Comment Of The Day: “Ethics Quiz: Harvard And Evangelicals”


 The theological discussions that periodically break out on Ethics Alarms are always interesting. Naturally the question of whether seeking out a same-sex relationship justified expelling an officer in an evangelical Christian student group at Harvard sparked one. Here is Rich in Ct’s Comment of the Day on the post, “Ethics Quiz: Harvard And Evangelicals”:

“Given that someone other than Jesus Christ created the ideology then I cannot automatically believe that proscriptions against said choices are in fact Christ’s teachings. Much of those ideas are old testament ones. Christ’s teachings obliterated many of those old testament ideas.”

It is a fallacy to make these two unrelated but true statements (that Christ did not address homosexuality, and that Christ negated much of the Old Testament), and imply that the current ideology that homosexuals must abstain is inconsistent with Christ’s teachings. It is also a bit weaselly to say that you cannot “automatically believe” one way or the other, but not examine readily available arguments.

Stipulated: I am only arguing what Christianity historically teaches, not whether Christianity is correct or should be accommodated by Harvard or society at large; my goal is only to point out inconsistent theology and history. In the broader context here, understanding what Christ taught and teachings are inferred is important to understand the particular motivation for the student group.

At a minimum, the bible was not written in a vacuum, but within a living culture. The gospels and epistles were written for specific audiences, to address the particular concerns of those groups, not rotely restate what was already collectively understood. Luke, for instance, was addressed to Theophilos (his most excellency). That Jesus Christ was not recorded as addressing a particular topic just means that the gospel authors did not think it needed to be clarified. There is even a catch-all at the end of John stating as much:

“Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written”.

This is not an esoteric concept. We live in our own collective culture. In constitutional law, for instance, justices routinely review contemporary sources to infer the framer’s intent. When we look at the Second Amendment, it was written at time when a rag-tag group of colonies resisted the greatest empire the world had seen to date. When interpreting “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed“, it very clearly echos the Declaration of Independence:

“That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it,…”

The right of the people to resist their government as a last resort cannot reasonably be preserved if weapons are only guaranteed to a “militia” not elsewhere defined in the constitution. The Second Amendment can only be interpreted to mean something else if one ignores the culture and contemporary events that motivated it.

When we look at theology, we must interpret the topics discussed by Christ and the biblical authors in light of earlier theological works. To infer his teachings regarding homosexuality, we must look at his words regarding similar topics, and their relationship with Old Testaments view of homosexuality. Specifically, if we look at Christ’s teachings regarding sex, marriage, and lust, Christ act actually clamps down, rather than liberates. He abolishes Mosaic Divorce, binding married couples for life “what god has joined let no man put asunder”.

This must be interpreted within the Jewish culture; if men and woman are now bound for life, but if as stated in the Old Testament “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination;” it stands to reason that if the man laying with a woman portion of the law were tightened by Christ, then the man lying with a man part were not likely loosened.

However the second part of that line, “they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them….” must be equally reinterpreted in light of Christ’s mercy towards the adulterous, the violator of the vary portion of the law he tightened:

“(Let He Who is without Sin cast the First Stone) Woman, where are your accusers? Has no one condemned you?” – “No one, Lord,” she answered. – “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Now go and sin no more.”

The theologically sound conclusion might be that Christ did not approve of homosexual behavior, but demanded that mercy be shown to them.

Would Christ ask an active bisexual bible study leader to resign? When Peter denied the theological necessity of Christ’s death, Christ told his chief apostle: “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” (Peter ultimately humbled himself to die upside down on a cross, rather than renounce the Christian message.)

The central message of Christianity is one of sacrifice. Jesus was a life-long celibate bachelor, who lived with his mother for 30 years before becoming a nomadic preacher – preaching a message that got him killed (with ample warning about how his message would be received, given the fate of his cousin John). Jesus would not be asking the bisexual person to do anything worse than he did, abstain from romantic relationships while teaching religious matters. Jesus would want mercy shown to those weak with sin, but would also expect his followers to show strength and resolve.

