It’s now been 12 days since the horrific shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando that saw 50 people killed and over 50 more injured. We did not publish anything on this event last week out of respect for the victims and because in the aftermath of such horror, silence is often the wisest response initially. That said, we’re now beginning to talk about it. We began with a post by Bernard Howard on gun control. Today we’re continuing with a reflection on the evangelical response to the shooting.

Can we mourn together? Do we even want to?

In a piece written shortly after the event, Russell Moore of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission asked if it is still possible for Americans to mourn a tragedy together without being driven apart by political disagreement. Writer Zack Ford had an answer for Moore:

Moore is right, of course, that tragedies like the Orlando shooting are reasons for everybody across the planet to grieve and to try to reconcile how such evil can even exist in humanity. He is wrong, however, to assume that everybody would want to grieve together. Just like the sensational violence ISIS uses doesn’t excuse other forms of oppression, this one violent incident was not severe enough to ignore or somehow reconcile other ongoing abuses. Why should he be trusted to provide comfort to the gay community when he has a reputation for doing just the opposite?

So began a predictable round of responses that all more-or-less took the same basic approach: Anything less than full affirmation of homosexuality contributes to the creation of an unsafe public space for LGBT individuals, such that those who affirm traditional Christian teachings on sex are complicit in the crimes of Omar Mateen.

Ford was one of the first to make the point, but he was not the last to do so:

Julie Rodgers:

It’s no surprise, then, that subtle disdain for L.G.B.T. people would eventually be expressed more overtly. In the case of the shooting at Pulse in Orlando, it was devastating. The Christians I know were grieved by the massacre and they want to know how to help. The best thing they can do is repent for the ways they’ve helped create a culture that devalues L.G.B.T. people made in the image of God, and then begin to tell a better story about us in their circles. If everyone grew up hearing that God delights in gay people and we have gifts to nourish our communities, I do not think we would be targeted for violence or discrimination.

David Gushee:

Still, sadly, it is always possible to find a few awful fundamentalists on social media saying that “gays deserve what they get.” A typical evangelical in the United States today has moved to a rejection of such hate speech or of any violence toward L.G.B.T. people, but not to a place of acceptance of gay marriages, or of L.G.B.T. people in religious leadership. Hateful statements obviously create a threatening environment for L.G.B.T. people, but even polite half-acceptance leaves L.G.B.T. people in a demeaning second-class position.

Paul Brandeis Raushenbush:

Over the last 48 hours I’ve come to know that I am fully and finally done accommodating religious hatred towards queer lives — whether from foaming mouthed extremists from any religious tradition, or polite, “respectable” religious denominations with which I most closely identify.
I’m done. It’s over.

How utterly pathetic that it took 49 lives slaughtered for me to pack up my “thank you for your point of view on why queer lives are not fully human” table and close shop.

For too long I have tolerated “Setting a big tent” and “Allowing many points of view” and “Dialogue” when talking about LGBT people as if our lives are up for debate and as if the jury is still out on our humanity, our dignity, or our being made beautifully in God’s image.

Finally, and most notably, the NYT editorial board:

It’s hard to say how many politicians take these positions as a matter of principle and how many do so because it has proved to be an effective way in the past to raise money and turn out the vote. As the funerals are held for those who perished on Sunday, lawmakers who have actively championed discriminatory laws and policies, and those who have quietly enabled them with votes, should force themselves to read the obituaries and look at the photos. The 49 people killed in Orlando were victims of a terrorist attack. But they also need to be remembered as casualties of a society where hate has deep roots.

For LGBT individuals this response is understandable.

In one sense, it is easy to sympathize with Ford and company. Given the failure of given forms of identity—family, place, trade, religion, nationality—it is natural that something like sexuality would come to be seen as the sine qua non of a person’s identity. If, to borrow from Hauerwas, I have no story except the story I chose when I had no story, then it’s no surprise at all that sexuality would play a major role in our identities.

So much of modern life screams out at us that we are alienated, isolated selves. In contrast, sex reminds us that we are not alone. It reminds us that our purpose as human beings is found in the giving of one’s self to the other. Sex, by design we should note, is inevitably a rejection of individualism. So it’s no surprise that it would also come to play the role it has in how many people understand who they are. For many it bonds us to another human being more reliably and certainly than biological family, place, or anything else.

We’ve covered this point before—the breakdown of local community and the traditional home economy made all that we’re seeing today far more likely, if not inevitable. (Indeed, you could, if you wished to be a bit cheeky, argue that the shattering of the domestic economy in favor of a post-industrial economy created a kind of “same-sex” marriage long before the Obergefell decision.) If we do grant such a significant role to one’s sexuality, then it’s not surprising that moral judgment of same-sex behavior would be received with such hostility. What Christians see as a limited condemnation of a discrete, narrowly defined set of behaviors is, to LGBT individuals, a far more pervasive, wide-reaching judgment on their existence as a human person.

Put another way, the argument here cannot simply be over questions of religious liberty or the licitness of same-sex acts. It has to be over the most basic questions of human identity and Christians must have a credible answer to this question, which almost certainly means we need an answer that critiques far more than just our sex ethics, but the modern west, and the industrial and post-industrial economy especially, in fairly radical ways.

The way forward for evangelicals is to actually do the hard work of reimagining the political and home economies. It is, to borrow language from Rome, to do the work of creating cultures of life to stand against the dominant culture of death that shapes and defines so much of the modern west. (To be clear, a true culture of life will not simply be good for Christians. We’re not talking about trying to recreate mid 20th century America in which we still had a de facto Christian culture but our economy was already radically set against the family and the poor. A true culture of life will be good for everyone.)

Evangelicals are mostly craven and don’t understand rhetoric.

One of the most common responses I have seen from younger evangelicals is an attempt to apologize for evangelicalism’s often messy and distressing past with LGBT people in the United States. While this approach is certainly sincere and well-intentioned, it is also enormously unhelpful.

Here is Sammy Rhodes:

In the wake of the Orlando shooting (which doesn’t feel like a strong enough word), amidst the shock and grief of how broken the world can be, one thought particularly convicted me. Honestly it was a tweet from author and lesbian Támara Lunardo: “Straight friends, especially you Christians, please know: We hear your silence so loud.”

