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. He blogs here at Patheos and HuffPost Religion. His book, Nothing but the Blood: The Gospel According to Dexter, released in 2012. Most importantly he binge-watches TV dramas and plays in the snow with his family.

Find him on Twitter & Facebook!

  • William Birch

    As a gay Christian, and one who is convictionally single and celibate, I appreciate this post more than you can imagine. I keep being told there’s not a third way, which forces me to one side or the other. I can’t stand the neo-fundamentalist side; but I’m not all that comfortable on the other side, either.

    I realize I could be wrong about my views on same-sex relationships, so I don’t “preach” to others that they *must* remain celibate and single. I believe the State should have the freedom to sanction same-sex marriage without the Church telling it that it cannot. I believe the Church should have the same right — sanction or not sanction same-sex marriage without the State telling that it either must or cannot.

    The “right” is not necessarily bigoted merely because of their convictions (though some could be), nor is the “left” necessarily non-Christian because of theirs (though some could be). I was sure that this was a sort of third way, but I keep being told I need to choose sides.

  • Ryan Robinson

    I’m trying not to be overhype my church too much and I know I’ve commented here about it before, but we are determined that a Third Way is possible and it is basically what you said here. It is not about refusing to have a position as Jones and Mohler assumed. The official stance is that we do not perform those marriages. They just take that stance humbly. We have married gay Christians in our churches as active members as well as celibate ones – one of our Lead Pastors is a celibate lesbian. Plus of course there are many like me who happen to take the more progressive position but still believe in the Third Way attitude in how we deal with each other. We aren’t dismissed as godless liberal heretics. We’re just brothers and sisters who have a different understanding on a tough question.

    Here’s the two most recent on the topic that I think Bruxy handled very well: (Week 4 – Why Are Christians So Homophobic?) (Week 4 – Being a Third Way Family)

  • Brian P.

    No Zach, there is a fourth way. Alas, to borrow a phrase of Richard Dawkins, “the tyranny of the discontinuous mind.”

  • Kimberly

    Zach, I appreciate what you are doing here and I need to think about it a little more but I am stuck a bit right now on the notion that a church can not truly call itself affirming of my and my family if it refuses to welcome us into every sacrament and rite of that community. What it seems you are talking about is the difference between welcome and affirming. Welcoming but not affirming is just code phrase for “love the sinner, hate the sin”. If I am affirmed with love, inclusion and equality then the community that thus affirms me must be prepared to celebrate the great moments of my life as well as mourn the deep sorrows of my life. The church should be under no LEGAL obligation to perform a wedding but out of love, inclusion and equality they are morally called to do so and make manifest their theology.

  • zhoag

    This is wonderful. Thanks so much for this comment. And I really believe there’s a way beyond.

  • zhoag

    Thanks Ryan. I always appreciate your insights from the Meeting House context. I’ll dig into those sessions.

  • Zach Lind

    I think Kimberly puts her finger on the main problem here. Replace “LGBT” or “same-sex” marriage in this piece with the words “interracial couples” or “interracial marriage” and I think it exposes the flaws here. Not that I don’t think what Zach is saying isn’t valuable to communities that are working through this issue. I think there’s some great advice here but, IMO, it’s not a very good argument for a sustainable “third way.’

  • Chuck Anziulewicz

    Consider The Golden Rule: We do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Put all the religious dogma and ritual aside, and this is what our laws boil down to. We don’t lie or bear false witness because we won’t want people to lie to us. We don’t steal from other people because we do not want people stealing from us. We don’t betray the trust of our spouses because we wouldn’t want them doing the same to us. Same goes for killing and a variety of other “bad” behaviors.

    And yet somehow there seems to be this sheepish adherence to a double standard for Gay and Straight people. If you’re Straight, it’s all so wonderful to be able to find a compatible person of the opposite sex, court and get engaged and
    marry and live happily ever after. But if you’re Gay, all of that is completely out of the question. Don’t even bother trying to find a compatible person. Lesbians and Gay men are precluded from any hope for romance or commitment. Gay people are simply told: “Gosh, sorry about that. You make us uncomfortable; acknowledging your existence means we might have to revise what we’ve been teaching all these years – meaning, Whoops! No infallible Magisterium or “literal” Bible… so you’ll just have to sacrifice your life and any hope of finding somebody to love. Tough luck, kid. God said it, I don’t necessarily understand it, but there it is.” How could this be considered a good value judgment?

