Paul

Superiority: the Terrible Stumbling Stone.


By: JC Mitchell

Paul knew there was only one God.  He understood that meat bought from a pagan temple, and thus the animal, was offered to a made-up god.  Paul was clear in a letter to the Corinthians (specifically 1 Corinthians 8:1-13) that it would be confusing to those who grew up associating the sacrifices to the worship of these gods.  Paul even claims it wiser if he kept a vegetarian diet so no one could possibly be confused.

Today our meat is found in the supermarket wrapped in plastic and it is not associated with worship.  However, we in the mainline church ignore Paul’s profound warning.  It is not during the potlucks this problem occurs, but when those have an attitude of superiority.  
Paul wrote about how he knew he could enjoy meat from the pagan temples (and probably even pork), for he knew it had nothing to do with worship of any god.  Paul knew very well that these temples were no more than a butcher’s shop, but instead of insisting a new follower learn this fact, he was quite aware it could be easily misunderstood and thus become a stumbling stone to new followers.

So what does it mean?  I turn to Marcus Borg, who sadly passed away last week, to remind us that when we read Paul’s epistles, it is our own understanding that is in question, not Paul’s:

When we read Paul, we are reading somebody else’s mail—and unless we know the situation being addressed, his letters can be quite opaque...It is wise to remember that when we are reading letters never intended for us, any problems of understanding are ours and not theirs. (Marcus J. Borg, The First Paul: Reclaiming the Radical Visionary Behind the Church's Conservative Icon)

Oh right, we should be careful applying the knowledge of Paul’s words for today.  There is no longer a problem of a world order that Christianity is in competition, for Christianity is a dominate force in this contemporary world.  There is no risk of one’s dinner having been slaughtered in honor of a god or Caesar.   I am therefore writing about the feeling of superiority, and not any specific theological dogma.  Both so called progressive and conservative Christians seem to yell out they know the answer, with superiority.  
We need to be avoiding all possible stumbling stones, but more importantly that air of superiority, for it only suggests a right and wrong way to believe.  For as Borg points out, “Christianity's goal is not escape from this world. It loves this world and seeks to change it for the better” (Marcus J. Borg, Speaking Christian: Why Christian Words Have Lost Their Meaning and Power - And How They Can Be Restored), and we know that will be best achieved with questions and love over smugness and superiority: the terrible stumbling stone.  

 

RECLAIMING THE FAMILY OF GOD

Us, not ThemHere, not There Now, not Later

A Sermon by Doug Sloan, Elder Terre Haute Central Christian Church Sunday, May 6, 2012

I want to begin by thanking Dianne Mansfield and Phil Ewoldsen for their participation in a very important and successful meeting that took place yesterday, Saturday, May 5, 2012 at Central Christian Church in Indianapolis. This congregation [Terre Haute Central Christian Church], through its board and elders, is one of four congregations [now five] sponsoring a resolution to change the ordination policy of the Indiana Region. Elders and representatives of those four congregations met with the pastor and an elder of the Oaktown congregation, which has deep reservations and sincere concerns about the resolution. The meeting was serious – most of the time, we are talking about a gathering of Disciples – and spiritual. I came away from the meeting feeling hopeful. New ground was broken and a path was cleared for similar conversations elsewhere in the region that involve congregations with the same reservations and concerns as Oaktown.

Also, I want to thank my wife, Carol, for “encouraging” me to stop and think and – in this case – step back ten yards and punt. I can’t help wondering how much better off the history of the church and how much easier Christian theology would be if Paul had been married. Imagine the difference there would be in all of Christianity if Paul had been married to a woman who had looked at him with equal amounts of disdain and concern and said, “Paul, honey – KISS.*”

Being family is not always easy.

My father was quiet and laid back. My mother was gregarious and active. My younger brother, Dennis, was a jock. I was not. In high school, I was in choir, plays, and on the speech team. Dennis ran cross country and played trombone in the band – with band, especially marching band, being more for social enjoyment than satisfying any musical ambition.

Dennis also liked to ride his 12-speed bicycle. Dennis and his riding buddies thought nothing about jumping on their bikes and pedaling from New Castle to Muncie and back between lunch and supper. Muncie is approximately 25 miles north of New Castle – a round trip of a good 50 miles. You have to understand, they would return from these little jaunts with no signs of having exerted themselves.

