My blog is now on hold. See my last post here.
This week's blog post is available here.
This week's blog post is available here.
Please view this week's blog post at my new blog home, The Deconversion Oasis.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Due to the technical limitations we've been experiencing with comments on this site, I've moved to a new site, The Deconversion Oasis, and I've closed "The Deconversion Desert" blog to all comments. As time permits, I'll plan to move more of my old posts and comments to the new site. Enjoy!
I find it fascinating to follow the rhetoric used by partisans on both sides of the debate as to whether all employers, including Catholic hospitals, should be required to cover the cost of contraceptives for their employees. "It's about women's health!", cry the liberals! "No, it's about religious liberty!", the conservatives push back. The liberals are convinced that the conservatives didn't hear them the first time (and maybe they didn't), so they repeat, "Religious institutions are denying women the right to the healthcare they deserve!" Meanwhile, the conservatives, convinced the liberals didn't hear them the first time, repeat, "No, it's not about healthcare, it's about freedom of religious conscience!"

While I consider myself more of a moderate than a liberal, I do find myself a little left of center on many of the social issues on which I formerly was firmly on the right wing. I will make no secret of my desire to see contraception as freely available as possible to any and all, just as readily available as clean water. As to the details of how to achieve this, I have no firm position, as long as effective contraception is, to repeat, as readily available as clean water is in developed nations. I don't care whether the government provides it, or nongovernmental organizations, or charities, or insurers, or churches, but let's do our society a favor and not put any obstacle whatsoever in the way of preventing unintended pregnancies. Motherhood is difficult enough for mothers who want to have children, let alone for those who didn't plan to have them. Childhood and indeed life in general are difficult enough for all of us, let alone for those who are unwanted by their parents. I recognize that for some, life is a gift from God to be honored above all else, even life that's "unwanted." It's tempting for those who view life in this way to put the quotes around "unwanted," leading to a judgement that no life is really "unwanted" and opposing the widest possible distribution of contraceptives. 

Even the slightest obstacle to accessing effective contraception can and does lead to higher rates of unintended pregnancies and abortions. Higher rates of unintended pregnancies lead to higher rates of poverty, which in turn lead to higher pregnancy rates and greater numbers of welfare-dependent children and mothers. If we want to lower the rate of abortion and reduce the number of welfare recipients, then providing long-term, free, and readily accessible birth control can only help. Ironically, based on studies showing a significant decline in abortions as birth control is made more freely available, it would appear that contributing to Planned Parenthood is among the most effective ways to prevent abortions. Read the article; you'll be surprised.

The Catholic Church insists it's not wanting to outlaw contraception. I accept that. The Church merely wants to have the freedom not to violate its conscience, not to have to pay for something it considers immoral on religious grounds. I fully understand and appreciate this argument. The conservatives who stand in support of the Church have shouted this many times, and I get it. I also understand that, even if the Church (by which I mean the priestly hierarchy of the Catholic Church, not its laity at large) is not seeking to outlaw contraception, it nevertheless has a vision opposite from mine as stated above, a vision in which contraception does not flow as plentifully as clean water, a vision in which the lack of contraception would make couples pause before having casual sex, a vision in which non-procreative ("unnatural") sex doesn't happen. 

So we're stuck with two competing visions: one in which contraception flows like water, preventing as many unwanted pregnancies as possible (after all, people are going to continue having sex, whether or not contraception is freely available), and another in which contraception is not made freely available to all, since those (like Catholic employers) who would otherwise be in a position to provide the contraception are unwilling to do so for the sake of religious conscience. Both visions are thus frustrated by the other, leaving both only partially fulfilled and leading to the unpleasant debates and the talking-past-each-other syndrome we've witnessed in the past few months.

