On Incest & Homosexual Relations

Preston Sprinkle —  August 25, 2014 — 51 Comments

Before you blast me for the very title, please hear me out. I’m posting this blog as a genuine invitation for good, logical, critical feedback. I don’t intend to be offensive and I don’t mean any harm by this post. Please hear me out; please read what I say.Luke and leah I’m inviting good, healthy, and humble push-back. If I’m wrong, please show me where.

A few months ago, I made an analogy between homosexual relations and incest, and I received quite a few negative comments. To be honest, I don’t remember receiving any logical refutations to the point that I was making, which has caused me to write this post. If I’m off, then please point out the error in my logic. Please correct me with texts, evidence, or logical fallacy.

In my previous post, I pointed out that the moral logic often used in justifying same-sex relations could also be used in justifying incest. That moral logic is: consensuality, mutuality, love, and commitment. That is, if two people love each other, are committed to a life-long relationship, and if their relationship doesn’t harm anyone else, and if such love is mutual, rich, and genuine—then why is it wrong? Why should these two people not consummate their relationship through marriage and sex?

Many people would say that nothing is wrong. If such criteria are met, then the two persons should get married. But in my previous blogs, I simply tried to show that such moral logic could also be used to justify incest. If the only criteria for marriage is mutual love, commitment, and lack of any potential harm to one’s neighbor, then the same criteria could be applied to both incest and homosexual unions.

Please hear me out: I am not saying that gay unions are the same as incest, nor am I saying that gay unions will lead to incest, nor am I saying that gay unions are as bad as incest. Again, I am only trying to analyze the moral logic for gay unions based on analogy.

Now, to justify the analogy, I have to point out that both Moses and Paul did the same thing.

In Leviticus 18, Moses discusses incest quite pervasively in vv. 6-18 and then homosexual relations in v. 22 (cf. 20:13). Paul also talked about homosexual relations (1 Cor 6:9) in the context of incest (1 Cor 5) and sex with prostitutes (1 Cor 6:12ff). This does not mean that incest is the same as homosexual relations, or that homosexual relations will lead to having sex with prostitutes. That’s not what I am saying. And that’s not what the biblical writers were saying. I’m only trying to point out that the biblical writers brought these up in the same contexts; and that’s all I’m trying to do.

So with that lengthy introduction, let me express my questions.

Why are some people so appalled at the analogy? People get upset at the incest analogy, but I’ve yet to hear why incest is so wrong. So my question is: why is incest wrong?

Because Leviticus 18 says so? Well, there are lots of laws in Leviticus that Christians don’t obey. So why should we obey this one?

It’s repeated in the NT? Yes, but only once (1 Cor 5) and there it’s only talking about a man having sex with his stepmother. Where is incest between consenting brother and sister prohibited? Why are we so appalled at incest? Because of Leviticus? Cultural taboos? One passage in the NT?

The same is often thrown at non-affirming Christians for not endorsing same-sex unions.

Leviticus. Cultural taboos. And a few debated passages in the NT.

“Affirming” advocates continue to abhor incestuous unions but I have yet to hear a good argument why. Why is incest wrong? Okay, so incest could produce genetically messed up kids (not that Moses or Paul knew anything about that). But what if the wife/sister is infertile, or what if they use protection? Why is incest wrong if it’s engaged in with committed and consensual love?

Again, I’m not saying that incest is the same as same-sex unions. They are different. I’m not even saying that if we as a culture embrace gay unions that this will lead to incest. This is logically fallacious and untrue. I’m only looking at the strength of the moral logic often used to justify same-sex unions. And I’m genuinely asking for some other criteria that rules out incest that does not also rule out same sex unions.

Let me be frank. If you are gay and reading this post, I would genuinely love to hear from you. I don’t want to offend you by using this analogy, so please excuse me  if I have done so. It’s not my intention.

I’m only wanting to know what’s wrong with this analogy—the analogy of the moral logic used to justify the action, not the analogy of actions. Having committed, consensual, and monogamous relations with your sister (or brother) that doesn’t harm anyone else is wrong—but why?

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Preston Sprinkle

Preston Sprinkle

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I'm married to a beautiful wife and we have four kids (3 girls and a boy). I've been teaching college level Bible and Theology classes for a few years now (since 2007), and enjoy hanging out with my family, running, surfing, and life in SoCal. Before I became a teacher, I was in school. Lots and lots of school. I did a B.A. and M.Div here in SoCal, and then did a Ph.D. in Scotland in NT studies. Before coming to EBC, I taught at Nottingham University for a semester, and Cedarville University for a couple of years. Along with surfing, I also love to research and write, and I've written a few things on Paul, Early Judaism, and Hell.
  • Kat

    Something I notice is that you fail to mention the motivations, the reasons why. If you ask why someone would want to enter a sexual relationship with the sibling, you delve into the field of psychology. I’m nowhere close to having the ability to discuss brain chemistry, but I do have my meager knowledge imparted to me by books and the media. If, when discussing incest between siblings, you believe that they have been attracted to each other from childhood, then you have to think about the cause. Usually incest is attributed to one or both siblings having been sexually abused. This is where the analogy between incest and homosexuality differs, because, from personal experience, same sex attraction doesn’t come from past abuse, and doesn’t mean you’re “broken.” I’ve personally felt same sex attraction for as long as I can remember, without being abused. I’m also quite aware of many statistics and figures citing abuse as THE factor causing homosexuality, and obviously, in my experience, they are simply not true.

  • Julie

    So my question is: why is incest wrong?

    It seems clear to me. Sometimes there are cues that will inform our conscience that something is wrong. Because of the genetic problems that occur from such unions, we know that it is wrong. Such unions have the potential to physically harm others. This potential demonstrates that these unions are not appropriate.

    I’ve mentioned this before, Preston, as have others, but for some reason you seem to discount it. You go back to the argument that the couple can choose to use protection, for example. Well, that’s not the point. The point is that because we can see how such unions have and can cause demonstrable harm to others, our conscience informs us that such unions should be avoided.

    Also mentioned before is that the brother has other women with whom he can experience covenant love and the sister has other men with whom she can experience covenant love. The gay man has no other options other than men and the gay woman has no other options other than women.

