Monday, March 09, 2009

A thoughtful, pro-petition response from a Christian philosopher

This was put up on the Prosblogion by Keith DeRose. This doesn't by any stretch of the imagination answer all of my difficulties with the original petition, but it does show that a good deal of the pro-petition rhetoric is self-defeating, and that if one wants to defend the petition one should refrain from claiming that a religiously motivated ban on homosexual conduct is irrational and bigoted.

I still do have concerns about the move from "puts people of gay orientation at a disadvantage" to "discrminates against people of gay orientation." I keep going back to the fact that if I were an unmarried person who didn't consider myself "the marrying kind" I would be put at the same disadvantage as a gay person by these institutions.

Further, I have been in secular institutions where there was no code of conduct concerning faculty sexual behavior, and to my mind there should have been.

If the asterisk just means "this is seen by the majority of APA members as discrimiatory," that could be distinguished from "these people are bigots." It not only matters what is said, but how it is said.


Apoptosian said...

On this issue like many others I don't feel politics should enter into the debate. As I see it marriage is a contract. If two people want to enter into a legally binding contract so be it. There are a number of moral issues the Government feels obligated to thrust upon it's minions. In my view the government has no buisness entering into such debated. Let the courts settle it. I think it is a matter of personal liberty. Just my humble opinion.

Gordon Knight said...

I thought this letter was great. At least, it captured my own feelings on the matter. There is nothing wrong with an asterisk indicationg that, e.g. Wheaton, explicitly prohibits faculty that are sexually active with the same sex. Such an asterisk only states what the College itself affirms. So what is the problem? Is it that the APA calls such a policy "discriminatory" but it is, obviously, and Wheaton would I assume agree that it is discriminatory, but argue that this form of discrimination is justified. If the APA believes that Wheaton is mistaken in thinking this, there is nothing wrong with screaming from the rooftops that this is the APA view. I take seriously the Millian view that we need to allow as many voices as possible, but I don't see how the asterisk really hampers the ability of these Christian Colleges to continue with their policy. If it makes them THINK a little more about the weird anti-gayness of some conservative christians, then more power to it.

And Victor, I assume the sexual practices of faculty you refer to are of an exploitative nature.. Do you have an argument that homosexual relationships are, per se, of an exploitative kind? if so, lets hear it!

Victor Reppert said...

I didn't say that homosexual acts are exploitative. I do think there should have been a policy in place to protect students from sexual exploitation.

Clayton said...

If Russell had left his money to start a university and insisted that only atheists or Christians who agreed not to practice their religion and throw out their Bibles could serve on the faculty, I would sign a petition to say that this institution either oughtn't be allowed to publish in the JFP or at the very least ought to suffer the wrath of an asterisk. But, that's just me. If anyone said (e.g., an atheist Troy Nuntley) that given the description of the job (e.g., to teach philosophy in such a way as to inculcate the values of atheism), I'd say that while we respect RU's right to exist we can't allow it to use the JFP to recruit without at the very least noting that their policies are discriminatory according to the APA's definition. It may well be that the founders of RU thought that they had a "coherent" set of moral norms that justified keeping Christian off campus or thought it was important for doing the job advertised that they be atheists or non-practicing Christians but I'd say this isn't open for negotiation. The APA gets to decide what flies and job descriptions that are gerrymandered from the perspective of the APA wouldn't fly. So, Victor, would you sign the petition or the counterpetition?

Anonymous said...

Would Wheaton et al. be willing to employ a self-identifying homosexual who had made a pledge of celibacy? If they wouldn't (as a result of her being openly gay), then the sort of discrimination that person is subject to is not the same sort that a non-marrying Victor would be subject to. For some reason, I seriously doubt that Wheaton et al. would hire a celibate homosexual.

Victor Reppert said...

That is an interesting point about a celibate gay. The problem is that what the APA would be objecting to in the case of Wheaton would be discrimination that somehow follows from stated Wheaton policy. The colleges have these policies on paper, which faculty members have to sign.

What gets more difficult is where there is discrimination that isn't based on anything written. Outspoken theistic philosophers don't have much chance to get jobs in many universities. And then it gets more complicated than that when people who object to Darwinian evolution complain that they can't get jobs in biology, but biologists reply by saying that involvement with ID compromises the quality of the biological work. There is a large step from "there's no way someone like that could get hired at that place" to "they're discriminating," unless there is an official statement. Any university goes through hundreds of CVs to select a candidate; lots of people get tossed in the first round with hardly a serious look, so discrimination is very hard to argue for if it is implicit.