    Fortunately, the reason increasing numbers of Christians support marriage equality is because they have learned to make better value judgments. The reason couples choose to marry is to make a solemn declaration before friends and family members that they wish to make a commitment to one another’s happiness, health, and well-being, to the exclusion of all others. Those friends and family members will subsequently act as a force of encouragement for that couple to hold fast to their vows. THAT’S what makes marriage a good thing, whether the couple in question is Straight OR Gay.

  • zhoag

    Thanks for adding this Kimberly. Really appreciate the personal perspective.

    I’m in the UMC right now which is embroiled in debates over this (as you probably know). Part of what I’m seeing even in our individual congregation is a diversity of theological opinion that does not have to automatically affect real inclusion and an overwhelming church support for civil rights. In other words, there is no politicking from the pulpit against gay marriage/relationships, and instead there is loving support shown for it. My family became members alongside a married gay couple that we love. In the UMC the official stance is no gay marriage/clergy but that’s likely going to change. My sense is that the official allowance for these things can also allow for congregations/members with different views. But that would mean the antagonistic fundamentalist folks would have to subordinate their theology to love, inclusion, and equality.

    And to @zachlind:disqus’s comment below, I think that could be a sustainable third way.

    I also think @RyanLRobinson:disqus is showing a situation where LGBT folks find themselves in “officially” non-affirming congregations but still feel total acceptance and home. This is another aspect of the third way I’m proposing.

  • Kimberly

    I agree that what ZHoag is offering is a very good step in the right direction and extends grace to those who are still working through their own understanding of what it means to be in relationship with gay and lesbian Christians. It is a good start but you are correct that it is not a sustainable third way. At some point the individual and the community must decide if they love me enough to welcome me into the full life of the church. Part of the full life of faith for Christians includes the gift and responsibility of witnessing a love joined in marriage and the covenant of the community to support the married Christians in their commitment to one another and God. Anything less is not full inclusion, it is not loving, it is not inclusive and it is not sharing God’s grace equally.

  • Kimberly

    I hear you and appreciate where you are coming from but I am clear that there is no third way that creates for me or my LGBT sisters and brothers a truly affirming community. I dearly love the voices of allies like yourself but I am also troubled and uncomfortable with folks who do not have to live by these rules deciding what I should regard as acceptable levels of love and grace. Imagine being told that your own family is not a real family and in fact an affront to God. Imagine that by not allowing you to marry your soul mate or if in a marriage they are really telling you to divorce the love of your life, leave any children you may have and pretend to love and want someone that you simply cannot. Their prayers are for you to stop being who God created you to be and to stop loving who you are created to love. For me this is not hypothetical, this is my lived reality.

    I am also deeply troubled for any queer Christians who remain in a congregation that does not love them as whole people. I have many queer friends for who this is a reality and they carry a deep hurt in them even as they love their community because at the end of the day they know (because they are told) that if they were just not gay then they would be real Christians and worthy of God’s love and grace. Anyone, no matter how much they love you, who dehumanizes you to such a degree that you must hide, deny or loathe a part of yourself is simply abusive. And that simply not ok.

  • zhoag

    I hear this. Thanks Kimberly :).

  • zhoag

    no idea what that means.

  • Zach Lind

    “But that would mean the antagonistic fundamentalist folks would have to subordinate their theology to love, inclusion, and equality.”

    Where do you see this happening? I’d be interested to see if there is even a single example of a prominent fundamentalist leader that has shown a willingness to an open dialogue on this issue. I think Tony’s take is primarily based on observation. There seems to be no room for even discussing the possibility of marriage equality without lines being drawn in the sand by the fundamentalist folks. The evidence overwhelmingly flies in the face of your hope for our more rigid brothers and sisters. I’m with you in that it would be a great development but just not seeing this at all.