  • “Now, another friend of mine pointed out that the analogy breaks down because of orientation. That is, there is no such thing (as far as I know) as an orientation toward incest. So someone who wants to marry his sister does have other options in terms of gender, while gay and lesbians do not (according to the logic). I think this is an important thing to consider, but it still does not show why incest is wrong–that is, if mutual love, commitment, and not harming anyone else is the criteria for a valid union.”

    I’ll add this about orientation–I have never heard a satisfying definition of it. It seems clear–OBVIOUS–that some people really are homosexual: they desire intimate sexual relations with members of the same sex, they are inclined to have sexual relations with members of the same sex, and so forth. To deny that is to deny the obvious. Nonetheless there are some who switch orientations. Granted–the empirical evidence suggests that all known reorientation therapies are only minimally successful–they don’t work for most homosexuals. Still, some switch. Does that mean they didn’t have the orientation to begin with? Surely not. So whatever an orientation is it is not something which must be thought of as immutable.

    Is there a “B” and a “Q” orientation in the LGBTQ? Maybe. Again, sometimes a “B” will end up an “G” or an “H”– heterosexual.

    So I don’t see why there couldn’t be an “I” orientation as well. Moreover, I don’t see why there couldn’t be a “P” orientation. A lot of men seem inclined towards polygamy even if they aren’t getting married and have to fight against lust for more than one woman. But like I said, I personally have not heard a (non-ad hoc) definition of orientation that would rule out an orientation for incest.
    At any rate, it would seem to be a red herring, just as the biological question is a red herring. Even if it turns out that there is no biological component to homosexuality (the science is very unclear) but it’s all “nurture”, the vast majority of people inclined towards homosexuality etc. can’t help finding themselves with that inclination/orientation. But the question is whether the homosexual acts are permissible/impermissible, constitutive of human flourishing, etc. or not. The question is whether acting on the inclination or struggling against the inclination is better.

    • Lesli

      I would like to insert that being gay is not all about sex. It is who you are emotionally drawn to in an intimate and romantic sense, While I do have some very intense male friendships, there is nothing romantic about any of them and never could be. I challenge anyone who is married to think of their relationship and how they would define it. Is sex the first thing that comes to mind when you think of your relationship? Do you see your spouse as a piece of meat? Surely not. Then why is sex the first thing that always comes up when talking about gay people? When I see a married couple I certainly don’t think… Ooooo they have had sex!!! We have been taught to think a certian way and to stigmatize.

      As for which is better acting or struggling… for the purposes of sharing Christ, i would not answer that question. That is a question for disipleship, when the Spirit is involved and Christ is on board. There is a multidecade culture war that has massive baggage that the church now has to carry. We must respond with unequivocal love and trust the Spirit to work in each person’s life. Who is to say that someone’s sexuality is what God wants to sort in that particular moment… (sorry off topic from the original post again)

      There actually is an “I” orientation, intersex, which is a whole blog unto itself.

      I have to say… it is really cool to see people talk about this without “hate speech.”

      • Lesli,

        You raise a lot of good and important points. Here are a few (underdeveloped) thoughts:

        “I would like to insert that being gay is not all about sex.”

        I think I see what you are getting at but, I don’t know. In a certain sense to be heterosexual or homosexual IS all about sex. To be heterosexual is to have a certain proclivity, a certain desire or orientation or impulse towards members of the opposite sex, and those drives are sexual in nature. Of course, though I am a heterosexual, my life with my wife is certainly not all about sex (though I do have 5 kids–insert joke about not knowing how pregnancy happens). But that’s just to say that I’m not always thinking of myself as “that heterosexual guy.”

        “Is sex the first thing that comes to mind when you think of your relationship?”

        No. Love takes many forms. For instance, I have friendship love for my wife, a familial love for my wife, and so on. And of course love takes many forms between homosexuals. The question, though, is what forms of love are appropriate for people and–more to Preston’s original question–what are the appropriate ways for those forms of love to take shape? Preston thinks that it is inapproriate for sexual or romantic love to be directed at a sibling, and wonders what reasons can be marshaled for the claim that sexual love is appropriate between homosexuals but inappropriate between siblings.

        “Then why is sex the first thing that always comes up when talking about gay people?”

        Well, I think that if the sexual component were not important than it wouldn’t be getting so much media attention and political attention. Marriage, for instance, IS a relationship involving sex. On the traditional understanding, a marriage is fully consummated by entering into a one-body sexual union. And since marriage laws are a hot topic of the day, it’s the fore of people’s minds when the issue of homosexual relations comes up.

        “[Being gay] is who you are emotionally drawn to in an intimate and romantic sense.”

        I agree there are more aspects than sex involved (though I do wonder if romantic love is not a form that sexual love can take and thus is a species of sexual love…though it obviously need not result in having sex).

        “Who is to say that someone’s sexuality is what God wants to sort in that particular moment…”

        Preston! 🙂 No, seriously, I wouldn’t just take his word for it. 🙂 But that question does bring back Preston’s original question in a different form: “Who is to say that sexual relations between siblings is wrong?”

  • Matthew JamesAloysius Weatherb

    Hi David,

    I liked that you brought up the words “culturally” and “biblically” in the same sentence because it seems to me that therein lies the rub: is the bible more than a cultural document? If yes, then we have also to ask is God speaking through the culture of the people or is He creating new cultural fabric for them, or perhaps a bit of both? More recently, are large swaths of the Evangelical community creating culture when they read the bible as a document somehow produced outside of culture? And are they not picking and choosing what parts of the non-culturally produced bible should be used to make up this new cultural view? Can we examine these kinds of movements through a teleological lens? If so, (and not to be smarmy) then perhaps we could finally count all of these damn worms.

    • David Antonini

      My first answer is that I don’t necessarily have complete or definite answers for you. My starting point would be to compare ancient cultures position on women, and homosexuality, and examine how the Bible definitively improves the lot/status/estimation of women compared to that of ancient cultures, although maybe not as far as ‘modern enlightened feminists’ would desire. Compare this with dietart prohibitions and their discussion in the NT, alcohol, permissable but not always profitable etc, and compare these with the lack of similar promulgation or softening, of the abomination-style language used regarding homosexuality in the OT. Long story short, given the greater acceptability in Paul’s day and place than in Moses’, one would expect some different stance on homosexuality to shine through, if it were more of a cultural thing than a sin in and of itself irrespective of cultural respect type thing.

