I was recently asked (by email) what I think of two male Christians with same-sex attraction (SSA) pursuing a platonic relationship together. By “platonic,” the questioner meant that these two men were attracted to one another, but they were not going to engage in sexual activity because they upheld a biblical sexual ethic. Below was my answer.
First of all, I can only imagine how difficult it is for Christians with SSA to develop healthy relationships with others of the same sex. I’m grateful for those I know who are trying to honor Christ in their relationships. They deserve our respect, love, support, and prayer.
My view is that it’s unwise for Christian men with SSA to form that kind of platonic relationship. I can think of at least three quick reasons. First, it will frustrate them. Their relationship will be in constant sexual tension because of their attraction to each other without the possibility of fulfilling those desires. Second, it will create unnecessary risk for sin (either lusting or sexual behavior). The longer you’re in a relationship where both of you are attracted to each other, the more opportunity there is for sinful missteps. Third, it will encourage each other’s same-sex attraction and habituate an unhealthy pattern of thought. Keep in mind, sexual desires towards people of the same sex are described in Romans 1 as “degrading passions” (NASB). That’s because it treats a person of the same sex as a sexual counterpart, which is a violation of the complementarity expressed in Scripture (Gen. 1:27, 28, 2:24, Matt. 19:4-6).
By the way, I would apply the same advice to myself in a similar heterosexual relationship. I would not carry on in a platonic relationship with a woman I’m attracted to (and she attracted to me). It would be unwise. Sure, I can talk to her when I see her, say “hi” here and there, but if we’re attracted to each other, it’s unwise for me (and her) to develop and maintain that kind of platonic relationship.
I’m not saying men with SSA should not form any relationships with other men. It would be better for them to form strong relationships with other men they’re not sexually attracted to.
If you doubt whether Alan Chambers has abandoned the biblical view of sex, homosexuality, and marriage, then read this interview. Here are a few excerpts, but you can read the whole thing (which is rather short) for context and more.
“As a man who has same-sex attractions who has an orientation that is gay…”
“I do not think changing your orientation is something anyone experiences.”
“If your biblical understanding of sexuality is such that gay is not something that you can reconcile, I don’t think that straight is better.”
“I do believe that same-sex relationship [sic] can be holy.”
“I think same-sex marriages can reflect, and often do, God’s image.”
This post is not a refutation of his views. I’ve made my concerns about this kind of thinking clear in this and thisSolid Ground. My point here is to make believers aware of his views as media attention will increase now that his book is out.
The article addresses several of TRP’s talking points (taken from the Reformation Project’s regional training conference in D.C. last year), including:
“Experience shouldn’t cause us to dismiss Scripture, but it can cause us to reconsider our interpretation of Scripture.”
“Sexual orientation is a new concept—one the Christian tradition has not addressed.”
“The New Testament points toward greater inclusion of gender and sexual minorities, including those who do not fit neatly within binary categories.”
“The Bible does not teach a normative doctrine of gender complementarity.”
Here’s an excerpt regarding that last point:
Scripture, TRP is claiming, is actually silent on the idea that males were made by God as the appropriate sexual complement to females (the “normative doctrine of gender complementarity”). Rather, “the focus in Genesis 2 is not on the complementarity of male and female, but rather on the similarity of male and female, over and against the created animals. The ‘one flesh’ union spoken of in Genesis 2:24 connotes not physical complementarity, but a kinship tie.”…
Eve was a suitable helper for Adam because she was human, not animal—true enough. But that is not the whole of it. God also said, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Gen. 1:28). Complying with this command requires more than a species kin relationship. It requires the “male and female” genders mentioned in the verse right before it. Indeed, the reproductive system is the only human bodily function that requires uniting with a human being of the opposite sex to fulfill its purpose.
When a man leaves his parents, he cleaves to—becomes one flesh with—his wife (Gen. 2:24), not just to another human he is “kin” to. This is the kind of one-flesh union God had in mind, the only union capable of fulfilling the “be fruitful and multiply” creation mandate. That’s why there is not a single instance in Scripture where a pair of men or a pair of women are described in a “one-flesh” union.
Can sexual orientation change? Many people say no. They believe homosexuals are born that way and, consequently, sexual attractions can’t change. In fact, someone at a recent event this month asked me whether the closing of Exodus International proves this very point.
Exodus was an umbrella network that connected many organizations that sought to help those with unwanted same-sex attraction. Alan Chambers, its President, closed the organization after 35+ years, citing a change in his views on the effectiveness of sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE).
That’s proof, I’m told, that SOCE don't work. Chambers, after all, could not overcome his own same-sex attraction. He was also in the best position to witness the effectiveness of ministries involved in SOCE. Why would he close Exodus if he knew reorientation therapies were successful?
