My piece last week generated plenty of conversation, which is always gratifying. Over the past decade, writing here at Mere Orthodoxy has allowed me to work through a number of questions with others who have very different perspectives than I do.  One reason why I will never turn off the comments is that even though I can’t respond to everyone, I read all of them and learn from many of them. 

indiana-rfra-religous-freedom-lgbt-boycott-business-3Of the various critiques that were made, one in particular kept coming up, which I would like to address here. A good friend distilled the objections nicely, I thought, in an email.  This is an edited version, posted with their approval and permission:

I found it ironic, and I hope it at least gives you a good chuckle, that in article in which you state, “The eagerness by which dissenting views are being pushed out of public and any debate is being silenced may be some of the strongest evidence we have for the view’s intrinsic falsity,” is the same article in which you also link to your favorite articulation of the conservative argument that has been published…in the New York Times.

In a spirit of an open search for truth and not being afraid of competing ideas do you think CT would publish James Brownson? Matthew Vines? David Gushee?

While the Times has pretty clear editorial leanings, they at least have done more (even if you think it is too little) to publish differing opinions than any major conservative evangelical publication I’ve seen. Are expecting something more from MSNBC?

I think you are trying to peg on ideology what I think can much better be explained by psychology and sociology. You need to remember that not too long ago the cultural milieu was boycotts of companies that were too “gay friendly”, protesting shows that depicted gay characters, people remaining closeted for fear of losing their jobs and mass political movement to ensure that there were laws explicitly banning same-sex couples from marriage and a fight to block even civil unions.

Are you now surprised that there is a group of hurting and often angry people who assume that they should do unto Christians as Christians have done unto them?

I get it that you are asking for mercy, and I hope you receive it. But do you think that more people in our country might know how to be merciful if there had been more Christians demonstrating what mercy looks like?

You are asking, in essence, please be more Christian than we have been. I’m not sure that is going to work.

While you are asking for mercy, I’m watching my friends ask for it from an ostensibly “moderate” evangelical denomination and be denied. In the past few years I’ve had two good college friends, after completing seminary, leave my childhood denomination because it was made clear to them it was either leave now or be kicked out through a drawn out process. Another friend had funding cut off for his church plant.

Let’s start at the top and work our way through.  Yes, I did chuckle, because contrary to appearances I have a strong sense of irony and, I hope, of the humor associated with it. We could expand the list, too, of conservative Christians who are currently in prominent positions.  The halls of Congress are full of people who ostensibly share rough approximations of my views on the world. And the goodly number of 6000 or so conservative evangelicals are currently gathering in perfect freedom, where many of them will probably spend time chatting about the perils their freedoms face.

Conservatives on this issue have struggled with the “Chicken Little” problem for a long time, and there’s no easy way around it. If the despotism our current political and social environment is making us comfortable with is a soft one, then we shouldn’t expect itself to manifest itself quickly.

Let’s suppose the cultural situation is still murky and that conservatives still have a great deal of cultural capital and power. It’s an easy premise to grant because it is still true. To discern where things are headed, though, we’d have to look for leading indicators, as in institutions where “neutrality” or “hosting the debate” simply isn’t part of its purpose.  Like the tech sector, where Brendan Eich is curiously still unemployed. Let’s just grant that the New York Times has done a better job featuring dissenting views:  well, their business model depends upon it, and conservative Christians are often good for nothing if not a click. 

So when it comes to Douthat, he is indeed a columnist and God keep him in his perch.  But again at the peril of giving people ideas, his question about whether Princeton should go on employing Robert George is true for himself, too.  Should the New York Times be employing someone who defends manifestly bigoted accounts of the world?  There are, I suspect, lots of progressives who would argue the time is coming soon when Douthat will have to shut up about all this. How long does a token conservative get to keep their job? Perhaps more to the point, could Ross Douthat get a job there today? The academy is (ostensibly) committed to an even stronger form of intellectual freedom than our wonderful media community:  could Sherif Girgis, his coauthor, get hired at Princeton, the way Robert George did?   

It’s important to understand the structural difficulties, though, that conservatives face in making these arguments. Suppose the challenges I have described are real and that there is lots of social and institutional pressure to change one’s views about human sexuality.  In such an environment, those who have the clearheadedness to see the game afoot will almost invariably sound paranoid. Like certain doomsday prophets on Wall Street before the financial crash, they will be resoundingly mocked as people enjoy the fruits of the liberation being won. Such people are easily accused of wearing silly hats precisely because they happen to be among the few who are still sane. They are the only ones standing erect in a world bent sideways, and so be curious oddities who  will be easily dismissed as “cynics” or “curmudgeons” or “angry” or “dismissive” of those who have baked in “progress” to the cultural change. But that’s all part of the game:  if you can mock your opponents out of existence or shut them up for their offensiveness, you don’t have to go on making arguments.

