Friday morning at the Andrews University Marriage, Homosexuality and the Church Conference brought the first (and last) semblance of real dialog on the topic of homosexuality and marriage. Three panelists discussed individual freedoms, natural law, politics, and morality vis-a-vis Adventist views on same-sex marriage, and the one dissenting voice permitted during the conference sounded off.
Men Should Be GENTLE Men
Scot Zentner, professor of Political Science at CSUSB suggested that marriage and family have often been understood philosophically, with antecedents in Greek philosophy. Biblical tradition, Zentner posited, holds that marriage is between a man and a woman. Zentner discussed morality in general, and noted its interplay with personal freedom.
The freedoms envisaged by the Founding Fathers, came with certain limitations, Zentner averred. Pornography, libel and slander can be outlawed, restrained, and constrained because underneath broad individual freedoms there are universally accepted standards of right and wrong.
Confessing that he was not a religious person, Zentner said, "You don’t need the Decalogue to know certain things are wrong. You don’t need to be Christian..."
Then he circled back, saying that there was never argument about what a marriage is. We can all agree. If we can’t agree on nature or natural law, we still have the Bible. Biblical tradition is in essential agreement with natural law and philosophical traditions…Plato and Aristotle.
Zentner forcibly argued in favor of traditional gender-defined roles, citing a "generalized understanding of how men are supposed to be and how women are supposed to be. If man is effeminate, it is contrary to how a man is supposed to be," Zentner insisted.
His line of reasoning then waxed puerile:
"What do we cringe more about—two women kissing or two men kissing? It’s not a matter of ideology. It’s a matter of nature," he asserted. The man, the gentleman, is head of house and provider. He went on to note that the Bible precludes same sex marriage and "we should be squeamish when Bobby wants to play with Barbies, not Tonka trucks."
Zentner blurred all sorts of lines
Zentner then addressed the use of "Gay" as a pejorative: "That’s so gay. You’re so gay." The audience laughed. Then he threw down his thesis: "That’s pointing to eternal reality in nature." He went on to mention the idea that the force of reason is stronger in men.
At this point, my professor who sat next to me leaned over and whispered, “Where did they bring this guy from?”
Zentner wasn't done. "I could always go to my mom," he said, "but I always had to meet a mark with my dad."
"Science confirms that women are more nurturant, while men are more stern."
Then he posed a hypothetical: "If I hit a woman in the head and men in the room don’t stop me, there’s going to be problem." Men play roles, which Zentner pointed out should include preventing him from hitting women in the head. (He truthfully said this).
As Zentner's time ran down, he threw in a few more imponderables. "It’s harder to be a man...the expectations are greater for men." In fact, things are so difficult for men that feminists are rethinking their undercutting of role distinctions between men and women, according to Zentner.
He concluded with this: "To me, saying there can be same sex marriage is like pigs flying. It just isn’t so."
Natural Law and Homosexuality
Mercifully, Dr. Gary Wood came to the podium before Zentner elaborated.
Wood, an assistant professor of history and political science at Andrews University tackled some Adventists' belief that politics and morality should be kept separate. It is impossible in fact to do so, Wood said. Politics at its core is about questions of justice. Politics involves making moral arguments.
Wood's presentation began with this question, "Can unassisted human reason without the Bible tell us anything about morality?"
Woods argued in favor of a "neutral morality," which he suggested underpinned the Declaration of Independence notion of certain unalienable rights, and inherent equality.
Nature makes distinctions, Woods posited--natural difference between male and female and real disctinction between animals and people; an ontological dignity that humans have because we have logos, reason. Animals, after all, cannot make moral choices. "We don’t put cheetahs on trial for murdering antelopes," Woods quipped.
Then Woods began to get to the point. We think of nature mechanically, he said, but the important thing is not how something works, but what something is for.
"What’s an acorn for? To become tree. What’s function of eye? To see."
The goal of nature is to actualize the potential of every thing. Natural law points us as far as it can to our natural ends." Human sexuality points to a final end. Distinctions between male and female bodies make it possible to have children. The end is not simply procreation, Woods argued, but it is the end.
"What is the end or purpose of eating...why does nature make it pleasurable or desirable?" he asked. "Same sex marriage," Woods concluded, "requires acceptance and approval about something that is unnatural. It undermines very basis of republican rights themselves. If you compromise on this issue, the rights of the republic are no longer with us."
Lonely Voice of Dissent
Then came the one instance during the conference where a legitimate counterpoint to the conference's rhetorical march saw the light of day. Jason Hines, a graduate of the Harvard School of Law and current Andrews University graduate student said that all lines of reason presented during the morning are found wanting. He addressed and critiqued three types of arguments against same-sex marriage: the religious argument, the sociological argument, and the civil-law/natural morality argument.
"If religious freedom means anything," Hines said, "every denomination should choose for itself on a biblical basis what is right and wrong."
