At CT, Tim Dalrymple, indefatigable editor at Patheos, wrote one of the essays on what to do if the SCOTUS supports same-sex marriage by striking down DOMA. Tim Keller, too, has said a few things, and I’d like to take this opportunity to say Tim Keller stereotypes the Anabaptist approach into something that is less Anabaptist, more rare, and can be found as much among Lutherans as it can be found among Anabaptists. The Anabaptist tradition has both a strong State vs. church divide and, at the same time, a strong emphasis on conscience so that while an Anabaptist may say “the State does what the State thinks is law” that does not mean the Anabaptist thinks what is law is good, or that the Anabaptist supports the State’s judgments. Here is what Keller said, though I would prefer he not use the word “should” and use “could” in its place:
In explaining the Anabaptist tradition, I was quoted saying, “You can believe homosexuality is a sin and still believe that same-sex marriage should be legal.”
The word “should” means the Anabaptist approves what the State says; I’m not so sure that is the way to say it. The Anabaptist view, since it assumes a powerful divide between church and State/world, knows that the State’s laws are not what the Bible teaches or the church believes. But that divide does not entail approval of what the State judges. The word “should” speaks too much of approval.
As I see it there are a few options regarding DOMA:
1. The Constantinian option: the church controls the State and uses the powers of the State to enforce its views. Work for power and enforce DOMA; or work for power and deconstruct DOMA.
2. The Reformed option: the church influences and agitates for God’s will, which is understood to be in the Bible and in the unfolding Christian (Protestant) tradition. Agitate for DOMA in a pluralist society. Or, in the view of the progressives, agitate against DOMA because it is against God’s will. Keller is Reformed though he eschews public agitation in the political realm, and in this eschewal he’s a bit Anabaptist (if I may say so).
Whether in the above two options or the next two, traditionalist or progressive, many are full of jeremiads about the upcoming SCOTUS decision. I grew up on evangelical jeremiads; the one thing I’ve seen is they’ve been nearly always wrong.
3. The Lutheran option: the church shapes its own ethic through the Bible (realm of kingdom) and recognizes the State’s authority in the secular realm (DOMA may or may not be legal; the Christian may or may not support DOMA). Some in the Lutheran tradition — and I’ve seen this at times in Luther himself — make a radical divide between the two realms and what the Christian believes is not necessarily what is best in the State so that the Christian operates differently as a citizen. It appears to me that Keller’s attribution to the Anabaptists may just as well apply to some kinds of Lutherans.
4. The Anabaptist option: the church shapes its own ethic through the Bible and lives according to that (regardless of what DOMA says) and what the State does is the State’s business. If DOMA is law, it is the State’s business and judgment. The church is to concentrate on its own way of being and the Anabaptist thinks he or she is to live according to the Bible’s teachings, regardless of what the State says. Thus, the individual Anabaptist may say it’s the State’s business and be totally against the State’s judgments. One reading of Keller’s recent comments is that he sees the Anabaptist as someone who doesn’t care what the State does. Disinterest in the State’s laws, however, does not mean the Anabaptist approves of the State’s judgments. Put differently, the Anabaptist prizes voting (if he or she even votes) one’s conscience, and that conscience is formed by the great moral vision of the Bible.
I see Tim Dalrymple somewhere between the Lutheran option and the Anabaptist option on this one.
Two conversations come to mind when I consider how pastors and churches should respond to the prospect that same-sex marriage may become legal nationwide this year.
A young man once told me that he never would have become a follower of Jesus Christ, and certainly would never have reached sobriety, if the church had required him to overcome his alcoholism before it welcomed him into the embrace of Christian community. In being loved by the church, he learned of the love of God and responded to the gospel. Then (and only then) was he empowered to overcome the desires that controlled him.
Sometime later, a young woman whom I had not seen for several years came to visit. She entered nervously, and eventually told me she had “come out” as a lesbian. Our conversation continued in a friendly vein, and I asked how her spiritual life was faring. She began to weep. It was the first time, she said, that one of her Christian friends had treated her as though she, a practicing lesbian, could continue to have a relationship with God.
Her church in Tennessee had told her she was cut off from the church and cut off from God until she repented and “converted” to heterosexuality. It reminded me of the recovering alcoholic. In that case, the church confessed the gospel, the Spirit convicted of sin, and the redemption of Christ transformed him. Yet in this case, the church was cutting a young woman off from engaging with God precisely when she needed to engage with him the most.
When pastors are pressed for their opinions about same-sex marriage, they should affirm both the theological position that marriage is designed for the union of male and female, and the moral position that sexual relations outside of marital union transgress the generous will of God. Church leaders should realize same-sex couples reside everywhere. The 2010 federal census estimates there are 131,000 married same-sex couples and 514,000 unmarried same-sex couples.
Whether pastors also wish to take the legal position that America’s marriage laws should codify the Christian theology of marriage is another question. I have my own misgivings on that point. But I have no misgivings saying that the primary role of the church is to witness to the love of God in Jesus Christ.
When we exclude and ostracize, we only make it more difficult for these men and women to hear the call of the God who made them in his image and for his glory. Let the church confess, let the Spirit convict, and let Christ redeem.