"I went to Jerusalem to become acquainted (Gk. istoria) with Cephas" - Paul's words from Galatians 1:18.

On Louts, Jerks and Celebrities: The NY Times and Appropriate Sexual Boundaries

John Howard Yoder, Courtesy NY Times
Mark Oppenheimer is the religion editor for the New York Times and adjunct professor at Yale Divinity School. Mark has written an outstanding piece this past weekend on John Howard Yoder, the conservative Mennonite theologian whose inappropriate hugging and touching of females is a scar on Yoder's life and legacy. The liberal editor of the NY Times called Howard's behavior that of  "a lout and a jerk." I agree with Mark Oppenheimer. However, I have a question for my liberal friends, including Mark.

Who sets the boundary for human sexual behavior to be classified as that of  "a lout and jerk?" What standard or rule (canon) of conduct establishes the proper boundary for appropriate human sexual behavior? Where do my liberal friends go to find their understanding of healthy boundaries?

For example, is the ancient custom of man/boy love by the Romans considered loutish behavior? Is homosexual behavior jerkish? Is paying money for heterosexual sex the actions of a lout? Is possessing male genitalia but having surgery to become a woman the behavior of a jerk? Is advocating free love and multiple heterosexual partners the conduct of a lout?

Just asking.

It might be said "No, what qualifies as sexual behavior that crosses the line of appropriateness is when another person feels violated emotionally or physically." Really? What about the fact that some women didn't complain about John Howard Yoder's advances, but others did? What about the fact that some ancient Roman boys thought themselves to be in love with their adult male partners? What about the fact that some sexually abused girls actually long for the (illegal) sexual contact of their adult abusers, not yet capable of  knowing the damage done to them by their abusers? Are you sure you wish to set a boundary based on the feelings of another?

The Judeo-Christian ethic found in the Word of God establishes the historic boundaries for appropriate human sexual behavior in the western civilized world. It would seem to me that one must either accept the biblical boundary of appropriate sexual behavior and call out all violations of it or remain silent when men like John Howard Yoder do what they do.  I find it ironic that Mark Oppenheimer determines that John Yoder's heterosexual behavior is that of a "lout and a jerk" but then celebrates the homosexual behavior of Dan Savage by calling him "A Celebrity."

Draw your own conclusions.


Wyman Richardson said...

That is a very good question. The derisive term "lout" would seem to suggest that Yoder violated some standard. Of course, he did, but we have a standard to point to that he violated and thus a basis for saying, "Yoder was wrong. Very wrong." But it is a very good question to ask where the standards are in human sexuality for many modern people today.

Thanks for this Wade. Very good.

Aussie John said...


I suspect that Ethiopian men, who walk the streets holding hands, would be in his definition, as well?

Wade Burleson said...

Who knows?

Anonymous said...


I haven't yet got over 'Adam Smith's 'Wealth of Nation' vs Funny Money, and here you are again making us think deeply on another subject ! That's good.

The question is, as I see it, : What standards shall we choose to guide our behavior ? The popular view is that if something feels good, do it ! Just do it ! This implies that you need not stop to think of the consequences of your action on yourself or on others. Responsibility is far away in such cases,.... but calamity is near.

The morality of the world shifts significantly within a short period of time, and from one geographical region to another. The dross of human experience, everywhere, always seems to have the tendency to float to the top. 'The world, the flesh and the Devil' is in our DNA, and we act accordingly. The fact that 'everyone is doing it', might be a good reason to stand back and question the behavior.

Generation after generation has to learn afresh that wholesome and harmonious living come only from following the instruction to love God with all our heart, and our neighbor as ourselves. This we cannot nearly do in our own strength, but we know there is help for those who aspire to rise higher. "My sheep hear my voice and follow me", said Jesus.


Wayworn Wanderer said...

Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter, for it is the New York Times that decideth for all.

Bill Justin said...

I'm trying to contact Wade Burleson to find out where I can read more information about Kenneth Gentry, Jr.'s beliefs regarding the Eschatology Terminology?

I've used the Internet since the early 1990's under Unix, but have not done any blogging. So I apologize for being off topic.

Do you have an FAQ for blogging on this URL?

Bill Justin