Jerry Sandusky and Ultimate Right and Wrong

The Penn State scandal culminating in the conviction of Jerry Sandusky on 45 counts of sexual abuse last month was a truly horrible story. However, I think that some good may have come out of it; namely, the Sandusky case has brought some important moral questions to the fore of our national consciousness. Last month, for example, Dr. Benjamin Wilker published an article in the Catholic Report with a provocative title: Why is Jerry Sandusky Guilty?

The article opens with this:

There is no doubt that Jerry Sandusky is guilty, the real question is why? Why is it that we, here and now, would send a man to prison for molesting boys? Why is the public reaction one of both deep disgust and quite visceral anger? Just canvass a few opinions about what people would like to be done to punish Sandusky if they were the judge.

But why? What is the cause of this deep disgust? This seething anger?

Why indeed. I would agree with just about everyone that what he did was sick and despicable. But why does it anger us so?

Wilker chalks it up to one thing: Christianity. He notes that in the ancient Greco-Roman world, homosexual relations between an older man and a boy (between 12 and 17) were completely acceptable. This was the age range that Sandusky happened to target. In other words, if Sandusky had done what he did 2000 years ago, no one would have thought much of it and we wouldn’t have found him guilty of anything. The rise of Christianity, with its Judeo-Christian sexual ethics, according to Wilker, was the main thing that ended up instilling a new morality so that most of us now view such acts with disgust.

I think he has a point, but the historical impact of Christianity isn’t what I want to address right now. Regardless of what you make of Wilker’s argument, it highlights one simple thing about morality that I think people tend to overlook when they make their own moral judgments: moral norms change across eras and civilizations. Continue reading →

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Evangelicals, Reason, and Intellectualism

I ran across this provocative op-ed in the New York Times a while back. We can say two things about it right off the bat. One, Karl Giberson and Randall Stephens are writing for the Times’ audience. Their points were brief and slanted even though they dealt with complex issues, so they’re not likely to change anyone’s mind. Two, I think evangelical Christians need to be very careful and thoughtful about how they respond to criticism like this. I understand how gravely Christians take St. Paul’s command in 2 Timothy to “continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed,” but they ought to remember that not every hill is worth dying on.

And let’s be fair. Giberson and Stephens raise some good questions about how Christians should live within today’s western societies. They accuse many evangelicals of “simplistic theology, cultural isolationism and stubborn anti-intellectualism.” We must realize, though, that almost every evangelical would say it is important to use the mind. They’d say that they support intellectualism (at least to a certain degree). Regardless of whether it is true, Christians don’t see themselves as intentionally ignorant and isolated like the article implies.

The Weekly Standard touched on this a while back in a review of “The Anointed,” a book (also by Giberson and Stephens) that deals with evangelical truth in a secular age. Reviewer Thomas Walker rightly pointed out that, in the view of Giberson and Stephens, there seems to be little room for intellectual, culture-savvy Christians who still hold on to old “fundamentalist” dogma. People like Albert Mohler or Timothy Keller, for example, are well-read and up to date with the times, but both fall largely within the orthodox Christian tradition.

Shortly after the Times article was published, Mohler (pictured below) came out with a response on his blog, where he isolated the key issue here. It boils down to the question of what evangelicals ought to stand on as their primary source of truth–in other words, what do you believe about the Bible? Mohler concludes: Continue reading →

From One Side to the Other

I guess this is old news, but I came across this story about ex-gay rights leader Michael Glatze in the New York Times yesterday, and it pointed me back Glatze’s article in WorldNetDaily back in 2007, as well as an open letter to Rick Martin in WND. I’d never heard of this guy. His story is fascinating.

Glatze was a gay’s gay. He started and spearheaded the rise of Young Gay America’s magazine, produced the first documentary film on gay teen suicide, and appeared with media outlets like PBS, MSNBC and TIME magazine as an advocate for gay rights and the homosexual lifestyle. As Denizet-Lewis says in his article in the Times, many young gay men looked up to him. He quotes Glatze as saying things like “Christian fundamentalists should burn in hell,” and “People have been raised incorrectly to believe that the prejudices they’ve been taught by their pastors are God’s word. . . The only Truth is Love.”

Then, in about 2004, health issues prompted Glatze to start asking some deep questions about himself and the state of his soul. Long story short, it started what he calls a “spiritual awakening” that led to him rejecting his homosexuality and becoming a Christian.

I’ve always hesitated to say much about homosexuality for two simple reasons. One, I’m not gay and have no homosexual desires; I don’t “get” it. Two, growing up in a fairly narrow Christian environment, I haven’t had much personal interaction with homosexuals. They’re a tough group for conservative Christians to reach. Most Christians don’t set out to “hate” gays or demonize them, but there are two different philosophical assumptions at play here that makes some animosity inevitable. One side says that a certain “lifestyle”–or, as some Christians might say, certain “acted out desires”–are sinful, and therefore the most loving thing to do is to warn people that this lifestyle is contrary to God’s design for the world, inherently enslaving, and destructive to human civilization. The other side says that this lifestyle is completely normal, enjoyable, and conducive to human happiness. It ought therefore to be embraced and celebrated. Continue reading →