Is freedom of religion absolute? Is a pacifist Quaker or Mennonite free from her obligation to pay federal taxes, simply because some of those tax revenues are used to fund military spending that violates her religious conscience? Is a Jehovah's Witness free on religious grounds to deny a life-saving blood transfusion to his child? What if the leader of a new cult were to decide that it's the will of the gods to drive on the left side of the road, and that anyone who drives on the right side of the road is accursed of the gods? Or what if an atheist were to object to being pressed into service to fight in what he considered an unjust war, a war his conscience couldn't support? Does he have to be religious in order for his freedom of conscience to be respected by the government? If so, does that not represent a privileging of the religious over the nonreligious? 

Surely we can all recognize that not all claims to religious liberty should be automatically respected. Yet I do want to live in a society where freedom of conscience--religious or otherwise--is taken seriously, and I have no desire to tread on Catholic conscience merely for the sake of sticking my finger in the eye of religion. Again, I don't know the best way to accomplish my vision--whether through public or private channels--but I do wish to impress on as many minds as possible that this vision is in the best interest of mothers who aren't ready to have another child, of children who grow up unwanted, of overtaxed government welfare rolls, and of those who wish to see a decline in the rate of abortion. From my (admittedly limited) vantage point, whether Catholics realize it or not, readily accessible birth control is in the best interest of our society, just as, whether Quakers realize it or not, an adequate defense is in the best interest of our nation. Both an adequate defense and freely available contraceptives have to be paid for somehow. Is there a difference between requiring Quakers to help fund the military and requiring Catholics, however indirectly, to support freely available contraception? If there is a significant difference, I welcome feedback from my readers.
In a recent critical review of my book, reader Karsten Klien correctly observes that most of my arguments against Christianity have been well known for a long time and that many intelligent Christians have maintained their faith despite these challenges.  I responded by asking him for his take on one of the problems I find most troubling for Christianity: Jesus' failure to return in the generation of his contemporaries as he promised. The solution he prefers is that Jesus provided clues in his Olivet Discourse that he would return only after there were believers to be gathered from the ends of the earth, which Karsten takes to mean in a future generation, since presumably there wasn't even time for the gospel to have spread that far in the first generation. I was intrigued by this explanation since I hadn't previously considered it, and I appreciate his bringing it to my attention.

Since I've already taken the time to respond to Karsten's Amazon review, I've decided to kill two birds with one stone and turn my response into my blog post for this week. For anyone who wishes to respond, I would ask that you be respectful of Karsten, whom I find to be engaging and respectful himself. It may be best to comment directly on Amazon if you have a question for him. If you're a believer (or even an unbeliever) and you have an alternate explanation for the problem of Jesus' return, preferably an explanation I did not discuss to your satisfaction in my chapter on prophecies in my book, then I would be glad to hear your take on this problem.

Without further ado, here's our Amazon exchange regarding the timing of Jesus' return:

Karsten's comments:

You were correct when you asserted that certain Christians misuse the word for "race." Many people want easy "quick fixes." As to possible valid solutions, there have been many explanations of this passage, from the Lewis one you quoted, to double fulfillment, to dispensational takes on it, to various others. After all this is a question that Christians have had to deal with for over 2000 years. So there are few options that could be plausible.

But the [explanation] that makes the most sense to me is that Jesus is certainly speaking of all future events that have not occurred. The context of the passage is in global terms, so it appears difficult to assume that in a short amount of time there would be believers "from the ends of the earth"(Mk 13:24-27). Jesus appears to be speaking of a future time, and that the generation alive at that time will not be completely wiped out, but will see Christ return.

