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Letters
March 7, 2002

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Dear Editor,

Just as I was getting worried that no one would respond in depth to my earlier questions, Craig Tenke provided a most helpful reply. I would in turn like to thank Dr. Tenke for taking the time to review my observations and treating them seriously. I believe I would enjoy further conversation with him very much were our paths to cross at some future date.

I think if I had to point to one statement of Dr. Tenke’s that enlightened me the most, it would have to be the following: "Rosik’s paradox disappears when we recognize that we are called to focus on spiritual and interpersonal fidelity, rather than on sex." This seems to reflect a hermeneutical approach quite different from my own. As I read Scripture, I find myself being challenged to focus on fidelity in spirit, interpersonal relations, and sexual behavior (between a married man and woman). I have significant concern that by relegating sexual behavior to a secondary consideration we run the risk of enabling significant eisegesis given current cultural trends.

I found myself able to appreciate Dr. Tenke’s approach further by referencing Harvard University Professor Hunter Lewis’ book, A Question of Values (1990). In this text, Lewis proposes that moral conflicts in our society are reducible to conflicts among six fundamental moral positions, which individuals hold either singly or in some combination. As outlined by Miller (2001), these six are:

1. The good is defined by some authority structure. A power outside the individual is granted the authority to decide right from wrong. This is usually a religious authority (such as scripture), but it may also be a political authority or organization or the weight of cultural historical tradition.

2. The good is defined by rationality. The individual looks to rational or logical thinking to discern the nature of the moral. Immutable self-evident truths are sought as justification for moral decisions.

3. The good is defined by sensory satisfaction. The individual seeks to surround herself or himself with sensual and sensory satisfaction, beauty and novel stimulation. An artistic or poetic appreciation of the good is sought.

4. The good is defined by loyal attachments. The individual seeks to maximize the experience of love and intimacy in all their decisions. Actions that promote these relationships are right and good.

5. The good is defined by intuition. The individual seeks mystical experiences that provide an intuitive appreciation of what is good and right.

6. The good is defined by scientific/expert opinion. Here, the individual relies on others to define the good based upon their specialized knowledge and technical expertise. The good must be tangible, measurable, orderly, predictable, and somewhat inaccessible to the uninitiated.

While I could be wrong in my evaluation, the sense I get from Dr. Tenke’s statement is that it emphasizes #4. My own tendency is to emphasize #1 in terms of a straightforward and historically grounded reading of scripture. This is not to say that Dr. Tenke disregards scripture (or that I ignore the value of relationships). It is just that the hermeneutical approaches we bring to the Bible may be difficult if not impossible to reconcile. As I read the various letters to Presbyweb through the grid of these six moral value orientations, it is not hard to discern many of these approaches concealed in the writer’s mode of thinking and arguing. Despite frequent similarity in theological language, it seems to me that, by and large, evangelicals argue emphasizing #1, whereas liberals emphasize one or two of the other moral orientations. I would encourage the Presbyweb audience to conduct a similar analysis and see if it provides assistance in their understanding of the debate going on in our denomination. (A suggestion: you might start with Rev. Porter’s recent viewpoint article. What moral orientation is he emphasizing?).

Interestingly, there is some evidence to support my thesis. A recent study (Maynard & Gorsuch, 2001) of 282 gay and lesbian Christians found that they "…gave relatively greater importance to the use of logic/science and personal experience when making decisions about their beliefs and behaviors than they assigned to the Bible or church tradition. Scriptural literalism also hovered around the median, suggesting that these Christians have not rejected the Bible overall, but appear to be using the Bible in concert with other sources when making decisions" (p. 67).

Thus it seems that when we debate sexuality issues evangelicals and liberals are probably using such different hermeneutics that it is next to impossible not to talk past each other. When either side argues implicitly from a moral value orientation that the other side does not hold as its highest moral authority, it can only have the feel of circular reasoning. Arguing from the authority of scripture in a way which includes the disapproving passages on homosexual behavior will not sound convincing to those whose primary moral value is defined in terms of loyal spiritual and relational attachments. Likewise, appeals to such fidelity as legitimizing homosexual relationships are likely to feel frustratingly evading to those who emphasize scriptural authority. Neither side can discuss the issue in a way that seems legitimate to the other. Surely only a work of the Spirit of God can enable us to move past this impasse. I confess at this point I do not have a clear sense of how God intends to accomplish this. Marana tha!

Sincerely,

Christopher H. Rosik, Ph.D.
Psychologist and Member
First Presbyterian Church
Fresno, California

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