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How many times does God need to say something is wrong for it to be wrong?

“How many times does God need to say something is wrong for it to be wrong? If people want to tell others their ungodly behaviour is good, when God says otherwise, I’m not sure how they can reconcile those contradictory positions. They ignore 100% of the Biblical verses on it, but oh well, it’s nice to be liked by people, so forget the Bible and just roll with the crowd. By their fruit you will know them. I wouldn’t tell people that Jesus is OK with theft, go now and live your life of thievery. Not saying it’s impossible to be saved and tell people that sin is good, but it is pretty evil.”
Anonymous Alliance Church member

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The Church’s teachings on sex are Biblically based

“The Church’s teachings on sex are Biblically based. You can label the Bible as a hateful book, but when 100% of the verses addressing homosexual behaviour describe it as sin in the clearest and strongest possible terms, and 100% of the verses referring to God’s ideal for marriage involve one man and one woman, and 100% of the verses referencing parenting involve moms and dads with unique roles (or at least a set of male and female parents guiding the children) and 0% of 32,173 verses refer to homosexuality behaviour in a positive or even benign way or even hint at the acceptability of homsexual unions of any kind, the Church really has zero choice but to have the position they do. Thus the reason Christians view homosexual behaviour as sinful is because the Bible calls it thus, and we hold the Bible as the Word of God.”
– Anonymous Alliance Church member

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The harm hypothesis v1

One way to understand hate, is in terms of harm. The fact of harm can be part of a test for hate. It is in this sense that the following harm hypothesis hangs together with the hate hypothesis. This is the current formulation:

  1. The harm hypothesis: The Alliance Church harms people who have a disposition towards homosexuality.

It’s important to note that the Alliance Church welcomes people who have a disposition towards homosexuality. That is, they welcome, and love, homosexuals. But here’s the catch. They tell these folks that acting on these impulses is sinful. They tell these folks that gay behaviour, unrepented, will block them from god’s love. They tell gay folks that acting on their homosexual thoughts and feelings is a sin much like idolatry, adultery and thieving. It’s forgivable, but wrong.

This condemnation of gay conduct is an important factor of the harm hypothesis.

Another key premise is that the social and sexual well-being of humans is a fundamental part of a healthy human being. Not being able to explore and grow in social and sexual ways is a serious detriment to the well being of a whole, healthy human.

Just to be clear, I understand that some humans freely choose not to explore their gay natures. And that’s fine. When humans choose not to do so, free from coercion or a disproportionate power imbalance, well, that seems fine. It is a matter of choice sometimes, and it seems likely that there is a way in which denying one’s gay nature can be done in a healthy way. Much in the same way, some folks with heterosexual impulses might control their impulses and not pursue heterosexual behaviours. Which is all great, but that’s not what I’m talking about.

One question is, are people living within an Alliance Church community really free to choose? There is a significant power gradient. Doctrine and social cohesion are powerful moral authorities. There is significant moral pressure. The consequences of sinning and not repenting are probably an eternity in hell. If so, that’s a very serious doctrinal disincentive. (Actually, I don’t know what Alliance Church doctrine is on this. I’ll have to find out.) And the collective moral condemnation is also a powerful social disincentive. It’s not like you could bring your partner to church. You couldn’t introduce them to your church elders. You couldn’t introduce them to your church friends.

You couldn’t get affirming and positive emotional support for your relationship.

Everyone would look at you with the same doey eyes they give violent thieves: “we love you but please stop beating people, stealing their money, and holding hands with so and so.” I’m not even talking about minors within the church. That’s a whole messed up other thing. I’m just considering adults, and I think it’s fair to say that a congregation would make it very hard for an adult to freely choose to pursue homosexual behaviours.

Actually, it seems plausible that the result of the social, spiritual and emotional condemnation would be that an individual might be more likely to pursue actually harmful behaviours. They might be less able to get good information, or learn about healthy kinds of homosexual behaviour. They might, for example, find ways of having unprotected sex with anonymous same-sex partners without using protection, for fear of being found out, or for fear of having “premeditated” sex.

I guess an argument might look, very roughly, something like:

  1. the overwhelming empirical consensus by doctors and psychology research is that homosexual conduct is as healthy and important to human well-being as heterosexual conduct
  2. blocking someone from developing and growing in their experience and understanding about context appropriate conduct relating to intimacy and sexuality is a kind of harm
  3. more specifically, blocking someone from developing and growing in their understanding and experience of context appropriate homosexual conduct is a kind of harm
  4. teaching people who have homosexual tendencies that homosexual behaviour is sinful and condemned and discouraged by their community is harmful to their emotional and social well-being
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What are the tests and criteria for hate speech

Does the moral condemnation of homosexual conduct meet the criteria for hate speech? I’m not a legal expert and I have just begun my research into this, but the answer, I think, is maybe. Here’s the challenge.

