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Thursday, May 10, 2012

Repost: Self-Interview about Same-Sex Marriage

Last year I wrote a three-part series on same-sex marriage. Since President Obama just announced his personal support for it and North Carolina approved a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman the day before, it seemed fitting to repost my earlier post in its entirety.

I hope you read it and consider it or at least jump to the questions most interesting to you—especially those of you who endorse same-sex marriage. I promise that there is not one nasty thing written about you in the whole post. What other blog makes that promise?

I sat down with myself recently and asked myself some questions about same-sex marriage.

Do you believe that same-sex marriage is wrong, and why or why not?

The heart of the Christian perspective on marriage generally is Matthew 19:3-9, which in turn is Jesus' meditation on Genesis 1:26-27; 2:18-25.  In this passage, Jesus is asked by Jewish legal scholars whether it is legit to divorce one's wife for any reason—their argument is that when Moses gave the legal stipulations for divorce in Deuteronomy 24:1-4 he didn't put conditions on them.  Jesus' reply is that Moses' law came later as a concession to "your hard hearts, but from the beginning it was not this way."  Rather, God's plan in the beginning was that "a man . . . will be united with his wife, and the two will become one flesh," since indeed, the first woman was made from the rib removed from the first man's body, and their union in marriage is the reunion of the two halves of humanity into one whole, a reunion recapitulated in every marriage since.

This is all interesting and relevant stuff, but what's really interesting is Jesus' dictum, "Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate."  The key words here are, "What God has joined together."  When a marriage is made, God is the one who makes it; God "joins together."  Marriage is God's invention, God's definition, and God is the one who makes it happen.  The two spouses must be willing, in traditional settings the families must be supportive, the state typically gives its acknowledgment, and for religious people a member of the clergy facilitates the ceremony.  But neither the spouses nor the families nor the state nor the clergyperson make the marriage.  Mysteriously, God joins them together.

On the one hand, it is accurate to say that traditional Christian teaching forbids same-sex marriage because marriage is (or ought to be) an intrinsically sexual relationship, and homosexual activity (i.e., acting for gratification on same-sex attraction) is defined in the Bible as a sin.  But it is just as accurate to say that Christian teaching forbids same-sex marriage because there is no such thing as same-sex marriage.  If God is the one who defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman (see my analysis of biblical polygamy if you must), and if God is the one who makes marriages happen, even for those who don't know he exists, then no one else has the power to alter his definition or make marriages.  So even if two partners of the same sex love each other deeply and pledge their lives to each other, even if their families support it, even if the state legitimates it, and even if a clergyperson officiates it, it still isn't a marriage because God didn't make it.  Christians maintain that "same-sex marriage" is like "square circle," a self-contradiction, a logical impossibility.  Just because someone says there is such a thing doesn't mean there really is.  That doesn't mean that two people of the same sex are unable to love each other faithfully for the rest of their lives.  It just means that that life-long love isn't a marriage.

So I oppose legitimizing same-sex marriage not so much because such a thing shouldn't happen as because such a thing can't happen.  And my opposition is based on an assumption that since God created stuff, if people function in accordance with his definitions of stuff, then things will go better than if they don't.  It's like if I operate my car in accordance with the owner's manual then it will run better for longer than if I rewrite the manual the way I like it and expect that the car itself will reflect my wishes.  Legitimizing same-sex marriage is an attempted societal revision of natural law we didn't write and are unable to rewrite, and we put ourselves at unknown risks by pretending to.

Is there any argument against same-sex marriage that doesn't come from a religious source or worldview?

As a matter of fact, there are such arguments.  One is an argument from evolution.  If marriage was not instituted by God, then it evolved along with the human race.  A foundational principle of evolution is that new forms last and multiply when they equip organisms better for survival in a dangerous world with limited resources.  The existence of this social institution called marriage, then, as we have known it to this point, has assisted our survival as a species generally and of the bloodlines of those who have entered into it specifically.  It is possible that legitimizing same-sex marriage is a further evolution that will enhance our species' chances of survival.  It is also possible that this would be a harmful mutation that hurts our chances.  The only way to know will be many generations down the line when we can compare the strength of societies with the mutation and those without.  Of course, by that time it will be much too late to do anything about it if this evolution of marriage turns out to be the devolution of marriage.

