An Ethical Dilemma for Progressives

Free Speech and the Definition of Marriage

Lowell Kane, the director of the Purdue Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Center was proud to bring Gene Robinson, the “openly gay retired bishop” to speak to Purdue this past weekend.  Supported by several organizations including Rev. Peter Bunder’s Church of the Good Shepherd, Kane said the purpose was to “engage the campus in conversation around all sorts of identity issues and develop the university as what we call the marketplace of ideas.”

I fully support free speech in our community.  Healthy discussion and deliberation is always a good thing, especially in a university town.  And I was not surprised to hear Robinson say that “undoubtedly, we’ll talk about gay marriage.”  Here in Indiana, like it or not, that topic is going to be frequently discussed in the coming months as our legislators and possibly even voters determine what we believe should constitute legal marriage in our state.

My question for folks like Kane, Robinson, and Bunder is; why are they being so narrow in their focus?  Isn’t limiting their efforts to those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer rather intolerant of others who wish to have their relationships celebrated and defined as marriage as well?

Polyamory and the Issue of Diversity

Consider last Saturday’s article by CNN’s Emanuella Grinberg, “Polyamory: When Three Isn’t a Crowd.”  She says, “Revelers in the rainbow-washed crowd smiled and cheered this month as the little blond girl in the parade float pageant waved to the B-52’s ‘Love Shack.’  Next to the float, the girl’s father, Billy Holder, handed out fliers to the Atlanta Pride Parade crowd.  His wife, Melissa, carried a banner along with Jeremy Mullins, the couple’s partner.”

Seriously–you can’t make this stuff up.  Lest anyone wonder what polyamory is, the “family’s” banner actually provided the definition; “Polyamory: having simultaneous close emotional relationships with two or more other individuals.”  Grinberg makes an important observation about the group when she says; “It’s not just a fling or a phrase for them.  It’s an identity.”

Robinson made the same point when he said “I really felt like God was calling me to be true to myself — to come out and be an example.”  There’s an ethical standard for the ages — just be true to yourself. 

But that is precisely where we are as a culture.  One person in Grinberg’s article said, “We want to promote the idea that any relationship is valid as long as it is made by consenting adults.  In this regard, as in most things, promoting public acceptance is the first step.”  Exactly, because after all, don’t we have to celebrate all forms of diversity?

So here’s my question for Lowell, Gene, and Peter; Is polyamory right or wrong?  If a group of five polyamorists wanted to have a family because that is their perceived identity, should that desire be celebrated?  And if they wanted to be married, should Indiana law allow them to be?  Progressives used to say I was baiting them when I posed that question, chiding me that such a possibility would never occur.  Welcome to the chicken has come home to roost.

Setting a Standard

The ultimate question here is one of epistemology.  How does a person or a culture or anything in-between determine what is right and wrong?  Clearly pastors like Robinson and Bunder have abandoned Scripture as their source of moral authority.  Robinson, described as “the world’s leading religious spokesperson for gay rights”  says that “religion should not be forcing its values on the secular culture.” Bunder in his capacity as a West Lafayette city councilman has openly condemned me and our church’s biblical view of human sexuality in city council meetings.

In his talk Sunday evening at Purdue, Robinson explained that “the so-called simple reading of Scripture is an illusion” and that “I believe the Bible is the word of God, but I don’t believe the Bible is the words of God.”  That’s liberal-speak for, it’s OK to make it up as we go along so that every man can do what is right in his own eyes.

Pastors and churches have the freedom in our country to ignore or change whatever Scripture they no longer wish to believe and practice.  As a Baptist, I believe strongly in the principles of religious liberty and the separation of church and state.  But then people like Lowell, Gene, and Peter need to explain to the community how individuals or a state are ever supposed to determine moral standards.  Is every idea any human being could possibly conjure up one that must be celebrated and applauded?  Do they support polyamory?  Why or why not?  By what objective standard?

If the best these community leaders have to offer is, “just be true to yourself,” they need to face an important sociological trend.  That is exactly what the polyamorists say– as they ride on the parade float with the little blonde girl.  God help us.

Steve ViarsSteve Viars
Dr. Viars has served as a pastor and counselor at Faith since 1987. He is an author, national speaker, and Vice President of the Board of Directors for the Biblical Counseling Coalition.
  • David Benham

    I’ve heard worse slippery slope arguments, at least you didn’t compare gays to murderers or pedophiles, so I’ll give you credit there. As to the question of where to draw the line? That answer is easy. In a democracy, the people decide.

    • Steve Viars

      Hi David. We’re not talking about a possible slippery slope — polyamory is a real group of people demanding legitimacy in our culture. So what’s your answer — right or wrong? And more importantly, how does a democracy decide?

      • David Benham

        Hey Steve.

        I don’t think the falacy of a slipperly slope argument depends on the legitamcy or even the existence of a down slope case. The falacy of the argument lies in its attempt to deflect debate about the specific issue at hand by shifting to another topic and implying an unavoidable progression based on what you think is a faulty initial stand on the original argument.

        I reject the premise behind your question about polyamoury on the basis that it is irrelevant to the issue at hand. The question that requires answering *now* is weather to allow gay marriage. And to that I would give an unqualified yes. As to a polyamourous relationship? I have not thought about that enough to give my thoughts at this point. But I do not think a lack of decision on one issue should preclude taking action on another.

        As to your question of how does a democracy decide right and wrong on this? How does a democracy decide anything? It collectively decides as a group what to do via any number of processes. Voting, peaceful demonstration, selction of representaives, strikes, sit-ins, etc. It’s a process that seems to have worked so far.

      • Steve Viars

        Hi David. I honestly was not trying to deflect debate about anything. You may notice that I did not take a position on the gay marriage issue in my column because that was not my point nor purpose. My goal was to use a contemporary CNN report as an opportunity to encourage my friends in the public square to think about the way they/we make decisions, private and public. In my opinion, one of the tests of a world and life view is its ability to falsify. So my question was and is — how should a person, or a culture, or anything in between determine right from wrong? Ultimately of course my goal is to help my friends think about how they determine truth about eternal matters.