6.26.2013

DOMA decision by Supreme Court

From our friend Greg Laughlin:

The time has come, indeed, it has long since come, for Christians to ask themselves how it has come to this. It has been a long, long trail.  A good place to start would be to read Justice O'Connor's concurrence in Lawrence and ask yourself what she's talking about.

See: http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/02-102.ZC.html. For some help, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sodomy_laws_in_the_United_States#State_laws_prior_to_2003. Then, read all of the opinions in Griswold v. Connecticut. See: http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/historics/USSC_CR_0381_0479_ZO.html, the case on which Roe v. Wade and Lawrence v. Texas is based.

Ask yourself where such laws came from and how it came to be that an overwhelmingly Protestant nation enacted such laws. Then purchase or borrow from a library "Birth Control in America: The Career of Margaret Sanger" by David M. Kennedy and, if you don't have time to read the whole book, read Chapter 6, "The Debate on Morality". See: http://www.amazon.com/Birth-Control-America-Margaret-History/dp/1597404276.

You'll see the debate then was just as intense as today, though the subject matter was different, but closely related. Then read what Luther and our Protestant forebearers wrote. See: http://socrates58.blogspot.com/2004/02/why-did-god-kill-onan-luther-calvin.html. Note particularly what Luther wrote in his "Lectures on Genesis: Chapters 38-44".

Then read Matthew 7:1-5 and ask yourselves why we haven't been able to see clearly to remove this speck from the eyes of our brothers and sisters. Also ask yourself what you grandchildren and great-grandchildren will believe on today's subject based on how our beliefs have changed from what our grandparents and great-grandparents believed and practiced a century ago and for centuries before that. He who has ears, let him hear.

Yours,
Greg Laughlin

6.22.2013

Lutheran Marriage Initiative

I highly recommend bookmarking and following a new blog by Rev. Robert Baker, whom you may recall from his "Bioethike" blogging adventure.  This new venture is called the Lutheran Marriage Initiative

Let me briefly explain the importance of this effort by asking a question:

Considering contemporary challenges to the Christian faith, such as so-called "homosexual marriage," what do we need to do to regain and retain a strong hold on orthodox doctrine? 

I would suggest that we absolutely must revive the "loci" method of teaching.

Homosexuality is a sin, yes, and Scripture is clear on this. We do not believe, as the ELCA does, that our fathers in the faith were misinterpreting Scripture for 2000 years.

But let's rewind to just a few decades ago when the culture we live in began to see contraception as acceptable in marriage, redefining marriage as being primarily about companionship and mutual pleasure, at the expense of the procreative purpose. 

What was the church's response? The Scriptures our fathers in the faith unanimously interpreted for 2000 years as condemning contraception were reinterpreted, just as the verses condemning homosexuality are now.

How did this happen? We lost the broader epistemology which was employed by the great orthodox Lutheran theologians, which includes natural law and finds its best expression in the loci method rather than a myopic look at specific Bible passages that condemn specific sins.

With regard to homosexuality, we lost the locus on marriage that teaches us, among other things, that an intrinsic quality of marriage is its procreative nature. THIS is why homosexual "marriage" is not just a sinful perversion, but in truth an impossibility! It is against the created order. 

We need to return to teaching properly about the positive locus of marriage - teaching about its procreative purpose and nature. Then, the negative perversions can be seen clearly in contrast to the positive locus.

May God bless this new initiative of Rev. Baker's in so doing!

6.17.2013

"Marriage" and Procreation

Due to the homosexual assault on the definition of marriage, Lutherans are starting to think more about the issue of procreation.  Until very recently, conservative Lutheran arguments about homosexual unions focused almost exclusively on the fact that the Bible specifically prohibits homosexual acts. The simplified argument against homosexuality (and thus homosexual "marriage") is basically limited to two premises: that "sex is for marriage", and that marriage is defined as "one man and one woman."

However, this limited argument based on a "strong divine command theory ethic" worked against homosexuality only to a point. There is so much more involved in a full understanding of why homosexual "marriage" is not just "wrong" and "against Scripture", but rather is actually an impossibility.

In the secular world, as well as within the church, we must bring a broader epistemology into play that includes natural law and human reason. Why? Because people see the inconsistency and unfairness of saying homosexuals cannot marry when a man and a woman can marry and engage in sex that is not procreative. The real problem is that, through contraception and the sexual revolution, heterosexuals changed their definition of marriage long before homosexuals sought to co-opt the term.

