Four stages of “evangelical” affirmation of gay marriage

There is much confusion among evangelicals about what the Bible teaches about sexuality and marriage. And yet, these are precisely the issues that are most contested in our day. As a result, many evangelicals are caving to social pressure to accept gay marriage. I have noticed a pretty consistent progression among those who eventually embrace gay marriage. It goes like this:

(1) Oppose gay-marriage: Every evangelicals starts here, or at the very least they appear to start here.

(2) Oppose taking a stand on the question: Persons in this stage are becoming aware of how offensive the traditional view is to those outside the church. Their initial remedy is to avoid that conflict by not talking about the Bible’s teaching on this subject. In Brian McLaren‘s case, he urged evangelicals to observe a 5-year moratorium on talking about gay marriage. For Jen Hatmaker, she advocated going “into the basement,” where we don’t talk about these things but just love people. Choosing to avoid the question is never a final answer for anyone in this stage.

(3) Affirm gay marriage: At some point during the “we’re not talking about this anymore” stage, those who used to oppose gay marriage find grounds to affirm it. Some do it by questioning the Bible’s truthfulness. Others do through revisionist interpretations of the Biblical text. In either case, proponents end up affirming what the Bible forbids.

(4) Vilify traditional marriage proponents: Persons in this stage not only affirm gay marriage. They also view traditional marriage supporters as supporting invidious discrimination against gay people. They will adopt the rhetoric of Christianity’s fiercest critics to describe believers who hold to the Bible’s teaching on marriage and sexuality. David Gushee adopted this posture simultaneously with his embrace of gay marriage. In 2014, he wrote this to the gay people “oppressed” by the Church’s teaching:

I do join your crusade tonight. I will henceforth oppose any form of discrimination against you. I will seek to stand in solidarity with you who have suffered the lash of countless Christian rejections. I will be your ally in every way I know how to be… Traditionalist Christian teaching produces despair in just about every gay or lesbian person who must endure it… It took me two decades of service as a married, straight evangelical Christian minister and ethicist to finally get here. I am truly sorry that it took me so long to come into full solidarity with the Church’s own most oppressed group.

It usually takes some time to move from number 2 to number 3. McLaren and the Hatmakers both took four years to make that transition. But the transition from 3 to 4 can sometimes happen very rapidly. My observation, however, is that anyone who makes it to 3 eventually makes it to 4 also.

I think this trajectory is important to be aware of for a couple of reasons. One, we need to examine our own hearts to see if there might be inclinations along this trajectory. Two, we need to be discerning and careful about teachers/leaders/ministries that are clearly moving through these stages.

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