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June 29, 2004

Redefining and Refusing Nature

Increasingly, the comments to my posts make for better reading than the ramblings to which they append. Such was most definitely the case with yesterday's post about the lack of Christian and conservative engagement in the same-sex marriage battle. The comment debate's interest is largely attributable to the response of Chuck Anziulewicz, and although I'm not sure from whence he came, I'm glad he found his way here with sufficient concern to express his disagreement.

Disagreement on this topic tends to wear a circular rut in the discourse, and tempers rise with each lap. However, Chuck's latest volley stands as evidence that this needn't be the case — that a bit of civility and consideration can move the worn topic to another level. Meriting a spun-off thread, Chuck writes:

As for my life with my partner Greg, I think God understands my heart, mind, and motivations better than any self-appointed moral guardian, and for Him to summarily condemn the joy we have in our commitment to each other seems completely illogical by any remotely human standard.

I am committed Greg, as he is to me. We are both Gay; our mutually shared sexual orientation is as fundamental to our emotional and biological makeup as liking food. We were fortunate enough to have been introduced to each other five years ago (June 29, 1999) by friends who felt that we would be compatible, and sure enough, we are. Since we both take a rather conservative approach to love and relationships, we are monogamous and avoid situations in which we might be tempted to stray. Greg is my love, my life, and my inspiration; he seems to feel the same way about me.

HOWEVER: For the more conservative Christians, none of this matters. There are no moral distinctions to be made between promiscuous Gay men as opposed to couples such as us. It's all simply wrong, wrong, wrong. The Scriptures, they inform me, are clear on this matter: That no matter how righteously I conduct my life, if I remain unapologetic for maintaining my committment to my spouse, God will most assuredly damn me to an eternity of withering punishment.

To avoid this, I am told, Greg & I must end our relationship. We need to put an end to our love for and committment to each other. Gay relationships are simply out of the question, case closed. My spiritual redemption is at stake.

MY CHOICE: Either to continue to do well and good by my spouse, to continue to do everything I can to ensure Greg's happiness and the joy we share in each other's company ... OR to avoid the eternal torments of Hell.

Since the latter of the two seems rather selfish, I'll stay with Greg, thank you very much. No Supreme Being comprehensible by me would punish what we have together. And any God that would punish us because we have chosen to honor our love and committment to each other is not a God that I would wish to ally myself with.

This view of God, although common, resonates like an odd blend of New Age relativism and Book of Judges rejectionism. It's a romantic cliché, in our times, to say such things as "if this is wrong, I don't want to be right," but Chuck might as well have refused to "ally" himself with a notion of biology that renders exhilarating free falls dangerous.

His conclusion is embedded in his premises, so he doesn't adequately weigh the possibility that those "conservative Christians" are actually right. If God is not a therapeutic intellectual device to be constructed, but rather an aspect of reality to be understood, then Chuck's choice could be cataclysmically false. It isn't between ensuring Greg's happiness and feeling the promise of Heaven. Instead, in fulfilling his apparent definition of worldly "well and good" for Greg, he condemns them both.

But that isn't the whole story; Chuck and Greg can secure both the joy that they "share in each other's company" and salvation. They just have to develop a relationship that isn't sexual. Why that should be so — why the seemingly simple pleasure of physical gratification should be an intimacy too far — I don't know. I'm not making up God on the fly to accord with my prejudices, but interpreting revelation, experience, and thought.

We'll probably all agree that love and commitment aren't bad, in God's eyes. Per se, they are unmitigatedly good. However, that's precisely why distortion of their expression is so objectionable. Who would knowingly reject God if sin were tied to sharp, immediate pain? If one believes, as I do, that Hell is self-inflicted, who would choose it if he didn't think he was pursuing something pure, like love?

"Ally," in Chuck's usage, means nothing less than a refusal to believe in God as most Christians believe Him to be. If Christians are right, and if we see God as the One who is rather than the "one I choose," then Chuck has made himself an example — the logic — of how expression of homosexuality expands toward rejection of God, the choice of Hell.

Posted by Justin Katz at June 29, 2004 8:51 PM
Religion
Comments

"Increasingly, the comments to my posts make for better reading than the ramblings to which they append."

Don't sell yourself short - getting the thoughts started takes more effort and talent than responding to them.

But your response is on the money - Satan loves nothing better than to use good intentions to accomplish evil. The paving of the road to hell, and all that...

It is quite amazing how ingrained is the idea that God is whatever we want Him to be (I know, since I held the same view until recently). I suppose that's not so amazing if one thinks of Him as a "therapeutic intellectual device" (nice turn of phrase, that!), but it's somewhat more amazing that people who profess to be believers have essentially the same view. Do they never read the book they purport to follow? Of course, by asking the question I give the answer away... A corollary to Colson's query is the fact that the church as a body bears a great deal of responsibility for the current views of God, marriage, and the need for a FMA in the first place. Perhaps the Holy Spirit is leading a renewal even as we speak...

Posted by: Mike S. at June 29, 2004 10:17 PM

Nice post.

I think you are right to point out this false choice that Chuck feels he is faced: no relationship at all, or one that includes sexual expression. But there is another way, for as you and Mike S. note, sin often comes from a misuse of something good. Gay people can have close, loving friendships, but introducing sexual expression into that relationship is introducing sin. I know that this opinion isn't popular, but it is the same with other couples - men and women who otherwise have close and loving relationships, but who introduce sin if they sleep together outside of marriage. It may seem unfortunate that there cannot be a right context for homosexual sexual expression, but this is what God and the natural law teach us. It doesn't preclude relationships of all kinds, however. David Morrison (davidmorrison.typepad.com/sedcontra) is a great witness to this type of relationship, where he and his partner gave up sexual sin and found their friendship to be much stronger as a result. I've found in my own life that backing away from the precipice of sexual sin, as tempting and as right as it might seem, is actually quite liberating. (You see more clearly, as C.S. Lewis writes: "Virtue - even attempted virtue - brings light; indulgence brings fog.") What God tells us is that we can know true freedom through obedience to the Good. It may be hard to let go of what we think makes us happy, but God knows better than us and He has given us guidelines if we have eyes to see it. He doesn't want us to be unhappy, but He does expect us to follow the right path. And if in an effort to assert our own understanding, contrary to what He teaches, of what's right or what would make us happy, then we reject Him and suffer the consequences.