I’ve been part of that silence. I’ve (often) cared more about my theology appearing “correct” and orthodox than I have about loving millions of LGBTQ brothers and sisters.

This is my attempt at an apology. I’m speaking mainly for myself, although I hope I’m not alone.

Please forgive us that it took Orlando to open our eyes to the pain we’ve caused by our silence and indifference. Our eyes should have been opened so much sooner.

Please forgive us for not standing with you against the evil of hate. As if somehow you deserved that hate.

Please forgive us for not supporting you in the face of injustice and inequality, not just as fellow Americans, but as fellow image bearers of God. We’ve worshipped our own comfort and rightness more than we’ve loved you.

Here is Joshua Rogers at Focus on the Family:

As the church, we could do so much better. We could offer a spiritual family that’s defined by radical hospitality to the LGBT community, one that acknowledges people’s sexual desires but isn’t fixated on them. It’s a place where we embrace first and then embrace some more and then step back and say, “Welcome home.” As John Perkins says in the film series, “For the Life of the World,” “You don’t give dignity to people; you affirm it. Hospitality is saying, ‘You’re significant. I honor you. I love you. You are under my roof.’”

That’s the kind of invitation the church has to extend to the LGBT community before we’re going to have any meaningful impact in it. But it’s going to require a level of empathy, curiosity, and vulnerability that won’t come naturally to churches that are committed to a defensive posture.

Finally, here is Michelle Higgins:

Did evangelicals hesitate to mourn the loss of life and health when terrorists struck a marathon in Boston? Did we feel the need to offer theological caveats before mourning the victims at an AME church? Then why do we hesitate to acknowledge that the attack at Pulse in Orlando was fueled by bigotry? Why make note of the things we disagree with before we allow ourselves to lament?

Our Queer families see us when we are absent. They hear us when we are silent.

Perhaps we evangelicals are silent – some refusal to acknowledge the whole identities of LGBTQ+ people – because we are bigoted terrorists too.
Our propaganda: circulating a petition to boycott Target. Our victims: image-bearers whose souls conditions are neither revealed to or controlled by us. We live as if faith gives us the right to direct people’s bodies.  This is not faith-filled living. It is oppression.
And much like the realization breaking upon us in the current political climate: this is not evangelicalism. At all.

If you’ve observed evangelicalism for much time at all, these responses won’t come as a total shock. They are theatrical and manipulative, two adjectives that describe any number of evangelical practices in the past 25 years, not least our approaches to public worship, cultural renewal, and evangelism. Put another way, for many of us the only way we have been taught to be public Christians is by being theatrical and manipulative. (It’s worth noting in passing that this same tendency to embrace the theatrical and pursue a place of status with one’s neighbors is at the root of much of the evangelical support for Trump coming from an older generation of evangelicals. As Matt said seven years ago, the new boss looks a whole lot like the old boss.)

These apologies won’t accomplish anything.

Of course, what is so depressing and laughable about these pieces is how ineffective they actually are. To folks like Ford and Rodgers, these posts will come off as dishonest and manipulative given that none of the writers reject traditional Christian teachings on sex ethics. They say a great deal about how unfriendly and unwelcoming other evangelicals are toward LGBT individuals, and yet they nowhere address the fact that their own views are equally unfriendly and unwelcoming in the eyes of many LGBT individuals. Ford and co. are not interested in apologies or acts of corporate repentance for our unkind treatment of LGBT people.

The critique Ford and Rodgers make of traditionalists is not about our lack of personal warmth toward LGBT individuals. It is about the content of our theology. Rhodes and the others, therefore, have placed themselves in an impossible position. On the one hand, they are trying to establish themselves as being different than those Christians. On the other, they’re not actually disagreeing with the folks they criticize on any substantive theological level that matters to individuals like Ford or Rodgers.

And so they are in the impossible position that many millennial evangelicals are increasingly finding themselves in: Their instincts toward niceness, desire to be liked by their non-Christian neighbors, and sincere wish to do good by apologizing for (often real) failings of evangelicalism have left them completely at sea in our new political order. In this regime, people no longer care that much about being kind or tolerant of one another and are far more interested in uniformity on what those outside the church perceive to be an issue of basic human rights. And if you will not get in line, it does not matter how kind you are; you are part of the problem. Worse still, what naive evangelicals see as being winsome, those outside the church will increasingly perceive as being dishonest and manipulative.

To be sure, we ought to mourn and express our deep sadness at the tragic events in Orlando. Taken most charitably, that is what Rhodes, Rogers, and Higgins are trying to do. But here’s the thing: Evangelicals are already responding appropriately to the shooting. We don’t need over-animated apologies that end up saying far more than they ought to. In the 12 days since the shooting, I’m still waiting to see a respectable evangelical leader say something insensitive and stupid about the shooting. (If you mention Pat Robertson or anyone that has agreed to be on Trump’s advisory committee in the comments, I will refer you to the word “respectable.”)

Indeed, the only prominent, respectable Christian individuals that I’ve seen publishing insensitive, tone-deaf pieces after Orlando are Catholic writers at First Things. The evangelicals, in contrast, have been gentle with their words, encouraged people to mourn, and offered positive ideas for how Christians can help their communities, most notably by giving blood. (To see a sample of evangelical responses, read the Storify post I put together of social media responses to the shooting from prominent evangelicals.)

If the responses from those leaders are anything to go on, we don’t need the theatrical rhetoric of Rhodes or Higgins to tell us how we ought to relate to LGBT people—we’re already doing that. Certainly there is room for improvement here, but the very fact of the responses linked above suggests that our leadership is willing to do that—and they’re willing to do it without needing to indulge in the rhetorical excess that defines the posts from Rhodes, Rogers, and Higgins. Of course, the fact that we have responded so well to the events and Gushee, Rodgers, and Ford still are taking the position they are should tell us all that we need to know.

