Home > Bp. Breidenthal, Fisks, Same-Sex 'Marriage', SSB's, Theology > Drawing the Battle Lines: Dean Breidenthal “Exegetes” Mark 1:21-28 [Part IV of IV]

Drawing the Battle Lines: Dean Breidenthal “Exegetes” Mark 1:21-28 [Part IV of IV]

22 March 2010

The final installment of my fisk of this.

But this [i.e., Breidenthal’s Ultimate Good of “not buying into the polarization”] is easier said than done. One common but ultimately unhelpful strategy is to say “I love the sinner but I hate the sin.” In the present context, this usually means something like this: ‘I hate the fact that so-and-so has entered into a same-sex union, but I love him or her as a child of God.” This formulation is problematic for two reasons.

Love it. Dean Breidenthal is going to explain how loving the sinner but hating the sin is a bad thing. We are as they say, all ears. 🙂

First, in separating consideration of the sin from consideration of the sinner, it makes it easy to judge particular behaviors and lifestyles without reference to the actual people who are living them out. A person can say to a lesbian couple, you are okay, but the lifestyle you live is absolutely wrong. Thus this person can demonize the lifestyle, without being accountable to the people who are living that lifestyle. Their Christian witness is treated as if it counts for nothing. This suggests to me that the battle line has been misdrawn, since their witness needs to be part of the Christian mix.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, “loving the sinner but not the sin” diminishes the person labeled as a “sinner,” by suggesting that he or she is not to be identified with his or her acts. From a position of moral superiority we condemn the behavior, but deign to embrace the person. But there are whole classes of people who would argue that what they have done and how they live their lives is hardly an expression of sin, but an expression of who they are and what they believe in.

Having seen the Bird’s-Eye-View, let’s parse this out a bit…

First, in separating consideration of the sin from consideration of the sinner, it makes it easy to judge particular behaviors and lifestyles without reference to the actual people who are living them out.

Hm. Really?

Because in the 12 Steps of AA, it would seem that before initiating the 12 steps, the alcoholic has come to the realization that there must be a separation (“distinction”) between the addiction and the addict. The addiction is evil and destructive, and does not possess worth in the positive sense. The person addicted might or might not be permanently on a road to recovery, but because they are made in the Image of God, they have worth and are worthy of redemption. 

In other words,

Man – made in Image of God.  Full-of-Worth. 

Man’s addiction (and other sin) – not made in Image of God. Not redeemable.  Worthless.

Let’s continue parsing..

A person can say to a lesbian couple, you are okay, but the lifestyle you live is absolutely wrong. Thus this person can demonize the lifestyle, without being accountable to the people who are living that lifestyle.

Ah yes, we knew it was going to go to the sexuality thing. Where else could it go?

Since DB has taken issue with separation between “consideration of the sin” and “consideration of the sinner,” let’s filter out the sexuality thing and examine a rather extreme example. There is, e.g., reason to believe that the serial murderer Jeffrey Dahmer had repented and turned to Christ, before he died in prison. The pastor who worked with Dahmer (Roy Ratcliff) wrote a book about that experience. 

I like what Pastor Ratcliff said in Dahmer’s eulogy: 

Jeff confessed to me his great remorse for his crimes. He wished he could do something for the families of his victims to make it right, but there was nothing he could do. He turned to God because there was no one else to turn to, but he showed great courage in his daring to ask the question, ‘Is heaven for me too?’ I think many people are resentful of him for asking that question. But he dared to ask, and he dared to believe the answer.

In other words, Ratcliff as well as Dahmer had no problem with the idea of separating the sin from the sinner, in order to condemn the former as a means of loving the latter.

At this point, “progressives” may interject and ask, “Is he really comparing homosexuality with murder?”   That is an interesting facet to the debate I suppose, but ultimately meaningless in this context, since Dean Breidenthal has done something infinitely more scandalous by encouraging us not to distinguish between action and agent, when making moral assessments. 

I’m sure that “progressives” and also genuine (though immature) Christians who wrongly assert that homosexuality can be holy (a category affirmed by no less than Fr. Mario Bergner), can at least acknowledge that eschewing the attempt to separate action from agent is morally problematic (?). 

Let’s see .. next paragraph..

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, “loving the sinner but not the sin” diminishes the person labeled as a “sinner,” by suggesting that he or she is not to be identified with his or her acts. From a position of moral superiority we condemn the behavior, but deign to embrace the person.

A strawman. It’s possible to regard oneself as a sinner (even the chief of sinners) and tackle sin head-on, without hint of hypocrisy, provided that the person condemning the sin has rejected (by the grace of God) their own sin and fled to Christ.

But there are whole classes of people who would argue that what they have done and how they live their lives is hardly an expression of sin, but an expression of who they are and what they believe in.

Yup. And that’s one of the problems with humanity – we don’t always view the evil we do as sin (as an addict can do, even whilst embracing the object of their addiction) or even as evil, but as an expression of who we are and what we believe in.  Here is an interesting article that discusses how people in Nazi Germany thought of themselves as “decent.”  Point being, genuinely seeing how we live our lives as “who (we) are and what (we) believe in,” doesn’t alter the definition of evil or of sin. 

Continuing..

It was Augustine of Hippo, the fifth-century North African bishop, who first referred to loving the sinner but hating the sin (City of God14:6; see also Letter 211). What did he intend by this?

Do tell.

He meant to remind each of us that, since we are all sinners, every sinner whose deeds we condemn is a brother or a sister, no better and no worse than ourselves.

