Thursday, May 17, 2012

How Will Evangelical Christians Respond to Same Sex Marriage?

Two major issues threaten to fracture American Evangelicalism: growing awareness of what the Genome project implies and America’s gradual acceptance of same-sex marriage.

We will move quickly past the first issue. It isn't less important. It’s just that although scientists mapped human DNA more than a decade ago, the implications have not yet become clear to most people. However, the fact that a single biological language defines all forms of life will ultimately prove more challenging to our traditional ways of thinking than all the fossils and skeletons uncovered since the death of Darwin. Although we tend not to get as emotional about DNA as about same-sex marriage, the Genome project presents a much more fundamental challenge to our faith.

In the last couple of centuries, Evangelicals learned to compartmentalize thought. Science, economics and art became unrelated to faith. For the most part, the secular parts of our lives did not affect, and was not affected by, our decreasing knowledge of our own faith. More than a century after the discoveries of Einstein and Quantum Mechanics, few Christians ask about how living in a post-Newtonian world affects their faith.

And yet, the fact that we are in a post-Newtonian world is the most important motivation behind modern art, liberal theology, the New Age movement, the rise of Eastern religion in the West, and iPads. Evangelical ignorance of these things will not protect us from their affects. We cannot ethically use iPads and CT scans while pretending that the science that produced them is irrelevant. But Evanglical attention to this science is long overdue.

Nearly twenty years before the First World War, an unknown Austrian father was beating a little boy named Adolf. Meanwhile, in Vienna, better-known people were brewing up revolutions. Those revolutions would soon move boundaries much older than the national borders of Europe that Hitler would rearrange. The physics and psychology that were launched in Vienna during those first twenty years of the twentieth century would reshape the entire mental framework of Western Civilization.

Western artists, scientists, political leaders and religious thinkers began wrestling with the implications of a universe in which everything must be defined only by its relationship to everything else. The doctrines they embraced, and which Adolf Hitler and his friends would attempt to suppress, were simple.

Nothing is fixed.

Nothing is stable.

Nothing is solid.

Nothing is permanent.

If Freud was correct, even the human self was a fabricated illusion.

Outside Europe, these ideas did not greatly alarm the working class. Although they indirectly provoked Two World Wars, it would be the nineteen sixties before most Americans began to realize that Western Civilization as we had know it had unraveled.

Meanwhile, American Evangelicals thrived. In fact, Evangelicalism became a bastion for Protestant refugees fleeing from the madness of change. As historic denominations gradually reinvented themselves into something akin to Unitarianism, Evangelicals kept building churches and spreading the faith.

Protestant conservatives proved unable to stem the tide of cultural change. It swept over their seminaries, universities and churches. It left few survivors. One had to either convert to theological liberalism or flee.

Evangelicals welcomed the refugees and prospered. They did not think much about the incoming tide. They didn’t see it approaching their own institutions.

Since the likes of Carl Henry and C. S. Lewis, most prominent evangelicals (if we can place Lewis under that category) had had little to say about the implications of science, technology and globalization. Instead, they tinkered with politics, trying to impose by force what they were unable to influence through argument. They learned how to appeal to more and more people by saying less and less about less and less. They built empires of books, music and electronic media that reinforced the piety but did not deepen the understanding of American believers.

As a result, Evangelicals have produced two generations of believers who experience their faith as something emotionally satisfying but largely disconnected from practical life. They maintain some remnant of traditional morals in regions of the country where they are in the majority. Even then, they often base their reasons for moral and ethical behavior on cultural habit more than upon a coherent system of Christian thought.

Many, perhaps most American Evangelicals will rage for a while about same-sex marriage. Then they will discover a way to embrace it. In probably less than a decade, the debate will be over.


Four reasons.