I don’t know Alan, nor am I criticizing him (in fact, I really like his name), but his closing Exodus doesn’t prove SOCE don’t work.
Even if it were true that Alan attempted to change his same-sex attraction and it didn’t work, that would only prove one thing: Alan didn’t experience any change. That’s all. It’s just his experience. It doesn’t prove that no one can change or that no one has ever changed.
Imagine the President of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) shuts down that organization, goes on Oprah Winfrey’s network, and confesses he’s still an alcoholic and hasn’t experienced any measurable change in his addictions. What would that prove? It wouldn’t prove that AA never helped anyone overcome their addiction. It wouldn’t prove that no one has ever overcome alcoholism, either on their own, through AA, or through another program. It wouldn’t prove that ex-alcoholics have faked their success stories.
In the same way, Alan Chambers’ decision to close Exodus doesn’t – and can’t – change reality: There are thousands of men and women who have overcome homosexuality (and yes, even had their attractions change). This can be known through at least three lines of evidence: an ancient report of change in the Bible (from the city of Corinth), the testimonies of thousands and men and women who have experienced change, and secular scientific research that found sexual orientation/attractions can change.
I’m not saying that sexual orientation change is easy, usually successful, or that we should force people to change. What I am saying is that change is possible and nothing that Alan Chambers or Exodus International does can change that.
[Footnote:…Plaintiffs’ marriage licenses have been altered so that “Rowan County” rather than “Kim Davis” appears on the line reserved for the name of the county clerk, Plaintiffs have not alleged that the alterations affect the validity of the licenses. Nor do the alterations impact the Court’s finding that the deputy clerks have complied with the Court’s Order.] The Court is therefore satisfied that the Rowan County Clerk’s Office is fulfilling its obligation to issue marriage licenses to all legally eligible couples, consistent with the U.S. Supreme Court’s holding in Obergefell and this Court’s August 12, 2015 Order. For these reasons, the Court’s prior contempt sanction against Defendant Davis is hereby lifted.
Kim Davis’s name has been replaced with “Rowan County,” so clearly this was a reasonable step that was easily taken without burdening the state. But now Volokh has clarified that Davis is asking for these two things in particular:
the licenses would be issued, as a matter of Kentucky law, under the authority of someone other than Davis or the County Clerk, for instance the County Judge Executive or a deputy clerk who was willing to put his name on them, and
the licenses reflected that accommodation, by including the name and office of the authorizing person (again, the Judge Executive or deputy clerk or whoever else) instead of Davis’s name and office.
Davis’s objection to the federal judge’s order — and the licenses and certificates issued pursuant to that order — is that the licenses and certificates are still being issued (in her view) under her ostensible authority, even though Davis has not authorized them.
This accommodation is somewhat broader than the one I originally discussed in my post Friday (which was just removing her name from the licenses and certificates, and possibly replacing it with “Rowan County Clerk”). She would object to the documents noting that they come from the office “Rowan County Clerk,” and she would also want an official declaration from the court that the licenses aren’t being issued under her authority. It’s possible that these demands go a bit too far for the Kentucky RFRA (as I noted in my post, the more burdensome a requested accommodation is, the less likely it is that a court will grant it), though it’s hard to tell, given that RFRAs are written in general terms, and a lot of the line-drawing questions are left for judges to make on a case-by-case basis. Still, the accommodation doesn’t seem tremendously burdensome, or that different from what’s already being done under the judge’s order, so it’s possible that this is what will happen.
This changes the reasonableness of the request somewhat, though Volokh still thinks it doesn’t seem burdensome.
I want to reiterate what I said in an earlier post: Even if Davis has a legal case under Kentucky’s RFRA, that doesn’t automatically mean it’s wise to pursue it rather than resign (see here for more on this), and it certainly doesn’t mean turning this into a political spectacle is a good idea. Because the future of religious freedom in this country matters, my goal over the last week has merely been to clarify some key points about this situation that many people seem to be missing:
Employee requests for religious accommodations are not outrageous; they are available and are granted, even to public officials.
The laws of many states (including Kentucky) have conscience protections. State RFRAs vary, but in general, if someone’s sincere beliefs are being burdened, exemptions can be granted if there’s a reasonable alternative that doesn’t harm the government’s “compelling interest.”
Even if you strongly disagree with Kim Davis’s concern, her requested exemption may indeed meet the requirements of Kentucky’s RFRA.
You don’t need to agree with Kim Davis’s concern in order to support her receiving an accommodation; RFRAs are there to protect people with whom the majority disagrees. In keeping with the values of our country, we ought to support reasonable accommodations for people’s consciences whenever possible, even if we personally find their concern unreasonable.
