19 Jun

Slaves, Women & Homosexuals

Category: What We're Reading
By: Amy L. Graeser
Published: 06/19/01

In his book Slaves, Women & Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis, professor William J. Webb explores the differences between the Church's historical stances on slavery, the subjugation of women, and homosexual practices.

Debate about the Church's historic stance on homosexuality has intensified with the consecration of Canon Gene Robinson as a bishop in the Episcopal Church USA. Many who celebrate his consecration and welcome a change in the Church's teaching on homosexuality refer to the Church's refined positions on slavery and the subjugation of women to buoy their arguments for change. These two cultural phenomenon were renounced by the Church in subsequent cultural settings, they point out, and such should be the case with the restriction of homosexual practices; today's Church ought to lift those restrictions. William J. Webb, professor of New Testament at Heritage Theological Seminary, counters this assertion, however, cautioning that these three issues ought not be conflated. In his book, Slaves, Women & Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis (InterVarsity Press, 2001), Webb demonstrates that the Church's restriction of homosexual practices acknowledges that the Bible's stance on homosexuality is a "transcultural" stance, unlike its stances on slavery and the role of women in society which are "culture-bound." His demonstration uses the criteria he recommends Christians enlist to determine which components of biblical text should apply today and which should not.

Since it is important that Christians live out the redemptive spirit of Scripture, they must be able to discern which values in Scripture are "kingdom values" (those that transcend culture and time) and which are "culture values" (those specific to a particular time and place). To assist his readers in this task, Webb uses the early chapters of Slaves, Women & Homosexuals to introduce a Redemptive-Movement framework for reading, interpreting, and applying Scripture. In his later chapters he uses the circumstances of slaves, women, and homosexuals in biblical times to develop the criteria of the framework. The book is divided into three sections, titled: "Toward a Hermeneutic of Cultural Analysis"; "Intrascriptural Criteria"; and "Extrascriptural Criteria."[Posted November 2003, ALG]

9 Jun

Free Trade Zone for Preferences

Category: Sound Thinking
By: Ken Myers
Published: 06/09/01

Philip Turner, the former Dean of the Berkeley Divinity School at Yale and currently the Vice President of the Anglican Communion Institute, examines "The Episcopalian Preference" in the November 2003 issue of First Things. The occasion for the article is the controversy surrounding the consecration of V. Gene Robinson as a bishop in the Episcopal Church, USA, the first candidly homosexual bishop in the denomination. (ECUSA) Turner looks at the failure of ECUSA since the mid-1960s to discipline its priests and bishops, a failure inspired by a desire to protect the image of the denomination as an open, inclusive, progressive body. But Turner sees larger cultural forces at work, forces that threaten American churches of every creed and style: "the subversion of Christian belief and practice by the logic of autonomous individualism, and the churches' transformation into simulacra. Make no mistake: what has happened in ECUSA is not a problem limited to a once (overly) proud denomination. Rather, it provides an exemplary case study of the subversion and transformation that, in one way or another, threatens all American denominations today."

Turner summarizes the critique of liberalism offered by Alasdair MacIntyre (in After Virtue and in Whose Justice? Which Rationality?) in which he argued that "the tradition of liberalism cannot allow for a single notion of the good to dominate 'the public square,' since liberal society must remain morally and theologically neutral. What one can express in public are not notions of good, but rather preferences. Of course, some way must be found to order preferences both in respect to individual life and to social policy. No rational way can be found to achieve this goal, however, because there is no common notion of the good to which public appeal can be made. Hence, one establishes preferences in the public arena primarily by bargaining. Everything in private as well as public life becomes a 'trade-off.' Social life becomes a sort of free trade zone for preferences."

MacIntyre labeled this dominant attitude toward moral understanding "emotivism," defined precisely (in After Virtue) as follows: "Emotivism is the doctrine that all evaluative judgments and more specifically all moral judgments are nothing but expressions of preference, expressions of attitude or feeling, insofar as they are moral or evaluative in character." [p. 11f.] Later, MacIntyre observed: "[T]o a large degree people now think, talk and act as if emotivism were true, no matter what their avowed theoretical standpoint may be. Emotivism has become embodied in our culture. But of course in saying this I am not merely contending that morality is not what it once was, but also and more importantly that what once was morality has to some large degree disappeared—and that this marks a degeneration, a grave cultural loss."

Philip Turner points out that since, in the framework of emotivism, assumptions about identity and the nature of moral agency are radically different than they were in the classical and Christian understanding of the moral life, the current arguments about legitimating homosexual behavior in the churches and in society at large are quite predictable.

"It is precisely this sexualized notion of moral agency and personal identity that makes the Robinson election so predictable. Here is a unique individual, who is a self with a particular history, and a person with a right to express his preferences and put his talents to work in the social world he inhabits. To deny him that right on the basis of sexual preference is to deny his personal identity. This notion of moral agency also makes understandable why the issues of abortion and euthanasia take their place alongside self-chosen sexual expression as centers of moral controversy both within the churches and without. At the heart of each of these arguments lies the characterization of moral agents as individuals, selves, and persons who have the right to pursue their own preferences, whatever they may be.

