“The demand for an identity, and the injunction to break that identity, both feel, in the same way, abusive.” — Michel Foucault.
From 1979 to 2000 John Shelby Spong was Bishop of Newark in the Episcopal Church. Spong denied that Jesus is the sole savior of humankind and rejected the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection. Rubbishing traditional modes of belief in God’s existence, he once claimed that “theism, as a way of defining God, is dead.” Spong was a noted social liberal who affirmed the equal legitimacy of homosexual relationships, though he was not himself gay.
In 2003, Gene Robinson, who is gay, was consecrated Bishop of New Hampshire. Robinson’s consecration precipitated a schism in the Episcopal Church. Why, we might ask, was it Robinson’s consecration, and not Spong’s, that precipitated a schism?
Take another case: In Minnesota last year Catholic school teacher Kristen Ostendorf was allegedly asked to resign after she came out to her colleagues as a lesbian. After refusing to resign, Ostendorf was fired for an “unspecified reason.” Ostendorf’s case followed fast on the heels of the resignation of Bill Hudson—President of another Minnesota Catholic school—after he admitted to being in a same-sex relationship. Elsewhere in Minnesota, at least one Catholic parish appears to be celebrating non-Christian rituals, blessing stones which are claimed to be the bones of the “Earth Mother.” I don’t want to start a discussion about the politics of liturgical inculturation. But its worth asking why Catholic authorities in Minnesota appear much more anxious to remove homosexuals from positions of influence than priests who practice what seems to be a form of paganism (since I cannot imagine that the Archdiocese is keen on either).
Cases like these can be multiplied ad nauseam. It would be easy to posit simple hypocrisy as the explanation. Too easy, in fact. Something more insidious and complex is at play.
In an oft-quoted passage from The History of Sexuality, Michel Foucault famously outlined how the concept of the homosexual person came into being in the late nineteenth-century:
As defined by the ancient civil or canonical codes, sodomy was a category of forbidden acts; their perpetrator was nothing more than the juridical subject of them. The nineteenth-century homosexual became a personage … Nothing that went into his total composition was unaffected by his sexuality. It was everywhere present in him: at the root of all his actions because it was their insidious and indefinitely active principle … It was consubstantial with him, less as a habitual sin than as a singular nature … Homosexuality appeared as one of the forms of sexuality when it was transposed from the practice of sodomy onto a kind of interior androgyny, a hermaphrodism of the soul. The sodomite had been a temporary aberration; the homosexual was now a species.
Some Christians have recently been having a field day with Foucault-esque ideas. “A-ha!,” the argument runs, “if homosexuality only ‘appeared’ in the 1870s, then we can make it disappear now.”
Yet Foucault’s point in The History of Sexuality is not just about homosexuals, or even “heterosexuals.” It is an observation about the way we (all of us) think in the modern West.
In the nineteenth century, the newly-birthed discipline of psychology wedded the deep urge to “confess” about the self to scientific discourse developed for pursuing allegedly objective truth. Thus, questions about sex—questions which have always interested humankind—were posed in a new form. In Foucault’s words, not only do we “demand that sex speak the truth,” that it confess its secrets. Modern Westerners go further, demanding that sex “tell us our truth … the deeply buried truth of that truth about ourselves which we think we possess in our immediate consciousness.” In other words, from the late nineteenth-century onward, the question of sex ceased to be a question and became the question. Questions about our “sexuality” have become interchangeable with the question, “who are we?”
This is why the cases I described above cannot be written off as mere hypocrisies. Hypocrisy would mean that churches which hold to a traditional sexual ethic still see creedal orthodoxy as being of at least equal importance to sexual ethics, yet fail to practice what they preach. But what if twenty-first-century conservative Christianity in fact preaches something else, something very different from historic Christian orthodoxy? What if the same process Foucault describes as having transformed the modern self has also transformed many modern churches (which are, after all, composed of selves)? What if churches, too, have begun to look to sex in order to answer the question, “who are we as a church?” What if, worst of all, those churches don’t even realize the transformation they have undergone, and think that, because the external behavioral precepts are the same in both systems of thought, the gospel of sexual conservatism they preach simply is historic Christian orthodoxy?
