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The Collective
Friday, December 8, 2006
By Dr. Steven Taylor

As I suspect most of my reading audience knows, there is some news concerning the Veep’s daughter ( see, for example, the NYT, Cheney Pregnancy Stirs Debate on Gay Rights):

Mary Cheney, a daughter of Vice President Dick Cheney, is expecting a baby with her partner of 15 years, Heather Poe, Mr. Cheney’s office said Wednesday.

Vice President Dick Cheney, with his daughter Mary, center, and her partner, Heather Poe, photographed at the White House in 2004.

Lea Anne McBride, a spokeswoman for Mr. Cheney, said the vice president and his wife, Lynne Cheney, were “looking forward with eager anticipation” to the baby’s birth, which is expected this spring and will bring to six the number of grandchildren the Cheneys have.

Mr. Cheney’s office would not provide details about how Mary Cheney became pregnant or by whom, and Ms. Cheney did not respond to messages left at her office and with her book publisher, Simon & Schuster.

This situation raises issues for evangelical social conservatives who are anti-gay rights and yet are typically great admirers of Vice President Cheney. It leads to some intellectual problems, as Andrew Sullivan notes when pointing to NRO’s Kathryn Lopez’s response

Unless Mary Cheney asks to be part of a political debate about this, there is no need to have a public discussion about her life.

This strikes me as an odd position, given that the politics of homosexuality have been central to the public discourse for the last several years, primarily because of the same-sex marriage issue. The Bush administration opposes same-sex marriage, Cheney is a high-ranking member of that administration and his daughter is a lesbian in a long-term relationship who is now having a baby. How can this not be part of the public conversation?

Mary Cheney humanizes and specifies an abstract issue-thus making it an even more difficult one. Social conservatives who want to avoid this issue have to go one of two ways: recognize that the issue of homosexuality and homosexual relationships are more complex than they normally like to admit (and thus leading to a rethinking of their position), or they have to decry Mary Cheney (and some have) and also call Dick Cheney a hypocrite. I don’t see a lot of intellectual space for simply ignoring the situation while continuing to promote the same policy positions regarding homosexuality (yet, some are so doing).

Let’s consider at least some of the basis of the social conservative objection. For example, a Biblical basis for Christian objections to homosexuality is from 1 Corinthians 6:9-10;

9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals,

10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.

Now, the thing that has often struck me is that there are an awful lot of fornicators running around out there, yet the response from most social conservatives to fornication is nowhere near as intense to their reaction to homosexuality. Somehow it is possible to live alongside the fornicators, but often not homosexuals. (And, of course, the covetous are freakin’ everywhere.)

There is also the whole Beatitudes problem (such at the following from Matthew 5:21-22) which pretty much puts most of us on the hook:

21″You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’

22″But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.

23″Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you,

24leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.

25″Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way, so that your opponent may not hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison.

26″Truly I say to you, you will not come out of there until you have paid up the last cent.

27″You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY’;

28but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

There are complex theological issues here, but the bottom line is that it points to the flaws in human nature-and it seems to me that many evangelicals/social conservatives often focus far too much on a given flaw (i.e., homosexuality), while ignoring many an other. I have long thought that such a position causes some intellectual and theological problems that are typically ignored.

Even as it is, evangelicals have to admit, they don’t want to apply the Levitical law to homosexuals, which demonstrates that the complexity of the situation (Leviticus 20:13:

13′If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act; they shall surely be put to death. Their bloodguiltiness is upon them.

Again, there are reasons why this is considered to be an edict for the past, it creates some serious cognitive dissonance if one is hardcore theologically.

Further, there is something to be said that there are distinctions to be made between a religious issue and a civil one. If Christians can accept that fornication is more a religious than a civil issue (it would take an extremely hardcore social conservative to seriously call for making fornication or cohabitation illegal), then perhaps the wise move would be to stop trying to infuse conservative theology on homosexuality into public law.

Certainly the complexity of the issue (which many evangelicals try to make out as radically easy) is being reflected in the mental gymnastics required to deal with the general allegiance to Dick Cheney in very conservative circles while simultaneously saying that Mary Cheney’s life isn’t anyone’s business (such a K-Lo).

There is a lot in this issue for people of various ideological and theological points of view to pick at, or to get mad about. However, I will say this: I think that many evangelical social conservatives have overly simplistic views on the topic of homosexuality. Certainly there is less thought that goes into the issue than there should be (but then again, that is true of a lot things, and not just for evangelicals).

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Filed under: US Politics, Religion | |

9 Comments

  1. wow! I’m impressed. Well thought out, well argued, and no typos!

    Comment by Jan — Friday, December 8, 2006 @ 3:30 pm

  2. Steven,

    I think there is another angle that you are failing to account for in your critique. The fact that Mary Cheney is a homosexual is secondary to the issue of purposely denying a child a father.

    I’m surprised that you don’t consider the mountain of social science research detailing the problems of fatherless children. To dismiss that evidence for the sake of promoting acceptance of homosexuality is, in my opinion, a grave mistake.

    I think you are being too critical of social conservatives who are simply looking out for the best interest of the child. I realize that most of society has taken the libertarian “I should be able to do what I want” approach when it comes to bearing children out of wedlock. But some people still believe that responsibility should trump court-created “rights.” Just because some people are unwilling to define deviancy down isn’t a reason to condemn them.