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Posted by Jake Meador

Jake Meador is the editor-in-chief of Mere Orthodoxy. He is a 2010 graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where he studied English and History. He lives in Lincoln, NE with his wife Joie, their daughter Davy Joy, and sons Wendell, Austin, and Ambrose. Jake's writing has appeared in Commonweal, Christianity Today, Fare Forward, the University Bookman, Books & Culture, First Things, National Review, Front Porch Republic, and The Run of Play and he has written or contributed to several books, including "In Search of the Common Good," "What Are Christians For?" (both with InterVarsity Press), "A Protestant Christendom?" (with Davenant Press), and "Telling the Stories Right" (with the Front Porch Republic Press).


  1. Thanks for the article. I’ve been frustrated by all the assertions that any condemnation of violence, any kind act, is actually just hatred if it doesn’t affirm LGBT sexuality as right and good. I sort of understand it. But it makes talking to people hard.


  2. At the risk of sounding bitter, I think people outside of evangelicalism often expect an acceptance from the community that we don’t even offer each other. Disagreements over sovereignty, eschatology, and many other topics seem to quickly devolve into which view is “really” Christian. A fellow Christian will be the first one to act as one of Job’s friends when you encounter tragedy or disappointment. Should a broad acceptance of LBGT identity occur in the evangelical world, they will quickly discover that it does not extend to most areas outside of their sexual behavior or gender issues.


    1. Sadly, this is often too true. I was recently having lunch with the only other evangelical Christian in my practice group. We noted that we would much sooner trust our secular work colleagues than the people at church.


      1. Bonhoeffer is quoted in Adam McHugh’s recent book in listening as saying essentially the same thing.


  3. Perhaps it’s a bit of a digression, but I’m concerned about two diverging narratives of what happened in Orlando.

    The narrative that is solidifying in the public eye is that Omar Mateen committed an act of terrorism. If one were to only consider Mateen’s Facebook posts and phone calls to the authorities claiming allegiance to Islamic terrorism during his horrifying attack, then I can see why this mass shooting is being treated as an act of domestic terrorism. However, the FBI failed to show that such links were real when they previously investigated him. And I suspect, based on the available information, that Mateen’s terroristic motives were mixed or questionable, perhaps even desperate and contrived for reasons of public image.

    The other narrative I’ve been seeing in the news reports is one of extreme gay-on-gay violence. Mateen’s ex-wife and college acquaintances all indicated that they believed Omar to be gay, that he romantically approached male college friends, that he frequented the Pulse night club and others, and that he used a gay dating app. I suppose one could explain all of that as meticulous elaborate long-term conspiratorial reconnaissance. However, there are also the reports of men who claimed to have been sexually involved with Omar, and that he was spurned and rejected by individuals in that community resulting in his quest for vengeance.

    At the same time, Mateen is reported to have come from a home that was both fundamentalist and violent. Seeing the pictures of Omar taking whimsical selfies in the bathroom mirror makes me think the young man didn’t exactly fail to assimilate into a secularized Western lifestyle from his parents’ ethnic Afghani roots. So, I’m wondering if this is a case of a belligerent young man with a deep inner conflict between his religious and familial loyalties and his sexual desires. His ex-wife even noted how Omar’s dad had mocked him as ‘gay’ in the past. Resolving a deep incongruity between sexual desires and religious and familial values is never pretty, especially if they’re perceived to be competing identities.

    I certainly feel horrible about what happened to the victims in Orlando. And I feel sad for Omar Mateen too in light of this. I’m also sad for his widow and their three-year-old son. He was apparently so torn inside that he thought he had to do something this horrifyingly extreme to prove something to everyone, especially to himself.

    Or perhaps I’ve substantially misread the situation.

    If anything, I guess the pieces are all floating around in his Wikipedia article to try to understand.

    I think there’s something to learn in the second narrative regarding pastoral care and personal ministry to profound inner conflict that is ugly, complicated, and apparently the truth of the situation.


  4. A most excellent & timely article. I will take the words of one of the commentators and project it forward to what is most important for the LGBT community and many other Democratic constituents to say to all of the USA:
    Please forgive us that it took “FUTURE NUCLEAR DISASTER” to open our eyes to the pain we’ve caused by VOTING FOR DEMOCRATS. Our eyes should have been opened so much sooner.
    Please forgive us for not standing with you against the evil of OBAMA COVERED-OVER ISLAMIC hate. As if somehow you deserved that hate.


    1. Sadly, such godless, low-brow discourse is what predominates today among many evangelicals. You illustrate perfectly why people are often justified in passing judgment on Christians.


      1. Your name calling is sad. I assume you are not accustomed to hearing from a Masters in Christian Apologetics who is also chemical engineering consultant.

        For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. (2 Tim. 4:3-4 NKJ)


        1. I didn’t realize that degrees could make utterances. That said, I have a Ph.D. in physics and a J.D., if we’re going to start counting degrees. Bye Felicia.


  5. I hear what you’re saying. But I think there’s a certain degree of duplicity in the way mainstream evangelicals handle LGBTQ issues. Indeed, there are many evangelicals who are happy to engage with LGBTQ people in nuanced ways, so long as such engagement occurs in private and away from the watchful eye. I know countless pastors and elders in my former communion (PCA) who have severe misgivings about the denomination’s official stance–a stance that was crafted in the heat of the 1990s-era culture wars and reads like it. After all, it calls for Christians to seek the removal of LGBTQ people from all positions of influence, particularly positions in education. I suspect that no more than about 30% of PCA folks today would support that position. Yet there is no effort to amend the denomination’s official position. Moreover, a pastor in the PCA’s sister denomination, the OPC, recently held a rally in Iowa calling for the state-sanctioned execution of LGBTQ people. When some churches in the CRC started ordaining women elders, folks in the PCA freaked out. But there was no response to Kevin Swanson’s comments from any prominent leader in the PCA. And what about the Family Research Council’s continued–and false–insistence that LGBTQ people are more likely to be pedophiles? Again, there is no response by any leader in the PCA.

    If evangelicals want to gain the respect they want from the LGBTQ community, its leaders are going to have to take stands that actually matter–stands that may actually cost them something. Taking public stands with the LGBTQ community following the Orlando shooting, where the costs of doing so are low, smacks of a kind of craven gratuitousness. That is, unless such leaders had taken stands on behalf of the LGBTQ community when doing so carries the risk of loss. And there are few evangelical leaders who are willing to do that publicly. We have often been too slow to judge those whom we perceive as co-belligerants in the Culture Wars.

