The quotation from Francis Schaeffer (from 1968 even!!) has been circulating among those who want to listen to make the world safe for the sorts of discussions that went into the Revoice Conference. Jake Meador invoked Schaeffer four years ago to defend Karen Swallow Prior:
…consider the great American evangelist Francis Schaeffer whose writing on homosexuality (available in his collected letters) anticipated many of today’s debates.
Schaeffer, writing in 1968 (!) made the now-common distinction between what he called “homophiles” and homosexuals, arguing that it is possible to be same-sex attracted without falling into sin and that it is the acting on that attraction which is sinful. (Again, he wrote this in 1968.)
In one of his letters he refers to “the mistake that the orthodox people have made” and defines that as saying that “homophile tendencies are sin in themselves, even if there is no homosexual practice. Therefore the homophile tends to be pushed out of human life (and especially orthodox church life) even if he does not practice homosexuality. This, I believe, is both cruel and wrong.”
Then Scott Sauls chimed in on the eve of the PCA’s General Assembly:
Former PCA minister, Francis Schaeffer, offers a helpful perspective on this. Schaeffer wrote, “The mistake…that the orthodox people have made…is [to say] that homophile tendencies are sin in themselves, even if there is no homosexual practice. Therefore, the homophile tends to be pushed out of human life (and especially orthodox church life) even if he does not practice homosexuality. This, I believe, is both cruel and wrong.”
I read both pieces scratching my head because by 1980 Schaeffer was the inspiration behind the Moral Majority and his critique of American decadence during the so-called culture wars was hardly so polite about challenges to the family and public standards of decency. Take for instance this quotation that Michael Brown used to notice how prophetic Schaeffer was:
Sadly, many did suppose that this trend towards humanism would not affect “our own little projects, lives, and churches.” Now that we are in a pitched battle with the secular gods of the age, we have realized that our complacency is not only threatening our generation but also the generations to come. Is it too late to affect a positive change?
Even in 1984, long before the vast majority of Christian leaders were considering gay and lesbian issues, he asked, “When a San Francisco Orthodox Presbyterian congregation can be dragged into court for breaking the law against discrimination because it dismissed an avowed, practicing homosexual as an organist, can we be so deaf as not to hear all the warning bells?”
Brown also found this, even from as early as 1968:
Consider this insight from his book The God Who Is There, published in 1968.
He wrote, “But much modern homosexuality is an expression of the current denial of antithesis. It has led in this case to an obliteration of the distinction between man and woman. So the male and the female as complementary partners are finished.”
Yes, Schaeffer saw this 50 years ago, one year before the Stonewall Riots and the rise of the militant gay revolution, and long before the push for same-sex “marriage.”
Schaeffer may be wrong. He may be right. But quoting him should not resemble the way Roman Catholics pick and choose among papal assertions. I mean, remember when Barack Obama said he was opposed to gay marriage?
34 thoughts on “If You Go From Progressive to Backward, Can You Still Be Ahead of Your Time?”
Here’s the video of Obama’s opposition to gay marriage:
I’m confused about Jake’s comments. What’s the point of being VP of the Davenant Institute (which is all about “manly men, doing manly things, in manly ways” as a sem student once said) and taking that line re homosexuality?
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Graduation to VP in under 10 years. That’s quite a meteoric rise! Is he also a founder of the Davenant Institute? If so, I commend him for not naming the institution after himself.
I think he’s a member of the Church of Nice.
I wonder if the people that think it is not sinful to be sexually attracted to your same sex as long as you do not act on it think it is OK to be sexually attracted to children or animals as long as you do not act on it? Would they be happy to have a person attracted to children run the nursery? This is part and parcel of the presuppositionalist denial of nature!
” I wonder if the people that think it is not sinful to be sexually attracted to your same sex as long as you do not act on it think it is OK to be sexually attracted to children or animals as long as you do not act on it? Would they be happy to have a person attracted to children run the nursery?”