Ken's comments:

That's an interesting take on the issue. However, by the time Mark was written, the gospel had already been taken to "the ends of the earth." For first century Christians, this did not include Australia or the Americas; it corresponded to the world with which they were familiar, centered in the Mediterranean and spreading out nebulously from there. It apparently included parts as far east as India, where tradition maintains that the Apostle Thomas brought the gospel around A.D. 52, well before the passing of that first generation. Most scholars date all four Gospels (including Mark) after the lifetime of Paul, who preached in Rome and, according to tradition, as far west as Spain, representing the westernmost "end" of the earth to those living in the first century. So no, Jesus (or the author of Mark who penned the Olivet Discourse) wasn't speaking of a far-future state of affairs. Furthermore, the discourse was directed to the disciples (witness the multiple references to "you") who had asked Jesus when the end would come. If Jesus knew he was speaking of a generation not yet living, then why did he address all his remarks to his disciples as "you"--the ones who, after all, had asked about the timing of all this--with every indication it was for their consumption, not for ours 20 centuries removed?

But I fear the discussion of this one passage is getting away from the bigger New Testament picture. Do you maintain that when Paul wrote, "we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air," (1 Thess. 4:17) he did not believe he was going to be among those still alive at Jesus' return? Or that when Paul stated in 1 Cor. 7:29 that the "time is short" and advised his readers to live as though the end was at hand, he didn't really think the end was at hand? Do you maintain that the author of 1 John 1:18 believed "the end" to be in a future generation: "Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour"? Or that when Jesus pronounced that "some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom" (Matthew 16:27-28), he had a future generation in mind? Or that when he said to his disciples in Matthew 10:23, "When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. Truly I tell you, you will not finish going through the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes," he meant that there would still be towns in Israel to go through in the year 2012? If God inspired the New Testament writers, and he knew that Jesus was not going to return in the generation then living, is the reference to "the ends of the earth" (and the 1 Peter passage you quoted, which I'll come to momentarily) the best he could have done to make it clear he wasn't in fact going to return in that generation, as all the above passages suggest? I see this as an illustration of the principle I alluded to in an earlier comment: the smartest committed believers (among whom I'll count you) are the best equipped for devising ingenious solutions to the challenges to their faith. But we have to stop and ask ourselves: is this what the text is really pointing to, or is it just a way to sidestep the weight of the problem?

Karsten's comments:

Regardless of if this explanation satisfies you, (I'm quite sure it won't), I think the key for this is that the disciples were certainly not confused or thrown back by his so-called fail to return. They did not appear to understand it as having to occur in their lifetime. As is quoted in 1Peter, 'With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.'


Ken's comments:

The problem with this passage (2 Peter 3:8) is that it can be used to make language mean nothing. You lamented in your last comment that postmodernism seems to be reigning, which I take to mean that truth is relative. What finer example of relativism is there than this passage? When it appeared that Jesus' promise to return in that generation failed, then it was time to reassess. Here's a thought: remove all meaning from time, then what do you know, the problem is gone! Never mind Jesus' references to "this generation," or his "some who are standing here will not taste death until," or Paul's "we who are alive," or John's "this is the last hour," or every other passage that speaks to the imminence of Jesus' return; it can all be swept under the rug with one all-encompassing redefinition of time itself. The author of 2 Peter (which critical scholars unanimously hold to be pseudonymous, written after the real Peter's death) was another example of a smart, committed believer who knew very well how to bring reason into the service of his prior commitments. How smart was he? Smart enough to convince even postmodern-eschewing believers of the twentieth-first century that Jesus' failure to return in the first century as promised is not a problem for the Christian faith.

I'll close with a general observation that those who purport to foretell future events almost always have in mind a fulfillment in their own lifetime. Take Harold Camping's prediction that Jesus would return on May 21, 2011. Are we to suppose that his advancing age had nothing to do with his choice of 2011 rather than, say, 2100? Is it a coincidence that Hal Linsey is convinced Jesus will return in his generation? Or that William Miller predicted Jesus' return in 1844, when Miller happened to be living? Or that the New Testament writers believed they were living in the generation of the parousia? (Even the author of 2 Peter, who used the day-is-a-thousand-years argument, goes on in 2 Peter 2 to warn his readers of Jesus' impending return.) I'm not saying that no one has ever prophesied about events specified to take place after the death of the seer, but surely it must be a very rare exception. After all, of what benefit is it to the seer if the fulfillment is going to take place after he's dead? This being the case, should it surprise us that the very human New Testament Christians believed they were part of the end times? 
A Christian correspondent recently sent me the following except of an article by Episcopal priest and bestselling author Richard Bolles: 

I think the universe is swathed in mystery, with a capital “M.”  And if we think it is faith’s job to remove all mystery—hence if “mystery persists,” that’s proof we have a “lack of faith”—oh my! We are living in a fantasy world.  Mystery always remains.

