I’m with Tim, I’m not with Tim

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.

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  • gingoro

    The last few paragraphs say what I trying to express on another blog yesterday. Only they say it much better than I did. The only thing I would add is that we should implement such a position in our church before the LGBT activists force us to as IMO it is justice and God’s love.

  • Of course what might be correctly called a neo-Anabaptist position is different in that it seems to take a position that the church should influence the state. And a good number nowadays in that tradition will actually marry same sex couples, believing that is blessed by God. Although that number is still in the minority.

    I guess I find myself more along the lines of traditional Anabaptism, with the difference that I do think the church should impact the state, albeit more indirectly. Maybe that puts me even more square with that tradition, than I think. What we do with reference to the state on the political end here in the United States, in the representative form of government here, needs to be humble along the lines of the “love your neighbor” approach, I think.

  • Let me add, we need to be as inclusive as possible. I speak from a traditional stance on this matter. So I agree with what I think Tim Dalrymple is saying here.

  • Scot I really appreciate this post. For me it reads firm in conviction and generous in loving our neighbour (and our brothers and sisters in Christ). I loved the last three paragraphs. I wish more pastors would speak this way. 🙂

  • Rick

    “Let the church confess, let the Spirit convict, and let Christ redeem.”

    I think this sounds great, but is that how Paul handled certain sin in the Corinthian church? Where is the line drawn between what sins are handled in Tim D’s description, in the Corinthian situation, and in a legal sense? Should churches stay out of the legality of the abortion issue as well?

  • TJJ

    If this change comes, Churches will need to accept that there will never be any going back. Thus Churches and ministries will need to carefully navigate a middle way between confessing and professing Biblical teaching and being as inclusive and full of grace and love as possible, which actually is what Churches should already be doing now. Churches found a way with the divorced, with the friends with benefits crowd, etc.

    I can see down the road an otherwise theologically conservative pastor working with a gay or lesbian unmarried couple in their church who can/does advise them, as a start, as a first step, get married and be committed for life to love and fidelity and exclusive faithfulness, and invite Christ into that space/place as the best and closest you can come to living in His will.

  • Tim

    The approaches being discussed here, while interesting and worthwhile from a separation of Church and State point of view, all assume that same-sex relationships are sinful and prohibited by the Christian faith. This is not, I think, a foregone conclusion. Certainly a case could be made that such is the case. And not necessarily a weak case at that. But the arguments on the other side navigating the complex phenomenon of how the Biblical text deals with cultural issues also deserve to be taken seriously. It seems to be an issue to me that is still very much in question. And as such, perhaps there is no justifiable “default” position on the matter, but something that should be left to the individual to navigate in accordance with their own faith journey.

  • Jim

    I tend to line up with the Anabaptist tradition. Implicit in that tradition is the witness of the church as church to the world as world. Somewhere Hauerwas says something to the effect that the world cannot know itself as the world if the church will not know itself as the church.

    Since, I would guess, most members of evangelical churches are not practicing homosexuals, it is fairly easy for the church to bear witness along heterosexual lines. However, within heterosexual lines too many have failed to knock it out of the park in terms of divorce, pre-marital sex, a-marital sex, cohabitation (esp. before marriage), out of wedlock births, pornography abuse, etc etc etc

    Those of us with Anabaptist tendencies have a long way to go in assisting the church toward that shining example of the alternative society that Hauerwas recommends and along practices that have nothing to do with homosexual marriage.

  • Good points well made, Scot. Particularly in the last couple of paragraphs in my opinion.

    The theory is all well and fine, but we have to LIVE the truth. For me that means accepting others who are, after all, no more sinful than me. But accepting the person doesn’t mean I accept their actions or their words or their beliefs. We can differ on all those things in loving ways.

    Rick (5) – Shouldn’t church stay out of legal disputes of every kind? I think so, just as Jesus did. He always pointed to the truth, not to the law. He was (and is) Grace incarnate. He is Love. He is Truth.

    Like him we need to go beyond law. For example, when the Pharisees complained about washing and cups Jesus said, ‘It’s not what goes into the mouth that makes a person unclean, it’s what comes out’. Only by going beyond the law can we help people to see a deeper reality.

    Of course we don’t have the ability to do any such thing – but Christ in us does. Christ in us, the hope of glory.

  • Scot McKnight


    I don’t think you read my four points carefully. I made space for the progressive view.

