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I recently walked through a large hostile crowd that had formed around a small group of Christians holding signs talking about the evils of homosexuality.
The people surrounding the sign-bearers were largely upset about the signs -- probably a number of Christians, and definitely a number of atheists, as well.
The interactions were heated, but not mere screaming -- some actual dialogue was occurring. However, the people I agreed with and wanted to win every interaction often had terrible or irrelevant arguments that they were throwing up against the preachers. I wanted to write about a few of the missteps to hopefully head off these avenues before you trudge down them yourself.
The situation was pretty clear: preachers with signs proclaiming the immorality of homosexuality. Their view is also pretty clear -- homosexual acts are sinful actions -- therefore are immoral -- and should be preached against. (Someone asked if they would support legislation to ban or enact laws against homosexuality and they said no).
Arguments that suck:
"Jesus said to love your neighbor as your self" -- as though this means that a Christian isn't allowed to endeavor to "improve" a person. If a person is engaging in an activity that harms himself or his soul, then a Christian can adhere to the teaching and to try to help the fallen by preaching that homosexuality is a sin. Is it presumptive? Yes. Is it offensive? Yes. Is it coherent? Yes, it is.
"What harm does it do?" -- If their version of Christianity is true, then homosexuality is a sin. What harm does it do? A sinful action should be opposed for the very fact that it's sinful, not necessarily any harm that's done. The reasoning is fairly straightforward and valid -- the key point where the argument fails is in its first premise: their version of Christianity is false.
"How come you don't care about people eating shrimp?" -- Christians ignore swaths of the Old Testament (and parts of the New Testament, for example see Jesus' instructions on how to offer a sacrifice on the altar -- Matthew 5:23-24). There are enough reasons to think that the New Testament is against slavery that this charge is largely irrelevant as well.
"You hate homosexuals." -- Could be true, but 1. irrelevant; 2. I dislike telling people the "real reason" that they do/believe something. Just think of the situation with the tables turned. How compelling is it when a Christian says, "You only reject Jesus because you want to live a sinful lifestyle."
"The Bible isn't against homosexuality." It simply is (although not a major theme). Here's the situation: The Bible, when it cares about homosexuality enough to mention it, considers it immoral. As far as I'm concerned, that's another strike against the Bible.
More useful lines of argument
I would argue along two principle lines of reasoning. The first, Christianity is false. The second, Christianity has a terrible track record of answering the question "What is immoral?" -- think slavery -- and its moral guidelines consequently have to be justified on their own merits.
Let me outline the rough approach to the second line of reasoning. I'll put typical kinds of responses in parentheses.
- Ask what they use to determine what is moral and immoral.
- Ask, do you believe that owning people as slaves is an immoral?
- Where does the Bible say a single word against slavery?
( What about the following:
There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.
Doesn't that count?)
- You realize that that verse is talking about how, to God, the human divisions we make between ourselves don't matter to Him? God could care less whether you are a Jew or a Greek; whether you are a male or female; and whether you are a slave or not. This verse makes the point that God does not care about these kinds of distinctions -- which is opposite to the point you want to make, which is that God deeply cares that slavery exists and wishes to declare it immoral.
(Slavery was different back then, it wasn't so bad and race wasn't part of it).
- Ok, regarding the Old Testament rules of owning slaves:
If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master’s and he shall go out alone.
The master gets to keep the slave's wife and children!
(That's in the Old Testament and... )
- Let me read one passage from the New Testament then:
Let all who are under the yoke of slavery regard their masters as worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be blasphemed. Those who have believing masters must not be disrespectful to them on the ground that they are members of the church; rather they must serve them all the more, since those who benefit by their service are believers and beloved. Teach and urge these duties. Whoever teaches otherwise and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that is in accordance with godliness, is conceited, understanding nothing, and has a morbid craving for controversy and for disputes about words. From these come envy, dissension, slander, base suspicions, and wrangling among those who are depraved in mind and bereft of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.
I'd be wary of getting my morality from a book that can't even figure out that slavery is immoral. As a moral guide, it simply fails. It's possible to pick out a good nugget, but you have to be able to justify it in a way besides the fact that it's in this misguided book.
I think this line of reasoning is, at the very least, better than the arguments I wrote to avoid. Reading that one New Testament Bible aloud is worth doing in practically any argument that involves the Bible and morality. Many Christians have no idea about what the New Testament says about slavery -- and they should be reminded. Let me know any feedback you have -- questions, criticism, or comments!