Now, there is in fact a path to madness here that’s easy to see.  It might turn out that all the appelations people give someone are true, and that people’s laughter is in fact because conservatives happen to be standing on their heads. It might be that the writing we claim to see on the wall is because we’re all drunk on our own history of privilege and power, and not because there’s any fundamental change afoot. We might, in fact, be wrong—and the path above leaves no meaningful room to disconfirm the thesis, because every bit of evidence (Douthat!) against the thesis gets twisted into further proof of it. We are the mad ones, not everyone else. After all, the doomsday prophets of Wall Street are sometimes wrong, and sometimes when they are right it’s not for the reasons they claimed. 

I’ll confess that this dilemma strikes me as not having very many easy or satisfactory paths out of it. What kind of moral outlook resonates will depend considerably on a person’s intuitions and formation, and whether they are spending their adult life cultivating gratitude for those early stories or view the whole business (or a good deal of it) as rot that they need to escape.  

For my own part, I am inclined to retreat into the need for a historically rooted awareness in order to help us see well:  G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy simply contains a kind of depth and profundity about the world that few of our contemporary writers embody. He wins the argument against Nietzsche—but if you can see that and its importance, then the disputes over gay marriage seem a good deal easier to sort out and the interlocutors in them properly silly (this writer especially included).  C.S. Lewis’s universe is haunted and worth preserving—but spend too much time in it, and things today seem off-kilter. Or if they don’t, try George MacDonald. Or if that doesn’t work, keep moving backward and immerse yourself in Shakespeare, or Dante, as Rod Dreher has done. Spend enough time with great thinkers and our current social situation will feel hollow. 

Or maybe not.  Maybe this is simply my experience. Either way, there’s some legitimacy to the claim that the differences between conservatives and progressives on this question are “cosmological.”  If conservatives stammer when asked why same-sex marriage is wrong, as we more or less have for twenty years, it is partly because everything confirms the traditional view for us.  

But I should move on from this very thorny problem.   

My interlocutor also proposes that Christianity Today should publish dissenting views in the spirit of being open to new ideas.  One difficulty, of course, is that if evangelicals paid any attention at all over the past thirty years, we would notice that we are not the first ones to this debate. Only how ‘progress’ gets made is not, by and large, by advancing arguments that everyone finds persuasive, but by muddying up the waters so that everyone is confused and then proposing that the innovation is a “matter of Christian unity” that we all get along.

But very rarely do such innovators step back to consider what kind of epistemic standards should be met in order to inaugurate substantive moral revolutions. And ignoring that question leads churches into some tragically silly situations. Yes, the question goes the other direction, too, and conservatives should carefully consider how much evidence is needed to revise traditional positions. But as Christianity is a traditioned religion, there is (it seems to me) a clear “burden of proof” on progressives to demonstrate both the harm of the traditional view at its very best and clearest and most accurate, and the superiority of the progressive account. Only within our evangelical context, I suspect few progressive evangelicals have understood what they are rejecting.  

That aside, should Christianity Today host James Brownson on the issue?  Sure, why not?  I think Brownson is wrong, and that conservative evangelicals should have the confidence to show that in our own fora. I mean, I even thought Russell Moore and the ERLC should have invited him to their big shindig on marriage for the same reason:  I have such a strong degree of confidence in the truthfulness of the traditional view that I want it side-by-side with views that are wrong. More of that, please, and the sooner the better. Will progressive thinkers persuade some people? Obviously. But conservative evangelicals have nothing to fear or lose from hearing dissenting views, and the sooner our leaders begin modeling those confident encounters, the sooner the laity will realize that the proclamation of our orthodoxy means more than preaching to the choir or rallying the faithful. 

Only:  if Christianity Today does that and then motors on with a traditional view and treats it as so serious that they exclude from leadership positions those who dissent, would it be enough for progressives?  That’s a rhetorical question, but I’d love to hear reasons from within the progressive outlook for why it would be. After all, viewing gay marriage as a “minor issue” is already a progressive Christian position. Downgrading marriage to a “disputed issue” on which “good Christians can disagree” itself claims that Scripture’s witness on this question is unclear, such that disagreement is a reasonable expectation. But it is precisely that claim which those who oppose gay marriage for theological reasons cannot adopt. We need not be Scriptural isolationists in making that claim: even if we couldn’t read the text on its own and come to the traditional view (we can), the vast and broad witness of the church confirms it. Only all of that evidence the “disputed issue” hope treats as neglible or irrelevant to the question—which is, again, a methodological move that conservatives cannot go for.

After all, if the traditional teaching of the Bible is right on the matter, then same-sex sexual relationships are not the most grave sin imaginable, but they are clearly morally wrong. And given the clarity and authority of that witness, approving same-sex sexual relationships (if anything) should be enough to disqualify someone from leadership. Theological approvals of gay marriage are an old heresy (docetism) in trendy ethical clothing. Or to pick one of my favorite reductios these days, the arguments for “Biblical polygamy” are easier and more persuasive than the arguments for “biblical gay marriage.” Why should we stop at two when Solomon got to have a harem? 