A case in point is the April 24, 2009 Iowa Supreme Court case of Varnum v. Brien, which interpreted the constitutional guarantee to equal protection as follows: "To truly ensure equality before the law, the equal protection guarantee requires that laws treat all those who are similarly situated with respect to the purposes of the law alike."  You see, if marriage is just about the relationship of two people, and heterosexuals can have intentionally childless marriages for the exclusive purpose of mutual support and pleasure, how can we deny the same legal designation and rights to homosexuals, "who are similarly situated with respect to the purpose of the law?"

Now that we have a growing consensus in our society for a legal redefinition of marriage that includes homosexual "marriage", people are realizing that the Christian argument against such a redefinition must go beyond the "one man - one woman" facet. Many are realizing that they were missing the larger ontological point that illustrates why marriage is between one man and one woman.

I am now noticing that many pastors, theologians, and even laymen who otherwise approve of contraception are beginning to come to the realization that understanding what marriage is must take more into account than just the "relational" aspect.  They are beginning to see that a basic ontological truth about marriage is its intrinsic procreative nature. This is crucial to successfully defending marriage against the concept of "homosexual marriage." What a creature does is related to who or what it is, and who or what it is is not simply the observable properties and characteristics, but the purpose for which the creature exists and the relationship he is engaged in.

However, most people still are failing to connect these dots and take this ontological argument to its logical conclusion.  Some even say that an intentionally childless marriage is still a true marriage because it retains the "appearance" of being potentially procreative.  It might seem obvious to others that an intentionally childless "marriage" is not that much different from a homosexual relationship, but people really have trouble seeing the same connection to a "marriage" that is intentionally limited to the concept of a 2.1 children maximum.

Does the one-flesh union of "marriage" retain its procreative nature during the periods of time when the procreative purpose is being intentionally frustrated? Most of our readers here would agree with me that the answer is, "NO!" We do not have the prerogative to turn off the procreative nature of the one flesh union at will. Whenever we refuse God's procreative intentions for marriage, then there is little substantive difference between heterosexual and homosexual unions.

The marriage one has is the one which is being lived out at the present, not the one a person might choose to have at another time.  I can't say I'm being faithful to God's purpose for marriage by saying I plan to be fruitful later.  That would be like saying that I am loving my neighbor if I leave him starving today but plan to give him a loaf of bread next week.

Marriages that struggle with infertility, as well as post-menopausal marriages, also do not validate the false notion that an ***intentionally*** childless marriage (or period of marriage) is still true marriage simply because it retains the "appearance" of a procreative relationship. Again, ontologically speaking, what a creature does is related to who or what it is, and who or what it is is not simply the observable properties and characteristics, but the purpose for which the creature exists and the relationship he is engaged in. 

So, my question is this... how do we address the error we see in those who would use the procreative argument against homosexual "marriage" yet approve of family planning within heterosexual marriage? How do we get them to see that contraception itself is a sodomitic sin, corrupting the very nature of the one-flesh union we call marriage? What is the simplest way to point out the logical inconsistency? What questions could one ask such individuals to get them to think? What analogies would open their minds to the truth? How do we address the false counterarguments regarding infertility and post-menopausal marriage?

I am attending the Concordia Catechetical Academy Symposium this Wednesday through Friday, and I expect the argument is going to be ripe for the picking. The subject is "Catechesis and Contemporary Challenges to the Christian Faith." Rev. Dr. Nathan Jastram is one of the presenters and is going to be addressing the issue of homosexuality.  I've also been thinking about this Symposium's topic in relation to the recent book I reviewed here on L&P, How the West Really Lost God by Mary Eberstadt. 

Overall, I personally believe contraception has been one of the most detrimental challenges to the Christian faith.  I really think we are approaching a time when, due to the contemporary challenges, people who otherwise hold orthodox theology will just need to connect the dots of what they have already come to realize in order to reclaim the historic biblical teaching of the church about procreation.

6.07.2013

How the West Really Lost God:

A New Theory of Secularization by Mary Eberstadt

Eberstadt's basic argument is that religious decline doesn't just lead to family decline, but rather in some ways also causes it. While I realize this is not primarily a theological treatise, it does address religious issues and therefore has an underlying theological premise of sorts.  In that regard, I must say that some of the argumentation raises theological red flags in suggesting that "at least some of the time family drives faith" [page 103].

Of course, as Lutherans we understand that what drives faith is Word and Sacrament, not whether one procreates or experiences "family" in a positive sense. However, I can still agree with the main direction of the underlying theological argument. The primary effective point here is not that having kids makes one have faith, but rather that NOT having kids can tend to lead to a loss of faith.

THAT is something I can agree with.  Why? "We also reject and condemn the dogma that faith and the indwelling of the Holy Ghost are not lost by willful sin, but that the saints and elect retain the Holy Ghost even though they fall into adultery and other sins and persist therein." [FC Ep Good Works ¶19]

Augustine, Luther, and countless others warn us that contraceptive sex is "worse than adultery".  Among other differences, adultery can be a sin that one stumbles into in a moment of passion. Successfully separating sex from procreation, on the other hand, requires constant planning and persistence.