Being attracted to sinful behavior is not itself sinful, but we are ordered to flee temptation. If one is tempted toward drunkenness, it is unwise to hang out at the bar. If one is tempted by lust, perhaps one should abstain from R-rated movies. If one is tempted by sexual attraction to others of the same sex, don’t have a same-sex roommate. If one is attracted to little kids, stay out of the nursery. That one is so tempted is not sinful though it is a effect of the fall. Thus even believers may continually war against such temptation all their life.
A man being attracted to another man is being attracted to the wrong sex. We were created to be attracted to the opposite sex. Homosexual attraction violates even nature. The attraction itself is sinful.
What does it mean to violate nature? Homosexual attraction is common in nature. Are gay dogs sinning?
I’m glad you asked, because this is fundamental to confessional subscription. R. Scott Clark has written over 10 pages of articles on this topic for more than 10 years. If you are really asking, “What is nature?” then how do you read the passages in the New Testament where Paul and Peter appeal to it? With a hermeneutic of suspicion?
Have you not ever read Romans 1:26? “women exchanged natural relations for those contrary to nature…” “men likewise gave up natural relations with women…” You may also need to read 2 Peter 2:12,22.
Yes, seriously. I have read Romans 1, but it isn’t as dispositive as you seem to think. You are importing assumptions about Aristotelian Natural Law Theory that may not be what Paul had in mind – by natural he could simply mean “ordinary” couldn’t he? Of course, Paul is talking about activity that is sinful, not attraction to sinful activity. Not sure what the reference to Peter has to do with whether SSA is inherently sinful or a temptation to sin that should be resisted.
I mean it’s against human nature. My dog Max is a great dog, but if I were to act as he does, I’d eat my own crap, sleep all day, eat uncontrollably, and be a bisexual serial rapist. Men are made in the image of God, have the moral law written on their hearts and see it in Creation. They are categorically different than the animal kingdom. Animals simply do not reason morally. Their behavior is not normative for humans.
This conversation illustrates the need for projects like The Logos Center. It seems like if a new Reformation were to start today, it would actually be starting from much further back than the first one.
How familiar are you with R. Scott Clark’s writings on this subject? He’s been writing about this for over 10 years on his blog: how homosexuality violates natural law and about natural law itself.
I take natural law to be “human beings’ basic moral obligations and the consequences of obedience and disobedience, revealed objectively in the natural world and known subjectively by rational human beings who are constantly confronted by the natural world, though sinfully prone to twist its meaning.”
Now the problem I see here is the “objectively in the natural world”. Humans are different from animals…check. So what moral precept can you derive from the study of nature that you did not already know from scripture? Where in nature do you look to derive moral precepts? Homosexuality thrives among animals, thrived among Greco-Roman culture long before that society collapsed following the adoption of Christian ethics, and persists among people today. So how does one arrive at the sinfulness of this behavior objectively from the study of “nature”?
On the other hand, if by natural law you simply mean we have an instinctual understanding of right and wrong (though corrupted by the fall), I would agree. I could even but an evolutionary story about how societies arrived at various moral precepts via survival advantage. But this isn’t what folks like George or Maritain mean by natural law theory.
But this is largely beside the point. We are tempted by sinful things. I don’t see biblical warrant for concluding that temptation to do something intrinsically sinful is different in kind from being tempted to do something that is not intrinsically sinful.
Haven’t read R Scott Clark, but I have read enough NLT and its critique to know I don’t buy it. Life is short and I am busy, so the barrier to reading more NLT is pretty high.
Totally false. These societies weren’t thriving as homosexuality became more common. THeir birthrates started plummeting as they started consorting with the same sex more than with the opposite sex. This is part of the reason the Romans so easily conquered the Greeks: the Greeks had plummeting birthrates. This was true for the Romans by the time of Octavian. Octavian passed laws forbidding barren women from being seen in public and all sorts of other laws to encourage child-bearing but the men were more interested in each other. Part of the reason Greco-Roman culture eventually became Christian is because we simply outbred the pagans.