First, American Evangelicals embrace a radically individualistic interpretation of scripture. “Every promise in the book is mine,” means, at least to most, that the scripture is addressed to individuals rather than to a community that discerns together through the centuries what the Bible means for everyday life. See if this sounds familiar: The Bible was not the product of a community; it came down from heaven on a velvet pillow. It magically assembled itself into a single volume.  It would have always been available if the institutional church had not cruelly kept it from us. There are no intervening centuries between the Bible’s writers and me. My era of history, denomination, and language doesn’t affect my understanding of the text. I just read what the Bible says. It means exactly what I think it means.

Evangelical piety follows suit. Membership in the Lord’s church is not a significant part of our spiritual walk. Church is simply an aid to our individualistic, personal relationship with God. It is not an intrinsic and essential part of God’s order. We go to church to get our needs met. We do not go to learn how to bring our being into harmony with God and with his people in the past, the present or around the world.

Secondly, we do not understand the covenantal or sacramental nature of Holy Matrimony. Indeed, we have nearly abandoned sacramental life altogether. Worship is about what we enjoy. It is not about “tasting of the powers of the world to come.” Marriage has become about self-fulfillment more than about God’s gift to redeem us from narcissism as we develop covenantal families.

Thirdly, we gave the state the right to define marriage a long time ago.  Many Evangelical ministers include in the wedding ceremony (if what they do is still a ceremony) these words, “And being authorized by the state to do so, I pronounce you man and wife.” Such words reveal that we base our authority to make covenant between a man, a woman, and God on the permission granted to us by the secular state rather than upon the authority granted to us through ordination by the Lord’s Church. Indeed, with the exception of English Protestantism, the early reformers were united in their opinion that marriage was a matter of the state rather than a sacramental action of the church.

If the state has, or ever had, the right to define marriage, why can’t it define marriage as it wishes? We have no reason to believe that young Evangelicals will disagree with what the state decides today since we have already granted it a power it never should have had in the first place. What would possibly be our children’s basis for disagreeing with the state about this?

Fourthly, disagreement with society over gay marriage will cost us too much. If our stand on this matter, or any other matter that affects our church’s finances and attendance, most of us will find a way to adjust our teaching to accommodate the people’s changing opinions. This is particularly true for mega churches because they simply cannot afford to do otherwise.

If you are still with me, you may imagine that I am a fire-breathing, prejudiced, proponent of old time religion. My mind is closed. I am a prophet of doom, proclaiming disaster and devastation.

No! I am saying that Evangelicalism lacks persuasive reasons for resisting cultural change. It often opposes changes that have nothing to do with the gospel but does not engage with issues that do.

I am saying that the issues of our times require thought rather than the regurgitated clichés from earlier times when believers still had brains.The issues require prayer. They require meaningful connections with other believers in the past, the present and around the world. They require humility. Most of all, they require courage.

I am saying that mere cultural conservatism does not offer an adequate Christian response to the issues we face. Neither does fundamentalism. Made-for-television, Christianity-as-circus, offers even less. We must recover our intellectual heritage in order to think clearly about the discoveries and changes of our times. The answers of the past may prove inadequate for the questions of the present but knowing them will be essential for arriving at contemporary answers.

Shouting louder will not help. Moving to rural Greenland will not help. Capitulation to secularism, whether all at once or by degrees, will not help. Taking over the state will not help.

What will help is picking up the cross, becoming disciples, and offering our society real answers for the faith that lies within us. Many, probably most, will not accept those answers. Very likely, biblically faithful Christians will become a minority. They will, in all probability, be forced to walk the narrow road that leads to life if they want to keep company with the saints.

The question is, will those who do this become a life-giving, joyful minority? Or will they become a disgruntled, poorly informed people, mostly angry about having lost their power?

In the end, a self-righteous people who cling to their old ways simply because they are cantankerous will offer no more holiness to our Godless nation than their hedonistic neighbors. And, if one is going to hell anyway, he ought to do it in the company of people who are having a good time.

The soup kitchen, prayer meeting and bible study will do a lot more for our cause than yelling at people or 'getting out the vote to drive the heathen out of office'. Saintly lives offering informed conversation; listening as well as speaking; loving people enough to tell them what we believe to be true, will save many, perhaps even ourselves.


Clay said...

