Not long ago I participated in my first television debate, on the theological question of whether homosexual acts are sinful. It's a good thing our team wasn't expecting honesty from the other side, because we would have been disappointed. However, the deceptions we heard crop up so often these days that they deserve a point-by-point refutation. Deception #1: Once gay, always gay-I was made this way. We had living proof that this one is a lie: Teammate Yvette Cantu, a policy analyst with the Family Research Council, lived the homosexual life for six years before becoming a Christian and renouncing it. When a member of the other team objected, "I've been a lesbian longer than you were," Yvette simply smiled and asked, "Does that make you better?" Some people do claim, on slim evidence, that there are genetic predisposing factors for homosexual attraction-just as others claim that there are genetic predisposing factors for alcohol abuse and other behaviors. But would a predisposition to sin make it not a sin? No, it would only increase the importance of avoiding temptation. Deception #2: The Bible doesn't say sodomy is a sin-or not often enough to matter-and gee whiz, Christians have set aside lots of biblical moral laws. One debate opponent demanded to know exactly where in the Bible homosexual acts are listed as sin-a trick question, because not all sins are "listed" and because the Bible uses many words for sin besides "sin." The Old Testament calls sodomy "abomination," an expression it also uses for murder and false witness; the New Testament calls it "shameless," "base," and "improper," linking it with abandoning God. Sodomy clearly contradicts the Genesis 2:23-24 pattern for sexuality affirmed by Jesus in Matthew 19:4-5, and at least eight biblical passages explicitly condemn it. That's eight more than condemn the sexual abuse of children. I hope we don't doubt that child rape is sin. As my teammate Keith Pavlishek of Center for Public Justice pointed out, the notion that Christianity has set aside biblical moral laws is based on several mistakes. One is confusing moral laws with ritual purity laws, like not eating pork. The New Testament releases us from the latter, yes, but not from the former. Another is assuming that whatever the Bible mentions it approves, like the incest of Lot's daughters with their drunken father. This is clearly false, for elsewhere the Bible condemns incest explicitly. The third mistake is treating the Bible's first word on a subject as its last. For example, we forget that the effect of the Old Testament judicial precept, "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth," was to limit revenge, which would otherwise have taken a life for an eye and a limb for a tooth. In this sense, the New Testament prohibition of revenge didn't abolish the Old Testament law, but fulfilled it. The bottom line? Christianity has never set aside a biblical moral law. Deception #3: Homosexual intercourse is equivalent to heterosexual intercourse; "long-term committed homosexual relationship" is equivalent to marriage. What we do with our bodies has meaning. The message of anal intercourse, for example-an act which puts the organ that represents the generation of life into the place of decay and expulsion-is "Life, be engulfed in Death." When I asked a member of the other team to comment on this symbolism, he grinned and tried to pretend that homosexuals do not practice anal intercourse. How about "long-term committed homosexual relationships"? Sorry, they're a myth. According to Dr. J. McIlhaney of the Medical Institute on Sexual Health, only about a tenth of male homosexuals and about a quarter of female homosexuals can even be described as "close-coupled," and for partners to be classified this way it's enough for their number of recent sexual partners and their level of "cruising" to be lower than the homosexual average-which is incredibly high. To enter a homosexual relationship is to repudiate the good God has provided in marriage. Even leaving procreation aside, there is something lacking in a man which can only be provided by a woman, and there is something lacking in a woman which can only be provided by a man. Only because the spouses are different can their union take each one out of self for the sake of the other. The homosexual act resists that liberation; it is merely self-love with another body.