The official doctrine of the Alliance Church is that homosexual conduct is sinful. Folks with a disposition towards homosexual behaviour are fine; as long as they don’t behave in homosexual ways. No penetration, no kissing, no sexting, no marriage, no winking or holding hands. Behaving in these ways is sinful and is officially condemned by the Alliance Church much the same way that violence, thieving and adultery is.1 The point is that gay conduct is, I think, vilified, and this vilification is doctrinal.

The question is, does this constitute hate speech? Well, as a result of recent changes in law, the issue of hate speech will no longer be the purview of human rights commissions. I think we now only have the criminal code to rely on. And section 319 is the relevant part:

(1) Every one who, by communicating statements in any public place, incites hatred against any identifiable group where such incitement is likely to lead to a breach of the peace is guilty of

  • (a) an indictable offence and is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years; or
  • (b) an offence punishable on summary conviction.

(2) Every one who, by communicating statements, other than in private conversation, wilfully promotes hatred against any identifiable group is guilty of

  • (a) an indictable offence and is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years; or
  • (b) an offence punishable on summary conviction.

(3) No person shall be convicted of an offence under subsection (2)

  • (a) if he establishes that the statements communicated were true;
  • (b) if, in good faith, the person expressed or attempted to establish by an argument an opinion on a religious subject or an opinion based on a belief in a religious text;
  • (c) if the statements were relevant to any subject of public interest, the discussion of which was for the public benefit, and if on reasonable grounds he believed them to be true; or
  • (d) if, in good faith, he intended to point out, for the purpose of removal, matters producing or tending to produce feelings of hatred toward an identifiable group in Canada…

So what’s interesting about this is that the kinds of things spoken out loud to congregations and published in newsletters and church policies may very well meet the test of 319.2, but it appears to get a free pass in 319.3.b. Apparently “opinion based in a religious text” is, at least sometimes, a defense against 319.2.

However, it is not the case that religion gets a free pass in all contexts. To see how this works, check out the Supreme Court of Canada decision in Saskatchewan (H.R.C.) versus Whatcott. I’ll be reviewing it.

“[116] The purpose of hate speech legislation is to restrict the use of representations likely to expose protected groups to hatred and its harmful effects. The expression captured under hate speech laws is of an extreme nature. Framing that speech as arising in a “moral” context or “within a public policy debate” does not cleanse it of its harmful effect. Indeed, if one understands an effect of hate speech as curtailing the ability of the affected group to participate in the debate, relaxing the standard in the context of political debate is arguably more rather than less damaging to freedom of expression. As argued by some interveners, history demonstrates that some of the most damaging hate rhetoric can be characterized as “moral”, “political” or “public policy” discourse.” – Saskatchewan versus Whatcott

  1. Actually I think there is one difference: I believe that gay folks who are married are barred from membership into an Alliance Church congregation.
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Hate-the-sin doctrine versus the homosexuality-is-a-sin principle

Okay, so I haven’t heaps of time to continue my research on the Alliance Church and it’s official doctrines. But, little by little, I seem to be soaking some of this stuff up. More importantly, I think, is that I haven’t had time to review the hate speech laws in Canada. So the hate speech laws are really on my radar to follow up about.

But, in the mean time I have been reflecting on this idea that we should hate the sin, not the sinner. I think this doctrine is often operationalized by religious folks as a kind of defence for their beliefs about folks that identify as gay, lesbian, homosexual, queer, trans, two-spirited or pansexual. But is it actually a defence of their views? What is the effect of this doctrine on the hate hypothesis?

The Catholics, for example, are making a big deal about loving people that have a tendency towards homosexual behaviour. But they condemn the behaviour. It’s a little bit like loving thieves and murderers.

One way to press on this issue, would be to substitute some terms for homosexuality into the arguments put forward by Alliance Church doctrine. I could try replacing “Jewish” for “homosexuality”, etc. and see what transpires. This could be informative.



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The role of women in the church

Article eight of the Manual is devoted to the Board. Article eight, section one is about composition. The board, or board of elders, is the highest functioning authority of a local church. The membership criteria for the board of elders “are the biblical qualifications of elders.”

