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Alan Jacobs is Confused About the Demands of Charity

If you don’t regularly read anything by the writer Alan Jacobs, you should correct that deficiency in your life by checking out his “Tumblr” (which is like a blog) here. He is a smart, generally orthodox Christian writer, who was an English professor at Wheaton College for many years and recently was hired at Baylor. He has written many books, although the only one I read was Original Sin: A Cultural History, which I found to be informative and lively throughout. In other words, if I could write half as well as Professor Jacobs, I would be a happy man.

That praise out of the way, I noticed he recently criticized something Rusty Reno wrote about so-called gay “marriage” that I thought was wildly off the mark and I think increasingly an argument one sees bandied about by so-called “progressive Christians” (i.e. Christians who don’t think the Bible is true). To wit, Reno had compared Creighton University’s decision to offer benefits to “legally married same-sex spouses” (hah!) with the Catholic Church’s decision to sign the Concordat with Hitler in the 1930s. Jacobs thought the comparison unfair. More specifically, here is what he said:

This comparison doesn’t help anyone or anything. It is ratcheting up the culture-war rhetoric to the highest possible pitch, and I think inappropriately, since the issue at hand is Creighton University’s decision to provide benefits to legally married same-sex spouses.

Isn’t that an eminently defensible action on specifically Christian grounds, namely the grounds of charity? After all, Jesus didn’t subject people to tests of their morals before healing them. In this case, isn’t the university just saying, “We may not approve of your sexual behavior, but we don’t want people you love to get sick and die?" In a country without universal health care, an employer who seeks to deny benefits to spouses comes off simply as punitive.

Now I’m going to ignore the question of whether or not Reno’s comparison used ‘too hot to handle’ rhetoric – that question doesn’t interest me at the moment. Instead, focus your attention on Jacob’s later comment that the “decision to provide benefits to legally married same-sex spouses” is an “eminently defensible action on specifically Christian grounds, namely the grounds of charity."

In a word, no, the decision is not in any way defensible on Christian grounds – based on charity or love or any other fruit of the Holy Spirit. Let us not forget that the Christian God is the God of Truth – and it is first and foremost a lie to go around claiming that two men or two women who live together and commit sodomy are married. Period, end of story, full stop. As Christians we should not participate in any way in this fiction and lie.

As Jacob's implies, folks who are caught up in this lie are indeed sinners in need of the cross and we should continue to preach the message of hope to them. What about helping these people get health insurance? Asking this question might be even more crazed when you stop and think about it for a moment. Here is what is being claimed: that two adults who presumably could and should be independently supporting themselves (i.e. working in jobs and purchasing their health insurance on their own) somehow are living together as an ersatz family with one adult (the one employed by Creighton) supporting the other financially and expecting the university to help them financially support their sexual partner, excuse me – the person they love – because that’s what is expected of a Christian employer?! So if Creighton hires me and I tell them that I love my unemployed brother, sister, my friend who happens to be a drug addict and was recently fired from his last job, and my aunt who was just laid off at the local meat-processing plant because they could hire cheap immigrant laborers that the Church is eager to turn into citizens instead of my aunt who had 15 years at the plant and was costing the employer too much; well then Creighton has to suck it up and provide benefits to all these people because we don’t want people I love to get sick and die do we? Remember, from the Christian perspective these two people are not married and should not be considered married. End of story. Let’s hope we see less and less of this argument from Bible-believing Christians in the future!

Comments (8)

This rocks! We can just go on and on with your roll in the last paragraph: Why do we assume that I love only a small, manageable, and "family-sized" number of people? What if an employee of Creighton loves the entire population of Kenya, one and all, personally? Well, then, I guess Creighton has to provide health insurance for the entire population of Kenya! Or, hey, we'll be reasonable: He's worked at the local homeless shelter and _merely_ claims to have a special love for one hundred people or so whom he's become personally close to by his volunteer work. He considers them his family. Bang! Christian charity dictates that his employer give them health insurance!

Jacobs's poor excuse for an argument is nothing but ad misericordiam writ large, utterly lacking in substance and reason.

Sad. God help us when our good thinkers can't think well on this subject. And it's an important one, as you have all showed well here.