Posted by: Kimberly at June 30, 2004 8:54 AM

Dear Justin:

You write, "Chuck and Greg can secure both the joy that they "share in each other's company" and salvation. They just have to develop a relationship that isn't sexual."

Thus far nothing I've said has hinted at my sex life other than the fact that I've identified myself as Gay. I'm not in the habit of discussing the intimacies Greg & I may or may not share. But I can tell you with all sincerity that even if one or both of us were rendered incapable of engaging in sex (as a result of injury or illness, for instance), I seriously doubt it would diminish our love for each other. We are a Gay couple, yes, but our relationship is not defined by sex.

Years ago the magazine The Advocate conducted a fairly exhaustive survey of its readership, going into all kinds of detail about sexual and cultural attitudes, economics, etc. One of the more interesting questions went something like this: "If you had to live live in a world with (A) Sex but no love, or (B) love but no sex, which would you pick?" A pretty sizeable majority, somewhere between 80 and 90 percent, picked the latter.

Posted by: Chuck Anziulewicz at June 30, 2004 9:15 AM

That being the case, Chuck, why are you (apparently) pushing for SSM? Surely you can see that the government has no interest in legally recognizing all close personal relationships? Would you be content with a system that gives various benefits and/or responsibilities to couples, regardless of their respective genders and their sexual relationship (e.g. two older sisters living together, or an older father who lives with his single daughter, or a gay couple, would all have the same options), with the explicit understanding that these arrangements are not a substitute for marriage? Why or why not?

In any case, your point doesn't really address the issue - your saying that you can, in effect, "take it (sex) or leave it" (aside from the faint implication that this is true for most homosexuals, which seems rather far-fetched), is irrelevant to whether God prohibits it or not. A sin is not a sin only if one is deeply attracted to it, or irresistably drawn to it. It's a sin if it contradicts God's will.

Posted by: Mike S. at June 30, 2004 9:35 AM

"Frankly, if the Bush administration would somehow tweak Social Security and IRS laws so that Gay couples could file joint tax returns and designate each other as beneficiaries, the whole hullabaloo over Gay marriage would probably evaporate."

Sorry, I just went back and found this in Chuck's original comment below. Two thoughts come to mind:

1) many SSM advocates have made it clear that they want more than just benefits - they want full recognition. They say 'legal recognition', but of course they also mean 'social recognition'. So while such changes might reduce the SSM drive, it wouldn't make it evaporate.

2) It's not clear to me why my taxes should go to support Greg in the event of Chuck's death. (I'm not sure what IRS laws in particular you are advocating changing, but I'm quite sure you can arrange to have him inhereit your property by filling out a will.) The original purpose of Social Security was to make sure elderly couples and widows/widowers didn't end up destitute. This was at a time when life expectancy was lower than it is now, when men were the primary breadwinners and also the most likely to die first, and when the elderly did not have as many financial resources. Now we have situation where people can retire at 65 and expect to live 20 or more years, rather than 5 or so, many women have independent incomes, and the elderly have more wealth than any other segment of the population. One of the things that needs to be done to reform Social Security is to implement means-testing. It's hard for me to imagine that Greg will be in a position where he cannot work or support himself, and where your SS check would make a big difference. Even if such a situation is in effect, it's not at all clear that we should change the whole system for the handful of such cases. Not to mention changing the age-old definition of marriage.

Posted by: Mike S. at June 30, 2004 9:52 AM

Dear Mike:

You claim "Many SSM advocates have made it clear that they want more than just benefits - they want full recognition. They say 'legal recognition', but of course they also mean 'social recognition'."

I really don't know what you mean by social recognition. Neither I nor any Gay person I know is interested in forcing anyone to APPROVE of Gay couples, just like you can't force Southern Baptists to APPROVE of Muslims. The Gay community doesn't employ "thought police." Frankly I don't care what evangelicals say Gays or Muslims or anyone they don't consider "theologically correct." Gay couples simply want to be treat fairly under the law.

You say, "It's not clear to me why my taxes should go to support Greg in the event of Chuck's death."

Put yourself in my shoes for a moment. How clear should it be to me that my taxes should go to support widows and widowers from an institution (namely marriage) that Greg & I are barred from participating in? You claim the original purpose for survivor benefits under Social Security has become antiquated, and you propose "means-testing." Fair enough. But once again, Gay and Straight couples ought to be treated fairly under the law.

You insist that "It's hard for me to imagine that Greg will be in a position where he cannot work or support himself, and where your SS check would make a big difference."

That's irrelevant. We could say the same thing about any married spouse or widow or widower. Those of us who have made a solemn commitment to our spouse's happiness and well-being are simply interested in providing that financial safety-net for that person. Wouldn't you wish that for your spouse?

And finally, "Even if such a situation is in effect, it's not at all clear that we should change the whole system for the handful of such cases."

How would anything change for heterosexual couples? It wouldn't, especially if it's just a paltry "handful of such cases." This is what I find so exasperating about such arguments. Those that propound such argument insist that (1) Gay people make up such an insignificant part of the population, and (2) Gay people are so terribly incapable of true commitment that only the tiniest fraction of Gay people are in such relationships .... yet allowing such couples ANY legal benefits and responsibilities will cause a "sea change" in the whole institution of marriage.

The fact is, allowing Gay couples the incentives and protections of marriage would not cause more married Straight couples to divorce. It would not cause more people to "become" Gay. It would not change any of the legal benefits that married couples already have. It would not increase domestic violence. It would not cause families to come apart at the seams. It would not cause couples to have fewer children. It would change NOTHING in the lives of Straight individuals and couples. And if it causes more Gay couples to stick together in stable relationships, is that not preferable to flitting from one relationship to the next?

Posted by: Chuck Anziulewicz at June 30, 2004 11:01 AM

Social Recognition == using your new "marriage" rights to further bludgeon the Boy Scouts of America into submission.

for example.

Posted by: Marty at June 30, 2004 11:22 AM

Chuck writes:

Thus far nothing I've said has hinted at my sex life other than the fact that I've identified myself as Gay.

Well, that's cutting your own situation pretty carefully from the larger scale at which decisions about marriage must be made, for one thing. Self-identifying as homosexual implies, particularly in the current climate, belief in the morality of the form of sex. Moreover, if one can be "homosexual" without having sex, I fail to see how a relationship cannot be "sexual" without involving the act. Perhaps "romantic" (in a modern sense) would be a better term.