There's a big difference between the sins we stumble into and the sins we live in. One doesn't stumble into successful birth control practices. One must work at it quite diligently - "living in it" - and this includes NFP. And, as the Epitome makes clear, faith and the indwelling of the Holy Ghost are lost by such willful, persistent sin.

So, the theory that contraception has contributed to a loss of faith is quite consistent with good theology. Let me quote the author making the point of her thesis question on page 113:

"...why is it not more fitting with the facts to suppose that the dramatic collapse of fertility, used again as just one proxy for the state of the family (because it is the easiest to measure), has been helping to drive the collapse in religiosity, rather than just vise versa? That not having babies any more made people less likely to bother about - or hear, depending on your point of view - God?"

Indeed, it makes a great deal of sense.  Unfortunately, Eberstadt also believes this can work in the opposite direction (toward creating faith).  This may make logical sense when it comes to human reason.  However, I would contend that this theory is contrary to a monergistic Lutheran understanding of conversion.

One of the primary reasons she gives as to why it would be reasonable to believe family can help bring about faith is that the analogies, symbols, and images children and family provide are important adjuncts to the Word, helping the simple-minded to understand, for instance, the love of a heavenly Father. Instead, I think it is more proper to see the love of God as a principle analogy by which people come to properly understand marriage and family - in fact, the only way one can properly understand marriage and family. Without having received the gift of faith through the Word, one cannot understand the love that only faith can see. The fact is, the gift of faith comes without "understanding" in the cognitive sense that I think she is postulating here.

Faith is given in the simple words: "I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." Does a baby “understand” or “comprehend” these words? Is it a valid baptism if the infant does not yet speak the language the words are being spoken in? Is it a valid baptism if it is done by a Roman Catholic priest in Latin? You know the answers to these questions. The Word, in and with the water, does great things. It does seemingly impossible things. The child does not need a picture book or analogy in order to receive faith from the Word in baptism. Neither do the simple-minded who may not have intact loving families need things outside of the Word.

My point is that we may say that the symbol of the family can and does serve the Word by helping to explain the Word, aiding in ongoing catechesis, but we cannot look at it as creating or sustaining faith. That job is something we reserve as belonging to the Word and Sacraments exclusively.  Christianity initially spread through the conversion of people living in the Roman Empire at a time when it could be argued that the family had disintegrated worse than it has yet in the Western world today.  So, I would argue that the decline of the family does not limit the power of the Holy Spirit to create faith when and where He wills to grow the church even in the face of this modern secularization of Western Civilization.

That said, there is yet another way to frame the arguments of this book in such a way that they do not do violence to proper theology.  Eberstadt defines and explains religious decline, secularization, and even "Christianity" much more broadly than a Lutheran theological discussion allows one to.  In what I wrote above I have not acknowledged the broader license Eberstadt claims as a sociologist in discussing this. However, I do think my theological arguments are important, as Eberstadt does not approach this without making theological arguments of her own, which is precisely what I have taken issue with above.  Having made my theological point, I will now admit the broader, nontheological, sociological truth of Eberstadt's thesis.

It does appear plausible that having children and intact families lends itself well to people thinking more "religiously."  In this regard we can even acknowledge the connection between religion and fertility among non-Christians (e.g. Mormons, Orthodox Jews, Muslims, etc.).  Even within our own churches it appears that when people begin to have children, they tend to come to church more.  However, we must admit that there are plenty of hypocrites in every church and, indeed, in every religion.  The sociological point here is not a theological one of whether the "religious" are actually "true believers".  It is simply an observable fact that people of many faiths tend to pay more attention to their given religiosity if they have an intact family.  Having children itself is a transcendent, or even "religious" experience.

There are many other aspects to Eberstadt's sociological arguments that are worth considering.  The broader point that a society that values a "Christian" identity of sorts in regard to its laws, its institutions, its culture, etc., tends to be a society that benefits all its members, including those who do not believe.  This is the broader negative effect of "secularlization" with which Eberstadt is primarily concerned in this book.  The West has "lost God" and Eberstadt make a strong case that family decline may, in fact, be contributing to the ongoing secularization of our society rather than family decline simply being a result of secularization.

Having highlighted the theological issues I wrestled with in reading this book can thus be recognized ahead of time, such that if and when you read this book you can do so without the distraction these theological considerations tended to cause me.  It is worth the read, though even she admits it is speculative exercise and not a book that seeks to provide definitive answers.  Her goal was to offer a unique perspective on secularization that may help explain some of the unanswered questions found in other perspectives.  I think she does that well.