"In the culture wars that rage over abortion, euthanasia, and sexuality, defenders of more traditional Christian teaching and practice often miss the fact that they must confront American culture on a deeper level than any of these specific issues. If they are to be effective, they must take on the very way in which Americans think of themselves as moral agents. The 'socio-logic' that stands behind ECUSA's recent action beckons thinking to a deeper level than the sad history of this church's search for a distinctive place on the spectrum of American denominationalism. It tempts Christians to adopt a vision of moral and social life that runs counter to the very foundations of Christian thought and practice. And it raises the question of whether we inhabit a moral universe governed by an order we are called upon to understand and to which we are required to conform, or whether that universe is a mere product of preference-pursuing individuals, selves, and persons who create a social world suited to their self-defined goals through an elaborate process of moral bargaining."

Philip Turner has written earlier pieces that look in greater depth at the ideas of identity and moral agency as they relate to the understanding of sexual ethics. In "Undertakings and Promises: An Anatomy of Sexual Ethics" (First Things, April 1991, pp. 36-42), he argues that current thinking about sexual ethics is rooted in the "contractarian moral philosophy of Hobbes and Locke." Whereas traditional sexual ethics understood that the ends of sexual activity were rooted in the purposes of God, contemporary sexual ethics assumes that the ends are rooted in the choices of those engaged in the activities. And in "Sex and the Single Life" (First Things, May 1993), he comments further on the subjectivization of sexual ethics as concern about "commitment," "vulnerability," and "care" eclipses the reference points of God's revelation and the moral order of creation. [Posted December 2003, KAM]

31 May

Readings on the Causes and Treatment of Homosexuality

Category: What We're Reading
By: Ken Myers
Published: 05/31/01

In the March 1997 issue of First Things, psychologist Elizabeth Moberly reviewed several then-recent books (most of which are still in print) on the causes and treatment of homosexuality.

In the March 1997 issue of First Things, psychologist Elizabeth Moberly reviewed several then-recent books (most of which are still in print) on the causes and treatment of homosexuality. The books were Strangers and Friends, by Michael Vasey, Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth, by Jeffrey Satinover, The Truth About Homosexuality, by John F. Harvey; Straight and Narrow? by Thomas E. Schmidt; Homosexuality: A Freedom Too Far, by Charles W. Socarides; Unwanted Harvest? by Mona Riley and Brad Sargent; and Craving for Love, by Briar Whitehead. [Posted December 2003, KAM]

29 May

"Sex and the Episcopal Church"

Category: What We're Reading
By: Ken Myers
Published: 05/29/01

Theologian and author R. R. Reno offers an analysis of some of the deep disorders of contemporary culture that assail the Church in his essay "Sex and the Episcopal Church," a chapter in his book, In the Ruins of the Church: Sustaining Faith in an Age of Diminished Christianity.

Few theologians have as perceptive a sense of the deep disorders of contemporary culture (and the challenges those disorders present to the Church) as R. R. Reno. So MARS HILL AUDIO is proud to be able to share with our friends one chapter from his recent book, In the Ruins of the Church: Sustaining Faith in an Age of Diminished Christianity. "Sex in the Episcopal Church" was written before the current controversy concerning Bishop V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, but analyses many of the cultural dynamics at work in the Episcopal Church, drawing heavily from David Brooks's portrayal of Bourgeois Bohemians (in his book Bobos in Paradise). This essay is available for download for a limited time, thanks to the book's publisher, Brazos Press. [Posted February 2004, KAM]

19 May

Christopher Wolfe's Recommended Readings

Category: What We're Reading
By: Amy L. Graeser
Published: 05/19/01

For informative discussion about homosexuality, Christopher Wolfe?who discussed the subject on Volume 49?recommends several books and web sites.

For informative discussion about homosexuality, Christopher Wolfe—who discussed the subject on Volume 49—recommends the following websites:;;; and

For further reading he recommends the following books (quotes from Wolfe):

Fr. John F. Harvey, The Truth About Homosexuality: The Cry of the Faithful (Ignatius Press, 1996); David Morrison, Beyond Gay (Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Co., 1999); and Christopher Wolfe, ed., Homosexuality and American Public Life (Spence, 2000). "These books contain chapters on a wide range of topics associated with this issue."

Gerard J. M. van den Aardweg, The Battle for Normality: A Guide for (Self-) Therapy for Homosexuality (Ignatius Press, 1997) and On the Origins and Treatment of Homosexuality: A Psychoanalytic Re-interpretation (Praeger, 1985). "Written by a psychiatrist with a great deal of clinical experience, it provides a kind of self-help manual for those dealing with same-sex attractions."

Jeffrey Satinover, Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth (Baker Books, 1996). "Dr. Satinover is absolutely excellent on the genetic and biological aspects of homosexuality."

Elizabeth R. Moberly, Homosexuality: A New Christian Ethic (James Clark, 1983). "A very short book, written by a Christian psychiatrist."

George A. Rekers, ed., Handbook of Child and Adolescent Sexual Problems (Lexington Books, 1995). "Written by a counselor with a great deal of experience in dealing with young people who experience tendencies toward homosexuality."