But let's postulate that your relationship is not sexual. Repeating Mike S., what claim do you therefore have to marriage that does not also apply to any two (or more) people who care a great deal about each other and are willing to commit to mutual support? In a subsequent comment, you mention the unfairness of losing potential Social Security benefits, but how is this not true for single people? The only difference is that you've found somebody to whom you'd like to grant a right to that money.

This point ties into this, as well:

Those that propound such argument insist that (1) Gay people make up such an insignificant part of the population, and (2) Gay people are so terribly incapable of true commitment that only the tiniest fraction of Gay people are in such relationships .... yet allowing such couples ANY legal benefits and responsibilities will cause a "sea change" in the whole institution of marriage.

You suggest that you want gay couples to be treated fairly under the law in comparison to straight couples, to which I would suggest that gay couples are not similarly situated to straight couples by nature of their being of a single gender. A common reply that you might make (have made) would be that many straight couples marry without the intent to fulfill the traditional familial role of spouses. If two unrelated opposite-sex people wish to grant Social Security benefits to each other, they can do so by getting married.

"Fairness," in your usage, would require the same possibility to be true for same-sex people, and it would come without the long-established cultural significance of what it means when a man marries a woman. At the very least, the effects — cultural, social, legal — would be far greater than suggested merely by the percentage of the population that identifies as homosexual.

The fact is that all of your "facts" about what will happen are nothing more than assertions. That you blithely treat them otherwise suggests that the possibility of such outcomes is of distant importance in your advocacy.

Posted by: Justin Katz at June 30, 2004 11:48 AM

"I really don't know what you mean by social recognition. Neither I nor any Gay person I know is interested in forcing anyone to APPROVE of Gay couples, just like you can't force Southern Baptists to APPROVE of Muslims. The Gay community doesn't employ "thought police." Frankly I don't care what evangelicals say Gays or Muslims or anyone they don't consider "theologically correct." Gay couples simply want to be treat fairly under the law."

I'm happy to stipulate that you, personally, do not want to force anyone else to approve of your lifestyle. However, changing marriage laws to include same-sex couples will, in effect, force this change on everyone. If this result were to come about democratically, via legislation, then I would be much less bothered by it. I think it would be a mistake, but it would reflect the general consensus of the people. But the situation we have right now is that judges, mostly unelected, are declaring that these changed must be made, and I've seen very few SSM supporters decrying this means of achieving their goals - they want the law changed, and they don't care how. To me, that is forcing their view of things on others.

Second, as Marty's reference indicates, it is either highly disingenuous or willfully obtuse to claim that the gay rights movement, of which SSM is a part (and which includes more people than just homosexuals), is not interested in forcing everyone to view same-sex couples as no different from opposite-sex ones.

I'll have to concede that my foray into the Social Security question (which you initiated) was ill-advised. This is because it is really a tangential issue that doesn't get at the core point - what is the defintion of marriage, and why is it defined that way? Social security benefits are an outgrowth of a particular view of marriage - that is, they are a posteriori to the commonly held defintion of marriage. We don't decide who gets Social Security benefits and then call those people married. I agree that changing the laws about who is eligible for Social Security benefits won't really affect the larger question, since people don't define marriage based on Social Security laws.

"How would anything change for heterosexual couples? It wouldn't, especially if it's just a paltry "handful of such cases." This is what I find so exasperating about such arguments. Those that propound such argument insist that (1) Gay people make up such an insignificant part of the population, and (2) Gay people are so terribly incapable of true commitment that only the tiniest fraction of Gay people are in such relationships .... yet allowing such couples ANY legal benefits and responsibilities will cause a "sea change" in the whole institution of marriage."

Well, this is the question - are we just talking about adjusting Social Security law, or are we talking about changing the defintion of marriage more generally. Most of us who are opposed to SSM are not opposed to ANY legal benefits being conferred onto same-sex partners - in fact many can be right now, it's just not automatic as in the case with married couples - we're opposed to calling same-sex couples married.

"The fact is, allowing Gay couples the incentives and protections of marriage would not cause more married Straight couples to divorce. It would not cause more people to "become" Gay. It would not change any of the legal benefits that married couples already have. It would not increase domestic violence. It would not cause families to come apart at the seams. It would not cause couples to have fewer children."

But would it cause more couples to have children out of wedlock? That is the question, not the things you mentioned.

"It would change NOTHING in the lives of Straight individuals and couples."

You don't know that. If it causes couples to get married less frequently *in the future, after the change in the definition of marriage takes effect*, especially when they have children, then it will effect those couples, and, most seriously, those children.

"And if it causes more Gay couples to stick together in stable relationships, is that not preferable to flitting from one relationship to the next?"

Yes, all things being equal it would be better for gay couples to stay in monogamous relationships. But I don't see how society as a whole will be much effected one way or the other by such an occurence. Society is effected profoundly, however, when children grow up without both parents around. If SSM will result in more gay couples staying together (which I am skeptical about), but also in more children being born out of wedlock (which I think is likely), then the costs of enacting it outweigh the benefits.

You can claim until you are blue in the face that SSM won't affect general attitudes about marriage, but the fact is you don't know that, because it's never been tried on a wide scale. And in the places where it has been tried to some degree (Holland and Scandanavia), the early results indicate a negative effect.

Posted by: Mike S. at June 30, 2004 12:05 PM

Interesting post and comments:

This was started by Justin's post declaring that Chuck's choice to indulge in homosexual behavior is a rejection of God and movement towards Hell.

Chuck wisely did not try to debate that as it is clear that, theologically speaking, homosexual behavior is sinful.

Obviously, there are a number of behaviors that are condemned and defined as sinful in the Bible that are still legally accepted - such as divorce and then remarriage. I'd like to hear why homosexual behavior should be treated differently than other behaviors with regard to civil law. The argument seems to be that it's acceptance is more dangerous to the culture than say, abortion, pornography, death penalty, divorce and out-of-wedlock births.

And, how about some acknowledgment of the struggle by some religious leaders over the issue of homosexuality. It exists. You can argue that the Church is moving left to accommodate public opinion. I don't agree. The Church has not struggled with abortion, divorce, pre-marital sex or pornography. It may allow more 'divorce' but it does not embrace it or consider it neutral as some have treated homosexuality. The reality is that while God is not the 'therapeutic intellectual device' as you call it but his human creations are.

