In a recent article, I addressed a socialistic statement misattributed to Jimmy Carter. That fallacy, however misattributed, reminded me of a couple fallacies Mr. Carter did say.
Mr. Carter recently entered the news with a claim that Jesus would approve of homosexual marriage, although he admitted, “I don’t have any verse in Scripture.” I’ll let that speak for itself, but it represents a broad swath of liberal Christians (and unfortunately a growing number of mainstream evangelicals) who argue the same way.
Such a claim is factually wrong and demonstrably wrong from Scripture. One real problem with defending such inaccurate presuppositions as “Jesus would approve of gay marriage” is that the inaccuracy snowballs into further exposition and argument. This is where the fallacies occur.
One example of this is recorded in my book Biblical Logic: In Theory and Practice, which has recently been reprinted. The example involves both Mr. Carter and the topic of same-sex marriage. I reproduce the section here:
A Gay Straw Man
Speaking of liberal Christians, they have a favorite Straw Man tactic of their own. They will often quote Scripture in support of leftist political positions but leave out important aspects, verses, etc., which contradict the interpretation they want you to accept. This type of Straw Man some writers call the Fallacy of Suppressed Information, though I think Straw Man covers it well enough. An example of this appears in an article by former president Jimmy Carter addressing homosexuality. He writes,
The apostle Paul makes it plain that homosexual tendencies, along with other temptations, should have been resisted: “Be not deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 6: 9, 10). Then he immediately goes on to say that all these acts had been forgiven.
With this mention of forgiveness, Mr. Carter apparently assumes he deflates the conservative Christian’s case. In actuality, however, he misrepresents Paul’s point. If you know your Bible, you will already have spotted the crucial aspects that Carter suppresses. Paul wrote to a specific audience of Christians. Of course, these Christians had received forgiveness for these sins, even egregious sins like homosexuality. But they had also stopped living according to those sins, and certainly would not have approved when their culture or government endorsed or exalted such behavior (which endorsement was not uncommon). Most importantly, Paul did not preach a blanket forgiveness of these sins, but rather only to those Christians who had repented, submitted to baptism, and committed to follow Christ. In fact, for those who had once repented, yet slipped back into sexual immorality, Paul dealt harshly, even by banning them from the church until they repented (1 Cor. 5:1–5). Paul even scolds the rest of the church for not having condemned the sin themselves already (5:2).
I think Carter knows this about the Bible, but perhaps dislikes the wide support that the issue of homosexuality, when emphasized, helps conservatives draw from religious voters. As a liberal, Carter must combat this issue. In doing so, he has to suppress some information. Along with this, he erects an even more obvious Straw Man: “We must make it clear that a platform of ‘I hate gay men and women’ is not a way to become president of the United States of America.” What politician from any side has made “I hate gays” their platform? None. This is Carter’s caricature of conservatives who oppose homosexuality. But opposing homosexuality is not the same as hating homosexuals, as Paul shows and conservative politicians show as well. It would be nice if liberals like Carter would represent conservatives in at least as good a light as they do homosexuals.
Biblical Logic lays the biblical foundations for logical and critical thinking among Christians, and everyone else for that matter. It then provides scores of real-world examples of fallacies like this one, in every category, to avoid, and explains each one.
Mr. Carter, a professing evangelical Christian, has an even greater obligation to avoid them. Christians ought to be at the forefront of honest thinking, argument, and criticism. For this reason, I include a few fallacies engaged in by some conservative brethren as well. We need to be able always to give an apologetic to those outside, but we need to have our own house in order even more—and that’s an area in which we can and must always seek to improve.