War On Christian Orthodoxy Never Ends
You might have seen that Bethany Christian Services, the big Evangelical adoption agency, has changed its policy, and will now adopt kids out to gay couples.
It is not clear to what extent this was a response to the clear political tide nationally that would not let adoption agencies that would not work with gay couples do business, and to what extent this represents a change of heart at Bethany. Either way, it’s a capitulation. Whatever your own personal view is on gay adoptions, the fact that this major Evangelical agency has surrendered its position is a big deal.
This is exactly the pivot that is demanded of us. The world is now demanding, the moral revolutionaries are now demanding that every single individual in this society, every single institution, every single school, every single religious denomination, every single adoption and foster care agency must pivot. And the pivot, in this case, means capitulation.
It means absolute surrender to the demands of the LGBTQ community, and now we’re just talking about, generalized, the political left in the United States. We’ve been looking at this coming for some time, talking about the Equality Act. In recent days, I’ve been talking about how we are looking at the society consolidate its energies of coercion in order to serve the cause of the moral revolutionaries. That’s the way a moral revolution works. Eventually the government, all the major sectors of society join in an effort to coerce the new moral understanding.
And in this case, what we have seen is a head-on collision, not just in general between the newly invented sexual liberties and religious liberty, we are now seeing a head-on collision between organizations like Bethany Christian Services that have been very committed to a Christian understanding of marriage and the family and human sexuality and gender.
Bethany Christian Services surrendered even before the war been fought. Nate Bolt, identified as Bethany’s Senior Vice President of Public and Government Affairs, told Religion News Service, “This decision implements consistent inclusive practices for LGBTQ families across our organizations.” He went on to say, “We’ve had a patchwork approach for the last few years.”
In other words, there’ve been some places where Bethany’s already decided to expand to including same-sex couples, LGBTQ identified couples, but there’ve been other areas in which that has not yet been the case. This nationalizes and standardizes the entire policy, but you’ll notice the kind of language that’s being used here. It is used in the language of implementing “consistent inclusive practices.”
Now, those are intended to be very positive words, but let’s just consider the fact that when you’re looking at inclusive here and consistent, this means a consistent capitulation to the moral revolutionaries, a consistent abdication of any institutional identity that is connected with Christian conviction or biblical teaching concerning the very nature of what it means to be male and female, the very nature of marriage.
And remember this, these Christian organizations were put in place by Christians on Christian commitment because we genuinely believe that a child deserves a mother and a father. We genuinely believe that marriage can only be the union of a man and a woman. These are not just positioned statements that the Christian church has decided to adopt. We believe, and you can check the Bible for yourself, this is biblical Christianity. This is demanded of us.
Bringing it home:
This has not been a doctrinal disagreement. The New York Times is unquestionably right in saying that Bethany Christian Services is here trying to achieve something of a tight rope act. But here’s where Christians need to understand that this is not just about looking at one institution’s pivot or capitulation on this issue. It’s understanding the pressure that is brought on and be brought on every single Christian, every single Christian congregation, every single denomination, every single Christian institution or ministry period.
And the demand is going to come just what the argument that you see here, “Serving children,” one person connected with the organization said, “shouldn’t be controversial.” No. Serving children shouldn’t be controversial. But then again, it is when you have to ask the question into what kind of family can Christians support children being placed?
Eventually you have to answer that question and it does come down to whether or not you believe that the Bible offers what is not only a doctrinally binding definition, but what is actually good for, even necessary for, the human family to flourish. But this is exactly the kind of arguments going to come, helping people means that you need to help more people, even if that means forfeiting your Christian convictions, even about what it means to help people.
It means that if you have a homeless shelter, you can help more homeless people if you will abandon your Christian convictions and no longer maintain any commitment to a biblical standard of morality. That might lead a state or local government to say, “We won’t partner with you if you hold those convictions.” So abandon the convictions in the name of helping people. Expand this to Christian higher education.
Think of how many more students you could teach and how many more people you could reach within your institution and, by the way, charge for tuition, if you abandon your Christian convictions in the name of just teaching more people. Yes, you can understand the argument that’s being made here, but we need to recognize that what it is is a recipe for the absolute dissolution of Christianity in the United States in terms of any real witness, not only in the public square, but frankly, even within our own ministries.
But all of this in the context we face right now, with the threat of the Equality Act now politically hanging over us in an imminent way, considering the forces of coercion from higher academia, from Hollywood, from just about every sector coming in on us, and understand that the pressure to pivot is going to just increase exponentially nearly with every passing hour or day or week or month.
And eventually every single Christian, every single Christian ministry, every Christian school organization, college, university, every denomination and congregation is going to have to make a decision about what we will do when that ultimate demand for a pivot point comes. We have to decide if we will pivot or not. And at this point, I simply want to quote scripture and a scripture that’s familiar with you. As for me in my house, we will serve the Lord.