One day, a trip was planned to our Uncle’s house on the southwest edge of Muncie – and I decided to join them. How hard could it be? The trip to my Uncle’s house was a great ride – we took county roads and stayed off the state highways. We had a nice visit with our Aunt Marjorie and Uncle Kenneth and our cousin Joy Ann and her boyfriend, Phil – and the girl who lived next door to Phil.

Well, the time came to return home. We jumped on our bikes and started pedaling home. A few miles south of Muncie, it happened – my lack of experience with long-distance bicycle rides caught up with me and hammered me with the great-granddaddy of all leg cramps. Every muscle in both legs, above and below the knees, tightened into an unbreakable searing knot. Whatever fantasies I ever had about being “the man of steel” – this wasn’t it. The ride came to a screeching stop in front of someone’s house – to this day, I don’t know who those poor people were. Dennis knocked on the door to ask to use the phone to call our parents. Meanwhile, I had hobbled to the porch to get out of the sun where I promptly collapsed in excruciating pain which I expressed without restraint at the top of my lungs. Eventually, my father arrived and took me and my bicycle home. I never took another bicycle trip with my brother – and my brother has never harassed me about it or held it against me.

Being family is not always easy.

I hear that it has been this way for a long time.

When King David died, the crown went to his son, Solomon. When Solomon died, the crown went to his son, Rehoboam.

Rabbi Joseph Telushkin is the author of an encyclopedic book titled, “Jewish Literacy: The Most Important Things to Know About the Jewish Religion, Its People, and Its History.”

Rabbi Telushkin has this to say about King David’s grandson: "Rehoboam has three bad traits; he is greedy arrogant, and a fool." (p. 84)

From I Kings 12, here is a summary of what happened after the death of King Solomon. King Solomon had imposed high taxes and forced labor to build the temple. After the death of Solomon, the people approached Rehoboam and asked, “Your father made our yoke heavy. Now, therefore lighten the hard service of your father and his heavy yoke that he placed on us, and we will serve you.” Rehoboam told them he would have an answer for them in three days. His father’s advisors, who are older, suggest kindness and moderation and thus gain the eternal allegiance of the people. The younger advisors, who had grown up with Rehoboam, suggest a ruthless denial of the request. Rehoboam listens to his younger advisors. When the people return in three days, Rehoboam informs them that he will be even tougher than his father. And the people said, “We’re outta here.” [Hoosier translation of the original Hebrew] Ten of the twelve tribes form their own kingdom and Rehoboam is left with the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. The ten tribes name their kingdom, “Israel.”

208 years later, Israel is destroyed by Assyria. 136 years after the destruction of Israel, most of Judah is exiled to Babylon.

Here is the rest of the story. When the Assyrians destroyed Israel, some of the people escaped to Judah, formed their own province in the north of Judah and called it Samaria.

Take a breath and change gears – we are jumping to the United States in the 1860s. Think about the animosity between the North and South just before the Civil War. Now, think about that animosity between the North and South and no Civil War. Instead of Civil War, there is only the constant animosity. That is the relationship between Judah and Samaria in the first century during the ministry of Jesus. Back to the United States; what kind of stories do people in the north like to tell about southerners? What kind of stories do people in the south like to tell about those damn yankees? It was the same way between Judah and Samaria. Remember the animosity and the stereotyped jokes that had to have existed the next time you hear the story of the Good Samaritan or the story of the Samaritan woman at the well.

NRSV John 4:7-21 A Samaritan woman came to draw water, .....and Jesus said to her, ..........Give me a drink. (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.)

The Samaritan woman said to him, ..........How is it that you, a Jew, ...............ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria? (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.)

Jesus answered her, ..........If you knew the gift of God, and ...............who it is that is saying to you, ....................‘Give me a drink,’ ...............you would have asked him, ...............and he would have given you living water.

The woman said to him, ..........Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. ..........Where do you get that living water? ..........Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, ...............who gave us the well, ...............and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?

Jesus said to her, ..........Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, ...............but those who drink of the water that I will give them ...............will never be thirsty. ..........The water that I will give ...............will become in them a spring of water ...............gushing up to eternal life.