None of this means that evangelicals should go around heresy-hunting. Or, rather, if we do we ought start in our own midst.  Judgment begins at the house of God. Docetism is an old and recurring problem, and one that evangelicals have teetered on affirming in subtle and hidden ways.  To pick one instance, evangelicalism’s widespread use of video sermons might embed it as a practical reality in our communities, before we even think about sex. In that sense, the growing approval of gay marriage within the evangelical world is the fruit of a rottentree: but while all of that might mean the errors of the laity are understandable and deserving of a merciful, patient, and gently-challenging welcome, none of it entails that leaders should be excused. Institutions interested in preserving particular outlooks on the world have to maintain certain standards for those in prominent positions—which is why Brendan Eich had to go. 

Paradoxically, then, the church’s doctrinal commitments require an exclusiveness that the broader political order mimics. The church’s exclusiveness is meant to preserve and secure religious liberties for all, and preserve as much space as possible for those who are not Christians to live their lives as they will. The more narrow their morals, and the more merciful their judgment on those who break them, the broader and more inclusive our political order can be. 

Which gets me on to the substance and heart of the critiques I heard, summed up well here:  “You are asking, in essence, please be more Christian than we have been. I’m not sure that is going to work.” 

I was read as “asking” as though it would “work,” but I don’t think either are quite right. I wanted to hold up the possibility, because I am a Christian and think mercy is important. My confidence level is somewhere around zero that any LGBT person would be moved by it, but since most people think my moral views are already irrational I figured I might embrace it and hope for change like a fool.  

More importantly, I am well aware of evangelicalism’s (in particular) spotted record on marriage, divorce, and sexuality. My first book addressed the sexual revolution that evangelicals underwent in the 60s and 70s, and explicitly argued that it left our movement without meaningful resources to respond to the question of homosexuality. We knew it was wrong, but lacking the internal culture that would allow us to confidently and graciously say why it was wrong, we had little to resort to but bigotry. Having embraced the sexual revolution ourselves, I argued, evangelicals had no resources left to deny its fruits.

But I also was attentive in that book to the emergence of tattos within the young evangelical world, a practice which predated the growing affirmation of gay marriage but which makes perfect sense of it. The logic of that “conversation” is exactly that of the gay marriage debate. Dispute the “proof texts,” appeal to experience, reach the marginalized…it’s all the same stuff, perhaps with a stronger emphasis on remaking our bodily life through artifice (though inasmuch as gay marriages intend to have children, even this shares the same DNA). 

And my arguments about evangelical failures has gone well beyond the body. My second book was a response to the intellectual conditions and formation within the evangelical world that make bad arguments and reasoning attractive. I think progressives question badly, and having questioned badly they end up with wrong answers.  My only point here is that I think I’m actually qualified to tell a more expansive, more thorough story about the failures of evangelicalism (and the Religious Right proper). We really did sow the wind, and we are reaping our own whirlwind. 

Why not include it? Because I wasn’t writing a book, for one, though if anyone wishes to pay me to do so I would happily consider it.  And because my recent writing where I argued against a number of prominent conservative evangelicals got into that story in its own right, and I thought those were recent enough that I didn’t need to include them. 

Most importantly, though, nothing in that backstory alters my basic point, which is that the progressive challenges to religious liberty are very real and almost certainly going to get worse. Yes, this is the world conservative evangelicals hath made (or at least helped make): let us rejoice, and be glad in it.  That’s not even sarcastic: our hope should make us glad, and our gladness should be the foundation of our energetic action in the world. But that gladness should follow on our confession of what we have done and left undone. I have told the story of the failure for a decade, in one way or the other. And having done so, I made the argument as I did. 

But that was why I framed the question as one of mercy, rather than (as Ross Douthat has proposed) that of magnanimity. The idea that the LGBT community might be magnanimous in victory presupposes an equal contest, a struggle whose nature is determined purely on democratic or judicial lines. The question of ‘mercy’, however, introduces connotations of wrongdoing: to even raise it as a possibility implicates conservatives in the crisis of our day. And why shouldn’t we be? Persuasive authority follows from practice, and if we were immune from the divorce and sexual revolutions, our moral witness might have a power that it currently lacks. 

Now, many of my young evangelical peers understand that much and have determined that the consequences of those problems are such that we ought toss the moral convictions latent within them overboard entirely. They have discovered the abuses—but they have not seen the uses of the traditional view, because it’s not clear to me they ever encountered it in the first place. Having grown up immersed in an environment which only mimicked a robustly conservative outlook, they (quite naturally) took the imitation for reality and  finding it wanting, decided it must be rot. They are like the people in Chesterton’s parable who upon discovering a lamppost proceed to tear it down, and only later begin to wonder what precisely they had discovered. Though I have often been strongly critical of my peers, my analysis has essentially not changed in the past decade: young evangelicals are naturally responding to an environment not of their own making, even if what they needed was a super-natural charity and mercy toward those who made it.

