Elizabeth Dias has a feature-length article in Time magazine titled “Inside the Evangelical Fight Over Gay Marriage.” The usual suspects are brought forth as evidence of a shift among younger evangelicals: Justin Lee, Matthew Vines, Brandan Robertson, etc.
Nevertheless, I’m skeptical about the young “evangelicals” profiled in this piece. It is not even clear from the article whether we are dealing with bona fide evangelicals or those who are leaving evangelicalism. Can they in any meaningful sense be considered bellwethers for a movement defined by convictions that they have largely abandoned? I don’t think so. It is indeed telling that at Vines’s recent conference, “most of the panelists advocating change were not evangelical but from the mainline Protestant traditions.” That says just about everything you need to know.
Dias does make two rather astute theological observations:
1. The Question of Biblical Authority: Dias writes, “In many evangelical communities, the Bible itself is on trial… For many Evangelicals, the marriage debate isn’t really about marriage or families or sex—it is about the Bible itself.” This is absolutely correct. To accept homosexuality as a moral good is to deny the functional authority of the Bible. Evangelicals are not willing to surrender Scripture. To do so would be to surrender being an evangelical. On any definition of “evangelicalism,” biblical authority is a defining feature of the movement.
2. The Connection to Feminist Readings of Scripture: Dias rightly notes the connection between the gender issue and sexuality: “So far no Christian tradition has been able to embrace LGBT community without first changing its views about women.” This is right on. The issues are connected. Egalitarians seem to know this, and it is why they innovate complicated hermeneutical theories to try and say that they aren’t connected. But no one is buying it. The embrace of homosexuality as a moral good is almost always preceded by an embrace of egalitarian readings of scripture. This pattern is well-established in the mainlines. But it is also present among those who have been associated with the evangelical movement. Note, for example, the trajectory of Rob Bell’s theological journey. He led his church to embrace egalitarianism years before he came out in favor of gay marriage. If you are willing to suppress or revise the Bible’s teaching on gender, you are far more likely to be willing to do the same with the Bible’s teaching on sexuality.
Some other odds and ends from the article:
- Matthew Vines does not come across as an evangelical in this piece. Rather, he comes across as someone willing to level the worst slanders against evangelicals. These words are particularly poisonous: “The LGBT issue has been on the most obvious forces behind the increasing loss of regard for Christianity in American culture at large… It’s like slavery and anti-Semitism, where the tradition got it totally wrong. It’s one of the church’s profound moral failures.” In these words, Vines reduces the church’s 2,000-year-old teaching on sexual ethics to bigotry and animus. In other words, Vines takes up the slurs of the enemies of the faith. He accepts and endorses the slanders that are regularly brought against Christians on this issue. He is contributing to the false narrative created by Christianity’s fiercest critics. These are not the words of a friend of the faith.
- The Wheaton students who protested against Rosaria Butterfield are cited as evidence that evangelicals are shifting on this issue. But what does that protest really prove? Does it prove that evangelicalism is drifting on this issue? I think it is more likely evidence of drift among the student body at Wheaton.
- Dias mischaracterizes the religious liberty cases that have recently been in the news. She writes: “The next big question is whether religious freedom will protect a faith group’s right to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.” I don’t know of any evangelical individual or group that wants to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. To say that they do want to discriminate on that basis is to fundamentally misunderstand what evangelicals are saying. Dias includes one instance that reveals the mischaracterization: Wheaton has hired a celibate lesbian as one of its chaplains. Wheaton knows her orientation, and yet that doesn’t preclude her from employment. Why not? Because evangelicals aren’t trying to exclude same-sex attracted people from their ranks. To say that they are is to miss the point.
There’s much more that could be added to these reflections, but I’ll leave it there for now. Unfortunately, Dias’s article is behind a paywall. But here’s the link anyway if you want to buy access.