Friday, October 28, 2011

Evangelicals and Gay Marriage: Why ‘Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin Doesn’t Work’

Response to Jonathan Dudley's Article
Jonathan Dudley recently wrote an article that appeared in the Huffington Post chiding evangelicals for their views on homosexual marriage. That’s right folks. That is exactly what we need; one more article from one more liberal, rebuffing evangelicalism for being, well, evangelical. Whatever happened to the liberal love fest with diversity? It seems like only yesterday that liberals were parading diversity around as if it was the most sacred virtue among virtues. Wait! Was that what they call a fad? It isn’t easy for a guy like me to keep up. I am a little slower than the average bear when it comes to social acumen.

Image of Jonathan DudleyDudley begins his article with the statement: Such sentiments are widespread among evangelicals, even encapsulated in a maxim: "love the sinner, hate the sin." They explain why well-meaning people think keeping gays from marriage is the loving thing to do. But as an overriding moral principle, the maxim fails miserably.” Framed in the form of an argument it looks like this: Evangelicalism’s approach to homosexual marriage, (love the sinner, hate the sin) fails miserably as an overriding moral principle. Why does this principle fail? If it fails for homosexual marriage, does it also fail for alcoholics? Adulterers? Liars? Murderers? Good question I think. Since Dudley has classified the nature of this failure as moral, one would assume he intends to demonstrate why the evangelical maxim is such a miserable moral failure. Perhaps Dudley will offer to help us rescue the maxim. Don’t hold your breath.

As proof that the maxim fails, Dudley offers lessons from historic evangelical’s positions on slavery, feminism, and even environmentalism. He says this is proof that ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’ does not work. What this argument boils down to is this: you see, evangelicals were wrong about slavery, about feminism, and about environmentalism and this proves they are wrong about homosexual marriage as well. Dudley makes the terrible mistake of pointing to a few men or one denomination’s position on an issue and mistakes that for orthodox evangelical teaching on the subject. I know of no evangelical documents officially supporting slavery, environmental irresponsibility, or chauvinism. Secondly, to reject feminism does not ipso facto make one a chauvinist. To reject environmentalism does not ipso facto make one environmentally irresponsible. To reject the view that slavery is immoral does not make one a racist. This is precisely how liberals frame up their debates. One can reject feminism and not be a chauvinist, environmentalism and not be environmentally irresponsible, and even accept the concept of slavery and not be a racist. The technical aspects of Dudley's argument stand for some improvements.The concept of slavery does not require racist views. One could hold that slavery is fine across any and all ethnic groups. How is that racism? It isn’t. I do not support slavery for all kinds of different reasons. While the Bible itself does not condemn slavery as an economic practice, it places uncompromising standards in place for how the slave-master relationship should work. Fair treatment was of high concern in the Christian ethic. Perhaps Mr. Dudley should study how it was slavery came to an end in this country and the man most responsible for that event. And perhaps he should look into the faith of that man. The liberal uses polarizing language in its effort for social engineering. Homosexuality is the tool by which men like Dudley seek to impose secularism on American culture. At best, it influences the weak minded, and at a minimum, it silences the opponents. At bottom, it does nothing to promote and foster dialogue.

After his long rabbit trail on racism, feminism, and environmentalism which have nothing to do with making a case for the morality of homosexual marriage, Dudley says, “Evangelicalism still has an orientation against social change, still bases views on pseudoscience, still has a simplistic and overconfident approach to biblical interpretation, and still is unwilling to tolerate those who disagree.” This is a very interesting statement. First, by pseudoscience one assumes Dudley means young earth creationism and the denial of evolutionary theory. We all know the holes that make up evolutionary theory, yet it is taught as fact in every public school in this country. He then criticizes evangelicalism for using a simplistic and overconfident approach to biblical interpretation. Now Mr. Dudley is an expert in biblical interpretation. These are generalizations that Mr. Dudley takes for granted. What Mr. Dudley wants is a scientific method that will support the “truth” he wants to be true. He wants an interpretive method that will lead to the conclusions that he wants to be true. Finally, Mr. Dudley says that evangelicals are unwilling to tolerate those who disagree. Well, if by tolerate, Mr. Dudley means that evangelicals must stop rejecting gay marriage, then he is right. Since when is tolerating a view equal to accepting it? Evangelicals do tolerate gay marriage in that they do not retaliate in any way against those who enter into such relationships. However, evangelicals demand the freedom not to recognize such relationships as legitimate based on God’s standards of legitimacy. Again, this argument comes down to an attempt to get evangelicals to stop being evangelical. That is really what this is about. Evangelicals get in the way of secularists objectives. We interfere with their political and social agenda and that just won’t do. Whatever happened to tolerance? Mr. Dudley does not wish to allow evangelicals to continue to reject gay marriage. He insists we accept it. Otherwise, we are racists, chauvinists, and environmentally irresponsible bigots. What informs Mr. Dudley’s morality? He does not say.