But for that, it is progressive evangelicals who will do the most to erode the religious liberty of conservatives, which is why I directed the bulk of my essay at them—rather than at the LGBT community proper. I am not surprised when nonChristians consider me irrational. But the pressure progressive Christians are putting on traditionalists provides far stronger support to the widespread claim that there is no reasonable theological objection to gay marriage. NonChristians can now demand that we become just like the progressive Christians. Having overheard that this is a “disputed issue,” the secular harms that the courts are designed to judge make religious liberty claims seem considerably less pressing. After all, “even reasonable Christians disagree about that.” Having divided the church, progressive Christians will invariably join with the State to suppress it, under the facile notion that the “inclusion” Jesus offers requires compelling people to break their consciences. Which is to say, rather than defend us as Christians, progressives are more likely to ally themselves with their non-Christian colleagues the major religious liberty questions facing us. And people wonder why conservative evangelicals have more in common these days with conservative Catholics than liberal Episcopalians…

But my real fear is that in all this I sound too dour. My aim was to clarify the stakes and expose the faultlines within the evangelical world. One reason to read old books is that they stretch our historical imaginations much further than they otherwise might naturally go: and the farther we go back in history, the further into the future we might dare to look. It’s a five-hundred year renewal project I’m on, and in that story, our current crisis looks rather pathetic.  We’re the people who only had enough virtue to face soft despotism, after all.  Our grandparents fought the Nazi’s. The shallowness of the hostilities before us is the perfect judgment on the triviality of our idols, which engender sin, yes, but also a rampant aimlessness that makes us too small to consider “great objects.”  We are “hollow men,” as Eliot put it.

And so we have little reason for bluster, lots of cause for repentance, but even more grounds for hearty cheer.  The challenges before us are no greater than those which we deserve, and so we may yet find the path toward overcoming them.  But even if we don’t, we are not losing anything–because it’s not clear we ever gained what we had thought.   Or, as Eliot aptly put it: 

“If we take the widest and wisest view of a Cause, there is no such thing as a Lost Cause, because there is no such thing as a Gained Cause. We fight for lost causes because we know that our defeat and dismay may be the preface to our successors’ victory, though that victory itself will be temporary; we fight rather to keep something alive than in the expectation that it will triumph.”

The failure of our current moment means the death of optimism: but it was bound to die anyway, and what can take its place besides hope?  And here is our great refuge, our joy, our yes and Amen. It is already dawn:  he is Risen indeed, and in such moments of great darkness the light is so much the brighter.  It is hope that moves me to remind people of mercy, not confidence, because in confessing our own failures we acknowledge a standard by which we will be judged.

Or perhaps I should close with Chesterton, as I so often have done:

When the test of triumph is men’s test of everything, they never endure long enough to triumph at all. As long as matters are really hopeful, hope is a mere flattery or platitude; it is only when everything is hopeless that hope begins to be a strength at all. Like all the Christian virtues, it is as unreasonable as it is indispensable.

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Posted by Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.


  1. “Having divided the church, progressive Christians will invariably join with the State to suppress it…” Those are tough words and a harsh prediction. Which have crossed my mind as well. Recent events lead me to suspect you are more correct than not.


  2. […] failures, and young evangelicals: On what I said and didn’t” at Mere Orthodoxy = A long and sometimes difficult piece by Anderson in which he follows up on his last article and […]


  3. I wrote a lengthy comment in the previous article, and I have to say reading today’s I am completely underwhelmed. You addressed claims of overreaction with pure restatement of original positions, as if only we could understand what you were really saying then we’d agree with you. Right. Again, there is complete
    lack of clarity of your opponents understanding of your argument, and the inherent weakness in the conservative position. This is not unlike when Sherif Girgis spoke at the ERLC he stated that he never met anyone that really understood the conservative position on same sex marriage, and he pulled it off with a straight face. Um, yeah we’ve heard it time and time again without change only pure restatement. Not unlike what I’m reading here. So thinking that Girgis would not get a job because of his position (even though John Yoo just won an award at Berkeley Law…Berkeley), or considering whether a professor could lose tenure cause their job and the entire rationale behind tenure is so much like a CEO and the purpose of business, makes me question the seriousness of these arguments.