The male organs are complementary to the female organs. Homosexuality is obviously wrong from our physical bodies. Societies that try to normalize homosexuality disappear because the reproductive act requires male and female. Two men cannot be fruitful and multiply.
It’s all three: our physical bodies and the instinctual understanding (conscience) as well as the publication of moral standards at Creation which were republished at Sinai.
This sounds like pragmatism which is different from ethics. “Hey, this gets us ahead of the guys in the next valley over!” Eating your enemies puts you at a survival advantage over them too. So does nuking them.
Do you subscribe to any Protestant confessional standards? In what way do you subscribe?
@ Walt: does Westminster (or 3FU) require belief in Natural Law Theory? If so, to what extent?
Appeals to the light of nature are found several places in the Westminster Standards. WCF XX.iv appeals to the light of nature at one point. WCF XIX mentions the covenant of works that continued after the Fall until given in tablets at Sinai (paragraph ii). WCF IV.ii of course mentions the law of God being written on our hearts as well. Scott Clark has covered this extensively. It was common to talk about natural law in this country several decades ago.
Unless you see some distinction between “the light of nature” as used by the Standards and “Natural Law Theory,” it seems you can’t really subscribe to the confessions and deny natural law.
“THeir birthrates started plummeting as they started consorting with the same sex more than with the opposite sex.”
I’m very, very suspicious of this claim. Exclusive homosexual pairings were common enough to impact birthrates? I can think of several reasons birthrates may fall that have virtually nothing to do with homosexuality. Do we really have demographic data on how prevalent exclusive homosexual behavior was among the masses? I’ve never seen anything like that.
“The male organs are complementary to the female organs. Homosexuality is obviously wrong from our physical bodies.”
OK, so you are claiming that independent of knowledge of special revelation that you know that homosexuality is wrong because male and female organs are complementary. That’s curious. How do you get from complementarity to immoral? We don’t have wings. Is it wrong to fly? Independent of special revelation, how do you know? It seems to me one has to smuggle in some concept of teleology to get here. So does that make all non-procreative sexual acts between married couples illicit? Do you really want to go there? The Is/Ought divide is awfully tough to get over. Ultimately, these discussions always boil down to, “but we just know this or that is wrong.” I don’t disagree. I do disagree that you can get there from observation of nature.
“Societies that try to normalize homosexuality disappear because the reproductive act requires male and female. Two men cannot be fruitful and multiply.”
Right, but bisexuals can. That doesn’t make it OK.
“This sounds like pragmatism which is different from ethics. “Hey, this gets us ahead of the guys in the next valley over!” Eating your enemies puts you at a survival advantage over them too. So does nuking them.”
Right. That’s the problem with learning from nature. It is pure pragmatism. Sometimes eating your enemies can help you thrive, but other times it causes the spread of prions and wipes your tribe out. Some sexual acts are good and advance society, and others are bad and retard society.
“Unless you see some distinction between “the light of nature” as used by the Standards and “Natural Law Theory,” it seems you can’t really subscribe to the confessions and deny natural law.”
My understanding is that many reformed have had an uneasy relationship with natural law theory. The “light of nature” can refer to what we know by custom or intrinsically. This is very different from what Robbie George is advocating for. We have an intrinsic morality because without it we wouldn’t survive – it is written on our heart. Observing nature though doesn’t tell us what is right and wrong…we need special revelation because our hearts are corrupted. General revelation is not sufficient.