    Also, I’d wonder if you could elaborate on what “real inclusion” means in your particular setting. Because what your describing sounds like a tiered inclusion or an inclusion with limits. This seems to be agreeable to LBGTQ folks who don’t have any desire to be married in their community or feel a calling to be a church leader but…..I’ll just refer to Kimberly’s comments which summarize powerfully the eventual dead end this leads to for so many of our gay brothers and sisters.

  • Zach Lind

    And just to me clear, I’m not trying to tell anyone that they need to choose sides. I’m just referencing the practical realities that certain policies lead us towards. It’s like flipping a coin. I’m not telling you need to chose a side….it’s just the reality, as I see it. Maybe you think a three sided coin exists, and maybe it does, but I don’t see the evidence.

  • ddflowers

    Zach, I’m glad that there are folks seeking a third way. However, I can’t agree with your articulation of it. I think the key point that Tony and Albert are making is that churches will soon decide one way or the other. It is inevitable. It’s already happening. You either affirm the gay identity (God made folks this way) or you don’t. This is built into the very nature of the issue. You can’t chalk it up to fundamentalism of any sort. I’m not a fan of Tony or Al, or fundamentalism (be it conservative or progressive) but they are right in the long run.

    The way I understand it… the “third way” isn’t being unwelcoming and not affirming. It’s also not being welcoming and affirming. The “third way” can only be to welcome but not affirm, like we should be with every sinful person and behavior among us. Instead, we affirm Scripture and church tradition and then work to create space for all broken people. It’s a message that applies to us all. We are all welcome (included). However, this is transformational inclusion, not affirmational inclusion. The culture doesn’t understand this difference.

    And I certainly don’t see the “third way” necessitating that we fight for civil rights of same-sex attracted people and marriage equality, for several reasons. Now you’re entering the political realm of things and dragging the church into it. You complicate the matter into a big stinking mess. You’re trampling down the conscience of Jesus followers (even “gay” persons) who refuse to support it for a number of reasons (theological, political, economic, historical, etc.). As N.T. Wright recently said, “When pressure groups and governments start redefining key words… you better watch out.” What precedent is being established by government? Changing the meaning of words is a sign.

    And in light of history, it isn’t good.

    There are plenty of Christians (not fundamentalists) that can’t in good conscience support it because they believe it is totally dishonest and destructive to society as a whole. It’s not necessary to support LGBT’s quest in order to show them love and welcome them in the church. I can respect folks desire to say “we love you” by doing so, but in the end it isn’t helping anyone. It’s not the right move, in my opinion. It’s not the most loving thing to do, regardless of how LGBT feel about it.

    Let’s be honest, this is not even close to a race issue or the civil rights movement of the 1960′s. Redefining male-female marriage is much different than affirming that black people are human beings. This is a matter of what’s best for the whole of society (in light of the past & future), not the individual rights of the 3%. It has nothing to do with “privilege” in the popular, polemical sense of the word.

    Instead, there are historically certain “privileges” that have been afforded male-female marriage and the church because they are (or at least were) thought to be socially advantageous to society (e.g. procreation, broad domestic sharing, holistic human formation, moral & ethical stability, etc.). It has nothing to do with bigotry or deprivation of rights. This is a total distraction from the real issue at hand. Our individualistic society and culture, largely ignorant of history, can’t see beyond themselves. It’s called chronocentrism. And it’s a problem.

    I recommend the book “What is Marriage?: Man & Woman: A Defense” by Sherif Girgis, Ryan Anderson, and Robert George. The book was first published in the Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy. It is a formidable defense of traditional marriage that is based purely on reason, offering a philosophical and historical case for conjugal marriage. Suffice to say, we shouldn’t demand that support of same-sex marriage and “equal rights” be necessary for promoting the third way.

    This is an extremely complex issue that involves precious people made in God’s image, but broken (as are we all) and not as we should be. We don’t move forward by asking the church to conform to politics and the culture. Again, it’s about transformational inclusion. Love is about well-being, not about secular toleration. The third way, as I see it, is about affirming Scripture and church tradition, and then moving on to create space for same-sex attracted persons and families.

    Thanks for listening.

  • zhoag

    So, subordinating theology would basically require a conversion for fundamentalist folks. I’ve experienced that conversion & I’ve seen others experience it. But I definitely don’t think one can remain “fundamentalist” and lose the antagonism. They may retain a theological perspective, but not the fundamentalist posture. Sorry if that was unclear.