    I question the traditional marriage position because of things like manipulation of social science research to sabotage political campaigns like the Roman Catholic funded research published a few years ago and again this year. Since I’m on the topic, it’s also because of the obtuse and irrational view of Regneres in his video on the economics of sex, which Philip Cohen successfully obliterates ( These views warp existing understanding of sociology to try to frame reality reflecting their theology. How can that be possible? I am no theologian and have to admit I have
    never heard of Docetism, and having read the Wikipedia page I’m still not sure
    what your accusing progressive Christians of, but if you’re suggesting that
    Evangelicals are creating an illusion of Church online (through a blog post,
    perfect) are you not also creating an illusion of God when you have to twist
    humanity and reality to fit your theology? I’m no Dr. Phil, but it sounds like you may be projecting.

    I’d like to bring it back again to my main complaint. How then, since your view on
    the goodness of same sex marriage is clearly warped, are you honestly promoting, protecting and preserving our humanity? When you accept the innate nature of homosexuality, which you must, how can you then cement us forever in sin for the sake of being born as we are? Even if you are able to manage that mental gymnastics feat, you are still left in our secular society. Gays have made their case for the goodness of their marriages and worthiness of our families. Your side has not made the case of the societal good of maintaining heteronormative marriages at the expense of others (and yes, we do understand the arguments. They are just bad, really really bad). Understanding marriage as egalitarian no matter the sex of those involves is supportive of the Constitutional prescription of equality, so understanding marriage as between equals for the sake of civil law it would necessarily prohibit polygamy and incest. I’m totally annoyed I have to actually explain it, but I guess it’s still necessary. I should also remind you that the “best” arguments against same sex marriage; tradition, procreation or “nature”, and religious freedom are actually the best arguments FOR polygamy. Yeah, what could possibly be wrong with your position? Good grief, please never make this argument again. Even if you disagree and consider us morally inferior, it is morally worse to insist on continuing to cause us substantial burden.


    1. I was going to sit down to write a long comment, but in the meantime, this happened:

      So, I apologize, but I’m going to be delayed. Typing is really cumbersome at the moment, and I’m told it will be 24-48 hours before my hand becomes less monstrous. I’ll try to make sure I respond, though, because I really do appreciate your criticisms and they do deserve a response!



      1. Yikes! Hope you feel better soon


    2. Thanks for the kind words, and for your patience! I only meant to include a link, but that photo is….huge! It’s much easier to type today, so let me say one or two things in response. I won’t be able to respond to everything with the substance that you probably want or deserve (right now), but perhaps we can go a little further.

      First, I want to make clear what my argument has been, as I *think* you’re pushing me in a direction that I haven’t been going (which may be why you were disappointed at me repeating myself). My original post proposed a kind of hypothetical: “If gay marriage is false, what kind of social conditions would it need to sustain itself?” There’s a way of construing this that looks like I’m affirming the consequent, such that the social conditions all become *reasons* why gay marriage is false. But instead, I wanted to demonstrate that there are reasons *given* (hypothetically!) gay marriage’s falseness to think that further restrictions of religious liberty would occur, and to challenge evangelical progressives (in particular) to outline where they would fall on those issues. So I didn’t respond to your substantive argument about why gay marriage is right because I think it pushes me in a slightly different direction than what I was actually saying. That’s still an enormously important question–a more important question, even, than that which I have pursued in these two posts, and one which I have my own thoughts on. But I hope you’ll at least see why I didn’t take it up directly as you might have hoped.

      Second, and this is trivial, but I don’t see what Yoo has to do with anything. He’s known for his controversial work on torture, but he’s a gay marriage supporter.

      Thirdly, I have my own argument that runs along parallel lines (but is not identical) to the one that Sherif gives. I understand his frustration about the argument not being understood by his critics: I’ve read a vast number of the critics, and many of them construe it quite badly. I don’t think that’s true of all of them, but at the popular level, that’s *clearly* the case.

      Fourthly, I think the Regnerus study proved a lot, lot less than conservatives claimed, so I don’t hang much on that. The role of the social sciences in this debate is a lagging indicator for me: I don’t have time to take on all the articles you linked to at the “What we Know” page, but I’d simply say that in general, what we know depends a lot on (a) gay and lesbian couples with children being a self-selecting group, and (b) such gay and lesbian couples being predominately middle and upper class individuals, since both IVF treatments or adoptions are quite expensive. How these revolutions will play out among lower classes is a huge unknown, and one of the most overlooked features of the debate.

      Fifthly, I don’t know what people mean by “innate” with respect to homosexuality. I certainly think that it’s not a “choice” in any meaningful sense: sexual desires or orientations (if we have them) are formed in mysterious ways! I hope we could all agree on that. But this means less to the debate than is often presumed. John Corvino is a leading gay rights advocate and philosopher and a friend, and this is the one point we both agree on: “born this way” means virtually nothing to anyone about the morality of particular actions. For that, we have to look elsewhere.

      Sixthly, I understand that you think our arguments are terrible, rather than unintelligible. That’s actually better than many critics think! So thanks. : ) I think they’re quite strong, actually, and will try to post my own substantive argument on the matter next week sometime. Or maybe the week after, but hopefully next week.

