Answering Some Criticisms

I got quite a bit of feedback on the last Federalist article (on Abstinence vs. Chastity), so I wanted to take a moment to address some of the criticisms that actually addressed my arguments.

Objection: Jesus never taught anything about sex!

Only if you start off assuming that the Apostles’ teachings and the Prophets’ teachings aren’t Jesus’ teachings. But no one who actually tries to learn from Jesus is going to make that mistake for very long. Anyone who actually believes the red letters is going to know the black letters are Jesus’ teachings too.

Objection: The delay in marriage isn’t purity culture’s fault; Christians just picked that up from the wider culture.

I’m not sure how familiar the people making this criticism are with Christian teaching, but one of the things the Bible repeatedly warns us against is worldliness–adopting the world’s standards and judgments over and against Christian teaching. Sometimes worldliness is deliberate, more often it’s absent-minded, but it’s always something we are to avoid rather than embrace.

So while I agree that Evangelicals mostly picked up delaying marriage from the wider culture rather than inventing it, that makes it no less of an indictment.

Objection: These priorities aren’t entirely due to feminism; many households need two incomes to survive because wages are depressed over the past few generations.

First, it may not be entirely due to feminism, but even on the economic side, it’s a hefty contributor. When woman entered the workforce en masse, they drastically increased the supply of labor without increasing demand for labor in any substantial way. (Many women have always worked, but as I recall, the proportion of women working outside the home roughly doubled during the 20th century.)  Basic economics says that the price of labor (i.e. wages) has to substantially drop as a result. So bad economic policies and circumstances aren’t our only reason for depressed wages.

Second, I did not say that women should never work outside the home. What I said was that marriage and family need to be higher priorities than career for anyone who wants marriage. Circumstances may dictate that a woman needs to work for her family’s sake, but that’s always got to be balanced against the invaluable service she can provide by being with them at home–particularly when they’re very young. Full-time work is something mothers do so their children are fed and clothed, not so they can go on family vacations every year or “earn feminist merit badges” as Dalrock puts it.

Third, some (not all) people who think they need two incomes do so because they’re excessive consumers. If you’re going to Starbucks every day and own all the latest video game consoles, there’s a lot of discretionary spending going on that you really don’t need. When you tally up the cost of daycare, taxes, and so forth that come with having a 2nd income, a lot of people aren’t as far ahead as they think. And sometimes, that smaller amount of additional income may be able to be offset by adjusting discretionary spending.

Objection: But what about gays? Is it realistic to demand indefinite celibacy from them by teaching against gay marriage?

This is a fair question. But in order to be able to accept the answer, we first need to be frank about the moral reality. Two people of the same sex cannot be married to one another; it’s a contradiction in terms. They can have a ceremony, say the words, and call themselves married, but that’s not going to actually make two men or two women married to each other anymore than ceremonies and words can make a circle a square. So even if every Christian in the world immediately and permanently stopped repeating Christian teaching on the subject, same-sex “marriage” would not and could not relieve anybody from a life of fornication. It would only give them a false pretense of peace. This option was never on the table no matter how many people might want it to be or think they’ve achieved it through legal change.

Once people stop grasping at that particular straw, the various ways of handling same-sex attraction fall into two broad categories.

The first is to pursue real marriage. My understanding (and it was an unrepentant gay man who explained this to me) is that homosexual desire runs on a spectrum. For instance, some men are actively repulsed by women while others simply prefer men to women. So for some homosexuals on the shallow end of that spectrum, it might be possible to make marriage a viable option through repentance and therapy. I know that programs designed to bring people out of the gay lifestyle have a high failure rate, but the fact that they have any success at all suggests that sexual desire is more plastic than we are led to believe. It’s something they’d need to be honest about with a prospective spouse, and it may take a whole lot of extra work, but it’s not always unmanageable.

Note that I’m not saying that anyone should marry a person they don’t want to have sex with. Neither am I saying whether this could work for 50%, 10%, 1% or .1% of homosexuals–I really don’t know. I’m not even describing the different ways this might look in practice. All I’m saying is that homosexuals shouldn’t let people put them into an identity bucket that prevents them from thinking critically about the idea for themselves.

