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All Is Forgiven: Why Conservative Christians Get Away With Adultery

August 24, 2015

Josh Duggar

Things haven’t been going so well for Josh Duggar recently. TLC cancelled his family’s show 19 Kids and Counting after it came out to light that Josh had sexually molested five girls…including some of his own sisters.

But that was all in the past for Josh. After all, he made an apology. Yes, he screwed up, but his parents put him through counseling, and he was extremely sorry and regretful.

So, Josh probably wasn’t feeling all that great to find out that his email address was one of the exposed 37 million email addresses in the Ashley Madison leak. Not only that, but per some sites, apparently transactional data was also leaked suggesting that someone with his name had subscribed for two different Ashley Madison subscriptions from his grandmother’s address.

Now, to be fair, Ashley Madison apparently didn’t vet any email addresses used. So, anyone could put in any email address theoretically. But Josh has already gone public with an apology. A snippet therefrom:

I have been the biggest hypocrite ever. While espousing faith and family values, I have secretly over the last several years been viewing pornography on the internet and this became a secret addiction and I became unfaithful to my wife.

I am so ashamed of the double life that I have been living and am grieved for the hurt, pain and disgrace my sin has caused my wife and family, and most of all Jesus and all those who profess faith in Him.

I humbly ask for your forgiveness. Please pray for my precious wife Anna and our family during this time.

(Oh yeah, did I mention that all this was happening while he served as Executive Director of the Family Research Council, a conservative lobbying group championing traditional marriage?)

(Also, isn’t it interesting that while he shies away from particulars on the Ashley Madison thing, he does talk about everything starting with pornography on the internet…the gateway drug?)

This is just one man’s story, but he’s not the only guy. It looks like the Ashley Madison leaks will be a mine for weeks, if not months and years, and already, people are pointing out other conservative religious figures who were caught using the site. Christian vlogger Sam Rader has already apologized and received forgiveness from his wife (and God, he would say). Even conservative Islamic/Islamist preachers have joined in on the fun (and by fun, I mean that this is going to be a mess for families and relationships for a long time).

But even though these leaks raise questions about data privacy (although there have already been other high profile leaks that have raised similar questions), there is an underlying story that seems to not be that new at all…conservative religious people who are known for advocating or speaking out in favor of a “traditional marriage ideal” and against things like same-sex marriage keep finding themselves (literally) with their pants down.

I mean, I don’t want to give too much credence to the idea that homophobia is a sign of repressed homosexuality, but it’s just a little coincidental when there can be an entire site about gay homophobes caught in scandals despite their professed beliefs about homosexuality.

Yet, in a lot of these cases, I see so many of my liberal/progressive friends responding to these stories with a lens that fails to understand the conservative Christian ethos, and as such, cannot account for why these people can seem to get away with such pervasive hypocrisy.

From some Facebook comments:

Clearly the “Family Research Council” is not appropriately named. In fact, conservatives [who happen to be unfaithful] would be better off to avoid using the word “family” in their organizations lest they continue to associate “family” with abuse and infidelity. Whatever happened to upholding family values?

and

And another one [Sam Rader]… another guy who says gay marriage is wrong. Let’s at least all agree that you don’t get to call another marriage “wrong” if you’re also unfaithful in your own marriage at the same time, okay?

These comments, and a few others about hypocrisy, seem to make sense from certain liberal/progressive mindsets, but I feel that they are utterly at odds with the conservative Christian worldviews from which Josh Duggar or Sam Rader or whoever else come.

So, in this post, I want to share a few thoughts on why these folks seem to keep getting forgiven while conservative Christians still speak out against same-sex marriage:

From a certain conservative/fundamentalist Christian perspective, making mistakes — even big ones — doesn’t matter. As long as one is sufficiently repentant, then anything can be forgiven. After all, from that Christian perspective, everyone is expected to be a sinner, to make mistakes. Everyone is expected therefore to repent of these mistakes.