  • I really appreciate the call to compassion, that we are first and foremost to be promoting the love of Christ. But isn’t it messier than this? I mean that these church/state categories seem based on an understanding of “The State” that doesn’t fully take into account that we live in a representative republic. One thing that I struggle with is the reality that our government is designed to be shaped by the individual consciences of the electorate. When we take cues from state/church relationships in the past, aren’t we comparing apples to oranges?

    I suppose I’m wondering how the American concept of representative government jives with these different traditions? Because really, we’re not simply talking about how to engage a monarchy or even an oligarchy–we’re talking about a situation where individuals are following their private consciences (which are shaped by faith) in the public discourse. How does one advocate for one theological understanding on Sunday and then suspend disbelief in the voting booth?

  • I think that regardless of which of the four approaches Scot outlines above one takes, one of the major concerns Christians have in this issue is that experience has shown that those who advocate for the full normalization of homosexuality in society are not averse to using the coercive power of the state and the legal system to force their views on anybody who does not agree with them, not excluding the churches.

    Thus, once the state defines marriage in a broader way than the union of a man and a woman we will see an increase of people trying to use the courts to make churches which wish to hold to the traditional definition to change their ways. We already see photographers who do not believe in same-sex marriage being compelled to accept assignments to photograph such events; we see Christian organizations which rent out facilities for weddings to rent them out for same-sex “weddings” even if that goes against their conscience, etc. The full legalization of same-sex marriage will lead to couples taking churches to court over their refusal to conduct such ceremonies; they may not initially be successful, but they place an onerous burden on churches to defend themselves against such actions, and before too long they WILL succeed.

    Personally, I believe that this is inevitable, and will be part of the church returning to its situation in the first three centuries of its existence: barely tolerated, if that, and possibly persecuted.

  • Rick

    Wolf Paul #11-

    Thank you for commenting on the elephant in the room.

  • Tim

    Wolf @11,

    There is absolutely no precedent for the gross violations of religious liberties in this country you describe. We have several decades now of gender equality, but churches are under no compulsion to open up leadership positions to women, for instance. This is just paranoia.

  • Kyle J

    If you believe that participating in a monogamous gay relationship is sin–and I’m not sure it is–why not start by asking how the church treats other forms of ongoing sin among its congregation? And not just the “sexy” kinds of sin.

    How does the church treat the businessman who takes advantage of others in his business dealings out of greed?

    How does it treat the woman who continually gossips about others?

    What about the family that is a poor steward of its financial resources and doesn’t give back to the Lord?

    The thing that bothers me about this debate more than anything else is the idea that, based on a handful of scripture passages (many fewer than the number related to greed, for example), being a practicing gay person is a “scarlet letter” sin.

  • Bill

    Scot, you refereced the progressive view, but your conclusions in the last few paragraphs didn’t include them. The pastor who does not agree with that way reading the Biblical narrative would not agree with the statements.

    “sexual relations outside of marital union transgress the generous will of God.”

    so when patsiors are pressed to give thier positions,…. they should be truthful in love, whichwever side they fall.
    did I miss something?

  • Tim


    Must have missed it, sorry. I was working through the article this morning over a quick coffe and toast before heading off to work. I’ll give it a second read later.

  • EricW

    There is absolutely no precedent for the gross violations of religious liberties in this country you describe. We have several decades now of gender equality, but churches are under no compulsion to open up leadership positions to women, for instance. This is just paranoia.

    I wouldn’t be at all surprised if churches which discriminate re: paid positions based on gender (e.g., won’t allow females to be hired pastors or head pastors or bishops, etc.) lose their tax-exempt status at some point.

  • Paul (12) and Rick (13) are right. There may not be a real problem yet in the USA with the use of the law to pressure people to act against the moral stances they take on all kinds of issues. But there certainly is in the UK.

    One couple ran a guest house and refused to let a room to two gay men. They lost their court case. Employers have won cases against staff who chose to wear a cross or some other religious symbol.

    It’s a very mild form of persecution, admittedly, but it’s real. I’m convinced it will get far worse, in the USA as well as in the UK. I welcome it, if this is what it takes to bring the western church back to life and vigour I most certainly welcome it.

    Alan Hirsch and others have been writing and speaking about this for some time. In ‘The Forgotten Ways’, Alan Hirsch writes about liminality and communitas, the most real oneness between believers is the oneness that comes in shared suffering. Maybe we need that!

  • Dopderbeck

    One of the problems here is the strange posture of social conservatives with respect to the Prop 8 and DOMA cases together. On the one hand, they argue for state’s rights concerning Prop 8. On the other, they argue for strong federal power and very strong federal court jurisdiction with respect to DOMA. These positions are fundamentally inconsistent. And this makes the position Christians “ought” to take with respect to the actual issues before the Court murky. It is not so simple as “Church and State” – it’s Church and federalism.