The assertions that homosexuality is against 'God's nature' are no more correct than Chuck's assertions that his homosexual tendency is following his nature. Call me a heretic. But, to me, same-sex opponents have no more claim to what is seen through God's eyes than anyone else.

There is a some lack of 'intellectual' reasoning for opposing homosexual behavior. That is why there is some debate even among some theologians about the issue of homosexuality. You may not agree with those but it would add to your credibility if you at least acknowledged that reality.

Finally, with regard to c matt's analogy of homosexuality to not indulging in all of ones sexual attractions (and the accompanying bravado) the analogy is shallow at best. The difference is that of monogamy versus a life without emotional or physical love. I think I remember someone on this site acknowledging that asking homosexuals to basically forgo meaningful intimacy forever is asking a lot - while still believing that is the only way to achieve God's Kingdom. I admire that human acknowledgment of the dilemma.

Posted by: Mark Miller at June 30, 2004 12:44 PM

And if it causes more Gay couples to stick together in stable relationships, is that not preferable to flitting from one relationship to the next?

Not particularly preferable. In fact, the same applies to hetero couples. As Mike points out, the stability in the raltionship is not there for the couple, it is there for the children of the couple. When someone is dating, no one says they need a "stable" relationship. In fact, they are more likely to encourage say, an eighteen to twenty-something, to date and meet many different people. It is not until someone thinks about "settling down", and particularly, raising a family, that stable relationships become a priority. And yes, wanting legal recognition of SSM is a request for societal approval of the relationship. In this respect, SSM is much like the slavery issue in reverse - slavery was declared illegal precisely b/c the legal dissaproval would eventually lead to societal dissaproval (same with discrimination - it became illegal, and then socially disapproved). Legal recognition of SSM will have the mirror effect - its legalization will lead to societal approval (along with its pc thought enforcement).

Posted by: c matt at June 30, 2004 1:01 PM

Mark,

You'll have to take me at my word that I'm responding collegially, but once again I find myself wondering about your image of me. We're just not connecting. For example:

This was started by Justin's post declaring that Chuck's choice to indulge in homosexual behavior is a rejection of God and movement towards Hell.

That's not really what I "declared." My point was that Chuck is engaged in a lifestyle that has observably led him to reject God as I believe Him to be. Now, one can argue that my view of God is wrong, but that doesn't legitimize the manner of understanding God's nature that sets certain parameters for what He must approve of.

I'd like to hear why homosexual behavior should be treated differently than other behaviors with regard to civil law. The argument seems to be that it's acceptance is more dangerous to the culture than say, abortion, pornography, death penalty, divorce and out-of-wedlock births.

With the disclaimer that different cultural battles require different strategies, I (and, I'm pretty sure, most other commenters here) can run through your list and 1) agree that, yes, a particular activity is more dangers, 2) suggest that, no, it isn't, or 3) suggest that it isn't really a comparable social phenomenon. Overall, I'd say that, if you wish to insert a particular "other behavior" into the conversation, the burden falls on you to explain why it even makes sense to compare them.

The Church has not struggled with abortion, divorce, pre-marital sex or pornography. It may allow more 'divorce' but it does not embrace it or consider it neutral as some have treated homosexuality.

It isn't clear to me what you mean by "the Church." If you mean Christians, all included, then you're plainly wrong that there isn't a struggle over those other issues. If you mean specifically the Catholic Church, then I think your comparison of the issues is wrong. The Church doesn't treat homosexual behavior neutrally; it treats people inclined to have urges toward it neutrally. In much the same way, it would treat those inclined to consider divorce "neutrally."

The assertions that homosexuality is against 'God's nature' are no more correct than Chuck's assertions that his homosexual tendency is following his nature.

I think you mean "self-evidently correct," since it would otherwise be an assertion on your part to declare the two propositions equally valid. Either way, I don't think you mean to slide toward the relativism evident in that paragraph. A particular group can't claim to have additional information unavailable to all, but we can argue about what information that we do have is valid, and what its implications are. And at any rate, all of our natures are sinful, in degree, so it wouldn't really be a contradiction for God's nature to require resistence of urges toward homosexual behavior and for people to have those urges.

That is why there is some debate even among some theologians about the issue of homosexuality. You may not agree with those but it would add to your credibility if you at least acknowledged that reality.

You've been reading this blog for months, by this point. Either I have credibility with you or I don't. I could hem and haw with each sentence, but I think it was adequately clear in this post that I was advising against coming to moral conclusions on the basis of false choices about the nature of God and the consequences of being wrong.

Posted by: Justin Katz at June 30, 2004 1:41 PM

C Matt:

When someone is dating, no one says they need a "stable" relationship. In fact, they are more likely to encourage say, an eighteen to twenty-something, to date and meet many different people.

Good point. I'll have to keep that one among my mental notecards.

Posted by: Justin Katz at June 30, 2004 1:43 PM

"The assertions that homosexuality is against 'God's nature' are no more correct than Chuck's assertions that his homosexual tendency is following his nature. Call me a heretic. But, to me, same-sex opponents have no more claim to what is seen through God's eyes than anyone else."

Mark, even if this were true (whether subject to Justin's clarification or not), it at most removes the argument that we shouldn't condone or promote unethical behavior. It does not address the question of how marriage should be defined, and why it is defined as it has been traditionally. There are lots of other ethically neutral or positive couplings that we don't call marriage - even if homosexual behavior were not immoral, you still have to make the postive case that the definition of marriage should be changed to include same-sex couples.

And I echo Justin in thinking that you've missed the point of this particular post (which granted, the comments have drifted from somewhat). Namely, that Chuck sets up a choice between the good of caring for Greg (the assumption being that such caring is linked to a sexual relationship), and the bad of going to Hell. As Justin says, this is a false choice:

"It isn't between ensuring Greg's happiness and feeling the promise of Heaven. Instead, in fulfilling his apparent definition of worldly "well and good" for Greg, he condemns them both."

The basic question is, who gets to determine the moral law, God, or us? If, as you say, the Bible is unequivocal on this matter, then it's hard to see how you can disagree with Justin's position.

Posted by: Mike S. at June 30, 2004 2:47 PM

Justin,

I think we've exchanged enough to safely say that we do not connect.

I understood exactly what you said and I wholeheartedly agree that this is not about the legitimization of the manner of understanding God's nature that sets certain parameters for His approval. My point was simply that the assertion of what is God's way and what is not is not an exact science and that, in my opinion, the declaration that homosexual behavior is a 'rejection' of God is not particularly helpful in the context of this debate. But I certainly acknowledge the basis of that view.

