Could gay marriage debate drive young Christians from church?

MSNBC.com interviews Rachel Held Evans and Matt Anderson about evangelicals and the gay marriage debate. Here’s the intro:

As the battle over gay marriage heats up in this election year, one evangelical Christian writer is calling for a truce, fearing that the outspoken opposition to gay marriage among some church leaders could alienate an entire generation of religious youth.

“Evangelicals have been so submitted to these culture wars for so long, so that’s hard to give up,” evangelical writer and speaker Rachel Held Evans, 31, told msnbc.com. But “the majority of young Christians really, really, really want to stop with the political emphasis.”

You need to read the rest of the article to get the full picture. Here are a few responses to Held Evans in no particular order.

1. Pastors do need to beware of “politicizing” the pulpit. Partisan politics should not shape the message of men who are called to preach the gospel. John Piper recently preached a message on gay marriage in which he modeled how to bring the truth to bear on a political issue without being political. Listen here. Rank partisanship is one thing. But bringing the gospel to bear upon fundamental moral questions is another.

2. Faithful pastors are going to preach the whole counsel of God, even when it offends people (2 Tim. 4:2). That means that they will preach what the Bible says about sexual ethics. That message is pretty straightforward. Every sexual act outside of the covenanted union of one man and one woman in marriage is sin. That includes pre-marital sex, adultery, homosexuality, and more. I think Held Evans confuses political preaching with preaching about sexual ethics. Both of them are controversial. The former should be avoided at all costs. The latter must be embraced at all costs.

3. We shouldn’t evaluate Christian sexual ethics on the basis of how much they may or may not “alienate” people. We have to base our beliefs on what scripture teaches, not on what we think people may be offended by. There will always be people who hate the light and who wont’ come to it (John 3:20). We do not turn off the light so that those folks can have room to stretch out. Yet that is exactly what Held Evans wants to do. For her, it’s not only about churches becoming less political. It’s also about churches becoming less clear about the issue homosexuality.

19 Responses to Could gay marriage debate drive young Christians from church?

  1. Scott Lencke July 2, 2012 at 3:38 pm #

    I’d probably argue for somewhere in the middle. I understand somewhat where Rachel is coming from. You do have a generation of young Christians tired of the same ol’, same ol’ approach to some of these issues. Not the underlying belief. But the approach, or method and motivation, to these issues.

    This issue of gay marriage, though not solely political, has become identified as political, especially by right-wing, conservative, Republicans. Many young people do feel alienated from Christianity because such people can preach a particular “gospel”, which isn’t the gospel of the kingdom, and claim Christianity’s (or God’s) voice for that issue. We make Christianity, combined with politics, about a certain type of marriage, a certain type of belief around a baby’s life, etc. I am not arguing for gay marriage. I’m not arguing for abortion. But something of the kingdom will capture people’s hearts beyond this. Draw them with the good and loving rule of Christ first, deal with peripherals later. Unfortunately, many American evangelicals can start the other way around. There is a great alienation taking place when Christianity is “represented” by a lot of people making marriage and a baby’s life about politics and which group God chooses over the other. It will not help in our day.

  2. mark tucker July 2, 2012 at 3:46 pm #

    Avoid political preaching at all costs?

    • Ryan July 2, 2012 at 4:22 pm #

      Is that truly possible? Roman Christians were martyred for making the ultimate political statement: Jesus is Lord.

  3. Randy Hafner July 2, 2012 at 4:28 pm #

    Marriage is not a peripheral issue. It is part of the Kingdom ethics as is marriage fidelity and abstinance. Sure, political activism in the church can be an issue. But the truth of our Lord’s words concerning marriage are words we are called to preach, submit to and obey!

  4. donsands July 2, 2012 at 5:51 pm #

    “Avoid political preaching at all costs?”

    How about abortion?

    And I would also say, two men becoming one in marriage is ridiculous, and sad as well.

    For a man and woman to live together, like a few of my neighbors, which we used to say: “they are living in sin”, is quite different than two men living together as a married couple, so that they can have benefits of marriage: taxes, adopt children, and so forth.

    Seems to me, that we need to speak out on these two issues: Abortion, the killing of babies in the womb, and homo-marriage.

  5. Ken Temple July 2, 2012 at 6:31 pm #

    Although Rachel claims the label “evangelical” for herself, she is NOT.

    She holds to most of the Liberal – Emerging/Emergent church distinctives and attitudes. She puts one’s experience and story above propositional truth in the Bible. She picks and chooses what she likes.

    I also wrote an article on how it seems that many (not all ) who hold an Egalitarian position on the roles of men and women are also advocating homosexuality as ok. I referenced Rachel and her blog articles and book.

    http://beggarsallreformation.blogspot.com/2012/06/did-god-really-say-genesis-31.html

    • Tom Parker July 3, 2012 at 1:54 pm #

      I do not think it fair that Ken calls her a Liberal. That is such an ugly word and many times is used to marginalize someones views.

