The Equals Sign and Christian Cognitive Dissonance

Seeing Dimly

As a pastor near the country’s largest Evangelical MegaUniversity, I live in one of America’s most interesting subcultures.  Waco is arguably, the buckle of the Bible belt, rivaled only by Colorado Springs and Grand Rapids.  But those two cities lie with in the cultural trappings of the pagan North, so I’ll go ahead and declare the Land of RG3 the official victor!

As a result I get to, with students, rehearse again and again the emotional milieu that goes into de and re constructing a worldview, particularly, a Christian one.  In those rehearsals I’m constantly running into the questions about the moral and ethical nature of homosexual practices from a Christian perspective.  Because it’s the most important issue in the ethical world?  No.  Because it’s the medium that culture is currently using to gauge America’s religious standing?  Yes.

So as a shepherd I watched yesterday as digital sheep heads popped up on facebook/twitter and as is often the case, my interest was not in their moral opinions, but rather ecclesiology.  I thought about their relationships.  About their particular moral opinions and about how in many cases yesterday some discovered that others do not think like them on this issue that we believe matters so much.

And I’ll tell you, that’s a frightening experience.  It’s startling to discover that someone you thought you knew well, maybe shared a meal with, a small group with (for years) even traded confessions with … believes something different than you.  Especially when that someone claims to be Christian and, you thought, follows Jesus in the same way you do.

“How could she not see that the Bible clearly cares about equality and that its restrictive voice on this issue is culturally conditioned?”


“How could he read the same verses I do and not see that this is clearly wrong?”

I guess Paul was right.  We see dimly.  At least some of us.  Maybe even half of us according to most elections. (insert smiley face emoticon here)

Let me share something I read with you.  A few years back I digested William Webb’s Slaves, Women & Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis.  Webb’s hermeneutical conclusion, on the issue of homosexuality, was that scripture consistently speaks against this issue.  The church must judge it as sin.  Yet despite that he says this on page 40,

“Within a pluralistic society, such as we experience today, Christians should actually defend the rights and freedoms of homosexuals to live out their beliefs.  We should not legally impose our sexual ethic on others.”

Isn’t that strange?  A guy who lives under the conviction that homosexuality is wrong morally, argues that Christians ought to lobby for the rights of homosexuals politically.   I use Webb’s book and quote because it shows that this issue is not clearcut.

As facebook profile pictures were converting by the masses today a friend remarked that he wouldn’t change his because it (profile pictures/facebook/twitter/digital representation/symbols) cuts off conversation.  I thought that wise.

The Real Issue Before The Supreme Court

In my sophomore year of college I read Thomas Friedman’s book The Lexus and The Olive Tree.  I think it was here that I first discovered the phrase, “the death of distance.”  It’s a feature of globalization that is made all the more true each year with the increasing sophistication of the telecommunications industry.  The distance between me and the engineer in Germany or the kid in India is dying because of skype, twitter, facebook, or any number of social media devices.  We live in a global community.

Consequently the world I grew up/am growing up in is much different than my parents*.  My sense of national identity is starkly different than my parents.  The way I see China, India, Germany, Iceland Vietnam, and Iraq is different than the way my parents see China, India, Germany, Iceland, Vietnam and Iraq.  And the way I see America is different than the way they see America.

I remember very little of the Cold War, Ronald Reagan, and the fall of the Berlin Wall.  Consequently, I know very little about Jerry Falwell, the rise of the moral majority and cultural circumstances that made that feel like a good idea.  Had I been 25 in 1980, I might very well see the world the way the baby boomers do.

The America I live in knows very little of Christian forefathers.  It knows of deist forefathers, who put together a great constitution and government that has championed a slew of democratic ideals that has provided space for an amazing country to spring up.  The America I live in though predominantly Christian (at least statistically), is not a Christian nation.  It is a nation that from its start has been a melting pot, not just of ethnic backgrounds, but also of cultural and religious presuppositions.

The America I grew up in does not share borders with Mexico and Canada.  It shares borders with the entire world.  And through conversations with the whole world I’ve come to learn that the world I see looks like it does through my eyes only.

I confess I like this America.  With all of its problems, I still think it does some good.  A lot of good.  Or at least its people have done a lot of good.  I like this America, among other reasons, because if Islamic Fundamentalists became the new majority, the constitution would protect me from Sharia law.  It would protect me from a caste system if a Hindu became president.

But I sense that not everyone does see America this way.  Let’s remind ourselves that the issue before the Supreme Court is not whether or not the church should count same sex unions as a Christian marriage.  The issue is what America has to say about same sex partner unions, benefits and what individual states can say about that.  The church is not being challenged, Christians aren’t being challenged, the state is being challenged.  I suppose that only problematic if you have trouble pulling apart America and your church.

