Rod Dreher

E-mail Rod

Hillsong & Evangelicalism’s Future

Hillsong worship in New York City

Jonathan Merritt of Religion News Service notes that at the conference of Hillsong, the international Evangelical megachurch, its leaders declined to defend Biblical teaching on homosexuality. When a NYT reporter asked leader Brian Houston to clarify the church’s position on same-sex marriage, this is what happened:

But Houston would not offer a definitive answer, instead saying that it was “an ongoing conversation” among church leaders and they were “on the journey with it.”

Houston says that he considers three things when evaluating the topic: “There’s the world we live in, there’s the weight we live with, and there’s the word we live by.”

He notes that the Western world is shifting its thinking on this issue, and churches are struggling to stay relevant. The weight we live in, he added, refers to a context where LGBT young people may feel rejected or shunned by churches, often leading to depression and suicide. But when Houston began speaking about the word we live by or “what the Bible says,” he refused to offer a concrete position.

Adds Merritt:

If the leaders of Hillsong, one of the most influential evangelical ministry conglomerates in the world, refuse to draw lines on these issues, it could influence other churches and pastors to reconsider their own positions.

Andrew Walker adds:

First, if I were writing the Art of Cultural War, this is the strategy I’d use to bring the opposing side to heel. The steps look something like this: Relativize the issue with other issues. Be uncertain about the issue. Refuse to speak publicly on the issue. Be indifferent toward the issue. Accept the issue. Affirm the issue. Require the issue. Hillsong is currently on step three. I don’t think they’ll stay there.

Second, a non-answer is an answer. Let’s be very clear on that. It’s also a very vapid answer. What we’re seeing in many corners of evangelicalism is a pliability that makes Christianity an obsequious servant to whatever the reigning zeitgeist is. With non-answers like this, it isn’t Jesus who is sitting at the right hand of the Father. Culture is. Perhaps Hillsong would rather abide by a “Don’t Ask; Don’t Tell” policy on matters of orthodoxy. That’s their prerogative. But let’s be clear that this is not the route of faithfulness.

Of course not. But what is to be done? Earlier, Walker wrote that Evangelicals who want to compromise Christian witness on marriage in favor of a radical position that no Christian had ever endorsed in nearly 2,000 years of the Church’s existence is cowardly. But he added something interesting:

Today, a spirit similar to that of early twentieth Fundamentalism is encountering revival. It preaches “peace” in overtones of cultural withdrawal. It seeks “love” by way of “pluralism” only to adopt foreign interpretations and incoherent social policies. Love and pluralism are, of course, good things in our diverse society, but not when it leads to the abandonment of sound theology and the adoption of unloving policies. This is a gentrified fundamentalism. This fundamentalism seeks compromise in the name of social detente.

I want to say something here about the Benedict Option, which advocates for a kind of strategic withdrawal. The point of the Benedict Option is not to seek peace with the Zeitgeist. It is to recognize that the cultural currents in which we Christians move are so strong today that we have to build a stronger identity, and thicker ties to our historical theology and to each other, if we are going to ride this thing out. I don’t seek compromise at all, much less social detente. Our opponents are never going to give us this, so as a matter of survival, we have to figure out how to build resilience and cultural resistance into ourselves and our little platoons. That’s very different from what Walker describes.

The Southern Baptist theologian Al Mohler sees the stakes clearly, in his column about a (disfellowshipped) Southern Baptist pastor who said he seeks a “Third Way” on LGBT issues. Mohler:

The church eventually split over the issue, with those remaining declaring their intention to affirm their pastor and to become a “Third Way church” that allows for disagreement on the question of the sinfulness of homosexual acts and same-sex marriage.

But, as I argued at the time, there is no third way. A church or denomination will either believe and teach that same-sex behaviors and relationships are sinful, or it will affirm them. In short order, every single congregation in America will face the same decision — do we affirm same-sex relationships or not? Those who suggest that there is some way around this “binary” choice are fooling themselves and confusing the church.

Consider this — the only way to construct a “third way” is to suggest that one can allow for the affirmation of homosexuality without affirming it. That simply does not work. To allow the affirmation is to affirm.

