By Trevin Wax, The Gospel Coalition.
The biggest issue confronting evangelicalism today is not over homosexuality and marriage, but whether or not these are “agree-to-disagree” issues.
The question takes various forms:
- Can progressive evangelicals who advocate same-sex marriage share a measure of unity with the rest of the global church?
- Is it possible to see one’s view of sexual ethics as a dividing line between evangelical churches (similar to debates over baptism, speaking in tongues, etc.), but not something that necessitates a divorce within evangelicalism as a whole?
- Can believers simply “agree to disagree” on this contentious issue and allow various views to exist within what is commonly accepted as “orthodoxy?”
David Gushee, an ethicist who now supports same-sex marriage and same-sex relationships, recently wrote an article explaining why conservative and progressive evangelicals are headed for a divorce. According to Gushee, the nature of marriage and sexuality is merely the tip of the iceberg because there are “a hundred other fractures” – questions related to biblical authority and political involvement.
Gushee sees these debates as a replay of the fundamentalist-modernist controversy from a hundred years ago, and he concludes:
“Conservative and progressive evangelicals need to let each other go their separate ways, acknowledging that despite shared faith in Christ we have become two separate religious communities.”
Paul Louis Metzger, founder and director of The Institute for the Theology of Culture, pushes back against Gushee’s recommendation, appealing to Christ’s concern for unity. “How can we go our separate ways unless we no longer belong to the same Christ?” he asks.
Quoting Wolfhart Pannenberg, Metzger worries that disunity in the body of Christ is the leading cause of “a world free from all religious ties.” Instead, we should fight to remain together in order to avoid presenting a “dismembered” Christ to the world.
Unity and the Drawing of Lines
I agree with Metzger that schism in the Church is a tragic thing, and schism should be avoided whenever possible. But I also recognize we cannot avert schism merely by appealing to unity.
Look at the “liberal” game – they now want to be called “progressive” (liberal) evangelicals. Evangelicals are focused on the Bible as God’s inerrant Word. If “progressive” evangelicals disagree with this they are not evangelicals at all. Look through how they form the fight by saying they are one thing while really they are and ever have been the other.
How about we just disagree…don’t see any reason or need to ‘agree’ about that.
This was the viable solution up until the boneheads at the last two GAs insisted on codifying their demands for change. Churches could have been trusted to think for themselves and interpret things for themselves. This sweet sentiment is still the solution but, sadly, too late unless the radicals who have taken over the PCUSA reverse what damage has been done.
I do not think, Donna, that “agreeing to disagree” was ever a viable solution for the PCUSA. My experience in this kind of situation is that there are three basic steps that denominations take when moving from orthodoxy to heterodoxy.
First Step: They believe that the new heterodox belief is wrong, but agree that those who embrace it are themselves faithful Christian believers who should be allowed to promote it within the church.
Second Step: They believe that the new heterodox belief is wrong, but agree that, while inferior to the orthodox idea, it is never-the-less a belief that faithful Christians may legitimately chose.
Third Step: They believe that the new heterodox belief is actually not heterodox at all and is, in fact, better than the old orthodox belief, and agree therefore that it should be embraced and accepted as a revelation from God.
My experience is that once a Christian denomination takes the first of these three steps (with the exception of the Southern Baptist Convention), it inevitably takes all three of them and ends by rejecting orthodox beliefs in favor of heterodox ones.
In my experience, the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church was one of the few denominations that realized the dangers involved in taking that first step, and for that reason wrote into its constitution not only a rejection of the normalization of homosexuality itself, but also the exclusion of any minister or elder on the church who either embraced or promoted it.
Would that those of us who were in the PCUSA many years ago had had the wisdom to see that allowing our ministers and elders to openly advocate for the normalization of sexual deviancy was our first and fatal mistake.
Donna engages in some interesting rewriting of history. Amendment B, the BoO amendment that banned LGBT people from ordination was not needed until the “boneheads” who voted for it in 1996. If they had allowed the traditional Presbyterian notion that the local session is responsible for ordination of Elders and Deacons, and the Presbytery is responsible for ordination of ministers, and if they would have been gracious about this, we likely would have avoided almost 20 years of fighting on this.
Donna, I urge you to educate yourself on this history of these arguments before posting patently incorrect information.
and you are both right – but Dan, I was just speaking based on the 2012 and 2014 changes – and the fact that the definition of marriage was changed in writing and other things – what I should have been more clear about was that if people had just been allowed to act within their own churches as they believed regarding the hot button issues, as they always had the PCUSA would have stayed in tact – we were agreeing to disagree and living with the differences