Churches As Sexual Revolution Battlefields
This just in from a reader:
Three very important but seriously under reported stories came out this weekend about Evangelical churches and their responses to LGBT issues. First the PCA (a supposedly conservative evangelical Calvinist denomination) adopted the Nashville Statement at their general assembly. Hurray, orthodoxy prevailed right? Except the vote was 803-541, or 60% to 40%. Which means that 40% of that church voted to deny their own church’s teaching on human sexuality. The same situation that caused the PCUSA to crumble will inevitably happen to the PCA, remember that the first vote on the LGBT agenda failed in the PCUSA by similar margins (298-221, 57% to 43%) circa 2006. Except the sexual revolutionaries kept bringing the issue up and the margins got closer and closer until in 2014 they succeeded. Given the status of Covenant Seminary and its open embrace of Revoice, I am not optimistic about the future of the PCA.
Secondly, the Evangelical Covenant church voted to expel one of their leading congregations. By a 77% to 23% vote, the annual meeting expelled First Covenant Church of Minneapolis over this issue. While that should in theory be a victory, remember that once again, theological nihilists are in charge of training future pastors for their church. Compare that to the situation at the Mennonite Church USA which was in a similar situation. The church itself was largely conservative, but liberals were in charge of training their pastors. In the Mennonite Church USA, they also had a church that began promoting the sexual revolution and the general conference expelled said church. The revolutionaries continued behind the scenes, revised the church’s position and said congregation was welcomed back with open arms.
The last story is a bit older, but no less significant and much less talked about. The Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA) just completed its annual conference, and the forces of Sexual Revolution are on the march. There is now active organizations at all levels of the denomination seeking to “enlighten” the church on LGBTQ+ issues. Once again, given that theological nihilists are training pastors at their premier seminary, the future is not bright at that institution either.
You have three supposedly conservative churches that are about to crumble to the forces of secularism. For the last 40 years, the only institution that has withstood the secularist assault has been evangelical churches; they have proven themselves to be very tough nuts to crack. But even the hardest walnut will eventually crumble. I know that you are currently writing a book about the resistance the church provided to communism, but I will not lie here or engage in pointless flattery:
I do not see how this turns out well for the church in America.
This reader’s e-mail highlights precisely why, in the Benedict Option concept, I believe that the churches have to focus much more intensely on self-reform, and spiritual discipline. As I say in the book, I am not opposed to Christians being involved in politics — in fact, on the religious liberty question at least, it’s mandatory — but our first and by far more important battle is within our own churches and families.
Look at this:
Gospel: Be tough. Be free. Be hopeful. Homily for the Pre-Pride Mass at the Church of St. Francis of Assisi. We keep our hands to the plow not only so we don’t lose our way, but so we don’t take our eyes off the horizon. #Pride2019 Video and text here: https://t.co/ndEBlTUPEDpic.twitter.com/Kbd3teEl3K
— James Martin, SJ (@JamesMartinSJ) June 30, 2019
All the more reason to be like Jesus: that is, tough. And to, first of all, claim your rightful place in your church. Look, if you are a baptized Catholic and you are LGBT or are an LGBT parent or family member, you are as much a part of the church as the Pope, your local bishop, your pastor, or me. Root yourself in your baptism and claim your place in your church.
But make no mistake, Jesus is telling us: sometimes it’s going to be hard. Sometimes your family may misunderstand you, as Jesus’s family did. Sometimes you’ll feel unwelcome in places, as Jesus did in Samaria. Sometimes it won’t feel like you have a home, like Jesus felt when he had to sleep by the side of the road. Sometimes you’ll find that your friends disagree with you, as Jesus did when he told the disciples that revenge was not his way. But it’s all part of the journey. It’s part of being with him.
Throughout all this, Jesus invites you to be tough. Claim your place in your church. Be rooted in your baptism. Know that you are fully Catholic. You know, lately I’ve been hearing that it’s not enough for the Catholic church to be “welcoming” and “affirming” and “inclusive.” And I agree. Because those are the minimum. Instead, LGBT people should fully expect to participate in all the ministries in the church. Not just being welcomed and affirmed and included, but leading. But to do that you have to keep your hand to the plow and you have to be tough.
I hope you’ll read the whole thing. Father Martin is an exceptionally good preacher. But what he’s preaching here is directly contrary to Scripture, and to the Catholic Magisterium. The Cardinal Archbishop of New York will not say a word. When I lived in NYC (1998-2003), and was a practicing Catholic, this same parish was a center of LGBT activism. Neither Cardinal O’Connor nor Cardinal Egan did a thing about it. You cannot expect the Catholic Church, certainly not under Pope Francis, to resist this stuff. Catholic priests and laity who do so are pretty much on their own.