But even if it isn’t always unmanageable, it is sometimes unmanageable–and that gives us the second category: Work to be indefinitely celibate and live a life of repentant struggle.

I’m not going to dress it up; this option sucks. But sometimes God gives us some really heavy crosses–terrible circumstances that we can’t fix and that He won’t take away. In those cases, our only real option is to bear that cross and follow him–trusting that his grace will be sufficient for all our failures. And by the way, given the wide scope of human tragedy, this isn’t only true when it comes to sex, but to all sorts of exceptional circumstances.

And even when it comes to sex, this isn’t true only for homosexuals, for there are many exceptional circumstances that force heterosexuals to live in indefinite celibacy. There can be injuries, illnesses, and deformities that make marriage a practical impossibility for some people. Even within marriage, there can be circumstances where one spouse is suddenly no longer physically capable of fulfilling their marital responsibilities. These are exceptional cases, but remember that despite their over-representation in media, homosexuals only make up 2-3% of the population. Unrelentingly dominant same-sex attraction is itself an exceptional circumstance.

There have been countless Christians whose only faithful option has been to pick up their cross–and more likely than not, most of these Christians were not gay. This unquestioningly involves a great deal of suffering and temptation. And there will be times when temptation wins and you fall into sin. The only way through is to trust the Gospel and stay connected to a church where you hear it all the time. Christ paid for every time you collapse on that road and redeems every last ounce of suffering you endure as you struggle to move another inch forward.

About Matt

Software engineer by trade; lay theologian by nature; Lutheran by grace.
This entry was posted in Chastity, Ethics, Feminism, Gospel, The Modern Church. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Answering Some Criticisms

  1. I would agree about your statement about gay people and celibacy being a cross if it were not for the fact the Church often withholds both the Gospel and real friendship from them and, thus, add far more weight to the cross they are asked to carry than most people can bear.

    • Matt says:


      There are, unfortunately, all too many Christian churches that don’t preach the Gospel well. But I know faithful churches exist for gays because I communed alongside a repentant gay pedophile for years at a previous congregation (as in he had done prison time for what he had done to little boys.) And they didn’t have some special outreach program or anything, it was just part of faithfully preaching God’s Word and administering the Sacraments to sinners. It takes effort to find one, but faithful churches are out there.

      That said, I don’t think there’s much point in haggling over the weight of one’s cross. It’s not as though God, in His infinite wisdom, placed it upon someone’s shoulders but miscalculated the weight because he just didn’t know how darn mean some of those Christians are.

      • Oh, I am not arguing about the weight of the cross itself but the fact that, by withholding the Gospel and being neglectful in the treatment of LGBT people, Christians both remove the strength to bear the cross and add weight that is not the cross to the backs of those who attempt to do so.

        I am 57 years old and chose celibacy when I was 15 or so and had to face the fact that I was attracted to guys and repulsed by girls. I did make some attempts to change, of course, and become normal – all the Exodus, behavior modification (which left scars on my body) and reparative therapy, etc. None worked. So celibacy was the only choice open to me in obedience to God. And, since God is both good and, well, God, I will continue that obedience to the end. He is worth obeying.

        But there comes a point where being a repentant sinner turns into be a despairing sinner – and for me that turning point happened in 2009 when the LCMS essentially dropped the Gospel in favor of the 1st use of the Law when addressing homosexuality.

        I still believe in God and in the creeds and in all of the doctrines the LCMS holds. But I simply can no longer make myself believe God can nor will love me nor that He wants to mess up His eternity with crap like me. Which is the greater sin? A young man who disagrees with the Church on 7 passages in the Bible but can believe God loves him? Or myself who, though I agree with Scripture, can not help denying God in His most essential attribute – love? The one is merely mistaken. The 2nd is blasphemy. Which of us will go to hell; the friend I grew up with who lives with his husband to whom he has been faithful for 20 years, or myself who lives alone and daily commits blasphemy before God?