You don’t need to disagree with Kim Davis receiving an accommodation in order to think she’s not handling this situation the way she should.
Ultimately, Davis’s goal is not to prevent anyone from getting married; it’s only to remove herself from being the authority authorizing those marriages. (This means her goal is not to impose her views on people trying to obtain licenses, though that was the unintended consequence while no licenses were being issued.) The question of whether or not her requested accommodation would cause material harm to a “compelling government interest” (the requirement for denying an accommodation) remains to be seen. It will need to be weighed by a judge. There’s no reason to oppose it if it meets Kentucky’s RFRA standard.
Widespread understanding of these points would ease tensions both now and in the future.
A common response to the Kim Davis situation (see yesterday’s post) is to say, “If you can’t do your job, you need to quit.” Perhaps that’s the way it should be in some cases, but it’s important to know that’s not what the law demands, apparently not even for public officials.
Under Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act, both public and private employers have a duty to exempt religious employees from generally applicable work rules, so long as this won’t create an “undue hardship,” meaning more than a modest cost, on the employer. If the employees can be accommodated in a way that would let the job still get done without much burden on the employer, coworkers, and customers — for instance by switching the employee’s assignments with another employee or by otherwise slightly changing the job duties — then the employer must accommodate them….
Thus, for instance, in all the cases I mentioned in the numbered list above, the religious objectors got an accommodation, whether in court or as a result of the employer’s settling a lawsuit brought by the EEOC. Likewise, the EEOC is currently litigating a case in which it claims that a trucking company must accommodate a Muslim employee’s religious objections to transporting alcohol, and the court has indeed concluded that the employer had a duty to accommodate such objections….
Volokh says Kentucky’s RFRA allows for religious exemptions for elected officials:
Title VII expressly excludes elected officials. But Kentucky, like about 20 other states, has a state Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) statute that requires government agencies to exempt religious objectors from generally applicable laws, unless denying the exemption is the least restrictive means of serving a compelling government interest. The federal government also has a RFRA, which may apply to federal court orders issued to state elected officials…. Nothing in them exempts accommodation claims by elected officials….
The terms of these RFRAs actually seem to offer greater protection for claimants — to deny an exemption, the government must show not just “undue hardship” but unavoidable material harm to a “compelling government interest.”
He then applies the law to Kim Davis as a public official, saying he thinks “she’d have a good case” under state law:
[I]t’s very likely that (1) the Kentucky RFRA, by its terms, would apply to religious exemption claims brought by elected officials, and (2) it would provide at least the protections offered to ordinary employees by the Title VII religious accommodation regime, and possibly more….
[B]esides her losing claim in the federal lawsuit, it seems to me that Davis has a much stronger claim under state law for a much more limited exemption. Davis’s objection, it appears…is not to issuing same-sex marriage licenses as such. Rather, she objects to issuing such licenses with her name on them, because she believes (rightly or wrongly) that having her name on them is an endorsement of same-sex marriage….
Now this would be a cheap accommodation that, it seems to me, a state could quite easily provide. It’s true that state law requires the County Clerk’s name on the marriage license and the marriage certificate. But the point of RFRAs, such as the Kentucky RFRA, is precisely to provide religious objectors with exemptions even from such generally applicable laws, so long as the exemptions don’t necessarily and materially undermine a compelling government interest.
Please read the rest of “When Does Your Religion Legally Excuse You from Doing Part of Your Job?” The existence of RFRAs doesn’t mean one must always litigate rather than quit (that decision requires wisdom and prudence), but it corrects a knee-jerk reaction I see happening out there that assumes one must always quit. That’s not how America works. The way we’ve worked this out in the past is by using the least restrictive means to achieve the government’s compelling interest (see here and here). If a reasonable accommodation is possible, it should be, and often is, given.
Kim Davis, a county clerk in Kentucky who objects to same-sex marriage, stopped issuing marriage licenses altogether, was ordered by a federal judge to resume her duty, refused to comply, and now is in jail for contempt of court. (Take a moment to read Joe Carter’s explainer on this story to catch up.)
I’m still working through what I think about this situation. It’s difficult because there are so many issues involved and goods to weigh, and I’m still trying to separate my feelings about the unfairness of singling out Kim Davis (as opposed to other officials who refuse to do their job) from the question of what Kim Davis should do. To help you think through this, there’s a symposium discussing these issues over at Breakpoint:
[B]ecause Davis is a government employee, it's a complicated situation with many angles. Christians are divided on Davis' actions, and the response by authorities. At issue are questions about the nature of religious liberty, the duty of Christians in government, and what godly civil disobedience looks like.