      Seventh, you wrote: “Understanding marriage as egalitarian no matter the sex of those involves is supportive of the Constitutional prescription of equality, so understanding marriage as between equals for the sake of civil law it would necessarily prohibit polygamy and incest.”

      I’d love to hear your reasoning here, as it’s just not at all clear that “equality” provides a meaningful defense against polygamy and incest. Regarding incest, how would “equality” explain the prohibition on two adult brothers marrying each other? Or two adult siblings, one brother and one sister? Regarding polygamy, how would equality prohibit three people who all have independent incomes of $50,000 a year and stable job prospects from marrying each other? If you want the scenario from the perspective of constitutional law, you might see this post: My main point is that there’s an explanation here that’s needed. I’d be curious to hear it, if you have one.

      Thanks again for the comment (really!), and for your patience. I really think the pushback is important.



      1. Thanks for the response. I have a few points of consideration and clarification. Sorry about bringing Yoo up. I can see why that seemed so left field, but the point I was clumsily making was that he is a divisive figure and still managed to obtain work at a liberal university, so the fear of being boxed out of academic employment for political positions is seems unfounded. I know academics tend to be liberal, but it is the general makeup of academics not a reflection of their hiring practices. Business is a different environment because it is so public and image means a lot, so if a leader such as Eich lost confidence is his employees, colleagues, and customers that would be bad for business. There is a distinction, however, with the moral vision of non-discrimination in the public sector and the moral vision of plotting to undermine deeply meaningful civil rights protections. If one believes that a university losing accreditation is okay when it comes to interracial marriage despite that university’s religious freedom, then they will have to believe the same about same sex marriage. You cannot cherry pick civil rights protections based on personal preference because It places ALL civil rights protections at risk. Intersectionality is a good theory here.

        Yes, Regnerus has been marginalized more and more. Even most conservatives don’t bring him up anymore, but Catholics and conservative Christians do. But despite your concern over methodology of other studies, they are remarkable consistent, and that goes to reliability of findings. I disagree that the jury is out on this one, there is just too much consistency in findings. My bigger point is this, if Girgis is correct in his argument that gays can’t get married because the definition of marriage is between a man and a woman (circular?) so kids can have moms and dads for proper development, why isn’t that reflected in reality?

        In terms of morality innate doesn’t mean much, you’re
        right. Civil marriage in our society should accept same sex marriage no matter if it is innate or a choice. But in terms of historical sin concretely interpreted in the Bible innate does matter.
        Context is important. Left handedness is also complex but we accept it as innate, and the bible doesn’t have many nice things to say about lefties. But we understand biblical descriptions of handedness now to not be relevant in large part because it is innate and not harmful to the lefty or others. I don’t know for sure why I am gay, but I do know that from early on I was.
        The VAST majority of homosexuals would say the same. There was never a lightning bolt moment then I became gay, I was always gay. Also, we know from genetic studies that there is a connection to homosexuality. We know in population studies that gays tend to be similar percentages no matter where they are. We know that no amount of political action or cultural influence increases or decreases gay population. All evidence so far points to the homosexual today was born that way, and I have to say that’s been my experience. This matters because we cannot change, so when talking about sinfulness of homosexuality gays are forever stuck in your vision of the world and morality. Lie,
        be lonely, or go to hell…those seem like our life choices when explained by non-affirming Christians. Can you see how that’s different from fornication or adultery? At least there is a way to have a truthful, meaningful life. This is important for Christians to realize, as it is some Christian organizations that have lobbied for laws against gay people. More importantly, attempts at
        sexual orientation change are impossible and are really torture and should never be considered. Even coerced celibacy has been shown to be very harmful.

        When I hear of people speaking of the legalization of
        polygamy as the natural result of same sex marriage I’m left to wonder what their historical understanding of polygamy is?
        Think of the Michigan federal same sex marriage trial in Detroit. This is where many sociological arguments really came out. What would polygamy’s trial look like? I’m thinking it’ll sound like the Warren Jeffs trial a few years ago. There are thousands of people alive today in this country that can testify to the horrors of polygamy. Polygamy has existed in most societies at one
        point or another and it was almost always one man collecting many wives. Women became house servants and breeders,
        girls became valuable property. If the family was poor there is much to gain by marrying her off. This is as true today in polygamist societies as it was many years ago. To make the
        long story short, no polygamy is not egalitarian even if those involved make the same amount of money. The structure is almost always patriarchal, and can never be equal. Not even close. Polyandry, or “throuples” do not count here no matter how much people want to bring them up. Cohabitating has been going on for years, and no one is talking about making that illegal. Have you ever spoken to “poly” people? I have, and the last thing they want is group marriage. That’s too much risk for them, and places
        their property and children in jeopardy probably because they know how unstable their relationship is. Incest historically has been mostly caused by family arrangements to maintain wealth
        and power, so it doesn’t matter if they both have equal income if their parents and other family is interested in keeping the family home, inheritance, or property to themselves, that’s exploitation. So again, if two cousins are entered into an arranged marriage at the pressure of their families, or if a girl was forced to marry her uncle, it is not an equal arrangement. They are being exploited, and I have a hard time seeing the equality in that scenario. And that’s assuming no procreation, but there is a practical reason to not recreate the Habsburg dynasty. I’m not making light of “inbreeding”. As a NICU nurse I’ve seen what those sort of genetic defects can do, those kids and their suffering are real and public policies aimed at preventing that are sound.

