What Nicodemus teaches us about homosexuality

Joshua Walters

April 24, 2012

Good questions and insights, Joshua. Here's my two cents' worth.

Nicodemus set a great example of how to start a dialog instead of a diatribe. Dialog can lead to relationship, and it's relationship that God seeks to restore with sinners. I am glad God wanted to reconcile with me, so why should I reject the opportunity to build relationship with my gay friends?


April 24, 2012

Thanks for your two cents, Tim. I'm with ya.

E'Jon Moore
April 24, 2012

"Nobody should hold a strong opinion on homosexuality until she or he has personally interacted with someone who is gay."

Why? That's like saying, "No one should hold a strong opinion on murder until they have met someone who is a murderer (or someone close to them has been murdered). I'm not trying to equate the two (though all sins are equal before God, right?), but I think making the litmus of conviction man instead of God is a foolish place to begin.

If I read Scripture and I am convicted that homosexuality is wrong and that conviction is dismissed out of hand because I don't have any gay friends, what then does that say about which is supposed to be more authoritative in a person's life--God's word or personal experience?

I'm not disagreeing with your overall point here or disagreeing so I can hold to some hateful position, but I think your criteria for conviction is untenable and elevates man's viewpoint above God's. This is not to say that we should hold to some strong opinion and it be devoid of human relationship. Any theology or conviction that does not touch heaven and kiss earth is of little value. But, I really think you've set up a false dichotomy with that particular statement...one that has been fed to us not from Scripture but from the prevailing culture...

Michael Rosch
April 24, 2012

I do not agree with this approach to moral philosophy. Up front, let me say that I am a heterosexual atheist who views gays no different than anyone else.

But here, I'm inclined to agree with C. E'Jon Moore for very different reasons--not the part about it putting man above god, but I agree with his analogy. Though it may come off as hyperbolic, C.E. states he or she is not making a moral equivalence but only applying the approach to its logical conclusion. I could take it even further. I've never met a slave or a slave master, though I doubt you'll suggest that I can't have a valid opinion about slavery until I do.

Though I think personally knowing people of a minority group is often the best way of debunking negative stereotypes, I see no reason why a rational person should require such personal interaction to learn the lesson that all men and women ought to be treated equally regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race, nationality, class, etc. For instance, I've never met a Sioux Indian before, but I don't need to have met a Sioux Indian to know our differences are merely superficial and that they deserve to be treated with the same level of respect and fairness that I wish to be treated myself. Simply being a human being with a functioning pre-frontal cortex that generates feelings of empathy is all that is necessary.

I find that the kind of personal experience argument you're making is very similar to what I observe among political conservatives. Perhaps one of the only redeeming qualities of Dick Chaney was that he differed with his party on gay rights. Of course, the only reason he thought differently was that he happened to have a gay daughter. Then there's Meghan Kelley, who as Jon Stewart so wonderfully pointed out, was a staunch opponent of maternity leave...until she needed it herself. Then suddenly, she publicly condemned a colleague for saying negative things about maternity leave similar to what she previously said herself.

I don't think one should limit one's moral positions to what can be observed. I think a healthy sense of empathy aided with an education in history and moral philosophy make the best foundation for ethical decision-making. Where personal experience is most useful is in debunking negative stereotypes.

April 25, 2012

@ C.E'Jon Moore: Thanks for the dialogue. I respect your idea that God ought to be our litmus for morality - but to equate Scripture with God is dangerous in my opinion. I think that we might have a different approach to the Bible. I don't equate Scripture with God; I see it as a man-made, God-inspired collection of writings. I worry that your approach would have us all wearing pure polyester and not allowing women to preach, etc.

I think that a conviction solely from reading Scripture and not tested in the context of human community is silly. This is why I follow Wesley's quadrilateral, which attempts to form our beliefs through Scripture, Tradition, Experience, and Reason. I don't believe that the Bible contains ALL of morality for ALL times; I believe God is still speaking.

Lastly, I disagree that my point is untenable for THIS particular topic. Sure, it might be hard to find a murderer to hang out with, but a gay person? Also, even though you say you're not trying to equate murder and homosexuality, I feel that you actually are, and you built a point on it. We can't build a system of morality that doesn't take seriously the nuances and significant differences between things like murder and love.