"With the disclaimer that different cultural battles require different strategies, I (and, I'm pretty sure, most other commenters here) can run through your list and 1) agree that, yes, a particular activity is more dangers, 2) suggest that, no, it isn't, or 3) suggest that it isn't really a comparable social phenomenon. Overall, I'd say that, if you wish to insert a particular "other behavior" into the conversation, the burden falls on you to explain why it even makes sense to compare them."
----- As usual, it seems we have a bad connection. The argument I was responding to is that unethical or immoral behavior should not be recognized by law as 'legitimate'. My reasons for comparing them is asking you to explain your reasoning as to why those others are legally and civilly 'legitimized' but why homosexuality should not be. It is just as legitimate a question as those on your side asking why gays but not polygamists should be legitimized.


The Church has not struggled with abortion, divorce, pre-marital sex or pornography. It may allow more 'divorce' but it does not embrace it or consider it neutral as some have treated homosexuality.
It isn't clear to me what you mean by "the Church." If you mean Christians, all included, then you're plainly wrong that there isn't a struggle over those other issues.
--- I was referring to religious institutions. You'd have to show me where any Church has struggled with whether abortion or pre-marital sex is a morally neutral event.

The Church doesn't treat homosexual behavior neutrally; it treats people inclined to have urges toward it neutrally.
--- Not true. There are Churches and Synagogues that treat homosexual behavior neutrally. There have been consequences such as in the Episcopal Church but all I meant to convey was that there are those among the Christian realm that struggle with the evangelical view of homosexuality.

The assertions that homosexuality is against 'God's nature' are no more correct than Chuck's assertions that his homosexual tendency is following his nature. I think you mean "self-evidently correct," since it would otherwise be an assertion on your part to declare the two propositions equally valid. Either way, I don't think you mean to slide toward the relativism evident in that paragraph. A particular group can't claim to have additional information unavailable to all, but we can argue about what information that we do have is valid, and what its implications are.
----- You are correct - 'self-evidently correct' is more accurate. I also agree with the rest of what you said. We are arguing about what the implications are.


And at any rate, all of our natures are sinful, in degree, so it wouldn't really be a contradiction for God's nature to require resistence of urges toward homosexual behavior and for people to have those urges.
----- The phrase 'in degree' is the key here. In my view, there are no other comparable urges that God is asking resistance of - to that degree. I guess the difference here is that I am looking for some logical reason. That is my nature.

You've been reading this blog for months, by this point. Either I have credibility with you or I don't.
----- What does THAT mean ? Does Professor Rosenberg have any credibility with you ? You do have some credibility with me or I wouldn't be wasting my time reading or responding but this is about persuasion and I happen to feel that certain acknowledgments would assist in your ability to persuade.

I could hem and haw with each sentence, but I think it was adequately clear in this post that I was advising against coming to moral conclusions on the basis of false choices about the nature of God and the consequences of being wrong.
---- I understand completely what you were advising. Where we disagree is around the word 'false' and the nature of God.

When someone is dating, no one says they need a "stable" relationship. In fact, they are more likely to encourage say, an eighteen to twenty-something, to date and meet many different people.
Good point. I'll have to keep that one among my mental notecards.
—--- Not a good point. In some cases, when people are dating for many years, there are those that encourage them to get married. This could apply to either gay or straight couples. Well, only in Massachusetts.

In response to Mike S.

"There are lots of other ethically neutral or positive couplings that we don't call marriage ...."
—--- There are ? Please provide examples . Please don't say brother and sister because what marriage implies an intimate relationship. Are there other ethically neutral or positive couplings in an romantic relationship that are not legally sanctioned ? Not to mention the many examples of ethically negative opposite sex couplings that are legally sanctioned.

The basic question is, who gets to determine the moral law, God, or us? If, as you say, the Bible is unequivocal on this matter, then it's hard to see how you can disagree with Justin's position.
—---- What are we debating ? If it is whether gay relationships should be legitimized by law, then your question is irrelevant in that context. If it is specifically about the moral nature of homosexuality, then it is harder to argue based on Biblical scripture, but there are many - some within the evangelical community and who use Biblical text to justify their confusion - who still struggle with that conclusion. To you, that seems to mean that the Devil is winning the fight for our souls. Maybe so. Maybe not.

I like to think that I'm one of the more reasonable of those who don't agree with all of your positions but maybe I am deluding myself.

Posted by: Mark Miller at June 30, 2004 4:37 PM

Mike writes, "If, as you say, the Bible is unequivocal on this matter, then it's hard to see how you can disagree with Justin's position."

But the Bible is NOT unequivocal on this matter. In fact there is nothing in the Bible condemning loving, nurturing, and monogamous Gay relationships. Many Bible scholars say that the passages used to condemn Gay people are aimed at rape, cultic religious practices, and pagan temple prostitution, in an effort to more clearly separate and insulate the cultural norms of ancient tribal Israel from those pagan cultures. Keeping the Bible in context is important. There is some room for interpretation.

Posted by: Chuck Anziulewicz at June 30, 2004 4:39 PM

"But the Bible is NOT unequivocal on this matter."

It is unequivocal on how marriage is defined.

"There are lots of other ethically neutral or positive couplings that we don't call marriage ...."
—--- There are ? Please provide examples .Please don't say brother and sister because what marriage implies an intimate relationship. Are there other ethically neutral or positive couplings in an romantic relationship that are not legally sanctioned ? Not to mention the many examples of ethically negative opposite sex couplings that are legally sanctioned.

This is the same issue we went 'round and 'round on in our email exchange, so I don't see how we're going to get anywhere on it. You keep equating the non-recognition of SSM with punishment - that is, that not recognizing SSM is a form of opprobrium. But we don't recognize (positively or negatively) couples who live together, but aren't married unless they have children. The reason we encourage them (or used to) to get married, through the law and cultural attitudes, is because they are likely to produce a child. The likelihood is lower than it used to be due to contraception, but it is still significant. Why should we, as a society, encourage gay couples to get married? That is what I'm asking.

Posted by: Mike S. at June 30, 2004 5:27 PM

There's an error in Chuck's comments I'd like to address. He said, "... an institution (namely marriage) that Greg & I are barred from participating in?"

This is incorrect.

