We can affirm traditional marriage without being haters. We can even walk out of our bubbles, tilt left on most political issues, and pal around with LGTB champions. Honest. It’s as easy as conservatives befriending liberals and everyone loving hilarious Uncle Harry, the do-anything-for-you guy who also warns against the impending alien invasion. We befriend Harry and tolerate his beliefs.
Such is my takeaway after the flap over the Nashville Statement, published last month by the Coalition on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Unsurprisingly, its authors bluntly aligned themselves with conventional Christian teaching on sex. Perhaps equally unsurprisingly, the social networks flared: The signatories were bigots, fanatics, brutes, and boors. Ridicule prevailed. Counter-statements circulated.
And I couldn’t help but think: Brambles litter my path. Call them the perils of the post-conservative evangelical Christian or the progressive evangelical or the classical Christian – or whatever tag they’ve nailed on this nebulous movement I’ve joined. I’m among those attempting to summon the back-to-the-Bible people back to the Bible. This means, among many other things, that we don’t tether ourselves to secular apostles shriveling God into their image. God is not a greedy capitalist bent on ecological and economic nihilism, nor is He the mouthpiece for the cultural left’s ever-widening expanse of shrill identity caucuses.
This would be a cinch if I dwelled in the shrinking bubble of progressive mainline Christianity, which merely respects the Bible. I’d fume over the statement. But I’m a progressive evangelical Christian. I view the Bible as God’s authoritative Word, which means I can’t slice out unpopular doctrines merely because I don’t like them. I’ve read and re-read the relevant texts, and I’m forced to agree with scholars like NT Wright, Ben Witherington, Gordon Fee, Stanley Grenz – and Pope Francis and Justin Welby, the current archbishop of Canterbury. I affirm Christianity’s traditional stand on marriage, echoed through the millennia: It’s is a life-long, monogamous, covenantal relationship between a man and a woman and the exclusive domain for sexual relations.
Will the Democrats now kick me out of their bubble?
None of this means I hate LGTB people (I’ve always befriended them easily), nor does it mean I won’t vote for one (I have); nor does it mean I’ll campaign to reverse the 2015 5-4 US Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage (I didn’t agree with it for several reasons, but the cat’s now out of the bag). It simply means I’ve probed the Bible and, for the life of me, I find nothing but affirmations for heterosexual marriage and specific admonitions against all other sexual unions. True, Israel’s ancient kings amassed veritable harems – and the biblical writers tell the story with nary a batted lash – but heterosexual monogamy wins the day in Genesis One and in the New Testament. Also true, the Gospels say nothing about same-sex marriage. But that’s an argument from silence – and the Apostle Paul spoke to the issue in Romans, written earlier than the Gospels. The Hebrew view of marriage had already seeped into Christianity in its infancy.
Society will believe and practice what it will. Devoted Christians, in my humble opinion, should yield to Scripture’s call.
The flare-up over the coalition’s proclamation demonstrates, once more, that we’re a society of bubble dwellers, rarely mingling with those who disagree. Real debate is anathema because opposing views threaten the security of our leftie-rightie universes, with the lefties seeing themselves as enlightened and open-minded. Just brace yourselves for the hisses, snarls, and claws when disagreement comes.
The statement emerges from its own bubble and begins with an ambitious preamble (our post-Christian culture “has embarked upon a massive revision of what it means to be a human being”), then settles down in a series of thirteen articles, each with an affirmation and a denial. Article One is key: “We AFFIRM that God has designed marriage to be a covenantal, sexual, procreative, lifelong union of one man and one woman, as husband and wife, and is meant to signify the covenant love between Christ and his bride the church ….” It denies same-sex, polygamous, or polyamorous relationships.
It’s stark. It merely asserts. It cites no biblical passage and skirts psychological complexity, so it will win no arguments. But there’s a wide gulf between insensitivity and hate mongering. Article Six specifically steers all away from the spite-filled Westboro Church: Those with physical disorders disrupting sex development “are created in the image of God and have dignity and worth equal to other image bearers.” God doesn’t hate anyone.
Nevertheless, the hisses and snarls spit from the boiling bubbles of the open-minded. They spew hatred even while they portray the proclamation’s authors as haters. Scott Dworkin, co-founder of the Democratic Coalition Against Trump, spoke for many when he tweeted: “#NashvilleStatement is un-American toilet paper written by Trump fans who use religion as a cover for their bigotry & their hate of equality.”
Let’s not allow facts to mess up a pithy tweet. Yes, signatories such as James Dobson, Tony Perkins, and Wayne Grudem supported Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign (and that’s a problem); John Piper, Russell Moore, and Albert Mohler didn’t. And some signatories were Canadians, with no dog in the US political fight.
The authors could have anticipated such reactions if they left their bubble – which confines itself to a corner of evangelical Christianity advocating complementary marriage – and gained insight from others. Maybe they’d have discovered Phil Strout’s letter, written after the landmark Supreme Court decision. The national director of the Vineyard USA reasserted traditional doctrine but added: “We believe that all humans are to be treated with kindness and compassion, as the image-bearers of God on earth. We are all sinful, and it is profoundly unbiblical to pick out one sin that is stigmatized above others. In the history of the church, homosexual persons experienced such sinful stigmatization. We repent and renounce this sort of sinful treatment.” The Vineyard also published a 90-page paper entitled, “Pastoring LGTB Persons.” The US Catholic bishops also displayed wisdom: “A welcoming stance of Christian love by the leadership and the community as a whole is essential for this important work. This is particularly important because more than a few persons with a homosexual inclination feel themselves to be unwelcome and rejected.”
As it stands, the authors issued a document from a bubble. Suddenly, it seems, they saw the post-Christian reality and rushed in their affirmations and denials.
I’m sure such a characterization is wildly unfair. I’m sure there were meetings, e-mails, conference calls, and more meetings – with bubbled-in Trump supporters blind to the inconsistency of supporting a serial lying adulterous president while drafting the Nashville Statement. They finally released it to a world reeling from Hurricane Harvey’s devastation and fearing on-coming Irma, unaware that many traditional Christians already addressed the issue in a far more compelling way.
The bubbles quickly boiled and steamed out what we need most: Respectful – and even challenging – dialogue, and the ability to befriend those with whom we disagree over fundamental issues. Bubble-dwelling is just too easy.