    On inclusion, I’ve seen actual LGBT people in real congregations flourishing at all levels of church life (membership, ministries, etc.) even when there is a “rule” about marriage ceremonies and becoming clergy. And even when there are others in the church who have theological differences but embrace them as brothers and sisters and friends. In my church there’s a highly conservative old fellow who tears up when he speaks of his love for a gay deacon in his former church who was such a dear friend. That sort of thing.

    I agree that being ok with these “rules” probably has to do with those LGBT folks not being interested in a wedding or becoming clergy in that context. But it at least shows that real inclusion can happen in the midst of those rules and with others in the church who disagree theologically. And I don’t think that’s purely a provisional thing. Yes, we are in a cultural paradigm shift that may eventually reduce non-affirming congregations to a tiny minority. But the fact is that there are gay people flourishing in congregations with these rules and may do so for their whole lives. That’s not something to sneer at (which is what I take issue with in Tony’s approach).

    Agree that Kimberly’s comments here hold much weight, and I appreciate them greatly.

  • Ben Rous

    Amen. As Zizek joked:

    “The reason I find Badiou problematic is that, for me, something is wrong with the very notion that one can excessively “enforce” a truth: one is almost tempted to apply the logic of the joke quoted by Lacan: “My fiancée is never late for an appointment, because the moment she is late, she is no longer my fiancée.” A Truth is never enforced, because the moment fidelity to Truth functions as an excessive enforcement, we are no longer dealing with a Truth, with fidelity to a Truth-Event.”

    Neither of these binary positions can really be “true” because each position forecloses their ability to be true by refusing to accept any other position than a “yes” or a “no” to be true. That is why a third way is not merely possible but in fact necessary because it is the only approach that leaves room for the Holy Spirit to lead us together into “all truth”. Peace.

  • zhoag

    thanks Ben.

  • Guest

    I’m going to speak off the cuff, like you’ve encouraged me to Zack. Is there anything worth listening to from Al Mohler?

    That is my initial reaction whenever I see headlines with Mohler’s name, or others who tend to run in the same circles. But, I’m aware that is my flesh speaking, for the most part. I observe mentors like Rachel Held Evans demonstrate so much more grace and gentleness across the table. So, i ask myself, is there anything worth listening to?

    Believe me, I’m running as fast as I can from ideas I was once force fed. But, aren’t there any absolutes? Aren’t some things clear, or is everything muddy? My wife and I are both trying to figure out what we really believe right now. It’s much harder than I ever imagined. I had a similar conversation recently with Austin Fisher, who wrote “Young, Restless, No Longer Reformed.” I’ll ask you the same questions Zack. How have you landed on new “solid ground” after so much of what was once certain got demolished? And, are you so sure Jesus is leading this movement to affirm things that were once repented of?

    Thanks for opening this discussion. And, thanks for keeping this a safe place to talk.

  • Erik Merksamer

    I’m going to speak off the cuff, like you’ve encouraged me to Zach. Is there anything worth listening to from Al Mohler?

    That is my initial reaction whenever I see headlines with Mohler’s name, or others who tend to run in the same circles. But, I’m aware that is my flesh speaking, for the most part. I observe mentors like Rachel Held Evans demonstrate so much more grace and gentleness across the table. So, i ask myself, is there anything worth listening to?

    Believe me, I’m running as fast as I can from ideas I was once force fed. But, aren’t there any absolutes? Aren’t some things clear, or is everything muddy? My wife and I are both trying to figure out what we really believe right now. It’s much harder than I ever imagined. I had a similar conversation recently with Austin Fisher, who wrote “Young, Restless, No Longer Reformed.” I’ll ask you the same questions Zack. How have you landed on new “solid ground” after so much of what was once certain got demolished? And, are you so sure Jesus is leading this movement to affirm things that were once repented of?

    Thanks for opening this discussion. And, thanks for keeping this a safe place to talk.

  • Lamont Cranston

    Fortunately, people like you are no longer able to use the government to force me to live according to your weirdo beliefs.