So, Josh being a hypocrite doesn’t matter because every Christian is expected to lapse. What matters is that, when caught, he at least gives a perfunctory apology. (I think people can think his apologies suck for a variety of reasons, but I can see how, from a certain Christian perspective, they are sufficiently repentant.)

These certain conservative/fundamentalist Christians can forgive or defend Josh but not defend or forgive those in gay marriages because they see Josh as someone who is making a mistake, who knows and admits he is making a mistake, and who is vowing to get better (regardless of whether or not he is actually changing at all)…whereas with gay marriage, these are people who do not accept that they are sinning for being or for wanting to marry, do not vow to repent from that, etc.,

So, that’s that.

But I really want to address the second comment…because to me, it seems like people are really going at things from drastically different perspectives if they think that if someone is unfaithful in their own marriage, then they cannot call another marriage wrong.

What this latter comment implies is that if someone fails to live up to their moral standards, then that means they don’t really believe in those moral standards, or those moral standards don’t apply to them or others.

But that wouldn’t be how the certain conservative Christian perspective would see it. At best, the perspective I’m thinking of would say that both the unfaithful vlogger and the gay person in a same-sex marriage are sinning.

This again, isn’t necessarily a surprise, because from that perspective, everyone is sinful, so everyone is expected to mess up in one way or another. From the conservative Christian point of view, the fact that everyone fails to meet the exacting objective moral law in some way or another doesn’t mean that everything is permissible, or even that imperfect people cannot preach said exacting objective moral law.

And that’s the other point — these aren’t views that the conservative Christian believes they have personally come up with. These are laws that are believed to be objective moral laws from God. They are just the messengers.

So, the difference then becomes that Josh (and most of the other unfaithful conservative Christians) generally do not try to defend their own actions and say that they are not sin. No, they usually will admit (at least perfunctorily) that those are struggles or lapses or whatever. (And, for whatever it’s worth, I think that in the case of Christians who identify as “SSA” [or even those who don’t], they ALSO get a lot of the same leeway and forgiveness from the Christian community whenever they “lapse” as long as they recognize that what they were doing was a mistake.)

This highlights the values mismatch.

When we say that unfaithful people shouldn’t call gay marriages wrong, we aren’t meaning to say, “Well, if that conservative Christian made a mistake and can be forgiven for it, then so should gay people”…because we are asserting instead that gay people pursuing same-sex marriages are not making a mistake. But this claim is one we make irrespective of how well gay marriage opponents live or fail to live up to their moral standards. And, more importantly, this claim is fundamentally incompatible with the conservative Christian worldview not because of the specifics of sexual sin, but because we dare to challenge the idea that certain expressions of sexuality are sinful in the first place.

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27 Comments
  1. Agellius permalink

    That’s exactly right. As Wiki puts it, “Hypocrisy is the claim or pretense of holding beliefs, feelings, standards, qualities, opinions, behaviors, virtues, motivations, or other characteristics that one does not actually hold. Hypocrisy is not simply failing to practice those virtues that one preaches.”

    Expressing regret for violations of one’s own moral standards shows that the person holds himself to those standards, since he acknowledges that he was wrong for violating them. Hypocrisy would be preaching a standard to others but not holding oneself to that standard.

  2. Whew. Glad that I am “getting it” then.

  3. CAB permalink

    Like most hypocrites and liars, they are not sorry for their bad choices and lies, but are very sorry to have been caught. And they rarely take actual responsibility for their behavior–it’s almost always due to something else other than their own choices (porn in the case of Duggar). That gives them another degree of forgiveness.
    I’d put money on it that these guys will resume their “sinful ways” as soon as they think they can get away with it. I observed this phenomenon for years because I was married to a man like that. Some version of “the devil made me do it” excuse always got him off the hook in his own mind.

    I disagree with your conclusion that this can be chalked up to the conservative Christian belief in repentance. As long as these guys publicly espouse the right stuff, they will be “forgiven.” Notice that a liberal apologizing and seeking forgiveness is never given the same latitude that those on the far right are given.

    Hypocrisy at its finest.