Marriage is between a man and a woman. This is what Chuck wants to change. Chuck is not barred from participating in marriage by anything other than his lack of interest in it. Chuck has the same ability to participate in marriage as any other man, and has to overcome the same hurdles to do so (i.e., convince a woman to participate with him.) It's a level playing field, and the only difference is that Chuck has no interest in marriage.

Let's be honest. The only thing keeping Chuck from getting married is himself. If he wants to change that, it is within his power to try. But instead, all the rest of us are to change our social rules so that he can pretend to participate in the same arrangement he doesn't want to enter?

Posted by: Mike Burris at June 30, 2004 5:46 PM

Justin,

If gambling turns out to be sinful per se, is it certain that those claiming to be Christian who also, without repentance, engage in gambling will go to hell?

Some faithful Christians drink alcoholic beverages. Other faithful Christians believe that such conduct is a serious sin. If drinking is a sin, then is it possible for those who drink to avoid hell if they haven't repented?

On the one hand, we can't consciously live in a state of sin without repentance and still be saved. On the other hand, repentance seems to me to be a spiritual endeavor, not a legalistic one.

Posted by: Joel Thomas at June 30, 2004 7:50 PM

According to Mike, the Bible "is unequivocal on how marriage is defined."

Shall we take a look at what the Bible says?

Marriage shall consist of a union between one man and one OR MORE women. (Gen 29:17-28; II Sam 3:2-5.)

Marriage shall not impede a man's right to take concubines in addition to his wife or wives. (II Sam 5:13; I Kings 11:3; II Chron 11:21)

A marriage shall be considered valid only if the wife is a virgin. If the wife is not a virgin, she shall be executed. (Deut 22:13-21)

Marriage of a believer and a non-believer shall be forbidden. (Gen 24:3; Num 25:1-9; Ezra 9:12; Neh 10:30)

Since marriage is for life, neither the US Constitution nor any state law shall permit divorce. (Deut 22:19; Mark 10:9-12)

If a married man dies without children, his brother must marry the widow. If the brother refuses to marry the widow, or deliberately does not give her children, he shall pay a fine of one shoe and be otherwise punished in a manner to be determined by law. (Gen. 38:6-10; Deut 25:5-10)

Etc.

Of course, when these ancient tribal laws are cited, the common response is, "Well, we don't have to worry about those old laws because they're Old Testament, and with Jesus we have a whole New Covenant." Which begs the question: Does God ever change His mind?

Posted by: Chuck Anziulewicz at July 1, 2004 8:48 AM

Chuck,

It looks like you are quoting some passages in Scripture to support some propositions that aren't directly in there. But regardless: addressing the "Does God ever change His mind?" question, it is important to understand why the "common response" is what it is. The reason we don't follow all of the Old Testament laws, in my understanding, is that many of them were part of the laws needed to help the Israelites keep the covenant with God. But Christ was the fulfillment of that covenant, and he was the New Covenant. Through Christ, the external signs and rules of purity to keep the old covenant became no longer necessary: the sign of the new covenant was baptism by the Holy Spirit. But Christ did not say all the old rules were unnecessary: in fact, on marriage, he specifically affirmed Genesis: "Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning 'made them male and female' and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his parents and join his wife and the two shall become one flesh'?" (Mt 19:4-5). God doesn't change His mind on the moral law.

Posted by: Kimberly at July 1, 2004 9:31 AM

"Does God ever change His mind?"

No. But He does ask different things of different people, and our understanding of what He wants of us can change. Clearly the ancient Israelites lived under entirely different circumstances, and and entirely different understanding of God and nature than we do. I'm not saying that it is a trivial task to interpret the meaning of the Bible, or to discern God's will, but I am saying that I see no evidence in Scripture or in Christian theology, or in Natural Law, that marriage is meant to include same-sex couples. One cannot extrapolate from the fact that there are strictures in the Old Testament that we do not consider binding now (such as the prohibition on eating shellfish) to the claim that same-sex couples should be able to marry. One can also not extrapolate from laws that appear to explicitly allow things like polygamy or owning slaves to the conclusion that such activities are morally acceptable. I don't have the time or ability to go into an extended discussion of Biblical hermeneutics, and a blog is an inefficient way to go about such a study even if I did. All I can say is that one can find a quotation in Scripture to support almost any position one chooses to defend; that does not mean that such a position is theologically sound.

Posted by: Mike S. at July 1, 2004 10:06 AM

Mike S:

I don't follow you. Are you saying that it was morally correct for the ancient Israelites to own slaves, practive polygamy, kill homosexuals, because God asks "different things of different people," and "Israelites lived under entirely different circumstances?" But you also say that we cannot "extrapolate from laws that explicitly allow...to the conclusion that such activities are morally acceptable." There seems to be a contradiction here.

If owning slaves is immoral, laws that "explicity allow" it are immoral. If a society has such laws, their moral perspective is wrong. While it's true that we can't "extrapolate from the fact that there are strictures in the Old Testament that we do not consider binding now...to the claim that same sex couples should be allowed to marry," we can say that their understanding of human nature in general (slavery is ok), and homosexuality in particular (killing homosexuals is ok), is untrustworthy.

Posted by: arturo fernandez at July 1, 2004 12:59 PM

Mike,

I don't think that Chuck is trying to say that SSM can be supported based on theology. If he is ... bad idea.

But I think what he and Arturo are trying to point out is that you are using the explicitness of scripture as basis for your view of homosexuality but when someone points out scripture that does not fit your specfic agenda, then it becomes a matter of context and relativism.

Ultimately, we're all moral relativists - to some degree.

Posted by: Mark Miller at July 1, 2004 1:57 PM

"But I think what he and Arturo are trying to point out is that you are using the explicitness of scripture as basis for your view of homosexuality but when someone points out scripture that does not fit your specfic agenda, then it becomes a matter of context and relativism."

I said I didn't want to get into an extended discussion of Biblical hermeneutics and I meant it. (If someone else wants to jump in here they're welcome to). But here's a brief response.

This complaint is a common one - someone says "the Bible says don't do X", so you shouldn't do it. Someone else says, "the Bible also says don't do Y, but you're not telling me to not do Y. In fact, you yourself do Y. So why should I believe you when you say 'Don't do X' - aren't you capriciously selecting rules from the Bible to justify what you do or don't want to do?" It, of course, has some validity, in that a) almost everyone is a hypocrite in some form or another. That is, we all do things ourselves that we tell others (our children, for example) not to do. And b) there are contradictory passages in the Bible, and commands and laws that seem archaic or outright immoral to us now. The archetype of this is the story of Abraham and Isaac, where Abraham is willing to sacrifice his son simply because God told him to. We would consider someone who was willing to do such a thing nowadays as mentally ill and an unfit parent. Yet Abraham is revered in the three major monotheistic faiths as a great man of God.