I said, “part of the reason.” Wealth, decadence, and civil war are also associated with anti-natalism (see: the United States with a TFR of 1.7). The Greeks had all those problems as did the Romans by the time of Octavian. Homosexuality doesn’t have to be exclusive for it to negatively affect birth rates. In an era of high infant mortality and women dying during child birth, you need a LOT of regular heterosexual activity to keep the birth rates up. As numerous historians have pointed out, the Romans couldn’t keep reproduction up enough with their patrician class and eventually the lower classes. As they became an empire, they had to resort to raising legions outside of Italy. FOr example, Julius Caesar’s famous 10th Legion (Legio X) was Spanish originally. They also relied on slave labor. IOW, they had to rely heavily on Other People’s Reproduction.
You also have the help of conscience and Creation. You must not be a Two Kingdom guy either if you don’t believe in natural law since pagan kingdoms were never handed a civil law by God as the Israelites were. The common sphere is governed by the light of nature.
If you jump off a building and attempt to fly like a bird, you will suffer the consequences.
It’s not tough at all.
If you want to try to learn from the animal kingdom, yes. But we’re not animals that regularly eat one-another. We’re the crown of Creation made in God’s image with knowledge of God’s law published at Creation but also written on our hearts. This is a biblical AND confessional idea.
“If you jump off a building and attempt to fly like a bird, you will suffer the consequences.”
So planes are sinful?
“It’s not tough at all.”
OK, so explain to me how I go from an observation of nature (evidently restricted to humans) and derive from that objective moral facts. How do I know that the complementarity of human organs forbids homosexual conduct while the lack of human wings does not forbid flying in airplanes?
“You must not be a Two Kingdom guy either if you don’t believe in natural law since pagan kingdoms were never handed a civil law by God as the Israelites were. The common sphere is governed by the light of nature.”
Not at all. I do not dispute that we have intrinsic knowledge of right and wrong (i.e., that it is written on our hearts). It is a brute fact that we know that we should not lie. It is not something we determine objectively from the study of nature.
Natural law theory entails that moral precepts are revealed objectively in the natural world. This is what I dispute and what you keep avoiding by coming back to general statements about the light of nature. Your claim is that our physiological structure entails objective moral truths. How does one know from our physiological structure that it is OK to fly in planes and homosexual behavior is not OK. It is OK to want to fly and it is not OK to want gay sex. If you have to go back to the law written on our heart, then you are conceding that this particular moral precept is not objectively revealed in the natural world. Perhaps you can find another example?
Thanks. I agree that the “light of nature” phrases in the Confession speak to a standard outside of the Word that includes (a) pragmatic wisdom in the case of circumstances of worship, and (b) general knowledge of the power and goodness of God.
What I’m not seeing is anything that gets us from the Light of Nature to specific moral obligations or to good governance. I’m not as skeptical as SDB, but I’m sympathetic to his criticisms.
I finally understand complementarianism.
Jeff and SDB,
Paul very clearly expects the pagans who have no scriptures to understand their moral obligations not to be homosexuals, not to steal, not to murder, etc. This is all very basic Romans 1-2 stuff.
What that should say about public policy may be a different though related matter, but Paul very clearly thinks that people should be able to look at a male couple and say, “that’s contrary to the way god made things to work.”
You aren’t violating human nature to build a plane. You are violating human nature to engage in homosexual behavior. Men were not made as the sexual complements as men or women for women.
RIght use of technology is probably understood better by its effect on the community rather than through anatomy. Anatomy and physiology are clear about the right use of one’s reproductive organs. If you must, think about the anatomy involved in a homosexual act versus a heterosexual act. This is a family blog, so I’ll have to leave it at that.
Let’s try a hypothetical situation. You and your wife are sleeping in bed and awake to an intruder in the house. You have children in other rooms and you have to move them to safety and which will involve a likely confrontation with the intruder. Who goes to get the children, you or your wife? Why? How would your answer scale to the rest of society?
Here’s an article by RSC on the use of natural and light in the Reformed confessions.
As for the application of natural law to societal ethics, this series is the best thing I’ve found. In general, modern Reformed authors tend to focus on showing that natural law is biblical and confessional and within the Reformed tradition. They seem careful to avoid trying to apply it. I’ve applied it in ways that have made some accuse me of being a theonomist or a theocrat, so I imagine modern Reformed writers might be wary of being called names by drawing non-PC conclusions from natural law.
