Building Bridges at Pepperdine and Seattle Pacific

On April 13, Justin Lee and I did a joint presentation, Let’s Talk about [Homo]sexuality, at Seattle Pacific University. Like previous presentations at Pepperdine University and Gordon College, we shared a bit about our own stories, offered some practical tips for building bridges in the midst of disagreement. We also each presented a brief overview of our own beliefs about Christian sexual ethics, Justin arguing that Christians should bless same-sex marriage, and me arguing that they should not. Rachel Held Evans recently highlighted this as the “Best Dialogue” on sexual ethics.

The SPU presentation came just a few weeks after a similar presentation at Pepperdine. At SPU, we did the whole presentation in a single evening. At Pepperdine, the presentation was spread over two nights.

The first night of the Pepperdine presentation was similar to the first part of the SPU presentation (though I did not make the joke about Washington’s bridge-building prowess at Pepperdine).

On the second night, however, Justin and I were joined by Richard Mouw, former president of Fuller Theological Seminary and author of (among many other books) Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World.

Because of the compressed format, the SPU presentation is probably the best to watch to get an overall picture of our approach. However, there are enough differences between the way that Justin and I presented our arguments that some readers may want to see both. At Pepperdine, we both focused on Romans 1, while the argument at SPU is more general. At SPU, Justin spent more time talking about parallels between theological arguments about slavery in the years leading up to the Civil War and about homosexuality today. And, of course, Richard Mouw made some really interesting contributions to the conversation at Pepperdine.

To get some idea of the on-campus reaction, see the reviews in the Pepperdine Graphic and The Falcon at SPU.

ron50Ron Belgau is completing a PhD in Philosophy, and teaches medical ethics, philosophy of the human person, ethics, and philosophy of religion. He can be followed on Twitter: @RonBelgau.

18 thoughts on “Building Bridges at Pepperdine and Seattle Pacific

  1. Hi Ron,

    I listen to the entire video. I liked the debate. I think Justine’s questions and concerns are very valid. My impression is that he makes an argument that appeals to the heart of people while your argument appeals to the head… I believe this is why people might resonate more with his approach, since he talks to the heart (I’m not sure if people indeed resonate more with him but I would understand if they did). So my question is how do we make celibacy resonate with people’s hearts? I don’t have the answer but if we search we are bound to find (Word of God).

    Again thank you for sharing. SF is a blessing for me.

  2. Heart things are much more susceptible to peer pressure. A lot of what we do only feels right because everyone else is doing it (or feeling it). A commitment to celibacy will never resonate with peoples’s hearts if non-celibacy is “normal” and the stories we tell all line up on the “progressive” side. Conservative Christians are now trying to get round this problem by pushing the idea of Christianity as a ‘counter-cultural’ movement – which is an odd thing to pitch to people who are socially conservative! It won’t work in the long run.

    Heart resonance is what Matthew Vines is doing. Winsome young man in a suit and tie reeling off the kind of heart-felt anecdotes or overcoming prejudice and adversity that has made Oprah Winfrey a billionaire. Vines would probably be more excited to meet Oprah than Jesus.

    • I don’t know Matthew Vines well, but I doubt seriously that he prefers Oprah to Jesus. This kind of cheap, dismissive comment is exactly the kind of thing I’m trying to combat here. If you disagree with Matthew Vines, take the time to understand where he is actually coming from and respond to that. But don’t just blow him off with this kind of comment.

      • I was flippant because I sincerely believe that Vines, unlike Justin, is deceiving straight non-affirming Christians when he says he respects them.

      • Matthew Vines is definitely more combative than Justin (however, I argued with Justin when he was 24, and he was more combative then than he is now).

        It’s hard to disprove your accusation against Vines, because, of course, any quotes from Matthew that suggest he does respect straight non-affirming Christians are, in your view, deceptive.

        But that’s like C. S. Lewis’s argument about invisible cats. “If there were an invisible cat in that chair, it would look empty. But it does look empty, therefore there must be an invisible cat.” You can’t refute someone who believes that argument, but you probably won’t find it very convincing, either.

        Matt has said to me directly that he respects Wes and me. I’ve heard similar things from people who know him much better than I do and whose word I trust. You could say that he’s lying to me and his friends, or that he and his friends are lying to me. But I’d be interested to hear what evidence you have for that.

        For myself, although I disagree with his conclusions, I do not doubt his sincerity. And I don’t think this is the sort of thing you hear from someone who would rather meet Oprah than Jesus. He’s willing to stand up and say things that are not going to make him popular in order to defend his interpretation of the New Testament. I think you’re just being unfairly dismissive here.

  3. Hey Joe!

    I’m not that sure that the heart is motivated by what you say: “feeling right because everyone else is doing it”.

    I think when people are in pain they just want a way out fast. When the heart is in pain it wants out. We run away from pain, the faster the better, and we don’t necessarily consider if what we do to get rid of it has bad consequences. The heart then quiets the mind and we enter a state of denial, we don’t see what the head wants to tell us, we are not fully honest. In fact we “make” our head tell us what we want to hear. That’s normal.

    It is hard to think when you are in pain. And if you manage to think clearly it is even harder to act according to reason because this will bring the pain up. Acting according to reason only makes things worse before they become better. And to top it all out you will need tons of perseverance to continue doing the reasonable thing, the right thing, until it actually gets better. You can’t do this alone, so you need God’s Grace.