        I hope I answered your questions on this issue. However, I do have some of my own. Since you understand Girgis arguments so
        well, using his definition of marriage how does recognizing marriage as one man one woman prevent incest of a daughter and father? How have we managed to do that so far, but
        now recognizing same sex marriage places these cultural norms on the chopping block? You can’t say (at least to me) that there will be no standards because the standard of egalitarian marriage is pretty high, I think even higher than yours. Also, if marriage is about procreation and kids do best with a married biological mom and dad, why then prevent a man from marrying two women who both have a biological child with him? If marriage is about procreation, why can then in certain states some couples (1st
        cousins) only marry if they are elderly, infertile or promise to not
        procreate? How is the state upholding that ideal? And if marriage is intertwined in nature and based on procreation why are humans the only higher order primates that practice monogamy? Thanks again, hope your finger is healing fast.


        1. Not trying to pick a fight, I appreciate your comments. I think you might at least find this article more interesting as far as a traditional(ish) Christian perspective that isn’t rote polemics. Aaron is a gay Christian and has some of the more nuanced approaches that I’ve come across. Just throwing it out there. Cheers.


  4. Gadzooks…all this sturm and drang because some people are born attracted to the same sex. You all argue over how many angels on the head of a pin…I need to get home to my loving husband and our beautiful son!


  5. There seems to be an assumption that progressive evangelicals and conservative evangelicals have – at some point in the past – been, more or less, on the same page, enjoying a shared perspective on religious liberty.

    If moderate-to-progressive Baptists (e.g. those of the Baptist Joint Committee-supporting Baylor/Texas variety) are to be considered part of that progressive evangelical category, then I’d suggest that such an assumption is not warranted.

    Baptists like myself who fall on a theologically diverse spectrum that exists to the left of the SBC have long believed that conservative evangelicals have done much to erode religious liberty for all through support over the years for vouchers (playing out there in Texas right now), state-sponsored/led/directed prayer in public schools/government meetings, no-strings-attached federal funding of religious ministries (e.g. Charitable Choice/Faith-Based Initiative) to name a few grievances.

    Central to that Baptist opposition has been the question of harm to others, including third parties. With the Hobby Lobby case, that third party harm was key, and with the question of broad-based religious exemptions to civil rights laws, harm to third parties remains a concern.

    And while expressing those concerns and opposing various efforts of conservative evangelicals as threats to church-state separation (which we sincerely believe is necessary to protect free exercise rights), it was the moderate-to-progressive Baptists that were instrumental in passing key free exercise legislation in the Equal Access Act and RFRA over the past 30 years.

    All that said, from where I sit, it seems that at least some progressives within evangelicalism are simply being faithful to a longstanding perspective on religious liberty.


    1. It’s true that religious liberty, even broadly construed, *used* to be a progressive concern. Thomas Berg’s article is very good defending it’s ongoing importance to progressives. //But that such an article *has to be written* is itself troubling, and suggests (to me) that the progressive adoption of an increasingly liberal view of sexual politics is undermining its concern for robust religious liberty protections. And the same, I fear, is true (though they don’t realize it yet) of progressive evangelicals.



  6. Where we sit today on these issues wasn’t necessary or path-independent.

    Evangelicals have waged this battle in a pretty underhanded way that relied on a lot of false information (alleging that gay men tend to be pedophiles) and hyperbolic rhetoric (blaming gay people for the 9/11 attacks). When it takes traditionalists 20 years to start coming up with rational-sounding arguments that don’t expressly dehumanize gay people and delegitimize their concerns, it shouldn’t surprise them that no one’s listening.

    Also, as Carl Trueman noted in his piece, “The Yuck Factor,” same-sex marriage proceeds on a view of marriage and sex that is largely consistent with the view that traditionalists have come to adopt concerning opposite-sex marriage. Peter Leithart hinted at much the same point in “Intrusive Third Parties.” Trueman and Leithart basically admit that there’s little way for traditionalists to justify their present view of opposite-sex marriage and simultaneously deny the merits of same-sex marriage. That’s not to say that maintaining the Trueman-Leithart view would have resulted in political success for traditionalists. It wouldn’t have. But maintaining some logical consistency would have at least permitted evangelicals to enjoy greater respect from the culture. As Carl Trueman presciently noted some time ago, “Better to look like an outdated fundie than a bigot.”

