The Super Bowl, Culture and Christianity

James Hansen, a Seattle pastor, has a column at the Worldnetdaily using the appearance of Seattle in the Super Bowl to criticize a fellow pastor from the area who is pro-equality. It’s the same argument we’ve heard a million times, that culture has won over Christianity, but I think he ignores the entire history of Christianity.

On Jan. 15 of this year, Time magazine came out with an article entitled, “How Evangelicals are Changing Their Minds on Gay Marriage.” Prominently featured is Ryan Meeks, the pastor of Eastlake Community Church, a large, multi-site congregation in the Seattle area. On the morning of Jan. 25, Meeks confirmed the position of the church’s leadership: The staff of Eastlake had unanimously embraced the homosexual lifestyle, promoting the straw-man argument that the Church owes this group a debt for the various ways Christians have mistreated them. Some left the stands depressed. Others cheered in jubilation. But for me, the hope for a team legacy, one where we as pastors on the Eastside of Seattle might work together, began to quickly crumble. This Sunday pass call was going to cost us dearly.

I had never met Ryan, but was compelled to contact him directly to clarify his position. I wanted to know if the Time article had been intentionally provocative, reporting things with a salacious slant just to garner readership. I was thankful that he was willing to briefly answer some of my questions as well as discuss Scripture, hermeneutics and culture. In the end, after one phone conversation and two quick texts between us, it was clear to me that Time had basically done its job. The only irony I discovered was that in an article about the changing beliefs of evangelicals, Ryan told me several times without equivocation that he isn’t an evangelical!

As it stands, Eastlake had already performed a gay marriage before the article was released, so they were clearly “all in.” Now, had this decision been denominationally driven, say, like by the Episcopal Church, I may not have been as compelled to go to the top and ask them how they had reached their decision. But Eastlake is in my backyard. It’s a local church. They’re my neighbor.

I know a number of people who attend Eastlake. They are kind and decent people with whom I’ve never had any problems. Ryan, too, was amicable, generous with his time for a local pastor he has never met. But maybe it’s his “niceness” that has gotten in the way. “Niceness” has a way of lulling people into thinking that what they are hearing is truth because of the way in which it is delivered. “Niceness” makes us feel good because it has a way of dulling our spiritual senses. “Niceness” is the off-white interior paint we use so we don’t offend any potential buyers…

Eastlake’s “welcoming and affirming” position might sound nice, but it just isn’t biblical. It’s choosing tolerance over truth. It allows Christians, as the Bride of Christ, to be unfaithful to her Husband and the standards we find in Scripture. In Eastlake’s peculiar position, fidelity is required by homosexual partners to each other, just not to Christ. Now that’s a strange interpretation if I ever saw one.

So, on that fateful Sunday, two teams took to the field: Christ and Culture. And on that particular Sunday at Eastlake, I believe Culture won. But take heart, Christian; this isn’t the last time these two will meet. There’s always another Sunday to watch them go head-to-head. Just make sure you’re rooting for the right team.

No, it certainly isn’t the last time that the dominant ideas of Christians will be challenged by evolving ideas about morality, nor will it be the last time that those dominant ideas will end up being jettisoned by most Christians in favor of the new cultural consensus. But here’s the important thing: It also isn’t the first time. Though there were always exceptions, as there always will be in a large, diverse religion, institutional Christianity also once strongly believed in and supported slavery. And when Christianity met culture, culture won. The new evolving standard that slavery was wrong, always and everywhere, forced Christianity to change. And Christian conservatives made exactly the same arguments that Hansen is making now, that Christians were now embracing heresy over the clear teaching of the Bible. But over time, nearly all of Christendom changed its mind and accepted the conclusions of the dominant culture.

The same was true of the battle over women’s suffrage, where institutional Christianity was the primary source of opposition to letting women vote. But over time, that position became anathema in the culture and was viewed, correctly, as completely misogynist and wrong. So over time, Christians changed their minds, reinterpreted their scriptures and accepted the new consensus. The same was also true of the battle for civil rights for blacks. The same will be true of the battle for LGBT equality. Eventually — and it’s already starting — the church will begin to reinterpret the Bible and come around to the idea.

But you can be certain of one thing: The same will be true of the next battle for equality as well. And the James Hansens of that day will make the very same arguments and pretend that this dynamic had not played itself out over and over again already. Every battle must be fought anew, without historical context.

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  • StevoR

    What culture and Christianity and the Superbowl? Aren’t those mutually imiscible elements!?

    (Joke!)

  • Deacon Duncan

    It allows Christians, as the Bride of Christ, to be unfaithful to her Husband and the standards we find in Scripture.

    Yes, that’s right, by tolerating gay marriage, Ryan is being unfaithful to his husband, Jesus.

    Do these people even listen to what they’re saying?

  • peterh

    Heating my house on Sundays when it’s -25° isn’t biblical either, but . . . . . . .

    The maunderings of Bronze-Age/early Iron Age nomadic herdsmen don’t seem to have much currency in the real world.

  • hunter

    “The staff of Eastlake had unanimously embraced the homosexual lifestyle. . . .”

    I would think this was deliberate, but the rest of it is clueless, so I’m guessing this must be, too.

    Deacon Duncan @2: “Do these people even listen to what they’re saying?”

