Should churches “dialogue” about sexuality?

As the PCUSA moves to conform itself to the world, Rod Dreher has a shrewd observation about the same-sex marriage debate within mainline denominations. The debate often begins with the liberals calling for more dialogue about the issue. He writes:

Ah, the old “conversation starter” or “dialogue” trick. Any time you see a progressive member of your church try this, you must understand that this is the wedge that they will use to pry the orthodox out. The “conversation” will be one-sided, and will not end until the orthodox have surrendered or left, because the progressives will never, ever take “no” for an answer.

It is a clever trick. In the name of “openness” and “broad-mindedness,” theological liberals have learned a nearly fool-proof method for dislodging Christian orthodoxy and replacing it with their own. Simply call for dialogue.

I am reminded of the time Brian McLaren tried this strategy on evangelicals. In 2006 in a short piece for Christianity Today’s leadership blog, McLaren called for evangelicals to observe a five-year moratorium on pronouncements about same-sex marriage. He wrote this:

Perhaps we need a five-year moratorium on making pronouncements. In the meantime, we’ll practice prayerful Christian dialogue, listening respectfully, disagreeing agreeably. When decisions need to be made, they’ll be admittedly provisional. We’ll keep our ears attuned to scholars in biblical studies, theology, ethics, psychology, genetics, sociology, and related fields. Then in five years, if we have clarity, we’ll speak; if not, we’ll set another five years for ongoing reflection. After all, many important issues in church history took centuries to figure out. Maybe this moratorium would help us resist the “winds of doctrine” blowing furiously from the left and right, so we can patiently wait for the wind of the Spirit to set our course.

McLaren did not even observe his own moratorium. Before five years were up, he published A New Kind of Christianity in which he endorsed gay marriage and accused traditionalists of “fundasexuality” and “heterophobia: the fear of people who are different” (pp. 174-75). For McLaren, a new kind of Christianity stipulated a new orthodoxy—one that forsakes the two-thousand year old consensus of the Christian church. Make no mistake. The ones calling for dialogue will eventually take a hard line in spite of the accommodating rhetoric that gets them there.

My point is this. Christians, you need to be aware of this strategy. False teachers typically won’t show up to your church wearing a sandwich board saying, “I am a false teacher.” Instead, they will appeal to your piety. They will try to make you feel that humility requires you to hold the teachings of Jesus and the apostles with an open hand—as if their validity and authority are up for debate. Once they have gotten the faithful to acquiesce to that project, they have won.


  • Nathan Cesal

    …so you are homophobic — afraid to even talk out of fear of being swayed away from truth. That doesn’t sound biblical to me at all. A ready defense is not refusing dialogue.

    • Ian Shaw

      Dreher stated that the intent of this kind of dialogue is not “dialogue” at all, but rather a one sided conversation never to end with a “live and let live” conclusion.

      Funny thing, membership in PCUSA churches have been plumeting. There couldn’t be a motive behind the scenes is there? There own board (can’t think of the exact wording) denounced their own decision.

    • Ian Shaw

      When evangelicals want to speak/speak on this issue, they’re called “bigots”, “closed-minded” and “on the wrong side of history”.

      When progressives want to speak/speak on this issue, it’s called “modern thinking” or “having a dialogue”.

      You can see how there is character/association assassination before it even begins. So Dreher isn’t really wrong in his observation.

    • Denny Burk

      Dear Nathan,

      I’m grateful to have you as a reader, and I’m happy for you to comment. I’m even happy for you to disagree. Some comments get filtered, however, when they go outside of the comments policy. The aim of the comments policy is to prevent the rhetoric from getting too heated. Spirited disagreement is welcome. But name-calling is not (e.g., calling others “homophobic”).

      Again, thanks for reading and taking time to comment. I hope all is well with you.


      • Roy Fuller

        Actually, I think the use of the term “homophobic” is accurate in this case. Most take the word to mean an irrational fear of homosexuals, and that is a common meaning, but not the only one. The word also implies those who would discriminate against homosexuals, with discrimination meaning to treat an individual or group differently. I realize that most all persons would not want to be labeled homophobic due to the primarily negative connotations of the word, but on one level it is accurate.

  • buddyglass

    Cutting off discussion is rarely the right thing. Engage in dialogue; just don’t compromise the truth. Problem solved.

