How To Break A Church
It’s amusing to see liberals in the comments threads here say that the reason theological and moral conservatives have lost the war over homosexuality is that they failed to provide persuasive arguments over why it should not be normalized. The issue was NEVER about providing arguments. The quality of arguments offered on either side was utterly beside the point. Ours is an emotivist culture. We don’t “reason”; instead, we feel, and then concoct rationales to support what we feel must be true.
Our culture still retains enough respect for rationality that we pretend that we’re reasoning our way through these morally complex issues. But it’s not true. Those who truly want to change society at the popular level (as distinct from courts of law) don’t waste time and effort on rationality, unless the appearance of rationality can help them get ahead.
In a short piece on the conservative Reformed blog The Aquila Report, Dan Winiarski reports from a meeting of All One Body, an activist lobby within the Christian Reformed Church in North America (Dutch Calvinists) that is trying to convince the conservative denomination [Note: I am informed that they are not so conservative; still, they are conservative on homosexuality] to affirm homosexuality and transgenderism. The group made national headlines a couple of years ago when the well-regarded Reformed theologian Nicholas Wolterstorff, long associated with the CRC, came out in favor of affirming LGBT in a speech to All One Body.
Winiarski attended a standing room only strategy meeting of the group at a CRC parish in Grand Rapids, Michigan — home of Calvin College, a CRC school. The meeting’s leaders advised those gathered on strategies to undermine and replace the church’s biblically orthodox stance. Excerpt:
One of the speakers made an assertion that, I’m disappointed to say, I agree with. He stated that the current crop of young people in society at large and in the CRC in general, are completely on board with the idea that homosexual behavior is something to celebrate. He stated that it is merely a matter of time until the defenses of the CRC and other denominations like her crumble against the persistent battery of the LGBTQ+ movement. But where I am saddened by such a thought, the speaker was delighted. The problem for the speaker is that he, and most everyone who believes as he does, is not patient enough to wait for a new generation of leaders to rise up, friendly to the demands for inclusion, acceptance, and celebration. They want things to move much more quickly.
To this end, one of the board members of A1B gave the audience a piece of advice: Do not use Scripture to convince your fellow CRC members of the beauty of full inclusion. Instead, rely on personal stories. “Everyone has a story,” she said. “We can argue back and forth all day about Scripture, but we’re never going to win that way. Nobody can argue with your story.”
That’s brilliant strategic advice. In an emotivist culture, one shaped by identity politics, reason is powerless. Let me be clear: It is not the case that there are no rational arguments for normalizing LGBT within Christian communities. There are! I find them weak and unpersuasive, but the arguments exist. The point here is that rational arguments are beside the point.
So, what makes one person’s story more persuasive than another’s? This brings us to the second part of the strategy:
Another member of the panel shared the focal point of this “personal story” strategy. He said it is all about convincing people, through stories about real people who have embraced the gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender lifestyle, that such people bear healthier fruit than those who are non-inclusive. Whereas the panel referred to “the old teachings of the church” as “toxic,” A1B wants the CRC as a whole to accept the new teachings of full-inclusion, yielding good fruit.
The panel members made it clear that the relative health and goodness of the fruit is completely dependent on how a person feels about himself, herself, zheself (or whatever gender pronoun the person identifies with). When the church tells people that their preferred lifestyle is sinful and destructive, people will feel very bad about it. But if the church will affirm everyone’s lifestyle choice, those people will feel wonderful. That is good fruit!
Got that? There is no objective standard of “health” or “goodness.” A person might feel good about himself, and comfortable living in his luxurious home, but if he has acquired his wealth by stealing or otherwise immorally, then he is objectively living in sin. His feelings about himself do not reflect his actual spiritual condition. This was the point Jesus Christ made over and over about the Pharisees.
Similarly, a person may be suffering materially — from poverty, or sickness — and must bear that suffering for the sake of holiness. Jesus Christ himself chose humiliation, torture, and execution over unrighteousness. When He was tempted three times by Satan, the temptations all had to do with prioritizing worldly power and comfort over righteousness. The point is that material comfort and a sense of well being are by no means accurate guides to holiness.
