Cattle ranchers and my Q Tip

My good buddy Matthew Lee Anderson thinks I am wrong about the inclusion of David Gushee and Matthew Vines at the upcoming Q conference. You should read the piece. Typical Anderson, it is smart, nuanced, and characteristic of the fearlessness known only to those sure of Christ’s love and confident of his victories already and still to come. Like Gabe Lyons, I’m sure glad Matt is on my team even if we land on different sides of this debate.

For those who haven’t been following along, Owen Strachan and I were dismayed to see that Gushee and Vines are participating in panel discussions about homosexuality at Q. Q is a Christian conference, but these two advocate an LGBT agenda contrary to the orthodox Christian understanding of God’s design and purpose for sex, marriage, and family. Why would a Christian conference give a platform to heretical opinion, we wondered. Their movement is progressing without our help.

The question at hand is not whether to engage Gushee and Vines, but how. Based on responses, many seem to think Strachan and I want to ignore bad ideas, while Anderson is willing to engage them. As one who spends a good chunk of my time debating LGBT activists, and who spent three years orchestrating debates between Christians while managing the American Enterprise Institute’s Values & Capitalism program, I found this frustrating. My record is clear. I’m down for a fight, too, and committed to engaging charitably. 

What makes Gushee and Vines’ participation especially harmful in our opinion is their illusory evangelical bona fides. Gushee was once a well-known and respected ethicist on the faculty at conservative evangelical Union University, and even authored a book on marriage. (Actual marriage.) Vines was raised in a bible-believing, church-attending evangelical Christian home. Unlike most Christian sexual revisionists whose low view of scripture makes their case anathema to evangelicals, Vines bases his case in what he claims is a conservative reading of scripture. By granting them a platform under the aegis of Q, we believe Gushee and Vines need not actually convince anyone of their viewpoint to succeed. Mere participation in the event is the major victory, as conflict-averse evangelicals are led to believe there is room for disagreement on homosexuality within orthodoxy.

In response to our initial post, Anderson argues Christians shouldn’t worry so much about giving ground that was lost long ago:

Evangelicals are here precisely because we haven’t known the orthodox view at all the past fifty years, not because we have known it and are now seeking clarity on it.  We are here because of a failure in ourselves, a failure to practice the very things that Strachan and Teetsel are defending. The “orthodox view of sexuality” from the past fifty years of evangelicalism hasn’t so much been tried found and wanting, as it’s been entirely left untried…  In short: evangelicals are having the debate we deserve, because we didn’t have the debates we needed. 

He’s mostly right.

There is no question that Christians today find ourselves in the position of defending ideas “as old as the hills,” as a friend recently described them, because for far too long the Church naively took them for granted. The time is now to begin rebuilding the foundations, and not a moment too son. That task will require debating those inside and outside the church who are leading the Church astray, purposefully or unwittingly. But the fact that the orthodox view of sexuality “hasn’t so much been tried found and wanting, as it’s been entirely left untried,” as Anderson writes, is precisely why it’s so important that those of us who whose job it is to put things back on track proceed with caution.

When the cattle have escaped their pen the rancher’s first task is not rounding them back up; it is repairing the fence. Before Christians jump headfirst into debates about sex we must ensure the boundaries are established. Already too many Christians, especially younger ones, mistakenly believe God’s design for sex, marriage and family is an issue on which reasonable people of faith can agree to disagree, like the use of hymns or head coverings. More mature believers must begin by teaching that marriage is a truth so significant it bookends the Bible: In the beginning, God created “male and female in His image” and launched His pre-fall plan for the creation, organization and flourishing of the billions who would follow. Jesus affirms His Genesis plan in Matthew 19. Later, Paul tells us that miraculous plan, in which a man leaves his father and mother and holds fast to his wife in a “one flesh” union, refers to Christ and the church. In the last days, the bride and her bridegroom will be reunited forever. Everything in between affirms this plan, and multiple passages call out sinful distortions from it, specifically homosexuality.

For two-thousand years Christians have understood this, as has the wider world. In our time, as the West lapses into the embrace of homosexuality, radical new conceptions of human anthropology, and a cheap valuation of the family, Gushee and Vines are helping things along. They are the most recent in Christianity’s tragic history of capitulation to culture’s sins, a history that includes slavery, racism, sexism, greed, and anti-semitism. In each of those cases, the Church failed to stand apart from broader cultural trends, and even led the way. We must not make this mistake again.

Bad ideas need to be countered with good ones, and proponents of sin within the Church must be confronted, rebuked, and corrected. In the 21st century, we are blessed with a hundred ways to do both. There are YouTube channels, Twitter feeds, Facebook pages, blogs, and books. For example, last year, on the publication date of Matthew Vines’ book theologians from Southern Seminary published a lengthy rebuttal

There is a place for live debates, speeches, and panel discussions among these tools. I’ve spent many an afternoon watching William F. Buckley debate the best advocates of bad ideas on Firing Line. I’ve cheered Ravi Zacharias, William Lane Craig and others who stepped into the ring to spar with atheists and advocates of other religions. And I’ve proudly watched Southern Baptist leader Al Mohler detail the irresolvable doctrinal differences between Christians and Mormons at a speech at Brigham Young University. In each instance, the boundaries were evident. Christians should engage Gushee, Vines, and their ilk in the same way. While Gabe Lyons has made clear his orthodox beliefs about homosexuality, the Q conference lends credibility to views outside the bounds of acceptability by presenting them in a neutral way.

Or maybe I’m completely wrong. Instead of a neutral space for the presentation of two different ideas, maybe before each panel a host will stand up and explain to the audience that the panel will feature two competing views: one consistent with orthodox Christian teaching, and the other at odds with it, and therefore unacceptable. Maybe the host will explain the goal of the panel is to help attendees know the bad arguments others are hearing, and how to best respond. Maybe Julie Rodgers and Dan Kimball will confidently, competently, and Christianly rip the false teachers apart. I’ve been to previous Q events, and this wouldn’t be consistent with the brand I know. But if I’m wrong, you’ll hear it first on this blog.

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