Dudley continues, “Evangelicalism's greatest failure on homosexuality is not that all evangelicals are filled with conscious hatred toward gays, but its unjustified self-confidence, its close-mindedness, and its egregious failure to learn from its own history.” Yet, Dudley does nothing to inform his readers of the source of his confidence (and he is very confident). Moreover, Dudley seems to be very close-minded on the notion of the morality of gay marriage. His view is the right view and evangelicals should get in line and march along. If anything, Dudley has shown that evangelicals have learned from history. I am not sure what he means by that statement. He has traced the contours of the progressive changes that have taken place over time within evangelicalism.

Dudley brings it all home for us in a closing argument that is bound to win over any weak-minded, uncritical thinking jury panel in America. Don’t laugh, that would make up most jury panels in this country. Observe the strength of his closing argument, “And that's why "love the sinner, hate the sin" doesn't cut it. Christians are too prone to mistake their own prejudice and fear of social change for God's will. As a result, love cannot only require holding others accountable to systems of morality; it requires reconsidering systems of morality too. Part of "loving the sinner" must be making sure that legitimate desires are not classified as sin.”

It seems to me that Dudley is mistaking his own propensity for social change with the will of God in this case. Turn-about is fair play folks. Dudley argues that love requires a critical analysis of the moral system in which it operates. He fails to show how love occupies an authoritative position over morality. Does love inform morality or does morality inform love? Can you have love without morality? Can you have morality without love? The moral code says we “ought” to love one another and it informs us what that looks like. Speaking from a purely non-theistic perspective, what is the relationship between love and morality? What does Dudley mean when he says love requires us to revise moral mechanisms? In this system, morality is a mere utility. Love would demand that we continue to change the moral code to progress into those areas of behavior that were previously considered immoral. But if love is the basis of morality, then wasn’t it love that established those parameters to begin with? I am confused. Morality becomes a moving target in Dudley’s system. You update it every time society decides there are enough people behaving immorally in a given area. But is that love? I fail to see how that is love. Dudley offers no help.

Evangelical morality is anchored in the nature of God. We know this by revelation of the text of Scripture. Interpreting that text is not nearly as complicated as liberal thinking loves to imply. However, it is not quite as simplistic as others would like to think either. It takes effort, but is within the grasp of anyone who cares enough to do the work. Christian theism contends that morality is unchanging. The relationship between morality and love is expressed in Scripture. Since God is love and morality is the reflection of God’s character to humanity, we can say that the relationship between morality and love is interdependent. It is an act of a loving God to create man and inform man of his moral attributes. Morality is anchored in the nature of a loving God. You cannot speak of one without the other. Since God is the perfection of love, it must follow that one can indeed love the sinner and hate the sin. This is what God does after all. God either loves the sinner or He hates him. God either loves sin or He hates sin. It is clear that in some sense, God loves sinners. That is undeniable. It is equally clear that a holy God hates sin. Therefore, it is an absolute fact that it is possible to love the sinner and hate the sin. This is possible for God, but is it possible for man? God commands us to love our enemies. Therefore, it is possible for Christians to love their enemies. So then, it is possible for us to love our enemies and hate the thing that makes them our enemy. If this is possible, it seems rather clear that Christians can love the sinner and hate the sin. How individual Christians or evangelicals carry that out from one generation to the next is a different question. Human history is filled with the acts of Christians and non-Christians alike that committed a variety of atrocities. Only the Christian worldview possesses a plausible explanation for such phenomena.

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