  • Roy Fuller

    There is truth in Burk’s claim – if you encounter people in true dialogue, not simply a caricature masquerading as dialogue, you will be transformed, by your experience with persons who have another perspective. This is true no matter the issue, be they social and/or political differences, or theological differences. As someone who teaches world religions, I know that face-to-face encounters with persons of other faiths is the best way to help students address their misperceptions of those traditions. To complain that “liberals” are not honest in their true agenda when it comes to dialogue strikes me as “the kettle calling the pot black” – as those who are being warned also do not wish to enter true dialogue, because to do so is to risk being transformed by our experience with others. Persons on both sides of any issue may be more interested in monologues. I am well aware that some evangelicals do not wish to be transformed by their experiences with others, but many who have truly developed friendships with persons whose experience of life and faith is different from their own have found their own journey through life and faith has been deepened and enriched.

  • Noah Lansky

    One of the main purposes of the dialogue is to establish and encourage mutual understanding of one another’s positions. Another purpose, or a corollary to the main purpose, is to convince others to accept and adopt your point of view. The problem you have is that the dialogue is not leading to the outcome you desire, i.e. people adopting your worldview. If that is a concern for you, fine, but do not pretend that you are actually seeking to understand.

    As it stands, the outcome you now lament is evidence that your arguments – explicitly or implicitly expressed through dialogue – are increasingly unpersuasive to those who hear them. That is not the problem of liberal Christians.

  • Greg Tucker

    Dialogue is great…as long as it’s a two way street of listening, engaging, and understanding. The point Denny makes is spot on though, it’s never a two way street with liberals and those who disagree with Scripture as being inerrant. It is always a trap and a game with them. I do believe that a ready defense and a sound “argument” is a must, but it always needs to be presented out of love and a deep desire to spread God’s Word and His teachings. It is unfortunate that traditional marriage proponents like myself are labeled as hate-mongerers and bigots, but it was just a matter of time before it moved in that direction once this started. My hope is that we can continue to fight this with truth from God’s Word spoken in and out of love and a desire to see souls saved and transformed.

    • Roy Fuller

      “never” and “always” are in most cases, exaggerations. Aren’t you unfairly lumping everyone who disagrees with you together? Noah’s point above is well-taken. It is most unfortunate that persons who reject marriage equality are labeled as haters and bigots. I disagree with some of my more conservative friends on many issues, but I try to avoid lumping them all together.

  • Brian Darby

    I guess my post was not according to your posting requirements. That is typical. Dr. Burk have you ever even thought about the fact that you may very well be wrong on some issues, such as evolution, age of the earth etc. ? I am fine discussing this in email. thank you.

  • Daniel Bartholomew

    “Dialogue” between parties with vastly different presuppositions is doomed to fail unless the parties are up front about their presuppositions. “Dialogue” between those who accept the doctrine of inerrancy and those who reject it will result in terrible miscommunication, unless and until the “dialogue” faces that issue squarely.

  • keithcrosby

    Despite the virtues of dialogue, facts are stubborn things. All the good intentions, well word-smith’d arguments do not change the facts. People like to debate the meaning of words in passages like 1 Corinthians 9:6-10 or in the pastorals (i.e. the word doesn’t refer to those who are truly gay but those who sell themselves as temple prostitutes, etc.) in offering up the usual red herrings. However, Romans 1: 26-28 does away with this kind of obfuscation. Here, God the Holy Spirit, speaking through the pen of Paul, describes conduct or behavior that is homosexual, calling it wrong.

    Facts are stubborn things but emotions, intentions, and agenda’s don’t change facts. Talk all you want; it won’t change a thing because at the end of the day God has spoken and He’s not a politician who needs your vote but a King who expects your obedience.

  • Brian Holland

    Great article! It reminds me of those on the left who constantly say we need to have a “national dialogue” about race, but yet they really want a monologue, and they want a list of demands that have to met like a bunch of kidnappers. They don’t want to hear from people with opposing points of view, because they believe that white’s are blind to their own “white privilege” and before you open your mouth you are already a racist if you are white, or a sellout, if you are like my wife. The disdain that they have for conservatives knows virtually no bounds.

    What we see on display with PCUSA, and Mr. McLaren is the tragic lack of sound doctrine in so many churches today, and even in many that do there is lack of Biblical Worldview training. There’s no connecting the dots to what’s going on in society and how to respond to it all. There’s no teaching on why we believe what we believe, and as a consequence, many people would rather not fight to defend traditional/natural marriage lest they be perceived as bigots. I also think too many of us think, well it really won’t affect me because I’m not a photographer, or a baker, but the attack on freedom affects us all, as we’ll soon find out….