Here are a few excerpts from the symposium:
From Andrew Walker (this one most closely mirrors where I stand as of now):
The Supreme Court is where ultimate blame rests involving Kim Davis. Court rulings that are truly rooted in justice should seamlessly integrate into a state’s laws. Rulings should not circumvent the democratic process, pre-empt state action, and leave civil society in a state of fractious tumult. Unfortunately, that's what Obergefell did, and now we're seeing its disastrous effects in state jurisdictions such as Kentucky. That, and needless escalation in terms of incarceration, coupled with government inaction has brought us to the situation we’re in.
We must recognize the crucial difference between the religious liberty claims of private citizens and government officials. While government employees don’t lose their constitutional protection simply because they work for the government, an individual whose office requires them to uphold or execute the law is a separate matter than the private citizen whose conscience is infringed upon as a result of the law. It means the balancing test is different when it comes to government officials because of their roles as agents of the state. Government officials have a responsibility to carry out the law. When an official can no longer execute the laws in question due to an assault on conscience, and after all accommodating measures have been exhausted, he or she could work for change as a private citizen, engaging the democratic process in hopes of changing the questionable law.
From Shane Morris:
[W]e do and should discriminate when it comes to right and wrong, and natural law, which supersede the power of government, contrary to what Judge David Bunning says. This is the very concept that inspired the American Revolution, and a Civil Rights activist generations later from a Birmingham jail cell: There is a Law above the law. And any manmade law in contradiction to it is “no law at all.”
A Christian woman is in jail for upholding the definition of marriage set in place at creation against one just invented by Anthony Kennedy. I don't feel comfortable telling her she's wrong, or that she should just do her job. She's standing on the side of reality, of natural law, and God, against a depraved fantasy.
From Michael Brown:
[W]hat cannot be debated is that the national outrage against Kim Davis has nothing to do with her refusing to obey the law and everything to do with her Christian beliefs. Had she found herself on the opposite end of the conflict and had she stood for “gay rights,” refusing to obey a law that she felt discriminated against them, she would be praised from coast to coast.
I encourage you to read everyone’s full comments over at Breakpoint. At the end of the post, there are links to several articles from different viewpoints that I’ve also found helpful, and there are plenty more out there. Ryan Anderson recommends a way forward where beliefs are accommodated and licenses are still obtained. Rod Dreher comes down hard on Davis and warns her actions will bring about serious consequences for religious liberty. Douglas Wilson takes the opposite position, saying Davis should not back down.
This is not a simple issue. Rule of law is what makes a good society possible, and the value we place on it should be great—it should never be compromised as part of a regular strategy for getting what we want. (I suspect the fact that we don’t believe the other side feels this way is fueling a lot of the support for Davis’s actions.) But there is also a time and place for civil disobedience, grounded in a Law higher than man’s, against an unjust law. Determining where the line should be drawn between them is not a simple task, and it deserves careful thought.
I’m skeptical of the possibility of convincing people who don’t believe in God that human beings have intrinsic value (see “Atheism and Universal Human Rights” for more on why I’m skeptical). But Wesley J. Smith keeps insisting it’s possible, and I can’t help but hope he’s right when he says things like this:
Happily, human exceptionalism does not require belief in a transcendent God, or indeed, spiritual allusions of any kind if we understand that what matters morally is not the capacities of the individual—which, after all, are transitory—but our intrinsic natures as human beings—which are innate.
If we can convince people our value comes not from the abilities we’re expressing at a particular moment in time but from the kind of being we are—and that’s a big “if” that Smith doesn’t make a case for in his following argument, though you can read an argument for it here—then a case for universal intrinsic human value can be made.
[A]s recent headlines about Planned Parenthood and the push for assisted suicide demonstrate, now is the time to defend intrinsic human value….
A belief in human exceptionalism…does not depend on religious faith. Whether we were created by God, came into being through blind evolution, or were intelligently designed, the importance of human existence can and should be supported by the rational examination of the differences between us and all other known life forms.
After all, what other species in known history has had the wondrous capacities of human beings? What other species has been able to (at least partially) control nature instead of being controlled by it? What other species builds civilizations, records history, creates art, makes music, thinks abstractly, communicates in language, envisions and fabricates machinery, improves life through science and engineering, or explores the deeper truths found in philosophy and religion? What other species has true freedom? Not one….
Perhaps the most important distinction between the fauna and us is our moral agency. The sow that permits the runt of her litter to starve is not a negligent parent, but a human mother doing the same would be branded a monster. The feline that plays with a fallen baby bird before consuming it is not being sadistic; she is acting like a cat! But any human who tortures an animal is rightly seen as pathological.