      That’s kinda my gut, after a lot of prayer amd seeking Him on this. Many of my classmates and friends in college were alternately sexual, quèer (to use their favoured nonspecific term), so this hasn’t been an easy conclusion to draw.

  • Lesli

    Yes there are Biblically acceptable partners for the “lgbt case.” The problem is “the lgbt case” does not want the Biblically acceptable option. Life would be much easier if we did.

    • David Antonini

      I can’t agree with you more. Life would be a lot easier for all of us if we didn’t want things He says are sinful. I think if the church as a whole saw all people struggling with all sin in that light, things would be far simpler and loving.

  • Preston Sprinkle

    Hmmmm….some good thoughts here, David. In 1 Cor 5, the phrase “father’s wife” implies that he’s still alive, so yes, it’s probably both adultery and incest, according to Lev 18. I don’t have the text in front of me, so if I’m mis-recalling it, then forgive me. But I’m trying to thinking of anyone explicit in Scripture that would forbid a son from marrying his step-mother if the father has died. I would say that it would be wrong if that son was part of the “household” where the former relationship existed (Such would interrupt the previous paternal relations). But just thinking out loud. We know for sure that if in the OT your brother’s wife become a childless widow, you were obliged (even if you were married) to raise up an offspring for the widow; i.e. your sister in law. God even killed a dude for not doing this (Gen 38).

  • Preston Sprinkle

    Okay, I’ve had a few days now to digest both the comments on the blog and ones that came in via Facebook, email, and another separate blog that responded to my post. I’m still chewing on some of responses, but let me give a rather brief response, just so ya’ll know that I’m alive and indeed reading your comments.

    I must say upfront, and I simply cannot emphasize enough, that in no way am I trying to stigmatize gay unions for paint them in bad light. I am very much interested in the ethical question at hand and not all all interested in appealing to emotion to bias one’s view (e.g. if LGBT unions are like incest, then they must be bad…ridiculous logic). As Tully and others have noted, I have not given an argument but asked a question. I’m genuinely wanting to know what the best counter response is to this (widespread) analogy. And again, unlike many others, I have NOT said that gay unions are like incest, or that they will lead to incest, or even that if we as a country sign off on gay unions then will might as well okay incest. I’ve never said that and didn’t imply it.

    Again, my question was very narrow. I’m wanting to know if and where the comparison of the moral logic of gay unions with incest breaks down in any way. Now maybe it’s just me, but THE most popular argument on the streets for gay unions–the one I often hear, anyway–is “if two people love each other, and if they’re committed to each other, and if their relationship isn’t harming anyone else, then why can’t they get married?” (Or “whatever they do in the bedroom is none of anyone’s business”.)

    Analogies can be limited in determining the ethical validity in a statement, but they can also help to determine whether or not a stated principle is universal in its application. So again, if the above (street-level) logic is valid, then…well…can it be applied universally without further qualification? And if such logic is in need of further qualification, then what’s the moral foundation for such qualification. It’s really a question regarding the universality of the principle. (And I do find it fascinating that I’ve yet to hear anyone say that incest is wrong because the Bible says it’s wrong.)

    Matt, it really does pain me to know that my words could possibly have hurt you. Please believe me. I have another friend who expressed deep sorrow over this post (and previous posts), and it pains me to know that my words have hurt him. And please believe me when I say that I actually in no way intended to incest analogy to paint LGBT relations in a stigmatized light. Again, to do so would be incredibly unscholarly and immature. As Tully said, I’m genuinely asking a question.

    So again, in the blog, I was trying to ask for feedback regarding an apparently compelling intellectual argument–one which continues to be made by scholars and non-scholars alike.

    Let me make a comparison.

    I
    personally find the analogy between the non-affirming view and racism
    greatly dehumanizing and offensive. To compare me with 19th century
    slave holders, who viewed African Americans as less than human, is a
    terrible, misleading, uniformed, and hurtful analogy–especially given
    my aggressive opposition toward racism of all kinds.

    In any case, if someone posted a blog saying: “It seems that
    the non-affirming view is using the same moral logic that 19th
    Christians used to justify slavery…here’s why it seems that the
    analogy fits…I’ve yet to read a good counterargument…please let me
    know if I’m missing something in the two…and BTW, I’m not saying that
    non-affirming people are racists, only that the moral logic used to
    justify racism seems to parallel the same moral logic used to condemn
    LGBT relations” I would take this much differently than someone coming
    out and accusing me and my view of being racists.

    This is all I’m trying to do, Matt. Now, I’m aware of the difference between just having good intentions and making sure that even well-intended words don’t cause harm. But I need to know not just that the analogy is offensive, but why it’s logically and ethically invalid. In the same way, I need to give a good, intellectual response to the racist analogy above. I can’t just say “stop calling me a racist.”

    Now, another friend of mine pointed out that the analogy breaks down because of orientation. That is, there is no such thing (as far as I know) as an orientation toward incest. So someone who wants to marry his sister does have other options in terms of gender, while gay and lesbians do not (according to the logic). I think this is an important thing to consider, but it still does not show why incest is wrong–that is, if mutual love, commitment, and not harming anyone else is the criteria for a valid union. Orientation, however, might cause a slight interruption in the analogy.

    Another friend of mine pointed out that incest destroys a previous familial relationship, one which was formed by trust and the safety of a non-romantic relationship. This is another good point, but I’m still not clear on the ethical compellingness of the analogy. Again, adding romantic impulses to a previous relationship covered by the safety of non-romantic feelings may cause damage to some relations. And certainly, some or even most incestuous relations could end up being harmful psychologically. But again, what if it’s mutual? And can it be show (statistically or whatever) that all mutual, loving, incestuous relations are inherently destructive or damaging?

    Even if such a study could be shown, then we would need to add qualifications to the well worn argument: “If two people have mutual love for each other and they aren’t harming anyone else, then they should get married”

    “If two people have mutual love for each other, and they are not harming anyone else, and they relationship doesn’t have the potential to bring psychological harm on an otherwise safe and healthy relationship despite their mutual desire to take the risk, then they should get married.”