This was the sad lesson learned by conservatives in the Church of England on the question of woman priests. The “third way” presented then to the Church of England promised that those who believed that women should not be priests could coexist within the church with those who affirmed that women should be priests. The problem is that the church had to decide who would be priests, and they decided for the ordination of women. Thus, the “third way” was just an argument to get to the eventual goal that the church would have women priests.

The third way disappears very quickly when the church has to decide if it will recognize or celebrate a same-sex marriage. There is no third way when that decision arrives, and there are limitless decisions that will eventually have to be made.

As I wrote this past summer, whether you like it or not, sex — and specifically, homosexuality — is the great divide on which American churches are separating.  There cannot be a third way. As Evangelicals Al Mohler and Andrew Walker rightly see, those congregations that now believe the traditional teaching is optional will soon make it anathema (Neuhaus’s Law: Where orthodoxy is optional, orthodoxy will sooner or later be proscribed.)

Every one of us Christians will have to make that decision. It may be painful, but it is also unavoidable. There is no Third Way.

What does Evangelical self-loathing on college campuses have to do with this? A lot, I’d say, but my guess is that we’re not going to accumulate real evidence of this for another decade or so.

Posted in . Tagged , , , , , , , .

Hide 68 comments

68 Responses to Hillsong & Evangelicalism’s Future

← Older Comments
  1. Colonel Klink says:

    [NFR: ” Perhaps I just can’t understand how inviting the gay couple over for tea won’t lead to a cosmological breakdown of Christianity, but inviting the married gay couple over for tea will.” You can’t understand it because it makes no sense. I don’t believe what you say I believe. Being nice to a gay couple, civilly married or not, does not imply approval of their behavior or marriage, any more than a Hasidic Jew being nice to a Jewish woman who married a Gentile implies that he believes she did the right thing. You are making this far more complicated than it is. — RD]

    I think I understand your view – that we should all be kind and civil towards one another – but I suppose that I cannot reconcile that with the belief that tolerating gay marriage will lead to the death of Christian cosmology which in turn will lead to the death of Christianity (at least in America), and potentially the death of Western culture and society more generally.

    Your point about the Hasidic man, once again, isn’t a fit analogy. The Hasidic man does not believe that the state allowing Jewish women to marry gentiles will lead to the death of the Jewish faith. He might believe that if all Jewish women were to do that it would lead to the death of the Jewish faith, but that would be the equivalent to saying that if all men married men and all women married women it would mean the death of Christianity in America. Your argument in “Sex after Christianity” seems to be that by at all allowing gay marriage in the civil sphere, we will see the cosmological death of Christianity. These analogies don’t make sense.

    A fitter one might be… actually, I’m not sure. I’m not sure in what other case we might say that by making one activity legal it will result in such a calamity. I think that is where I, and perhaps others, have trouble with your views. If you truly believe what you wrote in “Sex after Christianity,” that gay marriage will kill Christianity, then how is it that you tolerate gay individuals? This isn’t the same as the racist (you don’t believe racism will kill Christianity). This isn’t the same as the unwed couple (you don’t state that unwed coulpes will kill Christianity). This isn’t the same as the Hasidic man and the interfaith couple (he doesn’t believe that the state allowing that couple to marry will kill Judaism). You do argue, or at least seem to argue, that gay marriage will be a (or the) death blow to Christianity in America.

    It’s not so much loving a sinner that makes these views hard to reconcile. What is hard to reconcile is that you seem to suggest that if we legally allow this one sinful activity in a certain way, we will destroy Christian cosmology. Perhaps I am mistaken in thinking you argue such a thing in “Sex after Christianity.” Perhaps I am making your argument more hyperbolic than it is. If so, I apologize, my mistake was not intentional.

  2. But our “orientation” is totally culturally conditioned. If a straight man finds that he is attracted to woman who in fact is a man dressed in drag does that mean he is homosexual? If a gay man is turned on by a woman when she dresses as a man does that mean he is actually straight?

    Friend Dalton, I think you just contradicted yourself. And here you do that again:

    By nature people are given distinct body parts which fit together naturally (male and female) or unnaturally (male and male or female and female). For most nature guides the mind to follow this pattern. But not for others.