An argument that follows similar lines is the observation that same-sex marriage has very rarely been known in the history of the world, including among societies (e.g., ancient Greece) that routinely engaged in homosexual activity.  So we're comparing the argument of those who favor legitimizing same-sex marriage today with the overwhelmingly larger number of those who oppose it or knew no such thing both today and in all human generations past.  Now, let me make something very clear: a principle is not wrong just because it's believed in by a minority, even a tiny minority.  A tiny minority might be the only group that has it right (in fact, Christianity itself has often been in this position).  However, this situation does suggest caution.  At the very least, to take an arrogant stance that those in favor of legitimizing same-sex marriage are enlightened and those who oppose it are cretins is to set oneself up as one of the far less than 1% wisest human beings who has ever lived.  That may be true, but it's quite a claim to back up.

Another argument has to do with the sociological benefits of marriage as we have known it.  Numerous studies document superior outcomes (in life expectancy, education, earning power, etc.) for children who were raised in the household of their married parents.  There is a strong case to be made that marriage is one of the greatest health- and wealth-generating things we know.  Some critics' opposition to same-sex marriage is founded on a belief that redefining marriage in that way will weaken it within society across the board, not extend its benefits to more people.

In places that have already allowed same-sex marriage, the world hasn't come to an end, so what's the big deal?

I think that anyone who believes that the effects of same-sex marriage for good or ill would appear within a few years of its legitimization is quite naive.

Let me illustrate it this way.  A massive earthquake on the ocean floor can trigger a tsunami that devastates a coastline hundreds or even thousands of miles away.  The cause of the destruction and its effect are widely separated in both distance and time; in fact, without global seismic observation and communication, we would never know that one was connected to the other.  Likewise, the most powerful, profound, and irreversible effects come from causes that are widely separated from them in time and even space.  For example, when production began in England and America during the Industrial Revolution, they didn't know that as a result our global temperature would increase faster than the natural rate and threaten our world itself.

In the same way, we just don't know what the results of same-sex marriage would be.  But it is safe to say that if we tinker with the fundamental social unit of human civilization, there will be enormous and profound consequences.  Few if any of us will be around to see those consequences, but it is also safe to say that if our descendants want to undo our decision, they won't be able to.

Who are you to tell someone who they can or can't marry?

I'm no one to tell anyone who they can or can't marry.  I can't force my beliefs on anyone, and I don't intend to try.  Because in fact, this very day anyone can consider themselves married to anyone they want.  If you are committed to your partner, and your partner is committed to you, and you pledge your lives to each other, even having someone to officiate a ceremony that says as much, and you consider yourselves married, no one can prevent you from doing that.  This is a free country, meaning that we recognize our inability to make anyone believe or not believe one thing or another.  So if you want to marry someone of the same sex, you can go right ahead.

But of course, this is not what proponents of same-sex marriage want.  It's not so much that they want for people to be able to marry others of the same sex; it's that they want such a marriage to be recognized by society at large both in general opinion and through the laws of the state.  This instinct is appropriate, because marriage is a public institution that is woven deeply into the life of every community.  A marriage not recognized widely as a marriage does lack a degree of integrity.  Nevertheless, since what proponents of same-sex marriage are looking for is recognition of these marriages by society at large, it is they who are trying to force their beliefs on other people.  I can't make someone who wants to pledge themselves in marriage to someone of the same sex not do so.  But some are trying to make me recognize a same-sex union as equivalent to an opposite-sex one as a member of a society organized around marriage in innumerable ways (tax law, for example).

So, I'm no one to tell someone who they can or can't marry.  But who is anyone to tell me what marriage I must or must not recognize?

How does disallowing same-sex marriage not violate the basic principle of equality under the law secured in our national and state constitutions?

Well, since I'm not a constitutional lawyer, I shouldn't get too deep into this, because I know enough to know that I don't really know what I'm talking about here.  But my basic answer, going back to the first question, is that every person in this country of requisite age may marry someone who is not a close relative.  It's just that "to marry" means by definition "to become joined in covenantal, sexual union with a member of the opposite sex."  As I said before, that's what marriage is.  Everyone has the right to do that.  To argue that some do not have their equal right to marry because they want to marry their same-sex partner is like arguing that some do not have their equal right to assembly because they want to assemble all alone.  It turns inside out the meaning of the words "assemble" and "marry."