I'm not saying you're both not bringing up good points - I'm just saying I'm not qualified to give a complete answer. And I will repeat my assertion that the negative points that have been brought up by you two and Chuck are only half of the question: so the Old Testament says that polygamy is OK - what are we to conclude from that? That we should ignore the Bible? That polygamy is OK? That it was OK then and not now? Therefore homosexual couples, which were prohibited then, should now be declared no different from heterosexual ones? What, precisely, is the argument? Are you saying that the Bible cannot be used as a basis for discerning the truth?

As Os Guiness says, Christianity is a 'need-to-know' religion. The fact that we don't understand everything in the Bible perfectly is not an excuse to not trust it. Arturo is right - there is a contradiction. Does it then follow that we get to make up the rules of morality on our own?

As Justin says, "I'm not making up God on the fly to accord with my prejudices, but interpreting revelation, experience, and thought." I'm not "using the explicitness of scripture as basis for your view of homosexuality" as Mark says - I'm using a combination of factors, one of which is the condemnation of homosexual activity in the Bible. I also use the extensive description of marriage in the New Testament, the Church's well-developed theology on the issues of marriage and sexuality, human history, biology, and my own observations of people and society. All of these things lead me to the conclusion that God means for us to reserve sexual activity for marriage, defined as one man and one woman bound monogamously for life.

Posted by: Mike S. at July 1, 2004 4:21 PM

Mike,

Very well said. I mean that.

All I'll add is that while your observations and interpretations lead you to that conclusion, someone else can legitimately come to another conclusion based on their unique observations and interpretations. Yet I do understand and respect the basis of your conclusion.

Posted by: Mark Miller at July 1, 2004 4:43 PM

Mark,

the declaration that homosexual behavior is a 'rejection' of God is not particularly helpful in the context of this debate.

What I'm trying to make clear, though, is that this isn't precisely my argument. I'm saying that, for whatever reason, homosexual behavior appears to lead to rejection of God as I believe Him to be. I'd also add that it seems to lead to other modes of thinking that further the rift. (As St. Paul might have predicted; see below.)

My reasons for comparing them is asking you to explain your reasoning as to why those others are legally and civilly 'legitimized' but why homosexuality should not be.

Well, the legal aspect of the debate is somewhat different from the theological. But part of my difficulty in answering your question is that you seem to ignore what you know about me. What's my reasoning as to why abortion should be legal and SSM shouldn't? None. Abortion ought to be illegal. (For example.)

The phrase 'in degree' is the key here. In my view, there are no other comparable urges that God is asking resistance of - to that degree.

Although I see why it wasn't clear, what I meant was that some degree of our natures are sinful. I.e., that we aren't purely sinful.

--------------

Chuck,

In Romans, it is pretty clear that St. Paul is views gay sex as obviously conflicting with what can be "understood from what has been made." What you've done is to lash "loving, nurturing," which nobody claims to be sinful between anybody, to sex; that in itself stands as an example of the corruption at work: you've sublimated love and mutual nurture to the legitimization of your preferred carnal activity.

I'm fully aware that people have argued all variations of the notion that the ancients didn't know the form that modern homosexuality would take (although one wonders why God wouldn't have clued them in), but they all give the impression of loophole-searching and excuse-making. This, I'd suggest, is the difficulty that arises with the notion of sola scriptura, and Mike is right that traditional conclusions come at the end of millennia of thinking and, well, tradition.

The point still stands, however, that you aren't phrasing your choice correctly, because you aren't correctly characterizing the argument of people such as myself.

Posted by: Justin Katz at July 2, 2004 8:56 AM

"All I can say is that one can find a quotation in Scripture to support almost any position one chooses to defend; that does not mean that such a position is theologically sound."

BINGO!

Posted by: Chuck Anziulewicz at July 2, 2004 9:00 AM

Justin,

"I'm saying that, for whatever reason, homosexual behavior appears to lead to rejection of God as I believe Him to be. I'd also add that it seems to lead to other modes of thinking that further the rift."

------ So it may not be the specific homosexual behavior that is a rejection of God but it leads down that path and leads to other evil thoughts (assuming that is what you meant by furthering the rift). In my view, that is simply another example of a specific biblical interpretation used to support your view. As Mike and I have said, other interpretations can lead to other conclusions.

"But part of my difficulty in answering your question is that you seem to ignore what you know about me. What's my reasoning as to why abortion should be legal and SSM shouldn't? None. Abortion ought to be illegal. (For example.)"

----- Who is ignoring what they know about whom ? I gave a number of examples as to my 'legal reasoning' question - how about legal recognition of divorce or the closest analogy could be why does the government legitimize out-of-wedlock births by providing benefits and treating it the same way as they'd treat a married couple who has a child. Shouldn't there be a legally recognized special status given to parents who are married and have children - used as moral encouragement ?

Have a good holiday weekend.

Posted by: Mark Miller at July 2, 2004 12:27 PM

"All I can say is that one can find a quotation in Scripture to support almost any position one chooses to defend; that does not mean that such a position is theologically sound."

BINGO!


As I said, even if I were to grant (I don't, but for the sake of argument we can suppose it) that you have weakened or demolished the Scriptural basis for opposing SSM, you haven't made a positive defense of it. This isn't like a court of law where if you show that the prosecutions case has some holes in it, then you can be aquitted - you have to delineate an argument that supports your position, as well. (Not to mention that in this case the presupposition should be in favor of traditional marriage - i.e. traditional marriage is innocent until proven guilty, so the role of the prosecution should rightly be played by the pro-SSM side.) I don't think this can be done based upon Scripture and traditional theology. But I would like to see the attempt.

Posted by: Mike S. at July 2, 2004 1:35 PM

As far as I can tell, the Bible is silent on the issue of loving, monogamous relationships between men or between women of a homosexual orientation. The Bible is quite clear about rape, sexual crimes of violence, ritual prostitution in pagan temples, and the catamite/pederast relationships that were more accepted in ancient Roman culture. After reading the Bible, as well as reading other books of Biblical scholarship, I've come to the conclusion that the sort of monogamous relationship that I am in is simply not addressed. Conservative Christians who feel otherwise are more than welcome to conduct their own lives accordingly.