Of course. We have intrinsic knowledge of right and wrong. I don’t dispute that. NLT makes a stronger claim though. Namely, we can derive objective moral truths from the study of nature. How does one do so?
“You aren’t violating human nature to build a plane. You are violating human nature to engage in homosexual behavior. Men were not made as the sexual complements as men or women for women.”
That’s the assertion. How does one derive that from the study of nature? It is not in the nature of humans to fly. Unlike bats we were not made to fly. But it is obviously absurd to conclude that it is sinful to build a plane. How does one deduce from nature the objective moral truth that flying does violate human nature and homosexual behavior does?
To get there, NLT adopt teleological understandings of nature. The teleos of sexual organs is reproduction. Therefore non-procreative use of these organs is a violation of their purpose. Thus all non-procreative sexual expression (whether between husband and wife or otherwise) is sinful. Now if one concludes that part of one’s sexual anatomy has a different (or additional teleos) – say generation of pleasure – you run into trouble.
Now if you want to say, “look, we just know homosexual behavior is wrong. It is written on our hearts.” You’ll get no argument from me I agree. But the NLT will accuse you of fideism. I think they are mistaken and an Aristotelian notion of teleology became untenable from Newton. You simply can’t bridge the divide from is to ought.
” Let’s try a hypothetical situation. ”
What’s the objective moral truth I should derive from this hypothetical? Pragmatism devoid of moral consideration takes us to the conclusion that the husband, being stronger, should confront the intruder (unless the Mrs is a better shot).
You’re on the right track. Telos is obviously part of the reasoning. The other purpose of the organs is to produce pleasure in the act. Is all non-reproductive sex sinful? Well, conception doesn’t happen EVERY time you have sex and our organs were made to give us pleasure, weren’t they? This is a tougher question than “Should the same reproductive organs be stuck in a man in the place used for defecation?”
You could look at it pragmatically or you could further reason that male size and strength relative to women, as well as our limb length differences and combative nature obligate us to defend women who are naturally weaker, leaving aside skill with firearms. There’s a telos our our size, strength and natures for combat compared to women. Let’s ask a relevant question. Would I be right to call you a coward if you sent your wife to defend you?
@ Walt, Robert:
Thanks for the links.
There’s several different ideas going on.
(1) There is an ingrained sense of right and wrong in all.
Both SDB and I agree to that. In fact, I would go further and say that the moral law (10 commandments) are written on the heart. So I can make a Natural Law argument against abortion-on-demand thus:
* We all know unjustified killing of a human being is wrong.
* Zygotes, Embryos, Fetuses are living human organisms, thus human beings.
* All current abortion methods kill the unborn living human organism.
* Thus unjustified abortion is wrong.
(2) We are endowed with faculties of sense and reasoning that, although corrupted by the Fall, allow us to make judgments about facts, hierarchies, and cause/effect relationships.
We don’t need the Bible to justify 2+2 = 4, nor to tell us that we will almost certainly die by jumping out of a plane without a parachute.
I agree to (2) also, and I suspect SDB would as well.
(3) We are endowed with a faculty that allows us to reason from facts and cause/effect relationships to God’s purposes and will.
In other words, (3) extends Natural Law from the 10 Commandments to other moral laws derived from reading out God’s will from His providence.
Thus: We can just tell from the way that male and female parts fit together that God intended for those parts and only those parts to be used in sex.
Or: We can just tell from their intrinsic beauty that it is right to preserve the lives of butterflies.
(3) is the notion I am doubtful of, and that SDB rejects outright.
The objection is that we as creatures are not privy to God’s full purpose. To keep it family-friendly: Is sex intended for procreation? Or to express oneness? Or to give mutual pleasure to man and wife? All of those together or separately? Something else as well? If we can’t answer those questions definitively, then we cannot justify our natural law stances for / against homosexuality, contraception, or any other typical natural law application.