    • Agellius permalink

      “Notice that a liberal apologizing and seeking forgiveness is never given the same latitude that those on the far right are given.”

      Given by whom? Evidently not by such as yourself.

      • CAB permalink

        “Given by whom?” The people under discussion–conservative Christians. I would have thought that was self-evident. Apparently it was not to such as yourself.

  4. I completely agree with your analysis of the mindset of the conservative Christians. I’m not totally in agreement about your interpretation of the liberal comment though:

    What this latter comment implies is that if someone fails to live up to their moral standards, then that means they don’t really believe in those moral standards, or those moral standards don’t apply to them or others.

    I agree with the comment (“Let’s at least all agree that you don’t get to call another marriage “wrong” if you’re also unfaithful in your own marriage at the same time, okay?”), and it’s not about those guys not believing in their “moral standards.”

    It’s that those guys — who have failed at marriage themselves — have no business lecturing other people about marriage, unless it’s of the variety “here’s how to avoid making the mistakes I made.” In the same way the guy who flunked chemistry doesn’t get to be the chemistry professor, these guys are not qualified to be pronouncing on other people’s marriages.

    • Agellius permalink

      Chanson:

      The fact that people have bad marriages, has nothing to do with whether committing adultery or fornication are right or wrong.

  5. The fact that people have bad marriages, has nothing to do with whether committing adultery or fornication are right or wrong.

    This is kind of my point. By believing that (any) sex outside of (hetro) marriage is the problem, it makes it very difficult to make a real distinction between behaviors that hurt people (molesting younger sisters, lying to your spouse), and consensual sex — as Josh Duggar’s example demonstrates. They believe their theory and continue to preach it even as the evidence piles up that it doesn’t work.

    • Agellius permalink

      What do you mean “doesn’t work”? Work for what? It’s not intended to serve a purpose. It’s not a tool to control behavior. It’s a command issued by God (in Christian belief). That people fail in obeying it proves precisely that people sin, which is our whole point. That people admit their sin and are sorry for it, shows that they aren’t lying when they claim to believe it.

      And by the way, molesting younger sisters and lying to spouses are also violations of God’s commandments. Do you advocate dropping those prohibitions also, on the ground that people don’t always succeed in obeying them?

      • You are failing to understand the basis of Chanson’s morality. It isn’t based on either obedience or rebellion to whatever deity, it’s based on considerations of harm and consent, informed by reason and empathy.

        At least, I assume that is, because it’s how most people’s morality works when they haven’t been persuaded to ignore their conscience.

        So, she and other people of goodwill aren’t advocating that “God’s commandments should be ignored,” they are pointing out that some of the things individual people are teaching (and claiming to be divinely inspired) are immoral, on the basis that they hurt people and override others’ consent.

        Betrayal of trust and sexual violence both harm other people, and I don’t think anyone with functioning mirror neurons (the biological basis of empathy) would be okay with them. Usually when you do see people advocating for things like polyamory, for instance, they are doing so based on the grounds of informed consent, meaning if everyone is okay with it then there is no betrayal of trust. Conversely, pretty much everyone is against sex acts performed on a minor, on the basis that they are not capable of informed consent and that the power relationships involved make it inherently abusive.

        Please try to understand where other people are coming from before you criticize them. Also please try to understand that the reason “traditional morality” is drawing a lot of criticism is because people do understand where it’s coming from, and they consider it harmful and terrible, based on how it seems to make people either hypocritical or self-loathing.

        • Agellius permalink

          You’re right, I didn’t understand Chanson’s point, and I understand your argument on behalf of Chanson even less.

          Chanson asserted that Christian sexual morality “doesn’t work”. I asked him what he meant by that and he didn’t respond. I can only assume that “doesn’t work” means that people fail to obey it. But people failing to live up to a requirement is hardly a reason to drop it. If it were, then it would also be a reason to drop the requirement against molesting younger sisters and lying to spouses.

          You reply by explaining Chanson’s moral system, which I think I already understood. It’s basically, be nice to people and don’t hurt them, right? Those happen to be requirements that I was already familiar with. In fact, they are a subset of Christian morality. In fact, they are basically subsumed under the Golden Rule: Treat others as you would be treated.

