Liberal Christians aren’t caving in to “society”

This article makes two assumptions, neither of which really stands up to scrutiny. The first is that Christians have held the same views on marriage, sex, and gender for the last 2,000 years. But I think you’d have a hard time making the case that marriage and gender have been understood the same way during this time. For example, improvements in women’s legal, social, and economic status over the last century or so have had a radical impact on the nature of marriage. From an arrangement in which the woman was (at best) the decidedly junior partner, marriage has shifted to a relationship of (relative) equals. Even conservative churches have accepted, if at times only implicitly, this more egalitarian understanding of marriage. The same goes for gender roles more generally. Experience, reason, and social context have always informed Christians’ appropriation of biblical moral imperatives and values.

Second, the author seems to assume that liberal Christians and others who have adopted “revisionist” positions on sexual ethics are simply caving in to “society.” But this ignores that vast amount of theological and biblical scholarship over the last several decades which has called the “traditional” view into question. It can no longer be taken for granted, for example, that the biblical passages traditionally appealed to in condemning same-sex relationships had faithful, long-term partnerships in view. Similarly, Christian theologians and scholars have long criticized the natural law ethic that provides much of the rationale for disapproving of same-sex relationships. And, perhaps most importantly, much of this rethinking has been carried out by and with faithful gay Christians, whose lives and relationships stand as a living rebuke to the idea that they are “intrinsically disordered.”

This is not to deny that the traditional view still has able defenders, but this is a proper theological and ecclesial dispute, not a matter of fidelity to tradition vs. selling out to the culture. Just as there isn’t a monolithic Christian view on war and peace or economics, Christians will continue to disagree–on theological and biblical grounds–over sexual ethics.

I don’t necessarily disagree with the author’s suggestion that, in the long run, a more traditional sexual ethic may win out among the majority of the planet’s Christians. It does seem that in many of the places where Christianity is growing fastest, it is a conservative (sometimes very conservative) version of the faith that is winning the day. That said, however, history is unpredictable, and recent events in the United States and other countries show that things can turn around pretty quickly. In any event, though, the faithful Christians I know who are working to make their churches more humane and accepting aren’t doing it to be on “the right side of history.” They’re doing it because they think it’s right, period.

Update: I’ve revised the first paragraph of this post to make the point clearer (hopefully!).

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One thought on “Liberal Christians aren’t caving in to “society”

  1. Really interesting post, I agree with a lot of this. I think thought around this issue needs to be more nuanced than a simple right/wrong argument which tends to be quite destructive. It can be disheartening that a very conservative view is so appealing to many, however!

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