        Of course, when I share this, pastors point me not to the Gospel but to my own failed efforts – “your identity should be in Christ.” Well duh. That’s the point. I have tried and failed because you can’t do that without grace.

        The fact is that I am now at the point where, when a pastor does shares a bit of Gospel, instead of accepting it, I am suspicious. Does he really mean it? Does it really apply to me? It would take a pastor who was willing to not merely pay a whistle stop to the Gospel but to put some real effort into applying it to convince me that maybe it really is for me. And those kinds of pastors do not actually exist.

        So I am not disagreeing that a gay kid should choose celibacy exactly. I am just saying that you should be aware you may be sending directing him to hell if he attempts to bear that cross in the current LCMS culture.

        • Matt says:

          If the Gospel isn’t being preached in the LCMS, then nothing I say or fail to say about crosses is going to prevent anybody therein from going to hell–LGBT or otherwise. I really don’t think that really is the case in most of the LCMS, but the point stands whether I’m correct about that or not.

          I’m not going to speak to the neglect of LGBT people by the church because that’s such a broad category. On one hand, the church neglects everyone to some degree because her functions are carried out by sinners, and it’s worse for some than others. On the other hand, there are a whole host of people who would say that preaching the Law at all is neglectful of LGBT people. And there are inumerable positions between those two hands. Neither am I going to address whatever happened in 2009, as it sounds like you’re referring to something specific, but I have no idea what. Neither am I going to critique your pastors’ private counsel as I do not and should not know the details of that.

          As for the rest, before I begin, let me first just say this: I’m an overly blunt and overly analytical person, so take this for what it’s worth. If you’re going to read, read to the end and consider this as a whole.

          You ask which is the greater sin, disbelieving God’s law while being certain of his love, or disbelieving God’s love while being certain of his law. I’ve got a better question: Who cares? Is one sin less damnable than the other? No. Is one sin less paid for by Christ’s atoning death than the other? No. One might make a person happier in a worldly sense, but that’s irrelevant to Christians of whom Scripture says “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

          Is one more dangerous than the other? I don’t know, but both are dangerous.

          The danger with your friend’s approach is that he’s redefining God so that He’s more comfortable to be around. You can’t just redact seven verses and expect the rest to remain unchanged. Idolatry of this kind is not the sort of chaos that stays contained, and your friend runs the risk of one day discovering that the god whose love he’s faithfully certain of is merely the idol he designed for himself.

          As for you, you’re really doing the same thing, and you might likewise find that the god who hates you is merely the idol you designed for yourself.

          Saying you believe all the Lutheran doctrines and confessions but can’t believe God loves you is a blatant contradiction. God’s love and the fact that he sent Jesus to die specificly to populate eternity with “crap” like you and me are key parts of those same doctrines and confessions.

          But you already know that; you even said as much. My point in highlighting it isn’t to add idolatry onto your sin pile, but rather to explain this assesment: I could be wrong, but it seems to me that what you’re getting at is that you know and believe those doctrines, but you do not feel as though they can possibly be true and cannot force yourself to feel that way. And you’re absolutely right, you don’t and you can’t. But here’s the good news:

          Salvation doesn’t depend on our feelings any more than it depends on our works. It depends wholly on the work of Christ and is received by a faith that is itself the work of the Holy Spirit. If you go to church and you’re thrilled to go and feel on fire for the lord and you just can’t wait to worship and even feel a little giddy when you hear your pastor say “I forgive you your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” then you are forgiven. And if you have to drag yourself out of bed and out the door and there’s nothing you’d rather do than skip church forever and you’re zoning out as the liturgy starts and give nothing but a dejected sigh and internal grumbling when you hear your pastor say “I forgive you your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” then you are still forgiven.

          And if you find it difficult to consider that out of all those people, those words are for you and in response to your own confession, then I would suggest frequent private confession. It’s not part of LCMS culture (unfortunately) but it is part of pastoral training and responsibility. If your pastor won’t fulfill that responsibility, find a new pastor. If you’ve tried that and find that the pastor tries to add counseling onto the absolution, I would ask him not to. If he has some reason to insist on counseling, I would ask him to separate the two into different appointments so as not to accidentally conflate Law and Gospel.