But we do have different mysteries.  Every man and every woman chooses not merely what they will believe, but also which mysteries they are willing to live with.

The Christian, for example, chooses to live with the mystery of why we are born on a restless planet with earthquakes, floods, and famine.  And why we live in a world with so much suffering, why the good die young, why endless troubles afflict some people but not others, and why Jesus didn’t return as soon as he prophesied he would, and so on.

The atheist chooses to live with the mystery of why there is no much beauty, music, wonder, and love in the world, when it doesn’t seem called for by implacable evolution.  Why our bodies sometime run so well, why order sometime arises out of chaos, why faith in the idea that we have a Creator seems to be persistent in the world down through history, why heavenly music evolves out of someone’s miracles (for example, I actually died in 2002 but then came back, I know not why or how).

I appreciate the humility in this piece; Bolles is more circumspect that the stereotypical evangelical apologist who's sure that the evidence points unmistakably toward evangelical Christianity and that those who reject this evidence do so out of willful rebellion against their creator, thereby subjecting themselves to eternal damnation.

Bolles is surely correct that mystery is a part of life, regardless of which worldview we adopt. Unless I'm missing something, no atheist can say with certainty what caused the Big Bang, or what if anything preceded it, or why our universe has the particular laws it has, or why there is something rather than nothing. To be sure, there are many interesting hypotheses (some more plausible than others) that have been put forward as possible answers to these questions, but none at present enjoy much if any empirical backing. Physicist Lawrence Krauss has shown that matter inevitably arises from empty space, but I confess I haven't yet read his book, A Universe from Nothing, so I don't know whether he convincingly addresses an even more fundamental question: Why should the laws of nature be so construed that something is likely to arise from nothing?

Some believers may find it gratifying to hear me say that there's a lot we just don't know about the origin of the universe. But an argument from ignorance lends no support to the supernatural or to the spiritual. Just because we don't know why something is the way it is doesn't give us license to invent or adopt an explanation of our choosing. If we don't understand what causes thunder, and everyone around us says it's due to the god Thor's riding a chariot drawn by two goats, we should ask for evidence of said god, said chariots, and said goats before accepting this explanation. Let's say that believers in Thor then retort, "Well, the evidence for Thor is that thunder exists, and if you don't have a better explanation for it, then you must accept that Thor is the cause of thunder!" No, we are not obligated to accept this argument from ignorance; if we have no other explanation, we must confess we simply don't know what causes thunder. It doesn't matter how many millions of people invoked Thor as an explanation for thunder, or for how many centuries they did so; there's still no evidence for his existence, let alone for that of his goat-drawn chariot. 

Likewise, when we are confronted with mysteries such as those that Bolles highlighted above (e.g., why do we enjoy music?), if we don't know the answer, it's perfectly legitimate--no, intellectually honest--to admit we don't know. For the record, I've read some evolutionary hypotheses that attempt to explain why we enjoy music, but I'm not sure I fully understand them or find them satisfying. Yet it would be an illegitimate and inquiry-squelching shortcut to say, just as our believers in Thor did, "Well, the evidence for God is our unexplained appreciation for music (or some other mystery), and if you don't have a better explanation for it, then you must accept that God is the source of our appreciation for music (or some other mystery)!" I don't know why (or even whether) natural selection would make it so our brains produce endorphins and give us a high when we (in the generic sense of "we") smoke marijuana. Perhaps it's just an accident that our brains respond this way under the influence of certain drugs, or that our grey matter responds to certain rhythms and melodies the way it does. Or perhaps there's some sort of selective advantage in our evolutionary history that explains why our brains produce pleasure-inducing endorphins in the presence of these stimuli. I just don't know.

