How Fundamentalism Retreats

How Fundamentalism Retreats May 3, 2014

Writing at Slate, William Saletan says that “There will always be Christians, Muslims, and Jews who condemn homosexuality. There will be bigots, bashers, and demagogues. And in some places, particularly in Africa and Asia, there will be persecution and oppressive laws. But in this country, religious resistance is crumbling. It’s being overwhelmed by love, conscience, and a God who keeps creating gay kids, even in the most devout families. Over time, He will prevail.”

Not all his evidence is compelling. He cites Russell Moore as one who continues to call homosexual activity sin, but quotes Moore describing the shifts he sees in the way Evangelicals are handling the question. Nothing that Moore say about homosexuality qualified as a retreat.

But Saletan is right about the broad movement. Fundamentalism retreats by relocating to “less vulnerable terrain—all the while proclaiming their defiant adherence to the literal word of God—until the new position, too, must be abandoned.”

He predicts a two-stage retreat: “First, churches will find ways to acknowledge faithful same-sex relationships. Then they’ll decide that these couples ought to get married, because sex outside of marriage is wrong. The new fundamentalist position will be that sexual activity is moral only within the confines of marriage, gay or straight, just as the Bible always taught us.”

Michael Gerson lays out the Christian case against Christian opposition to homosexual acts: “If there’s a strong genetic disposition, then you have a situation with an expectation—pastoral expectation—of lifelong celibacy, which is a heroic ethical standard that’s not applied to heterosexuals. That seems unfair according to Christian ethical principles.” A very odd argument that, as if disposition toward sin was a reason to refrain from combating that sin.

I suspect Saletan’s prediction is right, and that this debate will be another in a series of retreats that leave self-proclaimed Bible-believers looking ridiculous, pounding Bibles more tattered from excisions than Thomas Jefferson’s. 

It also means that the pressure on biblicists to conform will come not only from outside but from within the church, within Evangelicalism. Saletan cites Cornelius Plantinga’s comment, “It used to be that people thought of homosexual acts as sinful. Now they think of criticism of homosexual acts as sinful.” And that sin will not be tolerated.

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