But deep down, we already know this.  I just mentioned that we restrict marriage to people who are old enough and who aren't marrying a close relative.  We also restrict marriage to people who aren't currently married to someone else and who intend to marry a human being.  We place all these restrictions on marriage because we believe that anyone who enters into a marriage otherwise hasn't really entered it—it isn't real.  Until recently, marrying someone of the opposite sex was considered everywhere to be one of those requirements, but in any case, this way of restricting marriage to what is really marriage is not new.

Is keeping same-sex marriage illegal part of an agenda to make homosexual practice itself illegal or to discriminate against homosexuals?

Not for me.  Now, as I stated before, I do believe that homosexual practice is immoral.  And I also want to distinguish carefully between homosexual practice and homosexual desire.  A person may make choices that increase or decrease their amount of homosexual desire over the long term, but I recognize that they may not be able to do anything about the existence of homosexual desire within them.  That may truly be outside their control.  We can't be responsible for such desires.  But we are responsible for whether and how we act on our desires.  This is what I mean by homosexual practice, and I do believe that acting to gratify this desire is morally wrong.

But "morally wrong" does not necessarily mean "illegal."  It's grossly impractical and arguably itself wrong to make every wrong thing illegal.  I mean, when I lose my temper at someone when I'm driving, that's morally wrong.  Do we have the capacity or will within the court system to prosecute people for that consistently?  And how do we go about proving that someone has done something wrong within their thoughts, which only God can see clearly?

Even when it comes to physical actions, the law isn't always the best way of handling things.  Theologian David Wells described it this way.  There are some things that we generally agree are both wrong and dangerous to others.  This falls into the category of law.  Then there are other things that we generally agree are right and are good for the world.  These things we certainly don't want to prohibit.  But there's a gray area in between of things that we believe (perhaps not as widely) are wrong and potentially harmful, but these things are more situational, complicated, and/or private.  We don't think they should happen, at least not all the time or in every circumstance, but the law is too blunt an instrument to sort out what's right and what's not or impossible to be enforced fairly across the board.  This is the realm of virtue, where we hope that in place of people avoiding the wrong thing because it's against the law, they will avoid it because it offends their honor and their interior sense of what is right and wrong.

Every generation to some degree renegotiates what behaviors fall into each of these three categories.  In a prior era, homosexual practice fell into the realm of law.  Then it moved into the realm of virtue as sodomy laws ceased to be enforced.  Now some argue that it should move into the realm of what is altogether good.  I don't think it should go there.  But I don't think it should fall under law again either.  In other words, I don't think homosexual behavior should be criminalized.

Likewise, I don't think that homosexuals should be discriminated against in day-to-day life.  Otherwise, we would have to discriminate against everyone who does wrong but legal things, which means we would have to discriminate against all of ourselves, which means we would treat ourselves all the same, which means that we wouldn't be discriminating at all.

Do you think you will prevent same-sex marriage from becoming a legal and accepted part of American life?

Lately, no.  The fight has ebbed and flowed with each side trading the momentum and the upper hand.  We are still a significant distance from same-sex marriage being recognized in a widespread way in the United States.  But the trends are pointing in that direction.  I've observed a few things lately that don't really mean much of themselves but are indicators of our current trajectory.  (1) A Pew poll shows increasing acceptance of same-sex marriage since 1996 with fewer than 50% (though still a plurality) opposing it now.  (2) Apple's rejection of the Manhattan Declaration app (which I previously blogged about), labeling it "defamatory, offensive, mean-spirited or likely to expose the targeted group to harm or violence" and "objectionable and potentially harmful to others," and the almost total lack of media coverage of this story.  (3) The Obama administration's recent decision not to defend the Defense of Marriage Act in federal court.  (4) An unusually bold comment by a conservative-leaning pundit I highly respect, David Brooks, that, though he "worr[ies] about a president not defending a law that's on the books," nevertheless, "on the substance I certainly agree with his position.  I think he's moving toward the right position . . . maybe moving a little too slowly, and too slowly for the country, [for] which I think this is becoming a nonissue."

So why do you continue to speak against it?

Well, for one thing, it ain't over till the fat lady sings.  As I said, this controversy has gone back and forth, and I don't know what's going to happen next.  So what I write and say might still have a tiny influence.  There could also be game-changers that we haven't foreseen yet.  For instance, the huge turnout of blacks and Hispanics in California to elect President Obama in 2008 also contributed to the ballot initiative to amend the California Constitution to define marriage as between one man and one woman the same year.  Demographic changes because of immigration—especially if immigration reform is passed that allows many illegal immigrants to become citizens—could dramatically reshape the landscape on this issue.