  • Ted Weis (@TedWeis)

    Here’s a first hand story. Our church was once in a denomination where its national body endorsed same-sex marriage. In response, our church sent a resolution to our local conference asking that the decision be reversed. The conference leaders kept the measure from being voted upon and called for a year of dialogue. Included in this, the conference sponsored a dialogue day for ministers and lay people to hear a leader from the denomination’s national office. The “dialogue” turned out to be entirely devoted to the legitimacy of same-sex marriage and why churches ought to get with the program. At the end of the day, when comments were solicited, I asked, “Why wasn’t the other side of this view presented?” The national leader said, “We haven’t created any materials for that point of view.” Turns out, the “dialogue” was entirely one-sided. The next year at conference, there were workshops advocating homosexuality, but none were permitted for the traditional view. Our resolution was overwhelmingly defeated. Our local church later exited the denomination and joined another more aligned with our convictions. But I learned a lot about the liberal way of dialogue. The goal was not genuine give-and-take interaction, but one-sided propagandizing. Doing so is much easier than real, honest dialogue.

    • Roy Fuller

      Real, honest dialogue is definitely not easy. You certainly had an unfortunate experience with your church and your former denomination, but is it fair to conclude that this one example is typical of “the liberal way of dialogue” or that all liberals are not interested in true dialogue? I belong to a church which has exited its denomination, because we concluded that to stay for the purpose of dialogue (which we thought was a valid reason to stay) would do little good, in that we would not be heard. I could conclude from my experience that conservatives are only interested in monologues, but other experiences lead me to believe that would not be true, at least not all of the time.

      • Brian Holland

        Roy, I think it’s important to differentiate between classic liberals, and leftists or progressives. Liberals were known to be willing to dialogue and being open, but the modern Democrat party has been taken over by a leftist, progressive and even totalitarian mindset, which has to crush dissenting voices. This is the reality unfortunately.

      • Jon Loewen

        Jon Loewen
        “is it fair to conclude that this one example is typical of “the liberal way of dialogue” or that all liberals are not interested in true dialogue?” As a generalization, on issues within the church such as same-sex marriage, YES! All humans have fallen minds. Unless we hold to the infallibility and inerrancy of scripture, our fallen minds will lead us away from “true dialogue”. Liberals by definition (whether they agree or not) do not hold to the inerrancy of scripture. This article is about dialogue in the church. Arguing for points of view that are clearly against the clear teaching of scripture should never be tolerated in the church.

  • Ted Weis (@TedWeis)

    Roy, I can’t speak for all of liberalism obviously, but what I experienced in my previous denomination was a culture–at both the national and regional level–that was not interested in genuine give-and-take dialogue where both viewpoints had equal opportunity. For instance, when our church originally submitted its resolution, local conference leadership scheduled a plenary session for the denomination’s GLBT officer. Was an opposing viewpoint permitted on stage at that session? No. Was a plenary session for the traditional view scheduled? No. Where genuine dialogue did take place in the denomination came later when a group of concerned ministers and laypeople formed a group, held our own national conference, and invited denomination official to attend. It was the ECOTs (evangelicals, conservatives, orthodox, and traditionalists) who initiated true discussion.

  • Susan Johnson

    Susan Johnson I don’t understand why there needs to be a dialogue or discussion. Just read God’s Word. It is as clear as day that homosexuality is a sin, that God ordained marriage to be between one man and one woman. We don’t have a dialogue about adultery, lying, stealing, etc. At least not yet. God’s Word is clear and hasn’t changed. My step-daughter is gay and is living with us right now. She knows exactly where we stand on the issue of homosexuality. Disagreeing and being homophobic are two different things. We love our daughter dearly (and she loves us) but don’t have to agree with her lifestyle or let her practice it in our home. We choose to please God, not man (or our daughter, in this case.) Liberals will never understand!

  • Guy Whatley

    The bigger issue occurs even before the dialogue stage can occur on this topic. In every instance I have seen every church body whether independent or a denomination has ordained women as a pretext to addressing this issue. Call it the slippery slope or a gateway doctrinal error but across the board this seems to be the path taken.

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