In my own church, the OCA, we have internal battles over this. The OCA Cathedral in New York City, under its current pastoral leadership, is well known in Orthodox circles for being gay-affirming, as is the OCA Cathedral in Boston. Bishops in charge do nothing. This is not new. There is no church that is going to escape this challenge.
In The Benedict Option, I write:
The point is not that Christianity was only, or primarily, about redefining and revaluing sexuality, but that within a Christian anthropology sex takes on a new and different meaning, one that mandated a radical change of behavior and cultural norms. In Christianity, what a person does with their sexuality cannot be separated from what a person is. In a sense, moderns believe the same thing, but from a perspective entirely different from the early church’s.
In speaking of how men and women of the early Christian era saw their bodies, historian Peter Brown says the body
was embedded in a cosmic matrix in ways that made its perception of itself profoundly unlike our own. Ultimately, sex was not the expression of inner needs, lodged in the isolated body. Instead, it was seen as the pulsing, through the body, of the same energies as kept the stars alive. Whether this pulse of energy came from benevolent gods or from malevolent demons (as many radical Christians believed) sex could never be seen as a thing for the isolated human body alone.
Early Christianity’s sexual teaching does not only come from the words of Christ and the Apostle Paul; more broadly, it emerges from the Bible’s anthropology. The human being bears the image of God, however tarnished by sin, and is the pinnacle of an order created and imbued with meaning by God.
In that order, man has a purpose. He is meant for something, to achieve certain ends. When Paul warned the Christians of Corinth that having sex with a prostitute meant that they were joining Jesus Christ to that prostitute, he was not speaking metaphorically. Because we belong to Christ as a unity of body, mind, and soul, how we use the body and the mind sexually is a very big deal.
Anything we do that falls short of perfect harmony with the will of God is sin. Sin is not merely rule breaking but failing to live in accord with the structure of reality itself.
The Christian who lives in reality will not join his body to another’s outside the order God gives us. That means no sex outside the covenant through which a man and a woman seal their love exclusively through Christ. In orthodox Christian teaching, the two really do become “one flesh” in a way that transcends the symbolic.
If sex is made holy through the marriage covenant, then sex within marriage is an icon of Christ’s relationship with His people, the church. It reveals the miraculous, life-giving power of spiritual communion, which occurs when a man and a woman—and only a man and a woman—give themselves to each other. That marriage could be unsexed is a total novelty in the Christian theological tradition.
“The significance of sexual difference has never before been contingent upon a creature’s preferences, or upon whether or not God gave it episodically to a particular creature to have certain preferences,” writes Catholic theologian Christopher Roberts.
He goes on to say that for Christians, the meaning of sexuality has always depended on its relationship to the created order and to eschatology—the ultimate end of man. “As was particularly clear, perhaps for the first time in Luther, the fact of a sexually differentiated creation is reckoned to human beings as a piece of information from God about who and what it meant to be human,” writes Roberts.
Contrary to modern gender theory, the question is not Are we men or women? but How are we to be male and female together? The legitimacy of our sexual desire is limited by the givenness of nature. The facts of our biology are not incidental to our personhood. Marriage has to be sexually complementary because only the male-female pair mirrors the generativity of the divine order. “Male and female he made them,” says Genesis, revealing that complementarity is written into the nature of reality.
Easy divorce stretches the sacred bond of matrimony to the breaking point, but it does not deny complementarity. Gay marriage does. Similarly, transgenderism doesn’t merely bend but breaks the biological and metaphysical reality of male and female. Everything in this debate (and many others between traditional Christianity and modernity) turns on how we answer the question: Is the natural world and its limits a given, or are we free to do with it whatever we desire?
To be sure, there never was a golden age in which Christians all lived up to their sexual ideals. The church has been dealing with sexual immorality in its own ranks since the beginning—and let’s be honest, some of the measures it has taken to combat it have been cruel and unjust.
The point, however, is that to the premodern Christian imagination, sex was filled with cosmic meaning in a way it no longer is. Paul admonished the Corinthians to “flee sexual immorality” because the body was a “temple of the Holy Spirit” and warned them that “you are not your own.” He was telling them that their bodies are sacred vessels that belonged to God, who, in Christ, “all things hold together.” Sexual autonomy, seemingly the most prized possession of the modern person, is not only morally wrong but a metaphysical falsehood.