          “[T]hey are pointing out that some of the things individual people are teaching (and claiming to be divinely inspired) are immoral, on the basis that they hurt people and override others’ consent.”

          This statement can’t be argued with so long as the “individual people” in question remain unidentified. God only knows what “individual people” may be teaching. And of course I would agree entirely, that if “individual people” are teaching immoral things, then they’re wrong to do so. No argument here. But I didn’t understand this discussion to be about the moral teachings of “individual people”, but rather, the moral teachings of the Christian religion, which Josh Duggar claims to adhere to.

          “[P]lease try to understand that the reason ‘traditional morality’ is drawing a lot of criticism is because people do understand where it’s coming from, and they consider it harmful and terrible, based on how it seems to make people either hypocritical or self-loathing.”

          On the contrary, I think Christian morality draws a lot of criticism from people who have little understanding of it, or only a surface understanding, or often outright misunderstanding. I think the most common criticism of Christian morality is that it restricts things that other forms of morality freely allow. Further, that its strictures are based on the belief that God has commanded them. Therefore the criticism boils down to, “I don’t believe in your God therefore I reject your morality, and you’re mean to say that I’m immoral for violating your morality.” Meanwhile, of course, they have no compunction about calling Christians immoral according to their own, non-Christian standards of morality.

          I deny that Christian morality makes people hypocritical, on the ground that no moral standard can make people anything. Granted that it provides a standard by which to judge people hypocritical. Also it provides a standard by which to judge that being hypocritical is a bad thing.

          • I still think there are a few things going on.

            1) A profound disagreement with the basis for Christian morality vs other forms of morality. (I am not commenting on whether people correctly understand the basis for Christian morality or not, just that there is a mismatch.)

            2) A disagreement regarding “standing” to make moral criticisms.

            With respect to 1, Agellius, you say:

            …You reply by explaining Chanson’s moral system, which I think I already understood. It’s basically, be nice to people and don’t hurt them, right? Those happen to be requirements that I was already familiar with. In fact, they are a subset of Christian morality. In fact, they are basically subsumed under the Golden Rule: Treat others as you would be treated.

            On the contrary, I think Christian morality draws a lot of criticism from people who have little understanding of it, or only a surface understanding, or often outright misunderstanding. I think the most common criticism of Christian morality is that it restricts things that other forms of morality freely allow. Further, that its strictures are based on the belief that God has commanded them. Therefore the criticism boils down to, “I don’t believe in your God therefore I reject your morality, and you’re mean to say that I’m immoral for violating your morality.” Meanwhile, of course, they have no compunction about calling Christians immoral according to their own, non-Christian standards of morality.

            I don’t think that the subset argument makes sense, unless one modifies it to say something like, “…but Christianity also disagrees on what being “nice” and what “hurting others” looks like.”

            Because the non-Christian criticism of Christian morality (really going to just avoid the discussion of whether Christian morality is properly understood or whatever) is not simply, “I don’t believe in your God therefore I reject your morality.” I mean, first of all…there are reasons for not believing in the Christian God. But beyond that…if I had to put it in terms of harms and “niceness” (which I don’t think really captures the gravity of things, but I think it can still work for comparison’s sake), it’s “Your morality describes certain “harms” as moral and, on the other hand, describes certain “niceness” as immoral.” So it doesn’t even “work” with the idea of “be nice to people and don’t hurt them”.

            If both Christians and non-Christians believe (in some sense) that harms and niceness are a part of morality, then making this criticism is not comparing apples and oranges. Rather, it’s pointing out that even if Christians want to say their morality is (in part) about harms and niceness (e.g., the golden rule), it fails in certain key aspects.

            …however, I think the real issue is that Christian morality isn’t really about harms and niceness, or rather, there are different definitions of what is harmful or what is nice. I mean, I’ve been in discussions with a lot of people who have outright said, “Yeah, following God may be miserable, but you’re supposed to choose God over your well-being.” Maybe there is some misunderstanding of Christian morality on their end, but that’s what they believe their own moral system to entail.