This means Christ would expect those with morally unacceptable urges to resist in order to receive the kingdom; based on his treatment of Peter, he might even expect leaders who are unwilling or unable to step aside, lest they become a stumbling block.

Again, this is an argument about what Christ taught based on the historical record of Jewish and early Christian teachings recorded the books of the Bible, not an argument about whether his teachings should be followed or accommodated.


19 thoughts on “Comment Of The Day: “Ethics Quiz: Harvard And Evangelicals”

  1. Great comment. I knew what I wrote – the intro in bold – was suspect. I am as much a biblical scholar as is Donald Trump. I meant to make that statement to Micheal Erjecito yesterday.

    Rich’s comment came closer to what I feebily attempted to communicate such that the group could embrace their gay bretheren without embracing their “sins”.

    As a Christian, and not a theologian, I believe Christ would never cast out a follower for not being totally pure. That was the context for me.

  2. “The theologically sound conclusion might be that Christ did not approve of homosexual behavior, but demanded that mercy be shown to them.”

    Agreed. But he also told her to stop sinning. This is not to argue the context of homosexuality. Christ problem with the leaders was they were not following a position a leader should take: one of servanthood. Like you said, this is one of sacrifice. I don’t know the woman’s character other than her claim to be bisexual. I’m not sure she should hold the position if her values or beliefs are at conflict with the groups, but if she is willing to give them up the group should accept it as an act of atonement. To further push it only undermines their own message.

    I think it would be unethical for her to continue to highjack the group if she is not going to follow their core beliefs (‘ll admit this is an assumption).

  3. This issue, as do most hete at EA, forced me to examine my understanding of a given topic.

    After giving a particularly uninformed or ignorant opinion I felt compelled to learn more.

    I get the idea that Jesus would want his disciples to sacrifice and not violate the biblical laws. Therefore, the club could use that stance to remove a member from a leadership position. Ethical

    As I got deeper in my readings of Deuteronomy and Leviticus it dawned on me that any transgression would be cause for forcing a club leader to step down. Thus, if the club leader was asked to step down due to the Christian belief that same sex relationships are taboo, it seems to me that divorced and remarried members (if they exist), a member that had an abortion, or anyone violating any of the 613 commandments would also need to step down from any leadership position.

    I cannot conclude the decision to ask someone to step down due to sexual preference is an ethical one unless they are consistent with all persons that engage in ongoing biblically proscribed actions.

    • I don’t think so. There’s a question of repentance.

      The leader in question was engaging in unrepentant behavior…choosing to actively engage in verboten conduct. This was no mere carnal “slip” or pre-repentant conduct.

      Christianity makes a distinction in discipleship between sinful conduct that is eagerly sought out and sinful conduct that happens because, though redeemed, individual disciples will fall into sin off and on.

      This is where the modern Church undermines itself most damagingly. There is no more Church discipline except in very very rare situations. And it’s one of Christianity’s bi-polar forces it must walk a line balancing for proper Church health. It can’t be excessively disciplinary of it’s members without being legalistic and punishing for every single lapse…even unintentional lapses. It can’t be excessively lax on int’s members without being antinomian and not expecting it’s members to grow in holiness. The modern Church suffers from being hyper-legalistic for some sins and hyper-antinomian for others.

      • Michael, I was suggesting that the activity was an ongoing one. One of the reasons that I fell away from the Catholic Church was that of the daily behavior of parishoners who behaved in a most unchristianlike manner all week but then sought absolution on Sunday.

        I admit I am a Cliff Notes Christian, unschooled in theology. However, to determine the ethics of the question of exclusion we must consider if all ongoing violations of scripture, not just homosexuality, are used as a bar to leadership roles. I would think that they should. I undetstand that the church has to strike a balance but my understanding is that the follower must work to avoid further sin. I don’t think there is a continuum that places homosexual acts at the most grievous end and not giving up something for lent on the other end if the scale. Leaders must model all the desired behaviors not just really “bad” ones, that they would not do anyway. It is easy to not violate the commandment for a man not to lay with another man if one is heterosexual. It is the avoidance of self gratifying sinful temptation that gives rise to righteousness, I would think.