* read as metaphor for baby boomers (my parents and i actually see eye to eye on everything) :)

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33 Responses to The Equals Sign and Christian Cognitive Dissonance

  1. Josh –
    You win the internet today! Thanks for writing, sharing, risking.

  2. I love this. Thank you. Who knew you could win the internet? ^ But yes, I think you did.

  3. Bo says:

    I like this, Carney, and I appreciate your wisdom. Peace.

  4. Julie Leon says:

    I see it quite differently. Marriage will be undefined if laws are passed allowing same sex marriage.
    Christian marriage will be mocked and meaningless to our Society. It won’t matter anymore.

    • “Christian marriage will be mocked and meaningless to our Society.” Hmmm…don’t you think that a divorce rate that is the same as society in general, rampant infidelity, and the horror of domestic violence do that much more than gay marriage ever could? C.S. Lewis was right – church marriage and state marriage should be two entirely separate things.

    • are you serious? “mocked” and “meaningless”? Just because we give people their rights? You know during the fight for racial equality alot of white america said close to the same thing, that our quality of life would be put at risk if we gave out black brothers and sisters the same rights as us. Those people look like ass holes now.

    • Ester arellano says:

      Hmmm, no one / thing defines my marriage. thirty three yrs with the same person has brought me joy, pain, happiness, sadness, love and the comfort that there is someone that thinks enough of me to stay by my side for the long haul. Oh, HE is wonderful. WHY would I ever want to deny anyone that great life’s experience ? WHO am I to deny someone that great life’s experience ??

      • Amy says:

        This made my day. Thanks. The very core of this argument is that we should recognize the right not just legally, but morally, for all of us experience love at the deep, profound, painful, and joyful level that marriage offers. The way a particular religion celebrates, upholds, or reveres this institution is a separate issue, I think. We, as a nation are striving to mature, sometimes rather painfully, to become a union that recognizes and respects all its citizens as humans. It’s a rather handy metaphor for our struggle as partners, to do the same in our marriages.

  5. Josh's Brother says:

    So where do you fall on this issue? My views have changed over the years. I have a hard time believing that anyone would choose to be homosexual with all of the social stigma that comes with that. So it leaves me to believe that the vast majority of homosexuals are born that way, as opposed to making a decision.

    With that in mind, and since we are all made in His image, I can’t justify viewing someone in a committed, loving homosexual relationship as a sinner. So who are we (not only as Christians), but as a society to deny anyone what should be a basic human right?

    I have several problems with the non-denominational charismatic church, but hypocrisy is by far the biggest one. Which leads me to my last question. If you, as a Christian, view homosexuality as a sin, why is it any worse than breaking any of the 10 commandments? I don’t see anyone on the charismatic Christian side pushing for a Constitutional amendment at the state or federal level to ban bearing false witness, or keeping the Sabbath holy, or coveting.

    • Ryan says:

      Josh’s Brother,
      Whether sin is committed by a result of nature or nurture. Sin is the separation from God. If you subscribe to a Biblical belief, than sin is the lasting curse that plagues all of mankind since the fall of Adam and Eve. I could argue that I was born with a genetic propensity for an addiction to pornography. However, it is my choosing to act on that addiction that becomes sinful because I look for fulfillment through my own actions rather than from God.

      We all were made in God’s image to be His image bearers to Creation. In that perfect image, man and woman were each created to represent different elements of God’s character. However, sin entered the world and tarnished us, the image bearers of God. No man represents a perfect image of God any longer, that’s why we needed the sacrifice of Christ to pay the wages for the sinful image we had become.

      Lastly, just because something is a good thing – love, for instance – doesn’t mean that it can’t be sinful. If the item replaces God in the person’s life, it is sinful. That doesn’t mean that it is worse than the other sins you listed, but I think that’s one reason Christians like the author admit that we must clearly define why we are campaigning so hard against homosexuality when we are all guilty of the other sins you listed because otherwise we are just hypocrites.

      • Ryan says:

        Sorry, that first line should read:

        Whether sin is committed is not determined by whether it is a result of nature or nurture.*

    • birthblessed says:

      Yes, that^

      Science is proving that your sexual identity and expression is biological. A friend recently asked me what I think about her son’s issue- as he enters adulthood, he’s proclaiming that he’s a girl in a boy’s body and has always known that, and he wants to have sex reassignment surgery and live as a woman. She and I attended the same Southern Baptist church for ten years. So what? She said. What? And I said, “What if he’s right?” If biological hermaphroditism has been medically known and documented for thousands of years, then why can’t it also be biologically based in this case as well? Biology supports the premise that it’s all more complicated than XX is girl and XY is boy.

      So, if a person has been born this way, and is created in God’s image and carries the spark of the Divine in his soul, and I see him as a creature made in God’s image, then how can I deny him human rights?

      P.S. Josh would you take applications for the job of copyediting your writing?