          And remember this: God’s Law does not abrogate His Gospel any more than His Gospel abgrogates His Law. If someone tells you that one man lying with another is an abomination and also tells you that whosoever believes in Jesus shall not perish but have everlasting life, both are true. You are never going to find a faithful church that doesn’t preach God’s Law, including the parts you’re sensitive towards. But the solution to being chafed by the Law is not to avoid the Law, but to hear the Gospel. Any faithful congregation will have plenty of both for you. And again, if the Gospel (or the Law) really isn’t there, then do whatever it takes to find a church that preaches both.

          One last thing. When it comes to sins that are more besetting and addictive, this has always proven to be one of the most comforting verses for me to remember: Jesus said to his disciples, “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in a day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,” you must forgive him.” (Luke 17:3b-4).

          Jesus isn’t telling his disciples to be more merciful than He Himself is. It doesn’t matter how many times we sin in a day or in a life because forgiveness is always there for us. Christ payed the debt for every last thing you’ve done, and validated your great worth in his sight by paying the debt for every last thing that has been done against you. Your identity *is* in Christ because you stand before Him as His forgiven child. That is an objective reality that transcends anything you feel about yourself or about God.

  2. RK says:

    I’d say the part about delaying marriage is the real sticking point in the struggle between the Christian virtue of chastity and our culture’s embrace of all manner of sexual immorality. The critics’ contention that purity culture is not responsible for having caused the ever-increasing delay in marriage is true as it stands, but—as you effectively pointed out—irrelevant: purity culture currently perpetuates this delay, intentionally or otherwise. As a teenager, I heard plenty of good advice from my parents and from my church youth group about abstinence and remaining pure for marriage and warnings against our sexually hedonistic “secular” authorities’ advice promoting promiscuity; what I never heard from anyone was any encouragement to marry young, nor any advice on how to go about achieving this.

    My own parents married young enough (Mom being 23 and Dad being 20) that my grandfather on my father’s side had to cosign the application for the marriage certificate (Mom used to joke gleefully that she’d “robbed the cradle” to get Dad). Even so, when I was consulting them for tips on my own love life, they all but insisted they had simply “lucked out” at having had a relatively stable marriage that lasted until death did them part (Mom’s death being just three days after their 50th anniversary this year); they basically had no advice at all for me on how to pursue a wife. The only help they offered was that if I ever met someone I wanted to date, they’d drive me to and from those dates. (Thanks, but no thanks, Mom and Dad: what teenager ever wants his parents tagging along to remind his date that he’s still their dependent because he can’t drive? This spurred me to get my driver’s license as soon as I could, of course.)

    What really galls me about my youth, looking back on it, is that nobody really explained any of the finer points of getting a career or a spouse, which has a lot to do with how I’ve ended up pushing 40 (Spring next year) with neither. Judging by my experiences in the fruitless pursuit of both, my parents and teachers apparently believed nothing had changed since they were teenagers and college students, and expected I’d land a career and marriage in my 20s in much the same way with much the same methods they had. About the only comfort I’ve received lately has been the cruelly cynical one of realizing both from articles I’ve read at my favorite sites on the internet and from personal experience that I’m far from alone in my misery: both of my older brothers married late and are divorced (though they still have decent careers), and I keep hearing of more and more former members of the middle class whose careers—like mine—have simply failed to launch. (That’s not even counting those whose careers were destroyed in the last two recessions and have never recovered.)

    A successful career is important to building a successful marriage, of course, especially for us men; but it strikes me that a certain kind of immaturity our country’s increasingly immoral “secular” culture (with its many false gods with false religions to match) is promoting is what has been striking hard at the foundations for both. Just as our parents were typically getting married younger (and my grandparents got married younger yet; Grandpa was one of the many young men getting married shortly after graduating from high school and right before they marched off to World War II), so too they were launching their careers much younger, even if only as cashiers or by driving school buses. The teens of this generation are increasingly idle, and not all of them by choice; and you know the old saying about idle hands being the devil’s workshop, which I contend is only more relevant concerning what this idleness does to those teens’ love lives. (Take a wild guess which one requires less money and personal effort to obtain: a condom for a casual hookup, or dinner and a movie for a date with a prospective future spouse?)