    Indeed. Nature itself deviates from the statistical and biological norm. For those whose genes deviate, that is 100 percent of the life they have to live. It is quite possible that life experiences, early or late, can have an influence, as well as genetics. I rather suspect that boy who thinks he’s a girl who became a minor cause celebre over bathroom access was conditioned by sharing the womb with two fraternal twin sisters — no doubt the hormones mixed in the amniotic fluid. Further, there ARE cases of people who live heterosexually, then as gay, then return to heterosexual. So its not ALL innate. But dismissing the involuntary and biological aspects as “poppycock” is mere wishful thinking.

  3. Glaivester says:

    As a former Evangelical Protestant, currently “unchurched,” the Christian obsession with sex has always puzzled me,

    I’m surprised that you think that one of the fundamental drives of life is no big deal and that Christ apparently ought not to care how we go about it.

    making little sense in light of a complete and comprehensive reading of the Gospels, and certainly not surviving an educated reading of the Old Testament, rife as it is with examples of child abuse, misogyny, polyamory, infanticide and other atrocities committed by “godly” patriarchal figures as well as Yahweh Himself.

    The overwhelming message of the Old Testament is that humanity is severely messed up. Moreover, the idea in the New Testament that we are sinners saved by divine grace and that righteousness comes from God, not from our own good deeds is actually present in the Old Testament as well.

    Godly men are Godly because they trust in God for their salvation, and since Christ came, because they trust specifically in God incarnate and the work he did on the Cross.

    Abraham having a child with his maid did not exactly bless his house with happiness. Jacob marrying two sisters (and having kids by two sevants) was not a recipe for fraternal cooperation; indeed, Joseph was nearly murdered by his brothers, who decided instead to sell him into slavery.

    David slept with one of his mighty men’s wives, and had his comrade deliberately killed to hide it. Does that mean God did not take the sin seriously? No, God specifically decided to split the kingdom in two because of this. Moreover, David’s horrendous family life (brothers raping sisters, his son deposing him) is pretty much a consequence of his overall pattern of his behavior and is a warning about it.

    Solomon had hundreds of wives and concubines. Guess what? This violated Deuteronomy, which specifically forbade a king from multiplying wives. The result was that he fell into idolatry, and began the long fall of Israel.

    A plain reading of Leviticus reveals “men lying with men” to be just one of many “abominations” that Jewish scholars will frankly explain had more to do with tribal survival in a harsh and competitive environment than with things that angered the Almighty, no more to be “abominated” than violating any one of the dietary laws such as mingling dairy and meat.

    The prohibition on mixing dairy and meat is a pharasaic interpretation of the ban of boiling a young animal in its mother’s milk; it is not actually in the Old Testament. In any case, one has to question whether the sexual prohibitions were driven primarily by ceremonial cleanliness considerations – I can’t think of anywhere in the Bible where sexual prohibitions are treated as being ceremonial.

    New Testament mention reads more like Paul himself exhibiting rank homophobia

    Now you get to the heart of the matter. It isn’t that Christian concern about sexual sin does not reflect the scriptural priorities, it’s that you want to ignore any scriptures that treat it as important.

    than Christ flipping out overmuch about where people tend to put their penises.

    Why does it matter where you plug it in? The fact you look at sex that way is, I think the root of the problem here.

    In short, as in so many things, Christians and Christian congregations tend to emphasize their own hot-button issues rather than the totality of the Christian message – whatever that actually is.

    Or maybe the issue is that sex is where the culture is currently trying to get the church to give in? It seems to me that when you say Christians are “obsessed with sex” you really mean that they aren’t willing to give up the particular portion of doctrine that you mot desire them to. Christian are not obsessed with sex; the current culture is obsessed with getting us to accept their doctrines on sex in place of Biblical ones. The fact that we refuse infuriates them, and they cannot conceive of a reason why we would not give in on this one issue unless we are making it too important.

  4. Glaivester says:

    Your point about the Hasidic man, once again, isn’t a fit analogy. The Hasidic man does not believe that the state allowing Jewish women to marry gentiles will lead to the death of the Jewish faith.