Thank you for sharing.

I have found that a "problem" is that many Christians pick and choose what they are going to take a stand against.

They may scream gay marriage is wrong, but wouldn't dare say anything to the heterosexual couple that are living together outside of marriage.

I think this points to a weakness Col. Patterson has nailed - we're so busy telling people what they can't do, we forget to tell them what they CAN do through Christ.

You are right in your conclusion - more Christian service, performed out of love, will help society more than anything else we can offer.



Dan Scott said...


You are absolutely right, as is Col. Patterson. We have indeed invalidated much of our argument by picking and choosing what we will stand against. I am as guilty of that as anyone and am sorry for it. Most of us frame our favorite issues to line up with our existing social opinions. Our reactions are not usually carefully thought out responses to Holy Scripture.

Dan Scott said...


You are absolutely right about the hypocrisy of "driving the heathen out of office." If you had read the entire post, I think you would have seen that my comment was tongue in cheek, and made the very point you are making.

The issue in the end is whether Holy Scripture has the right to speak to our human condition and whether we place ourselves under its authority or not. At present, there are Christians who claim that the Bible does not address the issue in the way we have traditionally believed. However, that is a very new opinion. I try to hear those opinions and think them through.

The civil and secular state has the right to decide this issue as it wishes, and will probably do so in ways that orthodox Christians will not affirm. That presents a problem for the Christian community to process and we will all be forced to come to a conclusion consistent with our conscience. That conclusion must also be consistent with the spirit of Christ who was willing to suffer but was not willing to defend himself with violence.

Human beings -- all of us -- are made in the image and likeness of God. If we violate that principle, then our faith is in vain at every level. said...

A tremendous article! Thanks for giving me some thoughts to meditate on. Please keep expressing yourself with no hesitation on being misunderstood.

j said...

The topic of same sex marriage is a subject my family has healthy debates on from time to time. It would be safe to say we are a family split; 2 against and 1 for. Everyone involved is God fearing, God loving, Bible believing adults. I, being the oldest debater, has always stuck to the premise that the words I read that God has written has and never will change. The Bible does not evolve. Yes we are free to interpret His words as we "need" to to make us feel that our actions, and beliefs "OK" in God's eyes.
Marriage between 2 people of the same sex is not what God intended for his children; therefore I am not afraid to stand and say, I am opposed to gay marriage. Do I believe that the people that follow that path are going to but it is not my place to judge anyone. It is my responsibility to to read God's word, study it and pray, for it is only through those actions that I will see his truths. He has commanded me to love my neighbor as I love myself. My neighbor is gay, I love them but I can not honor a marriage commitment between them.
Pastor Dan, thanks for going there on this issue. You challenge God's people to study and get into God's word to find the answers they need. Who knows what he will reveal to us while looking for answers. Never thought about it but this whole topic could be a platform for God to have people come to him and find peace or direction. I love how God works that way.

David Peterson said...

Wow! A lot of good stuff here. So true on so many counts. I don't know where to begin. Leads me to prayer and encourages me that I'm not alone.

Gayle Levee said...

Your concern about the human genome project reminds me of the conversation we had about fossils and the Garden of Eden. Basically, to me, DNA is the clay and the dust. That doesn't bother me a bit. The thing that bothers me is that I see no evidence of a fall in either the DNA or the fossil record. I have been forced to conclude that the Fall refers more to a spiritual divorce than a physical one.

Amy said...

This issue poses more questions for me than are being discussed in most places that I know.I look forward to comments that clarify!

I believe what you are saying, Dan, is that the word "marriage" is a word that God designed to mean a sacred union, but we have fallen into a state co-opted connotation for it. (This is what I took from the May 20th sermon). If that was a main point, then I understood that and the ideas behind it. I also understood the idea that the state will have the state's way. It is under this point that my struggle begins.