The woman said to him, ..........Sir, give me this water, ...............so that I may never be thirsty or ...............have to keep coming here to draw water.

Jesus said to her, ..........Go, call your husband, and come back.

The woman answered him, ..........I have no husband.

Jesus said to her, ..........You are right in saying, ....................‘I have no husband’; ...............for you have had five husbands, ...............and the one you have now is not your husband. ..........What you have said is true!

The woman said to him, ..........Sir, I see that you are a prophet. ..........Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, ...............but you say that the place where people must worship ...............is in Jerusalem.

Jesus said to her, ..........Woman, believe me, ...............the hour is coming when you will worship the Father ...............neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. [END OF SCRIPTURE]

Two interesting observations about this story.

The first observation is this: Jesus would go the synagogue of whatever village he was visiting. The custom of the day was to invite such a visitor to participate in the worship service. This gave Jesus the opportunity to share his message. Yet, only a couple of stories exist about his synagogue visits. All of the other stories about his ministry – about the teachings and interactions of Jesus – take place outside the synagogue.

The second observation is a question and a challenge: With whom did Jesus interact? Go home and explore the four Gospels; start with Mark, then Matthew and Luke, and finally John. With whom did Jesus interact? Here is a hint: anyone. The early church heard this message and followed it.

NRSV Acts of the Apostles 8:26-40 Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ..........Get up and go toward the south ...............to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza. (This is a wilderness road.) So he got up and went.

Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, .....a court official of the Candace, .....queen of the Ethiopians, .....in charge of her entire treasury.

He had come to Jerusalem to worship .....and was returning home; .....seated in his chariot, .....he was reading the prophet Isaiah.

Then the Spirit said to Philip, ..........Go over to this chariot and join it. So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, ..........Do you understand what you are reading? He replied, ..........How can I, unless someone guides me? And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him.

Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this:

Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.

The eunuch asked Philip, ..........About whom, may I ask you, ..........does the prophet say this, ..........about himself or about someone else?

Then Philip began to speak, and .....starting with this scripture, .....he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus.

As they were going along the road, .....they came to some water; .....and the eunuch said, ..........Look, here is water! ..........What is to prevent me from being baptized?

He commanded the chariot to stop, .....and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, .....went down into the water, and Philip baptized him.

When they came up out of the water, .....the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; .....the eunuch saw him no more, .....and went on his way rejoicing.

But Philip found himself at Azotus, .....and as he was passing through the region, .....he proclaimed the good news to all the towns .....until he came to Caesarea. [END OF SCRIPTURE]

The eunuch, because of his incompleteness, would not have been allowed to participate in certain acts of worship at the temple in Jerusalem and there were parts of the temple where he would not have been allowed to enter.

Both of these stories were clear messages of inclusiveness to and by the early church. Additionally, a very clear attribute of the ministry and message of Jesus and the conduct of the early church was that ministry and message occur out there, not in the synagogue. While ministry and message are public, they are not to be overtly offensive, not in-your-face abuse, and they do not demand change as a requirement to hear the message or to receive ministry. Change can occur and it happens through the resurrection and transformation that is experienced when the ministry and message of Jesus is embraced and internalized.

We speak of being children of God, of being in the family of God. We speak of how this includes everyone, that it is a global perspective. We gladly talk about having an open table where all are invited. Really?

We are open and affirming – we welcome anyone regardless of sexual orientation. What about the homophobic? They, too, are children of God.

We happily talk about welcoming all regardless of race, color, or ethnicity. What about the racist, the Neo-Nazi, the KKK? They, too, are children of God.

We would welcome attorneys, judges, police officers, prison guards – anyone involved with law enforcement. What about the car thief, the burglar, the robber, the home invader, the child molester, the rapist, the murderer? They, too, are children of God.

Would we welcome the invisible people? The illegal immigrant, the homeless, the people who have chronic mental illness and are receiving little or no mental health service? They, too, are children of God.

Being family is not easy. There are 4 terrible prices to be paid if we truly accept and embrace this radical ridiculous notion that there are over 7 billion of God’s children on this planet.

1) If we accept each other as real brothers and sisters, then we are going to have to overlook a lot – and that includes stupid disastrous bicycle rides. For example, just in this room, it means affirming that in our worship service, there are no mistakes. [I have lost count of how many times this act of grace in worship has saved my butt.] When applied globally, the price to be paid is: There is no “them”, only us.