April 25, 2012

@Michael Rosch: Thanks for your comment too. Again, I agree with you and C.E'Jon that we can and should hold convictions on things that we have never encountered (Didn't I say this in the end of the article!?!?).

The thing is, I'm writing to a specific audience here. I'm writing to Christians who use the Bible as a way to build an all-encompassing system of morality WITHOUT ever actually encountering PEOPLE. You say that a "rational person" does not need personal interaction to learn that people need to be treated equally, but there are many Christians who think that they are "rational" because "the Bible says..." And they end up doing the exact opposite of what you hope for (i.e. condemning LGBTQQ).

I agree with, Michael, that our morality should be guided by empathy, education, and other things. But you must understand that I come for a Christian culture where those things do not have the final word. For most Christians, the Bible is the "final word" on morality. And that is why I am urging Christians to withhold a strong opinion on THIS particular issue before they go out and meet LGBT.

April 25, 2012

I'm a heterosexual Christian male that embraces a Christian world view and I'm deeply committed to living that world view as consistently as I possibly can.

Living that means that treating human beings with the value that God created them to have(being created in the image of God). Because of them being created in the image of God, we ought to treat them with kindness, reverence and justice.

Homosexuality is not something that should be destroyed or stamped out by harming human beings, but at the same time it is also not morally benign and should be encouraged either.
These are two radically different views of the issue and the they are the sides that most take. Both of those view do not align themselves with a biblical, Christian world view.

Rather we need to understand that the bible teaches that homosexuality is immoral. The bible does not leave any room for confusion about this point. If you don't believe that, perhaps we could discuss this aspect of the issue further. Nevertheless, it teaches that human beings are valuable in themselves and therefore you don't mistreat them.

There is no reason that we can't make the claim that homosexuality is immoral and still treat homosexuals with respect and kindness.

Christians should be among the very first to condemn any kind of mistreatment to homosexuals and any other human beings for that matter.

We ought to condemn the treatment of homosexuals, but not the moral point of view. The moral point of view is sound. But the treatment doesn't follow from the moral point of view.

You could say that homosexuality is immoral just like we say a lot of other things are immoral. But something being immoral does not give the right to mistreat other human beings. I think it's very important that we understand that.

And if that was the point of your article, I would champion it. My fear is that is not the point.

April 25, 2012

"There is no reason that we can't make the claim that homosexuality is immoral and still treat homosexuals with respect and kindness.

Christians should be among the very first to condemn any kind of mistreatment to homosexuals and any other human beings for that matter."

Well said, Albert. This is what I'm getting at. For me this gets to the heart of the gospel. We can, in fact, say "X" is immoral, while also loving and embracing others. Such is the scandal of grace in my opinion.

Jason Summers
April 25, 2012

Michael's earlier comment regarding political affiliation and modes of moral thinking related to experience started me thinking about Joshua's piece and the question of how knowing someone or a person who is an exemplar of a group affects our moral judgements.

It seems to me that there are some basic issues of social psychology at play here. The so-called "fundamental attribution error" suggests that we tend to view the faults of others as due more to internal factors than to circumstances. In other words, our moral intuition about others would assume they act out of disposition or volition, e.g. bad intent, rather than circumstance, e.g. out of need or compulsion. This mirrors the LGBT debate, in which pro LGBT advocates tend to say orientation is part of in-born nature and anti LGBT advocates tend to say it is a choice.

Actually knowing a person in multiple contexts tends to mitigate attribution error (as I've written before http://www.capitalcommentary.org/civil-discourse/come-now-let-us-reason-together—civil-discourse-and-cognitive-bias), so in this respect would incline people to view the actions of others as deriving from a more complex set of causes. That's certain to have a practical effect on our moral judgements, particularly how we make them intuitively.

And those intuitive judgements, in fact, may be what matters. Jonathan Haidt suggests that they basically define our moral views and our reasoned arguments are just post-hoc justifications.

That's not so encouraging for those of us that want moral judgements to be grounded in something deeper than intuition (though it does have the positive effect of helping us see one another as more fully human).

Curiously, Haidt suggests (contra Michael) that right-leaning moral opinions typically are grounded in a more comprehensive set of moral principles than left-leaning moral opinions (which typically arise solely out of notions of care/harm [i.e., utilitarianism] and freedom/autonomy [i.e., liberalism]).