Like Bolles, I am prepared to accept mysteries and questions, to realize I do not and will not ever have all the answers. On the other hand, I am not prepared to accept ideas clearly contradicted by the evidence. These are two fundamentally different concepts that should not be confused: mysteries and contradictions. For example, say I'm hiking in the countryside and I spot a boulder on a hilltop. I'm puzzled as to how it got there; heavy objects tend to roll downward, so I can't explain how it got to the top of the hill. I could probably come up with some hypotheses (for example, an ancient flood, a volcanic eruption, or a bygone civilization deposited it there), but I wouldn't really know without further research, and even then I might not ever be able to figure out how it got there. In other words, it would be a mystery. On the other hand, if someone were to claim that the moon is made entirely of cheese and to declare it a "mystery" why astronauts found rocks instead of cheese on its surface, I would respond that no, it's not a mystery; the only mystery is why you persist in believing it's made of cheese when your belief is contradicted by the evidence.

In Bolles' list of mysteries that challenge the Christian faith, at least one stands out to me as being a contradiction rather than a mystery, namely, that Jesus promised to return in his own generation but failed to do so. I'm heartened by Bolles' admission that this is a problem; too few Christians know of this difficulty, let alone admit it to the world. (If you haven't already done so, please see my introduction to this problem starting near the bottom of page 216 of my book.) The great novelist and apologist C.S. Lewis recognized it as a problem but offered a solution that few evangelicals are willing to entertain--that Jesus was ignorant (which means he was not only ignorant but also mistaken in his promise to return in his generation):

The facts, then, are these: that Jesus professed himself (in some sense) ignorant, and within a moment showed that he really was so. To believe in the Incarnation, to believe that he is God, makes it hard to understand how he could be ignorant; but also makes it certain that, if he said he could be ignorant, then ignorant he could really be. For a God who can be ignorant is less baffling than a God who falsely professes ignorance (Lewis 1960, 99).

There is a contradiction between believing Jesus was truthful in all he said (including his unambiguous promise to return in his generation) and the reality that he did not return as promised. Of course I'm aware that apologists offer various attempts to explain away this contradiction (again, see my book for more details), but these look like special pleading to anyone who doesn't already hold a commitment to eliminating all contradictions from Jesus' statements.

Again, though, I do share some common ground with Bolles: there is a great deal of mystery in this universe, and we need humility to recognize when we're ignorant, but let us not attempt to solve one mystery (e.g., the origin of the universe) with another mystery (e.g., God) that itself lacks empirical evidence. And let us not hide behind "mystery" to sidestep the fact that Jesus did not return when he said he would; it's a fact to be acknowledged (as C.S. Lewis did), not a mystery to be swept under the rug.
It was inevitable; several months ago I'd been asked by some of my readers to blog about homosexuality, but I had put it off until now, not wanting to wade into this minefield. Now that it's all over the news, though, I can avoid the topic scarcely more than a Christian pastor can avoid mentioning Jesus' birth on Christmas. 

Why am I reluctant to discuss this issue? I don't have any openly gay friends, and I have to be honest: I didn't leave my Christian faith because I was upset about how evangelicals treat or view gays. In fact, I was opposed to any sort of homosexual expression and believed it ran counter not only to God's will but against nature itself (recall that I remained a believer in God for over a year after I left Christianity). And as a straight man, I confess I don't understand same-sex attraction and find it difficult to think about the kinds of things that go on physically between two gay men, for example. But then again, I found it difficult and disgusting as a preadolescent to think about the things that go on between a man and a woman when making a baby. (Honestly, I thought it was so abhorrent that I somehow came to believe that sex was something that a couple needs to do just once, and God would give the couple however many children he sees fit, all from a single act of sex!)