2) If we accept that we have 7 billion brothers and sisters, then we lose “there.” The Republic of Congo is not there, it is here. Syria and Iran and Pakistan are not there, they are here. Mexico and Venezuela are not there, they are here. They are as much here as we are in this room.

3) If we accept that we have 7 billion sisters and brothers, then we lose “later.” If Dennis phones from his home in Churubusco saying that he has an emergency that requires me to be there, I’m outta here. I know – We know – that the same is true between many of us in this room. It should be true for all of us who are here – all 7 billion of us. How do we respond “now” [?] – because “later” doesn’t exist.

4) The most terrible price to be paid is that in the presence of evil, we cannot be silent and still. In the presence of evil, we are called to shout, “This is wrong!” and we called to move against it. Evil exists. Evil is when a person is murdered, abandoned, or excluded from their rightful place in life because of prejudice or ignorance. Evil is when people are treated as “them” “there” and we decide that their need for justice or compassion can be dealt with “later.”

Consequently, if we accept that we have 7 billion siblings – and if we accept that “we” are “here” “now” – then we are going to settle our differences in vastly different ways. We are going to settle our differences as family. We are not going to settle our differences as winner-take-all antagonists and not as an act of conquest. We are going to change the way we intervene in conflicts and feuds – and we are going to intervene. We are going to change the way we intervene in harmful practices such as genocide and slavery and exclusion based on prejudice and ignorance – and we are going to intervene. We are going to change the way we intervene in the oppressive practice of living in empire instead of community – and we are going to intervene.

Being family is not easy.

My apologies to those who have already heard this story. I am telling it again because it is the only one I have to end this message.

At one point during his short troubled life, my son, Chad, was arrested and incarcerated in the Greene County jail. Having neither the emotional nor financial resources to pay his bail, I rationalized it as an example of “tough love.”

At 4 o’clock in the morning there was a knock on the front door. There stood my brother, Dennis, with Chad. Chad had phoned Dennis, who at the time lived in Muncie. Dennis had made the 3-hour drive in the middle of the night, from Muncie to Bloomfield, and bailed Chad out of jail and brought Chad home, and then Dennis made the 3-hour drive back to Muncie.

My question to Dennis was something along the line of “What were you thinking?” My brother’s response to me was “What else was I to do? He’s family.”

Being family is not easy. The Good News is that there is no other way than – all of us here and now – be the family of God living in the Kingdom of God – and respond to each other one-to-one with generosity and hospitality and healthy service – and as a community provide justice and compassion – and that we be and live and share the Kingdom of God by embracing and exuding the unrestrained love and unconditional grace of God.

Amen. _________________________________

* In this case, KISS = Keep It Short and Simple

A Letter to Someone I Love: Responding to Questions about Why I Believe What I Believe Concerning My LGBTQ Brothers and Sisters

Dear _____, I appreciate the tone of your note, since I often get correspondence that appears much angrier. Let me see if I can address your concerns, if not in a persuasive—then perhaps in a clear manner.

a. You take issue with your opposition to LGBTQ inclusion being labeled “hate,” since you consider yourself to be a loving Christian, someone merely attempting to follow scripture faithfully. Some people may genuinely hate, but you don’t consider yourself to be one of them. You’re also worried that when some people use the word “love” they are twisting it out of shape, making it merely a synonym for "permissiveness."

I hear you. With respect to the whole “hate” thing: If you don’t hate gay people—as I believe many people do not—it can’t help but be disconcerting to find yourself lumped in as an antagonist with people you don’t even recognize. That’s one reason I don’t use that kind of language. I think it’s possible to disagree on this issue in good faith without hate.

However, the people I work with have been systematically told by folks in the church that they are fundamentally flawed human beings—flawed in an especially appalling way that other people are not. I spoke with a teenager recently who’s family believed they were “loving the sinner, while hating the sin,” when the treatment they sent him to used shock therapy, beatings, and threats to make him “normal.”

Now, you might say that this is surely outrageous behavior that you would never condone, and that it must represent, if true, the exception. I’m not going to lay down any statistics, but I hear horror stories all the time about people (usually Christians) who’ve threatened, verbally and physically abused, ignored, or disowned their friends and family because of sexual orientation.

