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.

Stop Using the Shellfish Argument!

Lobster With WatermarkWhenever I read an article on CNN or Huffington Post dealing with the issue of homosexuality and the Bible there is always someone – whether in the article itself or in the comment section below – who feels like they’ve won a slam dunk by bringing out “the shellfish argument”.  The argument goes like this: The Bible says that homosexual practice is wrong; but it also says that eating shellfish is wrong.  So if you’re a Christian and you like eating lobster or shrimp, you have no grounds to say that homosexual practice is wrong.

If you’ve ever used this argument before I have one thing to say to you: Stop using this argument!  Even if you think that same-sex sexual activity is perfectly okay on other grounds, stop using this argument!  There are way better arguments that you could use to support your position (though, I’m sure, I would find problems with them too) so use one of them – stop using this one!

There is one thing I would like to ask people who use this argument: have you ever actually asked anyone who knows church history or the history of Christian theology why the Church has traditionally said that eating shellfish is okay while same-sexual activity is not okay?  My guess is that you probably haven’t.  You simply found what you think is a knock-down argument and didn’t take the time to actually talk to someone or read someone who actually knows anything about the issues.

The reason why this is so frustrating is that the answer is actually pretty simple.  You might not agree with the argument; you might not agree with the conclusion; you might think that the Bible is nonsense; but you can’t deny that this is what the Bible says.

The Old Testament makes a distinction between food that you’re allowed to eat (clean) and food that you’re not allowed to eat (unclean).  There’s a lot of debate about why certain foods were considered clean while other foods were considered to be unclean (I have my own opinions on this issue, of course) but that’s not really important at this point.  The important thing to note is that these food laws specifically applied to the people of Israel living under the Mosaic Covenant.  Later Jewish tradition (i.e. the 7 laws of Noah) makes it clear that these laws did not apply to Gentiles but were specifically meant for Israel (though I wouldn’t use that as an argument in an academic discussion, but it is telling).

Fast-forward to the New Testament.  There are several passages that make it clear that foods that were considered unclean under the Mosaic Covenant were not to be considered unclean in the New Covenant.  Let me just give a few examples:

Mark 7:19 – In saying this, Jesus declared all foods “clean.”

Colossians 2:16-17 – Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day.  These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.

1 Timothy 4:3-5 – They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth.  For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.

The reason why the Church has traditionally said that it’s okay for Christians to eat shellfish is the same reason why the Church has traditionally said that Christians don’t have to be circumcised: because Christians are under the New Covenant, not under the Mosaic Covenant.

So why has the church traditionally said that same-sex sexual relations are forbidden for Christians?  Let me give you two reasons:

1. Both the Old and New Testaments say that same-sex sexual relations are forbidden.  The New Testament explicitly abolishes the food laws of the Old Testament; you never see the same thing happening with what the Bible has to say about same-sex sexual relations.

2. In Acts 15, when the Council of Jerusalem (so-called) wrote a letter to the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia, they made it clear what God required of Gentile Christians.  Gentile Christians weren’t required to be circumcised and they weren’t required to abstain from unclean foods; but they were required, among other things, to avoid sexual immorality.  For Jewish people writing at that time it would be clear that homosexual practice would be included in that category.  In other words, they could forget about the food laws (for the most part) but they can’t mess with what the Old Testament has to say about sexual ethics.

This may sound complicated for someone who doesn’t know a lot about the Bible or a lot about theology but it is pretty straightforward.  Christians live under the New Covenant, not the Mosaic Covenant.  The food laws applied to people living under the Old Covenant; however, both the Old Covenant and the New Covenant forbid same-sex sexual activity.  You might not think that the Bible is the Word of God; you might not think that it’s inspired; but you can’t say that this isn’t the kind of argument that you find in the New Testament.

So, regardless of what your opinion is on same-sex sexual relations, stop using this argument – it’s not a good one.  Instead of asking your question about shellfish and thinking that you have a knock-down argument, try asking the question sincerely to someone who disagrees with you: why do you say that eating shell-fish is okay but same-sex sexual relations are wrong?  Try hearing what the other side has to say if you want to be treated seriously.  And we’ll try to do the same.