Read it all. Mohler also takes on how the White House is changing language, and he points to how changing the language is key to changing the culture. This is a point I make clear in Live Not By Lies. I know that some of y’all get tired of me banging the gong for that book and for The Benedict Option, but it fires me up that I’ve been warning my fellow Christians for years now that this was all coming, and still, a lot of them prefer to live in denial. Don’t listen to me then, listen to Al Mohler! He’s telling you that there is no escaping this, no getting away from having to make the decision. If you are not preparing yourself and the communities for which you are responsible to make the decision consistent with the truth as God has revealed to us, then if the community capitulates, as Bethany has done, and tries to rationalize its unfaithfulness, the fault will belong in part to you.
The time for churches and Christian organizations to talk about this is now, before they are put on the spot. That day is coming. For all those who never read The Benedict Option, but are sure that it says we can escape all this by heading to the hills — now is the time to read the book, for reals. It’s not about escape — in the first chapter, I quote Ephraim Radner saying there is no escape — but about building resilient communities that do not capitulate, despite the world’s hatred. Live Not By Lies is about the same thing, though more urgent, and written from the point of view of Christians who have had to live under anti-Christian totalitarianism.
In my Schmemann Lecture in January, I told Orthodox seminarians that it was their generation that was going to prepare the church in America to live under soft totalitarianism. The Orthodox Left in this country — centered around the Fordham Orthodox program, and related journals — raised hell about my being invited to give the lecture. They claim that I’m bring culture war to Orthodoxy. No, the truth is that I’m preparing Orthodox seminarians and laity for the culture war that is coming to them, whether they want it or not. A number of progressive Orthodox scholars and fellow travelers are trying to prepare the church for capitulation to the spirit of the age. I understand why they hate to be told what they are doing, but there it is. This has happened so many times in church institutions that it is the most predictable thing in the world.
But here is something new and extraordinary. The Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) is a breakaway denomination composed of conservative ex-Episcopalians who refused to capitulate to the Episcopal Church’s demands that they affirm homosexuality. Many ACNA clerics and laity lost a lot — friends, church properties — to remain faithful to Christian teaching. They have affiliated with the Anglican churches in Africa. I have some friends who are in the ACNA, and I know that the church is home to some very solid Christians. You would think that having severed themselves from TEC over the issue of homosexuality, that it would be easy for ACNA to hold the Biblical line.
You would be wrong. Incredibly, now the ACNA is facing an internal fight over its fidelity to Biblical teaching on homosexuality. A reader sends this link, which gathers various news sources explaining the controversy.
It began with this statement from the ACNA bishops reaffirming the church’s commitment to Biblical teaching, and offering direction on use of the term “gay Christian,” and the use of language. I have tended to see the use of the term “gay Christian” as non-problematic, in that it describes a Christian who struggles with same-sex attraction. But the ACNA statement made me question my own use of that language; they make it clearer than it previously had been to me how the issue of language use in this case is not benign.
One of the ACNA bishops, Todd Hunter, does not agree, and issued his own rival pastoral guidance. (N.B., that same bishop also issued a guidance praising Critical Race Theory, and saying it is useful for churches.) This was publicly endorsed by a gay man who seeks ordination to the ACNA priesthood, as well as some seminary professors at Trinity School of Ministry (an ACNA seminary) as well as some ACNA priests — all signatories to the “Dear Gay Anglican” letter. Then the powerhouse Anglican Church of Nigeria heard about it, and sent a clear shot across ACNA’s bow, telling them they had better not turn into The Episcopal Church. Archbishop Foley Beach, the presiding ACNA hierarch, counsels charity towards ACNA dissenters, but says that the ACNA bishops are not going to back down.
Many of us have experienced assaults upon our personhood from every direction. Newspaper articles covering congregational splits animated angry and sometimes unstable individuals to harass church members. Some of us know what it is like to have our church playgrounds vandalized, or to have strangers hiding in the bushes outside our churches, hurling epithets at churchgoers that should not be repeated in print.
We have experienced sustained attacks upon our character as Christians. We were consistently – and contradictorily – referred to as “citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah” and “apostates,” as well as “homophobes” and “bigots.” These labels didn’t come from the world – they came from the church and from the people with whom we once shared a pew.
What many of us, displaced and dejected, experienced was a spiritual trauma which few other Christians can comprehend. For many of us, our trust in the church, in our spiritual leaders, and in our fellow Christians was shattered.
Ultimately, our individual journeys led us to the ACNA, a province which promised to be a sanctuary for orthodox Episcopalians.
But, once trust is broken, it is not easily rebuilt.
Why we matter.
Not only have we poured our time, energy, and hearts into our churches, but many of us are the founding members who followed our priests and bishops away from the Episcopal Church because we trusted our spiritual leaders. Some of our Episcopal Churches hosted African missionaries who helped pave the way for a new Anglican province to be established in the United States. To our leaders- we have put our trust in you and in the ACNA.
We have the real life experiences which enable us to know when a duck is a duck. We remember the language used in the past that sowed seeds of division and created distrust. As such, we believe that any “in your face” undermining of the guidance issued by the College of Bishops is never benign, but can have long-term consequences.
And once trust is broken, it is not easily rebuilt.
What we hear. What we see.
