my study on the Bible is that it is wrong. Furthermore, it leads to both personal and civic grief. If you see someone about to walk into danger, the loving thing to do is not just to let him go, but to warn him of the danger and ask him to turn back and consider going the safe way.


Bill Garnett said...

JTR – Thank you for taking the time to respond.

However, I don’t need a Bible lesson from you. Nor do I appreciate that you are trying to insist that your interpretation or a certain interpretation is the correct interpretation. That is a bit smug to say the least.

As a student at the University of Richmond, I was privy to the Virginia Baptist Historical Society that is located there, and which, among other things, is a repository of many of the historical sermon texts used by Virginia Baptists, including sermons that used Biblical text to preach against the advisability of women’s’ suffrage. I could go on to illustrate many sermons in their collection that gave Biblical defense to slavery and sermons that reviled mixed marriages. I suggest you are merely using the Bible – and using it to reinforce your own homophobia.

“ . . . mistaken translation has enlisted a mighty army of ignorant religious fanatics against homosexual people and has turned many Lesbians and Gays against the Bible, which holds for them as for all people the good news of God's love in Christ.

Three of the passages: Genesis 19:5; I Corinthians 6:9 and I Timothy 1:10 are incorrectly translated. The other three: Leviticus 18:22; 20:13 and Romans 1:26-27 are taken out of their original setting of condemning idolatrous religious practices and wrongly used to judge and condemn people of the same sex who love each other. None of these passages refer to people of the same sex who love each other. None originally were aimed at homosexuals”

This is the conclusion reached by a Doctor of Theology from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY.

I agree we don’t know the percentage of the population that is gay. The fact is homosexuals exist – a recent British government study estimates 6% of the population in Britain. But arguing this point is pointless – whether we are 3% or 10% - or half of one percent. The reality is that we exist, and available research suggests that we always have across time and across societies. What is your point?

You dismiss that the World Health Organization, American Medical Association, and American Psychiatric Association all conclude that homosexuality is a normal variation of the human species and that homosexuality is not a choice and that homosexuals raise children just as well as heterosexuals. You merely state that you disagree without providing any facts, isn’t that like saying Copernicus or Galileo had agendas just because they were offering discovered fact that conflicted with your superstitious faith based picture of the world?

I am happy to have a conversation with you or to debate you further on this subject. But do so based on facts and logic.

Jeffrey T. Riddle said...


Thanks your post. We obviously do not agree on this matter, but I hope we can express our disagreements with civility.

1. On Bible lessons. Sorry if my Bible references sound “smug.” I am, after all, a Christian preacher and teacher, so I am accustomed to frequent citation of Scripture (my primary source of authority) to back up my ideas. I do not want you to buy into my interpretation, but I want us both (and anyone else who might read our exchange) to be submitted to its truth.

2. On bad preaching and teaching of the past (and present). I too have visited the archives of the VA Baptist Historical Society at U. Richmond. Have some Baptist ministers ever preached bad sermons? Yes. But does the fact that some preachers were wrong about some issues in the past mean that all preachers are wrong about all things they address in the present? No.

3. Is my reading of Scripture just bad homophobic exegesis? You say that the passages in the Bible that denounces homosexual behavior are the result of incorrect translation and lack of cultural sensitivity (i.e., ancients did not understand modern, loving same sex relationships). You cite an unnamed SBTS scholar. Let me offer two quick responses. First, the primary Biblical argument against homosexual behavior is not merely the negative statements (I’ll get those in a moment), but the overwhelmingly positive presentation of marriage as the union of man and woman in a one flesh covenant commitment for a lifetime. Second, however, there are also the devastating negative statements. E. P. Sanders is by no means a fundamentalist. He has taught at Duke University and is a world-renowned Pauline scholar and the father of the “new perspective” on Paul movement. In his book "Paul" (Oxford Press, 1991, 1996), he makes the following comments on Paul’s views on homosexuality as a Jew in the Greco-Roman world: “Paul was against homosexuality, both active and inactive, both male and female. This marks him as Jewish” (p. 110). A few pages later, Sanders addresses those who have tried to deny Paul’s clear statements against homosexuality. He takes 1 Cor 6:9 as an example. In this list of those who will not inherit the kingdom of God, Paul lists “homosexuals” (NKJV; the Greek word is malakos) and “sodomites” (NKJV; Greek, arsenokoites). Sanders writes, “Paul names both the effeminate partner, the malakos, ‘soft’ one, and the active one, arsenokoites. Some scholars purpose that the words are uncertain as to meaning and thus that perhaps Paul did not really condemn homosexuality. The words, however, are quite clear” (p. 113).

Bill, I think it is bad exegesis to say that the Bible does not denounce homosexual behavior. One might decide that he will not accept the authority of Scripture on this matter, but I do not think that he can deny the objective reality that the Bible condemns homosexual activity in plain terms.

4. On what the authorities have to say. You cite several groups who have sanctioned homosexuality as a “normal variation.” Response: Such studies are widely contested. Homosexuality and same-sex partner marriage is a vast untested social experiment. These “authorities” have no grounds for evaluation, and they will not for years. Their endorsements are the result of ideological driven agendas. Here’s the irony. Many people said to Galileo and Copernicus: you can’t have these ideas, because the authority (in their case, the Roman Catholic Church) says you cannot. Aren’t you telling me that I cannot object to the negative social implication of uncritical acceptance of the modern redefinition of marriage, because it goes against the authorities (WHO, AMA, etc.)?

Again, Bill, I mean no personal insult. I must add that every time the Bible condemns homosexual behavior it is also quick to add that we are all sinners in need of God’s grace for salvation. Right after Paul says that “homosexuals” and “sodomites” cannot enter the kingdom of God in 1 Corinthians 6:9, he adds: “And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God” (v. 11).

Peace, JTR