The strength of the affirming camp is their obvious expression of compassion for same sex attracted individuals. It matches the weakness of the traditionalist camp in offering a seemingly simple and obvious, apparently workable solution to the dilemma. Just redefine marriage to be between two individuals regardless of gender. No mess, no fuss, just take the traditional definition and change one tiny detail.
The weakness of the affirming camp, however, is that detail isn’t as tiny as it initially appears. The wave they are riding isn’t just looking for a tiny adaptation of marriage to be blind to the biology of two participating individuals, but is in fact deeply skeptical about marriage as a viable organizing institution that resolves and fulfills common human sexual desire. The wave in fact is carrying with it the demand to affirm and celebrate whole ranges of sexual behavior that go far beyond the nice Christian gay or lesbian couple that wish to participate within the life of the church as any heterosexual couple would be expected to.
Marriage has come to function within the church as an institution that sanctions, celebrates, legitimates and authorizes sexual activity between two consenting adults. This has always been an aspirational function with which the church has always struggled. As the church’s power to compel through social pressure has diminished over the last 50 years the church has increasingly adopted a “don’t ask, don’t tell” or “no-policing” posture. This has accelerated the church’s embrace of the broader cultural definition of marriage which is that marriage is an expression of mutual affirmation. It is assumed that sexual behavior of many varieties is a normal part of romantic involvement and cohabitation has become the common cultural pre-marriage arrangement or marriage alternative. Many churches have quietly caved to the broader cultural realities on this front while only the most traditional and conservative churches continue to try to hold some sort of a line here.
While the affirming camp proposes what is presented to be a tiny alteration to the traditional position most under the age of 40 know that the house they wish to modify has nearly collapsed in any church that would consider this proposed act of remodeling. For political reasons within a largely conservative denomination like the CRC important question are not and likely will not be addressed by those who wish to promote affirming and celebrating. Here are some of those questions.
1. Can life-long monogamous marriage be the institutional solution to the challenge of human sexual desire for bisexual individuals whose identity implies that they cannot be satisfied completely and exclusively by either of the sexes? As the menu of sexual identities increases with pansexuals, polysexuals, etc. this framework gets increasingly difficult to believe. I’ve yet to see an answer to this question from the affirming camp.
2. The LGBTQ… coalition has increasingly embraced the assumption that gender is not a binary proposition. We are not so much born any particular way (or made any particular way by God as stated in this piece) but that our sexual identity is a product of social forces. This is behind many activistic attempts to reshape and perfect long standing societal injustices in race, sex, gender, homophobia, transphobia, etc. through education, legislation and other means of social pressure. It’s increasingly difficult to claim “made this way” when the ascendant activist camp increasingly believes we are all blank slates inheriting our desires and biases (implicit and explicit) from a history of white supremacy and patriarchy. Andrew Sullivan, one of the most important early promoters of legalized same sex marriage makes this point in his weekly column. http://nymag.com/intelligencer/2019/02/andrew-sullivan-the-nature-of-sex.html What we are increasingly seeing is a generation and alphabetic divide. For political reasons these tensions are usually obscured. They are, however, obvious to many who are paying attention to the debates far beyond the church. For this reason what is needed from the affirming camp is not simply a plea for a small accommodation but rather a far broader vision for how the church should institutionalize its vision for sexual wholeness in the midst of a society that is increasingly deconstructing human sexual desire itself.
3. The affirming camp is currently promoting an accommodationist plea to the church. The plea is for mercy for a group of people suffering from an unresolvable situation. This move seems to be motivated by political necessity within the CRC in that the vast majority of LGBTQ voices in the public sphere are not settling for accommodation but rather demanding full affirmation, celebration and equality. All One Body of course knows that this won’t work politically within the CRC today so it seem to be adopting a posture of requesting a half measure (mercy) for church political reasons when the real position beneath is a demand for the full measure of justice. Maintaining this position raises questions about the long term integrity and motivation of the movement.
4. The CRC attempted to resolve the debate over the ordination of women with a political compromise, the local option and the two readings of the text. All One Body seems to want to follow the same path. Many in the CRC, however, know that while this may have put an end to Synodical wrangling over the subject it didn’t remove the tensions within the church. This was illustrated by this meme. https://twitter.com/DutchRefMemes/status/1139567799016337408 You cannot simply push aside these issues for the sake of “mission” (as we hear repeated now in the RCA while they contemplate separation) if there is little agreement on what the mission of the church is or what it is for. We should take advantage of the motivation fueled by the heat of these conversations to have the courage to look at deeper questions beneath the presenting issue symptoms. What is the church for? On what basis are people included and elevated for leadership? The unfulfilled expectations of progressives on the women’s ordination question and the continual frustration of the traditionalists (both ordained women AND complementarians often complain of being treated like second class citizens) casts serious doubt on the viability that a similar strategy could be used when it comes to inclusion of same sex couples.
In many ways the Protestant experiment is put into question. Protestantism grew out of a vision that the church grows out of the ability of the community to come together around the Bible to find their final answers to faith and life. It seems like issues like these expose us to be pretenders as we have little or no faith that such a process works in the “real world”.