  6. Jeremy Crowder July 3, 2012 at 12:25 am #

    I’m 30 years old and have been involved in both politics (one of my brothers makes a good living in politics) and in ministry. While I think a danger exists mixing the two the truth is it’s not right wing evangelicals such as myself that made these issues political issues. A time existed that legal marriage of same sex couples was never heard of and a time existed that people believed it was wrong to kill a baby inside the mothers womb. These things changed pushing Christians into the political realm in an attempt to try to protect oursleves which Constutionaly we still have a right to do. We’ve had more failures then successes as the U.S. like the rest of the world continues to head towards destruction. However me and other people can at least have a better conscience for expressing our sincere views regardless if it offends people. The truth whether scripture or common sense is offensive but lies get you in trouble with the Lord. Also I have more respect for Progressive Christians or the far left of the faith because at least they get involved those that complain about politics are pitiful. If Christians had that attidue in 1776 or even 1492 where would we be at we would be in Europe,Africa, or Asia etc. under Kings or Tribal Chiefs.

  7. PallSpera July 3, 2012 at 2:34 am #

    If all the current horrors happening within the church haven’t already driven you away, I doubt the marriage thing will make much difference

  8. Jonathan July 3, 2012 at 10:21 am #

    This is a false dichotomy. If you preach the ethics and gospel of Christ it will have political consequences. “Jesus is Lord. Ceaser is not.”

    • Jonathan July 3, 2012 at 10:38 am #

      My Apologies. I was talking about Held Evans. Christians’ job is to not take over the Government. But, Social Justice (Mitt Romney) is inevitable for a Christian because Jesus contradicts some of what Caesar says. “Religion” is a confusing term invented by Western Society. It should be thrown out because ultimately it’s the same definition as a world-view. The Religious-Secular clash is not where the conflict lies. So, Theology is cannot be mutually exclusive from Politics because everyone has a Theology.

  9. PastorMoose July 3, 2012 at 12:25 pm #

    Denny,

    Love your blog and think you nailed it especially on #3. Would appreciate if (sometime in the future) you could expand on what you consider to be the proper scope of “political preaching” since it should be “avoided at all costs.” One of the things sorely missing in evangelical churches, seminaries, and pulpits is a solid theology of Christianity and country. It seems like we’re everything from too tentative to too active.

    Yours in Christ.

    • Denny Burk July 3, 2012 at 12:54 pm #

      Yeah, it all depends on what you mean by “political.” When I used the word political above, I mainly have in mind partisan politics, which is often more concerned with power than principle. Endorsing a particular candidate or specific policy can be problematic as well.

      I do not mean to communicate that preachers should never speak to political topics. If you look at my own preaching in my own church over the last couple of years, you’ll see sermons in which I speak explicitly in favor of the pro-life position and how that should influence Christians in their voting. I’ve also preached on gay marriage with specific reference to Pres. Obama’s recent remarks in favor of it. I even preached one sermon against the contraceptive mandate that forces Christians to pay for abortion services.

      So it’s not that preachers never touch political topics. It’s just that they need to do it in the right way. They need to be relentlessly biblical. They need to show their people how the bible speaks to life, marriage, sexuality, or what ever topic is being debated in the public square. Preachers need to take care to stand on principle and be willing to give prophetic rebukes to both sides of the aisle when warranted. In other words, the preacher needs to be non-partisan. The preacher also needs to recognize the difficulty of endorsing particular candidates or policies as THE Christian option, knowing that such decisions are often prudential judgments.

      For instance, when I spoke against the contraceptive mandate from the pulpit, I prefaced my remarks by saying that faithful Christians can disagree over the politics if healthcare reform. You can be a faithful Christian and be for it, and you can be a faithful Christian while being against it. Then I told our people that we will not have any divisions over that topic. But then after that, I did speak unambiguously about the immorality of requiring citizens to pay for insurance policies that cover abortions. That’s what I mean by being political without being political.

      • Mark Tucker July 3, 2012 at 1:11 pm #

        Dr. Burk I love your blog so this is not a challenge, but rather an honest question. What would you say about being outspoken against, for instance, the 2008 Democratic platform, which specifically mentions homosexual marriage? The 2008 Republican platform actually speaks to strengthening traditional marriage. As a Christ follower wouldn’t I naturally point to one over the other?

  10. Brian Watson July 3, 2012 at 1:04 pm #

    Thanks for the post. I read her original post and was disturbed by it. She called for Christians to stop engaging in the culture wars and I thought her comments were terribly naive. It’s not as though Christians start all culture wars. And if we stop fighting, the other side certainly won’t. Everyone should watch a bit of the videos of Doug Wilson at Indian University to see what I mean: http://www.canonwired.com/bloomington/

    The question is not, Should we fight these wars? The question is, How should we fight these wars? I suggest 2 Corinthians 10:3-6 gives us a clue, though the context is, of course, within the church. We must fight these wars with the gospel, with a lot of prayer, and with both grace and truth.

  11. michael j. kimpan July 3, 2012 at 2:10 pm #

    personally, i’m looking forward to moving on from the ‘which one of us is right?’ conversation and entering into a deeper dialogue :: http://www.mjkimpan.com/moving-on/

  12. Frank Turk July 4, 2012 at 7:59 am #

    I’ll say it: hat’s off to Denny for being exactly right. Christianity is not a fashion statement: it is God’s declaration to sin ful people that they need to accept they are sinful — and if that offends them, guess what? That’s categorical proof that they are sinful — the truth offends them.

    The funny thing about the Gospel is that it is subversively political, not overtly political. The overtly-political demands that the Law be changed to either accommodate or reform people. The overtly-political operates under the assumption that the Law is what changes people. The Gospel says the Law is both true (that is: we are rightly convicted by it) and also passing away (it will never save us), so that we need a real savior. The politics that message generates — from dismissing the idols of government to dismissing the idols of self — is far more powerful that preaching about how to vote on election day.

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