Well, we’re up against it: we’re starting to see Evangelicals, generally thought reliable adherents to Scriptural Christianity, defect to the other side over the LGBT business. For people raised in the system, this is a shock they are not mentally prepared for. For those of us who came out of liberal churches of long ago, it’s plus de change, plus la même chose: the more things change, the more things stay the same. There are some new twists and the institutional context is different, but there’s a lot to learn from the fallings away of the past. So here’s some advice from such divisions, past and present, from someone who first tasted this bitter brew as an Episcopalian:
People whom you respect and admire are going to bail. We’re already seeing that; Tony Campolo is the highest profile one I can think of, although there are others, and many are waiting in the wings. This is painful. Although Evangelicals are really big about how sola scriptura they are, the truth is that the way they look at those scriptures is moulded by many of the same high-profile people. That will work itself down through the system; you will wake up to find a former pastor (or, God forbid, the current one) defect to the rainbow flag. My parents were very much put out when Robert Appleyard, who baptised me at Bethesda, supported WO. (And, IMHO, WO is an entirely different issue from what we’re looking at). The denominational systems/peer pressure may not come to the rescue the way you expect it to, as was the case with James Pike.
Much of this bailing is opportunistic. This isn’t a nice thing to say, but it’s the truth. And it’s the product of decades of propaganda that Evangelical Christianity is “mainstream” and that we are too. When I joined the Church of God, I was informed that our denomination was “mainstream”, although I felt (and still feel) that this assertion is ridiculous. So when the main stream of society changes course, some of us feel compelled to change with it to keep our status, income level, and acceptance in the culture. It never seems to occur to anyone that, when Our Lord said that we could not serve God and Mammon at the same time, he knew the Gospel he was better than we do.
They won’t leave. Although the looser organisational structure of Evangelicalism doesn’t make this the problem it was before, many of the defectors will attempt (and some will succeed) in retaining their positions within their denominations and organisations. This is also opportunistic: they wish to keep their jobs, social structures, family connections within the church, etc. So they stick with the outward form of the faith which inwardly they have left. And of course they’re eager to spread their new found lack of conviction to the rest of their colleagues in the denomination/organisation.
You won’t be popular. Being the populist business that it is, Evangelicalism is in many ways a popularity contest. That is coming to an end. American Evangelicalism has already been at the receiving end of a thirty year campaign to trash it because of its political efforts, and that will only get worse. It will be much more difficult to diffuse the Gospel in a society programmed to hate it. But face it: if the Cubans and the Chinese can have widespread revival and we can’t, guess who needs to have a “come to Jesus meeting”?
But you’ll have new friends. Those friends will mostly be outside the U.S. and mostly non-white like the Africans. The saga of the Africans coming to the rescue of North American Anglicanism is one of the epics of recent Christian history, although the organisational aspects are messy. Coming with that is the reality that the organisational centre of Christianity is passing from the West. But it wasn’t our faith to start with, was it?
While on the subject of the Africans, one pressure point LGBT people will apply is an experiential hermeneutic of Scripture, a centrepiece of post-modern religious thinking, such as it is. Concerning that I wrote this in 2007:
Beyond that, (Rowan) Williams’ idea that the experience of the church can mould its understanding of the Scripture only makes practical sense if that experience is univocal. And that’s where the problem comes in: it’s not. The Communion’s current stance is a perfect example of that problem.
- For liberals in the U.S. and Canada, their experience is moulded by the upper middle class world of TEC/ACC, where homosexuals are important players. Rejecting them would mean ostracism from the circles they treasure, so they cave, rather than following a world-rejecting Gospel.
- For conservatives in Africa, their experience is moulded by their contact with Islam, which abhors GLBT people and their lifestyle. Accepting homosexuals would mean war with Islam. The Africans’ ace in the hole, however, is that the Scriptures are consistent on the subject of homosexuality, rejecting it in the Old Testament and repeating this rejection in the New.
They’ll call the cops. This is really the newest wrinkle to church civil wars. The Episcopalians’ property disputes are but a shadow of the legal assault that is to come. Back in 2007 (must have been on a roll then) I predicted the following:
Buttressing their idea is the thought that their philosophy will be reflected in the actions of the government…If we consider trends such as the emergence of hate crimes legislation, the use of child protection laws to take away children from real Christian parents, the application of the tax code to silence and destroy churches and other Christian institutions that don’t suit the fancy of those in power, all of these give the ultimate hope to the liberals at 815: that their opponents will not only be deprived of the church property they worship in, but also their freedom by the state.
That assault will not only come from the outside, but it will be also abetted by those on the inside of our churches as well.
Their church idea is unsustainable. There are two reasons for this. The first is that, once a church adopts the idea of the world around it, there is no reason for anyone to go there when they can get the same thing in a secular setting. The second is that, when liberal people in churches are no longer useful to those in power, they will be dispensed with.
Before he went to trial, suffering, crucifixion and death, Our Lord exhorted his disciples in this way: “I have spoken to you in this way, so that in me you may find peace. In the world you will find trouble; yet, take courage! I have conquered the world.” (John 16:33 TCNT) That has not changed. Neither should our response.