    Further, evangelicals still seem to have a very 1990-esque view of what people mean when they say they are “gay.” These days, it often means no more than that people want to opt out of the social expectations of “heterosexuality,” not that they necessarily desire sex with someone of the same sex. I once identified as gay, but have come to settle on queer or heteroflexible. I can’t recall that I’ve ever had a desire to have sex with a guy. I merely identify that way because I prefer to relate to women in ways that don’t conform to the culture’s prevailing heteronormative expectations. But the church was wholly unhelpful in assisting me in making that journey. Ironically, it was through working with a secular psychologist, who is an atheist, that I actually came to see the merits of a more traditional sexual ethic, even while concomitantly rejecting heteronormativity.

    Evangelical engagement with the LGBTQ community could use a retooling of the way that we think about sex and marriage. Evangelical notions of sex and marriage are largely influenced by Freudian social theorists (familialism). Many who identify as “gay” do so because they want to opt out of the oppressive social expectations of familialism. In that sense, evangelicals ought to be able to find common cause with many who are coming out of the closet. Of course, that means making an express disavowal of our godless idolization of “family values.” That won’t be easy, given that married couples with school-aged children are the main target demographic of most evangelical churches. Even the PCA’s church-planting strategy is focused on developing a core group of families with school-aged children.

    I’m not suggesting that evangelicals embrace everything that passes for gay culture. Nor are its critics. But there is a lot that evangelicals can–and should–be doing that would go a long way toward healing the rift with the LGBTQ community. Evangelicals could start by taking stands that matter, namely, stands that actually stand to cost them something in the eyes of certain factions of evangelicalism. But if we live like Jesus cares more about church politics than the truth, we deserve the judgment we receive from the outside world.


    1. “Many who identify as “gay” do so because they want to opt out of the oppressive social expectations of familialism”

      I have to disagree here, Bob. The Gay Rights Movement culminates with Marriage Equality. There are other political goals within the LGBT rights movement, and there is certainly intersection with other minority rights, but marriage is the primary apex of the movement. Many LGBT families I know of are married with children, including myself. The plaintiffs in the marriage equality cases were in families. Marriage, especially Christian marriage, is a statement of belonging in creation as God intends as is being single and/or asexual. The LGBT Christian theological argument for queer rights and SSM is simple: we are made queer by God to be queer as God intends. We’ve known for 3+ millennia that God only makes good things, therefore any statement against SSM as unnatural or disordered is a statement of God being unnatural or disordered. That’s simply logically and theologically impossible. Evangelical retooling need not reject their sexual ethics in general (monogamous lifelong marriage) but rather simply realize that their view of what fits within Christian sexual ethics was narrow and obtuse in rejecting queer people, and the reality is queer people and sexual minorities have always had a place in God’s creation. We’ve never wished to “opt out”, that defeats the entire point of LGBT equality.


      1. So, basically the LGBT theological argument for queer rights is that God is a colossal screw up. He purposefully makes people to have sexual relations with people they are physically incompatible with sexually. This might just be the single worst argument of all time.

        Im sorry, I will own I am struggling being nice about these things. I wish you no ill will at all, but the things you say are really stupid. I think you should know better. I think you are rationalizing and grasping at straws.


        1. Gay people are not “sexually incompatible” with chosen partners of the same sex. If that were true there would not be gay people. If you mean that gay people cannot procreate, you are right. However, the same can be said of straight couples. Creation is the dominion of God alone. Humans were given the Earth for dominion, and biological procreation is a special and meaningful relationship, but it is to be considered a blessing. I mean no ill will at all, but you need to know that we are not little gods, and any suggestion otherwise is idolatry.


          1. Two people of the same sex quite literally cannot have sex together. So, the argument that God made some people to have sex with people they cannot actually have sex with is nonsensical. Even more so when those people are physically capable of having sex with people that God did not make them to have sex with under any circumstances. At least, by your theory.

            Also, two people of the same sex can stimulate each other sexually, just like a person can do all on their own, or multiple people all at the same time. But, to call that sexual compatibility is just odd because you would have to accept people are sexually compatible with themselves all alone.

            Above all, your argument is a poor one because it is based on a misconception of the nature of God. Your argument hinges on God either being imperfect or being malicious.

          2. Your argument hinges on a sad, narrow view of what sex is. How silly.

          3. It’s the original definition. It is still the legal definition in most Western countries.

            True – most people today would be baffled by DR84’s statement “Two people of the same sex quite literally cannot have sex together” but that’s only because the popular meaning of the term “sex” has changed in the last two or three generations. Marriage equality depends on these shifting definitions (with gay people merely taking advantage of new meanings that have been adopted by the 98% straight majority)

          4. You seem to be referring to procreative sex. But even social conservatives have long since jettisoned the notion that there should be any connection between sex and procreation. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have millions of 50- and 60-year old men doping up on Viagra and Cialis to offset the natural diminution of their sexual desire (i.e., male menopause). Moreover, plenty of socially conservative books on sex (see, e.g., Mark Driscoll’s book) encourage all manner of sexual activity between spouses that would have fallen under the definition of sodomy just two generations ago. You seem to be fighting a battle that even your fellow social conservatives gave up on 50 years ago.

          5. Nope to what? Yes, you are fighting a battle that social conservatives conceded a very long time ago. See Abigail Rine’s First things piece, entitled “What Is Marriage to Evangelical Millennials?” The “sex romp” view of marriage that evangelicals widely promote undercuts any suggestion that there’s a necessary connection between sex and procreation.

          6. The connection between sex and procreation is biologically fixed. In fact, it is impossible to even fully understand sex apart from procreation. How some people feel is not relevant here.

          7. It’s good to know where you stand. I’d guess that more than 90% of the American population–including most opponents of same-sex marriage–would disagree with you on that. Our culture has long since come to accept the merits of recreational sex.

          8. Please read my comment again, I said nothing about recreational sex. I would like to think that at least 90% of Americans know that sex leads to pregnancy. Not that it matters, it is a biological fact that it leads to pregnancy no matter how many people know it. Same is true regardless of how many people have sex and try to not get pregnant in the process. Funny thing, if they are taking steps to try prevent a pregnancy from occurring, that strongly indicates they understand that sex and procreation are biologically fixed. They dont believe babies come from storks.

