I really appreciate the response from readers and friends over the past week or so since I wrote my last piece, “Two Deaths, and an Unfortunate Connection.” There have been many passionate and intelligent reactions in the comment section, my email inbox, and at other websites. One such response came from my friend and perpetual counterpoint Matthew Lee Anderson, over at his blog Mere Orthodoxy. In his piece, “The Conversation Our Culture Cannot Have, But Must Anyway,” the brunt of his argument is against my insistence that we stop having conversations about the morality of the actions of people we don’t know. He writes, “Fitzgerald’s plea for a moratorium on the debate about the morality of homosexuality actually destroys the possibility of real, civil discourse on the question.”
Whether or not my plea destroys real civil discourse on the question actually depends on what the question is. It seems to me that throughout Anderson’s piece there are two threads: the morality of homosexuality and gay marriage. Nowhere in my piece did I address gay marriage, but I will say here, unequivocally, I support gay marriage.
When it comes to government-sanctioned marriage, I firmly believe that my faith as a Christian and my particular moral beliefs so far as they are a product of my faith have no bearing on the debate. When my wife and I were married we were actually “married” twice. When our pastor signed a form (which, we had to pay extra to obtain because we were late in doing so) the state of Massachusetts considered us married. But at another much more private time we were married before God. I know this is tangential to the argument that Anderson is making, but I wanted to get it out of the way of the more central concern of his piece.
So then, does my calling for “a moratorium on debates over what qualifies as sin in other peoples’ lives” translate into a call for the end of conversation on the morality of homosexuality? Yes. Insofar as we have open, public—even civil—conversations about the sin of people we do not know, then yes, we must stop having this conversation. Though, this is not exactly what Anderson thinks it is. Am I requiring that all Christians believe that homosexuality is not sin? Of course not. Within any community there are always variations on belief, and I don’t see this is as a problem. What I do think is a problem is the urge to identify and then judge the sins of strangers.
I am not a theologian. To someday study Scripture like it’s my job is a goal of mine, but of all the things I’ve formerly studied, my theological education is only comprised of 16 years of Christian schooling and a (short) lifetime of private study. Actually, as I type that, that seems like a lot, but I don’t have an M.Div or anything. All that to say, the question I have been asking recently is not whether homosexuality is sin, but whether I have any responsibility to point out any sin in the lives of people I do not know.
Let me clarify: it seems to me that if I were gay, the morality of my sexuality would be a central question. Further, if a close friend and fellow believer asked me to consider with him whether sexual sin exists in his life, we would of course have the conversation. This is not strange—we all have close friends, sometimes we refer to them in Christianese as “accountability partners”—who have invited us to speak into the intimate details of their lives. But when I read scripture, particularly through the Gospels, I don’t see any invitation to issue judgment about the sins of people we do not know. I see Jesus do so in such instances when he says “Go and sin no more,” but I also hear Jesus saying, “judge not, or you will be judged,” and that business about twigs in people’s eyes.
I’m fine with being proven wrong on this, and the last thing I’m trying to do is prooftext with the Bible. I really don’t believe that’s the way we are intended to read it. A different approach, then, is to look at the spirit of the Gospel, to look at its earliest implementation in the first century church, and ask myself whether making pronouncements about people’s particular sins seemed to be a priority. I submit that it did not. That it still should not. I took this question to my friend, the priest of my parish, and he wisely pointed out that sin in the Bible is hardly ever talked about in terms of this or that action, but rather as a state that we all live in. In that way, it’s not the kind of thing we identify in others’ actions because it is more than that, it is our very nature.
This ends one kind of conversation, certainly. This refutes Al Mohler’s suggestion that we will all have our Osteen Moment (unless I read him wrong and by Osteen Moment he means when we all get rich and happy, because I’ll take that) in which we must make a universal, impersonal pronouncement of the wrongs in other people’s lives. The conversation that happens on blogs about the sinfulness of homosexuality, the one that always ends with hurt feelings and moderators locking comment threads, must end.
Beyond that, believe what you want. Wrestle with this question with your close friends and confidants, ask your pastor, go to seminary. Ultimately, you will come to one conclusion or another, and you should. But that’s where it ends. Tuck your conclusion away for the time when someone close asks for your guidance, or for when you are faced with the question of your own moral culpability. What I’m calling for is not an end to thinking, but an end to pronouncing. And I feel confident that this is the true spirit of the Gospel message of good news for all.
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