    Probably not — they don’t seem to listen to what anyone’s saying.

  • http://en.uncyclopedia.co/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    I think Meeks’ toleration of homosexuality is disgusting. Frankly, finding out about it on Superbowl Sunday pretty much ruined the whole day of watching other men in shoulder pads and spandex pants repeatedly pile on top of each other.

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    And the pastor stuck that Clorox stain remover ad into the middle of his article for extra effect, right?

  • http://composer99.blogspot.ca composer99

    Clorox ads would have been better than the bible trivia quiz ad I’m seeing.

  • Artor

    Yet again, the people who know the least about Xianity are… Xians themselves.

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    Where does this “bride of Christ” rubbish come from in the first place? I first heard it from my junior-high math and science teacher when he got born a second time (what, his first birth didn’t work, even though he lived to his 30s?). The whole thing sounds like one of those ridiculous, meaningless abstract theological concepts that religious authoritarians use to pretend they have something meaningful to offer in place of what’s really meaningful in the real world.

    Seriously, even when I accepted the entire born-again philosophy, this was just one of the concepts and buzz-phrases that STILL didn’t mean anything in any part of my life or thoughts. (Of course, as a teenage straight boy, I also recoiled at the thought that I would be ANYONE’s “bride.” You trying to pussify me or something?)

  • wreck

    “Eastlake’s “welcoming and affirming” position might sound nice, but it just isn’t biblical”

    So the biblical position is not nice. Thanks for clarifying that.

    “It allows Christians, as the Bride of Christ, to be unfaithful to her Husband and the standards we find in Scripture”

    He cheats on his (male) bride every time he puts on his cotton-poly blend shirt and when he refuses to make his wife live in a separate tent during her period, just to name a couple of the dozens of biblical standards he ignores.

  • abb3w

    @9, Raging Bee

    Where does this “bride of Christ” rubbish come from in the first place?

    The New Testament. To lesser degree, Matthew 9:15, Matthew 25, Mark 2:19, Luke 5:34, and John 3:29, but primarily traditional interpretation of Revelation 19 and 21.

  • Deacon Duncan

    @11, abb3w

    And don’t forget Ephesians 5:25-32, where Paul explains that Christian husband-and-wife marriage is really just a symbol for the relationship between Jesus and the Church (with the Church as the wife, of course). That’s why believing men are supposed to submit to Jesus. They are his wife, so they’re subordinate.

  • tomc5

    This makes sense when you remember the “staff of Eastlake” has a +10 Intelligence stat.

  • wscott

    Can anyone here think of a single significant moral question or issue in the last few centuries that hasn’t had sincere & devout Christians arguing passionately and in good faith on BOTH sides of the issue? Seriously, I’ve tried to find a counter example and I can’t think of one. My point isn’t that there were Christians on the wrong (or losing) side, but the fact that Christians are consistently on both sides of every significant moral debate kinda torpedoes their claim to some Objective Moral Code.

  • busterggi

    You left out that for centuries Christianity supported the divine right of kings which is definately against democracy. Of course, the Religious Reich is doing all it can still to destroy democracy.

  • http://en.uncyclopedia.co/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    tomc5 “This makes sense when you remember the “staff of Eastlake” has a +10 Intelligence stat.”

    Way to dork up the internet.

  • StevoR

    @15. busterggi : Well, it started even earlier with divine right of Caesars (later Czars, Kaisers, Emperors) actually! “Render unto Caesar and all that. Then there were all those Holy Roman Emperors and, hey, they even sent a delegation of monks to Kubilai Khan didn’t they? So yes, Christians have a long record of being monarchist supporters here. Christ is supposedly the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. (Also Knight of knights and Duke of dukes as well perhaps?) Never heard him referred to as President of Presidents but in fairness that idea was a bit of a later invention. Heaven is also supposedly very aristocratically and non-democratically run.

    @14. wscott : “Can anyone here think of a single significant moral question or issue in the last few centuries that hasn’t had sincere & devout Christians arguing passionately and in good faith on BOTH sides of the issue?”

    Euthanasia a.k.a. mercy killing maybe? Could be wrong but I cannot recall or think of any Christian ever advocating in favour of allowing people to choose to end their own lives instead of being compelled to die in pain and humiliation in a number of cases.

    @10. wreck : “He cheats on his (male) bride every time he puts on his cotton-poly blend shirt and when he refuses to make his wife live in a separate tent during her period, just to name a couple of the dozens of biblical standards he ignores.”

    You forgot to add every time he eats seafood! You forgot to add every time he eats seafood! Plus a few other things like getting the village together to stone Sabbath breakers, rebellious kids, adulterers and rape victims who they suspect didn’t scream loud enough.

  • weatherwax

    Banner Ads. I’m getting AARP. I’m only FRICKEN 47, people.

  • Lady Mondegreen

    promoting the straw-man argument that the Church owes this group a debt for the various ways Christians have mistreated them.

    He doesn’t understand the straw man fallacy. What a surprise.

  • dingojack

    Weatherwax – it’s titled ‘support & advice for caregivers‘. [emphasis mine].

    So — you’ve killed off your 65-87 year old parents already, eh? No need to worry about falls, forgetfulness or chronic illness. Good for you. @@

    Dingo