I also realize that “love” can be a very pliable word, one that is often much tougher than popular culture gives it credit for. Love is not just magnanimous feelings toward another. So while there are, I believe, “good actors” among those who disagree, it might be easier, after hearing as many stories as I’ve heard, to see how being at the sharp end of the stick your whole life one might get “tough love” and “hate” confused, thus tarring everyone with the same brush (if you’ll pardon the mixed metaphor).

b. You have some questions about the material contained in Hebrew Scriptures.  Genesis seems to ground the parameters of human sexuality between “one man and one woman” (2:24). Additionally, Mosaic law sets up what appear to be acceptable boundaries to sexuality. Why is it now permissible to discount those boundaries?

As far as biblical arguments go, I think this ultimately is a discussion about authority. Here is the question for some folks: “Is the bible intended to be a timeless and universal blueprint for human behavior, social, political, and economic organization?” We might need to be more explicit about our definitions of words like “blueprint” or “political,” but having said that, I think it’s a defensible characterization of one method of reading scripture.

Another way of reading scripture is to ask the question: “Is the bible intended to lay out the story of God’s interaction with God’s people in an inductive fashion—leaving God’s people to determine how God is moving at different places and times, not by uncritically following rules set down for people thousands of years and thousands of miles removed?” Again, some words might need to be defined, but I think this is also a defensible characterization of another method of reading scripture.

The larger problem—that is to say, why conservatives and liberals often talk past one another—is that these two interpretive strategies are, for the most part, incommensurate. It’s almost impossible to believe both at the same time (e.g., I can believe George is a human or I can believe George is a wildebeest; but I can’t believe both at the same time). Which incommensurability leads me to the more particular problem you and I face: I suspect you feel more comfortable with the former strategy for reading scripture, while I feel at home in the latter.

Consequently, I fear our discussion is bound to get bogged down fairly quickly. Take Genesis, for example. I don’t read the creation story as an attempt to lay out a set of immutable guidelines for human life for all time. Instead I see it as an attempt by exiles in Babylon to try to explain the apparently chaotic world in which they found themselves: why there is evil in the world, to help give justification for how it was that their relationship to creation and the kind of social arrangements they enjoyed had come about, and how it was that God was in the midst of it all.

Now, I expect that you’ll find that to be an unsatisfying reading of the first few chapters of Genesis, a feat taking an amazingly dextrous hermeneutic—just as I find a reading of Genesis through the former lens unpersuasive.

The Mosaic Law, to take another example, is also (at least in the hands of modern Americans) a fairly pliable concept itself. It gets pretty well picked over in terms of which laws are time bound and which are timeless—another case in which hermeneutical gymnastics must be employed (but this time by those who hold parts of the Mosaic Law to be binding, while other parts are disposable—e.g., Leviticus 18:19 or 19:33–4 or 20:10, to name just few).

I read the Mosaic Law as in no part literally binding in all times and all places as such, but as instructive of the kind of just community God was trying to create among bedouins in the desert. Had it been dockworkers in Jersey, I suspect the laws would have looked entirely different. The issue is not the laws themselves, but the kind of worshiping community those laws were intended to create.

The point I am trying to make is that I read the Mosaic Law not as a potential source of legislative detail per se, but as a principled (and in this case, general) guide to the way God wants humans to arrange themselves in communities so that God can be rightly worshiped, so that people will have enough to eat, and so that no one jeopardizes the integrity of the community through transgression or misuse of power.

c. You also want to follow up on what Paul has to say about the issue.  Even if one says that the issues in Genesis and Leviticus are discountable as “Old Testament,” what does one do with Paul who seems to have a very decided understanding about human sexuality as precluding homosexual behavior?

In terms of Paul and his relationship to the Roman world, I think we’re going to run into the same difficulties. I take Paul to be expressing outrage at a particular kind of activity in Roman society that had to do with idol worship and men who mentored boys, the payment for which was the obligation of sex—arrangements for which no one I know is arguing.

