The president of the Society of Christian Philosophers expressed regret Saturday over the pain that leading Christian philosopher Richard Swinburne had caused for arguing that homosexuality could be considered a disability, since a same-sex predilection disables the normal desire to reproduce.
In a Facebook post following the 2016 Midwest Society of Christian Philosophers (SCP) meeting, SCP President Michael Rea distanced the society from Swinburne’s keynote address on sexual ethics and stated his regret for the pain it had caused, in addition to reaffirming his commitment to diversity and inclusion.
“I want to express my regret regarding the hurt caused by the recent Midwest meeting of the Society for Christian Philosophers,” Rea said Saturday. “The views expressed in Professor Swinburne’s keynote are not those of the SCP itself. Though our membership is broadly united by way of religious faith, the views of our members are otherwise diverse. As president of the SCP, I am committed to promoting the intellectual life of our philosophical community. Consequently (among other reasons), I am committed to the values of diversity and inclusion. As an organization, we have fallen short of those ideals before, and surely we will again. Nonetheless, I will strive for them going forward.”
Swinburne essentially argued in his talk “Christian Moral Teaching on Sex, Family and Life” that homosexuality as a predisposition constitutes a sort of disability, since it harms one’s natural desire to reproduce. But for Swinburne, that doesn’t mean that the predisposition towards homosexuality is immoral as such. Rather, according to Swinburne, it is homosexual sex acts that are immoral and against Christian moral tradition.
Interestingly, this talk wasn’t the first time Swinburne had exposited such views on sexual ethics. Swinburne published this position in the second edition of a 2007 book titled Revelation. SCP members and leadership are generally well-read in Swinburne’s past work.
Following the talk during the question and answer session, Akron University philosopher J. Edward Hackett exploded at Swinburne in a mixture of self-admitted “abhorrence and overwhelming anger” and compared his treatment of homosexuality as a clinical condition to the use of phrenology to apply a scientific veneer to racism.
“By using the language of the medical, the clinic, Swinburne represented being gay as a condition that can be extricated from those with whom we are to have sympathy rather than complete acceptance of the other’s otherness—this is true even if he did not mean to do so,” Hackett wrote. “The only appropriate Christian response is complete acceptance of the other’s otherness, not the moralizing stance that parses out metaphysical distinctions which have the concrete effect of justifying the problematic patriarchal and capitalist violence on the Political Right.”
Hackett’s take on the talk launched a firestorm of controversy, prompting Rea to issue a statement of regret, which in turn led to a heated debate on the tension between intellectual inquiry on the one hand and diversity and inclusion on the other.
“Many in the press have focused on my initial reaction and painted those feelings as the only thing I have said. They’ve politicized those feelings without reflecting on what insight is opened up by them. Our emotional reactions, however, give way to opening up spaces for inquiry whereupon, I would think, even aspects of Christianity can be openly questioned,” Hackett told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
As a pragmatist, Hackett’s point is that linguistic terms have a profound impact on personal experience, and obviously he believes Swinburne’s particular argument to have a deleterious effect on the LGBT community.
Other philosophers balked at Rea’s regret statement as an attempt to placate others aggressively pushing political correctness to stifle debate and Christian perspectives in a Society of Christian Philosophers meeting. Some have even called for Rea to apologize to Swinburne.
“I find it painful to see a senior scholar such as Swinburne being apologized for in public,” philosopher Yoram Hazony said. “I often disagree with his views. But if we’re assessing pain, it hurts to see him being shamed in this way for taking a side in a philosophical and religious controversy. What are we trying to do–create a world in which philosophers are only permitted to express certain views? Isn’t the traditional response to write an essay arguing with him, rather than posting an apology?”
As philosopher Chris Swoyer at the University of Oklahoma also noted, “A substantial portion of Christians hold views like those attributed to Swinburne and do so on the basis of their understanding of Christianity. So it’s surely not surprising for him to express such views in the setting he did.”
Michael Rea told TheDCNF he could not provide a statement before consulting with the executive committee of SCP.
Richard Swinburne provided a brief comment to TheDCNF, “The issues which I discussed are ones very important for contemporary Christians, and it is important that the views of thinkers on both sides of the debates should be heard in a friendly academic atmosphere, where we are open to each others’ arguments. It is sad if this is not always possible.”
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