        What I have witnessed is a version of the Kings Pass such that people closely tied to the parish and diocese excuse their behaviors by claiming to be Christian and participating heavily in church functions and management.

        Perhaps my limited experience has made me somewhat jaded. But, I am not jaded by the precepts of Christianity, which I try to practice, but by the practice of it by much of the laiety.

        • And if that specifically refers to Christ teachings. Christ doesn’t mention it much, but Paul had very high standards for those in leadership roles.

          • Actually…gleaning from Christ’s forgiveness of Peter after his denials, we get one pole of Christianity’s bipolar nature on Church Discipline.

            One of the earliest controversies sprung out of an era of persecution. The Novationist controversy, though more in depth than just this topic, had as a central argument what to do no just with church members who renounced the faith facing persecution but what to do with church leaders who renounced the faith.

            There was an argument about whether or not to allow church members back into fellowship after they’d renounced all while knowing many devout followers had taken their profession of faith in Christ all the way to death.

            Eventually, the “pro-mercy” side won and the Church accepted repentant lapsed members back in.

            Then came the argument about Church leaders…obviously under the “pro-mercy” angle, former leaders would come back in pentitentially as mere laity…but then an argument broke out about whether or not they could be allowed back into their former leadership roles.

            After duking it out, the Early Church eventually settled again on the “pro-mercy” side…lapsed leaders who renounced their faith facing persecution were permitted back into their leadership roles when they demonstrated repentance. This seems counter-intuitive to the wisdom of the world…but then again, post-Resurrection Christ sat Peter down at breakfast one morning, poked through a “charcoal fire” (Greek: ἀνθρακιὰν) which would have brought Peter back to the very “charcoal fire” (Greek: ἀνθρακιὰν) he sat down at to warm himself on the cold night of Christ’s kangaroo trial where Peter denied Christ while facing persecution. While eating that breakfast, Christ charged Peter to “Feed His Lambs”, “Tend His Sheep” and again to “Feed His Sheep”. In addition to that direct charge after Peter’s falling away, Christ had, prior to his arrest and trial, informed Peter of his denial and subsequent return, exhorting Peter to “strengthen the brothers”.

            So, it’s not so cut and dry how to handle mis-behaving leaders…though *repentance* has a clear role in this. And repentance generally does not have the characteristic of willful and perennial misconduct.

        • Look, I get what you are saying as a general practice…and I don’t think that goes contrary to my response to you.

          But now, who are you to say that the Harvard club doesn’t actually hold it’s leaders to the stricter standard fairly consistently, and that the ouster of practicing lesbian is merely an instance of that. Do we have an example of the Harvard club tolerating, say, a thief? a violent person? one given to inebriation? a man of many wives? a promiscuous heterosexual?

          • I know some people would believe that unlikely in this day and age, but it does happen. These are real and currently held prohibitions. I was at a church when a controversy arose about a prominent church member who was cohabitating with a woman. He was told that was not appropriate behavior for a member who leads part of the worship service. He refused to desist and instead insisted there was nothing wrong with his behavior. He was removed from his position, despite this being a pretty liberal denomination. I also know of divorced ministers who remarried and were removed from their positions (and were warned that would happen if they remarried). These are not ‘dead-letter’ issues brought out just to pick on someone even though not all denominations or all churches have identical attitudes about them.

  4. Great comment.

    Minor pedantry:

    I’m not sure this is Theology as much as Christian Ethics.

    Theology would explore what about God’s character and nature is revealed by his demand that Mankind adhere to a monogamous life-long commitment between an individual male and an individual female in contrast to any of the dozen or more arrangements that Mankind has invented for himself.

    Whether or not Christ expected Christianity to believe God exclusively compels such an arrangement, without explicit commands from Christ found in Scripture and therefore demanding the kind of exposition Rich in CT provides…that’s Christian Ethics.

    My (also minor) quibble with Rich is this line:

    “The central message of Christianity is one of sacrifice.”

    We need to be clear what we mean when we say “sacrifice”. Because Christ, as recorded in the Matthew’s Gospel at ch 9 v 13 and ch 12 v 7, distinctly states that Father God “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice”. Christ was quoting God’s revealed prophecy from Hosea 6:6.

