Yes or No?
This is the latest in my series of either/or titles.
One of the most, if not the most, controversial and troubling issues facing the evangelical church today is homosexuality and same sex marriage. To a person Christians, whether conservative or progressive, usually feel strongly about this issue. This tension in the church comes at a time where everyone, except those with their heads in the sand, can see that society in general is rapidly moving toward cultural acceptance of such things. What is the church to do?
Into this mix comes a series of churches seeking a “third way” answer to the issue. A recent example of this idea is this interview with the pastor of Hillsong NYC, a mega church in New York City, of all places. This pastor freely admitted that there were gays in his church and said they were welcome. He deftly ducked all attempts by CNN to pin him down, something I have talked about before.
However, in a burst of ecumenical unity conservative Al Mohler and progressive Tony Jones are both sure that they whole “third way” thing is not possible. You have to vote either yes or no to same sex relations. Are they right? If so, we Christians need to resign ourselves to being at the center of an endless war of words.
To be sure, many of the manifestations of the third way sound rather similar to the military’s experiment with the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy which in essence said “let’s agree to not talk about that.” We all know how unworkable that proved to be and they eventually they shifted the policy to a “yes” answer. Is this an accurate description of the third way that some Christians are seeking? Here is a summary of what those good buddies Al and Tony are saying:
There is no way for churches to stay silent or avoid eventually committing to a policy on gay marriage. Under questioning, or facing gay people wanting to be married by pastors, an answer must be given one way or another. Sooner of later it’s got to be a yes or a no.
The essence of this stance is that third way proponents are just ducking the issue; that they are cowards. For Al and his friends the case is closed and the Bible is clear. But for others this is not so. Matthew Vines, in his book God and the Gay Christian, lays out a view that affirms the biblical/orthodox method but reaches the opposite conclusion; he is telling Al you’ve got the right method but the wrong conclusion. This is far more troubling to Al & Co. than poor Tony who is telling them that he plans to ignore those verses they quote.
Here are some ideas I might suggest to my fellow evangelicals for a potential third way dialogue:
- Drop the “you can’t be a Christian if…” charge about same sex relations. Vines, for example, can affirm every creed and pass every doctrinal review most churches could throw at him. If you are sure this is a sin, fine, but why does it need to be singled out as an exclusion from the body of Christ when so many other sins are frowned upon but not made essential to a Christian identity? Put another way, we’d need to allow the existence of gay Christians.
- Admit that, no matter how much you believe that you “hate the sin but love the sinner,” this assurance has zero weight to those who are sure their sexual orientation is intrinsic to who they are. Arguments like this are simply ways to say “no I am not” to those who call you hateful. You will be doing well if you can convince yourself you mean what you say, let alone someone who feels you have insulted him.
In exchange you have the right to ask Tony & Co. that, if you are Kingdom-inclusive for gays and support their civil rights, they can’t call you intolerant because you have a theological position against performing gay marriage.
Can we make room for gay marriage in the body of Christ and, at the same time, encourage congregations to make their own policies? Can churches who feel, in good conscience, that they cannot perform such marriages and affirm such relationships still be gracious and accept that to differ with them does not give them the right to cast those differing from the Kingdom? If so, then there actually is a third way.