But the main reason that I speak is that one job of a Christian, particularly a preacher, is to be a witness to truth.  God appointed the prophet Ezekiel to be like a watchman, someone who foresees impending danger and shouts a warning.  God made clear to Ezekiel that if someone chose not to heed Ezekiel's warning he was responsible for his own fate.  But if Ezekiel saw the danger and did not warn the people, then their death was Ezekiel's responsibility.  As it turned out, the people were destined not to heed Ezekiel's warning, but that did not make his prophecies useless.  When the disaster came, there was a witness that it had come as a result of rebellion against God's law, not just military failure or political mismanagement.  Perhaps someday we will be in a similar position, and the things that believers say now will ultimately point people to God and turn them to him.  That would be a great thing, even if it is very unpleasant getting there.

What will you do if same-sex marriage becomes legal and mainstream?

Well, I will continue to maintain the standards I always maintain for the marriages I perform, whatever the consequences happen to be.  I probably won't talk about it a whole lot, because there are other, bigger fish to fry, but I will maintain my position when it comes up.  I expect to continue to hold to it even if younger generations of Christians think I'm a judgmental stick in the mud.  If a government illegally restricts my freedom of religion on these grounds, I'll submit to being arrested.  But I also want to be open to being corrected from the Word of God if in fact I've confused what the Lord has said with what I think.

So, do you have any hope for your position?

I have hope in something even more powerful.  I have hope in the kingdom of God.  I have hope that Christ will return and take sovereign authority over the whole world and set it up the way he wants it.  I have hope that as I preach that message, people will believe and be saved on that great day.  And I have hope that nothing can stop that.  No one has ever lived in a community with perfect laws.  Though a community will thrive in part because of how perfect its laws are, the community of my primary citizenship does have perfect governance and cannot be overcome by any other.  I don't need to live in an ideal state to be happy, because in Christ I already live there, and I always will.  And I am confident that more and more people will by God's grace opt to live there too no matter what our earthly communities become.


  1. Let me rephrase: I know you well enough to know you're open to discussion. Are you open to public discussion? Or would you prefer private?

  2. Divided into multiple posts due to length...

    I can understand much of what you say, even when I disagree -- and really, that's all I'm looking for here, is understanding.

    Two sections I'm quoting, to start off:

    It is possible that legitimizing same-sex marriage is a further evolution that will enhance our species' chances of survival. It is also possible that this would be a harmful mutation that hurts our chances. The only way to know will be many generations down the line when we can compare the strength of societies with the mutation and those without. Of course, by that time it will be much too late to do anything about it if this evolution of marriage turns out to be the devolution of marriage."

    "...we just don't know what the results of same-sex marriage would be. But it is safe to say that if we tinker with the fundamental social unit of human civilization, there will be enormous and profound consequences. Few if any of us will be around to see those consequences, but it is also safe to say that if our descendants want to undo our decision, they won't be able to."

    Please correct me if I am inferring incorrectly here (and I am certainly attempting to simplify), but it seems as if the main thrust of the argument here is "We shouldn't change in case it's bad" with a secondary point of "...because we can't change back."

    I can't draw an exact analogy between this and, say, interracial marriage or any other social cause that has previously been considered to be against nature or God or societal benefit, but the idea of refusing change because the consequences are unforseeable doesn't seem to be based on logic, but instead on fear. (In an attempt to be clear, let me add the side note that I'm not suggesting that you're scared of gays or anything like that. I'm referring to fear of future societal degeneration.) At one point, it was considered a threat to society when women wanted to vote, and there were Biblical passages quoted at great length to quash the idea. It changed, and I'm not prepared to suggest that the result has destabilized our society.

    Again, I'm not saying that giving women the right to vote and giving homosexuals the right to call their relationships "marriage" are identical, or even terribly similar in most ways. But what I am hearing here, and what I would like to try to understand, is "CHANGE IS SCARY OH NO DON'T LET IT HAPPEN OR WE'RE ALL GONNA DIE."

    One way in which the two scenarios differ, actually, is that giving women the right to vote actually probably had MORE impact on society than legalizing gay marriage would do in terms of practical effect. It's not like there are millions of gay people who have fallen in love with one another but decided that they shouldn't even think about maintaining a relationship or cohabitating simply because they can't call what they have "marriage" and have the government agree with them.