  • Tom

    I think there are grounds for civil unions beyond sexuality. I know of a housewife who lost her husband when she was in her 50s. She went to live with her sister who had never married and who had a good job. The widower did the housework while her sister worked. They lived together until the widower died. Should they have received the same benefits as married couples?

    On the other hand, is equality the only issue? Does the state have a right to give an incentive to part of the population in order to meet a desired outcome? We do have programs like affirmative action. Some countries have begun to add incentives for couples to have children because their current population growth is not fast enough to meet the needs of their economy. For now, they rely on immigration to meet labor demand but they don’t see this as a long term solution so they are trying to get their population growth to at least be closer to zero. Of course, there would be those who would argue that same sex couples could also meet this need but the point is that the state can give incentives to part of the population to obtain a desired outcome.

  • Matt K

    @wolf 12 and @tim 14
    The reality probably lies somewhere in the middle: not as dire as totalitarian persecution of the church by the state, but no rosey scenario where the religious liberties of Christians will never rub up against the state’s definitions of “discrimination”. While not the same as the United States, issues of free speech in places like Europe and Canada have been emerging for years. Consider the case of Trinity Western University’s school of law in British Columbia. Or the fact that many Christian counselors in the state of California are concerned that the new “reparative therapy ban” make them vulnerable prosecution for counseling GLBT clients to consider their religious conscience.

    Yet, I don’t think these concerns should cause orthodox Christians to take up a cause that would restrict the civil rights of Gays and Lesbians. Rather than fight against the rights of Gays and Lesbians in custody issues, taxation, powers of attorney by banning gay marriage; orthodox Christians need to cross the bridges and fights of religious freedoms as they come, rather than suppressing civil rights of others in protection of their own. It will take much prayer, discernment, and principled debate.

  • Scot McKnight

    Bill I outline the views and then the rest us Tim Dalrymple.

  • T

    Even though I think we have no choice but to confess that Jesus is Lord over all and will judge all (including western pols) by his standards, I don’t think that means that all or even most of God’s best should be legislated.

    Further, 0n this particular debate, Dopderbeck is totally right about the legal Constitutional) arguments being used in these two cases, which may only matter to lawyers like us! Looking at these cases and the larger issues from a big picture view, though, my concern is that the real issues are about legitimacy, both of homosexuals as people and for their sexual relationships. This to me is the real problem for the Church. In her effort to not bless homosexual practice and relations, the Church has largely also devalued or failed to bless or even seek to protect homosexuals as people. Right now, I personally think that Churches need to give 10 bits of energy to seeing that homosexuals are valued and protected as people for every one bit, if that, that they refuse to change their definition of marriage, or at least the kind of sexual practice God prescribes. Further, we need, in Anabaptist fashion, to detach from what the State may legitimize or encourage.

  • Scott,

    Thomas Finger seems to paint a spectrum of historical and modern Anabaptist positions in terms of their relation to church-state (world) relations in “A Contemporary Anabaptist Theology.” He emphasizes the historic A. focus on the church as embodying a witness to the world, but also allows for limited participation in social structures: “I find Marpeck’s general outlook most helpful: participate in government and society’s service functions when possible but avoid coercive ones. But do not expect to find the former wholly free of the “world.””

    I am curious, because I tend towards what you’ve sketched above, as to which Anabaptist thinker(s) you are leaning on for this sketch?

    Thomas N. Finger. A Contemporary Anabaptist Theology: Biblical, Historical, Constructive (p. 322). Kindle Edition.

  • The more I think about this issue, the more complex it becomes in my mind. I originally wrote about it here: http://thesometimespreacher.com/?p=2473
    The Anabaptist option is the one that most appeals to me, though I do worry, like Wolf, about prosecution against churches/pastors who will not perform same sex weddings. What makes me think that is a probability more than a possibility is that this has been framed as a civil rights issue–in fact, as the next step in the larger American civil rights journey. If that is the case, then this won’t be seen as a religious issue, but as a rights issue, and we who object to same-sex marriages will be on the wrong side of the law.

  • EricW

    Tom says:
    Apr 1, 2013 @ 8:47 at 8:47 AM

    I think there are grounds for civil unions beyond sexuality. I know of a housewife who lost her husband when she was in her 50s. She went to live with her sister who had never married and who had a good job. The widower did the housework while her sister worked. They lived together until the widower died. Should they have received the same benefits as married couples?