            So, yeah, to that extent, I think part of the criticism is pointing out the apples-and-oranges aspect of the situation. That’s what chanson (whose pronouns are she/her, btw) and Jewelfox have comments for…pointing out that, regardless of what the Christian moral system is, there is a very different basis of morality that would see distinctions where the Christian moral system sees comparable sexual sin.

            But this is a separate conversation than item (2)…which gets more at: whatever moral system we have, does a person have to have a certain moral standing to preach it to others?

  6. I really like this part from one of chanson’s:

    It’s that those guys — who have failed at marriage themselves — have no business lecturing other people about marriage, unless it’s of the variety “here’s how to avoid making the mistakes I made.” In the same way the guy who flunked chemistry doesn’t get to be the chemistry professor, these guys are not qualified to be pronouncing on other people’s marriages.

    Because at first, the chemistry analogy strikes me as a really good one.

    However, it also seems to be a really good example of how different sides are approaching from very different frameworks.

    From the Christian POV, everyone flunks at chemistry…so being called to be chemistry professor isn’t about one’s knowledge of chemistry (even comparative to the other students)…and so, one’s profession as chemistry professor isn’t about one’s own individual qualifications. Chemistry is established by standards higher than the professor or the students, and the professor is just the guy who grades students by those standards (regardless of his own misunderstandings about those standards). That the professor may mess up some of the steps does not invalidate the standards.

    I am really amenable to the framing of sexual ethics around harm, I also see that as being an example of different sides approaching from different frameworks. For (many/most?) non-conservative Christians, we can see differences between the harm of lying to a spouse and a committed, consensual relationship that matter in the moral analysis. But for the conservative Christian, these factors may not be as relevant.

    Again, hypocrisy isn’t as much of an issue as the varying moral systems. Like, conservative Christians lapsing on their moral systems isn’t what disproves those systems — especially since the system predicts that people will lapse.

    • I actually think you are missing the point, Andrew. The issue isn’t one of forgiveness.

      Conservative Christianity is intensely authoritarian and patriarchal. The men involved — I repeat, men — are authorities in conservative Christian churches. It is okay for them to get laid outside of their marriages, hire gay escorts, practice serial monogamy, and have rumours of child sexual abuse surrounding their “ministries,” so long as said ministries continue to exist and make money and be powerful.

      Conversely, if a child or a woman — especially a female child — does anything outside of their sexual morality, or even gets raped, they bring the maximum weight of their penalties down on her.

      This is the principle at work here. Big and important men can do whatever they want, while women and queers get stepped on. Especially women queers who are outside their church and its authority structure.

      Stuff Fundies Like, and other conservative Christian survivor blogs, goes into this kind of thing in graphic detail. See also No Longer Quivering and Homeschoolers Anonymous.

      • i think this is definitely a good point….nothing to disagree with there

    • Exactly, my point was about valuing harm reduction. Treating all sexual expression outside of heterosexual marriage as horrifyingly bad doesn’t work in that it fails at harm reduction. I agree that the sides of this discussion have difficulty communicating because they value different things.

      I think this observation is very insightful:

      From the Christian POV, everyone flunks at chemistry…so being called to be chemistry professor isn’t about one’s knowledge of chemistry (even comparative to the other students)…and so, one’s profession as chemistry professor isn’t about one’s own individual qualifications. Chemistry is established by standards higher than the professor or the students, and the professor is just the guy who grades students by those standards (regardless of his own misunderstandings about those standards). That the professor may mess up some of the steps does not invalidate the standards.

      In a literal sense, it may point to the reason why so many people think homeschooling is a good idea. In a metaphorical sense (i.e. “flunking chemistry” = sin), it points to another problem in the conservative sexual morality framework, namely that if you expect that most everyone is going to fail, then maybe your system could be improved.