  • Ford1968

    Hi Erik –

    I know I’m not Zach…(sorry to disappoint)…but I’m interested in this notion of “solid ground”. Is there such a thing when we’re talking about God? One of the things about the neo-reformed movement that doesn’t sit right with me is the moral certitude and the idea that they can possibly fathom God’s absolute truth. If we had it all figured out, we wouldn’t be living a life of faith.

    So I wonder if our “solid ground” is really illusury. In my own experience, the constant seeking and questioning continues to transform my understandings.

    I’d love to hear your thoughts about that.

  • ddflowers

    I’m not interested, nor should the church be interested, in using government to “force” anyone to do anything. That was part of my point.

  • Erik Merksamer

    Your thoughts mirror my own. I know that we “see rather dimly”, and our arrogance so often is the motivation for doctrine.

    So, I am never “grounded” in the sense of arrival. Like you, I am forever partaking of the divine nature and deepening in faith. Over the past 20 or so years with Jesus, I’ve made twists, bends, and even u-turns about things I believed and practiced.

    That all being said, some things have remained certain. Quite fully certain.

    So, I’m working it all out, and will always.

  • Ford1968

    Zach –

    This married gay Christian agrees with you. There’s a difference between “inclusion” and “affirmation”. I’m so encouraged that Danny Cortez’s congregation is committed to keeping communion despite having serious theological disagreement. That’s as it should be. I believe the we should be discussing our disagreement as we walk together toward Shalom.

    Al Mohler seems to be trying to exclude people from the communion table. Fortunately, it’s not his invitation to revoke.

    My very best to you,

  • wendygrit

    Appreciate your post Zach. I weighed in on the matter as well:

  • zhoag

    Yes and amen. Thanks David.

  • zhoag

    I’m not sure what Lamont means, but perhaps your strong condemnation of societies embracing gay marriage on one hand contradicts your claim to being apolitical on the other?

  • Brian P.

    Two ways is a false dilemma. Three ways isn’t that much better. There’s a continuum if not a matrix of ideas on the topic at hand. It’s merely my joining in with you on the light mocking of those here who commit the fallacy of the excluded middle. The Dawkins’ reference is easily Googleable for its original context. People like to think in categorical buckets when reality isn’t necessarily that way.

  • ddflowers

    I’m not surprised by the confusion. As an Anabaptist, I’m merely pointing out the complexities of the issue and the messiness of entering into the political realm, while at the same time recognizing the facts of the matter. I’m interested in what goes on within the church, and what Moses, Jesus, and Paul said (Gen 2:18-24; Matt 19:1-11; Eph 5:25-31) before sin, before our fall, and before the state was around to redefine marriage.

    And notice, Zach, it’s not monogamy alone that is exalted, it is the original male-female monogamous relationship that Jesus and Paul speak of in the NT. So, what I meant was that the state will do what the state will do. Don’t make it necessary for Christians to support the political agenda of LGBT to be a part of the third way.

  • Doreen A Mannion

    If I am not included in all the sacraments, that church body is not truly inclusive.

  • Erik Merksamer

    Please correct me in love if I am ignorant about something. For real!

    The struggle I am having between “inclusion” and “affirmation” of LGBT Christians (whom I absolutely embrace as my brothers and sisters) is how it feels as if it promotes sin. Like, we all know and talk about how no sin is any greater than any other, and I get that. But, I have no exposure to communities affirming habitual, continual stealing, for example. No one gets upset if someone suggests a radical lifestyle change away from consumerism,greed, and selfishness. Have we really gotten marriage all wrong for so long?

    I constantly struggle with adulterous thoughts and desires, among many other temptations. These desires feel natural to me, and have almost engulfed me into acting on them. Perhaps if i was part of a community that affirmed the behavior as acceptable, I might act on them. But, that this is sinful has always been an absolute certainty for me. Please forgive me if this comparison seems insensitive, as that is most definitely not my wish.

    Can anyone understand what I’m trying to say?

  • R Vogel

    “But that would mean the antagonistic fundamentalist folks would have to subordinate their theology to love, inclusion, and equality.”

