Still Mulling and Probably Won’t Stop
It’s the most Synodical time of the year and young delegates eyes all turn to the question of same sex marriage.
When word broke this week that Tony Campolo “came out” I knew he wasn’t gay, he had just switched over to the “inclusion” camp. “Inclusion” is the new “affirming”.
I, and just about every other pastor I know continue to watch, and mull and sometimes whisper about the issue of our age for the church. I haven’t posted in a bit on this but I continue to watch, and think and ponder. Perhaps a status report is in order.
“Sorry Tony You’ll Need A Few More Consonants”
The most interesting cloud on Tony’s “coming out” party is that it is post Caitlyn. Both Elial Cruz and Brandan Robertson have signaled that the ticket price has risen if you’d like inclusion into the inclusion party. Former traditionalists must enter with public apology and more letters in hand than just L and G. They are clearly feeling the “right side of history.” Any church that doesn’t equally embrace the bisexual, the gender queer or the transgender is not fully evolved. I would assume we should also welcome the pansexual, the polyamorous and whatever other orientations emerge in the years or months or demographic groups to come.
One wonders if the “demand” made by church, however weakened by the heteros, of “lifetime covenanted monogamy” can even be suggested anymore. Serial monogamy is the new standard and the job of a religious leader is to celebrate and facilitate the transitions. People’s sex lives are private decisions and the role of church is to celebrate not critique or criticize those decisions. The church should know its place.
Life is a journey, gender is constructed, and it is too much to imagine a single construct spanning a Western middle class lifetime. Partners with appropriately assigned constructions must be found along the way. A more rational approach is to imagine a series of relationships that people are encouraged to sustain as long as their comfort zones can tolerate. While admitting this publicly tends to elicit protests from romantics (see here and here), it is of course the implicit understanding of the day. Friends encourage friends to go out and find the relationship they deserve.
Post-Sexuality and the Inclusion of the Gentiles
Evangelicals (Ken Wilson, Matthew Vines, James Brownson, David Gushee, and others) have all been trying to make a biblical case for birth sex or genetic sex being irrelevant to God approved pairing (only two at a time though please). The strongest argument by traditionalists is that sexual (“gender is for grammar”) complementarity is foundational to any fruitful God-ordained sexual union.
This new situation is motivating scholars to go back and look at stories again in a new light. This is not a bad thing, the New Testament is full of it having to figure out how new events fit in with old scripture.
It strikes me, however, that a change like this is on the magnitude of a transition like that of setting aside circumcision and the Mosaic law. There is precious little evidence in the Old Testament that circumcision would be set aside yet it was. Much of the New Testament is the creation of the theology necessary to transition the Old Testament narrative through this change. That theology would become the foundation for the last 2000 years of the church.
Are we looking at such a transition today? Are the traditionalists Judaizers?
What is the Source of This Transition?
Traditionalists may pounce on this point but they should probably look before they leap. I’ve continued working on Charles Taylor’s massive A Secular Age and gained much by it. The roots of the present movement outside the church certainly seem traceable back to the Reformation or the “Reform” movements. However painful it is for my atheist friends to admit our framework of individual rights is the heir of Western Christendom. The question is whether the child of secularism will kill its mother.
The evangelical forces for inclusion assert that this is the work of the Holy Spirit progressively working its way through the church and society in a quiet post-millenialism.
Sources for the big leap made by Paul, the apostle to the gentiles were also broad as NT Wright keeps showing us. These were also accompanied, however, by the incarnation, life, death, resurrected and ascension of Jesus together with the coming of the Holy Spirit. All of this culminated in the church that went from persecuted sect to religion of the empire in 300 years.
Traditionalists could of course be the new Judaizers but what I think we should expect to see if the first twist is any guide would be a very messy process out of which the inclusion faction emerges victorious together with an invigorated, thriving church.
While none of us alive today will be present to witness such a triumph I would suggest we might look for certain signs and wonders to accompany it.
- There will need to be a new theology of sexuality that doesn’t just grandfather in nice, mostly white middle class same sex monogamous stable couples but fully accounts for sexual supernova that seems to be exploding. Just as New Testament was able to convincingly re-imagined the story of Israel so also I imagine this transition will need to do something comparable. I’ve yet to imagine anyone assert another Testament but can we really imagine simply backing our way into a transition of this magnitude? The burden is on those who wish to promote a new ethic to flesh it out.
- The new theology fleshed out (even if it comes after the changes in practice) will have to in the course of a few generations express itself in thriving institutions. The new theology should become a catalyst for the new institutional thriving in an increasing generative way. We would expect the institution itself to become the vanguard, not always playing catchup like Tony forgetting to bring his apology.
- While there may be other competing institutions in the ecosystem we’d expect this new one to out-perform the others.
I don’t imagine we can make any of these final judgments today, but early indications are not good.
- Most of the theology we are reading is defensive and accommodational rather than charting a whole new course. The question we see being addressed is “how can our theology catch up with what is happening outside the church”, not “how can our theology explain what is happening inside the church exclusively (like it was in the first century) and propelling the church forward beyond its environment.”
- The lack of an agenda in the Christian and evangelical left from the political left is another troubling indicator. You won’t find much in Sojourners that you also can’t find on the lips of non-Christians at the Democratic party. (I say this as someone who has never voted for a Republican for any major office.) Is the Holy Spirit more active in the Democratic party than in the church? Possible, but it doesn’t say much good about the church.
- If we ask those on the Christian left what is “beyond” inclusion of monogamous gay and lesbian couples what is their answer? Is that answer already found outside the church? Is most of what is happening inside the church an attempt to move ecclesiastical foot draggers to get more in step with what is being written about on Salon.com? What is the mental landscape of a preferable future? The new theology will need a new eschatology.
- Saying “birth sex is a thing indifferent to a relationship” really doesn’t cut it. Why is this indifferent now when it has been so foundational for the entire biblical story and history of the church? If this is part of the “mystery” (think mystery novel not impossible puzzle) that is revealed in Christ then the Holy Spirit sure has been slow to unveil this truth to us and the vehicle seems stranger than tongues in the house of Cornelius.
Still Watching and Trying to Keep an Open Mind
I want to be honest with both sides of this debate. If this is a new movement of the Holy Spirit by which God enfolds sexual minorities of ever letter into his church I want to be down for that. I want everyone including people who identify as gays, lesbians, polys, bis, trans, around the table of the Lamb and I think Jesus does too. That’s also true of my atheist friends, my sex offender friends, my Muslim friends, my new agey friends, etc. I’m just expressing what Paul expressed that none should perish.
Our current situation raises enormous missiological challenges to us. Do we opt for a Benedict Option or a Blue Ocean option?
The point of this posting is that a change of this magnitude will require more than just practical accommodation with a bit of defensive theological cover. We should see fruit in keeping with the magnitude of the theological change it is demanding.