Yet the A1B activists understand well that in our bourgeois society, well being, wealth, and conformity to middle-class norms — and above all, avoiding suffering — are the marks of the church. It’s a false church, one that has turned from the Holy Spirit to the Zeitgeist, but this is how many ecclesial communities roll in post-Christian America.
Those faithful Christians who want to defend orthodoxy within their churches had better be prepared for this strategy from their heterodox opponents. You cannot assume that simply pointing out why what they believe is Scripturally forbidden will have any effect at all on them. They understand that they are advocating their position in an emotivist culture that values “well being” above all things. This is a culture that is begging for Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, because everyone within it has been catechized to accept its precepts as revealed truths.
How do you resist them? It’s not easy. You have to begin by understanding, though, that quoting Scripture and reasoning from Scripture with these people is like a Catholic priest quoting papal encyclicals at a room full of Southern Baptists. To the A1B types, Scripture is not as authoritative as the testimony of the Sovereign Self.
In the early 1990s, when I was considering converting from non-practicing Moralistic Therapeutic Deism to Catholicism, I went through a period when I tried to reconcile sexual liberty with the Christian faith. I wanted to be Christian, but I did not want to give up keeping my options open to sleeping with women before marriage. I tried hard to reconcile what I wanted with what the Catholic Church demanded, and it was impossible. I looked into Christian denominations that would have given me the liturgy I longed for without hassling me about my sex life. But I concluded that these folks, however well-meaning, were lying to themselves. Christian teaching on sex and sexuality could not be clearer — and it was not optional.
Therefore, I stayed away from Christianity. As confused as I was about many things in my life, I had great clarity on that one. I could have Jesus Christ, or I could have sexual freedom. I could not have both, despite what liberal Christians in my life were telling me. I chose the latter.
And then, a couple of years later, when I was well into making a mess of my personal life, I realized that I had chosen badly. I still did not want to give up my sexual freedom, but I wanted God more than I wanted myself. I was smart enough to know that He is a jealous God, and He wants everything from us. Either He is our God, or we ourselves are our God. There is no middle ground.
From the time of my conversion to my wedding night, I lived chastely. Was I happy. No. It was a time of deep asceticism and self-renunciation. It was lonely, not only because I longed for companionship, but also because few of my friends understood why I was doing what I was doing. I didn’t know where this road was going, but I knew that I had to be obedient, because God knew better than I did what I should do. As you know, I tend to pessimism, and I was fairly convinced that I was going to be alone for the rest of my life.
This hurt. But not as much as renouncing God would have hurt.
I did meet a woman, at last, and I married. It was so clear to me from the very beginning of our courtship that the three years (four, if you count our courtship) that I lived chastely, out of obedience, had been a period of profound purification and maturation. I did not know what was happening to me when I was in the middle of it. I just trudged onward. But if I had not submitted to the teachings of the Church (grounded in Scripture), I am certain that my heart would not have been ready to receive marriage. I would have remained the same immature man-boy, unable to commit to anything, following his inconstant passions. The chastity I lived under was difficult and even painful, but it was spiritual training that I desperately needed. I had to put away the things of childhood, and learn how to be a Christian man. Learning to live by the Church’s teaching about reserving sex for marriage was about sedimenting into my bones the truth about the sanctity of sex and marriage. I don’t think I could have learned it any other way. In the end, I was grateful for having been made to walk across that ascetic desert.
The thing is, the ascetic desert also prepared me for living within marriage. As anybody who has been married for any length of time will tell you, it’s not always an oasis. Every marriage goes through hard times. If you have been spiritually trained to endure suffering for the sake of love — especially love of God, a love that expresses itself in part through obedience to His commands (“If you love me, keep my commandments” – John 14:15) — then you will have within you the strength, bolstered by grace, to carry the Cross within a difficult marriage. If you have never denied yourself, you will collapse under the slightest burden.
These are harder stories to tell in our culture, because they are so countercultural. But we orthodox Christians had better get good at telling them. The other side is good at “narrative theology,” and they have the mass media on their side. Our culture, even the culture within many of our churches, presents the faith as an electric blanket, when in fact it is the Cross (said Flannery O’Connor). Nobody wants to hear that today, but it’s the truth — a truth that saves lives, both here and in eternity.