    Nancy D. Polikoff argues for such a position, and more, in her book Beyond (Straight and Gay) Marriage: Valuing All Families under the Law


  • Keith

    Our small group recently watched an Andy Stanley video where he made a compelling presesentation from 1 Corinthians 5. In his message, Stanley argues that we are to “judge” those “inside” the church, and not those “outside” the church (we often do this the other way around). As I have read this post and the comments, I wonder how not ‘judging those outside” influences the discussion. I think it supports the Anabaptist position Scot is putting forward. Does “not judging those outside” mean, as a Christian, I am not required to influence those outisde especially when Jesus wants me to be salt and light in the world? Thoughts?

  • Jim

    re: the issue of possible persecution… If the definition of marriage becomes centered upon something like ” mutual affection between consenting adults who vow fidelity to one another for life” (just for argument’s sake) and that becomes the cultural and legal norm, how could some form of persecution, rejection, or disenfranchisement not be inevitable for those who hold to traditional, heterosexual marriage?

    Given that taking a strong stand regarding traditional, heterosexual marriage at present can sometimes earn one the title of “bigot”, do we think that will just get better when the courts and the culture have decided in favor of gay marriage?

  • scotmcknight

    Randy, Finger’s book is the go-to book for me. Marpeck, and behind him Hubmaier, saw some role for the Christian in magistracy, etc.. But I’m wondering again what you are asking me… which view?

  • Jeremy

    Jim – we are 50 years on from the Civil Rights movement and churches are still completely able to discriminate based on religious grounds. Don’t want to hire a black guy or a woman as a pastor? Go right ahead. Want to refuse to marry an interracial couple? Sure.

    It gets murkier when we start talking about private businesses, but discrimination based on sexual orientation is ALREADY illegal in most states, so that’s really not anything new.

  • I’m anabaptist at heart, the state will do what it will do. But I think that Christians should argue for a civil public square that tolerates diversity – not least to counter power that will and can oppress the powerless. Arguing for our own rights is less attractive.
    The rhetoric where I live (Ireland) is becoming shriller. Today for example, the Catholic Church is labelled arrogant and a bully for saying they may withdraw from the civil element of the solemnisation of marriage if same-sex marriage is passed. Whether you agree with the RCC on this one or not, it’s interesting that the liberal media won’t tolerate the church deciding how it relates to the state.

  • scotmcknight

    Patrick, thanks for this. We find the same here… the issue, and I suspect you agree, is how the Christian communities can best express their will or their views. instead of threatening or cajoling through agitation, why not just render judgment, withdraw from marrying, and then explain itself after the fact? Puts the weight on the other fellow’s end of the balance beam… eh?

  • Phil Miller

    Wolf #12,
    I’ve seen this argument put forth by a number of people regarding pastors being forced to perform same-sex weddings, but I’m not sure what people are basing it on. No pastor has to do any wedding he doesn’t want to, and that can be for any reason. Pastors performing a religious ceremony is not analogous to a florist selling flowers. I have seen plenty of pastors refuse to marry people for all sorts of reasons. This is just a red herring.

  • Scot, I must say, following this subject very closely feeling like I have one foot in the conservative camp and one foot in the progressive camp, that you did a great job of outlining the options.

  • Mark Day

    It is great to see some discussion at the level of how church & state can interact. That is something I feel we are missing in New Zealand, where the gay marriage debate is currently a hot topic. Christians I listen to don’t seem to have a whole lot of apparatus to explain how we should respond (if at all) to political issues. There is a lot of unspoken assumption, so some are very vocal about such issues and believe that if others are not so vocal, then they are letting the side down.

  • Scott I would cherish the opportunity to sit down with you and other anabaptist and arminian leaders in the future. Part of the reason for the religious backlash is the overwhelming influence of reformed and negative neo-evangelicals (as opposed to positive classical evangelicals).

    Sexual sin is deep in my family background and personal victory in Christ. I cannot ignore the danger of what is becoming public policy toward gay and other alternative sex lives. People can say what they want but the real issue is all sex is good, don’t judge me and don’t set societal standards on what constitutes appropriate sexual behavior. Obviously this is not what people are saying overtly but the church ought to be clear on what is sex positive according to God’s word. Because we don’t agree and have even given license to perversion the government is moving towards full acceptance. Whether people want to accept it, the church and religion welds a strong moral influence in American life. People who don’t subscribe to organized religion still seek the approval of it and personal justification from it. The best step is for unity among Christians and religious people towards abandoning legal marriage in favor of covenant and faith based unions. In other words pull the rug out and let Caesar have civil union and gay marriage.

    Let the church be the church and self correct holy matrimony.