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.