          9. It can lead to pregnancy. But the principal reason for which most people engage in sexual activity–including fellatio and anal–is for pleasure. See, e.g., evangelical pastor Mark Driscoll’s book on sex. Surely if there’s nothing wrong with an opposite-sex couple engaging in anal sex, it seems arbitrary to say that there’s something wrong with a same-sex couple doing the same. The only difference is that the penetrated party in the latter is a male. So, the only relevant question is whether Scripture forbids males from being penetrated.

          10. The motivation any individual has for engaging in sex is not relevant. Why do you keep bringing it up?

          11. Because you’re the one who keeps saying that the motivation for “sex” is procreative intent. Doh.

            I’ll bow out now. It’s been an interesting discourse. I’ve long believed that those who oppose same-sex marriage do so for reasons that are largely lacking in any rational foundation. You’ve convinced me that I was right. When the best you’ve got is casuistry around the definition of “sex” and “marriage,” you guys come off as mightily desperate.

          12. There is something wrong with an opposite-sex couple engaging in anal sex – or, at least, that’s what most Christians believed until fairly recently (it was decriminalized in the UK in 2003!). The fact that a pastor like Mark Driscoll (who I generally like) is an advocate of it just shows how ‘unChristian’ the evangelical sexual ethic is these days

          13. Think this through…is oral sex not premarital sex? Is forced anal penetration not rape? The “what is marriage” argument didn’t work for preventing marriage equality, so why are you now trying a “what is sex” argument? This makes no sense.

          14. Exactly. The restrictive definition of marriage around procreation must rise and fall with a restrictive view of sex around procreation. If all manner of non-procreative sex between consenting adults within a marriage is ethical for Christians, then it’s hard to see why marriage needs to be limited to relationships where the potential for procreation exists.

            Joe has a point, however. If we continued to forbid opposite-sex couples from engaging in recreational sex and other activities that induce sexual pleasure, then we may have a sound basis for limiting marriage to those relationships where the couple has a specific intent to procreate. But, my goodness, that train left the station many generations ago.

          15. The procreative sex argument was the main basis for argument against same sex marriage, and you’re right, it would be compelling if it was actually consistent. But the issue with the procreative sex argument isn’t a cultural one, it’s a biblical and biological one. I’ve never read in the bible where sex must be open to procreation. Heck, the Song of Songs never mentioned procreation, but definitely mentioned sex. And humans are naturally infertile for most of their lives, which is perfectly healthy and normal. If a couple marries in their 20s and dies in their 80s they will only be able to procreate for around 1/3 of their marriage assuming they have no fertility issues. However, that same couple could be sexual for all of their marriage. The only purpose for sex that can be had every time a couple has sex for their entire lives together is for bonding, and most people understand that intuitively. Sex for procreation is very meaningful, don’t get me wrong, but considering the normal limitations of sexual procreation it’s difficult for me to understand the assertion that the primary goal of sex is procreation. Procreation is a purpose of sex, but it’s a secondary purpose with the primary purpose being for bonding.

          16. It actually does not matter whether the primary purpose is bonding or procreation, both, or neither. The simple, plain reality is that a man and woman can unite sexually and two men nor two women cannot. That is a biological fact.

            What you are trying to call sex is just sexual stimulation, a person can stimulate themselves sexually. They do not need anyone else.

            It gets worse for you as well, if you want to eject actual sex from marriage, you cannot demand that “marriages” must involve sexual stimulation. You have to eject it all, and once you have done that, any relationship can be a marriage. Like it or not, a man can “marry” his father and a brother can “marry” his sister. There is no reason to think that because they “married” their relationship involves any sex or sexual expression.

            So, in short, logically we are stuck, we can either say marriage must involve real sex…the kind of sex that by nature produces new life…or sex and sexual expression is entirely and completely optional. It has nothing at all to do with marriage.

            Which means *it gets even worse*….with sex ejected from marriage entirely…out goes any tie between marriage and family. You now have absolutely no grounds at all to say that a married man *must* not have and raise children with another woman. Even the woman he is married to has literally no room to complain if he has sex with another woman and children with that woman. Same; obviously, goes the other way, a husband has no claim on his wife’s body. She is free to sleep with and have children with any man she wants. In short, everyone becomes an eligible bachelor, married or not.

          17. First, we don’t require a couple to have sex to stay married. That idea is frankly ridiculous. That being said, I understand that the marital relationship is understood to be a sexual relationship. I’m just not so concrete, and understand that certain life situations may prevent certain types of sex (accidents leading to paralyzation), yet that couple can still be married with a sex life even if they cannot have certain kinds of sex.

            Ugh! Not the whole incest/polygamy line! The issue with incest is not just the sex between relatives, but rather the exploitation that occurs in incestuous relationships. Incest was practiced as a way to maintain property and wealth, which is why it was so often practiced between royalty and wealthy people. Often times relatives arranged marriages to promote their own wealth. Not to mention the very real issue with genetic disorders due to consanguinity; public policy trying to limit such issues are sound. Incest and polygamy were/are institutions of exploitation, not a natural result of misguided sexual ethics.

          18. Please read my comment again. I did not mention incest nor marriages where the sex stops happening. I did mention relationships in which there never has been and never will be any sex or sexual expression.

          19. Marriage between family members is still wrong no matter if the marriage is sexual or not because the marriage is exploitive. That’s my point

          20. What makes it exploitative?

          21. Read my previous comment. I explained

          22. You and Hoosier both misunderstand. Certainly you would agree that it is possible for siblings to have non-exploitative relationships. Why cant these non exploitative siblings relationships not be marriages in your view?

          23. I concede that it’s theoretically possible. Of course, their legal status as siblings obviates the need for them to enter a civil marriage; they already enjoy most of the legal benefits that civil marriage affords. Even so, our human experience has generally shown us that few such relationships avoid falling into a pattern where one sibling is exploiting the other. Not to mention, in places where such practices are permissible, you’ll start to see older brothers (generally) grooming one or more younger sisters as potential sexual partners. In short, our human experience with this social institution is almost universally negative.

