The New York Times just published one of the more rough-handed pieces we’ve yet seen regarding “gay Christianity.” In “Bigotry, the Bible and the Lessons of Indiana,” opinion writer Frank Bruni takes the gloves off and seeks to bully Christians into caving on homosexuality. The column is frank, direct, and brutalizing.
Let’s consider five takeaways from this striking article.
1. Here’s what Bruni believes opposition to “gay Christianity” is based in: raw prejudice. He says as much:
But in the end, the continued view of gays, lesbians and bisexuals as sinners is a decision. It’s a choice. It prioritizes scattered passages of ancient texts over all that has been learned since — as if time had stood still, as if the advances of science and knowledge meant nothing.
It disregards the degree to which all writings reflect the biases and blind spots of their authors, cultures and eras.
It ignores the extent to which interpretation is subjective, debatable.
The lack of self-awareness here takes your breath away. Apparently, Christians cannot see their “biases and blind spots,” but Bruni can. Here’s one example of a “blind spot” he might be missing: he claims all “interpretation is subjective” and “debatable” even as he presents his viewpoint as authoritative. Though he shames Christians for their hermeneutical simple-mindedness, he turns around and makes precisely the error he has just accused us of.
Editorialist, heal thyself.
2. We also note Bruni’s comments on doctrinal formation, which reduces in his mind to “scattered passages of ancient texts.” Speaking of “blind spots” once more, this is the fallacy of “chronological snobbery,” as C. S. Lewis called it. Simply because a teaching is old means it’s outmoded. This apparently does not apply to pagan sexuality, however, which is the framework by which our secular culture now operates. I’m not sure what to think of “scattered texts”–if “scattered” means something like “homosexuality is condemned in no uncertain terms in both the Old Testament and the New Testament,” then Bruni is more accurate than he knows.
The collective witness of the Bible, spread across diverse genres and eras, is indeed unified that homosexual desire and behavior is sinful (see Genesis 19; Leviticus 18:22; Deuteronomy 23:17-18; Romans 1:26-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9; 1 Timothy 1:10). Beyond the clear teaching of these inerrant texts, homosexuality, as my colleague Jim Hamilton pointed out in his excellent chapter in God and the Gay Christian?, fits nowhere in the storyline of the Bible. Marriage is instituted by God between Adam and Eve (Gen. 2:18-25), affirmed by Jesus himself in crystal-clear teaching (Matt. 19:3-6), and ultimately points to the covenantal love between Christ and his cruciform people (Eph. 5:22-33).
Both exegetically and theologically, the Scripture is unmistakably clear: homosexuality does not owe to the good design of God, but to the corruption of the flesh. You could call this witness “scattered,” I suppose. You could also call it “overwhelming.”
3. It turns out that Bruni is not only here to correct us, however. He comes as an angel of freedom. He speaks to us in the verdant tones of “religious freedom,” which he helpfully defines as follows: “freeing religions and religious people from prejudices that they needn’t cling to and can indeed jettison, much as they’ve jettisoned other aspects of their faith’s history, rightly bowing to the enlightenments of modernity.” Here it is: your 2015 version of religious liberty. In years past, this concept meant something like “the opportunity to obey your conscience without prejudice.” Now, it means “the golden opportunity to believe what secular elites tell you to believe.”
We have reverted, really and truly, to the conditions that led the Puritans and Pilgrims to brave death and come to America four centuries ago. Our worship is now compelled and instructed, just as in days past. But we are not dealing with a state church, or at least not an established one. We are dealing with a cultural intelligentsia that offers us a grand bargain: we can give up our sexual ethics and be just fine, or we can hold onto them and be smashed into conformity. It’s really this stark: the Bible should be “rightly bowing”–Bruni’s actual phrase!–to secular rationalism. In other words, we have an authority, and it is not Scripture. It is the culture.
Religious people, according to Bruni, cling to their faith. Now, the time has come. We should give it all away. Like slavery and gender roles–“other aspects of their faith’s history”–we should simply relinquish views that the culture now finds wanting. This is rich stuff. Christianity offered women far more agency than secular Greco-Roman culture did. Christianity over the centuries has ennobled women, protected them from male predation, and given them a key place in the kingdom. Christianity overcame slavery, slavery that pagan cultures practiced without batting an eye.
It is lamentably true that far too many Christians embraced the racist and sexist beliefs of secular culture in the past. But it was not Voltaire and Rousseau who championed the abolitionist cause. It was William Wilberforce and William Lloyd Garrison and Jonathan Edwards, Jr. It is not the secular elite who now protect women from the ravages of the Sexual Revolution, with men openly preying on women. It is the church, even the imperfect church, that preaches the gospel and gospel ethics, which overcome both racism and sexism to render the people of God one body, the body of Christ.