    The issue here is not the Church’s position on the state allowing same-sex couples to get legal recognition as married, but what its position is on the Church endorsing or affirming such “marriages” as valid in the Eyes of God.

    The proper analogy is what the Hasidic man feels about the Hasidic community celebrating and affirming the marriage of a Jew to a Gentile.

    The issue here is whether the Church views particular sexual relationships to be sinful, not what its position on the legal status of such relationships are.

  5. Ben H says:

    “The weight we live in, he added, refers to a context where LGBT young people may feel rejected or shunned by churches, often leading to depression and suicide.”

    The basis of this ‘argument’ is of course emotional blackmail. “Change, or I’ll hurt myself!” The fact that churches fall for this stuff says a lot about their confidence.

    Does “depression and suicide” among young people flow from situations involving church ladies making clucking noises indicating their disapproval? Or do these things flow from situation involving emotional, sexual and substance abuse (common/normal in the gay subculture)?

  6. I Corinthians has the answers to these problems throughout.

    As soon as churches started allowing women to be uncovered (I Cor 11) and worse speak in Sunday School class – directly disobeying a command of Jesus Christ (I Cor 14) – it lead directly to where we are today.

    Now, back to chapter one.

  7. Ken says:

    Thursday says:
    Affirming homosexuality would affirm a materialist (or at best gnostic) metaphysics. Affirming homosexuality would affirm an ethic based on utility rather than purpose.

    I don’t understand the basis for the first claim. The second, if I understand it, falsely presumes that the only purpose of marriage is procreation.

  8. Bruce says:

    This is the sort of comment that is increasingly frustrating to read in these discussions. It’s the sanitized version of screaming “HATERS! BIGOTS!” to anyone who holds and/or communicates traditional Christian sexual morality. Ultimately, I think it adds nothing to the conversation other than confirming the speaker/writer in smug self-righteousness.

    If I thought anyone was a hater or bigot, I’d have not come up with a euphemism. I’ve got nothing against traditionalists, though I’m not one.

    Look, we bring society into church, and when society changes and those changes come to church, those who liked things as they were complain that secular influences are undermining The One True Faith.

    But we’ve always brought society into church. We brought society into church when homosexuality was a prisonable crime. Were we right then?

  9. Bruce says:

    This is the sort of comment that is increasingly frustrating to read in these discussions. It’s the sanitized version of screaming “HATERS! BIGOTS!” to anyone who holds and/or communicates traditional Christian sexual morality. Ultimately, I think it adds nothing to the conversation other than confirming the speaker/writer in smug self-righteousness.

    If I thought anyone was a hater or bigot, I’d have not come up with a euphemism. I’ve got nothing against traditionalists, though I’m not one.

    Look, we bring society into church, and when society changes and those changes come to church, those who liked things as they were complain that secular influences are undermining The One True Faith.

    But we’ve always brought society into church. We brought society into church when homosexuality was a prisonable crime. Were we right then?

  10. Ken says:

    We brought society into church when homosexuality was a prisonable crime. Were we right then?

    How do you know we were bringing society into the church instead of the church, via the word of God, into society?

  11. Rob G says:

    “Christian are not obsessed with sex; the current culture is obsessed with getting us to accept their doctrines on sex in place of Biblical ones. The fact that we refuse infuriates them, and they cannot conceive of a reason why we would not give in on this one issue unless we are making it too important.”

    Well said. We believe God created us, including our genitalia, and that therefore He has the right to tell us what we can and cannot do with them. This butts heads with the modern notion that the body is ours to do with what we want, which of course has its root in the idea of absolute autonomy.

    The fact that we reject sexual autonomy and say that it’s not a good thing is what angers the progressives. We’re not obsessive: we’re responding to the obsession of the sexual liberationists.

  12. Pastorino, I diligently read I Cor 14, in the KJV, without finding either the direct presence or direct citation to any command of Jesus Christ. Can you provide one, or were you interpellating your own conviction as to what Jesus must have meant?

  13. Bruce says:

    How do you know we were bringing society into the church instead of the church, via the word of God, into society?