            The same is not true of our experience with same-sex committed relationships. By my observation, our human experience with this institution is largely positive, or at least as positive as our experience with its opposite-sex counterpart. Yes, it would have a disruptive effect if large swaths of people began opting for same-sex partnerships over opposite-sex partnerships. But I don’t see that happening. Denmark has had some form of marriage equality since 1989, but same-sex marriages make up only about 1.3% of all marriages there. So, the cost to society is very low, while the benefit to the same-sex couple (and their children) is huge.

          24. By my observation, the human experience of relationships between siblings is largely positive. So, we should start recognizing them as “marriages” so that they can have all of the benefits of “marriage”. Does that argument convince you?

            There are some instances of exploitative relationships between gay partners. We should not recognize relationships that involve homosexuality as “marriages” and we should deny all the benefits of “marriage” to homosexual relationships because some are exploitative and we dont want to encourage more exploitative relationships. Again, does that argument convince you?

            You really need to get it out of your head entirely that marriage has anything to do with sex and sexual expression if you want to believe two men can actually “marry” each other. You need to accept that siblings can “marry” each other just like homosexual partners can, and that this is just as “positive” for them and society. Alternatively, you can accept that your position is really stupid and stop believing a man can actually marry another man. You might as well believe the moon is made of cheese.

          25. Thanks for the reply. Whether you intended it or not, you’ve actually demonstrated how ridiculous the arguments against civil same-sex marriage are. That’s why the culture has come to accept that there is no rational basis for opposing civil same-sex marriage.

          26. How is it irrational to be opposed to non-marital relationships being legally recognized as if they were marriages?

          27. What have I been evading? We’re discussing civil marriage, a collection of default legal rules for determining the legal relationships between two people and their property and any legal dependents. Civil marriage is defined by the laws of the state. It is whatever the state says it is. The Puritans even acknowledged that, having barred their ministers from performing marriage ceremonies, so as to make it clear that it is a purely civil institution whose contours are to be governed by pragmatic considerations.

            In my view, the OT eschatological significance of marriage was fulfilled in Christ, thereby rendering it an entirely pragmatic institution governed by principles like cost-benefit analysis.

          28. So “civil marriage” is not marriage and has no connection to marriage, and has never had any connection to marriage.

            I think that is a tough sell in light of the fact it has been a near universal requirement that the couple seeking the marriage license have a marriage ceremony and expectation they live as a married couple.

            So, what would you say makes a couple married, their marital commitment to each other or their possession of a state issued “marriage license”?

          29. Honestly, if that has to be explained to you, I’m at a loss for words. If you look at cultures around the world that permit incest and polygamy, the resulting relationships–whether they are sexual or not–are almost always exploitative of one of the two parties, usually the woman.

          30. “Procreation is a purpose of sex, but it’s a secondary purpose with the primary purpose being for bonding.”

            Well, that’s what our culture tells us, at least. Sex doesn’t have that effect on me. I could probably go for years without sex, and it wouldn’t really bother me much.

          31. What is there to think through? I dont see you raising any actual contradictions being raised. The whole of one’s body belongs to their spouse, which entails the whole of their sexual expression. These acts you mention, I said they are not sex, I did not say they were not sexual, and they clearly involve the body.

            Now, the “what is marriage” argument did not stop anything because few people cared or even knew about it. The argument in and of itself is sound. In addition, the few who had a clue it existed probably did not understand that they were essentially arguing that so called same sex marriage is just an arbitrary stopping point.

          32. You’re being overly dismissive to both my position and the argument against the “what is marriage” position. Reducing marriage to procreation also eliminates a marriage option for those who cannot procreate (elderly, infertile), yet the “what is marriage” position does not see those marriages as problems as long as they were between straight people. Making the argument not about procreation at all, but really about preferred sex and sex roles. The argument cannibalizes itself.

          33. Same sex relationships are not infertile. This objection of yours doesn’t fly.

          34. The original meaning of ‘sex’ is what we now call vaginal intercourse. A marriage would be consummated by sex.

            My point is that when the word sex came to mean “any erotic activity” gays could adopt the language of marriage. Sex, marriage, rape and adultery used to have very specific meanings related to what only a man and a woman are physically capable of doing.

          35. My view corresponds to basic biological facts. It is not a sad, narrow view, it is the correct view.

      2. The concept of “marriage equality” didn’t exist before the late 1990s (and LGBT Christians jumped on that bandwagon very late in the day). At no point in the 1960/70/80s did the gay rights movement point to it.


          1. Interesting article/case but they weren’t representative of the era. I was involved with the gay activism of the 1980/90s and no gay person I met was interested in monogamous lifelong marriage. Maybe they wanted some of the rights associated with marriage – but not marriage itself.

          2. If only that had remained the case. Just some of the right associated with marriage would have been a much easier sell and would not create the mess we have now. It also could have been more fair as there could be cases where other people in non-marital relationships could benefit. Sometimes siblings live together, sometimes a mom and her mom raise her child together. Sometimes the person someone most wants at their bedside in a hospital is their best friend.

            Now that the court says the state’s have to call same sex relationships marriages, the new thing is that all citizens must also regard them as marriages (i.e. you must bake the cake), and after that…because nothing is good enough…no doubt religious holdouts will be made to regard same sex relationships as marriages (which I know is still in the “that will never happen” category, but who are we kidding).

          3. There was disagreement in the queer community on marriage equality, but the concept certainly existed. Most of those opposed thought it was too much too soon and feared the backlash, while a few others still held on to the 60s counter cultural “marriage is oppressive” belief. However, in the 1980s a lot of queer people suffered discrimination directly related to a lack of marriage rights such as: not being able to visit a HIV+ partner in the hospital, not having inheritance rights so if a parent died their assets didn’t transfer to their partner, and many queer people having children suffered greatly because both parents were not legal parents. This is all due to a lack of marriage equality. Domestic partnerships and/or civil unions were themselves problematic as Andrew Sullivan points out in his 1989 essay

            It seems to me that the lack of focus in the LGBT community in the 70s and 80s was not due to a lack of desire for marriage, but rather knowing that there was little hope on achieving that goal. Beside, as you must know there was a lot of work that needed to be done such as decriminalizing gay sex, anti-discrimination laws in employment, housing, ect. As soon as there was not overwhelming opposition to marriage equality the Freedom to Marry organization was formed, and this was no accident. I’m curious, do your gay friends now still have no interest in marriage?