However, even if you take idol worship and pederasty not to be the target of Paul’s comments, one thing is clear—whatever Paul is addressing, it’s certainly not the kind of mutual, committed, and persistent relationship entered into by two people capable of giving and withholding their consent. He could not mean what we mean, because there was no such convention even conceptually possible until recently. Paul couldn’t hold forth on nuclear weapons or the adverse effects of Nintendo either, because, well … why would he?

Here, you might say, “Yes, but Nintendo and human sexuality aren’t moral equivalents.”

I agree. Where we differ, however, is in the belief that in this instance Paul is talking about human sexuality. I happen to think he’s got his eye on a problem of the way power is exercised in a relationship where people do not have equal standing—that is, between temple prostitutes and those who pay them, or between men and boys. In other words, I think Paul’s reference to sex acts in Romans 1:24–25, for example, is about human sexuality in the same way rape is about human sexuality, which is to say, it’s not. The context in this passage is ritual prostitution at pagan temples. The tip off that this is about idol worship and not about two people who love each other and who are prepared to commit to one another for life is the reference in verses 22–23—which immediately precedes 1:24–25—to the practice of worshiping and serving “the creature rather than the creator.”

The long and the short of it is that what Paul meant by the word translated in some English translations as “homosexual” is not what people who hold the positions I do mean by the word “homosexual.” In fact, I’m reluctant to use the word “homosexual,” since it focuses on the “sexual” part of the issue, which for LGBT people is only one portion of the lives they envision together. Moreover, it is possible to read Paul as speaking not to sexuality per se, but to sexuality-as-it-exists-under-Roman-occupation-with-pagan-temples-as-a-backdrop.

But when Paul does talk explicitly about sexuality, he does so with a particular set of societal expectations in mind about the function sex fulfilled in stabilizing the Empire. Sexual immorality in the otherwise “family values” oriented culture of Rome was seen as subversive, and therefore, potentially corrosive—a charge that Christians by the time Paul shows up on the scene as an apostolic force (who were already viewed as troublemakers, and potentially as revolutionaries) were most anxious to avoid.

Regardless, though, if you are inclined to see Paul speaking for all places and all times, the argument I just set down won’t be convincing. It cannot but appear to be only a capitulation to a certain set of political commitments that appear antecedently to the interpretive act. That is to say, if you don’t already agree with me, what I just said will only look like liberal weasel words. However, if one believes that that’s all I’m doing, then it’s important to be clear once again how one goes through Paul’s letters and determines which parts are meant only for people in that specific time and place, and which parts are for all people in all times and places. What, for example, does one do with 1 Corinthians 8 (a chapter devoted to food sacrificed to idols) or 1 Corinthians 11 (head coverings)? If we’re meant only to read those now as analogs or placeholders for modern problems, how does one arrive at that conclusion about these things, while at the same time holding that other parts of the same document are universally binding?

d. You express some confusion as to why monogamy is the place progressive Christians want to hang their hat when it comes to same gendered relationships. If you allow same gendered relationships, aren’t you opening the door to such practices as polygamy and bestiality? Where are the boundaries?

As to your question about monogamy, I’m not sure why polygamy and bestiality are the logical extension of this argument. I understand that you mean to suggest that same gendered marriage is a step down a slippery slope, the bottom of which holds these practices we all should want to avoid. However, without being misunderstood to be arguing for them, let me first point out that polygamy was apparently a perfectly acceptable arrangement for the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob for an unusually long period of time—a problem for those who would argue some version of traditional marriage being rooted in creation and persisting until now in an unbroken conceptual line.

[Moreover, though we don’t any longer sanction coterminous polygamy, because of the high rate of divorce—which cuts across all theological lines—it’s hard to argue that we’re not already practicing serial polygamy.]

But setting aside the issue of what appears to have been the temporary biblical sanction of polygamy, the assertion that allowing for committed relationships between people of the same gender takes away an important hedge against more objectionable practices like polygamy and bestiality (you might also add incest and child molestation, to complete the poker equivalent of an unbeatable hand) runs into problems.

For one thing, the kind of same gendered relationship I am describing meets the demands of just relationships (which I take to be at the heart of the vision of the reign of God, and therefore a hermeneutical key) because it requires a kind of mutuality available only to two people in a position to give and withdraw their consent. Mutuality and an equitable distribution of power isn’t a component of the other sexual relationships you name. So, to compare same gendered relationships with these other things is to make a comparison between things that differ not in degree but in kind.

