Pascal’s Wager and the Gay Christian Debate

Gambling With WatermarkPascal’s Wager is an argument that has to do with the existence of God.  It basically lays out four scenarios to show why believing in God is “the best bet”:

The first scenario says that if someone doesn’t believe in God and God doesn’t exist, then they haven’t lost anything.

The second scenario says that if someone believes in God and God doesn’t exist, then they also haven’t lost anything.

The third scenario says that if someone believes in God and God does, in fact, exist, then they’ve gained something of infinite value.

The fourth scenario says that if someone doesn’t believe in God and God does exist then they’ve lost everything.

Now there definitely are a few problems with Pascal’s Wager (e.g. Which God are we talking about?  Is that all that’s required to be a Christian? What if being a Christian results in you being tortured and killed, etc.) but I think that most people get the point.

Now to the subject at hand.  Over the past couple of weeks I’ve seen a lot of comments on Facebook and blogposts that say that it’s perfectly okay for someone to be a Christian and involved in a same-sex sexual relationship – as long as it’s a loving, committed, and monogamous same-sex sexual relationship.  Thankfully, now that same-sex marriage has been legalized in the United States (it’s been legal here in Canada for ten years now), we should be able to stop saying “loving, committed, monogamous,” etc. and just say “same-sex sexual relationships in the context of marriage”.

In the vast majority of cases, the arguments that I’ve heard are pretty weak – what can you expect from Facebook?  They know what they want to believe but they really haven’t thought through the issues very well. But there are some people, of course, who have thought through the issues and have done some serious reading on the issue.  In my experience, they’re in the minority.  And, just in case anyone asks, anyone who uses the “shellfish” or “mixed fabrics” argument or says “doesn’t the Bible say ‘judge not'” is in the former category.  Back to the point – this post is for both groups – those who have thought it through and those who haven’t – and anyone else who’s interested.

To be up front, I personally don’t think it’s consistent for a person to be a Christian and involved in a same-sex sexual relationship just like it’s inconsistent for a person to be a Muslim and believe in the deity of Christ.  I find most of the exegetical arguments of people like Matthew Vines, James Brownson, and Jack Rogers fairly weak, though some of the theological arguments they offer are much stronger and make you think.  I’m definitely open to debating those points but in this post I want to do something a little bit different.  Just to be clear, though, I don’t think that same-sex attraction is a choice, I don’t think that same-sex attraction can be “fixed”, and I don’t think that Christians should force their views about marriage on non-Christians, especially in the legal sphere.  Just need to get that out of the way just in case anyone makes any assumptions.  (If you do have a question about what I believe, ask or ask for clarification, don’t assume.)

In this post I want to look at the issue in a way that’s similar to Pascal’s Wager.  In this case we’re going to assume: (a) that God exists; (b) that heaven (or the New Creation) and hell are real and eternal; (c) that the Bible is the inspired, authoritative, and inerrant Word of God; and (d) that for a person to be a genuine Christian they need to repent of their sins, put their faith in Christ, and commit their lives to living for him.  Each of these points can be disputed but, for now, we’re going to assume that they’re true.  And even if you don’t think they’re true, pretend that they’re true for the sake of argument.

Here are the four possibilities:

1. If I say that same-sex sexual relationships are okay for Christians and they are, in fact, okay for Christians,[1] I will probably gain a few gay or gay-affirming converts to Christianity. More importantly, I will spare gay Christians a life of loneliness, depression, shame, and struggle. That being said, I also might lose a few converts from Islam or from cultures that disapprove of same-sex sexual relationships because approving same-sex sexual relationships might be a bridge too far for them.

2. If I say that same-sex sexual relationships are not okay for Christians and they are, in fact, okay for Christians, I may lose a few gay-affirming converts, a few same-sex attracted Christians, and condemn same-sex attracted Christians to a life of singleness and celibacy. But, if they listen to what I say, those same-sex attracted Christians will be saved for eternity and may even be rewarded for denying themselves for what they believed was God’s will.

3. If I say that same-sex sexual relationships are not okay for Christians but they turn out not to be okay for Christians, I may lose a few gay-affirming converts, a few same-sex attracted Christians, and make things difficult for same-sex attracted Christians but, in the end, those who listen to what I say will be saved for all of eternity. The price of singleness is high, but the price of losing eternity in the new creation is even higher (assuming 1 Cor. 6:9 applies to all same-sex sexual relationships).

4. If I say that same-sex sexual relationships are okay for Christians and it turns out that they’re not okay for Christians (a la 1 Cor. 6:9), I might end up gaining a few gay or gay-affirming converts, but, in the end, anyone who listens to me and involves themselves in a same-sex sexual relationship will be condemned for eternity. I realize that not everyone believes that and some people think that that’s absolute nonsense – but stick with the scenario. On top of that, I’ll lose converts from Islam or from cultures that disapprove of same-sex sexual relationships.  There will probably also be some severe consequences in terms of how Christians interpret their Bibles and view the inspiration, authority, and inerrancy of Scripture.