  3. Later on, you talk about the equality under the law. For me, that's the biggest issue involved in this debate. Right now, we have citizens who are allowed, for example, hospital visitation and inheritance rights because of their status as married couples. That is often disallowed to gay couples. In very simple terms, we are providing rights to one group of people that we are not providing to another group of people, and the only difference is their sexual orientation.

    We would not do this based on any other demographic (other than, potentially, when age is a critical factor -- two-year-olds generally don't have the competence to know when their hospital visit is a good idea) -- or, if you subscribe to the idea that homosexuality is a choice and a sin, we also would not do this based on other choices or sins. We don't stop people from visiting their loved one in the hospital because they're liars or adulterers or blasphemers. We do it because there is a legal system in place that refuses them rights.

    To me, the issue is one of defining marriage in relation to the government's rights and responsibilities. If marriage is purely created by God, then the government should not be involved in determining who is and who is not married, or how a married person should benefit in a way that a non-married person cannot. If marriage is strictly a spriritual or religious thing, I don't want the government touching it. If, on the other hand, we're looking at the practical and non-religious aspects of marriage within our society -- the benefits and rights and responsibilities that are CONTRACTUAL IN NATURE in our society, regardless of whether or not that marriage is one that God intended (we all know HETERO couples who should never have been married), then I want the government granting us equality.

    Marriages in our society are made up of two parts: the purely civil matter, which is ultimately a contract that can be formed and dissolved through specific legal means, and the spiritual or religious matter, which is defined by God.

    My personal preference on this issue -- which I recognize is a total pipe dream -- would be that the government would basically say, "We've decided that either we have to call NOTHING a marriage (resorting to the term "civil union"), or we have to call EVERYTHING a marriage so that we aren't drawing a divisive line between one group of citizens and another when it comes to conferring legal benefits. Churches are free to perform ceremonies and can call them marriages or civil unions or whatever else they please, in non-legal terminology, and no church is required to recognize anyone else's ceremony as binding."

    Religious organizations might object, I suppose, to paying for health benefits to a same-sex spouse or something like that. I can understand how that might happen. But those same organizations are already required to pay for benefits to opposite-sex partners that might be horrible, evil people with very little redeeming value. But no, not to a gay partner. That would be icky. (?????) I guess my take on this would be that religious organizations should have absolute freedom to decide who they employ, what benefits they provide, and what restrictions they will put on anything. If it results in public backlash, well, that's just how religions works sometimes.

    I think I've gone slightly off the rails of the discussion I intended, but I think I've hit my main points. Really, I'm mostly curious about the first part -- the part that feels to me like you're suggesting we should avoid progress because we don't know if it might be bad. Can you help me understand the viewpoint any better?

  4. Dave, thank you for engaging with my post so well. I’m glad for the dialogue.

    I’ll start with your first point, where you critiqued my argument that you summarized well as “We shouldn’t change in case it’s bad because we can’t change back.”

    I grant that that argument, standing alone, is not strong enough to convince us not to legitimize same-sex marriage. As you rightly pointed out, that argument could be used indiscriminately against any social change, including good and just social change. However, even standing alone, that argument does give us reason to be cautious. One thing that greatly disturbs me about the current debate is when some who deem themselves progressives openly disdain those who disagree as bigoted idiots, because anyone with half a brain should be in favor of same-sex marriage. I could accept that a tiny minority of all human beings who have ever lived might be right and the rest wrong. I cannot accept that the other 99+% of humanity are automatically idiots for not agreeing or having thought of it. The hubris of that attitude staggers me. It is not idiocy to say, “You’re proposing something truly novel here; let’s think this through. And the burden of proof is on you.”

    Nevertheless, you are correct that if that argument alone were to keep us from legitimizing same-sex marriage, then we would not be following logic but fear. However, as you read in my post, that argument does not stand alone for me. It is not even my primary argument. My primary argument, stated at the beginning, is that God invented and defined marriage, is the only Maker of marriages, and revealed his definition through the mouth of his Son, Jesus Christ. Furthermore, I argue that when societies function along the lines of God’s definitions of things, they do better than when they don’t.

    I included the subsidiary argument for people who reject the bases of my main argument—namely that there is a God who created all things and who revealed himself in Jesus through the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures. For those who reject those premises, that subsidiary argument that I presented is not as strong. It doesn’t by itself form a stop sign for same-sex marriage; it’s more like a speed bump.

  5. The second issue you presented has to do with equality under the law. First, I want to clarify the issue of the legal rights of married couples with a few points.