Likewise: A butterfly may be beautiful but its caterpillar devastating to broccoli or hops (true story!). Which is then its purpose? To testify to God’s greatness by its beauty? Or to test our ingenuity at protecting another good thing from its predations?
First, we must know God’s full purpose; only then can we say that such-and-such is against the natural law.
And yet — we routinely counsel youngsters *against* trying to read God’s will out of their circumstances! Looking at success or failure as a sign of God’s approval is a classic blunder.
Why would we now turn to that same flawed method to determine public policy?
In other words, (3) is a species of flawed experiential religion.
When we set our service time at 9:30, we aren’t making grand natural law claims for the rightness of 9:30 over against other times. We’re just trying to make schedules work.
Thanks so much for your summary. It very useful and far clearer than what I was writing. Yes, I agree with 1&2 while rejecting 3.
Great summary. You guys have definitely motivated me to think more deeply about this. Given ReVoice and all the SJW causes being advanced at the PCA GA, I think we need to understand this sooner rather than later.
Regarding 3, the questions in my mind are, “Does the physical world have meaning? If it has meaning, does it have a moral meaning?” I think you can start answering some of these questions by asking yourself if things in the invisible realm are affected by the visible realm. We know they were because Jesus entered the visible realm with a physical body and was bodily resurrected.
I put this thought experiment to SDB because imagine if a criminal enters the house at night and I say to myself, “It’s MERELY a matter of pragmatism that I defend the house because of my size and strength, I will send my wife instead.” Most people, after the fact (if we survived), would say, “Walt, you are the man. You are bigger and stronger than your wife and kids. You had an obligation to defend them and you sent your wife instead. You did something WRONG by failing to defend them.” I think even unbelievers would agree with this.
The questions of the use of technology that SDB posed are questions the Amish deal with all the time. They’re not actually opposed to technology but use it thoughtfully to ensure there are no harmful effects on the community. They will have one person test out a technology and discuss its possible effects beforehand and benefits and harms afterward. They’ve concluded gas barbecues are fine because they save wood-chopping labor (labor saving is the reason for the invention of much Western technology) while uniting friends and family. They put wired phones out in the middle of a field so that they’re used only if really needed. If you want to talk, walk over to your neighbor’s house. This is the application of natural law to technology, if you ask me. Use of things is judged by its effects, many of which can be anticipated.
I think you can apply this reasoning to the physical world in other ways. Look at pictures of the Centre Papidou and tell me an architectural crime has not been committed! Look at all the hideous brutalist architecture from the last century and tell me no moral wrongs were done. Were the architects morally obligated to give us beauty rather than visual outrage? I think they were.
Regarding heterosexual sex between a man and wife, I think it’s all of those things: an expression of unity, for procreation, and for pleasure. I think the Catholics have a point about birth control though I’m admittedly inconsistent in my application of natural law there.
Consider the case of the Onan whom God slayed for emitting on the ground. It seems there are several things going on there but one is that Onan is judged according to the Leaverite law. The Leaverite law seems to be a form of natural law – a form of filial piety. Why OUGHT ancient near-eastern men people keep the Leaverite law? Without it, widows would have had no one to take care of them when they’re old and no one to pass property down to. Taking care of widows was really important. On the cross, Jesus told John to take care of his mother. Was the Leaverite law merely a matter of pragmatism or was it a moral obligation? The judgment of Onan suggests it was a moral obligation. It was called a “law” for a reason.
The case of homosexuality is really easy. Nature practically screams that homosexual activity is wrong for the reasons I described above. So does conscience.
Thanks for the discussion. I’m not sure how much further I can explain this without reading Althusius and a bunch of other books and encouraging you to do the same. The Theology Pugcast has a lot of good discussions like these. I’m borrowing heavily from them. How’d we get on this topic? haha.