Yes, Al Mohler (and Tony Jones), There IS a Third Way

Recently, Al Mohler blogged that when it comes to gay marriage THERE IS NO THIRD WAY.

His curmudgeonly Neo-Fundamentalist take is the right-wing mirror of Tony Jones’s position from the left. Tony, too, believes that there’s no third way. It’s a moment of agreement between the two poles that pretty much proves the accuracy of the fundamentalist label I’ve recently argued for.

At any rate, Al is specifically commenting on a Southern Baptist pastor who recently changed his theological perspective on gay relationships and gay marriage. His church has taken an affirming stance which has created a church split and is now forcing the SBC to take action. Here’s Al, along with a quote from Tony:

For some time now, it has been increasingly clear that every congregation in this nation will be forced to declare itself openly on this issue. That moment of decision and public declaration will come to every Christian believer, individually. There will be no place to hide, and no place safe from eventual interrogation. The question will be asked, an invitation will be extended, a matter of policy must be decided, and there will be no refuge.

There is no third way on this issue. Several years ago, I made that argument and was assailed by many on the left as being “reductionistically binary.” But, the issue is binary. A church will recognize same-sex relationships, or it will not. A congregation will teach a biblical position on the sinfulness of same-sex acts, or it will affirm same-sex behaviors as morally acceptable. Ministers will perform same-sex ceremonies, or they will not.

Interestingly, a recent point of agreement on this essential point has come from an unexpected source. Tony Jones, long known as a leader in the “emerging church” has written that there is no “third way” on same-sex marriage. As Jones notes, denominations may study the issue for some time, but eventually it will take a vote. At that point, it will either allow for same-sex marriage, or not.

In his words:

And the same goes for an individual congregation. At some point, every congregation in America will decide either, YES, same-sex marriages will take place in our sanctuary, performed by our clergy; or NO, same-sex marriages will not take place in our sanctuary, performed by our clergy. There is no third way on that. A church either allows same-sex marriages, or it doesn’t.”

The basic idea for both Al and Tony is that there’s no way for churches and denominations to stay silent, plead the fifth, or avoid eventually committing to a policy on gay marriage. Under questioning, scrutiny, and gay people simply requesting to be married by pastors, an answer must be given one way or another. Sure, there can be a moratorium – a process of discernment. But eventually, it’s gonna be a yes or a no.

But both Al and Tony mistakenly assume that a third way is the way of silence or avoidance, or the permanent lack of a “policy.”

Far from it.

In fact, Al tips his Neo-Fundamentalist hand when he says that he was “assailed by many on the left as being ‘reductionistically binary.’” He’s binary even when defending himself against the accusation! Everything is right or left. There is no room for nuance. And – as in the case of the Southern Baptist church he’s commenting on – any divergence from the party line is reason for shock and alarm.

Simultaneously, it seems, an increasing number of evangelicals are making biblical(!) cases in favor of same-sex relationships that are monogamous and chaste until marriage. Kirsten Powers has a piece at USA Today to that effect, and Matthew Vines is evangelizing the message of his book God and the Gay Christian far and wide. This trend is especially problematic for Neo-Fundamentalists like Mohler, because it embraces a biblical/orthodox foundation and still affirms LGBT Christians in relationships.

The reality is, gay Christians, and gay evangelicals, exist – and they are not going anywhere. [Tweet This]

And this is precisely where the third way – which both Al and Tony deny – becomes completely tangible. Beyond the theological/ethical position a church or denomination may take on gay relationships, there must be an affirmation of the existence of LGBT Christians and a loving support of both equal rights under law and genuine inclusion in the church. That is, a church or denomination may choose not to perform gay weddings. A church or denomination may even conclude that being in a gay relationship is sinful. But what a church or denomination must not do is conclude that LGBT Christians who disagree with that position are not genuine Christians. They must not do what Al Mohler (and Neo-Fundamentalists in general, like TGC, etc.) are aiming to do: close the gate of evangelicalism (really, “true Christianity”) to all open LGBT people, absolutely.

No, regardless of position, the gate must remain open. In this way, theology is made subservient to love, and the position is always trumped by genuine inclusion and legal equality. And from the other side, Tony cannot claim that Christians who have a theological position against gay relationships or gay marriage, but are genuinely inclusive and support civil rights, are still intolerant of the LGBT community. That would be a similarly harmful binary.

The third way is to put the theological position in its place – by submitting it to love, inclusion, and equality.

And I’d further argue that the instinct to divide churches and denominations over this issue is fundamentalism incarnate. What are we doing? Ideally, third-way denominations and movements would officially make room for gay relationships and gay marriage, but encourage congregations to discern their own policies locally, and demand an atmosphere of mutual submission and understanding among their family of churches. Sure, there may be denomination-wide boundaries involved – say, the belief that the New Testament is clear on covenantal monogamy and chastity before marriage – but there would be a recognition that LGBT Christians are real Christians and real evangelicals, and no congregation has the right to deny that absolutely.

They may not be able to perform weddings or theologically affirm the relationships, but they would practice inclusion and support civil rights.

This is the third way that Al and Tony don’t believe exists. But, just as I believe LGBT Christians exist and affirm them, so I believe this way forward beyond the polarized warring and splitting also exists. And I believe it is already beginning to manifest in many churches and movements/denominations, evangelical and otherwise. 

Much to the dismay of the Neo-Fundamentalists.

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About Zach Hoag

Zach J. Hoag is a writer and missional minister from notoriously non-religious New England. His book, Nothing but the Blood: The Gospel According to Dexter was released in 2012. Twitter & Facebook.


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