    (1) Not being a lawyer, I don’t know all the details, but I know that some rights that a spouse has automatically by virtue of marriage may be granted by any individual to another with the proper legal instrument. Inheritance rights are one example. If I am legally single and I want to leave you all my property, I can. I just need to draw up a legal contract to do so since it isn’t automatic by marriage.

    (2) Nevertheless, I am willing to believe that some legal rights automatically held by a spouse may not be assigned to any individual someone chooses. Hospital visitation is the one brought up most often. Again, I can’t speak to details since I’m not a lawyer, but I am open to the idea that many of these rights should be granted by a person to anyone he or she chooses. I mean, for heaven’s sake, if a patient can’t designate a mere one person to visit him or her in the hospital at any time, who is that protecting? Why not let a gay person visit his partner in the hospital after hours if the patient chooses? Why not let a best friend for that matter?

    (3) However—and this is key here—the argument that same-sex marriage is necessary because of legal rights that those couples should gain is misleading. Because in every state that has established civil unions to bestow those rights, gay rights activists have always come back saying, “We’re still not equal; we want marriage.” Though there are relevant questions about the legal rights of gay couples, that’s not what this is about, even (or especially) to gays and lesbians themselves. What this is about is for same-sex marriage to have identical social status, not just legal status, in the eyes and organization of the society.

    Now, I think you’re on to something with your “pipe dream” solution of making governments effectively agnostic when it comes to what a marriage is. There is a certain cleanliness and consistency about it, and like you I strongly believe in the separation of church and state. But that’s what makes marriage so difficult to handle. The separation of church and state only works if we can sort every issue into either the “church” category or the “state” category. But marriage is probably the only issue that just defies our attempts to do that. Marriage has enormous religious meaning, especially in Christianity, and is a regular part of religious practice in many religions—for Catholics it’s even sacramental. But on the other hand, throughout human history all societies and individuals of all religions and no religion have recognized the concept of marriage and practiced it. Even within the Jewish and Christian traditions, though we claim marriage to have been invented by God at the very beginning—you don’t find a more religious claim than that—centuries passed before religious clergy were regular officiants at weddings. Before that weddings were essentially “secular” (to the extent that anything was strictly secular in those days).

    It makes sense for the government to recognize marriage in its policies, because it is a universal human relationship. In addition, since marriage is established by God as the basic building block of human society, social good flows out of policies that not only acknowledge it but nurture it. So for the government to pretend that it doesn’t exist or that it exists everywhere by any individual’s definition as much a departure from living according to the definitions of God as same-sex marriage is—maybe even more so.

  6. One last comment. Please understand that in no way do I believe that a same-sex marriage is not a marriage because a gay spouse is a bad person while a hetero spouse is a good person. The morality of the spouses has absolutely nothing to do with it. The issue isn’t that a gay spouse is bad; it’s that he isn’t a spouse. It’s not that a hetero spouse is good. It’s that no matter what a foul person he or she is or how ill-matched or ill-prepared the couple is, if they pledge themselves to each other in a marriage covenant, however vulgarly or foolishly, God joins them together—the two become one flesh.

    God knows that all of us without exception, hetero or homo, are moral failures who have fallen short of his glory. None of us deserve marriage, but all of us are given it as he invented it by his common grace for our common good. And all of us, hetero and homo, equally and desperately need the reality that true marriage so imperfectly and mysteriously portrays—that the Son of God, our Groom, has come to win the heart of humanity to himself and gave his life so that hetero and homo together can be one with him forever (Eph. 5:22-33).

  7. Thank you for the explanation. While I'm certain you and I will not be able to convince one another of our respective points of view, I can always appreciate an open dialogue that lets me identify the specific points at which we differ. I call it "looking for the givens." In logic, if you start with one set of givens and I start with another, we could both be perfectly logical yet never arrive at the same conclusion. I've often found that when someone has a viewpoint I just can't understand, if I look for the givens, I can at least figure out the starting point, and that always helps me disagree without ranting.

    (It also means that once I've identified the givens, I can search them for flaws -- my own givens, and my "opponent's". Failing to find a logical flaw, I am comfortable chalking it up to a "given by faith" -- my own term that just means that it's a fundamental building block of someone's worldview which can neither be proven nor disproven.)

  8. I think your method is excellent, Dave. So, as you can see, I've identified my givens, or at least the ones that seem apparent to me. Would you mind stating (or restating) your givens?