      • But chanson,

        how can you improve upon objective exacting chemistry standards? These are not standards we just decided to come up with. They are standards that are built into the universe that have been revealed to us. Regardless of if chemistry is really really really hard, we can’t dumb it down, because the facts about chemistry don’t change.

        • Understanding of chemistry increases. Moral condemnation of homosexuality is like phlogiston theory, a misunderstanding.

  7. Agellius permalink

    Andrew:

    Yes, I was over simplifying. Yes, “harm” and “niceness” would not always be understood in the same way. But you can’t do a full-blown analysis every time you mention a difference of opinion, therefore I was stating the differences in a nutshell. That’s also part of the essential difference between us: That Christian morality is based on objective standards found in the Christian faith, whereas secular or rationalistic morality is figured out “on the fly”, so to speak, and is more subjective. Since our premises differ, naturally our conclusions differ as well.

    You write, “If both Christians and non-Christians believe (in some sense) that harms and niceness are a part of morality, then making this criticism is not comparing apples and oranges. Rather, it’s pointing out that even if Christians want to say their morality is (in part) about harms and niceness (e.g., the golden rule), it fails in certain key aspects.”

    I assume you mean that it fails in certain aspects according to the standards of harm and niceness found in secular morality, based on secular premises.

    You write, “But this is a separate conversation than item (2)…which gets more at: whatever moral system we have, does a person have to have a certain moral standing to preach it to others?”

    I agree, it’s a separate conversation from the main point of your post.

  8. Agellius,

    You write, “If both Christians and non-Christians believe (in some sense) that harms and niceness are a part of morality, then making this criticism is not comparing apples and oranges. Rather, it’s pointing out that even if Christians want to say their morality is (in part) about harms and niceness (e.g., the golden rule), it fails in certain key aspects.”

    I assume you mean that it fails in certain aspects according to the standards of harm and niceness found in secular morality, based on secular premises.

    No. If you are saying, “Oh yeah, Christians also have a harm and niceness subset to our morality…that’s called the Golden Rule,” then that is an attempt to harmonize the “harm and niceness” calculation as not being just “secular” but as something that is shared between the two systems. In this case, for secular people to say that Christians fail at harm and niceness is not an external critique — since you yourself say that Christians have a harm-and-niceness component (the golden rule).

    I agree that the subset of Christian morality that is not just about the golden rule will certainly fail to live up to the secular model of harm and niceness, but you’re saying that harm and niceness isn’t totally foreign to Christian morality, as it is a *subset* of Christian morality (e.g., Golden Rule.)

    I mean, I don’t want to underestimate how much the *difference* in perspective matters though. To the extent that Christian morality diverges from a harm-and-niceness basis, then that’s going to be something that will be critiqued externally from a harm-and-niceness perspective, and never the twain shall meet.

    • Agellius permalink

      I’m not sure where we’re missing each other. The harm and niceness component is shared between the two systems, yes. But it’s nevertheless possible that we have different criteria of niceness; or, more specifically, that we judge different things as nice and not-nice, harmful and harmless. The niceness per se is a shared concept, but the specific things to which we apply the concept may differ based on the different premises we bring to the analysis.

  9. Agellius permalink

    In other words, we would both agree that it’s not nice to do something evil to someone, but we might differ as to whether a specific act is evil in the first place.

  10. I agree with the fact that two systems could have different judgments of what is nice vs not-nice, harmful vs not harmful. That’s why I said:

    I don’t think that the subset argument makes sense, unless one modifies it to say something like, “…but Christianity also disagrees on what being “nice” and what “hurting others” looks like.”

    …however, I think the real issue is that Christian morality isn’t really about harms and niceness, or rather, there are different definitions of what is harmful or what is nice.

    emphasis added.

    I think the disconnect was that it’s difficult to discern where we are just looking at a disagreement in what is nice or not nice, what is harmful or not harmful…or looking at the part of Christian morality that is not about niceness/harm. In other words, in that quote above…it’s possible that any given issue with Christian morality *could be* because there are different definitions of what is harmful…or it *could be* because there are aspects of Christian morality that don’t care about harms.