      • Evangelical Orthodoxy says:

        Just to clarify – no one seeks to deny anyone human rights … just the privilege of marriage. Much like a driver’s licence, a marriage license is a privilege not a right.

        A serious question for you – based on your comment above, would you have any restriction on marriage? I assume you would support polygamy?

      • birthblessed says:

        Yes, I believe that the Bible supports polygamy.

    • Evangelical Orthodoxy says:

      I know I am going to regret even dipping my toes … but I am passionate about this issue.

      I appreciate your POV. I have heard this line before, and it makes sense: if G-d created it, it cannot be sinful. I think first and foremost, you would be hard pressed to find anyone that would purport homosexuality inherently is sinful – much like being left-handed is not sinful. However, many Christians would argue that sexual intercourse outside of marriage – as defined by Jesus in Matt. 19 – is sinful. The sin is not in being homosexual but in having sex with someone who is not one’s wife / husband. Second, the position denies the doctrine of Original Sin, which is a pretty big piece of Christian orthodoxy. G-d created the world, but it is fallen so creation does not equate to holiness. To further examine your analogy: I could be in a committed, loving heterosexual relationship with another man’s wife – does that make it sinful? My point being loving and committed does not mean holy.

      I agree many homosexuals are born that way, probably most men. Many women are born lesbians, many choose it. To me irrelevant to the discussion at its core. My $0.02.

      • birthblessed says:

        This is why marriage should be legal for all who wish it, as long as they are two consenting adults of sound mind.

        The Apostle Paul had a thorn in his side that he prayed for years would be removed. He pled with God to remove it. I agree with the theory that Paul was a gay man. As a gay man, he knew his depravity and the grace of redemption. He chose to live without committing physical sin, but said himself, If you can’t stand the temptations, then please get married!

      • Evangelical Orthodoxy says:

        I’ve officially heard it all now …

  6. bkdairy says:

    “Let’s remind ourselves that the issue before the Supreme Court is not whether or not the church should count same sex unions as a Christian marriage. The issue is what America has to say about same sex partner unions, benefits and what individual states can say about that. The church is not being challenged, Christians aren’t being challenged, the state is being challenged. I suppose that only problematic if you have trouble pulling apart America and your church.”
    So what happens when the state recognizes and accepts same sex marriage and the Church doesn’t? I could forsee discrimination cases, hate crime legislation…
    Whether we like it or not, America DOES have a problem separating church and the country.

    • Evangelical Orthodoxy says:

      This is my practical fear – look only to Western Europe to see examples of Thought Police enforcing political correctness. This is where we will find strong allies in our Muslim brothers and sisters.

  7. Joseph A. Smith says:

    Sin is sin. If we accept the Word of God as unchanging from generation to generation, and if God is unchanging, then why should we be expected to accept something that is so clearly defined as a sin?

    The way the New Agers have attempted to change the dichotomy regarding homosexuality can be explained by the fairly recent addition to our lexicon the cultural term “homophobia”. I am not afraid of homosexuals nor their attempts to legitimize their “lifestyle”. But then, I also do not hate them, nor to I take any overt or covert actions to force my view upon them. They could not say the same for me or anyone else who does not agree with them.

    I do not support the homosexual lifestyle choice and neither do I fear it. I do not believe it is genetic, and I do not believe it is anything but a choice. I am very old-fashioned when I state that the rise of homosexuality as an accepted choice of lifestyle is in direct proportion to the lack of one or both parents in a supporting and loving environment. The number one behavioral issue with American society is the lack of a positive male role model in a family. The divorce rate has climbed steadily in the last 40 years and little boys and little girls who are longing for the love and support of a mom or dad who is not around will cause many of them to seek the approval and affection of another of the same gender, and that person is often an older version of the child who themselves were the victim of a dysfunctional family life.

    Homosexuality is wrong on so many levels. It is an abomination to God, and to the nature of life itself. Homosexuality equates chaos, and just as the two poles of a magnet cannot naturally connect to the like poles of another magnet, neither can homosexuality result in a positive outcome. It is a lie to God and life itself that a homosexual relationship is innocent and nurturing, and it is an anti- type to all that is good in a relationship and marriage.

    Homosexuality will continue to be an abomination as long as God is God. Homosexuality and the term “Homosexual marriage” is a deceptive and damning heresy that has no legitimacy in the eyes of God as an institution of holy matrimony. You can call it what you want, but no matter how much you want it to be true, and no matter how many “enlightened” clerics support it, it is wrong.

    It is a sin.

    • birthblessed says:

      So why did the “rules” in the Bible change for some things and not others?

      Do you support slavery?
      Do you think that after we “won” in Iraq, we should have killed every last man, woman and child there?
      Do you support kings having 300 wives and 700 concubines? I know you preach the king’s words.
      Do you support everyone in the church selling everything they have and living together owning every thing in common?
      Do you support a rapist marrying the girl he rapes? Or at least paying her father the proper bride price?

