Conservative Evangelicals and Homosexuality - The Authority of God (Part 2)

This is the second in a series of blogs addressing the question of why conservative evangelicals take what is often thought to be a hardline approach to the issues around homosexuality. Having addressed why I think this is a useful series and what I'm aiming to cover in the previous post, I want to dive in with the fundamental question, which is: why do we believe what we believe?

The question of why we believe something is linked to the question: what or who do we take as our authority? For example, I may believe I have a particular illness, because the doctor has told me I do. Why I believe is because the doctor told and behind that is the implication that I have accepted the doctor as the authority. So as a conservative evangelical, I believe that same-sex sexual relationships are wrong, because God has told us and behind that is the implication that I have accepted God as the authority.

Now I'm going to address this authority claim in two separate blogs. In this one, I'll address briefly the issue of having God as your authority in a context where that is unusual in society. The next step is to address how God expresses that authority (how does God tell us), which I'll take on briefly in the next blog.

The reality is that to openly look to God as your authority is thought to be quite an unusual thing these days in the UK. The general advice is that religion is not one of the things one should talk about in polite company. Politicians such as Tony Blair and more recently Tim Farron have been pilloried in the UK at the suggestion that they pray and that their decisions as politicians relate to God in some way.

We have something of a problem in the UK these days of thinking that a person's worldview - especially a worldview that includes a God with authority - has an impact on what they believe about pretty much everything. The difficulty is that we all have some sort of ground for our beliefs. We may be a clear atheist, who will only ground our views on science and reason. That of course will have a big impact on questions of morality. You maybe more mystical, or pluralistic, or committed to a major religion. You may not even have much of a defined worldview with a jumble of bits and pieces from all sorts of different places. Wherever you find yourself, the reality is that this underlying worldview will have an impact of both on what you believe and why you believe it.

The Christian believes that it is God who created the world and that we are the created being. As such it is God who gets to define right and wrong, good and evil. Humans attempted and continue to attempt to grasp that authority from God and fail. That's the story of the opening chapters of the Bible (Genesis 1-3 - Adam, Eve, the snake, the fruit etc.). The definition of right and wrong in the Bible is given by God. It is God, for example, who gives Israel the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai (Exodus 20:1-17). It is Jesus who gives his people the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). God is the one who will finally judge each of us according to his definition of right and wrong (Romans 3:19). So when we come to ethical issues, a Christian's first impulse is to ask: what does God think about this?

Now here's the problem. If this is what Christians believe and, let's be honest, it's very far from what a large number of society believe, can we have any meaningful discussion when we come to issues like the right and wrongs of homosexuality and same-sex marriage.

I think I want to make two observations. First, it seems obvious to me that there is a lot more scope for discussing some of the big questions of our worldview. As Christians, we believe we have compelling reasons to believe in God and his authority, particularly based around the historical person of Jesus and his death and resurrection (an interesting place to begin looking into the Christian worldview on the web is the Bethinking website). No doubt, many who are not Christians, think differently. We need to foster respectful discussion at this level. People who are clearly not stupid have very different worldviews, and yet it seems we increasingly avoid or even shutdown discussion and debate rather than engage in it. 

Second, it seems to me that although our starting points may be very different, we may come to some very similar conclusions before we begin to discuss the particular ethical issues around homosexuality. For example, the Christian and the atheist may have a similar respect for the results of scientific enquiry and social scientific research and willingness to work from those results. While acknowledging our different foundations, I would hope that we could have productive discussion at this level.

In the next blog I hope to look at the authority of the Bible. Whereas in this blog we've been able to think about some of the distinctions between Christians and those of other worldviews, in the next blog we'll look at some of the authority distinctions within those who call themselves Christians.


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