In a country where the state is allowed to issue the rights of couples to bond their lives together for certain benefits, why should all of its citizens not be permitted to have those options? It wasn't many years ago that couples of different ethnic backgrounds were not permitted to marry, and the discussion was similar to this one. I believe that scripture is much more direct in the current issue, but does that preclude the state from offering equal protection? If a woman who commits sins classified as scriptural "abominations" can enter into a union called marriage with a man who commits spiritual "abominations", then how can it be that some sinners get away with being recognized, and others don't?

Those are arguments based on what the state calls marriage. Under what God defines as marriage, the church is obligated to observe scriptural teaching in their participation in this sacred rite.

My larger concern with current trends is that Christians are being told by the state (or private institutions) that they are no longer permitted to maintain religious standards as part of their religious operations. As it relates to gay marriage, the slope seems to be slipping toward a time when churches will be pressured to recognize gay marriages. Such issues are already happening in our city to religious organizations.

Will the progression of events mean that churches who object to performing marriages of same sex couples can face intervention by the state for discrimination? Where will the line be for maintaining spiritual principles? These issues are of, what I would consider, monumental consequence, but they seem to be underrepresented in the discussion.

The discussion, I think, should be about much more than which type of sin is the worst,e.g. These types of sinners can do "X", but these types of sinners are worse, and can not do "X". I appreciate the fact, Dan, that you addressed this particular issue of hypocrisy in your sermon to the body. It is an underlying topic that I find to be neglected in most arenas of debate on this subject.

I hope that we can, as a church, have more and thoughtful consideration of what this issue will mean to us.

Mr. E.W. said...

Homosexuality is nothing new, this topic has been going on for almost as long as humans have walked this earth; and will most likely be with us until the return of Christ Jesus.

In the eyes of our God, homosexuality has been wrong from the it's beginning, and because God is unchanging; it is still wrong today, and tomorrow.

Believe me, these various sideline discussions that we engage in on this blog will not change wrong into right. Why, because God's truth is absolute and will never change, nor evolve; He has spoken clearly on this subject, and we can not talk our way around it; no matter how much we mere humans may evolve our social ideas, our fairness in civil liberties, our political debates, legal debates, family just name it--none of these will change the Word of God.

Again, there's nothing new in this debate, except for the fact that we have evolved into the idea of changing what God has already ordained -- that is, marriage between a man and a woman. All other discussions regarding homosexuality only confuses the issue, and is only reflections of our fleshly desires, and does not align with the will of God.

We can not say that we love and obey God, if we are not striving to live in obedience of His Word of Truth. The problem with the history of man is that we want our own truth, such that we can do whatever it is we desire; not His will be done, but our will be done.

We call ourselves a Christian Nation...yet, many of us are seeking after ways that we might be able to compartmentalize God, such that we can "have our cake and eat it too." God is not the author of confusion...yes, we do certain liberties/freedaom in Chirst Jesus...but we do not a license to do whatever we choose.

Yes, we all fall short and have sinned, and therefore, we must not judge one another, including the sin of homosexuality...for God is our Judge...even still, God does not "blink an eye, nor turn His head" to our sins...we know this because there're always consequences for our sins.

Finally, let us continue to Love God, and Love each other, and obey His Holy Word. If your source of TRUTH does not come from the God of CREATION, then these words will most likely fall on death ears; but, I pray that our God will have mercy upon us all, and will continue to bless this great country, as we continue to seek after His face, standing firm on His everlasting Truth! Forgive us all of our sins, for we all have fallen short of your GLORY!

Clyde Baker said...

I have to disagree with the thrust of the second cause...the we will accept same sex marriage because we have adopted narcissism as a basis of marriage. One cannot argue that many people are hedonistic--let's marry for the pleasure; Or romantic--let's marry so we may live in love. But the alternative is absolutely false--namely, the argument that a same sex marriage is by nature incapable of a covenantal relationship. The failure is not the inability of an LGBT couple to achieve it, the failure is the blindness, hardness of heart that denies what God can build in the lives of a committed, faith centered LGBT couple. We will never advance the cause of a covenant life if we keep pretending that only we can be dressed in such heavenly garb. Someone will inevitably comment on the emperor's new clothes.