    I only mention this because I know those eager to find cheaply asserted inconsistencies in Christian doctrine will dive immediately on phraseology like that, where you mean “sacrifice” as in individual believers forgoing personal pleasures and luxuries for a higher calling and Christ was referring to actual sacrifices for the Temple system.

  5. Tremendous comment, Rich. Is this a great web log or what? Sheesh, the comments are really engaging essays. Amazing.

  6. What do you people do with Christ’s words that he did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it?

    Or the fact that Christ routinely quoted the old testament?

    Or that teaching in the temple he told them that in their hearing the scripture was fulfilled?

    Basic theology 101.

    And while forgiveness was emphasized by Christ, how often did he tell them to sin no more?

    What would qualify as sin according to Jesus? Anything in the “old testament”.

    Those who were witnesses to his teaching wrote about his approach to sin and righteousness, i.e. the “new testament”.

    Will we now just throw all those teachings out?

    The qualifications for “church” leadership are also laid out, and those who do not adhere to them are disqialified. Now y’all will parse about what the “church” is. Hint: the entirety of believers.

    If the university had any ethics they’d simply disallow any religious organization, since the ethical practice of most of them would violate the university’s rules.

    No, I would not qualify for church leadership, no I am not perfect, but I am willing to state what is plainly written in the Bible.

    Isaiah 6:9-10

    We are all foolish, and I am chief among them.

  7. Another thing to consider is Paul’s trip to Jerusalem to talk with James and Peter about the Gentiles. Few Christians are of Jewish background now, so this is of importance to most Christians. The controversy was about whether the Gentile converts needed to become Jews or not. In the end, it was decided “As for the Gentile believers, they should do what we already told them in a letter: They should abstain from eating food offered to idols, from consuming blood or the meat of strangled animals, and from sexual immorality.” It seems like they are being treated as God-fearers, Gentiles, not full converts to Judaism. This is why Christians do not hold to the dietary laws, laws against having clothing made of 2 different materials, etc but DO hold to the laws against sexual immorality found in the Old Testament.

    • OK, Google has gone too far. After researching a little for the previous post, I opened my web browser today and found…an ad for Righteous Gentiles! Limited Selection! New and Used! Free Shipping!. I wish I was kidding.

    • In the Book of Acts, Peter has a vision, where he is presented a great smorgasbord containing meats for all the animals on the earth, over the earth, and under the earth, and an Angel commands him to take and eat.

      Peter refuses to touch the unclean animals, but the Angel commands him again, telling him not to refuse what “God has Made Clean”.

  8. After catching up with all of the wonderful comments here and on the original post, I actually have something new to bring to the discussion.

    It seems to me that the girl knew, or should have known, that her choice would place the club in an untenable position.

    She was in leadership, so we can presume that she was intimately cognizant of how the leadership in particular and the membership in general would view such an action. If she were actually discovering her sexuality, and believed in what the club stands for, she would have stepped down, recognizing that she could not have her cake and eat it too. Instead, she selfishly decided that everyone else must change for her whim (a very progressive snowflake attitude, no?) In choosing to take that action and still stay in a leadership role, she forced the issue.

    In my experience, those who force an issue in this way do not do so by accident, not when one is a Harvard level student. This is not ‘I kissed a girl and I liked it’ but ‘I intend to provoke a reaction.’

    My theory, therefore, is that this girl accepted membership and leadership under false pretenses, to provoke this very situation. She is a progressive undercover agent, out to get those ‘intolerant Christians.’ This is therefore a false flag operation, designed to destroy her perceived enemies. This IS a progressive/socialist/communist ploy commonly used the world over.

    The theory fits the facts. If more of the story comes to light, we can review the theory in light of that.

    • I was involved in the leadership of a similar non-denominational Christian group. There were no doctrinal checks, or anything of the sort. Hell, I probably did not even qualify as a Catholic to be a leader. The young women could very easily have slid into the role of bible study leader without a second thought as to whether her behavior might be a problem.

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