Now it’s clear to me that, based on all of these scenarios, that the safest course of action, if the four assumptions at the beginning are true, is to say that same-sex sexual relationships are not okay for Christians.  There are lots of factors that are involved and they shouldn’t be minimized, but saying that same-sex sexual relationships are okay for Christians does the most damage from an eternal perspective if same-sex sexual relationships turn out not to be okay for Christians.

Now I wouldn’t say that we should decide our theology based on reasoning like this.  The point is that no matter where we come out on this debate, we need to think through the consequences and be willing to take responsibility for those consequences if we’re wrong.  We’re with issues that have consequences in the here and now and consequences for eternity.  That at least warrants a better argument than, “The Bible also says you shouldn’t eat shellfish” or “Doesn’t the Bible say ‘judge not'”!  And for those of us who believe it’s inconsistent for a person to be a Christian and be involved in a same-sex sexual relationship, we need to make sure that we don’t minimize the consequences of what we say either.

I would be interested in hearing any feedback.  Please stick to the scenarios that were given and remember that this is an inter-Christian debate – we’re not talking about forcing our beliefs on non-Christians, we’re talking about what individual churches and Christians should believe and practise.

[1] From God’s perspective and from the perspective of the final judgment.

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18 thoughts on “Pascal’s Wager and the Gay Christian Debate

  1. One glaring problem: neither you, me, nor anyone else has the power to decide for any people group who is to live a life of celibacy. It wasn’t legally recognized for centuries and people lived in the context of marriage anyway. Christians ought to know better than to force a gift upon people it is not meant for.

    • Hi Jamie. Thanks for the comment. I don’t really see where the problem is…maybe you can explain it in a little bit more detail for me. I’m not totally sure where you’re coming from. Are you talking about celibacy for people in the church or celibacy for people outside of the church? If we believe that the Bible is the Word of God, believers have the responsibility to teach what the Bible says on moral issues and, in the context of the local church, have the responsibility to enforce those teachings through church discipline. A good example of this happening (or not happening when it was supposed to happen!) is 1 Corinthians 5:1-13. This isn’t just for the issue of same-sex sexual relationships – it would also be the same for pre-marital sex, divorce for unbiblical reasons, adultery, etc. We don’t have any business enforcing our ethics on non-Christians (cf. 1 Cor. 5:12-13) but we have a responsibility to enforce ethical teaching in the context of the local church. But definitely let me know in a little bit more detail what you meant by your comment.

      • In terms of Pascal’s wager:
        If Christians force celibacy and God approves then yay for us – in righteousness name, there’s oppression, emotional angst, frustration, but that’s just how He likes it.
        If Christians do not force celibacy and God disapproves, then we broke his rules again.
        If Christians force celibacy and God disapproves – we’ve just used him to oppress people, frustrate people, anger people, and we put apart two people that God wanted together.
        If Christians do not force celibacy and God approves, then everybody wins.
        Considering that human nature is what it is, we’ve used God to forcibly convert freshly-caught slaves (in case they die mid-transit), Native American tribes, to perpetuate slavery (God approves, it’s in the Bible), to ban the ‘wrong’ kind of marriages (mostly because of white supremacy, you can’t be ‘pure’ if your daughters marry the wrong race), and here we are debating this. In terms of non-believers, then we have no business judging them or being upset that they can get tax benefits now that they couldn’t before. In terms of Christians, I’ll admit a big ‘I don’t know’. But I do know that you can’t force people to do something that isn’t in them. Just as some heterosexual Christian men and women won’t marry because they do have the gift of celibacy, there will be homosexual Christian men and women who do marry because they don’t have the gift of celibacy. The way I see it, people are going to do what people are going to do, even if the church disapproves, they’ll do it all the more. That’s human nature for you.

      • Hi Jamie. People well definitely do what people want to do. I agree with you there. But, like I said, the Bible does require us to say something and do something if Christians are engaged in unrepentant sin. For example, if someone in my church is committing adultery, one approach would be to say, “People are going to do what people are going to do.” But the biblical response is to confront that person – for their sake and for the sake of the people they are hurting. Or if a Christian is engaged in pre-marital sex, we could say, “People are going to do what people are going to do.” But the biblical response, again, is to confront that person. If the person genuinely is a Christian that person will realize that what they’re doing is wrong and they’ll repent of that sin. If they’re not a genuine Christian, they won’t care anyway. The point is that the Bible commands us to practise church discipline when someone is engaged in unrepentant, regardless of what human nature is. The issue isn’t whether or not Christians have a responsibility to address sin in the church – the issue is whether or not what we’re talking about is actually a sin.