    Trueman’s piece is worth reading. Where we sit on this issue is precisely what happens when we rely almost exclusively on the language of moral conviction and don’t seek to vet it against anything. In the end, we often end up relying on moral intuitions that aren’t nearly as moral or as intuitive as we think. So, we constantly find ourselves showing up to gun fights with nothing more than a butter knife. So, people laugh at us…and then they shoot at us.

    By the way, I do enjoy reading what you write, and appreciate the opportunity to engage. Assuming that the photo below wasn’t an indirect way of flipping tb03 the bird, I hope that your finger heals quickly.

    Peace in Christ.


    1. By the way, I hope that life in Waco is going well. I had a two-month work assignment in Dallas a 7-8 years ago, and drove to Waco one Saturday. I asked the folks at the tourist bureau if they could point me to the former Branch Davidian complex. They refused, suggesting that I visit the Dr. Pepper Museum instead. I asked a cashier at a bookstore if she could recommend any interesting bars or restaurants. She replies, “Yeah, there’s this really cool part of town that’s about 90 miles south of here; it’s called Austin.” It seemed like a decent place, though


    2. Thanks for the kind words re: Waco! It’s gotten much better since then. I am enjoying it immensely so far.

      I can’t find Trueman’s piece online. Have a link?

      “Trueman and Leithart basically admit that there’s little way for traditionalists to justify their present view of opposite-sex marriage and simultaneously deny the merits of same-sex marriage.”

      I think Leithart is too pessimistic about the “romantic,” honestly. I think there’s a way of starting from where we are, in our current environment, and still generating biblical conclusions about the impermissibility of same-sex unions. Chesterton does it, I think, because he sees within the romantic the inherent willingness to admit the third under certain conditions, certain adventurous conditions, and views marriage and children as the consummation and only protection of the romantic.

      And that is my argument too, which I learned from him, and which I hope to post in full next week some time.



      1. The article disappeared when ACE redid its website. It’s still available second-hand via folks who [illegally?] copied it wholesale. If you search “trueman yuck factor” it should come up.

        I agree that you have to admit some element of the romantic into the discussion to get there. Jonathan Mills made much the same point in his 20-year-old book on the topic.

        That being said, I would tend to agree with Leithart and Trueman here. In view of I Corinthians 7 (and perhaps also in view of my cranky Scots-Dutch heritage), I would tend to construe marriage after the fall as a pragmatic institution primarily centered around procreation and the restraint of sexual desire (regardless of its direction).


  7. Thank you for writing these articles. As a taoist-leaning gay man I think it’s absolutely wonderful to have the intellectual arguments against same-sex marriage presented coherently, earnestly, and respectfully.

    My perspective is that one of the problems that you’re having is that you’re asking for the privilege to tell other people how to live their lives, but complaining when we do the same. By virtue of saying that society is at risk because they are not following your belief system with respect to sexuality and civil marriage, you’re saying that your beliefs on sexuality and matrimony is a valid rationale for public policy. In doing so, you’re putting your belief about sexuality up for debate. This is merely a continuation of the environment where gay people can be fired for being gay, a condition that persists today.

    Now had Christians chosen to say “You know what, we think that gay marriage is not right for society. But we recognize that this is our belief, and we don’t think it’s fair to subject people who don’t share my faith to my rules, so we won’t legislate any policy against it” you would likely not have this problem.

    Compare and contrast with religion itself. North American culture has largely placed your religious identification out of bounds. We generally don’t have Christians telling Muslims they’re intrinsically disordered, nor are the Sikhs have battles with Jews. Why? Because it’s been accepted that your religious affiliation is your business altogether.

    I recognize that in some contexts being a Christian has started to become a problematic label – however that’s because Christianity has done a fantastic job of letting its lesser elements define it. Christians are often considered to be bigoted and hypocritical because they ARE often publically these things. You’ve recognized this, and kudos for doing so. But do you recognize you’re still far better protected than the gay men and women who have to remain closeted lest they get fired?

    Broadly speaking, people recognize your faith is your faith, and we would never dream of trying to forcefully change it, or legislate it because you hadn’t tried to do the same to the people you disagree with. There’s of course been exceptions to this but they are few and far between.

    Now this is further intersected and enhanced by all the discrimination and hate that homosexual men and women have, and continue to be subject to. As we speak there’s tens of gay and lesbian teenagers that are being disowned by their Christian parents because of their nature. They are sent to horrific “gay conversion therapies” that are tantamount to psychological abuse.

    We have yet to see Christian leaders standing up and shouting that this discrimination is unjust and a sin. All we see is what sounds like throat clearing when Christians say that they still love the sinner. It has never been the core of the traditional Christian message.

    So you have an inconsistent philosophy about what can be debated, and you have discrimination that persists today. You can’t expect us to be magnanimous in victory. We haven’t won yet.


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