It’s hard to be on social media and ignore the dust that Tony Campolo kicked up on Monday in affirming gay marriage. I’m not here today to discuss the actual issue, but a particular nuance raised in an article on Religion News Service referencing Albert Mohler, in which he’s quoted as saying: “This is a moment of decision, and every evangelical believer, congregation, denomination, and institution will have to answer. There will be no place to hide.”
I immediately thought of the four older women who sat in the back row of a church I once attended. They have to stake a position on this issue? They need to have an opinion? He did say every believer. And what does he mean by a place to hide? If it means hiding your position that’s one thing, but what if you just want to hide from this issue?
Furthermore, I’m not sure that I could state my own position on this with clarity because the issue is so terribly complex. It bears on one’s feelings about homosexuality, but even there we find people talking about different degrees of everything from mild same-sex attraction to actual copulation. It bears on one’s feelings about the word marriage, and whether or not one can be opposed to gay marriage but support gay civil union. It bears on your response to sin and whether or not we have to clean up to meet God or if we’re invited to be ourselves; to come as we are. It bears on how one feels about how the church sees itself: As a private club for members only, or as agents of grace and mercy on The Jericho Road.
(My personal take leans toward the ‘welcoming but not affirming’ position; the belief that some people are experiencing something that is good, but it’s good only because it borrows elements of the best.)
The article by Jacob Lupfer cites Mohler’s own blog noting, “For conservative evangelicals, there is no middle ground — no “third way.” Either churches will affirm covenanted same-sex relationships or they will not.”
Maybe it’s ostrich-like of me to believe this, but I like to think that somewhere — many somewheres — there is a church that simply hasn’t done a sermon or held a seminar on this topic; they are quietly working their way through a study of Hebrews, or Mark’s gospel, and they don’t feel the need to respond.
The article was prompted by support for Campolo by Christianity Today’s former editor David Neff. Fearing that this might send a signal that CT lines up with Campolo, current editor Mark Galli is quoted as saying, ““We at CT are sorry when fellow evangelicals modify their views to accord with the current secular thinking on this matter,” he wrote.”
Galli is touching on something important here. As the capital-C Church, we can’t let ourselves and our positions be overwhelmed by what’s happening in the broader culture. We can’t allow the daily news to be the lens through which we interpret scripture and establish doctrine.
But there’s a lesson in that principle for Mohler as well. Just as we can’t allow culture to shape our theology, so also we can’t permit culture to force what constitutes the preaching and teaching agenda of local churches. The rest of us don’t have to call an emergency membership meeting next Wednesday night to sort out our position just because we’re being told we have to have one. Again, this is a very complex issue.
Some will say my imaginary somewhere churches exist in a cultural backwater somewhere, but if they just want to trust God and let these social issues work themselves out under God’s sovereignty, I’m fine with that. True, the gay issue may come home to roost in some of those places, as it might in the families of the blue-haired women on the back row of my former church; but armed with a knowledge of the ways of God that only comes through in-depth study of the Bible, they’ll meet that crisis with a calmness and conviction that’s rooted in Christ, not in the need to declare a position that puts them on one side or the other.
In other words, thanks Tony, Albert, David, Mark; but now can we please talk about something else? We’re allowing ourselves to get oh, so distracted.