    I think you are equivocating slightly here – this is the binary that AM and TJ are talking about, no? The current position from the evangelical leadership is that they adamantly will not subordinate their theology for anything, much less for the sake of inclusion and equality. (I omitted love since they like to proclaim their way is loving as bizarre and twisted as that sounds) Correct me if I am seeing this wrong, but it appears to me you are trying to say we can find a 3rd way between ‘Exclusion and Inequality’ and ‘Inclusion and Equality’ if the ‘Exclusion and Inequality’ folks would become more inclusive and egalitarian. I’m not sure that’s an actual 3rd way.

  • zhoag

    I hear this. Couple things. First, for some (most?) protestants, marriage is not a sacrament. Marriage is often thought of outside the boundaries of individual congregations, so that it does not pose as much of a problem to some LGBT folks I know to not be able to get married in a particular congregation. (But I realize there is much disagreement there.) Second, inclusion may be more of a felt reality in some situations. IOW, if a gay couple has become deeply engaged in a family of faith, the official rules may not matter as much as the experience of inclusion. Again, this is just something I’ve observed and therefore believe to be the case in some circumstances.

  • zhoag

    Wow, wonderful post. Thanks for that. Love “generous spaciousness.”

  • zhoag

    David, I’m not sure how context affects our views on this, but the relationships I have in my context render the phrase “political agenda of LGBT” to be pretty offensive. On the ground, in real, human relationships with gay people, one does not find an agenda but a real struggle for functional equality. Likewise, the forceful defense of legal traditional marriage doesn’t strike me as anabaptist at all. In a pluralistic society, does the church define how the state metes out benefits? And even if your view of sacramental marriage is for straight couples only, why would you not desire fair treatment under the law for those who believe otherwise?

    I’m obviously aware that the NT is assuming male-female monogamy. The argument for expanding that idea is a trajectory argument, as is the argument for egalitarian relationships, etc.

  • Chris

    Great piece, Zach! Super thought provoking. The only question is, will those in the “Neo-Fundamentalist” camp respond with genuine dialog?

  • wendygrit

    Thanks Zach – great to have made the connection with you.

  • zhoag

    Yeah Erik, I understand. I think the answer that a gay Christian would give to you (and some of them listening may want to comment here) is that this is an identity issue not a behavior issue. Behaviors can be ingrained, so that they feel “natural” as you mentioned – but that is a matter of degree. Identity is different in kind.

    Another thing to note is that the defense of same-sex monogamy as a Christian path (e.g., Matthew Vines’s recent work) is clear that the NT talks about gay sex in a negative light because it is primarily concerned with the behavior, which was marked by destructive excess, prostitution, pedophilia, etc. The way we understand sexual identity, and a healthy expression of that, was not in view.

  • DarkRoastRev

    As much as I appreciate and agree with 3rd way, I am encouraged by the
    comments that are respectful of one another. Credence and why we need
    to be living into a third way.

  • Erik Merksamer

    That is an interesting distinction, one that I have been looking into for several years. Justin Lee has written about that, and I appreciated his insight. It doesn’t persuade me enough though. To me, this whole Christianity thing is about an indwelling Jesus living His supernatural life through us. It’s that death, burial, and resurrection with Him, isn’t it? I don’t see how anything can really be our identity now except for all that Jesus says we are now becoming. That has transformed everything for me!

    You’ve spoken in the past about how warped an identity we can develop because of a “master” manipulator influencing us. I’ve experienced that, It is going to take nearly forever for me to believe and live out the identity Jesus says I now have with Him. Maybe this is similar?

    You suggest not having a “healthy expression of sexual identity”That reminds me of what I recently heard N.T, Wright say that “monogamous, lifelong same-sex relationships were known in the ancient world as well as in the modern—there is plenty of evidence, despite what people sometimes say.” (in an interview with Jonathan Merritt) He had some other thoughts about sexuality as well, and they seem relevant this discussion.

    Again, I’m thinking out loud. I’m trembling, and sincerely hope to be heard that way.

  • Caspian


    This gay man ‘sees’ the humility in your questions, so don’t fear. There is a distinct difference between someone who ‘asking questions’ and someone who is intentionally ‘stirring trouble’.