          4. Quote: I’m curious, do your gay friends now still have no interest in marriage.

            Oh they do – but not marriage as it was understood 30+ years ago.

          5. How so? (Please don’t say “marriage was understood to be between male and female.” That’s too circular for this time of night)

          6. Romantic companionship. Together until they fall out of love again or “irreconcilable differences” creep on. Monogamy as an option not a constraint (at least for gay men). A greater emphasis on the wedding ceremony than the “meaning” of marriage. All borrowed from or developed alongside the same fundamental changes to straight marriages that happened within a secular ethical framework based on autonomy + consent. Nothing to do with the traditional Christian sexual ethic or being “made queer by God to be queer as God intends”

          7. This hasn’t been my experience, nor has it been objectively observed to be reality for the majority of SS couples:

          8. I’m speaking generally. The entire LGBT project is a product of the sexual revolution – a revolution rooted in a secular sexual ethic based on autonomy + consent. You, like me, probably grew up in an era where that ethical framework was taken for granted. I’m not suggesting that we return to values of the 19th century (it ain’t going to happen anytime soon). I joined this conversion to challenge your claim that there is anything Christian about the LGBT movement. Most people today (including Christians who have absorbed the lessons of the sexual revolution) only ‘superficially’ believe in monogamous lifelong marriage. It’s a lifestyle choice not a binding contract. Which is why I think the pope recently dared to claim that “The great majority of our sacramental marriages are null, Because they say ‘Yes, for the rest of my life!’ but they don’t know what they are saying. Because they have a different culture. They say it, they have good will, but they don’t know,”

      3. As Joe mentions, viewing marriage as the apex of the gay rights movement is rather recent. I have no objection to committed same-sex relationships. But I think there’s a danger in supposing that they represent a normative path for everyone who elects to opt out of heterosexuality.

        Also, I would object to your over-emphasis of biology at the expense of social factors. I agree that there are underlying biological factors that play a strong role in influencing our attractions. Even so, the social environment in which those factors play themselves out is as important. In fact, the biological is inseparable from the social. So, whether someone is “queer” or “straight” depends on the web of social expectations in which someone moves. I travel internationally for work. I dress and act the same wherever I go. I’m slim, wear custom-fit trim attire, and generally style my hair. In Chicago, where I now live, I attract little attention from women, while attracting plenty of attention from gay guys. But in London, Geneva, Zurich, Hong Kong, and Singapore, I have no difficulty attracting attention from women. And, oddly enough, I find that my attractions run in the same vein. In the US, I rarely meet women to whom I’m attracted. But outside of the US, I tend to find women, in general, to be more attractive.

        I think what I’ve realized is that I have a deep aversion to domesticity. I’m not looking for a partner with whom I can settle down and have kids. Rather, I want a partner with whom I can enjoy a weekend jaunt to Ibiza. Further, I’m looking for a strictly egalitarian relationship. Americans are more averse to that, even within the LGBTQ community. The gay couples I meet in Europe tend to relate to each other in much more egalitarian ways than gay couples in the US. There are exceptions, but that generally seems to be the case.

        In short, I’m simply saying that sexuality is incredibly complex, and that it doesn’t lend itself to the neat package that Freudian social theorists (and their evangelical prolocutors) or much the the American LGBTQ community suppose. Normal patters are likely to emerge spontaneously. But there is no reason why the normal must become normative.


        1. “But I think there’s a danger in supposing that they represent a normative path for everyone who elects to opt out of heterosexuality.”

          We have a fundamental difference here. I didn’t “opt out” of heterosexuality, just like heterosexuals don’t opt in to their sexuality. I’ve been gay all my life, and never had a choice in the matter. This has been very clear to me from early on. This seems profoundly different to your experience. I’m not reacting to how people see and relate to my presence, I’m simply being myself and living life in the way I think is best given my situation.

          I agree human sexuality is complex. However, it is considered a core human attribute and something we all have naturally be it hetero, homo, bi or asexual, and is very important to ourselves and how we relate to one another. That’s why marriage is so important to humans…it helps society understand who we are, who our families are, and how we relate to one another. That’s why we have marriage, and while I understand that my argument does make marriage normative, it’s not a statement of what should be for everyone. Would you wish to have a girlfriend you’ve known a few months and travelled with a couple of times to be considered your wife and inherit your assets if God-forbid your plane crashes over your children/parents/siblings, whoever is your nest of kin? If you were married it would be different, right? LGBTQ people should have the option if they wish to participate in marriage.

          I replied to Joe’s position which I don’t see as being an entirely accurate portrayal of the gay rights movement.


          1. I don’t deny that there’s a biological component. I just see it as a useless category, as it necessarily must express itself onto an ever-shifting social environment. The terms “heterosexual” and “homosexual” refer to certain social scripts, i.e., certain plausibility structures within the social environment. I accept that people can be wired in a way that makes certain social scripts more plausible than others for a particular individual. But because those social scripts can vary from culture to culture–both in terms of the breadth of a particular script and the availability of other alternative scripts–it’s hard to give any real credence to the dichotomous way in which Americans have come to view sexuality.

            So, yes, you may be wired biologically in a way that makes the prevailing “gay script” more plausible for you than the prevailing “straight script.” But these scripts aren’t fixed in stone. They’re largely the product of social construction. I’m suggesting that we’d be far better off if we accepted a broader range of social scripts, and thereby allowed people to choose social arrangements that, in their estimation, are most plausible for them. After all, any survey of human history suggests that the natural disposition of most people is some form of bisexuality. But, in our current social environment in the US, bisexuality gets shoved to the margins, as most bisexuals feel like some variant of the straight script if more plausible to them than the gay script.

