I just finished skimming an article written by a right-wing writer who was combatting progressive Christianity by pointing out its ‘moral and spiritual bankruptcy.’ A couple people shared this same article with me, likely because of my recent video ranting some of my frustrations about the incoming progressive wave of Christianity.
While I do think there is a lot to be concerned about with the influx of progressive Christianity, and much I disagree with, I think many people are having this conversation, quite frankly, wrong. The writer of the above article spent the entire span of his content combatting one thing: homosexuality. It seemed like there were dozens of little fires popping up about this one topic and he had to quickly extinguish them with his memorized scripture, as if homosexuality is the sole issue of progressivism. In reality, it’s merely a small room in a giant house of ideas.
I would argue that his article has much more to do with ‘why homosexuality is bad’ than actual progressive Christianity. For some reason, that’s become the first thing to come to mind whenever the topic is breached. It’s as if the sole reason Christians are progressing is to accommodate the LGBTQ+ community. In reality, what I’ve seen happen is the LGBTQ+ community has not only become the whipping boy for the conservative right, but also the golden child of the liberal left.
In other words, this group of people has been objectified by both sides for the sake of making arguments. Both sides’ arguments may be summed up rather simply, and redundantly repeating them won’t change anyone’s mind.
Left: “They are people with deep desires and we need to respect that. Imagine if you were as attracted to men as you are to women and someone told you it was sinful to be that way. We need to embrace and affirm them after years of hatred and exclusion. God doesn’t think they are gross and twisted, but beautiful.”
Right: “God has made the natural world to operate in a certain way: Male with female. To fight the natural order of things is to fight God, and therefore, sinful. (Yes, there is homosexuality in animals but there is also cannibalism of their young, so that’s not the best comparison…) To love someone is to not let them go on in their sin, but to do this lovingly and relationally.”
Years ago, C.S. Lewis said that if the devil can push a believer to either extreme—the Left or the Right—then he has succeeded, because from there he can push us to sin in that direction.
Both sides (ideally) approach the subject with love and hope for the best in the world and in their community (including the LGBTQ+ community). For the rest of this article, I’m going to assume both sides have the best intentions in mind, even though in reality, either one can come off as pretty repugnant.
After all, if the only alternative to ‘progressive Christianity’ was that article above, I’m not so sure I’d want to stick with that side either.
The problem with hinging the entire conversation on what someone thinks about gay people is that it’s missing the forest for the trees. More accurately, it’s like missing the entire country of Brazil for a single tree.
Whenever a conversation turns an entire group of people into a point in an argument, we need to pause and look at the ideas being presented beneath the surface. In this case, the variance in opinions has much less to do with one’s attitude toward homosexual people and much more with their views of God, the Bible, theology, anthropology and philosophy. That’s exactly the reason I have never openly written about “Ethan’s views of homosexuality” because for one, why does that matter; and two, that’s not really the main issue, is it?
Our beliefs about certain categorical pockets are not necessarily indicative of what we think about that specific thing, but about something much larger going on behind it. As Rob Bell says, this is really about that.
People ask me what I think about homosexuality either because they want affirmation in their ways, a conversational sparring partner, or an ally against gay people. They don’t ask me my views about Jesus or scripture, or theology, which is really where the conversation begins.
Over a decade ago, I watched the film Flight of the Phoenix in which a plane crashes in the middle of the desert and the crew must find their way back. The only part I remember is the captain saying that if their aim back toward civilization was off by just one degree, they would all be dead in the desert. That’s exactly the case here too. Both sides have misaimed their trajectory and missed the mark by miles.
The author above claimed to be addressing ‘progressive Christians,’ but simply popped out a bunch of verses from scripture which condemned homosexuality. Is that really the method we are employing to draw people to the beauty of Christ? Perhaps a better analogy is that of the tree and the forest. He set out to uproot the tree but ended up simply hacking away at a single leaf.
So what am I getting at here?
The conversation doesn’t hinge on homosexuality, or homosexual people. In fact, it doesn’t even have to do with sexuality at all: That’s merely the result of Christians stooping to do combat on the level of our over-sexualized culture.
The conversation needs to zoom out to the level of how we read the Bible. How we grow spiritually and how we know Jesus. We need to understand both postmodern thought and Gnosticism to have this conversation well. Because it has far less to do with sexuality than it does with thoughts, beliefs, hermeneutics, and conviction.
True believers won’t be distracted by debates about who’s allowed to do what with their bodies, or if that matters at all. I think true believers are more focused on their own sins and are actively humbled by the Gospel. The Gospel reminds conservative people that they are not the judge of other peoples’ actions, and it reminds liberal folks that there is a holy God who must deal justly with mankind.
When it comes to the wave of progressivism in the West, we need to zoom out from the myopic topic of sexuality and look at why and how we think the ways we do in the first place. This is far easier said than done, since it’s much easier to pick a side and drive our stake in the ground there than attempt to strike a healthy balance of—as Jesus had—grace and truth.
I know I just opened the door to a gigantic can of worms, and have not really addressed that much yet, but plan to in the near future. For now, I have a couple thoughts to hopefully challenge you whether you consider yourself more conservative or liberal.
If you find yourself leaning to the right, ask yourself why you’re so quick to rail against this one specific group of people (or action). Is it because you, yourself don’t struggle with that? Is it easier for you to stand for the integrity of Scripture than it is to love people who are different from you? Does your sense of ‘rightness’ outweigh the love you show to those in the LGBTQ+ community? Do you see them as humans (do you know any gay people?) or as argument points? WWJD?
If you’re a left-leaner, ask yourself where you get your sense of truth. Take some time to honestly figure out what you root your truth in: Is it your own feelings, desires, or gut impulses, or do you have something larger than yourself to inform your ethical code? You argue for the rights of people wanting to do a myriad of actions, but do you draw the line somewhere? Is incest between a brother and sister permissible if they really love each other (Of course, they would adopt, just like a gay couple…), or is all love not really equal? Is it hard for you to concede that there may be a larger scale of right and wrong than what you agree with? WWJD?
As Christians, I don’t believe our job is to choose political, or even theological sides, but to love people, love God, and do our best to not screw up. We all sin in one direction or another, so let’s try to reorient ourselves toward Christ and not toward a winning argument.
May we be Christians who pray, love all people, and strive to read God’s Word accurately and carefully, recognizing that our thoughts inform our beliefs and our beliefs inform our actions. And may we never use humans as pawns in the chess games of our moral debates, regardless of which side we are on.