That’s odd, because I always thought that it meant that the ability to distinguish between people and their sins is essential to one’s Christian discipleship and ultimately, one’s Christian witness (while presupposing that all of us are sinners deserving of an eternity apart from Jesus).  Silly me.  😉

We cannot love the sinner from a position of moral superiority.

Mm. The strawman rears its head again.

We can only love the sinner out of our knowledge of our own sinfulness, and out of our own willingness to stand with him in a common struggle to achieve the good.

Wow, how profound.  Sure wish we conservatives had thought of that {rolleyes}.  Here’s a thought to go along with that –  In order to “stand with (the sinner) in a common struggle to achieve the good,” we must identify the evil (within a proper Christian Anthropological framework) and then condemn it. 

That’s the “zeroth step” in any 12-step program, by the way.  The 12th step is in helping others in the road to recovery (“sanctification” in the lingo of Christians), while not being mired in the sin that we’re condemning. 

How far can we push this principle? When an enemy’s goals and tactics really do appear to be demonic, should we or should we not draw a line which places them beyond the pale of dialogue and future fellowship? Can the West work with Hamas? Are we dealing here with an unclean spirit that must simply be rejected, or with an organization in whose sins and aspirations we can recognize ourselves? Where do we draw the line between us and them?

(chuckle)

Well … Given that the world is considerably different than an Ivy League Peace & Justice Pep Rally, I suppose the “answer” to DB’s “question” would depend on what Hamas does to other people, and how dependable they are in their dealings with our nation. If Hamas doesn’t fit the definition of murderous tyrants, but are untrustworthy, then we have to draw the line somewhere don’t we? And similarly, if they do fit the definition of murderous tyrants, but are honorable .. er .. we’d probably still have to draw the line somewhere. And if they’re untrustworthy murderous tyrants, then .. ah.. I suppose we’d have to draw that battle line even tighter now, wouldn’t we?

Heh.  Also, let’s not forget that when faced with a group of evangelical university students who petitioned the Dean for the right to staple their leaflets to Princeton’s kiosks, our own happy-go-lucky-not-on-a-power-trip Dean Breidenthal drew the line just fine, thank you very much.  And not only that, he didn’t explain his actions.

But fortunately, another progressive administrator intervened, reversing his decision.  😉

These are tough questions for us as a nation. How they get answered will depend, in the end, on how we, as individuals, draw the battle lines in our own lives. On the one hand we must say no to every form of hatred and cruelty, without exception. On the other, we must constantly remind ourselves that we ourselves are sinners whom Jesus has embraced, not as enemies, but as students, calling us to explore with him the riches of God’s inexhaustible grace.

One quibble with this last paragraph.. Does anyone really want God to embrace them “as students“?  Wouldn’t it be nicer to be embraced by God as His adopted sons and daughters, so that Jesus could embrace us as adopted brothers?

Or, as that hopelessly anachronistic and misogynistic Apostle Paul said, quoting the Almighty:

“…and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.” (2 Cor 6:18, ESV)

And since we are on the subject of “drawing the lines,” here is also what Paul says in context:

“Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever?” (v 14,15).  More of the passage can be found here

Yuppers.  Painfully academic and not a whit of pastoral consideration in the entire homily. If Dean Breidenthal had his way, he’d have Our Lord debate the demon whilst the demoniac festered in humiliation, watching helplessly even as his body and soul were destroyed. 

The good news is that the joke is on us instead of the poor demoniac mentioned in Mark, Chapter 1.  For it would seem that this former dean of religions life at Princeton has been elected as a shepherd for our shepherds. 

Pretty funny, huh? 

– Elder

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  1. Henry Baldwin
    22 March 2010 at 6:38 PM

    A thoughtful article. Thank you.

    Sorry, I didn’t get your point about Mario Bergner.

    I heard him speak for several hours in January. It did not sound at all like he thought homosexual practice was holy. In fact he seems to be giving his life – at great cost – to help people go “straight.” Did I misunderstand what you meant? Did I not understand him?

    Thanks!

    • Elder Oyster
      22 March 2010 at 9:36 PM

      Hi Henry,

      RE: “It did not sound at all like he thought homosexual practice was holy”

      I agree – Fr. Mario is a post-gay priest who has a ministry for people struggling with homosexuality; and the misguided notion of “holy homosexuality” is nowhere to be found in that ministry. He is one of my heroes. Do you have his book (Setting Love in Order)? It’s a great read.

      Regarding my comment, I meant that Fr. Mario has noticed that there are some Christians who believe that homo-sex can be holy. Fr. Mario believes that it is possible for a Christian to have this view, though he would classify such Christians (who are Christians) as immature Christians. I believe this is both gracious and reasonable on his part.

      Blessings,
      – Elder

  2. Henry Baldwin
    23 March 2010 at 7:49 AM

    Thanks, Elder.

    I misunderstood what you meant in the article. The pieces fit together now.

    “And many of the Sons of Israel” he will turn to the Lord their God.”

    Keep up the prophetic ministry,

    Henry

    • Elder Oyster
      23 March 2010 at 11:13 AM

      Thank you, Henry for the kind words.

      In retrospect, the bit of info about Fr. Mario might have done better in a footnote, or off to the side. It is a little too much information to put in a sentence.

  3. 24 March 2010 at 6:33 PM

    I heard Fr. Bergner’s talk at the Mere Anglicanism conference. Thanks for straightening that out.

    Breidenthal’s “loving the sinner but not the sin” diminishes the person labeled as a “sinner,” is a reflection of a progressive’s fear of being considered “judgemental,” but as we are all aware, progressives are quite often judgemental themselves especially when trying to stifle a conservative point of view.

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