Monday, June 29, 2015

Here You Stand...In My Rearview Mirror

After seeing the flood of rainbow-colored tears of joy and happiness and deeming it a genuine threat to society, civilization, and bacon-flavored lip balm, the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission has come out with a statement in "dissent" against the Supreme Court's decision to legalize same-sex marriage in all fifty states.  In an exercise of hubris and ego that is not entirely Biblical--after all, the Bible says that God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble (James 4:6)--they have named this statement "Here We Stand," a modified version of Martin Luther's (that chap over there on the left) "Here I stand, I can do no other" when his church accusers ordered him to recant his reform-minded teachings.

That the statement's authors would even invoke this comparison is saddening, for two reasons: one, Luther was focused firmly on moving the church forward; the statement's signatories, meanwhile, seem to only care about pulling the church back into a more halcyon day when we either bullied gays and lesbians or just ignored them altogether.  Secondly, though, REALLY?  You're going to say you cannot move on something that the Bible devotes four, maybe five verses to?  You'll move the goalposts on the welfare of the poor, the welcoming of foreigners, and any number of other controversial topics, but on marriage equality you can broker no changing of the heart or conscience?  A saying about straining out gnats and swallowing camels comes to mind.

But let's see some of what you have to say (italics are quoted, verbatim, unitalicized text represents my responses).

The outcome of the Supreme Court’s ruling to redefine marriage represents what seems like the result of a half-century of witnessing marriage’s decline through divorce, cohabitation, and a worldview of almost limitless sexual freedom.

Except that the whole reason lawsuits like these were brought before the courts was that our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters didn't want to merely cohabitate together, or to engage in limitless sexual freedom--in fact, quite the opposite: they wanted their living together to mean something more, and they wanted to commit themselves to a soul mate for life and eternity.  That this inference is even made is a thinly-veiled throwback to the old, hurtful stereotype that gays and lesbians are inherently promiscuous when in fact they are no more or less promiscuous, or more or less capable of sexual misconduct like adultery, than straight people.  The number of heterosexual Christian and American leaders with known sexual affairs pretty well belies this point.

The Bible clearly teaches the enduring truth that marriage consists of one man and one woman. From Genesis to Revelation, the authority of Scripture witnesses to the nature of biblical marriage as uniquely bound to the complementarity of man and woman. This truth is not negotiable.

I mean, I guess if you cut out vast swaths of Genesis, Deuteronomy, 1 and 2 Samuel, and the entire book of Esther, then yes, from Genesis to Revelation, the Bible clearly teaches the enduring truth that marriage consists of one man and one woman.  There are an awful lot of asterisks, though...

Abraham had sons by both Sarah and Hagar
Jacob married both Leah and Rachel, and had sons by both of them plus their handmaids, Bilhah and Zilpah
David married multiple women: Michal, Abigail, and Bathsheba, among others
David's son Solomon had literally hundreds of both wives and concubines
Esther's entire story is predicated on her appeal to the Persian king Xerxes, for whom a refusal to parade nude before his drunken partygoers was enough grounds to divorce his former queen Vashti, and whom has a harem that would make the aforementioned Solomon blush

...and this is to say nothing of the fact that Deuteronomy 21:15-17 deals specifically with protecting the rights of inheritance of a son born to a polygamous family.

Nor does this get into the proverbial hornet's nest of "complementarity" versus egalitarianism in marriage, but that's another can of tuna.

The Lord Jesus himself said that marriage is from the beginning (Matt. 19:4-6), so no human institution has the authority to redefine marriage any more than a human institution has the authority to redefine the gospel

Like much of Jesus's teachings about marriage, this is being taken out of context by the statement's authors.  First, Jesus is replying to a query from the Pharisees that is designed to "test" Him (Matthew 19:3), indicating that this wasn't a teaching of students or a good-natured give-and-take of ideas, but instead a trap set for Him in bad faith.  The Pharisees were trying to trick Jesus into giving an undesirable answer.

Secondly, this entrapment was predicated on the question of divorce, not same-sex marriage.  If the Here We Stand crowd were saying such a thing about divorce, they might have a case, but they're not.  Instead, what they're doing is taking a sentence out of a larger teaching on an unrelated subject and making it the basis for their appeal.  It would be as though you said that yellow is the best color in the world because the brick road in the land of Oz is yellow--it might be true, but it ignores the larger point.

The Supreme Court’s ruling to redefine marriage demonstrates mistaken judgment by disregarding what history and countless civilizations have passed on to us

Sometimes, disregarding what history and countless civilizations have passed on to us is the right thing to do.  See also: slavery.

Evangelical churches in America now find themselves in a new moral landscape that calls us to minister in a context growing more hostile to a biblical sexual ethic.

This sounds more like cause for wondering why there is hostility to this "Biblical sexual ethic."  Not that I'm saying majority rule is always right--as I wrote last time, a decade ago, I was the one firmly in the minority of public opinion.

But consider this for a moment: one of the statement's signatories is Matt Chandler, the lead teaching pastor for The Village Chuch in Texas.  He and his church were in an awful lot of hot water recently for singling out a woman, Karen Hinkley, nee Root, who divorced her husband after he confessed to her he was a pathological user of child pornography.  Karen was placed under church discipline for divorcing her husband, while her predatory ex-spouse remained a member in good standing.  (To his credit, Chandler later apologized.)

Discrepancies in treatment like this make it frankly pretty easy to understand a growing hostility to a "Biblical sexual ethic" that is being taught today.  Of course, considering that Scripture also teaches that if a man falsely accuses his wife of not being a virgin, he must pay the wife's father 100 shekels, but if in fact the wife is not a virgin, she is stoned to death (Deuteronomy 22:15-21), so such disparate and horrifying treatment between the genders may well be part of a "Biblical sexual ethic" after all.

In the coming years, evangelical institutions could be pressed to sacrifice their sacred beliefs about marriage and sexuality in order to accommodate whatever demands the culture and law require. We do not have the option to meet those demands without violating our consciences and surrendering the gospel. We will not allow the government to coerce or infringe upon the rights of institutions to live by the sacred belief that only men and women can enter into marriage.

Religious liberty is not an all-encompassing right.  There is a long line of case law going back to Sherbert v. Verner in 1963 concerning the state's compelling interest in not allowing every single form of religious expression, just as there exists case law which establishes that the freedom of speech does not extend to things like obscenity, threats of violence, libel and slander, and child pornography.  The statement's authors cite elsewhere their need to follow the common good, they should remember that at times, the common good does indeed need to come first.

The gospel of Jesus Christ determines the shape and tone of our ministry. Christian theology considers its teachings about marriage both timeless and unchanging, and therefore we must stand firm in this belief. 

There is nothing inherent in theology that dictates that teachings about anything besides the existence of God and Jesus Christ need be timeless and unchanging.  In fact, theology is by definition always changing, because theology is a thought process, and worldview, and such views and thought processes are forever subject to change, modification, and advancement...though hopefully for the better.

And, in truth, I think our theologies will continue to change for the better, just as I pray and keep praying that we as a people in general continue to change for the better.

I pray the same for the Here We Stand signatories.  Because they may choose to stand right where they are, but they will increasingly be doing so, I believe, in the fast-departing rearview mirror of God's kingdom.

Yours in Christ,

No comments:

Post a Comment