The church has never been perfect. But did the church unleash genocide on the world, as secularism did through leaders like Stalin, Hitler, Mao, and Pol Pot? It most certainly did not. Secular authoritarianism has brought great evil and suffering to people. The church, though imperfect, has brought gospel hope, ethical enlightenment, and social justice to untold numbers of people. Bruni ignores and even erases this in his piece.4. Bruni waves his hand and thereby dismisses all believers who hold to complementarian convictions. He quotes exactly one obscure pastor to ground this rather audacious claim:
“In the United States, we have abandoned the idea that women are second-class, inferior and subordinate to men, but the Bible clearly teaches that,” said Jimmy Creech, a former United Methodist pastor who was removed from ministry in the church after he performed a same-sex marriage ceremony in 1999. “We have said: That’s a part of the culture and history of the Bible. That is not appropriate for us today.”
And we could say the same about the idea that men and women in loving same-sex relationships are doing something wrong.
This point amuses me. It’s as if there are no denominations with, say, 40,000 local churches that adhere to robust complementarian principles. You’d think the Southern Baptists just got raptured by a secular editorialist. It’s as if the PCA and the conservative Anglicans and Methodists and Pentecostals and hundreds of other groups simply have no voice. Why? Because Jimmy Creech says so, and Frank Bruni has cited him.
This is telling material. The secular left, more than many evangelicals, understands the indissoluble connection between complementarity and exclusively heterosexual marriage. If you give up the first, you swing the door open wide to give up the second. I say this to fellow evangelicals: Bruni is exactly right in this connection. Giving up complementarity means denying both Scripture and natural design. This shift opens the door to embracing transgenderism, homosexual orientation and marriage, and polyamory. There is no other backstop. There is no other iron wall against raw pagan sexuality.
Complementarianism–represented institutionally by CBMW, cbmw.org, the organization I lead–is the last line of defense against the secularist sexualism. There’s nothing else to arrest this cultural momentum. Bruni quotes same-sex-affirming ethicist David Gushee along these lines: “Conservative Christian religion is the last bulwark against full acceptance of L.G.B.T. people,” Gushee said.” Gushee is quite right. So, I ask my fellow Christians: is complementarity bad? Should we downplay it? Should we problematize it, sigh deeply, and wish we didn’t have to hold it?
Or, should we own it, love it, receive it as good, and see it as the outworking of a gospel worldview?
5. Bruni closes with a peroration worthy of a fiery homiletician. There is one option for Christians, and that is to embrace homosexuality or else:
Creech and Mitchell Gold, a prominent furniture maker and gay philanthropist, founded an advocacy group, Faith in America, which aims to mitigate the damage done to L.G.B.T. people by what it calls “religion-based bigotry.”
Gold told me that church leaders must be made “to take homosexuality off the sin list.”
His commandment is worthy — and warranted. All of us, no matter our religious traditions, should know better than to tell gay people that they’re an offense. And that’s precisely what the florists and bakers who want to turn them away are saying to them.
So here it is. “Church leaders must be made” to stop seeing “gay Christianity” as sinful. This is a “warranted commandment,” according to Bruni, who states this baldly without reference to any source, authority, text, or tradition. He’s quoted the tiny handful of “Christian” theologians who affirm homosexuality, albeit without so much as a whisper of a reference to the tens of thousands of scholars, exegetes, theologians, pastors, and leaders who do not affirm it. Bruni presents his claims as straightforwardly true and “warranted,” but surprisingly, he gives us no reason for that warrant. Sure, a few scattered ethicists and writers agree with him. But he’s made no case for why he’s right. He’s offered no positive material of his own to overturn two millennia of consensus on sexuality. He’s given us rhetoric and intimidating language, nothing more.
We see in the end that this is not an opinion, a view, or a conviction. Bruni has offered us dogma in his breathtaking piece. This is not dogma that plays nice, either. It does not carve out space for dissent, as Christianity has and does when applied biblically in the public square. We evangelicals actually believe we can’t coerce faith. Bruni and fellow secularists believe they can–and that they in fact have a moral mission to do so.
If you’re a young evangelical who gets the cold sweats when the New York Times disagrees with you, Frank Bruni’s piece should wake you up. It should derail you from any mission to draw the approval of the culture-makers. Here’s the reality: if you hold to biblical sexuality, you have no approval. You have in the eyes of many only condemnation, judgment, a this-worldly sentence of damnation on your head. You don’t deserve the freedom of your convictions. You are a bigot. You must, to use Bruni’s very words, “bow” to the culture. It’s that stark.
If, however, you stay the course (like Chuck Colson and many, many others), and go with God, you must know that you will gain something so much greater than the approval of leading voices. You will honor God himself. You will stand with him on the last day. You will have the opportunity to avoid the hatred and judgmentalism and bullying of Bruni, and you will be freed to love fellow sinners just like him, and preach the gospel to him.
Frank Bruni wants evangelicals to cave. We will not do so. We will not give an inch. We will, however, refute his foolish thinking and bad arguments, laugh at his attempts to intimidate us, and love him. We worship a Savior, after all, who died for preaching his convictions, but who in dying asked even for the forgiveness of those who put him on that cross (Luke 23:34).
We will not cave. Not by a country mile. We will, however, love our enemies, pray for those who persecute us, and, as we remember this very Easter weekend, rise with Jesus in the age to come.
(HT: Barton Gingerich)