Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Honourable Paedophile?

In response to my recent post about Calvinist soteriology, Craig asked an excellent question, the answer to which I believe deserves its own blog entry. Responding to my criticism that Calvinists seem to believe that coming to the wrong conclusion on homosexuality is a "hanging offence", Craig asks:

Let's take another example. Say someone searched their conscience and the Scriptures, and told you that molesting young children was ok, and so they were going to continue doing that, as well as proclaiming they were a practicing Christian.

Would this cause you a problem? Would you have some doubt about their salvation?

The first thing is should point out is that at least on one level, the evangelical schema does not make any distinction between different types of sin. According to the evangelical schema, the 7 year-old who disobeys his parents is no less under the judgment of God than the fully grown adult who molests him, for both have sinned and as evangelicals are quick to assert, "the wages of sin is death". It is simply that something like child molestation is something that causes a profoundly greater sense of moral outrage in most people.

With the abovementioned consideration taken into mind, I feel that I am more effectively able to answer the questions that Craig asks me. So to take each question separately:

Would this cause you a problem?

The first thing to point out is that child molestation troubles me greatly. Obviously, it is a criminal offence - and so it should be, regardless of whether or not the perpetrator is aware of the gravity of his or her offence. This is because one of the objects of the criminal law is protect potential victims, as well as to punish offenders. This said, if an individual was truly unaware of the gravity of his or her actions in this respect, this consideration might be considered a mitigating factor at sentence, although its also possible that the lack of remorse could be considered to be an aggravating factor.

To get back to the theological side of the equation, I don't see how the existence of a child molester who was unaware of the sinfulness of his or her behaviour should alter my original concern that if ignorance of one sin should be a hanging offence, that ignorance of any sin, no matter how seemingly malign, would also be a hanging offence. That is, if we insist that the child molester who is unaware that he is sinning but calls himself a Christian in good faith is in actual fact unrepentant, we would have to conclude that the person who disregarded the scriptural exhortation to head coverings would be unrepentant if it turned out that the had got the wrong end of the stick on this issue. Both are sinning despite their ignorance, and thus both are under the judgment of God in the evangelical schema.

Would you have some doubt about their salvation?

The issue, as I see it, is not whether I have doubt about their salvation, but whether I can emphatically state that a person cannot simultaneously be a child molester and a Christian, just as most Calvinists seem to emphatically state that a person cannot be homosexual and Christian at the same time. At this point, I'd like to remark that I find any moral equation of consentual adult homosexuality to child molestation deeply distasteful and I shall have to assume that Craig was not meaning to relate the two concepts in this manner. But to digress from this observation, who am I to make the emphatic declaration that anyone who claims to be a Christian, even a child molester, is not who he or she claims to be? It could very well be that their declaration of ignorance is a facade, but how am I to make this assessment? I must admit that most of the time I have enough trouble trying to work out my salvation with fear and trembling to make declarations on the spiritual status of others. Quite simply, it is God alone who is capable and entitled to make a judgment of the hearts of people, and anything that I should think cannot be but mere speculation and profoundly irrelevant.

I should say in closing that the point of my previous post is to highlight what I see as the inconsistency in Calvinist praxis with respect to doctrinal disagreement. Quite often, they seem to be quite happy to believe that their sweet, but racist grandmother was still a Christian because her racism needs to be understood in the context of the era in which she lived. They are happy to believe that their loving, but slightly sexist father was still a Christian because he lived in a culture where he simply didn't know any better. But, presuming that homosexuality is a sin, they are not willing to extend the same grace to the gay man who honestly believes in the propriety of his sexual orientation. Why this seemingly obvious inconsistency? What is it about homosexuality that makes it the one great, unforgivable sin to Calvinists?

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