So, in practice, most of of our views have little basis in a robust moral vision, despite our justifications. Perhaps the only cure is having many discussions about what our moral principles are, which is why this forum is welcome.


April 26, 2012

Those are profound insights, Jason. Thanks for sharing. One of the things that captured my attention was what you wrote about the role of intuition in forming our moral judgments. Perhaps it's because I'm more of a "feeler" (ENFJ on the Myers Briggs), but I believe that we need to take more seriously the role of feelings and intuition in our theology, ethics, etc. I tend to think that we're still suffering from post-Enlightenment obsession with reason and "objective" principles.

James Gilmore
April 27, 2012

I think there's definitely something to this.

If any of us wouldn't tell a friend of ours, someone we love and cherish dearly, that people like them are ruining "traditional marriage," destroying the nation's morals, and leading us all into destruction—and that they thus should be denied basic rights like marriage, a life free of discrimination, and safety from being bullied, harassed, or assaulted simply for being who they are—then how could we say the same thing to or about abstract strangers?

Christ says "love your neighbor as yourself," and tells us that the Samaritan was the neighbor to the man who was beaten and left for dead. Anything we wouldn't say to or about a person we know and love dearly, shouldn't be said to or about any other person either.

Jason Summers
April 28, 2012

Joshua, perhaps we are (especially within the Church) still in the thralls of the enlightenment. We certainly are still too often committed to the individualistic liberalism that emphasizes rules rather than the process of sanctification and development of virtue (cf. discussion here: http://www.mereorthodoxy.com/church-contraception-single-members/). --- The challenge of intuition is that it tends to be selfish and inclined toward the bad unless trained and mediated by slower thinking (as in the recent study in which lying is shown to decrease with response time). So moral formation is needed beyond just our inborn character. Where we go wrong is in assuming virtue is only cultivated through rules and punishments for violation of those rules.

Bill Krill
April 30, 2012

Well, Jesus (God) never said one word of condemnation about homosexuality, but had much to say about sins of the heart...which would then say He thought more important?

Kyle Anthony Brooks
May 12, 2012


"There is no reason that we can't make the claim that homosexuality is immoral and still treat homosexuals with respect and kindness."

I do not really agree. I'm personally queer here and I feel that you must say queerness is a good thing in order to treat queers with respect and kindness.

Too many Christians (I'm one) have said homosexuality is wrong, with no indication they will ever treat us with respect and kindness.

"Respect and kindness" sounds too much like tolerance to me instead of acceptance.


May 20, 2012

A part of this article resonates with me. I could say that my background was similar to Joshua's. Then I received a work assignment that took me to a hotbed of gay activism. Daily, I worked with people who were not only homosexual, but also suffering the the ravages of AIDS. At last count 7 of the people I worked with succumbed to the disease, people who I liked, who I socialized with, who I came to love. A number of years later, I now have a close family member who has embraced the homosexual lifestyle. Certainly, the "Nicodemus" approach changes one's perspective!!

The tension I now deal with is how to relate. It seems that there is a constant tension. On the one hand, it is difficult to argue that the Bible is anything but explicitly clear on this matter--from the Old Testament through the New. And personal experience can never be allowed to supersede Scripture.

On the other hand, Jesus Himself regularly associated with those whose practice was anything but holy. All peoples are loved by Him. He Himself stated that "He came, not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."

And here is the important issue for me. What is my attitude toward the person and what is my attitude toward the practice? And how do I hold the two attitudes simultaneously? That is where the constant tension lies. Maybe its part of our culture or maybe its part of our character as fallen human beings, but we do have great difficulty in separating the two. And for me, it is a constant struggle to allow the Holy Spirit to maintain each in proper perspective.

One problem I have with the implications of the "Nicodemus" approach: Nicodemus came to Jesus with questions about how to square Jesus' teachings with what Nicodemus believed. He found truth, he reacted to truth, and he obviously changed his mind. Can we say the same with our relationships with homosexual persons? Can our personal experiences sway us from what Scripture clearly points to as truth? If our personal experiences leads us to see homosexuals as persons loved by God and in need of redemption, not because of homosexuality but because of sin, then those experiences have validity. If, instead, we are influenced to modify or reject what the Scriptures clearly state, then I believe we have allowed sympathy for the person to cross over to approval of the practice.

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