There are obviously many people who are convinced that if I persist in my beliefs, I'm most certainly doomed to an eternity in Hell. I still find their logic unconvincing.

Posted by: Chuck Anziulewicz at July 2, 2004 4:15 PM

"I've come to the conclusion that the sort of monogamous relationship that I am in is simply not addressed."

I suppose that it is necessary to come to the conclusion, regarding a particular behavior, that the Bible does not specifically prohibit it in order to claim that that behavior is morally justified, but is it sufficient? Does the absence of explicit prohibition equal commendation? And doesn't the fact that you are going explicitly to look to see if it is prohibited imply a prejudgement of the issue?

Part of Justin's point is that if your attitude towards the Bible is that it is a list of prohibited/accepted behaviors, then you are limiting yourself to a stunted view of what the Bible is, it's meaning, and how we are to approach it. And by extension, what God is, His meaning for your life, and how you are to approach Him.

"Conservative Christians who feel otherwise are more than welcome to conduct their own lives accordingly."

I would like to reiterate that this is an extremely disingenous claim frequently made by SSM advocates - the "if you don't like SSM, don't enter into one" retort. Marriage is more than simply a private contract between two individuals, and same-sex couples know it. That's why they are pushing to have the legal system recognize their particular contracts. Not to mention that for you to claim that SSM is consistent with Christian teachings directly contradicts what has traditionally been taught by the church. You can't expect to go around disputing historical teachings of the church, regarding a fundamental social institution, in public and then insist that those who object keep their objections to themselves.

I'm not Catholic, so I don't know precisely what Catholic theology is on the matter of salvation and sanctification, but in my view you are not endangering your salvation if you have already committed your life to Christ. You are just rejecting the One to whom you've said you have committed your life. All Christians do that to varying extents, so it's not like you don't have company. And you are encouraging others, believers or not, to sin, and giving them a false view of what marriage is.

Posted by: Mike S. at July 2, 2004 4:54 PM

"That no matter how righteously I conduct my life, if I remain unapologetic for maintaining my committment to my spouse, God will most assuredly damn me to an eternity of withering punishment."

I will also note that you haven't addressed the issue of conflating "[your] committment to [your] spouse" with sex.

Posted by: Mike S. at July 2, 2004 5:00 PM

Mike S:

Thank you for your response. I was not asking for an "extended discussion of Biblical hermeneutics." I was not interested either in further inflating your contradition. I wanted to know what you thought of certain issues of moral importance, among them slavery and murder of homosexuals. You have admitted that, yes, there IS a contradition. This means that, even if it contradicts other beliefs you may have, slavery can be morally correct "for some people," and "under certain circumstances." And, yes, killing homosexuals can be morally correct also.

If God commanded the ancient Israelites to kill homosexuals, because of circumstances...well, OUR circumstances can change.

I do not believe that allowing same sex marriage will cause social devastation. But you do. You believe that SSM will lead to polygamy, and incest, and bestiality. You believe it will erode our civil liberties.

If our circumstances become as bad as the ancient Israelities', as you believe they will, will it become "explicitly allowed," again, to kill homosexuals?

Can you see the horrible problems with your argument?

Posted by: arturo fernandez at July 7, 2004 2:51 PM

Arturo,

Firstly, I think you're not being entirely fair in glossing over the degree to which Mike (and I) is drawing on more sources than the Bible.

That said, one should note that the ancient Israelites had laws permitting the killing of a whole lot of different people for a whole lot of different reasons, some of which (I'm going on general feel) were even less damning, in a modern view, than sodomy. So it doesn't work for you to draw the first few stages toward a scenario in which you believe Christians might begin arguing for the death penalty for gays and then offer this offensively leaping rhetoric:

If our circumstances become as bad as the ancient Israelities', as you believe they will, will it become "explicitly allowed," again, to kill homosexuals?

Who claimed to believe anything like that? I will, however, admit that you've pointed toward an important point. In a Christian's view, it simply isn't possible for "circumstances [to] become as bad as the ancient Israelites'," because our Savior came during the intervening millennia. As I recall from previous comments, you aren't very fond of my religion, so it's perhaps a little (tiny) bit understandable that you'd drop the central figure and the central teaching of it from your argument against Christians.

But, I suppose it could be said that, were Christ to come again and to unteach the whole "let he who is without sin throw the first stone" thing, the rules might, in fact, change. No doubt, even allowing for such a prospect will evoke a reaction tied to dislike of the faith, but by way of qualification, I offer two points: 1) Most Christians simply don't believe it possible that Christ would return with such a message (indeed, most would think it to be an evil ruse). 2) It's all too easy to imagine a scenario in which secularists believe circumstances to place Christians in the position that you fear for homosexuals, and without any need for a diety to walk on Earth.

Posted by: Justin Katz at July 7, 2004 10:28 PM

Justin:

I also think it's conceivable that what you fear for Christians may come to be. When secularists start saying, for example, that it was "morally" correct for the Romans to throw the Christians to the lions, I'll get on their case.

It is not necessary for Christ to walk the earth again and un-teach his "let he who is without sin throw the first stone," for things to go bad. Today, after Christ, the death penalty is practiced in America and supported by many, probably most, Christians.

My comments have been about the horrible problems with your argument. Not about real life. I do not for a second believe that "circumstances" in ancient Israel made laws to kill homosexual necessary and therefore "correct" in any way, any more than today, in 2004, it is necessary for our more contemporary barbarians in parts of the world to have similar laws. And I do not believe that God would surrender to male heterosexuals' worst instincts and "instruct" the Israelites to kill their homosexual population. If God's intent was to elevate Israelites' standing with Him, death for homosexuals was not the way go to. The fact that you (plural) accept that it was, is what makes the unlikely possibility that such barbarities will happen again...a bit more likely.

It is you (singular) who is not being entirely fair when you put the blame on homosexuals for distancing themselves from the Bible's teachings when it teaches first death, then hell, for them.

How fond am I of your religion? Since we've only argued homosexuality, a subject it got very wrong, it seems I'm not fond of your religion. But in fact I'm quite fond of religion, specially your Catholicism. For example, my opposition to the death penalty is essentially based on religious, or Christian, principles.

Posted by: arturo fernandez at July 13, 2004 12:28 PM