A draft of this item slipped out briefly when I clicked the wrong button. I’ve trimmed back my ambitions in commenting on it.
Over the years, I’ve spoken with a lot of Catholics who grew up in the years prior to ’69. They’ve talked about how they feel queasy, or even violated, if they see images of same-sex couples making out. How uncomfortable even the idea of gayness makes them. It seems that the Christian Church, for many years, really did achieve the program that Plato dreamed of in The Laws: it made homosexuality as unthinkable, and as viscerally repugnant to most members of society, as incest.
(Melinda Selmys, A Second Response to Crisis Magazine) I have heard comments akin to those in Selmys’ first quoted paragraph from surprising sources. I didn’t keep a scorecard, and cannot now recall who those speakers were, but I’m pretty sure that at least one of them was publicly supportive of what we problematically lump together as “gay rights.” The attitude was “it grosses me out — but I nevertheless support it,” as if it were of no greater moral significance than the texture of oysters on the half shell (which texture kinda grosses me out).
It reminds me of the quip that such and such philandering politician “so strongly believes that religion is a private matter than he won’t impose his religion even on himself.”
The Pastor of one of my community’s most prominent Evangelical churches had a prominent column in the local paper Sunday. I wasn’t going to say anything, because I had trouble finding enough substance to affirm, deny or qualify. But then one of his own congregants expressed disappointment to me, so I took a second look.
Here’s the opener:
It may have struck members of our community that, while church leaders whose theology may be more liberal/progressive have weighed in with one voice regarding Indiana’s proposed marriage amendment [HJR6 n/k/a HJR3], those whose beliefs are more conservative have largely not. The easy conclusion to draw from that silence — though a wrong one — is that evangelicals are not of one mind concerning the amendment.
The following are beliefs related to the amendment around which most evangelicals are united.
The pastor then, in three dense paragraphs, sets forth nine propositions around which he thinks most evangelicals are united. Only the fourth through sixth directly involve sexuality or marriage:
Fourth, we believe that Scripture is clear that, regardless of how one may understand the sources of same sex attraction, homosexual practice is outside of God’s loving parameters for humanity (as is any sexual expression outside marriage between a man and a woman). Fifth, we believe that the human heart is unreliable as a moral guide. Not all that is in our heart to do is right to do. Sixth, we understand the issue of sexual practice to be a moral issue, not merely an issue of identity, relationship or self-expression.
He then goes on to prove precisely what he denied: that evangelicals are not of one mind concerning the amendment except at the most useless level of platitudinous generality.
We are also in agreement that, as we consider how best to respond to this amendment, the most important question we can answer is: What does love require?
Yes, that’s platitudinous generality. Addled impressions notwithstanding, Christian love does not require acquiescence. “Friends don’t let friends drive drunk” and all that.
At four “intersections,” the rubber meets, but fails to grain traction with, the road:
Following are four intersections where we evangelicals, amid our unity, may proceed differently in our respective answer to that question.
The first concerns our primary message in the public square …
Second, and related, is the question of the potential for hurt when weighing in publicly on societal issues …
A third place of difference concerns one’s understanding of calling: whether it is appropriate for a pastor to engage with matters of governance and public policy at all …
A final area of difference among evangelicals stems from different understandings of the trajectory of American society ….
But he closes affirming unity despite it all:
Even as we may part over questions of strategy, evangelical pastors are united in our affirmation of biblical truth, in our conviction that biblical truth is relevant to contemporary society, and in our eagerness to answer the question: What does love require?
What to make of this incoherence?
First, Evangelical pastors apparently felt obliged to respond after “church leaders whose theology may be more liberal/progressive … weighed in with one voice regarding [i.e., against] Indiana’s proposed marriage amendment.”
Second, the Evangelicals’ “affirmation of biblical truth” leaves them adrift on an issue where they apparently desire clarity and unity.
Third, and not on the pastor’s radar at all so far as I can tell, there really is no shame in not having answers to some questions. At least not unless you’ve insisted that the Bible, rightly read, has all the answers (which is an Evangelical tendency). The shame is proudly parading around in The Emperor’s New Clothes. If I were his congregant, that, not the lack of definitive guidance, would be what bothered me.
How can you really expect the Bible to tell you whether repudiation of an absurd redefinition of “marriage” should be incorporated into our constitution rather than just in statute? To tell you whether that constitutional repudiation is so worthwhile that it’s worth dragging along with it HJR6/3’s baffling and inexplicable second sentence? To tell the faithful that your conclusion on those questions is de fide and not adiaphora?
Fourth, while it may be permissible for pastors to attempt to shape their congregants’ views on “public square” questions, cultivating a right and unified public square voice should not, I suggest, be an objective of a Church that understands what the Gospel is and what the Church’s role is.
Light blogging day, but then there’s always some trifle if nothing else, like a series of oil painting of an aging superhero. (H/T Kim Dayton at the Elder Law Prof Blog.)
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“The remarks made in this essay do not represent scholarly research. They are intended as topical stimulations for conversation among intelligent and informed people.” (Gerhart Niemeyer)