Chuck Colson may be a former Marine, a top Nixon aide, a prison ministry founder, a published author, a popular radio host, and have 15 honorary doctorates, but that still doesn't mean that his arguments are convincing. Take this gem, in which Chuck tries to argue for why Biblical sexual ideas were powerful enough to change the world, but apparently not resilient enough to withstand gays and lesbians agreeing with them:
So often we hear that allowing two men or two women to marry will not hurt anyone, and certainly not "straight" people. Well, the truth is, we already know what happens when a society promotes sexual license and devalues marriage. We just have to look at history.Way to bypass the argument by ignoring it. "Lots of people make this point that I don't feel like responding to. Next!"
Way back before anyone was talking about so-called "gay marriage," radio talk show host and Jewish theologian Dennis Prager wrote a fascinating article called -- get ready for this -- "Judaism's Sexual Revolution: Why Judaism Rejected Homosexuality."Wait, so now Prager claims to be a theologian? This was a new one for me, perhaps because when I hear the term "Jewish theologian," I tend to assume that it describes someone actually qualified to hold the title. While Prager did attend Jewish day school, he attended a secular college and his degrees are in History and Middle Eastern studies. I find it interesting that in his first book in 1986, he merely described himself as a talk show host and author. Apparently by the time his second book came out in 1996, Dennis had gone to underground theology school, because on the dust jacket it proclaims, "Dennis Prager, theologian and philosopher turned talk-show host" Interesting, so now the theology/philosophy cred predated his radio career? It's true that Dennis was a professional lecturer (big irony there) before he got into radio, but I'm still not sure that makes him a theologian. Prager calling himself a theologian is about as accurate as him claiming to be a "passionate moderate"-- which he repeatedly does in that same book, so at least he's consistent.
Long story short: when Chuck talks about Dennis the "Jewish theologian," what he really means is, "right-wing Jewish guy who agrees with me."
Before the Jews were placed in the Ancient Near East, the pagan world was already a sexual free-for-all that debased women, boys, and religion itself in the service of male lust. Every aspect of life was sexualized. The pagan gods engaged in no-holds-barred sex, and so did the people. Homosexuality had almost unquestioned acceptance in the ancient world.Back up, bucko. First of all, I'd love to see some sources, including some quotes from Lord Rabbi Prager's hallowed essay (link here for the curious or masochistic) documenting any of this. I'm already suspicious given that my understanding is that a lot of our knowledge about Ancient Near East pagan society (particularly people's sex lives) is sketchy due to limited information. Exactly how many 3,000 year old Letters to Babylonian Penthouse have you uncovered? Also, "every aspect of life," really? What about daily chores or occupations? I'm having trouble envisioning how you sexualize making a sandal or domesticating a goat. Last, of course, there is the huge problem of conflating a patriarchal, misogynistic "sexual free for all" with modern homosexuality, which is now overwhelmingly conceptualized through the framework of monogamy and consent-- a far cry from, say, pederasty.
Colson eventually does starting quoting Prager quoting academics- but that still doesn't help his argument.
But the key issue wasn't gender, it was power. Prager quotes Brown University philosopher Martha Nussbaum, who wrote, "The central distinction in [ancient] sexual morality was … between active and passive roles." Because boys and women were on the receiving end of sexual activity, they were "very often treated interchangeably as [simple] objects of [male] desire."
Not surprisingly, then, women were relegated to the sidelines, important for giving birth and running the home, but not important as real and equal partners to men, who had other sexual options -- with boys and other men.Hmm, sounds like the problem with pre-Biblical paganism is that it was extremely self-centered. People in power could bed whoever they wanted, and no one else mattered. No respect, no love, and no stability. Yeah, that's just like the various gay people I know in committed relationships (some for decades) who have loving homes, and some of whom are raising children. In the same way that being a straight man in a relationship is equivalent to being Hugh Heffner. Exceptions aside, the fact that a sexual act or identity can be taken to an extreme conclusion doesn't inherently invalidate the act/identity itself.
That's why Judaism's claim that God created sex only for a man and a woman in marriage was so revolutionary -- and despised by pagans ancient and modern pagans I might add as well.Inasmuch as we're going to give Judaism exclusive credit here, the real revolutionary values have less to do with outlawing who you can't have sex with, and much more to do with establishing the parameters for a model relationship-- which may have been straight historically, but was really important because it emphasized relationships (not even monogamy, look at the patriarchs), love and respect, values which are not-- and should not be-- exclusive to straight relationships. By focusing so much on gender, you're actually greatly reducing the scope of these tremendous ideas.
Prager writes, "This revolution forced the sexual genie into the marital bottle. It ensured that sex no longer dominated society, heightened male-female love and sexuality (and thereby almost alone created the possibility of love and eroticism within marriage), and began the arduous task of elevating the status of women." No wonder, Prager notes, that the "improvement of the condition of women has only occurred in Western civilization," which historically has been the "least tolerant of homosexuality."Classic Prager; a million sweeping statements with zero documentation. While Colson may be happy to accept those arguments on faith, color me unconvinced. Among other things, I like how this argument presumes that homosexuality is incompatible with women's rights. Does this mean lesbians are anti-feminists? Someone should let Pat Robertson know. Maybe Dennis should do it, since he's a fellow theologian.
Colson wouldn't be a good evangelical if he let the Jews have all the credit for... bottling the sex genie (??), so he reminds us that Christianity has been pretty good at caging the sexual urges, too.
Of course, I should note, that it was the Apostle Paul who further carried this Jewish sexual revolution throughout the ancient world. As Sarah Ruden wrote about in her recent book Paul Among the Peoples, predatory homosexuality was common in Rome and Greece; women and children were just property.
Through Paul, however, Christianity ensured that Western Civilization promoted sex within the confines of marriage between one man and one woman, and placed off limits the sexual abuse of boys and slaves.Again, huzzah for creating social and emotional standards for relationships. Those are all good things. Notice, however, that one does not have to be engaging in straight sex to be able to believe in or perpetuate those values.
The point is simply this: God instituted marriage for the good of man (restraining and channeling his sexuality), for the protection and dignity of woman, and the flourishing of human society.
Western civilization, the greatest ever, took this to heart, but forgets it now at its own peril.You know, given that conservative Christians often like to accuse Judaism of being over-legalistic, the amount of willful myopia here is kind of amazing. Colson is willing to give Judaism and Christianity tons of credit for reining in people's sexual urges and kickstarting a social evolution when it came to romantic and sexual relationships, but if gays and lesbians buy into those same values and try to apply them to their own lives and relationships, the values somehow break down. Colson seems to view love and dignity like a phone charger; they only work when you use them with the right plug.
Hey Chuck: if Biblical relationship values are so strong and powerful that they took over half the world and have become the cornerstone of Western civilization, they should be able to withstand gays using them. Just saying.