So far, it appears that women cannot be the senior pastor of a church.

It does, however, look like a church can decide to have women serve on the board by two-thirds majority vote of the membership.

The role of women in ministry within the Alliance Church of Canada seems to be in some kind of transition.

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Homosexuality in the membership and Ministership

The Manual has a policy that folks who endorse homosexuality cannot be ministers, license issuers or appointed to serve in the church. On page 40 (PDF page 48) of the manual, paragraph seven states:

Persons who engage in, or endorse, homosexual conduct and/or relationships shall not be accepted as candidates for ministry, issued licenses, ordained or consecrated as ministers, or appointed to serve in The Christian and Missionary Alliance. Neither shall they serve in local church ministries, nor shall they be issued membership in an Alliance church. Likewise, in conformity with The Christian and Missionary Alliance in Canada’s Statement on Human Sexuality, and its Statement on Marriage-Divorce-Remarriage, which states that “[I]n no case ought any person to enter into any so-called ‘marriage’ with a person of the same sex,” no licensed worker or staff member in any Christian and Missionary Alliance ministry or local church shall, under any circumstances, sanction, bless, conduct, or officially participate in a marriage ceremony, civil or religious, nor are Alliance local church facilities or other properties belonging to any aspect of the life and work of The Christian and Missionary Alliance to be used in any way that would result in a marriage or civil union of persons of the same sex.

So homosexual folks can’t become ministers in the Alliance Church. Neither can they serve in the Alliance Church. Neither, can they be issued membership in the Alliance Church.

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Homosexual conduct is a sin

The evidence suggests that the Alliance Church, like the Catholic Church, deems all homosexual conduct a sin.

The Christian and Missionary Alliance in Canada devotes a section of their constitution to discipline.1 Number 2 of “Uniform Regulations” reads:

If a member(s) of a local church of The Christian and Missionary Alliance in Canada is alleged to be in violation of scriptural moral standards, doctrinal truth or proper Christian behaviour, he or she may be subject to the following inquiry and discipline procedure.

The term “violation of scriptural moral standards” as used by The Christian and Missionary Alliance in Canada shall include, but not be limited to, sexual activity outside of a monogamous heterosexual marriage, sexual harassment or assault, homosexuality, misappropriation of funds, dishonesty or fraud in business and legal transactions, and guilt in a criminal offense.
– page 37 (PDF page 45)

So by the defined terms of the Alliance Church’s own Manual, homosexuality is a violation of scriptural moral standard, much like dishonesty, fraud, sexual assault or violence.

The Manual asserts that homosexuality is a sin, repeatedly

The Old Testament reveals God’s original design to make human beings in his image, male and female (Genesis 2:10-24). In the New Testament, Jesus confirms the heterosexual creation of human beings: “God made them male and female” (Matthew 19:4). Throughout Scripture heterosexual families are the norm of society. Through this family unit the human race finds its survival and men, women and children find their home. The New Testament reinforces the teaching of heterosexual love and sexual relations within marriage alone (Ephesians 5:22-23; Hebrews 13:4; I Corinthians 7:1-5).

Alongside this clear biblical teaching on God’s design for heterosexual marriage are found specific instructions in Old and New Testaments that prohibit homosexual conduct as out of harmony with the purpose for which God created human beings (e.g. Romans 1:18-27; I Timothy 1:9-11). Homosexual conduct, like all forms of sexual behavior that violate God’s original design, is sin.

In addition to the affirmation of heterosexual sexual expression within marriage alone and the prohibition of homosexual behavior, the Scriptures strongly affirm the liberating power of the Christian gospel from all former sinful patterns of life, including homosexual behavior: “Neither the sexually immoral nor idolators nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by
the Spirit of our God” (I Corinthians 6:9b-12).
page 40 (PDF page 48)

  1. This section is found on page 37 (PDF page 45) of the newest version of the Manual.
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On human sexuality

The Alliance Church’s official doctrine appears to be something like this.

Healthy sexuality is essentially procreative. Recreational sexuality is not procreative and not healthy. Sexuality that is not healthy is sinful.

Sexuality that is not fundamentally procreative is sinful. Homosexuality is not procreative. Homosexuality is therefore a sin.

Pornography is also sinful. Humans that deliberately become aroused by viewing or listening or reading pornography are also committing a sin.

Promiscuity is sinful.

Foundation in scripture

The foundation of this reasoning appears to come from scripture in the old and new testament.1