Clayton: The analogies between things like "You can be a Christian but you can't read your Bible" and "You can be person of homosexual orientation but you can't have sex" don't wash. If you want to make a case for the petition that impresses me, you might start by stopping the multiplication of these types of examples. A Christian who doesn't read Scripture is going against his faith. No one is going to say of a celibate homosexual that they are not a very good gay person if they aren't sexually active. The integrity of my Christian existence would be undermined by these restrictions. The integrity of a gay person's existence is not undermined by prohibiting sexual conduct.

Gordon Knight said...

At the Prosblogion, Jon Kvanvig made a good point that I have yet to seen rebuted. Jesus explicitly denied the legitimacy of divorce and re-marriage. (interestingly, there is no such comment by jesus w/respect to homosexuality..anyway) Yet Christian schools routinely hire people who are divorced and re-married therefore, by the explicit lights of scripture, committing adultery. How is this consistent with the policy w/respect to gays.

Blip said...


But aren't those that have divorced and remarried assumed to have repented of that sin? They shouldn't have done it, but now that they have there is a case to be made for them not going back to their first wife, etc.

Obviously, a practicing homosexual can't be thought to be all that repentant.

Gordon Knight said...

Blip, according to the Gospels, re-marriage is equivalent to committing adultery so it is analogous to being a practicing homosexual, if the same strict standards are applied (or i should say less strict, since the biblical case against homosexuality is weaker (no words of Jesus on this matter at all).

Gordon Knight said...

Mathew 5 31-32 ] "It was also said, `Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.'
[32] But I say to you that every one who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, makes her an adulteress; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

I should have added the qualificatoin of unchastity.

Clayton said...

C'mon Victor, you know what I was getting at and you're just trying to avoid answering the question. Suppose Russell Univ. insisted that all Christians dissolve their marriages because they were married in churches as a condition of employment. I'd still regard that as discriminatory and so would you. I'd sign the petition to stand up for them. You would too.

Blip said...


Let's get more concrete. Suppose A is married to B. They divorce. That's bad - it's a sin. A then marries C. That's also a sin, but it doesn't stop A and C's marriage being a valid one, with all the accompanying marital obligations. So A and C shouldn't break up, even if A and C are fully repentant.

Ergo, being divorced and remarried is not a SUFFICIENT condition for living in sin, and so it would make no sense for Wheaton to discriminate on that basis.

Gordon Knight said...


I don't think that is the natural reading of what Jesus says. He says whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. Well what is the adultery? it is the sleeping with the woman who was previously married. The claim seems to be that the second marriage was not legitimate, the first one is still binding, and any sexual relations outside the first one involve adultery.

Now you can argue with this. but that is part of the point. As Kvanvig points out it is possible to contextualize many of the moral claims found in scripture. But if you are willing to do so in this case, they why not in the case of homosexuality, where the scriptual basis is actually much weaker. Kvanvig actually does a better job making the case than I can, so I recommend, if you have not done so, going over to prosblogion and see what he says.

Victor Reppert said...

Kvanvig's point is a very important one which is related to one which provided the main reason for my vote against the Prop 8 clone in Arizona. Christians who want the government to enforce biblcal moral standards on homosexuality are tend to head for the exits when if it is suggested that the same policies be employed in the case of divorce.

I still hold that there a simple text saying "no discrimination against people on the basis of sexual orientation" is open to a "thin" reading which employs the distinction between orientation and activity. The best way to make the petitioners' case is to say that in fact the APA wants a more robust opposition to anti-gay discrimiation than this provides. So you end up with the question "What were people agreeing to when the accepted the nondiscrimination language about sexual orientation into APA policies?" Did everyone who signed off on it really intend for the language to apply to schools with codes of conduct. I doubt it, I don't think most of them even thought that far. If that is the will of the majority, then some fresh language is required to make the point as clearly as possible. I think that would not be an advisable course, but I do think the APA would not be exceeding its authority if it did something like that.

I don't think you can trivialize the distinction between orientation and activity. Plenty of people of both orientations are not sexually active. It's a legitimate distinction. It just may leave us with less of a stand against anti-gay discrimination than at least some members want.