    Am I off here? No…I mean genuinely…what I’m I missing? Again, I’m not trying to make an argument here, just trying to think online.

    • Dustin Sullivan

      If I just tell you that they are wrong, incestual relationships, does that *make* them wrong?

      Idk Preston, the answer, it’s *ground*, seems to be (ultimately) arbitrary, regardless of either secular or religious considerations.

    • Matt

      As I said below, two mature, consenting, unrelated adults, for the very reasons you have listed. That is what is generally meant by the phrase you quoted.

      Would it be enough to trust the people who actually experience what you are wrestling with and their assurance that they are not trying to undermine marriage, harm others, or otherwise twist morality in any way? Can you understand that logic can only go so far? It’s okay to trust that God works in our lives to bring us to healthy relationships that fulfill us, even though they may not look how you think they should.

      Clearly I am not the only person you have hurt. Take it as a sign that your line of reasoning is not fulfilling the second greatest commandment as spoken by Jesus in the book of Matthew: Love your neighbor as yourself. When I was a Christian, my understanding of the faith was that the most important thing was how much, how deeply, and how consistently we loved, no matter how often we had to sacrifice our ego or tolerate not knowing. It’s something I still carry with me, and simply not something I see in your discussions of homosexuality and LGBT people as a whole. Take that as you will. I am not a scholar like you. I have no professional standing that could compel you to see things as I do. I only wanted to say what I had to say, as carefully as I could.

    • JTobias

      Hey Preston,

      I have a few thoughts and reactions that have been bouncing around in my head the last week or so. So I will respond here:

      First, since you are the one wanting to use the analogy, I would put the burden of proof on you to explain WHY the two are analogous in a meaningful way.

      Second, I would venture to say that while you are thinking about that, you will realize why it is so offensive to use the analogy.

      Third, the “incest/gay marriage” analogy is not the same thing as the “non-affirming/racism” analogy because people CHOOSE to be racist and/or non-affirming. The same can not be said for LGBT persons, so forgive me if I am not sympathetic to that comparison. The difference here is the gay person can’t change the fact that they are gay, where one could change their opinion or stance on being affirming or not. Also, where that analogy works is that non-affirming people wish to deny a set of people the rights that they themselves enjoy, based on something that person cannot change about themselves. It has nothing to do with slavery.

      Lastly, after chewing on this for a while I feel like this is a little reductionist. I mean I hear traditionalists define marriage as “Marriage =One Man + One Women” all the time… Well, ok then why not brother and sister? It just seems to me that if you want to play this card, it can also be played against traditional marriage as well.

      • Hey Joe,

        Let me first say that I am terribly sorry for offending you and others with this analogy. I now know that simply bringing up “incest” in the same conversation/blog as “homosexuality” does little to further any sort of dialogue and in many ways immediately closes the door.

        So it’s with much trepidation and caution that I proceed to further talk about the analogy! But let me try to engage your questions.

        “First, since you are the one wanting to use the analogy, I would put the burden of proof on you to explain WHY the two are analogous in a meaningful way.”

        Well, it’s not so much me that’s wanting to use it, but be recognizing an analogy often used by non-affirming scholars and not seeing a good response from affirming scholars and then invited people to response through the blog. And again, I’m not comparing the two; I’m only looking at the common moral logic. On the streets, the most common argument FOR same-sex relations is: “If two people love each other, it’s mutual, monogamous, and they are not hurting each other, then why can’t they get married.” The analogy is not between two actions, but between two reasons for those actions. I guess what I’m looking for is for people on both sides to acknowledge that there’s more criteria that needs to be brought in an assessed.

        Regarding your last point, yes, I agree! Traditionalists need to expand their definition. Totally in agreement here.

        “Second, I would venture to say that while you are thinking about that, you will realize why it is so offensive to use the analogy.”

        I’m really struggling with this. I’m not comparing the two (even though some people continue to say that I am, even though I’m not…which is strange). I’m inviting a dialogue over a well-discussed point. I’m trying to learn and understand why the analogy doesn’t work. I don’t think it’s a very good approach to dialogue to say that “that offends me, I’m therefore not going to engage it.” Again (getting to the next point), I’m offended at the racist analogy, but I know I need to engage it because even though I disagree with it, there are some good points made by the analogy. And, quite frankly, many non-affirming folks are akin to racists! I need to sort out why I’m not one of those. Or the whole “non-affirming = homophobe” comparison. I’m seeing this over and over: if you don’t affirm, you’re a homophobe. There’s no middle ground. Again, I find this offensive. But rather than shutting down the discussion, I want to engage it to show WHY my approach cannot be considered homophobic.

        Regarding your third point, I don’t think you understood my point. Or–to own it–maybe I wasn’t very clear. (Wouldn’t be the first time!) My narrow point was regarding dealing with a common analogy that I’m offended at. I wasn’t comparing homosexuality with racism. I wasn’t drawing attention to the fact that non-affirming people like me can’t just “be offended” at the racism analogy; we need to engage it, wrestle with it, and model for others a non-affirming posture that can’t be labeled racist.

        Joe, I really do appreciate you taking the time to interact with me on this issue. I’m trying to learn; trying to grow; trying to learn how to discuss this emotional topic in a way that fosters, rather than shuts down, dialogue. I’m also trying to analyze the intellectual arguments on all sides, which is my motivation for this post.

        On that note, I think that your original response was the best! You said, that in incest, there’s no such thing as orientation, but in homosexual relations there is. This is what I was looking for: a legitimate reason why the moral logic between the two isn’t the same, or has different assumptions. I guess my main comment is that I would want to know what you mean by orientation. I’ve heard several others make the same point, but they (not saying you) seem to assume a rather simplistic view of orientation. As you know, orientation is fluid and very complex. Even the APA says that SSA is 1) still not fully understood, and 2) probably a combination of both nature and nurture. Anyway, we could go on and on here, but I would only want to know what you mean by orientation.

        Peace bro

        Preston

  • Dustin Sullivan

    Preston,

    I think what you are missing in your *moral logic* is a distinction between ‘public’ and ‘private’ reasons. We should not trivialize the debate as one between good and bad (private, or localized) reasons, but rather as one about good and bad public reasons, that is, reasons good for a politic, a society as a whole.

