I will refrain from opining on this subject, but since we’re talking about evangelicalism this week, we should probably note some developments with regard to the issue that many evangelicals see as the key moral issue in our culture and society. Several recent statements by prominent evangelicals have been in the news, and I want to give you a chance to talk about them today. I’d like to focus on the idea being set forth that this is, indeed, a watershed issue. Let me put it this way:
Do issues surrounding LGBT acceptance form a moral “continental divide” for the Church in Western society today?
This is and has been the stated position of conservative Christians, from Roman Catholics to evangelicals. Al Mohler asked the question this way on his blog: “Which Way, Evangelicals? There Is Nowhere to Hide.” Religion News Service put it this way in their article, “Why a ‘yes’ to gays is often a ‘no’ to evangelicalism.”
Here’s the context for the recent reiteration of these statements.
First, Tony Campolo, who has always urged the church to be more loving and accepting of people in LGBT relationships but who also maintained a traditional position that such relationships were ultimately sinful, came out with a statement announcing that he now takes a different view.
…I have done my best to preach the Gospel, care for the poor and oppressed, and earnestly motivate others to do the same. Because of my open concern for social justice, in recent years I have been asked the same question over and over again: Are you ready to fully accept into the Church those gay Christian couples who have made a lifetime commitment to one another?
While I have always tried to communicate grace and understanding to people on both sides of the issue, my answer to that question has always been somewhat ambiguous. One reason for that ambiguity was that I felt I could do more good for my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters by serving as a bridge person, encouraging the rest of the Church to reach out in love and truly get to know them. The other reason was that, like so many other Christians, I was deeply uncertain about what was right.
It has taken countless hours of prayer, study, conversation and emotional turmoil to bring me to the place where I am finally ready to call for the full acceptance of Christian gay couples into the Church.
Campolo grounded his change of mind in several conclusions: (1) Though the Augustinian tradition teaches that the primary purpose for marriage is procreation, he believes that marriage ultimately is one of God’s greatest means of spiritual growth and that same sex partners can likewise enjoy a mutually edifying relationship. (2) His own personal relationships with gay couples has led him to see how much these folks want and need the support of the Church, and how much their exclusion hurts them. (3) As a social scientist, he recognizes that same sex attraction is not a choice, and as a Christian he takes seriously that Jesus does (and therefore the Church should) accept people “just as they are.”
Second, though conservatives were not surprised by Campolo’s announcement (they’ve never trusted him anyway), they were taken off guard by David Neff, former editor in chief at Christianity Today, who affirmed Campolo’s new position on social media and then clarified his position in an email.
I think the ethically responsible thing for gay and lesbian Christians to do is to form lasting, covenanted partnerships. I also believe that the church should help them in those partnerships in the same way the church should fortify traditional marriages.
Neff’s words provoked a response from Mark Galli at CT, who sought to reassure their Christian readership that the magazine itself had not budged in its stance.
At CT, we’re saddened that David has come to this conclusion. Saddened because we firmly believe that the Bible teaches that God intends the most intimate of covenant relationships to be enjoyed exclusively by a man and a woman. We’ve stated this view explicitly in many editorials, and it is implicit but clear in many of our feature stories.
Galli, however, refused to buy into the narrative that the “defection” of two prominent evangelicals means that evangelical Christianity is coming apart at the seams over this issue. As he put it, “the evidence doesn’t support a narrative of division and collapse on this point.”
Third, we come to what Al Mohler wrote about these developments, highlighting the significance of Neff’s statement. He agreed with Mark Galli on the issue, but said he doesn’t understand how Galli can be so blasé at a time like this.
This is a moment of decision, and every evangelical believer, congregation, denomination, and institution will have to answer. There will be no place to hide. The forces driving this revolution in morality will not allow evasion or equivocation. Every pastor, every church, and every Christian organization will soon be forced to declare an allegiance to the Scriptures and to the Bible’s teachings on marriage and sexual morality, or to affirm loyalty to the sexual revolution. That revolution did not start with same-sex marriage, and it will not end there. But marriage is the most urgent issue of the day, and the moment of decision has arrived.
In this season of testing, Christians committed to the gospel of Christ are called upon to muster the greatest display of compassion and conviction of our lives. But true compassion will never lead to an abandonment of biblical authority or a redefinition of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
I was contacted yesterday by Sarah Pulliam Bailey of The Washington Post. She asked about these very developments. As I told her, this issue will eventually break relationships — personally, congregationally, and institutionally. This is the sad reality and there is simply no way around it. No one, especially in a position of leadership, will be able to fly under the radar on this issue.
Now, there are times when I might read such words and just blow them off as culture war posturing and hysteria. But these folks really believe this. And we haven’t even begun to talk about the Roman Catholics or other religious and cultural conservatives who see this as a genuine moral “continental divide.” I think we can all dispense with any apocalyptic talk here. However, sides are being formed around this issue that appear irreconcilable.
My fellow prophets, what does the future hold?