    Cuts both ways, of course, and it has certainly improved society when the church’s values were spread out. But our piddling human understanding of what God wants from us has changed a lot over the years — on balance, for the better. I will happily take my chances betting on spreading more love.

  14. Sarah says:

    We don’t see the murderers, or the the adulterers, or the extortioners, accusing the Church of hatred against them. We don’t see them, attacking the Church and demanding; not only to be received into the Church, without repentance, but also to be made priests and bishops, as we see the sodomites doing.

    They only demand special dispensation.

    But there are no special sins, and no special sinners. None are exempted from Christ’s commandment that we MUST be born again and that we must honor the LORD with our obedience. 1 Corinthians 6: 9-11:

    ” Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of GOD? Do not be deceived: neither the
    sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of GOD. AND SUCH WERE some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our GOD.”

    Those also who pretend that Jesus Christ had no opinion regarding the practice of same sex relations, should study the Bible to see that Christ repeatedly affirmed the righteousness of the FATHER’S commandments in the Old Testament, and repeatedly testified that he and the father were one, that the Scriptures (Old Testament) could not be broken, and that he did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it.

    ” Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8) We should not be trying to figure out how to be relevant.

  15. Christian Schmemann says:

    I think that we will eventually see the day come fairly soon when acceptance of homosexuality will be compulsory in all Evangelical Churches.

    Eventually, it will only be the Catholic and Orthodox Churches that will continue in opposition to homosexual behaviour.

    In a weird kind of way, I will actually be glad when it will only be the Catholic and Orthodox Churches that continue to oppose homosexual behavour. When this day comes, people will finally be able to hear a position on Christian opposition to homosexual behaviour that is reasoned, articulate and respectful of gays and lesbians.

    Right now, Evangelical and Fundie Protestant positions on homosexual behavious are anything but reasoned, articulate and respectful of gays and lesbians.

  16. Christian Schmemann says:

    Evangelical and Fundie Protestant Churches will eventually come to accept homosexual behaviour, but this something for Catholic and Orthodox Christians to rejoice about.

    Eventually, it will only be the Catholic and Orthodox Churches that will continue in opposition to homosexual behaviour, and I think this is actually a good thing, weird as this might sound. When the day comes, people will finally be able to hear a position on Christian opposition to homosexual behaviour that is reasoned, articulate and respectful of gays and lesbians.

    Right now, Evangelical and Fundie Protestant positions on homosexual behavious are anything but reasoned, articulate and respectful of gays and lesbians.

  17. Anne says:

    Thursday,

    Since nobody’s asked, I will: How does affirming homosexuality affirm a materialist, or gnostic (are you equating them?) metaphysics?

  18. Anne says:

    Bruce has a very good point about this newfound focus on the Church as countercultural. Since when? The Christian story has more often been one of making peace with the culture and adapting to change since Paul took the gospel to the Gentiles.

    Those NT quotations from Jesus about being prepared for the “world“ to treat you as it treated him were included during a specific time of persecution, a “tribulation“ at the hands of Jewish religious authorities and Nero’s forces alike. But at no point were early Christians radically at odds with Greek or Roman culture, much less set on changing the laws of the empire to conform to their own beliefs. If anything, many of Paul’s admonitions to his followers, e.g., about women covering their heads and deferring to their husbands in public, had as much to do with not offending the locals as any inbred misogyny from his pharisaical youth.

    Even Paul’s long rant in Roman 1 against the obvious decadence of the pagans was merely a set-up, directed to Jewish Christians in Rome, who were products of a Jewish culture that already believed the worst about pagans. His entire purpose in doing so is revealed in Romans 2, where he turns the tables to complain that, as hypocrites, their behavior is even worse.

    The tendency toward sexual asceticism, which is evident throughout the New Testament and grew in popularity among Christians in the next several centuries, echoed the philosophies and trends of the larger, pagan culture.

    Of course, Christendom itself was an amalgam of many cultural influences, but at least one of its own innovations — holy war as spiritual awakening — casts doubt on the assumption a Christian culture would be measurably more moral than the rest.

← Older Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *