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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I also blog short items at Micro.blog.

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Progressive clobber passages

A Facebook exchange a few years ago produced a minor epiphany.

I observed that my Facebook friend, a high school classmate at an Evangelical boarding school (who now has expressly apostasized and gone kind of New Agey and knee-jerk Left), was credulous about some leftish things, but that we both were products of the sixties. “We are so much reverse mirror images” I wrote. He replied:

I don’t consider myself to be a Christian, but I do think the philosophy [Jesus] preached is a good one. You know, peace, love and helping your fellow man. Also protest the actions of the money-changers. The Republicans who claim to be Christians have no use for that kind of nonsense. Democrats, at least, are more inclined to think in those terms.

The epiphany was that the phenomenon, which I’ve long noted, of non-Christians, or progressive Christians, trying to shame conservative Christians with cherry-picked Bible passages (“Judge not” is the Progressives’ equivalent of John 3:16) or supposed themes. The exegetical skill displayed in wielding these progressive clobber passages is distinctly inferior to that of the people who, in the obvious counterpart, oppose sodomy with their “clobber passages.”

In the present instance, “peace, love and helping your fellow man” is (to avoid my own proof-texting) at best a debatable summary of Jesus’ “philosophy,” and I distinctly recall that where the money-changers had set up business was crucial to Christ’s decisive action.

It’s odd that the Bible still has such purchase even for those who try to reject it — at least those of my generation, who knew a little about it. I suppose I’m such a malcontent that I’ll complain when kids are too illiterate even to misuse the Bible.

White man speak with forked tongue

Some religious liberty groups are sitting out the “travel ban” case. I think they’re right, and that Christian Legal Society and National Association of Evangelicals summarize why they’re right:

The CLS and NAE said the courts should decide whether the government intentionally discriminated against Muslims. If so, then the order is unconstitutional.

In their shared legal brief, however, the CLS and NAE remain agnostic about the president’s motives. CLS board member Carl H. Esbeck said it was outside the scope of their group to decide whether the president meant to discriminate against Muslims or Islam.

But, mirabile dictu, one group weighed in:

Not all groups were unwilling to choose a side. Those supporting the ban included the American Center for Law and Justice, a conservative Christian group led by Trump’s personal lawyer Jay A. Sekulow. ACLJ made the argument in a brief that the order is constitutional; the purpose of the order, it argues, is to protect national security by keeping out “foreign terrorists.”

That’s just as wrong as if CLS and NAE had claimed to know that the Order was to fulfill Trump’s promise to ban Muslims. But what do you expect: Jay Sekulow wears two hats, which probably is disclosed in ACLJ’s brief but won’t go unnoticed by SCOTUS even if it isn’t.

UPDATE: Here’s my source for the overall story, which I omitted inadvertently. Also, to clarify, “sitting out” doesn’t mean not filing Amicus briefs at all. These groups do have an opinion on how the court should approach the case (two leading groups called for remand to lower courts for further development), but not on the final outcome.

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Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.

(Philip K. Dick)

The waters are out and no human force can turn them back, but I do not see why as we go with the stream we need sing Hallelujah to the river god.

(Sir James Fitzjames Stephen)

Place. Limits. Liberty.

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Evangelicals and Trump

When Trump shows up and is happy to speak the language of apocalyptic pessimism, and promises to protect the evangelicals who feel besieged, they back him in droves.

(The Christian Humanist Podcast discussing Michael Gerson’s The Last Temptation) I appreciate that possible explanation, but I’m with David French on this:

Never Trump conservatives like me were asking our Christian friends and neighbors to make a considerable leap of faith — to boycott both major-party candidates and run the risk of considerable (and important) legal and political losses out of the conviction that the character of a leader ultimately matters more than the policies he promises.
But the story doesn’t stop there, and it’s discussing post-election evangelicalism where Gerson’s essay is most persuasive. It’s one thing to face a tough choice between voting for a morally corrupt man and staying at home. It’s another thing to join the morally corrupt man’s tribe. It’s another thing entirely to excuse in him behavior that you’ve long condemned in anyone — everyone — else. We’re treated to the utterly appalling, continuing spectacle of watching Christian leaders excuse Trump’s worst characteristics and rationalize away his most obvious sins. Some of the worst even turn Trump’s vices into virtues and revel in his combative, vicious rhetoric.

(David French discussing Michael Gerson’s The Last Temptation — emphasis added.)

It is hard to see how the name “Evangelical” can be redeemed any time soon. Evangelical support for Trump is just that notorious and scandalous. Would that Evangelicals had just held their noses, zipped their lips, and voted for the guy who seemed to sympathize with their awareness of being besieged! (If you don’t think conservative Christians were besieged, read the French piece to refresh your sorry memory.)

I’m not yet ready to endorse the Christian Humanist podcast, which I just discovered, but it looks promising and sounds tolerable after one episode.

* * * * *

Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.

(Philip K. Dick)

The waters are out and no human force can turn them back, but I do not see why as we go with the stream we need sing Hallelujah to the river god.

(Sir James Fitzjames Stephen)

Place. Limits. Liberty.

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

A weird little lawsuit

American Atheists today filed a lawsuit in the Common Pleas Court of Lake County, Ohio, alleging that a developmentally disabled child was forcibly baptized against the expressed wishes of his parents by a minister and a court-approved “Big Brother” mentor.

The child, referred to as “V” in the court filing, was taken to a church picnic in August 2016 by the child’s mentor. During the picnic, the mentor and the church’s pastor subjected V to a full-immersion baptism, against the wishes of V’s parents ….

(Atheists File Lawsuit After Child Forcibly Baptized by Court-Approved Mentor; H/T Religion Clause)

Let us grant that an 11-year-old, even without developmental delays, should not be baptized against his parents’ wishes. (She shouldn’t be able to get an abortion against their wishes, either, but that’s not how the law seems to roll. Go figure.)

Back in the day, forced Christian baptism could eventuate in outrages that are still echoing today.

Plaintiffs allege that the baptism of the child was a battery and that his immersion left him feeling like he was choking. So far, so good, though it hardly sounds like a big-ticket lawsuit.

But the lawsuit still puzzles me. Plaintiffs allege under various legal counts that they are suffering extreme emotional distress. That’s the puzzler. I don’t think “that really, really pissed me off” out to qualify because that puts a premium on ginned up outrage. So why, other than their wishes being disregarded, do they reasonably suffer extreme emotional distress?

Let me put it this way:

  1. Do they think the baptism made little V a Christian, ontologically and indelibly, ex opere operato? With Evangelicals, you never can tell, but I doubt that even Morning Star Friends Church, the offending religious body, believes that about its baptisms. They’d be far outside the Evangelical mainstream if they do. But if Plaintiffs do believe that, then shouldn’t they reconsider their opposition to a church with such strong magic?
  2. Do think the baptism made little V wet and breathless for a few minutes? Does that warrant extreme emotional distress?

If the latter, this really sounds like the “declaratory judgment” is what this is about, but the facts are so singular that I’m glad I don’t have to write the judgment.

* * * * *

Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.

(Philip K. Dick)

The waters are out and no human force can turn them back, but I do not see why as we go with the stream we need sing Hallelujah to the river god.

(Sir James Fitzjames Stephen)

Place. Limits. Liberty.

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Heckfire and Brimstone

Twice this week, I caught snippets of NPR or APR stories about a Pentecostal preacher who stopped believing in hell. Or maybe it was a single story, replayed, and I caught different snippets.

As Rob Bell discovered, getting squishy about hell is kind of an Evangelical capital offense (at least for now, until Evangelicals’ “firm foundation” slips along the greased Zeitgeist into uncharted territory). So I was unsurprised when today’s radio snippet included that Carlton Pearson’s church had gone bankrupt and that he now is improbably preaching in Unitarian-Universalist Churches. His preaching in such churches is improbable because his preaching style is hellfire-and-brimstone, albeit without the hellfire substance any longer.

I have no reason to think that Pearson came to his new convictions dishonestly. It’s hard for me to see any incentive to deny hell in the Evangelical or Pentecostal world, even if one has a mixture of financial motivation; there’s probably more job security and money in cultivating fear of death and hell, which grows like a weed with minimal encouragement.

In Evangelicalism, although it’s pretty common knowledge that hell is a customary part of the cosmic map, there’s no Pope, Bishops, or Ecumenical Councils recognized as authoritative. If you can put some Bible lipstick on a pig, there’s nobody to say “that’s a pig, not an angel” with any real force behind it, howsoever obvious the truth or vehement the rebuttal. So if an Evangelical erases hell from his personal cosmic map, there’s at best a weak argument that integrity requires abandoning the moniker “Evangelical.”

Apropos of that, I listened as Pearson preached, in black church style, a hell-free-and-brimming-with-hope sermon that was pretty impressive in its intensity. If orthopathos, right feeling, really is the center of Evangelicalism, it’s hard to say that Carlton is peripheral, let alone out of orbit entirely.

I listen to stories like this pretty dispassionately these days. The Orthodox faith by consensus of the Fathers affirms hell, but it never has become credal (“and He shall come in glory to judge the living and the dead, whose kingdom shall have no end” — that’s it), and there have been and still are voices very sympathetic to universalism.* Though I’m with the Fathers, I cannot but admire the compassion for the world that make it hard for some to affirm hell.

In fact, despite my own Calvinist background, just about the only people in these debates about hell who totally creep me out are those who seem to feel some deep emotional need for hell to exist and for most people to go there. This classic statement from Section VII of Article III of the Westminster Confession (which Confession I loved and which statement I accepted, albeit with little enthusiasm) captures something of that feeling:

The rest of mankind God was pleased, according to the unsearchable counsel of His own will, whereby He extendeth or withholdeth mercy, as He pleaseth, for the glory of His sovereign power over His creatures, to pass by; and to ordain them to dishonour and wrath for their sin, to the praise of His glorious justice.”

(Emphasis added) Maybe I’m reading it anachronistically, but that bolded phrase now gives me the willies. Eternal wrath and “glorious justice” seem difficult to reconcile in a way that would permit a decent human being, at least in our current state of seeing as through a glass, darkly, to exult in anyone’s eternal torment.

Yes, anyone’s.

20 years after having left semi-Evangelical Calvinism and 40 years after having left explicit and unequivocal Evangelicalism, I find myself at a loss to understand Evangelical line-drawing, their determination that this is a deal breaker but that is not.

Nothing is more important to Christianity than proper Trinitarian doctrine, and specifically Christology. But the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood cheerfully solicited and publicized the subscription of the Nashville Statement by two men who deviate from orthodox Trinitarian views (see Alastair Roberts here). I could probably come up with a snarky explanation, but having said I’m at a loss to understand, that would be double-dealing.

* * * * *

* That something is not credal does not imply that it’s unimportant. As noted recently, though, we seem to lack a vocabulary for matters that are neither credal nor adiaphora.

Consecrated

Christianity Today features an article titled “Why God Still Works Through Fools Like Samson.

The very timing of the article hints that many CT readers recognize a particular prominent person (who shall be unnamed by me as he was by the author) as a “fool” of Biblical proportions.

But it’s not pious rationalizations of the fool’s doings. There’s no “12-dimensional chess” or other piffle.

Instead, it puts a surprising spin on how little “spirituality” may be involved in being “consecrated” for some divine purpose. And it stands on its head, for any discerning reader, the faux spiritual assurance that a consecrated fool will Make Anything Great Again. Au contraire.

Samson’s problems, according to the article:

From the start he is impulsive, spoiled, demanding, arrogant, and lacking judgment. He shows no hint of kindness or love or what we would call the evidence of a life stirred by the Spirit. He is cruel and vindictive. Incapable of discernment and immune to advice, he twice marries into the families of the Philistines—the very people who are the enemies of Israel. Disregarding every warning and all counsel, he creates conflicts of interest that prove fatal. Betrayal and disappointment are constant themes in his life.

His own people don’t know what to do with him and the chaos he has created. He is a rogue killing machine, yet no one can touch him. His anger and pride control him, isolating him from everyone around him. Charles Spurgeon wrote, “His whole life is a scene of miracles and follies.” There is nothing in the life of Samson that proves his being motivated by the Spirit of God as we understand it. Nevertheless, he is consecrated by God.

Samson may be the first total narcissist in Scripture. He is a textbook case. Narcissists misjudge their own importance and consider themselves to be indispensable and worthy of special rights and privileges. When opposed, they are furious and blame everyone around them. They infuriate other people, and their excessive pride causes others to work even harder just to cut them down and see them humiliated. While thinking themselves sophisticated and shrewd, they are actually more gullible than the average person. They are betrayed by the very people they think they can trust. Finally, they believe they are destined for greatness and, when crossed, they react with revenge and violence—even at the risk of their own lives.

Oh dear! But it gets worse when you reflect that Samson was consecrated

to defeat an enemy and bring down an entire government. His epitaph reads, “He killed many more when he died than while he lived.” Isn’t that what he was set apart to do?

But just because his life had a purpose does not mean it was well spent. He had no wisdom, no maturity, no relationships of any value. We equate consecrated with spiritual maturity, piety, godliness, and a longing to be more Christlike. That was not Samson. Perhaps he was raised up in the same way as Pharaoh: to display God’s power but then be destroyed.

Yes, Samson was consecrated in that he was singled out and set apart to accomplish one mission. It turns out character is not necessary for being consecrated, which can simply mean “designed and set apart for a purpose.” To be consecrated means to be set apart by God, not to be chosen by a popular vote or based on character qualifications.

It turned out there was little that could govern or rule Samson except his own unpredictable nature and ego. There was nothing else of value he accomplished in his life. He was a weapon—not a leader. He never led the people to battle or to victory. He betrayed himself and everyone around him. But he accomplished his mission.

The writer of Judges doesn’t hide any of that or even attempt to justify or condemn his behavior. It is not a tale with a moral. It is not a warning. It is simply a puzzling illustration of how God’s ways are not ours.

Read the “triumph” of Samson here if you don’t recall it.

* * *

On a totally unrelated note (I speak thus to those who would buy a bridge in Queens if I offered it for sale), I worried this morning at two newspaper items.

  1. From the Wall Street Journal: Sessions Warns White House Not to Fire Rosenstein[:] The attorney general said would consider resigning over such a move.
  2. In the Washington Post, a Joe Scarborough column It’s becoming clear that Trump won’t run in 2020, which strikes me as wishful thinking and lamentably closes with a kinky fantasy about Nikki (“With all due respect, I do not get confused.”) Haley taking the Presidential “debate stage to coldly cut the Donald down to size, revealing to the world once and for all that this bloated emperor has no clothes.”

I fear the Wall Street Journal may have incited metaphorical death sentences for Sessions and Rosenstein, the Washington Post for Nikki Haley. I know only a fool would be so willful, but kings of old committed filicide at the first whiff that some offspring had designs on early ascension to the throne.

I said almost from the get-go that “Trump v. Clinton” had God’s judgment written all over it. Now look where we are:

When power dominates truth, criticism becomes betrayal. Critics cannot appeal to neutral facts and remain loyal, because facts are not neutral. As Hannah Arendt wrote of the 1920s and 1930s, any statement of fact becomes a question of motive. Thus, when H.R. McMaster, a former national security adviser, said (uncontroversially) that Russia had interfered in the election campaign, Mr Trump heard his words as unforgivably hostile. Soon after, he was sacked.

(The Republican Party is organize around one man, The Economist for April 21, 2018)

But those Democrat Philistines still had better be very careful about making sport of him.

* * * * *

Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.

(Philip K. Dick)

The waters are out and no human force can turn them back, but I do not see why as we go with the stream we need sing Hallelujah to the river god.

(Sir James Fitzjames Stephen)

Place. Limits. Liberty.

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

How Trump seduced the Evangelicals

U.S.—The vast majority of the nation’s evangelical Christians stressed Friday that they were “this close” to abandoning their support of Donald Trump as they coped with a seemingly endless string of moral scandals surrounding the president.

“I swear, if 197 or so more egregious moral failings come to light, I am DONE supporting this guy,” one evangelical from Idaho declared, drawing a clear line in the sand. “My support for this president is not limitless, nor is it unconditional. Just a couple hundred more clear examples of belligerently immoral behavior and I’ll jump off the Trump train so fast it’ll make your head spin.”

At publishing time, American evangelicals had upped the number of passes they’re willing to give the president from one or two hundred to one or two thousand, stating “we didn’t elect him to be the nation’s pastor, for crying out loud.”

This must be, and is, the Babylon Bee. You can get it by Facebook, RSS, and G*d knows how many other ways.

Evangelical support of Trump has been fertile soil for the Bee’s Christian sense of humor. But I heard somewhere yesterday an uncommonly good explanation of how Trump got Evangelical support in the first place.

It went something like this.

Trump gets together with sundry Evangelical mucky-mucks and poo-bahs and says (or likelier signals) :

Look. There’s no sense playing around here. I’m not a pious man. No way.

But I know you. I respect you. You are important to the nation. And I think you have a right to live how you want to live.

So if I’m elected, I was protect you. I will build a wall around you. A beautiful wall. A magnificent wall.

And I’ll make the progressives pay for it.

 

Well, it’s an uncommonly good if you bracket inconvenient questions like “How did they spread the word without word getting out?”

UPDATE:

If this really is the way it went down, this may be an instance where Trump has fairly steadfastly made good on a promise. Witness, for instance, Roger Severino at HHS:

The Trump administration is deploying civil-rights laws in new ways to defend health-industry workers who object to medical procedures on religious grounds.

Roger Severino, an administration appointee to the Department of Health and Human Services, is heading a new division at the department that will shield health-care workers who object to abortion, assisted suicide, or other procedures they say violate their conscience or deeply held religious beliefs.

HHS has proposed rules that would expand the division’s enforcement ability and require many health organizations to inform workers about their federal protections regarding their personal faith or convictions.

The list of coming changes has many worried that HHS is putting religious priorities ahead of those of a secular state. But Mr. Severino rejects the notion that his office is pushing an evangelical or Catholic agenda, saying his unit will protect people of all faiths.

“It’s not about denial of service based on a person’s identity,” he said in an interview. “A retailer like Target happens not to sell guns; that doesn’t mean they’re denying anyone their right to buy guns.”

Just so.

* * * * *

Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.

(Philip K. Dick)

The waters are out and no human force can turn them back, but I do not see why as we go with the stream we need sing Hallelujah to the river god.

(Sir James Fitzjames Stephen)

Place. Limits. Liberty.

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Evangelicalism at its best

Evangelicalism is a motley mess greatly varied. A substantial proportion having beslimed themselves by worship of 45, a few others soldier on as serious thinkers.

The lads (I can say that: they’re young, terribly young, in comparison to me) at Mere Orthodoxy and the related Mere Fidelity podcast are, for my money, among Evangelicalism’s finest.

For example, last year some “complementarian” Evangelicals brought forth the Nashville Statement under the auspices of the The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. At the time, I was forced to confront the oddness of the claim that the matters of sexuality discussed therein were “at the core of the Christian faith,” or words to that effect. (That concept did not come directly from the Statement, so far as I can recall, but from discussion surrounding it.)

“At the core” seemed not quite right, yet not quite wrong, either.

It must have felt the same to the Mere Orthodoxy lads because they brought forth a podcast on the topic of Orthodoxy and Sexual Ethics last September, which I audited for the first time Wednesday afternoon. It was quite good and clarified my impression the we lack the vocabulary for the importance of topics like sexuality to the Christian faith.

Some of my take-aways:

  • When someone like James K.A. Smith approaches this subject, in close proximity to the Nashville Statement, the context of the questions and answers matters a great deal.
  • If anything fits the Vincentian Canon, the kinds of propositions about sexuality affirmed by the Nashville Statement do (at least most of them). They are not adiaphora.
  • There were Christians who supported slavery, and had a hermeneutic to back them up. Was opposition to slavery therefore not a “core tenet”?
  • “Entailed by orthodoxy” does not mean “entailed by the creeds.” Orthodoxy is more capacious than the creeds.
  • The “arc” and anthropology of Christianity makes sexuality if not core, then entailed by the core.
  • “Part of the Catholicity of the Church” is an alternate formulation of “core.”

I was also reminded of some of the calculations that go into individual decisions to subscribe or not subscribe something like the Nashville Statement:

  • One’s own tradition may have already spoken on the topic to an extent that makes signing another statement superfluous.
  • Some of the featured signers of the Nashville Statement are heretical in their view of the Holy Trinity. Is this Statement so clearly right, timely and groundbreaking as to make subscription morally obligatory despite such disreputable company?
  • Subscription of a Statement under the auspices of the complementarian CBMW associates one with views one may not hold, and the tacit buttressing of those broader views is part of the context of a decision to sign or not to sign. Is this Statement so clearly right, timely and groundbreaking as to make subscription morally obligatory despite the aid and comfort it gives a disputed view of proper gender relations in Christianity?
  • Oddly, the Englishmen on the Mere Fidelity podcast had signed while the Americans had not. I think the Americans were more aware of the preceding questions of context.

Of course, it’s also the case that the Nashville Statement had nothing to say about the scandalous rates of divorce among self-identified Evangelicals. Could it be that “speaking the truth in love” is something one does only to gay Christians? (Then it’s not the least courageous, by criteria of C.S. Lewis.)

It absolutely is not the case that I’d still choose Evangelicalism were Evangelicals all like these Mere Orthodoxy lads. The reasons why are beyond my scope today. But I respect those youngsters very much, and occasionally put a few shekels where my mouth is.

* * * * *

Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.

(Philip K. Dick)

The waters are out and no human force can turn them back, but I do not see why as we go with the stream we need sing Hallelujah to the river god.

(Sir James Fitzjames Stephen)

Place. Limits. Liberty.

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.