    All of this is to say, while I see your point in noting how the lost soul Dianna Anderson sacrificed her purity (and along with it, most of her prospects for a successful marriage) to her career, it seems to me we ought to be encouraging teenagers to pursue both their marriages and their careers at earlier ages, with more emphasis toward careers for the boys and more emphasis toward marriages for the girls, but with both sexes being taught the historical connection between financial and marital success. Cynically old-fashioned as it may sound, the men who are happiest and most maritally successful continue to tend to be the ones who bring home the bacon, while the women who are happiest and most maritally successful continue to tend to be those who fry up that bacon once the men get it home, and who raise the children and generally maintain order in the household while the husband is out procuring it.

    Something else our entire civilization desperately needs: we really have got to dispel this notion so many people these days seem to have that schooling and education are the same thing. With rare exceptions, today’s colleges and state universities are driving students and their parents into taking on unbearable loads of debt only to brainwash those naive youngsters into embracing promiscuity and perversion (i.e. “sex positivity” and sodomy and—lately—”transgenderism” with all of its self-mutilating delusions), economic envy (i.e. socialism), hatred (i.e. identity politics), murder (i.e. abortion), nature worship (i.e. Climate Cultism), and all other manner of Satanic (i.e. Postmodernist) dogma. Moreover, even students who succeed at avoiding and/or defying this brainwashing are not getting much of value out of their “educations” otherwise; a sheepskin from even a prestigious university is no guarantee of success in love or money at all, let alone at being a virtuous Christian.

    To the objection that marrying young might increase a couple’s risk of divorce, your two-fold reply was that 1) those statistics are skewed by averaging in a lot of very young teen marriages (which—though you didn’t say this—are mostly shotgun weddings, so of course they’re more likely to end in divorce) and 2) fornication and promiscuity are far greater dangers, greatly increasing the odds of divorce with each premarital sexual partner the girl has. To these perfectly valid rebuttals, I would also add that 3) even assuming for the sake of argument that young marriage does necessarily increase the risk of divorce, how could that risk possibly be any worse for the youngsters than the wretched situations they’re facing right now? Hook-up culture and narcissistic childlessness and welfare state dependency are no substitute for the life and love and liberty of having a real family.

    To these “millennials” and all other generations following mine, my advice for these times would be not only “blow up your TV” and “throw away your paper” (and—in a contemporary twist—”cancel your social media accounts”) but also “forget about college; learn a paying trade either at a trade school or on the job (as someone’s apprentice if you can manage it) or marry someone who has learned such a trade and be a homemaker.” (Cooking and cleaning and child-rearing are trades too, you know.) If, after that, you still desire more intellectual pursuits, you can always try taking liberal education courses online and/or moonlighting at your local community college. That way, not only do you get to evade many of our “secular” (i.e. Satanic) culture’s attempts to indoctrinate and assimilate you, but you’ll be among other like-minded individuals; and you’re likely to find far superior prospects for marriage among them.

    • Matt says:

      Thanks for your comments, RK.

      I think marriage needs to be the higher priority than career even for career’s sake (directing your career for the good of your family provides a lot of motivation and satisfaction that can be hard to find otherwise.) Nevertheless, you make a very good point that youth need career advice as well (I perhaps take that for granted because I received good advice there in my youth.) What’s more, with the cost/benefit ratio of college rapidly collapsing (as you point out,) a lot of the old advice is becoming increasingly useless. “Do what you’re supposed to do and it’ll just happen” doesn’t work for careers any more than it does for marriage.

      Any healthy civilization is going to provide normal pathways to both marriage and productive work for most people. The sickness in our own society means parents and youth alike are have to work harder and more creatively to achieve either one.

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