An infinity of angles at which one falls

I am convinced that there is a progressive apostasy on sexuality, which is marked by the affirmation of gay marriage. However, such a flagrant departure from the witness of Scripture and tradition at least has the virtue of being obvious. I have become convinced there is a ‘conservative’ stance on these questions that is more subtle in its capitulation to subChristian ways of thinking about sex and marriage, and more pernicious for being subtle.

… There is a Freudianism at work in [Denny] Burk’s account of sex … which corrodes his ethics. That is an ironic charge, I grant, given the frequency with which his associates have charged those who want to use ‘gay’ as capitulating to ‘modern’ understandings of sexuality …

In his famous description of “thrilling romance of Orthodoxy,” G.K. Chesterton suggests the early church found an “equilibrium of a man behind madly rushing horses.” She “swerved to the left and right,” leaving behind an Arianism that would make Christianity too worldly before repudiating an “orientalism” that would make it too unworldly. “It is easy to be a heretic,” Chesterton goes on, as it is “easy to let the age have its head.” After all, there are an “infinity of angles at which one falls,” but “only one at which one stands.” The whirling adventure of the emergence of orthodoxy required saying ‘no’ to distortions on every side, so that they might preserve an undiluted ‘Yes’ to the strange paradoxes of Christ’s life and witness. Such a situation is, I think, our own: it is possible to go wrong on matters of sex and marriage in ways besides affirming the licitness of same-sex sexual acts and desires. Indeed, it is possible to allow the spectacular transgressions our society’s broken anthropology has generated to make us inattentive to the same fundamental attitudes and dispositions present within our own midst, subtle and quiet though they might be.

… [A]ny denunciation of the ‘modern’ sexual ethic that does not address its most respectable, pervasive form in our churches will not have the confidence that can only come from consistency. My own work, published again earlier this week, failed abysmally in this respect. It is unconscionable how little I said in those chapters about the pervasive significance of procreation. I can only say that I regret the omission, repent earnestly of it—and have proved my repentance by writing a Ph.D. dissertation on the subject.

Burk and his organization have attempted to draw the boundaries of conservative evangelicalism around his understanding of sexual desire, such that to step anywhere outside of it is to capitulate to the spirit of our age. For Burk, the ‘neo-traditionalist’ attempt to affirm aspects of a ‘same-sex orientation’ or ‘gay identity’ is “doing something risky.” As he goes on to say, we “shouldn’t be surprised when [the neo-traditionalists] eventually reach the conclusion that same-sex behavior is ‘good’ as well.” This principle of inevitability is baked into Burk’s Manichean outlook on the world, in which the attempt to find and affirm virtues within our vices and goods within evils is one we are not free or empowered to undertake. The failure of one gay Christian to remain orthodox thus becomes evidence that the entire effort is flawed from the start—a principle Burk and his colleagues would (rightly) repudiate with the fiercest denunciations if an egalitarian ever accused their outlook of failure because a complementarian proponent was abusive. Burk’s account needs gay Christians to either renounce their approach or become progressives for its rightness to be vindicated. Is it any wonder that Burk’s organization has engaged in the culture war so vociferously during his and Owen Strachan’s tenure, despite the growing capitulation of heterosexual couples within their own communities to practices like IVF and surrogacy that reshape gender roles within marriages?

… It is a sign of evangelicalism’s frailty that it cannot abide by ‘risky’ attempts to affirm the goods of a life marked by a pervasive susceptibility to same-sex sexual desires, not of its strength or sanctity. Evangelicalism will only speak with the authority of true conviction on such questions when it remembers what chastity demands for its own marriages, and is unhesitating in risking the scorn and repudiation of its own members through naming the respectable sins we have let foster for the sake of our idolatrous commitments to sexual pleasure and biological children. When practices like IVF, surrogacy, and contraception are met with force equal to that with which we have met the great drama of gay marriage before us, I will begin again to trust the leaders God has currently given us. Until then, their denunciations of the world sound to this ear like resounding gongs, and their professions of love for gay Christians like clanging cymbals.

Matthew Lee Anderson. These were personal highlights in a very long essay — careful, critical and empathetic more than “erudite” — on the basis of which Anderson will next month present to the Revoice Conference. Meanwhile, Denny Burk and his Southern Baptist confreres are trying, bafflingly, to delegitimize the whole enterprise of “Supporting, encouraging, and empowering gay, lesbian, same-sex-attracted, and other LGBT Christians so they can flourish while observing the historic, Christian doctrine of marriage and sexuality”(!)

I think Anderson is “far righter” than Denny Burk, and he expresses movingly the reason for the Revoice Conference:

For those in the gay Christian community, how Christians have argued, taught, and spoken about these questions over the past thirty years has created an enormous amount of unnecessary collateral damage. Those who experience same-sex sexual desires have been left without a useful vocabulary to understand their own experience, except one that frames it in exclusively and comprehensively negative terms. This makes the qualifications by conservatives that their critiques of same-sex sexual desire are applicable to every form of desire sound like special pleading. The young man addicted to porn is allowed within his repentance the freedom to affirm the fundamental goodness of what he in fact desires (namely, marriage). On the most prominent account on offer right now, though, those who are gay are not allowed such an opportunity. Given this context, it seems reasonable to try—try—to extricate the theological and pastoral questions that such experiences raise from the grand cultural struggle, and to take them up anew on their own terms.

When even those participating in good faith are still arguing over terminology, some bumps and bruises were (and remain) inevitable.

But insofar as my own frequent forays into these topics have “created … unnecessary collateral damage,” I ask forgiveness. If I cause some of those inevitable bumps and bruises, I ask your charity. I’m conflicted even to post this, because we’ve just seen the disgrace of a Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church, illustrating (a) the intractability of sin, (b) the consequences when there’s inadequate context to give and receive non-genital love, (c) both, or (d) something else that I’m missing.

Talking, where both sides credibly profess adherence to historic, Christian doctrine of marriage and sexuality, seems worth the risk.

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