Some of the comments I've seen from evangelical Facebook friends leave no doubt as to their take on Obama's recent announcement of support for gay marriage. One even said that Obama is "pure evil." I'm sorry, but that's just way over the top (nor do I doubt that those who oppose those who oppose gay marriage can and do go over the top too). If you want to say Hitler or Stalin or Mao were pure evil for killing tens of millions of innocent people, go ahead and I'll join you--but in a nontheocratic society, surely granting gay couples the same rights as straight couples is not pure evil, whether or not we personally approve of it for religious or secular reasons. From a legal point of view, I have everything against a straight man who kills my child, but nothing against a gay man who leaves me unharmed and does things with another man in his bedroom that I don't care to think about. And if these two gay men want their relationship to be recognized in the same way that my marriage to my wife is recognized, it does me no harm, so why should I make a fuss? To borrow Thomas Jefferson's words from a different (but somewhat applicable) context, "The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg."

Franklin Graham, the son of Billy Graham, had this to say about Obama's stand: "In changing his position from that of Senator/candidate Obama, President Obama has, in my view, shaken his fist at the same God who created and defined marriage. It grieves me that our president would now affirm same-sex marriage, though I believe it grieves God even more." Notice how Graham uses God's authority to challenge Obama's position. This is representative of the common practice within evangelicalism of calling out one's ideological opponents in the name of God. It adds much more gravitas than merely saying, "I think he's mistaken, and here are the reasons why: ...." But what if Graham's god does not exist, or what if there's a different god out there that sees things differently? Though it may be difficult to take a "what if" point of view that's opposed to the core of what we believe, I challenge Christians to do so in considering this thought experiment: IF Graham's god does not exist, THEN Graham's accusation that Obama is shaking his fist at God is an empty assertion, and is merely a mechanism Graham is using to illegitimately elevate his opinion to that of the creator of the entire universe to whom we must all submit. In other words, IF this god doesn't exist, then Graham is taking a shortcut; rather than having a reasoned discussion about the public consequences of adopting gay marriage, he's able to brow-beat Obama as a defiant rebel against the god of all goodness and power. After doing that, there's no more dialogue that can be had; end of discussion. The intent of this thought experiment is to highlight the pointlessness of projecting the assumptions of one worldview to engage with others in another worldview that doesn't share those assumptions. The only way to move forward in the political sphere is to agree to limit our arguments to nonreligious, consequentialist considerations that we can all agree on. But such an approach seems absent from most of our discourse.

Just as evangelicals are expected to have a code to follow (i.e., the unambiguous teaching against homosexuality in the Bible), so do humanists: being gay is okay, and anyone who has any reservations about it is a hater. Hence this recent question from an evangelical Facebook friend of mine: "A real question for my non-evangelical FB friends: Is it possible in this day and age to oppose gay marriage without being automatically labeled as a hater?"