    In other words, when you say:

    You write, “If both Christians and non-Christians believe (in some sense) that harms and niceness are a part of morality, then making this criticism is not comparing apples and oranges. Rather, it’s pointing out that even if Christians want to say their morality is (in part) about harms and niceness (e.g., the golden rule), it fails in certain key aspects.”

    I assume you mean that it fails in certain aspects according to the standards of harm and niceness found in secular morality, based on secular premises.

    Then I don’t know if you’re just saying, “Christian morality fails from a secular moral perspective because Christians view different things as harmful/not nice” or if you’re saying “Christian morality fails from a secular moral perspective because Christian morality has a component that is not about harm/niceness.”

    at the end of the day though, i think that there is probably some difficulty because some people would say that some harms are really basic, if not apparent/obvious, and other harms are more complex, subtle, and contextual. We should expect more disagreement on the latter than the former, so when people talk about Christian morality failing on harm/niceness, I think they are talking more about the the former.

    …I understand this could really rapidly get into some really heavy philosophical conversations though.

    • Agellius permalink

      Andrew:

      You write, “…I understand this could really rapidly get into some really heavy philosophical conversations though.”

      Seems to be headed that way. : )

      I have a couple of thoughts. First, for a Christian every sin is harmful to someone, whether the person committing it or the one against whom he commits it. So there is always harm involved. In fact we believe that even when a sin appears to harm only the person committing it, it nevertheless harms the whole “body”, that is, the Body of Christ, of which every Christian is a member. Every sin weakens the Body, and when the Body is weakened it harms not only all the members of the Body, but also everyone outside the Body who might otherwise have been helped by the Body in some way. One illustration of this is how Josh Duggar’s behavior has harmed the girls he molested, and also himself, also his future (now current) family, and due to the scandal it has created, it may have harmed non-Christian souls by helping to drive them away from the Christian faith through scandal.

      What, then, is the difference between how Christians view and define “harm” and how seculars view it? I think the main difference is that a secular person thinks of “harm” as some injury or pain caused to the body, or some hurt to the emotions. As long as an action doesn’t hurt anyone’s body or cause subjective emotional pain or offense, then it’s not sinful. Whereas a Christian believes that actions can be harmful not only to the body or to the emotions, but also to the spirit. Therefore a sin which causes no harm which is apparent to another person; that is, a harm which is not detectible visibly or emotionally; can nevertheless be a terrible sin, highly offensive to God and harmful to the one committing it as well as to others. Obviously for those who lack Christian faith, the existence of this kind of harm is harder to accept and believe in.

      Further (and I think this speaks to something you brought up earlier), not every action which does cause bodily or emotional harm is a sin. However I think this is something that even most non-Christians agree with: Sometimes the most loving thing to do, is something which causes pain. The right thing is not always easy nor free of suffering. Earlier you mentioned people who have said, “Yeah, following God may be miserable, but you’re supposed to choose God over your well-being.” This is what I think they may have meant: That you’re supposed to do the right thing even when it hurts.

      You mention “aspects of Christian morality that don’t care about harms”. But with “harm” defined to include spiritual harm, I don’t think there is any aspect of Christian morality that doesn’t care about harm. There may be aspects of it which place other considerations above physical or emotional pain or suffering. This is clearly illustrated by sacrifice of the Cross, wherein Jesus considered it better to die than to save himself by disobeying God’s will. And this is supposed to be a pattern for the life of every Christian, that is, to endure suffering rather than commit sin.

  11. I got bored with Agellius’s aggressive ignorance, but Chanson makes the point I would have made: I point to Scottish cardinal Keith O’Brien, who found his serial abuse of priests in his charge more Repentable than having a committed faithful gay relationship would have been. I love “if you flunk Chemistry you don’t get to be chemistry professor”.

  12. Agellius permalink

    ‘I point to Scottish cardinal Keith O’Brien, who found his serial abuse of priests in his charge more Repentable than having a committed faithful gay relationship would have been.’

    A committed faithful gay relationship is perfectly repentable, so long as one repents of it.

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