        I don’t think the scenarios you present in your version of the wager really works. I don’t know if “oppression” is the right word to use in the first scenario. Churches are voluntary organizations so a person who becomes a member of a church agrees to submit to the church’s teaching and the church’s authority. It would only be oppression if they didn’t have a choice to be there. There definitely will be emotional angst and frustration but they’re not the only ones who have to experience that. But in the end, a lifetime of emotional angst is worth it if it means being allowed to enter the kingdom of God. That kind of argument doesn’t make sense if you don’t have a strong view of eternity but, if you do, it makes perfect sense. What does it profit a person if he gains the whole world and yet loses his soul? The same thing goes for Christians who have been tortured and killed for their faith. I’m sure none of them would say that it was pleasant or that it was easy – but on the other side of eternity they would say it was worth it.

        If Christians do not “force” celibacy and God disapproves, the consequences are more severe than “Oops, I guess we broke his rules again.” The consequences are exclusion from the kingdom of God for the person engaged in same-sex sexual relationships (assuming that 1 Corinthians 6:9 applies to all same-sex sexual relationships). That’s the point – if we’re wrong on this it’s a huge deal.

        If Christians “force” celibacy and God approves (I think that’s what you meant), there definitely will be negative consequences, but the consequences or only finite – that’s the point of the wager. If eternity isn’t taken into account, the wager doesn’t work.

        If Christians do not force celibacy and God approves, then everyone wins. That’s true – but the point of the wager is that that’s the least safe bet to make in terms of eternity. If we’re wrong, the negative consequences are far more severe than in any other scenario. If someone wants to say that they’ve looked through the issue thoroughly enough to take responsibility for that, that’s fine. But that’s a big responsibility to take.

      • I keep on trying to imagine the shoe on the other foot – what if the world had been flipped where heterosexuality was not the norm. Where homosexual people were using the Bible (which had been written to support their interpretation two millennia ago) to decide for people who are not like them how they ought to live their lives. I’m just tired of Christians throwing their weight around to bully people. It’s not Christian.

      • That might be an interesting issue to discuss another time. But if we stick with the scenarios mentioned in the post it makes sense. If same-sex sexual relationships exclude someone from the kingdom of God – even if just for the sake of argument – and if that person claims to be a Christian, then it definitely is Christian to show them what the Bible says about the issue. 1 Corinthians 5:1-13 makes it clear that Christians are responsible for dealing with sin in the church – that means that it is Christian to confront sin. The issue, of course, is whether or not same-sex sexual relationships are sinful.

      • That’s what I don’t get about God. Presumably, God made humans to be in relationship with one another. They can be a part of the family they are born in, they can have a family (if male / female, if childless they can adopt or try ivf), they can have friendships (David / Johnathan’s is a famous example of a very close one). But then he makes some people a certain way and they can’t have what everyone else is supposed to have? It makes me think of the line from ‘Evan Almighty’ “God, I know you love me, but do me a favor and love me less.”
        Besides, how are you going to discipline all the sinners in the building? To be consistent, you’d have to kick out the gluttons until they are no longer obese and kick out the divorced / remarried individuals until they get back together with their first husbands / wives and while you’re at it, kick out all the people who have sex outside of marriage and get rid of all the abusive husbands – there’s really no way to ‘lovingly discipline under church authority’ anyone.

      • Jamie – Let’s deal with the second issue first. I think we might be working with different definitions for what church discipline is. When someone is placed under church discipline it doesn’t mean that they aren’t allowed in the building anymore. Church discipline simply means that a church no longer recognizes the person being disciplined as a genuine born-again Christian (cf. Matt. 18:15-20 and 1 Cor. 5:1-13). On a practical level that means they would no longer be allowed to participate in the Lord’s Supper and church members would no longer be able to interact with that person as a believer. And, yes, we do need to be consistent in how we practice church discipline. If someone in my church divorced their spouse for unbiblical reasons and married someone else, they would be put under church discipline until they came to repentance. What repentance would look like in that issue is up for debate and what would be required of them before they could be accepted back into church membership is up for debate as well. If someone was having sex outside of marriage or abusing their spouse we would put them under church discipline as well. In the case of abuse we would encourage the person being abused to go to the police and, if children are involved, we would be obligated to report the abuse ourselves. But we would deal with this issue in the same way we would deal with someone in a same-sex sexual relationship. As for gluttony, you would have to define what gluttony is first before I could comment – being overweight doesn’t mean that someone is a glutton. Church discipline is something that scripture requires churches to do when someone is in habitual, unrepentant sin. If churches don’t practise church discipline, they are being disobedient to the clear teaching of scripture – and there shouldn’t really be any debate on that.