    To obtain Grace we need to pray and pray and pray and pray some more. But we have to also change and change our surroundings (the Church). We force the Church to change and she forces us to change. It is a process, a process of perseverance, a process of love. Once the attitudes within us and the Church have changed we will be able to change the World.

    God Bless,


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  5. I think to reach the heart we have to be sure keep the cross central.

    The fact is that celibacy is not fun. Nor, as a gay man, can I make myself want to lust after females. I find female breasts quite repulsive, for instance, and can not imagine ever wanting to touch one.

    So, no matter what we do, we will never make celibacy or “heterosexuality” appealng to gay people.

    But as a gay Christain, I dotrust Christ and am powerfully moved by His willingness to die. If He loved me enough to do that then I can’t help but trust Him to want the best for me and from me even when that best is unpleasant. If his Word says no sex outside of male/female marriage then I accept that.

    So the cross must always be central if we are to reach the heart.

    • I’m sorry if this question pries too deep; as I’m an Internet stranger you have every right to tell me to buzz off and mind my own business.

      I’m not doubting that your same-sex desire is innate, but I’m curious about your feelings of repulsion for the opposite. Do you think that being disgusted by the female form is something you were born with, or something that you might have acquired from your environment/experience?

      I’m a bisexual male virgin, so I recognize my own bias is to think of orientation as more often fluid than rigid. :/

  6. Yes, I agree Matt. But the cross is the pain I’m talking about in my former post. It represents the pain that we want to avoid. Christ urges us to take up our cross. But He also prayed to be delivered from His and this is precisely why He can be so compassionate towards us: Because He fully understands us.

    Mat 26:39 He advanced a little and fell prostrate in prayer, saying, My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will.

    Mar_14:36 he said, Abba, Father, all things are possible to you. Take this cup away from me, but not what I will but what you will.

    Luk_22:42 saying, Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done.

    Joh_18:11 Jesus said to Peter, Put your sword into its scabbard. Shall I not drink the cup that the Father gave me?

    It is such a beautiful thing! God became man to understand us fully, in His own flesh. He knows how difficult it is for us to take our cross up.

    I think yes, we should be extremely honest in our proposal for celibacy and make the Cross central to our approach. I think a debate should start there and move from there towards further explanations on why celibacy is good, but always with compassion, taking up our cross and inviting others to take theirs but with extreme understanding and gracefulness, knowing that at the end it is not between them and us but between each one of us and God.

    Also, if celibacy is not easy so is marriage. Sometimes you just want out! 🙂

  7. Hello Ron: Thank you so much for what you have developed with Justin Lee and for both or your efforts to find ways to connect. My personal experience is also relevant to this discussion and completely different than either yours or Justins.
    I too walked in SSA and from a completely secular background. I had no reason to change anything and yet in my journey, Christ met me, healed me, changed me, and called me out. I would like to share more of my personal story with you if possible.
    I would also like to do the same with Justin but can’t seem to find a link to connect with him. If you have one that you could share, that would be appreciated.
    Thank you. Blessings.

  8. Hi Ron, In the talk, Justin says he changed the way he understood the term “gay” as being attracted to the same-sex and that’s it. Is this different from what you mean when you say the term “gay” or are do you say it includes more than just that definition Justin uses? This kindof goes back to a previous post.

    • I’m not sure which previous post you’re referencing. I think of gay primarily as a description of the experience of attraction. But I’m aware enough of the different ways that it’s interpreted in Christian circles to be cautious about how I use it.

      • Thank you. The post I am referencing is “Following the hashtag rabbit trail”. Just to be clear, you think that gay involves the experience of the attraction and not just the attraction itself? I am trying to be careful so I do not misrepresent you or Justin’s view on the particulars when I am discussing about this with others. Thanks again.

      • I appreciate your desire to be careful, but I’m not sure what distinction you’re trying to make. I don’t know how someone could say that they are attracted to men, but do not experience that attraction. It seems to me that to be attracted and to experience attraction are the same thing.

        The main point I was making in my comments on “Following the Hashtag Rabbit Trail” was that attraction to another man does not necessarily include a desire to engage in a sinful sexual act. It is broader than that.

  9. I think I’m beginning to understand you now. I took the phrase “experience of attraction” to mean that there is automatically outward expression; and outward expression meaning that there is a continual reaction from the physio-emotional sensation of the attraction (I see you and feel desire or draw of some kind) that translates itself into a person’s character traits and behaviors (averting eyes, talking to you, showing care, communicating a certain way, ect) . The “experience” would be both a physio-emotional sensation and the reaction to that sensation. If I understand what you’re saying, someone who is “gay” is someone who experiences the physio-emotional sensation and that sensation produces a desire, and that desire may or may not translate into actually acting on that desire.

    Perhaps I don’t have a clear understanding on what attraction is. Obviously you can’t have an attraction to nothing, there must be some object that the attraction is directed towards. I see the object, and the sense of vision goes to my occipital lobe and then to my parietal/temporal lobe where the object is recognized. When I recognize it, my body may have an autonomic response that results in heart rate, sweating, or just increased stimulation of some kind which then produces a feeling. (This is where things get fuzzy for me). If it is a good feeling, I recognize it as such and then have a liking toward the object that produced this feeling.

    The question I have is does desire and attraction toward that object equal with this process I described or is attraction the result of the compelling forces of that liking from the physical-emotional process? If the object is another human who is the same sex as me, then I would have attraction to the same sex, but I have not yet voluntarily acted on it. Does the word “gay” mean strictly the attractions, or does it involve voluntary actions?

    Maybe I am confusing everything (sighs, throws hands up, and goes to get a drink).

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