When we see the words “gay Christian” replaced by “gay Anglican” – an Anglican is a Christian – we see an act of rebellion against the pastoral guidance of our College of Bishops who have been given the authority of the apostles through apostolic succession.
Such acts of rebellion cause us to re-live the trauma of the past, and cause us to re-grieve the loss of the Episcopal Church, our fellowship communities, and our friendships. This pain has only been compounded by some of the online discussions resulting from the letter, with opponents sometimes being unjustly characterized as “homophobic.” That is not who we are. It was not true in TEC and it is not true now.
When we see the words “gay Anglican,” we see an attempt to re-enslave those who have been liberated by Jesus Christ from their dead self, which has already been buried with Christ. Rather than promote the reality of our newly created selves, it appears to be an effort to cling to our corpses.
We recognize that our churches are filled with broken people. We refute any suggestion that marriage or friendship or any other relationship established in this world will remove the loneliness within us. But our God knows our pain, and our hope is in Christ, with whom we will be reunited and receive crowns of glory.
When we witness opposition to the Dear Gay Anglicans letter reframed as, “This idea that arguing for a pastoral presence with gay people in the church is the exact same thing as marrying them is absurd,” we experience Déjà vu. We already lived through this type of dishonest, reframing of dissent, and the twisting of statements, in TEC.
When we are assured by the proponents of the Dear Gay Anglicans letter that we have nothing to worry about, we experience Déjà vu. How many times did we hear that in the TEC? Too numerous to count. We do not place blind faith in any mortal, but in our Living God – in Him alone.
When we see that the author of the Dear Gay Anglicans letter is publicly (on Facebook) categorizing “bishops and priests” as “DEFINITELY unsafe,” appearingly on the basis of support or disapproval of the language used in the letter, we see (1) ourselves, yet again, being falsely labeled, (2) the apostolic authority of the College of Bishops being unrecognized, and (3) a province in tumult. Will the ACNA also become labeled as TEC and cease to attract orthodox Christians? We pray not.
With the realization that the divisive rhetoric prevalent in TEC has now entered the ACNA, we are left with the effects of re-traumatization. Already struggling with trust issues from our spiritual experiences, we wonder, will we – orthodox Christians – become unwelcome in the ACNA, too? The truth is that we have already had one province forsake us. Will the ACNA forsake orthodox Anglicans too? We admit to these concerns and commit ourselves to prayer for our beloved province.
Once trust is broken, it is not easily rebuilt.
I welcome commentary and insight from readers who are in the ACNA. I bring the situation up here in connection to Bethany’s capitulation to wake everybody in the small-o orthodox churches, and adjacent institutions, to this fact: this issue will not leave you alone. Not even in your own breakaway church. You will not be able to elide the issue, except by lying to yourself about what you are doing. If you choose fidelity and orthodoxy — if you choose Truth — you will be made to suffer. There is no avoiding it. Prepare.
UPDATE: Reader bmj says:
[The reader asked me to remove his comment.]
UPDATE.2: An ACNA cleric e-mails to say that in this internal controversy
all parties agree that the practice of homosexuality is sin, are against same-sex marriage, and teach sexual purity outside and inside of marriage. This core issue is our identity — is it in our sexuality or is it in Christ?
An ACNA layman writes:
I’m ACNA and have been following this controversy some. I think five years ago my attitude was that ACNA had already gone through the sexual perversion test by virtue of separating from TEC. We have already made our position clear. No liberal is going to join us. And if any of us becomes liberal, why they can just go to the TEC! Why would a liberal stay in the ACNA doing it the orthodox way when they can go down the street or across town and do it they way they would prefer at an Episcopal church? It isn’t unheard of for a Christian to fall into atheism. When they do, they usually leave the church, they don’t go on a crusade to make the church atheistic!My mistake was thinking that the motivation here for the liberals was the desire to have a space where things can be done their way. The psychology of today’s progressives is more that of a colonizer. Why fight an uphill battle to conquer this traditional church instead of simply going to a liberal one that already meets your standards? The answer I think is Sir Edmund Hillary’s: “because it’s there!”. So long as there is wilderness untamed by wokeness, progressive colonizers are going to be drawn to it so they can tame and domesticate it. It is Manifest Destiny and they will not rest until they have colonized everything.
I was just on the phone with the COO of ACNA today, and this has been a big mess, and I hate to see this particular sort of misunderstanding proliferated. There is literally *no one* in ACNA wanting to change the church’s prohibition on same-sex practice. If anyone in the clergy (or even laity) were doing that, they would be disciplined.”He also said,”Everyone involved, including Pieter Valk, the “gay man seeking ordination” is committed to the teaching of the Jerusalem Declaration, which is foundational to GAFCON and states:“We acknowledge God’s creation of humankind as male and female and the unchangeable standard of Christian marriage between one man and one woman as the proper place for sexual intimacy and the basis of the family. We repent of our failures to maintain this standard and call for a renewed commitment to lifelong fidelity in marriage and abstinence for those who are not married.”Pieter Valk is himself committed to celibacy and the church’s prohibition on same-sex relationships.