    Comment by Joe Carter — Friday, December 8, 2006 @ 3:50 pm

  3. Theology and Mary Cheney

    Dr. Steven Taylor examines homosexuality and the theological ramifications of it. It’s certainly worth a read.

    Trackback by Appalachian Scribe — Friday, December 8, 2006 @ 3:53 pm

  4. Joe,

    I appreciate the comment and I understand where you are coming from. I won’t deny that I think that the traditional nuclear family is the ideal. However, life is often not lived in the ideal.

    I am not dismissing that issue by not dealing with it here. Heck, even a lengthy blog post is far from a comprehensive discussion of a given topic.

    There is clearly a reaction by many social conservatives to homosexuality itself that is at work here that goes beyond theological and sociological arguments. This reaction is my main inspiration.

    Comment by Dr. Steven Taylor — Friday, December 8, 2006 @ 4:04 pm

  5. Steven,

    I don’t think it’s fair to call Cheney a hypocrite. Though the GOP’s prevailing attitude on the issue is anti-homosexuality, I am not aware of any public stand he has taken on the issue. The only time I am aware he spoke of it was in the ‘04 veep debate when he said that his view on the marriage Amendment differed from the President. Of course, he didn’t go into details. Unless there is other evidence out there that I am not aware of, I think it goes to far to call him hypocritical. Unless all of the pro-life democrats are hypocrites, I think it would be OK for Cheney to have a differing view on homosexuality and still be in the GOP without being a hypocrite.

    That said, I agree, regardless of his willingness to discuss the issue, it is an issue because his party has made it so. But I think calling him a hypocrite may go too far.

    Comment by Brad — Friday, December 8, 2006 @ 5:09 pm

  6. Jewish commentaries-even fairly conservative ones-that I am aware of note that the Leviticus passage says absolutely nothing about a “woman lying with a woman,” which would be much more relevant to Ms. Cheney’s situation than any alleged prohibition on male homosexuality.

    Also worthy of note is that even the (large-C) Conservative movement of Judaism just this past week voted to recognize full participation rights to gays (of either sex) and to allow their rabbis to perform same-sex “commitment” ceremonies.

    Comment by zed — Friday, December 8, 2006 @ 5:47 pm

  7. Note that adulterers are also included in that selection, and Jesus himself stated that those who divorced and remarried were just that. He also stated that a man who divorces his wife (or vice versa) is forcing her to become an adulterer, meaning that he is partially responsible. Wonder how many of them have decried divorce… I won’t even get into the “thieves,” “covetous,” “revilers,” “swindlers,” or “drunkards” portion of that considering that we’re talking to some degree about politicians. I don’t believe I’d touch that one with a ten-foot pole.

    Joe, you touched on something that I wanted to touch on. Studies have shown that children of homosexual couples grow up to be far better adjusted than those raised by heterosexual single parents. The important factor is not the lack of a particular sex parent, since other role models of that sex can be found in another family member or friend. The important factor was that there were two parents. It makes sense, considering what is required of a parent and that an additional parent would result in a more efficient and successful parenting situation. I also disagree that a child raised by a heterosexual couple on welfare would grow up to be better adjusted than a child raised by Mary Cheney and her partner.

    Comment by Alabama Moderate — Saturday, December 9, 2006 @ 8:39 pm

  8. Thanks for pointing out the theological and intellectual inconsistencies of the social conservatives obsession with attacking homosexuality.

    Things become even more complex when you examine how anti-gay prejudice has influenced English translations of the bible over the centuries.

    For example, the passage you quote from Corinthians contains a striking translation issue from the Greek:

    * The NIV contains the phrase: “homosexual offenders.” Suppose for the moment that Paul had written “heterosexual offenders” or “heterosexual sexual offenders.” We would not interpret this today as a general condemnation of heterosexuality; only of those heterosexuals who commit sexual offences. Perhaps the appropriate interpretation of this verse is that it does not condemn homosexuals. Rather it condemns homosexuals who engage in sexual offences. (i.e. rape, prostitution, etc.)

    * The original Greek text describes the two behaviors as “malakoi” (malakoi; some sources quote “malakee,”) and “arsenokoitai (arsenokoitai).” Although these are often translated by modern Bibles as “homosexual,” we can be fairly certain that this is not the meaning that Paul wanted to convey. If he had, he would have used the Greek word “paiderasste.” That was the standard term at the time for male homosexuals. We can conclude that he probably meant something different from persons who engaged in male-male adult sexual behavior.

    Frankly, it is clear that the evangelicals’ continuing fixation on justifying their anti-gay crusade by citing scripture (despite the obvious conflict of that crusade with far more fundamental Christian teachings as you pointed out) has much less to do with spirituality or theology than it does some psychosocial pathology. Personally, I feel that a significant percentage of these people are struggling with their own bisexual or homosexual orientation (the two Colorado pastors come to mind) and are using anti-gay activism as a repression technique.

    Comment by Arturo — Saturday, December 16, 2006 @ 11:47 am

  9. […] and the theological ramifications of it. It’s certainly worth a read. Posted at 1:49 pm in Category: American Politics, Christianity | postCount(’Name’); | postCountTB(’Name’); Powered by WordPress | Design by John Norris Brown […]

    Pingback by Appalachian Scribe » Theology and Mary Cheney — Monday, January 8, 2007 @ 1:28 pm

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