Shot For Asking A Question: What We Can Learn From The Jars of Clay Fallout

Dan Haseltine, lead singer of Jars of Clay, is learning the hard way that questions are frowned upon in these parts.

After a show in Australia he was invited to sit on a panel discussion where some of the co-panelists were lobbyists fighting against the legalization of same sex marriage. After the discussion, Haseltine realized he actually hadn’t given the entire subject enough thought, and wanted to process some questions to formulate a more thoughtful position. As he describes on his blog:

“I was immediately aware that I had not given much attention to the dialogue about gay rights.  I knew it was a focal topic for many people in the church, and that it was a major issue in the growing partisanship of American politics, I just had not had the opportunity to think about it much.”

So, he did what someone should do when wrestling with an issue– he wanted to process the arguments. Unfortunately, he’s a public figure and decided to process the issue on twitter, which now has him feeling the Evangelical backlash.

Perhaps what most set people off was his twitter admission that he realized he was finding the argument against the legalization of civil gay marriage to be less than compelling, and asked if anyone had other reason to convince him:

“I’m trying to make sense of the conservative argument. But it doesn’t hold up to basic scrutiny. Feels akin to women’s suffrage. Is the argument born of isolated application of scripture or is it combined with the knowledge born of friendship with someone who is gay? I just don’t see a negative effect to allowing gay marriage.  No societal breakdown, no war on traditional marriage. ?? Anyone?”

Let us just say, the tribe isn’t too happy about his questions. The response on their Facebook page was vile; fans saying they’re done, nearly every thread has been hijacked regardless of the actual original post, and there were even comments taunting same sex marriage supporters to commit suicide. One of the most disturbing aspects of the story is how the Conservative Christian Internet quickly began twisting his words into their headlines, especially the consistently dishonest folks over at Christian News Network. Headlines across the internet continue to read that Haseltine has “come out” as a gay marriage supporter, which continued to fuel the fire since that’s not what happened.

And of course, we have Michael Brown over at Charisma News who is quickly becoming the angry father figure on the American Christian landscape. I suppose no news would be complete without Michael’s predictable response.

  All this, because he simply asked questions about the legality of civil, same sex marriage.

The Evangelical response to him simply asking questions on civil same sex marriage is quite telling, when we step back and look at the big picture from a cultural point of view. To get a 50,000 feet view of where various Christians land on the issue, consider the following graph which describes the six categories I see people landing in (there may be more, but this is just my view of things):

In understanding the issue and the significance of the Jars of Clay backlash, its important to understand how these categories work and some of the main concepts involved. Primarily, we must be able to distinguish civil from religious marriage. Marriages in our culture are only legal when recognized by the civil government.  Everyone, regardless of faith tradition or none at all, gets a marriage license from the local government. When that licensed is signed and filed, the marriage becomes a legal marriage in the eyes of the state. To solemnize the marriage, one can choose to have the marriage blessed by their faith community (“religious” marriage) or they can have the marriage officiated by an officer of the state, such as a Justice of the Peace (civil marriage).

Historically, the most in-fighting that takes place is between category 1 and 2, as they are the most diametrically opposed. Category 2 would be the default conservative Christian stance, while category 1 would include some mainline traditions and those in progressivism proper (born out of mainline). There are also a number of progressive Evangelicals/Emergence landing in category 1, but not all of them by any means, so it’s important to not make any assumptions.

Typically, there is a strong response when someone shifts from category 2 to 1 (non-affirming to affirming)– which is understandable, that’s a massive shift. Where a growing number of Evangelicals are trying to find a peaceful solution in the current culture is by shifting not from 2 to 1, but from 2 to 3 or 4. These are Evangelicals who either have shifting theology (Category 4) or shifting social views (Category 3). Those in category 3 have realized that there are real societal benefits tied to legal (civil) marriage and that every member of society should have access to those benefits. As a result, they become a supporter of marriage equality even though their theology has not changed (they support the legality of SSM, but aren’t advocating for their faith tradition to endorse it from a religious aspect). Essentially, those in category 3 simply separate church and state in their own mind and feel very little rub in doing so- it gives people equal rights in society while maintaining religious freedom. Category 4 may share these same sentiments, but also has the component of shifting theology on the issue, so they arrive at a similar place, simply by slightly different means.

Here is where the Jars of Clay incident shows us something interesting from a cultural standpoint: we see that Evangelicals won’t even tolerate their own people separating church and state by moving into category 3, or even consider moving to category 3, since that’s all Haseltine did. He did not question theology, he did not say his faith tradition should begin solemnizing same sex marriages–  he simply questioned if legal (civil) same sex marriage was the right and proper thing for a secular society to do. Classic separation of church and state.

However, he’s being treated like he moved all the way into category 1, which isn’t what happened. He reported via twitter that some radio stations are now pulling Jars of Clay from the radio– which wouldn’t shock me if he moved to category 1, but category 3? I think this is a new line being drawn in the sand for today’s Evangelical: you cannot separate church and state on this issue and still be in the tribe.

In the World Vision nonsense, we learned that Categories 4&5 were off limits, but now we see that even thinking of moving to #3 gets you booted from the tribe as well.

Clearly, Dan is learning that questions are frowned upon.

What can we learn from this? I think it’s clear: unwavering opposition to both civil and religious same sex marriage is now a hallmark of being Evangelical. No reasonable, middle ground (separation of church and state in the matter) will be allowed– and they are willing to fight a civil war to make this issue the foundation of American Evangelicalism.

Ugh. Aint nobody got time for that.

Addendum: In hindsight, I think there should be a category between 4 and 5:

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About Benjamin L. Corey

Dr. Benjamin L. Corey is an author, speaker, and blogger. He holds master degrees in theology and missiology (Gordon-Conwell) and received his doctorate from Fuller Theological Seminary. His first book, Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus, is available wherever books are sold. Benjamin is also the co-host of That God Show with Matthew Paul Turner and a syndicated author with MennoNerds, a collective of Anabaptist/Mennonite voices.

He is currently signed to HarperOne and is represented by the Daniel Literary Agency in Nashville, Tennessee.

You can also follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.


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