    There are a number of things I could express to you now
    concerning your questions, but I have limited time at the moment (off to bible study) so all I will just say right now is this. The burden of inclusion does not rest solely
    on heterosexual Christians; nor does loving concern. As a brother in Christ, I am obligated to not require you to go beyond what your conscience allows. If we are both genuinely reaching out in love, and meeting each other half way; then we should appreciate each others freedoms as well as each other boundaries.

  • Doreen A Mannion

    Okay, I will reword. If I cannot fully participate, I am not truly included.


    Tony Jones does not qualify as a third leg of this Christian stool, as he disqualified himself by denying the atonement of Christ’s blood on the cross for our sins.
    You can’t put a Bible-preaching Christian against a heretic son of the devil and come up with a Third Way.

  • zhoag


  • Cynthia Brown Christ

    Erik, In your humble desire to overcome your struggles with this issue, I see Christ, and I thank you for the hope it brings me! So often, i yearn for aa softening of the heart of a vociferous anti-gay person yelling with his words that i am going to hell – because they assume I am gay.

    I was listening to the speech this morning by Pastor Dan Cortex, a southern baptist minister who suddenly could not believe what he had been taught and always believed against the gay community.

    I want to share with you one thing that he said, that just may help you. When his doubts about the theology began he decided to do what Jesus did in the bible. Jesus ate with and hung out hung out with the marginalized, the dirty, the untouchables, those judged for their behaviors, or their race. This pastor spent a great deal of time doing just that, meeting gay people, hearing their stories. And what occurred was miraculous, yet simple at the same time – hanging out with people, getting to know them, their humanity, their struggles, their hopes, their heart – he could feel the presence of Jesus in these encounters, in these people – this is the way, perhaps the only way that the “other” dissolves, as it turns into connection and into love.

    In my town there is a shelter which services mostly gay teenagers who have been thrown onto the streets by their parents – because they are gay! I have recently begun volunteering there, where I am certain to find Jesus there.

    I am confident your struggles will wind up deeply rooted with Jesus – whatever you choose to do!

  • Cynthia Brown Christ

    What I am getting out of this “third way” might not be exactly the same sentiments of Zoag, but what I got out of it was that a denomination that holds the position that homosexual behavior is sinful can still affirm other denominations, and perhaps congregants that interpret the scripture differently – and affirm the gay community.

    Today, there is this “you’re not a chrisitan if you believe differently crap” going on all over the place. This third way would stop that behavior.

    I am not gay myself, but if I were I would never attend a church that doesn’t affirm me completely. Heck, I stopped going to my church years ago as a result of the increasingly vocal anti gay rhetoric going on all over the place! Otherwise, I would be a hypocrite, if I didn’t stand up for the people I loved and believed in!

    There are dozens of LGBT affirming churches to choose from. Perhaps I will let down my guard again and try one out? is one of many sites with information on finding one.

  • Ben Irwin

    Your description of a Third Way approach—making room for gay relationships and gay marriage at the denominational level while allowing congregations to discern their own policies at the local level—is similar to where my own tribe, the Episcopal Church, has landed for the time being, though discernment in our case is generally left to the bishops. In some cases, it’s passed along to local congregations. Our bishop, who has publicly advocated for legal recognition of same-sex marriage, has left it up to each church in his diocese whether to officiate same-sex marriages. It goes without saying, that hasn’t been enough to satisfy some opponents of gay marriage within the Anglican tradition.

    I think that raises an important point as some of us continue to struggle with the whole concept of a Third Way. It’s tempting for me to dismiss what you’re advocating for as an attempt to please everybody. The more I read and consider what you have to say, the more I realize it’s not that at all. The Third Way is about making it possible for those who are willing to share life together to do so in spite of their ideological differences. If you’re not willing to be in community with those who are different, then the Third Way has nothing for you.

    I still feel pulled in multiple directions in this conversation, but I really appreciate the points you’ve raised in this & other posts.

  • zhoag

    Ben, thanks so much for looking into this deeply. I think that people/congregations/communities get trampled in the ideological dimension of this debate. There has to be room for some theological & even ecclesial diversity here. Yet, there must also be a baseline of equality and inclusion. So yeah, thanks. I will definitely head over to read your post on the subject in a bit!

  • Ford1968

    Hi Zach –

    FWIW. My thoughts on why affirming-Christian objections to the third way are misguided.