    (HOW we discriminate between these kinds of reasons, and further, HOW we are to judge between what ‘should’, an ‘should not’, count as a public reason is (at this time) beyond me. But words … 🙂

  • Matt

    I’m going to say this as calmly as I can, Mr. Sprinkle: Your intent is not magic. You can pull out all the logic you want, but by bringing up incest in discussion with homosexual relations, you are conflating the two. It doesn’t matter why there is a taboo on incest when you know very well that there is, and by putting them together you are implicitly supporting the idea that LGBT relationships and relations should be stigmatized.

    I don’t know your exact motivations for posting this. From what else I’ve read of yours, you don’t seem malicious. I’ll take you at your word that you didn’t mean to cause harm. But it doesn’t matter, because you can’t possibly be unaware of the way others would take your words. You’re a teacher and a Biblical scholar. Some people are going to use what you say to further their prejudice against LGBT people. Does that matter at all to you? We are real people. We are not a thought experiment, logical construct or dry hypothetical.

    I am asking you to please have compassion. Please think about the weight that your word carries, and the pain you can cause others.

    • Matt,

      Preston can speak for himself, but I don’t think he is doing what you are saying at all. Here is the question: Is there a good moral theory or argument such that homosexual sexual relations come out right while incest comes out wrong? If the general moral principle is “that all sex which is consensual is morally permissible and appropriate” then it follows as a matter of logic that consensual incest is morally permissible and appropriate. There is no denying that (unless one wants to deny the laws of logic).

      There are at least two options: admit that consensual incest is morally permissible and appropriate (as some people do) OR look for another moral principle, theory, or argument. Preston is simply asking what that principle, theory, or argument is.

      Here is a completely different example to help you see why Preston’s invocation of incest is a perfectly legitimate thing to do.

      Suppose you tell me that the ultimate moral principle is that the only moral morally wrong actions are one’s which involve physically harming someone without their consent. OK. Now my question is, is this principle a correct one. Should I live my life by it? Or is it either too permissive or two restrictive. Now I ask you, “So, then, it seems that on your view, it’s morally OK to watch people shower without their knowing about it, just as long as you are very careful that they never find out about it such that they suffer harm.” And then suppose you were to say, “I can’t believe you just asked that! You are comparing me to peeping toms!”

      Wouldn’t it be appropriate for me to respond as follows: “No, I am not comparing you to a peeping tom at all. I know you, and you’d never peep a tom (or an Alice). What I am asking is how your principle rules out peeping toms as acting morally? On the face of it, it seems that your moral principle allows for peeping tommery. So are you really committed to that principle, or is there a revised principle that you haven’t mentioned, or am I missing something?”

      • Matt

        This entire discussion (and Dr. Sprinkle’s post) seems to hinge on a kind of suspension of disbelief where the vast majority of incest (the kind that does demonstrable and profound harm) must be purposely ignored to even be able to entertain the premise of the question. Now you’d like me to also do the same with all instances of voyeurism (that’s the word you’re looking for, I believe) in which a person can never consent and the act violates their privacy. That is harmful even if the victim is unaware.

        As I have said previously, as much I as I love it, logic is no longer appropriate here. How would you like your marriage or serious long-term relationship compared to paraphilias or other taboo sexual acts that are stigmatized for a reason–because they violate and/or hurt others? Homosexuality is not a floodgate holding back all manner of sordid appetites and never shall we open it for fear of sexual anarchy. Just like heterosexuality, it is a way for mature, consenting and unrelated adults to come together, bond, and express their feelings for each other in all kinds of ways–emotionally, physically, and yes, sexually.

        I am transgender, bisexual and a former devout Christian. I left the faith partly because of Christians who abandoned logic and compassion in favor of arbitrary exclusion of other people. I left because of Christians who wantonly stripped people like me of their very humanity in their quest to show themselves as the most holy. I am not an angry atheist. I am a child of God who watches in horror and open-mouthed dismay at what my former faith has wrought.

        • Matt,

          “Now you’d like me to also do the same with all instances of voyeurism (that’s the word you’re looking for, I believe) in which a person can never consent and the act violates their privacy. That is harmful even if the victim is unaware.”

          First, what makes you think I was looking for a word?? I LIKE the phrase “peeping tom,” thank you very much. Second, how have you been harmed by the numerous instances of voyeurism that has occurred to you of which you are completely unaware?

          “As I have said previously, as much I as I love it, logic is no longer appropriate here….I left the faith partly because of Christians who abandoned logic and compassion in favor of arbitrary exclusion of other people.”

          So which is it: one should think logically about sexual ethics or one shouldn’t? Are you saying it’s fine to use logic, but only if you reach the conclusions you have reached?

          “I left because of Christians who wantonly stripped people like me of their very humanity in their quest to show themselves as the most holy.”

          So asking a question and asking for a logical argument which shows that incest per se is wrong but which does not show that homosexual sex is wrong (which, by the way, no one has barely ATTEMPTED in this discussion by way of argument, let alone succeeded) is not treating someone like a HUMAN? It’s not human to ask for and consider other people’s REASONS?? It’s stripping away one’s HUMANITY?? But questioning Preston’s motives, insinuating that he is not compassionate (which is flat out false if you know him or have read hardly anything by him), and making accusations that he has CAUSED pain are ways of treating someone with human dignity?

  • Wow, I just can’t begin to express my dissapointment in your continued attempts to stigmatize people who are gay. Far too much to say in a comment box. I responded here http://fordswords .net/2014/08/26/understanding-fidelity-love-mercy-a-response-to-preston-sprinkle/

  • David Antonini

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with your logic. You could include bestiality, among other taboos, in the same logic.

    On Paul, though, I’d like to clarify something. Was sex with the stepmother wrong because of the incestuousness of the relationship, or because it was adulterous? My thought being that, biologically and Biblically speaking, in one’s father dies, there’s not a lot, in theory, from you marrying your widowed stepmother, or is there? I mean sure it would be rather weird, and certainly taboo in our culture, but she is a woman of no blood connection to you, she is widowed, so no adultery either, is there another abomination there I’m missing?

    To inform back into the discussion at hand, if there a allowable, but (generally) not profitable, direction to take the discussion?

  • Clayton Chapuis

    This is a good question. It seems that Paul and Moses likely did not limit the reason for marriage to “consensuality, mutuality, love, and commitment” but recognized (in Moses case especially) the importance of childbearing and relationship with the community. So Moses may have reasoned something like, marriage exists to demonstrate faithfulness and bear children to grow the nation of Israel. So to Moses a relationship that doesn’t bear children or bears children with incestious problems isn’t helpful to the Israelite people as a whole, though he wouldn’t have known of the problems. Paul seems to think incest damages the community of the church, I suppose he might think the same for homosexuality. Today, the issue of childbearing doesn’t seem as relevant since we have plenty of people in our nations but the issue of community seems relevant. The narrow definition of marriage is inspired by our individualistic society while it may need to be run through the lens of community.

  • Brian

    i think you are absolutely right

  • Lesli

    I find error in the basic premise of the analogy. To accept that the coupling is the same you would also have to accept that the separation of the couple would be the same and there in lies the fallacy. For siblings who are mating there is a world of opposite gendered people that are both Biblically (if referring to OT or Pauline doctrine) and culturally acceptable. However, for those of us who are LGBT that is not the case. When we walk away from our “inclinations” we are signing up for a partnerless life, a life without intimate relationship. Some may argue that you can get that through friendship, and I will concede that there is a level of intimacy there, but truly we are now called to rely on God for our deepest needs. We do not have that other person to bounce life off of. There are days it is overwhelming and simply does not seem worth the fight. I am five years down the road and wonder if it ever gets easier… I am confident it Christ, but that does not change my carnal desires. Back to your siblings, once you get past the “ew” factor of it all, they can move on. Deal with a broken heart, like we all have, and find a new love. This is simply not true for those in the lgbt community. I get the deeper thought you are trying to evoke (and greatly appreciate it!), but final product and reality for those of us who are actually living this is far beyond a brother and sister fooling around.

    • Alastair J Roberts

      “For siblings who are mating there is a world of opposite gendered people that are both Biblically (if referring to OT or Pauline doctrine) and culturally acceptable. However, for those of us who are LGBT that is not the case.”

      But surely the same would be true in the case of bisexuals?

      Also, even though the analogy between homosexual relations and incest may not be exact for the reasons that you mention, relative to the moral criteria mentioned by Preston, is there a basis for discrimination between the two? Part of the point here, as I see it, is that support for homosexual relations isn’t just a concession to the fact that gay and lesbian persons can’t form sexually fulfilling relationships with the other sex. Rather, it is an affirmation of the goodness of those relationships in and of themselves, on account of their satisfaction of the moral criteria Preston mentions. They are definitely not just regarded as an accommodation to a less than ideal situation. Were this not the case, bisexuals and non-exclusively same-sex attracted persons (whose numbers dwarf those of pure same-sex attracted persons in the LGBT community) would be regarded as morally bound to eschew sexual relations with the same sex.

      • Hi Alastair –

        Views on the sanctity of gay covenental relationships are not as binary as “affirming” or “non-affirming”.

        There are some people like me who hold a consecrationist view of same sex relationships – that is, they are part of the redemptive work of the Holy Spirit. But not everyone shares my view.

        There are some people who hold an accomodationist view – that is same sex relationships are the most moral life possible for some people who are gay. Accomodationists would say that if one has some degree of sexual attraction to the opposite sex, they must be closed to relationships with the same sex.

        I think the accomodationist view is still grounded in a harmful theology that diminishes the humanity of people who are gay, but it provides a way to hold the traditionalsit belief in a way that causes less harm.

      • MarkBeuving

        Alistair, FYI, as a moderator I removed the external link from your comment per our comment policy: http://facultyblog.eternitybiblecollege.com/about-this-blog/comment-policy-2/

    • David Antonini

      I don’t know if I agree that you have to accept that the seperation of the couple would be the same for the analogy to be valid. If a brother and sister want eachother, or two brothers, for that matter, the incestuousness is the same, then, yes there are culturally and biblically acceptable partners there for them, but there are also those same Biblically acceptable partners available for the LGBT case. If my inclination is for my brother or sister, asking me to go against that because of Biblical or cultural taboo is little different from asking the LGBT person to go against their inclination.
      If you follow the Biblical taboos, no seperation is allowed, in any case.

    • Lesli,

      A fallacy is an error in an argument. Preston hasn’t given an argument. He’s asked a question. Sure, there are dumb questions (e.g. “when did your phone eat dinner?”) his is surely not a dumb one.

      “When we walk away from our “inclinations” we are signing up for a partnerless life, a life without intimate relationship.”

      I know of nuns and monks who would adamantly disagree with that who deny sex but not their sexuality. A life without sex need not be a life without intimate relationships, even if such a life often is filled with struggles.

      Moreover, there are married heterosexuals who–due to biology/upbringing/choices or what have you–live entire lives with unfulfilled sexual desires due to marrying someone who (for instance) was sexually abused as a child and has a very hard time having sex. And so, people divorce because it seems a better option than the Christian one which is often a life of long-suffering and commitment. Things are tough all over.

      In addition, there have been people who have deeply desired a sexual relationship with a sibling or other close relative who would say, “Sure, I COULD have a relationship with a non-relative. But I desire THIS person. And if I go with this other person, my entire life will never have THIS desire fulfilled.”

      • Lesli

        A fallacy is a lack of soundness of reasoning, (typically in an argument… not always) but… semantics. I never meant to suggest that this was a dumb question.

        Monks and nuns are called to a life of celibacy. I can tell you I do not feel that calling. Now, I am secure in my calling in life as a child of God. I have SSA (same sex attraction), was married to a woman for six years, widowed, and have surrendered that to Christ. So your statement is safe with me. But, I can tell you that if a gay person is seeking Christ and makes the statement I made your response would minimize their feelings (that was how i felt). Yes it is tough all over, but that does not mean we should minimize the struggle for those who are struggling. When you have a banquet table in front of you and are told to fast, it is a calling of Christ and the ONLY way you can do it is with the support of your brothers and sisters. A huge part of that support is acknowledging the difficulty of the journey. I have an amazing support network that I can call on, and do! But, there are still times when it is not enough… the temptation to go to the banquet is very real. A lifetime (especially if you are talking to a kid) is a very long time.

        Please know I say this not a a criticism but as somone who desperately wants to see the church succeed in reaching the lgbt community.

        • Lesli,

          I did not mean to minimize your or anyone else’s feelings when I mentioned that “things are tough all over” (though I can see how one might take it that way since I’m trying to keep my comments as terse as possible). I was trying to include homosexuals–such as yourself–into the wider world wherein many heterosexuals also live lives without fulfilling sex. Homosexuals are not alone.

          • Lesli

            First of all Tully thank you. When I said a life without intimacy i did not necessarily mean sex. Honestly the bigger part is not having a life partner. Yes there are heterosexuals in that situation. I am not suggesting otherwise. All of this now seems to skew from the original question… (Preston you now have me paranoid about spacing after each . )

      • Matthew JamesAloysius Weatherb

        Hi Tully,

        In response to your comparison between the celibate lives of monks and nuns and members of the LGBT community I’d say, yes, but monks and nuns have signed on for a life void of carnal relations and seem to have done so in order to devote themselves to another passion, whereas the gay couple has not made this same commitment. All well and good with monks and nuns, but the law of chastity itself is a strange creature that seems to run in the opposite direction of God’s command to be fruitful and multiply. Interestingly, Paul seems to have circumvented this command as well and made his case why it was a fitting thing to do.

        • Matthew,

          The comparison was to draw attention to the fact that a life without sexual intimacy need not be a life without intimacy. I have an intimate relationship with my children that is not sexual. Monks/nuns have intimate relations with each other and God.

          Nor must this sort of chastity be the vocation only of monks, nuns, or priests. There is a nice one hour film I would recommend of lay catholic homosexuals who have chosen to live a celibate life at everlastinghills dot org slash movie (and for what it’s worth I’m not catholic but have many good friends who are).

    • Preston Sprinkle

      As always, thanks Lesli! You seem to be echoing the same logic as another friend of mine. So I’ll deeply consider your thoughts.

      One thing I need to correct. You said: “I get the deeper thought you are trying to evoke (and greatly appreciate it!)”

      I actually did not intend to do so. Not at all. I wasn’t trying to be provocative–not with a sensitive issue like this. My blog was purely intellectual.

      Going back to your point. How would you frame the difference in universal terms? Would you say, “with incest there are other satisfying options” whereas with LGT (doesn’t work for B) there are “no other satisfying options?”

      I’m using the rather vague word “satisfying” because if one’s sister is the love of his life, I don’t think one could say “well, you can find other woman who’s just the same.” Another woman my satisfying the need for romance, intimacy, etc. but still may not be his first choice or the one that would satisfy him the most. And it still adds to the “mutual love…not harming anyone else” logic often stated.

      • Lesli

        I am not such the romantic that I believe that there is a “love of your life.” As a widow, were I able to seek the companionship of my desires I certainly would. I loved Sue, but that would not preclude me from seeking future companionship that could be just as deep and true. I believe that is against what God has laid out for my life so I do not. If we look at Levitical law many of the things God told us not to do (mind you I have no formal theological training so am wading in deep waters here with someone with a PhD) seem to be like Mom telling you not to touch a pan on a hot stove. No, they did not know why they could not eat pork or shell fish… was He protecting them from bacteria or making them jump through hoops? Seems to depend on which theologian you ask. So no, Moses did not know about genetics. But we do now. God has also given us a brain. (there goes the can of worms) We know that inbreeding weakens genetic structure and causes birth defects. If I can bring in another argument, Romans 13 tells us to be subjects to our government. It is illegal in all 50 states for siblings to mate.

  • I appreciate the tone of the post, Preston. Thank you for that. I find the logic of it fascinating as well. I hope for some thoughtful comments!

  • Good question, PS. I haven’t followed this blog in a while, so maybe you’ve already addressed the issue, but the same sort of question could be asked about bestiality, especially in cases where an animal seems to be acting more or less “voluntarily”:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enumclaw_horse_sex_case

    Now, I would argue that non-human animals can’t consent (or act voluntarily for that matter), so someone could say that since mutual consent isn’t involved there is some problem here (aside from the dangers of having intercourse with large animals). But what would the problem be if there is no pain or harm done to the animal and one took the “proper” precautions? Inanimate objects aren’t the sorts of things that can consent and neither are animals. Is sexual activity with a worm acceptable? Worms aren’t even conscious. Perhaps there still ought to be laws against such things (for pragmatic reasons) but the question is one of morality not legality.

    Sorry, I don’t mean to hijack this post, but if one rejects natural teleology it does open up a whole can of worms. The question you’re asking is a good one: Given the reasons typically offered for why homosexual sex is permissible, why doesn’t it follow that some instances of incest are as well? At a recent (pro-homosexual sex) conference at a state school near me, the people I talked to were willing to bite those bullets. To which I would say, you watch too many French films.

    • Dustin Sullivan

      “If one rejects natural theology it opens up a whole can of worms”, but does it? or is the ‘can’ already open (within natural theology)??

      What, I would like to know, natural theological reasons/arguments can one marshell in support of of ‘these’ couplings, while prohibiting ‘those’?

      • Lance Gabriel Hancock

        Hey, Dustin –

        It seems you misunderstood (and misquoted) Tully. You replaced “natural teleology” with “natural theology.” Teleology has do with the intended purpose of things. So in saying that “if one rejects natural teleology it opens up a whole can of worms,” Tully means that if we abandon the idea that there is a natural, intended way for marriage/sex to work in the world, then anything is fair game. In other words, if we dismiss that there is only one correct context in which marriage/sex happen (e.g., monogamous covenant union between a man and woman), then there is nothing to prevent any number of different contexts one might think of (man-man, man-beast, man-sister, etc.). Hope that clarifies what was meant by “teleological.”

        So, to answer the question in proper form, we could say that the natural teleology in favor of one man-one woman unions is that from the beginning God created man and woman for each other exclusively. This was his “intention” (our teleological word) for what marriage would be.

        Cheers 🙂

        • Dustin Sullivan

          Lance,

          It is true that I did mis-quote Tully, however the difference is not significant, at all, in fact, I’d say that in saying either one says the same. (If there is a difference, significant or otherwise, you failed to explicate that difference.)