These discussions are not easy. I encourage all small-o orthodox Christians to listen to this short address PCA teaching elder Greg Johnson, who is chaste but same-sex attracted, gave to the recent General Assembly. In it, he speaks out against the part of the Nashville Statement that forbids Christians from “adopting a homosexual or transgender self-conception.” Johnson says that this is pastorally problematic (at the very least); he said his own embrace of self-sacrificing chastity began with accepting that his same-sex attraction was deeply rooted, and not going away. He affirms that the only Biblically faithful way to live as a same-sex-attracted Christian is chastely, but he does not believe that he should be required to deny that he is permanently marked by his attraction.
I’m not an Evangelical, so I genuinely don’t know how this works in Evangelical theology. Catholicism teaches (for now, anyway) that homosexuality is “intrinsically disordered,” meaning that same-sex feelings cannot be reconciled with God’s design. The chaste gay Catholics I know accept this, and live by it. A dear Catholic friend who has been living chastely his entire life told me when he came out in his early 20s that it was important for him to acknowledge this aspect of himself, in part because the burden of fidelity was too much to carry alone. In his address to the General Assembly, Johnson says that the church doesn’t require paraplegics to deny their inability to walk, or sterile people to deny their infertility, so why does it require SSA Christians to deny their own disability?
I don’t understand it either — it seems to me to be a distinction without a difference — but I concede that this is my own problem, because I struggle to grasp the theological intricacies of this debate. Catholic writer Daniel Mattson has written a book in which he explains why he does not call himself “gay,” even though he is same-sex attracted, and lives chastely in obedience to the Catholic Church’s teaching. I bring this whole issue up not to settle the debate over homosexuality and identity — or to encourage a discussion about it in the comments section — but only to highlight how even within orthodox church circles, these discussions are extraordinarily painful, but necessary. Even if you think that Greg Johnson is philosophically and theologically mistaken, you can’t listen to his address without feeling compassion for the man.
And yet, let’s be clear: even Johnson declares that there is no way that a faithful Christian with same-sex attraction can act on it. His dispute with other Christians is not over the behavior expected of faithful Christians.
For Christians to say otherwise is an act of profound iconoclasm. It cannot be done without doing irreparable violence to the foundations of the faith. The churches have been dealing, and dealing badly, with the Sexual Revolution for decades. It is impossible to separate the LGBT issue from the broader subject of sexuality, including heterosexuality. Affirming gender ideology and homosexuality — affirming, as opposed to working out how to bear in charity with Christian brothers and sisters who are living with these disorders — is institutionalizing and making permanent the Sexual Revolution, and its anti-Christian dogmas concerning sex, human nature, and the family.
The stakes could not be higher. Christian orthodoxy has lost so much ground within the churches themselves. Gifted revolutionaries like Father Martin, for example, are honored within the Catholic Church, while bishops who are supposed to guard and defend orthodoxy turn gelatinous. This phenomenon is by no means limited to the Catholic Church; it is everywhere. If it hasn’t come to your church yet, just wait. There is no escape from the culture war. We Christians, we can win political battles, but if we lose this battle within our own ecclesial bodies, political victories will be in vain.
UPDATE: A PCA pastor e-mails to say the reader (whom I don’t know personally; he is not a “friend”) I quoted above significantly distorts what happened:
While there was a lot of debate over commending the Nashville Statement, and the numbers did come down to 60/40, this was far more complicated than your friend indicated. Many voted against it because of concerns over the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (who was behind the Statement, and has promoted what many believe to be pretty goofy views of male/female roles), because our own Westminster Confession is already quite clear about sexual sin (so, many argued, why would we need to hastily adopt a somewhat clunky and unnuanced statement, signed by oodles of Calvinist/evangelical celebrities, in order to “do/say something!”), because (fairly or unfairly) the NS statement has become somewhat radioactive in the broader evangelical world (ie, that it is considered by many to be harsh and unloving, at least in tone), and because it says nothing about how to care for those who struggle in these sins. I know multiple non-progressives (myself included) who voted against commending the NS.
Furthermore, right after this debate and vote the General Assembly overwhelmingly voted to commend the RPCNA (a small sister-denomination)’s study report on same-sex attraction/sin, which is entirely orthodox and biblical, though much longer and far more nuanced/pastoral, but without the (fair and unfair) “baggage” of the Nashville Statement.
Finally, Covenant Seminary has not “openly embraced” Revoice; in fact, in the months leading up to this week’s Assembly it has repeatedly issued multiple statements (some through its president) clearly and openly distancing itself from Revoice and its teaching. Your friend is simply wrong here.