            By saying that you’ve opted out of heterosexuality, I simply mean that you’ve determined that a script besides the predominant “straight script” is more plausible for you. Perhaps that script is a lot more plausible for you, so it feels deterministic. My point is probably better illustrated by someone, like me, who is bisexual/queer. I am attracted to males and females, although in different ways. But because forming a committed partnership involves committing to a person who is either male or female, I have to make some assessment of whether the straight script or the gay script is more plausible. I’ve tried both, and have come to view that the straight script is more plausible for me, at least in the main. So, I tend to date women, and supplement that with activities that allow for close male bonding. So, in a sense, I’ve opted into heterosexuality–as a social script–even while I’m conscious of the ways in which heteronormative formulations of heterosexuality differ from my experience.

            The distinction I’m making is between that of one’s orientation and the social script one elects to pursue in view of that orientation. Because orientation varies much more widely than the availability of plausible social scripts, at least within our culture, it’s rare that orientation necessitates a particular choice of social script, even if one may be more plausible than others. That said, this is probably a bigger deal to those of us who are bisexual.

          2. “But these scripts aren’t fixed in stone. They’re largely the product of social construction.”

            This makes no sense to me, why would anyone be homosexual or asexual if this were truly the case? Your “social construction” argument erases sexual orientation entirely, that’s a rather gnostic view in my opinion.

          3. I’m not sure that I’m erasing it. I’m just saying that it operates on a complex continuum across multiple dimensions. As such, I’m doubtful of any suggestion that one’s sexual orientation necessitates any particular social identity. Given one’s sexual orientation, certain social identities may be more plausible than others. But that’s a far cry from saying that one’s sexual orientation is essential to a particular social identity.

            I’m not sure why this strikes you as novel. That’s largely the whole point of queer theory and third-wave feminism. I recognize that notions of orientation essentialism provided a useful fib in helping to analogize sexual orientation to race. But, now that we’ve crossed that bridge, I think it’s time to be a bit more honest in our discussions of these issues.

            I think this also explains why many countries have seen a diminution in same-sex partnering following its legalization. The social acceptance of same-sex partnering effects a concomitant loosening of heteronormativity’s hegemonic grip on the culture. This opens up greater opportunities for opposite-sex partnering that don’t fit heteronormative patterns. This means that a certain number of bisexual people, who might previously have leaned in the direction of a same-sex relationship, may now find it easier to find an opposite-sex mate.

            I’m not trying to convince you that you made a wrong decision. If you believe that that was the most plausible choice for you in view of your sexual orientation and the social environment in which you’re living, then I have no objection to that. Honestly, if I had my way, we’d jettison marriage laws altogether, and leave everything to principles of contract law.

          4. Heteronormativity is a good thing. It is good that humans are male and female, and men are made for women and women made for men. It is good that each of us is the product of a man and woman.

          5. Heteronormativity doesn’t necessarily flow from those premises. Heteronormativity refers to a much more narrow concept, i.e., that the Freudian concept of heterosexuality should be normative, and that those who dissent from it should be punished and/or socially ostracized. It’s an effort to take familialism’s notion of the “nuclear family” and make it normative.

            Sure, males and females complement each other, and male-female pairing is common in most cultures around the world. But those facts alone don’t necessitate heteronormativity.

            That said, heteronormativity is central to modern evangelical theology, i.e., a focus on the nuclear family at the expense of the church, a focus on structured, hierarchical power relations between males and females, and a focus on particularized social scripts for how males should be men and females should be women (biblical manhood and womanhood). None of this is biblical. It’s all taken directly from conservative Freudian social theorists whose ideas were popularized by the medical profession in the 1940s and 1950s. In many ways, it’s probably fair to view modern evangelicalism as a Freudian reconstrual of Christian orthodoxy.

          6. “Given one’s sexual orientation, certain social identities may be more plausible than others. But that’s a far cry from saying that one’s sexual orientation is essential to a particular social identity.”

            The only mention of “essential social identities” or “scripts” has been from you, Bob. Queer people are not a monolith, that’s certainly understood. However, to find oneself outside what is typical and then come to the conclusion that they, therefore, cannot and should not fit ANY identity no matter how loosely defined is simply over reductive. Queer theory and feminism understands that they exist outside a heteronormative patriarchal structure, but they still exist and have meaning. Removing identity leads to conversations like this:


            “I recognize that notions of orientation essentialism provided a useful fib in helping to analogize sexual orientation to race.”

            What do you mean here? Although many conservatives misunderstand the argument, I hope you understand that there is a difference between comparing types of discrimination and comparing tools of discrimination. Comparing to the discrimination of racism and homophobia is impossible…the two aren’t even mutually exclusive. Comparing tools of discrimination, however, is completely in bounds. Saying the Lovings experienced the same discrimination as Obergefell is wrong, but comparing Judge Leon Bazile to Judge Roy Moore would be accurate and fair.

            “I think this also explains why many countries have seen a diminution in same-sex partnering following its legalization.”

            What are you referring to? Here is this: Decline in divorce is much more closely associated with economic status and education than anything else. I just don’t see your view squaring with reality.

    2. Why should Christians want the respect of the LGBTQWERTY community or any other community for that matter? I think that is a rather pointless goal.


    3. Quote: Taking public stands with the LGBTQ community following the Orlando shooting, where the costs of doing so are low, smacks of a kind of craven gratuitousness.

      That’s where “gospel Christians” are heading.


  6. “Their instincts toward niceness, desire to be liked by their non-Christian neighbors, and sincere wish to do good by apologizing for (often real) failings of evangelicalism have left them completely at sea in our new political order.” Sounds like Pope Francis


  7. Very well said Jake. In the days following the Orlando terrorist attack my social media was flooded with people telling me how I should think and respond about it. Most of these attempts were accompanied with rainbow flags and scathing remarks about conservatives…all from young know-it-all young in the Christian community.


  8. If you were going to critique my essay, I wish you would have had the courtesy to do so in the context of the follow-up pieces that Focus on the Family and I published immediately after:


  9. Meh… there isn’t “full affirmation” of any group. The liberal press knows this, through its roles in promoting group non-legitimacy, as much or more than anyone else. Targeting Evangelicals with this tone-deaf article is like a Christian blaming “anti-Crusader” Sunni Islam because a non-Islamic Nigerian targeted Christians. You’re just looking for an excuse to dump on the people that you hate: Evangelicals. The opportunism comes of as both craven and exploitative, and thus weakens your politics for the future. Not seeing this political mis-step is cause to hold you in even lower regard overall.


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