        As for the first point you mentioned, that’s a very important question and there are very good answers to that question. But, to bring it back to the point of the post, the issue isn’t whether or not we can make sense of what the Bible has to say about same-sex sexual relationships. The issue is whether or not we’re confident enough in our position to say that same-sex sexual relationships are okay when the consequences for people involved in same-sex sexual relationship could be eternal. For me it doesn’t make any sense for someone to say, “We don’t know for sure what the Bible says on loving, committed, monogamous same-sex sexual relationships so we might as well say it’s okay for Christians.” To use an argument from Peter Kreeft that he uses in the context of abortion, if you see something on the side of the road that might be a deer or might be a person, you don’t say, “I don’t really know for sure so I’m going to shoot anyway.” That’s just negligence.

      • Thank you for clarifying what discipline is – I’ve heard how it was used against people for these reasons:
        Not being supportive of the pastor’s vision
        Asking too many questions about the budget
        Sinfully craving answers
        Being divisive
        Being a gossip
        Wife saying “Oh hush” to a husband
        Not repenting hard enough
        Not confessing one’s entire history of sin
        Being prideful
        Discussing theology in a Bible study with men if one is a woman
        Not being submissive (women)
        Not leading your wife (men)
        Skipping church to take kids to a soccer tournament
        Skipping a small group meeting
        Refusing to return to an abusive spouse
        and I’ve always believed that it was particularly easy to use it to hurt good people and to scare the rest as an example of the consequences of what happens when one falls out of line. Now I have a picture of what that looks like – being shunned (like the Amish tradition.)

        Assuming that you win your argument, what are you going to do with them in their 80 years of barely tolerable celibacy? Refuse them positions in the church, or hire them on to keep them too busy to think about giving into temptation? How will you restore the ones that are unable to be celibate to the congregation? If you win your argument, what can they expect out of life? I still stick with my ‘I don’t know’ answer. We don’t know everything, but we do know that Jesus chose love and compassion. I’d believe that’s what he would choose.

      • To me, the question is not “do I win the argument?” it’s inconsequential whether the yes / no or calvinism / arminianism were right. To me the vital thing is how one acts upon their beliefs. Being right doesn’t always absolve you of the responsibility of doing the right thing. Being right that the Bible doesn’t out-right ban slavery doesn’t mean that you should not abolish the institution of slavery as soon as possible. Being right that discipline is in the Bible doesn’t mean one can get away with abusing it to do bad things to good people and doing nothing about correcting the abuses going on. I want Christians to really think about how what they say and do affects people. Not in some theoretical sense, but by putting themselves in the shoes of their brothers and sisters, neighbors, co-workers, and absolute strangers. Compassion is to ‘suffer with’ – that’s what Jesus exemplified. Sure, he was right a lot, but what can we say? He was a special guy and there’s no one like him. But I think he would want us to suffer with the suffering, to suffer with the outcasts, to suffer with unloved and the unlovable. If you win your argument, how do you plan on acting upon your belief?

      • Thanks again for the comments. I agree with most of what you’re saying…I think. It’s definitely important to consider how what we do and say affects other people. That’s one of the reasons why I’m enjoying reading Justin Lee’s book, Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gay-vs.-Christian Debate. Even though I disagree with where he comes out on the issue in the end, he is very good at giving a balanced look at how this issue affects real people and the damage that can be done when people approach the issue in the wrong way. We definitely need to suffer with outcasts and to put ourselves in other peoples’ shoes. No argument there. But it’s also important to make sure that we get scripture right. We can do both – we can be compassionate and be faithful to scripture. I might be missing your point, though…. Maybe if you give me a scenario or two I might be able to be more specific.

    • Hi Finn. It’s fine to disagree. The point of the post is to show that if you do end up with the position you take that it would be really wise to think through the issues carefully because, if we accept the presuppositions mentioned in the post (about God, scripture, heaven/new creation/hell, and what it means to be a Christian), it’s a serious issue.

      I do have a question, though, if it’s not too personal (feel free not to answer). Assuming that you live in the U.S. or Canada, now that same-sex marriage is legal, do you think it’s legitimate for a gay Christian to have sex outside of marriage? Not talking about your situation because I don’t know what your situation is. But I would be curious to hear what you think.

  2. Too many people unknowingly parrot Satan’s lie to Adam and Eve: “God is withholding something wonderful from you. You should be like God and denied nothing.” Not everything people desire is good or pleasing in God’s sight, and in light of eternity, it’s only His opinion that matters. Christians have a choice. We can dismiss scripture as a human creation with no power over our choices, we can play games with scripture like Satan does (“Did God REALLY say that?”), or we can accept His moral standard at face value, believing that God will direct all things towards the eternal good of those who are called by His purpose. Sometimes the truth is hard to hear and even harder to live out.

    • At the end of the post I made it clear that we shouldn’t base out theology on reasoning like this – it simply shows us how high the stakes are if the presuppositions presented in the post are true.

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