          ‘Marriage’ is not a natural feature about us, if it is, the I fear you are equivicating on the term *natural*. Coitus, penis in vagina, is a natural feature about us, and so is reproduction.

          Your words, Lance, just ‘beg the question’ of just what is natural!? If what we mean by ‘natural’ is ‘God intended’, then what we need to do first (priorities) is to show (argue for) that God intended THAT *only* one man one women couples should marry. Independent of this it is an open question whether homosexuality is Natural or Non-natural (note: I think you are confusing/conflating ‘institutional facts’ (facts strictly about the intentionality of an agent(s)) with ‘brute facts’ (facts strictly about our biologies).

          Cheers back, Lance 🙂

      • Dustin,

        I guess I think that if one’s moral intuitions are functioning properly one wouldn’t need an argument that homosexual, incestual….etc. sex are inappropriate or illicit. They all seem inconsistent with nature (in addition to being evolutionarily disadvantageous to the propagation of humanity). I’d say the same thing about killing your innocent neighbor. You should just be able to see that it’s wrong. But if you can’t, it’s not easy to give a convincing argument all of the premises of which are more obvious than the conclusion.

        But there are arguments. There is what Preston has said and, in my opinion, the best philosophical-theological book on the topic, One Body: An Essay in Christian Sexual Ethics.

        But such an argument is impossible to summarize in a short post.

        • Dustin Sullivan

          Oh come on, “moral intuitions functioning properly”, cop out. The problem with appealing to such ‘proper functioning of ones cognitive faculties’, an epistemically *externalist* move, is that you can’t give a justification for why this belief, basic or otherwise, is the PRODUCT of a faculties functioning properly, period. You might counter, with regard to homosexuality, that one ‘should’ be able to just ‘see’ that it is wrong (assuming her faculties are functioning properly), but I can (so easily) push back and say, tu quoque, you too ‘should’ (assuming your faculties are functioning properly) be able to just ” see” that nothing is wrong with homosexuality. My point, an externalist approach to justification/warrant an knowledge itself is not enough to account for your moral judgements, what you would need, in my opinion, is *internalist* elements/parts built into your epistemic system.

          There are no good arguments against homosexuality, homosexual behavior, if there are, you (apparently) think that there are, then bring them, I’d love to engage 😉

          Liked, I did, what you had to say.

          • Dustin,

            I was obviously not trying to convince you of the wrongness of homosexual sex by appealing to externalist epistemology and the proper basicality of the belief. For starters, there’s no non-circular way to prove one’s faculties are functioning properly. I was simply stating that some people can see this to be immoral (I believe) just as they can see that incest is immoral without working their way through a demonstrative proof wherein the premises are more obvious than the conclusion. But obviously that itself is not an argument.

            That being said, I will basically repeat what I said before–it’s not easy to make an argument for the conclusion in question with premises that will be convincing to ALL people. So I think we’re in agreement on this much–there’s no knock-down argument the premises of which which will causally demand assent.

            “There are no good arguments against homosexual behavior.”

            Well, I suppose the truth of that depends on what counts as a good argument.

            Nonetheless, I think that Alexander Pruss’s argument in “One Body” is the best on offer for why it is wrong (as opposed to Biblical arguments THAT it is wrong). It’s better, for instance, than Robert George’s. But–as I said–it’s not the sort of argument easily summarized in a comment on a blog.

          • Dustin Sullivan

            Tully,

            Good words.

            1. I did not read you as “trying to convince me” (or anyone) of homosexual sex (which too is dubious, for what IS “gay (homosexual) sex anyway?? Surely you don’t (cannot) mean anal sex? Or do you?:).

            I did read you, though, as trying to give a justification/warrant for such a judgement, and THAT, Tully, is what I was pushing back on.

            2. About “knock-down arguments”, not even relevant.

            3. “Well, I suppose the truth of that depends on what counts as a good argument”, and brilliant!;) No doubt, Van Inwagen has a chapter on this very topic in his book ‘The Problem of Evil’, Oxford. Anyway, I’ll be sure to get back to you on THIS after re-reading THAT.

            4. “But–as I said–it’s not the sort of argument easily summarized in a comment on a blog”, and uh huh, right bud 🙂

          • Since Van Inwagen doesn’t think there are ANY good philosophical arguments, I’m pretty sure he’d say that there are no good philosophical arguments for or against the proposition that homosexual acts are immoral. 🙂

            But he also has a pretty strict view on what counts as a good philosophical argument (which, as you allude to, is in the first chapter–I believe–of the book you mention). Let’s say he’s right (I myself think he might very well be). Still, that doesn’t mean there aren’t any good non-philosophical or theological arguments. 🙂

            I would include under homosexual sex any sexual activity between two persons of the same sex (not just, e.g., sodomy). Bill Clinton did have sex “with that woman.” And, again, I’d point to Pruss for the best account on offer for what counts as sexual activity.

            Best regards,
            Tully

    • MarkBeuving

      Tully, FYI, as a moderator I removed the external link from your comment per our comment policy: http://facultyblog.eternitybiblecollege.com/about-this-blog/comment-policy-2/

      • Thanks for the note. Ignorance of the law is no excuse, as they say! 🙂
        My apologies.
        For posterity sake, the link was to the infamous Enumclaw Horse Case.

  • Dustin Sullivan

    I’m gay, and I think your reasoning (“moral logic”, Preston;) is ‘sound’, that is, independent of any good reasons to the contrary I can’t (myself) see why others (a brother an sister, say) too shouldn’t marry, have the right to.

    (However, I am NOT saying, with that said, that they ‘should’ marry, have the right too.)

    But, if this is ABOUT ‘justifications’ one wonders what such a justification would ‘look like’ (relevant to the discussion here)?? It can’t be because He merely ‘says so’, for while it may be true that He does ‘say so’, if He do, but if He do then He does for good reasons and not for no reasons. (A caveat: it very well be that He has reasons that we lack access to, are unaware of, and so our not knowing of such reasons is not evidence of His not having reasons (‘justifications’). Nor, moreover, do I believe, if He exist, that He is *obligated* to always tell us His reasons for this or that:)

    Cheers!

    • justia

      only thing i can’t understand is why would u want to take chance in catching HIV when most gays will eventually come down with it given enough time. even if i had the desire, i’d stay the hell away frm it for that reason alone.