For another thing, nobody I know of is arguing for those things.

Here you might say: “Ah, not yet. But that’s exactly my point. If you allow same gender relationships, you will have taken down an important barrier to someone advocating for just these sorts of practices.”

But the fact that nobody is advocating for these things is my point. The slippery slope argument suggests that there is a set of causal relationships between two actions, such that if you do one thing, you will eventually find yourself doing the other. What this fails to account for, however, is that there are gradations of difference (steps, if you will) between the two acts—none of which must necessarily lead to the next. Just because you pierce your ear, that doesn’t mean that next thing you know you’ll wake up with ear spacers and a host of pierced body parts.

The objection to that might be: “But once you open the door to piercing, what’s to stop you from continuing to get pierced, until you end up ineligible for airport security? The point is: you could now if you wanted to.”

My response to that objection is: “Yes, but I don’t want to. If your real worry is ear spacers and excessive body piercing, then you should concentrate your efforts on outlawing those things, and not in trying to set up hedges back up the line.”

I’m not sure where the confusion about those who are for same gendered monogamy lies, unless the love between same gendered people is reduced purely to the sex act—a move I’m not clear why anyone would make, since we don’t even do that with Brittany Spears or the Kardashians. LGBT people who want to get married want pretty much the same things everyone else wants—love, companionship, joy, somebody to clean your Depends when you’re too weak to do it for yourself. They want to raise families, celebrate old-fashioned Christmases, go to their kids’ t-ball games, and grow old together.

And a bunch of them want to go back to church. As odd as that might seem, many of them still want to see the face of God in the very the place that has told them (and nobody else, it should be noted) that their faces are not welcome—in many cases, not even human.

But they also want not to be bullied, fired, turned out of their apartments, or made to leave restaurants just because they happened to love someone with the same anatomical make up. They don’t want to be told over and over again that the way they were born is aberrant, or ill-formed, or mentally ill, or reprobate in ways different from everybody else.

You see the problem, though. These arguments aren’t compelling on their own. What makes them compelling is when you come to know and love people who are otherwise no different from you.

Disclaimer: This part is going to come off a little strong. And I’m not speaking directly to you, since I think you’re a wonderful and genuinely loving human being, and since I don’t know whether you have gay or lesbian friends—and by friends, I mean, people you hang around with, go to the pool or play basketball with … that is, people you love.

This is the problem I have with the generalization of the “love the sinner and hate the sin” argument abstracted from real life: It’s an easy argument to make from afar. It’s easy to talk about loving someone in a notional sense, while still saying things that harm and belittle them—because you never have to sit across the table from them and explain why what you said (or didn’t say) isn’t really hateful, but loving and “for their own good.”

I would be much more inclined to take an interest in what the average person who “loves the sinner and hates the sin” said if that person were taking opportunities to spend time actually loving the sinner—in the here and now, after picking up the groceries, and putting the kids to bed. If the only love we ever show another is telling them why they’re wrong, we have misunderstood love. (I heartily believe telling someone they’re wrong can be the most loving thing to do. But if that’s the only time they hear from us, we’ve seriously “underserved the population.”)

Coincidentally, the reason I think younger generations are increasingly convinced the LGBT thing as an issue is so uninteresting is because they know and love LGBT people, all kinds of them—people they go to school with, people who are parents of their friends, people who’ve come out to their families, people who don’t stand for the collapse of society, but who just seem normal and everyday to them. Young people don’t see these folks as threats, but merely as people struggling to get through life with a bit of love and a shred of dignity still intact.

I suppose that’s enough for now. I hope that, while perhaps not entirely persuasive, that gives you a sense of not only where we differ but why.

I must say, I really do appreciate you taking the time to ask these important questions. I hope my writing voice doesn’t come off to you as an entirely self-satisfied smartass. I don’t mean it that way to you—it’s kind of a force of rhetorical habit. I really do respect what you believe about this stuff—which is, as you know, pretty much the stuff I grew up believing too.

However, I really don’t want our differences on this issue to jeopardize our relationship, and from my standpoint, they need not.

At any rate, I love you and I look forward to continuing our conversation.

I love you.

Derek