But: Jacobs is a marvelous thinker and writer, in everything else that I've so far encountered. I add to Jeff's recommendation A Theology of Reading, which was somewhat hard for me as I'm not familiar with many of the philosophers/critics he references, but his style and care with words let me "get" it with slow and careful reading. And I'm so glad I made the effort.

After all, Jesus didn’t subject people to tests of their morals before healing them.

Ugh. Just the other day I saw this nonsense being plugged in favor of the divorce-remarried-communion fiasco, as well as letting gays "marry."

Let's get this stupidity cleared up, front and center. Jesus DID NOT treat everyone the same.

He called pharisees "vipers." He called scribes "whited sepulchers". (Just in case you don't catch that: in a sepulcher the body decomposes and is full of maggots, flies, filth and foulness.)

Jesus called people who divorce and remarry "adulterers".

Even when Jesus forgave a prostitute, he did it with a caution: "Go and sin no more." He did NOT accept the behavior, he repudiated the behavior, and called the person to END that behavior.

Charity is not just being nice to people. It is not even just loving people. It is loving people with a form of God's own love. But we already know what God's love is like, it is discriminating: "So, because you are lukewarm, neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of my mouth!"

To refuse to see distinctions about charity is to refuse to even READ the Bible.

I think too that Jacobs is pretending a false neutrality, or that Creighton can engage in neutrality (which they can't) on the morality of the relationships involved while covering the homosexual "spouses." (First of all, why does a Catholic institution not have higher moral standards for their employees? But setting that aside.) Since, as Jeff's main post shows and my comment above affirms, Jacobs cannot without absurdity hold that one can choose family members by any random process and thereby confer a responsibility on one's employer to cover those people's healthcare, what Jacobs is really saying is that these relationships are _different_. He doesn't really mean that Creighton has to insure just _anybody_ the employee happens to love. (After all, Christians are supposed to love all men!) What he is trying to evade is the fact that this act by Creighton involves conferring legitimacy upon these relationships as being genuinely family-forming. Only some relationships count for the privilege of getting your health benefits covered by Creighton as employer. Why should this be one of them?

Interestingly, when it comes to family members, universities have "qualifying events" that cause someone to be added for benefits or removed. Birth, death, marriage, and divorce are examples. So the faux "marriages" of these employees are now counting as qualifying events, which is a form of endorsement.

Suppose that slavery were legal. Would it then be a good idea for buying a person to count as a "qualifying event" for one's employer to add that person as a dependent to receive healthcare benefits? I can see the form now: "Please enter the date on which you purchased this slave and added him to your household."

Jacobs wants to pretend that it shouldn't matter what one thinks of homosexual relationships to whether one should put homosexual "spouses" on for spousal benefits. But this is just a pretense. The fact is that he likes Creighton's endorsement of homosexual relationships, because apparently he endorses them too. There is no neutrality in this, and he shouldn't pretend that there is.

Jacobs is not a marvelous thinker, otherwise he wouldn't have made such an asinine comment. The man is a weak-kneed idiot.

Martel, it's clear he is not really an idiot, but he would not be the first Christian public intellectual to go weak-kneed in the face of homosexual Brownshirts.

I dunno, though. The comments here from Jacobs are not just weak-kneed but flaky-silly. He purports to give an argument, and it's jaw-droppingly bad, really pathetic. I mean, perhaps "idiot" is a bit too strong, but I suppose one can be an idiot on one issue while being a good thinker or even brilliant in an entirely different area.

And does Jacobs really sound intimidated? Not to my ear. He sounds like he's on-board himself.

I cannot claim to have read enough Jacobs to have felt the charm and brilliance that obviously several others in this thread have felt, so perhaps I'm a little more sympathetic to a dismissive comment about him. I know how one can be very disappointed in someone who seemed so deep about x or y and then comes out with comments that are just shallow and foolish on z. It's hard to give up the respect one already felt. Look at the people who have compassed land and sea to retain their respect for Roger Scruton in the face of some, shall we say, highly unfortunate comments about the near-duty of the elderly to get out of the way of the young.

But the longer I live the more I see that people really do disappoint like that and that one just has to be willing to shake one's head and say, "Okay, on this issue, so-and-so is not a thinker."

They aren't denying benefits to spouses, because no matter what the state says, spouses they are not.

But really, the OP's argument is direct and easy. I suppose they could always elect to allow coverage 1 person of any employee's choice, eh?

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