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TV: The PBS Jesus seminar
Special Easter show tries to undermine Christ
by Pamela Johnson
PBS is observing the Easter season with hours of theological toxin aimed directly at orthodox Christianity. Frontline, the long-running PBS documentary film series, will kick off Holy Week with two evenings of a reimagined Jesus and a deconstructed early church, titled From Jesus to Christ, the First Christians. Frontline's films are conceived and developed by David Fanning who-as Laurence Jarvik has shown in his book PBS:Behind the Screen-has made it a regular practice to use his position as executive producer to advocate left-wing sentiments. So it is not surprising that the press releases for his program promise to reveal "the real story of the rise of Christianity ... challenging and upsetting conventional ideas." Utilizing slow-pan footage of significant archaeological sites and artifacts of the Holy Land and ancient Rome, director William Cran avoids the impression of dogmatism as a dozen scholars, among whom are Jesus Seminar co-founder John Dominic Crossan and PBS perennial Elaine Pagels of The Gnostic Gospels fame, freely fantasize about the person of Jesus (not the Christ), and how his memory was exploited to fuel a seditious political movement which became known as Christianity. The panel consists of scholars from big-name universities and divinity schools, including Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Duke, Brown, Boston, Union, DePaul, and the University of Texas at Austin. Yet not one among this group represents evangelical scholarship. Only postmodern heterodoxy is allowed. Biblical Christians will hardly recognize their Savior. Professors Michael White, Allen Callahan, Shaye Cohen, Eric Meyers, Paula Fredriksen, Holland Hendrix, and Mr. Crosson paint a picture of Jesus as a wheeling, dealing artisan-turned-follower-of-John-the-Baptist-turned-preacher-complete with the standard-issue bag of miracles that sometimes work and sometimes "miss the mark." His message was "100 percent political and 100 percent religious," which led the Romans-not the priests or Pharisees-to want Jesus crucified for insurrection. As for the developments that followed, Professors Harold Attridge, Elizabeth Clark, Helmut Koester, and Wayne Meeks dismiss the Resurrection. They blow Peter and Paul's disagreement over dietary concerns into a power struggle that was decided in favor of Peter by a pecunious, ham-fisted James (and Paul goes off in a huff to proselytize the Gentiles). They go on to extol the diversity of Christianity in the "secret gospels" of Thomas and Philip (heretical Gnostic texts discovered at Nag Hammadi, Egypt), note the political savvy of Christian martyrs, and trace the "apocalyptic fulfillment" of Jesus' prophecies about the establishment of the kingdom of God to the adoption of Christianity by the emperor of Rome. Narrator Judy Woodruff concludes, "The kingdom of God and the Roman Empire had now become one and the same. Jesus of Nazareth had become Jesus Christ. And his church had become a power on earth." It is intellectually shoddy of the producers to present these ideas as though they represent the assured finding of all scholars rather than a few cliques. In fact, the scholarship is flawed at its foundations. The "historical-critical" approach to Scripture starts with the assumption that the supernatural claims of the Bible cannot be real. Then, working from this naturalistic worldview, it constructs other explanations for the biblical text. As Professor Peter Enns of Westminster Theological Seminary told WORLD, this school of criticism assumes that "a religious approach to the text is a biased approach, so they discount the canon of Scripture. Instead, finding hints of something in the biblical texts, they make narrow, ideological assumptions that necessarily pit them against Christianity." So happy Easter from viewer-supported, tax-supported public television.
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TV: Shocking the flock
For liberal priest or sitcom pastor nothing can be sacred
by John W. Alexander
The difference between good TV and bad TV," said Michael Medved recently while guest-hosting the Rush Limbaugh show, "is the difference between good heroin and bad heroin." Two new ABC programs show what this year's addicts are going through.
Soul Man and Nothing Sacred are devoted less to religion in American life than to their producer's skewed perceptions of both. While not without a degree of lowest-common-denominator appeal, neither series treats its subjects (Soul Man's relatively conservative Episcopalians, Nothing Sacred's relatively liberal Catholics) with the ease or grace that comes with genuine familiarity or affection.
Part of the blame lies in the producers' attempts to get blood from a stone. As the pudgy, middle-aged, and widowed Reverend Mike Weber- the "Soul Man" of his show's title-Dan Aykroyd comes across as neither especially soulful nor particularly manly. That even his single-handed rearing of four kids seems more like a hobby than it does a calling makes Soul Man seem at times like Home Improvement with a religious varnish. (Both shows were created by the team of Matt Williams, David McFadzean, and Carmen Finestra, and occasionally share characters.)
But Soul Man's main problem is not that the series treats the Christian faith or religious vocations with disrespect; it doesn't. Father Mike draws upon an impressively vast amount of biblical knowledge (for a TV character, that is) while making the good-natured wisecracks that punctuate each episode's plot.
The problem is that even by sitcom standards the plots are so thin that after several scenes of punctuation-by-wisecrack they deflate, leaving the cynical viewer to wonder if maybe the entire series is nothing more than ABC's way of covering its Disney-owned flank against attacks from Christians who accuse it of being hostile toward traditional religion and family values.
The reasons behind the bad aftertaste left by Nothing Sacred are different but no less obvious. Its homepage (at www.abc.com) calls it an "engaging, irreverent one-hour drama about an unconventional young priest struggling to balance his faith in God with the temptations and troubles of modern-day life," and if it were that, it might not have so quickly become one of the new season's most criticized and least-watched shows.
The fact is, its "unconventional young priest," Father Ray (Kevin Anderson) doesn't struggle to balance his faith with his temptations. Anytime his faith teaches something he doesn't like, out it goes. In the premiere episode, he not only wishes that he "didn't hate God so much," but he also begins a homily by holding up a New Testament and declaring that contraception, homosexuality, promiscuity, and abortion ("all the stuff that we've reduced religion to") "ain't in" the Gospel. "Oh, maybe a mention," he demurs, "but they're not what the book is about!"
Few people, least of all the show's harshest Catholic critics, will deny that priests like this exist, priests who deny both the letter and the spirit of the law they've been ordained to uphold. The ratings, however, suggest that many people consider the experience of watching a liberal priest wear himself out week after week, in the attempt to find new ways to shock his flock, a waste of a perfectly good hour. Some of them get enough of that on Sunday morning.