For Hines, the realm of Christian morality is within the Christian Church, not society at large.
"While society has Judeo-Christian roots," Hines reasoned, "it is not necessarily that kind of culture. No religious morality can control all of society. The religious argument is out of bounds from the beginning."
Hines saw this problem with religious arguments against same-sex marriage. God gives freedom for freedom’s sake; it is a spiritual, biblical principle. We must uphold people's freedom to engage in the sexual expressions of their choosing. "We must stop throwing people in ocean and telling them not to get wet," Hines said.
Society shows great concern for raising of children in best environment. Research cited during the conference suggests that the optimal environment is in a home with both biological parents. Some contend that homosexuals more often promiscuous, abusive, and therefore their children are at greater risk--so the reasoning goes.
Hines insisted on noting the difference between correlation and causation.
"Studies show what they show," said Hines. But he was quick to add that We don’t know if homosexual parents are the cause. Maybe children would still be gender confused and depressed.
Hines challenged the idea that data are univocal on the subject.
"You bring your studies, I’ll bring my studies, and we’ll dance all night. Whose study is right?" Many studies show that homosexual parents are in no way detrimental to their children.
Civil Law / Natural Morality Argument.
"Natural Law lets you run the race, it doesn’t let you win< Hines began.
Christendom wants to argue religious morality, but doesn’t want to use religious terms, Hines argued. The argument is that homosexual individuals cannot reproduce, but, Hines pointed out, gays might not enter marriage to have kids, just like some hetero couples don’t want children.
Some things fall outside of nature's "intentions", and humanity is under no compulsion to follow natural law. Although all people are created equal, we still enslaved black people, Hines pointed out. We can and do operate outside of natural law.
Furthermore the civil institution of marriage encompasses more than what natural law can explain. Natural law only gets you so far. You eventually have to turn back to some argument to complete the case, back to sociological or religious arguments, Hines said. Natural law doesn’t end the debate.
Hines turned the guns on homosexuals' accusers: "Why is it that homosexuals are promiscuous? Maybe because society is not promoting stable relationships for them!"
We create self-fulfilling prophecies. People who are preventing same-sex marriage from having a positive track record cannot decry its lack of a positive track record. If we accepted homosexuality, perhaps it would increase societal stability, Hines said.
Nicholas Miller, who chaired the panel, then joined the discussion, taking the opportunity to make his case and rebut Hines at the same time.
Nicholas Miller at the mic
"I’m speaking to two audiences today," Miller began, sounding a lot like a lawyer making his closing pitch to the jury: "Christians and citizens."
Decisions need to be made in both realms--the civil and the moral. There are some good moral, scriptural arguments that are not good legal arguments. Miller cited Sabbath and the law. We are opposed to Sunday laws as we would be opposed to Sabbath laws.
Some legal laws are not moral, Miller continued. Perhaps they could be described as amoral. However, there must be overlap between moral and legal arguments.
First, Miller addressed the moral side., pointing out that two institutions find themselves rooted in the Ten Commandments: marriage and family (the fifth commandment) and Sabbath (the fourth). Both suggest authority relationships, and society is structured upon such relationships.
Reciting the oft-expressed (but factually incorrect) idea that the first four Commandments detail duties to God, while the second six describe duties to humanity, Miller noted the overlap of civil morality that cover last six.
Miller claimed that there are markers in Scripture following the Commandments is both a matter of duty as citizens and matter of morality. Traditional family, Miller said, it part of the second stone tablet.
Miller challenged some of Hines assertions. Children do far better raised by two biological parents, Miller insisted.
"Few propostitions have more support than the argument that hetero, biological parents raising kids is best for the kids."
Miller challenged the causation/correlation distinction Hines made by citing tobacco – studies generally showed correlation between smoking and cancer, but not causation. So tobacco industries argued that tobacco doesn’t cause cancer. However, Miller said, the evidence is so compelling, it’s foolish to continue smoking or give cigs to kids.
Miller threw out this stat: Domestic violence in lesbian relationships is at roughly 50%.
"Causation?" Miller asked. "Because of non-acceptance from society? Maybe, maybe, maybe…probably not. I’m not willing to risk our children’s future on a lot of maybes."
As for conflicting studies, "Jason overstates it," Miller said.
"I’m surprised to hear somebody from Harvard say that one study can overrule other studies." Miller proposed that we instead compare the studies and analyze what makes one better than another.
Miller then added a series of assertions to seal the case against same-sex marriage.
Morality is not just a product of Christianity, and marriage is the most universal institution, Miller stated. Even in the case of polygamy, the child has a mother and a father.
Thomas Jefferson was no committed Christian, said Miller, but Jefferson rejected homosexuality as contrary to nature . It isn’t just Christian morality, but "background morality" (by which Miller meant inherent morality) that ties society together.
Miller closed by repeating that it's about the kids, stupid. He maintained that children are best served by being raised by their biological mother and father.