I'm happy to answer my friend's question in the affirmative: I know many Christians who are uncomfortable with homosexual marriage, including the friend who posted the Facebook question, and I don't consider them to be haters. (No doubt others would disagree with me and say that anyone who expresses the slightest reservation concerning homosexuality is a hater, but I'm not one of them, and I can only speak for myself.) Certainly there are many haters out there, and I would probably consider the person who branded Obama as "pure evil" as one of them. But I'd like to dig a little deeper into my friend's question. On the surface, it expresses a legitimate complaint: "Why can't I express my conservative views without getting my head chewed off?" What this misses is the loaded historical baggage that accompanies any such discussion. The topic du jour is gay marriage, but it was less than a decade ago (2003) that the U.S. Supreme Court struck down all standing state antisodomy laws that made it a punishable crime to engage in homosexual behavior, even in private. It would be safe to say that the same sentiments and religious ideals that underpin opposition to gay marriage today underpinned the criminalization of homosexuality in the past. Perhaps it's unwarranted guilt by association, but can you see how a homosexual could feel that anyone who opposes gay marriage is likely to be a part of a long tradition of opposing all gay rights, not just matrimonial ones? And very roughly speaking, this same tradition is the one that originally opposed all participation of gays in the military, interracial marriage, women's rights, and civil rights for racial minorities. Are these associations coincidental, or is there a common wellspring that feeds them all?
Let me pause to discuss this Christian expression most of us have heard in relation to homosexuality: "Love the sinner, hate the sin." You may not have heard the tongue-in-cheek rejoinder from a secular point of view: "Hate the superstition, love the superstitious (i.e., religious people)." If you're religious and you find this in any way offensive or demeaning or arrogant, then perhaps you can understand why homosexuals find the above Christian expression offensive. But we live in a free society, and Christians have a legitimate right to criticize homosexuality, just as unbelievers have a right to criticize religion. It's just that I shouldn't be surprised when Christians take offense when I challenge their beliefs, nor should Christians be surprised at the pushback they receive when they challenge the appropriateness of homosexual lifestyle; in either case, the challenge goes to the heart of the other person's identity, and it feels like an attack on the person himself.

Within the two camps lined up in opposition to each other on homosexuality (let's just break them down into evangelical and nonevangelical for the sake of this discussion), there is a small minority that deviates from the party line; for example, evangelical leader Tony Campolo has this to say about gay marriage and civil unions:

“Allow me to suggest a way out of this conflict and the difficult questions being raised these days about whether our country should approve of homosexual marriages. I propose that the government should get out of the business of marrying people and, instead, only give legal status to civil unions. The government should do this for both gay couples and straight couples and, leave marriage in the hands of the Church and other religious entities. That’s the way it works in Holland: If a couple wants to be united in the eyes of the law, whether gay or straight, they go down to city hall and legally register, securing all the rights and privileges a couple has under Dutch law. Then, if the couple wants their relationship blessed--to be married--they go to a church, synagogue or other house of worship”  (Campolo 2008, 94).

To me this makes perfect sense. Perhaps we should take a look at the Netherlands and see how things are working out for them, taking care to learn what we can from their mistakes and successes. If their population is by and large supportive of this arrangement, if God hasn't cursed them in any obvious way, if their society isn't spiraling out of control with crime or poverty rates higher than in the U.S., then why not give it a shot? Or are we as Americans beneath learning from other, smaller, less religious nations?

If we were living in a Christian or Jewish theocracy, then it would be entirely appropriate to ban gay marriage and all homosexual activity; I fully concur with the evangelicals who hold that the Bible has nothing good to say about homosexuality (though it also has a lot of other things to say about other matters--like wealth, warfare, polygamy, stoning rebellious children--that would make them uncomfortable if taken to heart). But in America the Bible is not our constitution; we live in a secular democracy, so let's just take Campolo's recommendation and put this public issue behind us. If churches wish to continue an intramural discussion about how to view homosexuality, that's fine; but it shouldn't be a public issue in a secular democracy.

I'll close by posting a couple of links to recommended reading on this topic. Rachel Held Evans, a "progressive evangelical" who has left the local church while preserving her faith, is pained by the evangelical response to gays. Another Christian blogger, though she considers homosexuality to be a sin, wants a solution like Campolo's. 

By the way, I apologize for my general lack of responsiveness to comments and messages. There's been a lot going on with work and family lately, and I'm generally not the most responsive correspondent to begin with, but I do read and appreciate all your messages and posts. Thanks so much!
We finally took the plunge and splurged for our first ever cruise, it being our 20th anniversary and all. It was the longest time Charlene and I have been together alone since the birth of our firstborn over 17 years ago. We enjoyed immensely our seven days away from the real world, from work, from making beds, cleaning house, ferrying kids, surfing the Internet--just to spend time with each other doing whatever we wanted on the ship, in Jamaica, in the Cayman Islands, and in Cozumel (the site of the photo to the left).