      Christians have a long history of supporting things that are in the Bible for a long time, then saying, Well yah, we were wrong and no longer support that.

    • Jeffry says:

      And yet, even if you believe it is wrong on many levels, does that mean that it should be outlawed for all people? Should the religious views of one group be applied to everybody by law? I don’t think so, and I think I live in a country which was founded on the belief that they shouldn’t be.

  8. mikemchargue says:

    Well written, salient, calm, reasonable, and profound. This is one of the best posts I’ve read on the topic.

  9. Steven Scheib says:

    Most proponents of same-sex marriage argue as if they have some kind of moral right to having their relationships endorsed by the state. They claim that they don’t have ‘equal rights’ or that they are being ‘discriminated’ against. This argument is flawed. Independent of religion, they seek to legislate their morality rather than the ‘self-evident’ morality given to us by our Creator – the same moral law that the apostle Paul wrote was “written on their hearts” of all people (Romans 2: 14-15). In other words, not my morality or your morality, but the morality – the one we have inherited, not the one we have invented. If you have a problem with the morality, do not blame me. I didn’t make up the fact that men are not made for other men. These truths are part of the ‘Laws of Nature’ as the Declaration of Independence puts it, and we only hurt others and ourselves by suppressing those truths and legislating immoral laws. “Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become ‘fools’ so that you may become wise.” 1 Corinthians 3:18

    • Kaley says:

      My friend and his husband might think differently. They’ve had to work unbelievably hard to receive basic rights that come with any (heterosexual) marriage, and even after having been together for decades and having been married for years, each of them would say he isn’t sure his husband will be taken care of if something were to happen to him. I’d agree with them and say they haven’t received equal rights. Also- I think there’s undeniable evidence throughout their story that they’ve experienced a lot of discrimination.
      Whatever you believe about their moral state, I can tell you that they love each other exactly the same way that many heterosexuals I know (and even more so, really). They love each other with grace and mercy, and I have seen Christ in their relationship. The fact that two people can have that kind of a relationship without having the basic rights that other married couples have is heartbreaking. Truly. It makes me wonder if you have ever heard any of these couples’ stories, because it might help you to see it as more than a “moral issue”- even if just for a moment. This is also an issue that has a tremendous impact on human lives.
      Going further- there’s also the plain fact that not everyone in this country believes we’ve inherited the moral law you’ve mentioned. Even the people who do believe it can be interpreted differently, so trying to create and enforce legislation (when we’re supposed to support freedom of beliefs and the separation of church and state) is- evidently- a bit problematic. I support your right to live within that moral law. Please, don’t go marry a man. You can even believe that my friends are in the wrong for doing so. But I don’t think these are moral laws that can be enforced on the entire nation.

      • Paul says:

        We should make the road to hell as smooth and easy as possible for people that want to live in direct opposition to God’s laws.

  10. mindybrouse says:

    This issue is exactly what we are reading about in Total Truth (and we have a weekly discussion group): how dichotomies are the ruling mindset. People separate out their faith and “real life”. They don’t see them as one.

  11. Well said, dear brother! Well said. “I suppose that only problematic if you have trouble pulling apart America and your church.” Amen.

  12. I love the conversation! As a professor in two evangelical universities in the North, I am constantly de and re constructing for our students. But I have to do so with humility, too, because I can’t claim to be the final word on any subject. So good to hear others struggling in these arenas.

    That said, the promising field of sciences is in genetics. Nearly all secular scientists have rejected the idea of being born with a gay gene. They consider homosexuality to emerge out of a complex series of sociological and physiological factors that can even happen in the womb. That is different from being “created” this way. But it also gives me the utmost sympathy for those walking that journey in a brutal, judgmental society.

    Anyway, too much to post here on that subject…..but it is a complex conversation. I only want to offer that it is a “logical fallacy” to suggest that people must be “born that way” if they choose it in a difficult society. The strength of sexual attraction, and even our genetic codes (so say scientists), are not “fixed blueprints.” They are ever evolving and changeable over time — deeply affected by a wide variety of factors.

    Hope some of that makes sense.

    Peter Kapsner

  13. jisun says:

    I know I’m a little late to this conversation, but thank you, thank you, thank you. What a breath of fresh air.

  14. val says:

    You have an interesting perspective on America and how the government will always protect your rights. If money bought a majority (which is how our election works now) your so called rights could quickly be erased.

  15. Paul says:

    Is there any action that a human can do that God doesn’t want for all time? God destroyed Sodom. God destroyed all people on the Earth. He was going to destroy Nineveh, but the people repented, so he stopped. What if our society started to accept things that God finds unacceptable all the time? Does God not judge countries anymore?

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