If this happened, we would expect to see something very much like the situation outlined above—discussions within the churches about sexuality would move front and center while discussions about, say, the Resurrection or the Virgin Birth (even where these are widely denied and debated, as they have been during the twentieth century) would fade into the background. Deciphering the truth about “Man” and about our own sexualities would become more urgent than deciphering the truth about God.
Rather than hypocrisy, therefore, it is more accurate to describe the cases above as examples of conservatives trying to be faithful to a set of false first principles. When dissent from beliefs about sex is more of an issue than dissent from beliefs about the nature of God, this is an obvious sign that beliefs about sex have replaced beliefs about God as the focal point of a particular church’s corporate identity.
The problem with the conservative project (in its various guises) to break down the identities of gay people and remake them in the image of straight, cookie-cutter saints, is not so much its undeniably repressive, cult-like quality. The problem is that the conservative is just as deeply embedded within the same regime of discourse that he positions himself as an external critic of. Even the way the critique is posed demonstrates this, for what is the panicked claim that we must urgently set about dismantling our modern idea of sexuality in order to uncover all the truths hidden underneath, if not simply another attempt to seek in the question of sex an answer to the question, “who are we?” Even the conservative attempt to offer a solution to the problem turns out to be another instance of the same problem.
This does not mean that contemporary Christianity must remain hopelessly trapped inside this discursive circle. The error I am criticizing lies not so much in the continuous slew of false solutions to the “problem” of homosexuality but in the continual re-positing of the question of homosexuality specifically—and sexuality more broadly—as if everyone must agree that this question is the question to be answered. It is the question of homosexuality itself, and the continual interrogation of the “identities” of sexual minorities that accompanies it, which constitutes the real problem.
There is a beautiful phrase in the documents of the Second Vatican Council that tells us: “Christ fully reveals man to himself.” And it is true, as far as it goes. Yet the problem with much contemporary theologizing is that in fact it doesn’t go any further. It is the revelation of God—not human nature—which constitutes the overriding purpose for the incarnation. The conservative attempt to appropriate Foucault to deconstruct LGBTQ identities is another example of what I call “anthropological drift” among traditional Christians—a drift marked by an obsession with correctly comprehending, describing, and minutely categorizing “human nature,” a subtle replacement of theology (“discourse about God”) with “theological anthropology.” Yet the question Jesus addresses to us is “who do you say that I am?,” and not “who do you say that you are?”
Aaron Taylor is a Ph.D. student in Ethics at Boston College. He previously studied at the Universities of London and Oxford, and worked for a London-based research institute dedicated to raising the quality of thinking about public policy in civil society.
(Photo credit: Michel Foucault by Thierry Ehrmann)
Aaron, I appreciate this article a lot. Thanks for writing it!
For whomever happens to be able to answer:
I’m interested in reading more about the evolution of our modern Western conception of sexuality. Aaron references Michel Foucault’s THE HISTORY OF SEXUALITY. Is this a good place to start? What other resources should I look out for?
The End of Sexual Identity by Jenell Williams Paris deals with this topic pretty much exclusively. I liked it a lot, and it definitely made me think a lot about how identifying ourselves by our sexuality impacts both our culture and our view of each other.
Try Sexual Personae by Camille Paglia for an opposing view.
In my earliest published piece, I pointed out the way that the “family values” language that was common in conservative Christian circles in the US when I was growing up was essentially Nietzschean, because it shifted from the objective language of Christian ethics to the subjective language of “values.”
I think that’s another example of the way that the sexual politics of the “Christian Right” just played into the absolutization of sex that followed the sexual revolution.
This is a fantastic article and a fascinating subject for further study and thought! Thank you
Very interesting post. I (like many people, I suspect) have spent most of my life reading the Bible as if it were about me, and only recently discovered that it is, in fact, about God. I’ve spent so much time searching its pages to find the answer to “What’s my identity?”, “What should I do with my life?”, “Am I allowed to do this or that?”. All of those questions are answered in the Bible, but I was missing the entire point. The questions I should have been asking were, “Who is God?”, “What does he love and hate?”, “How does he relate to the world?”, “What is my response to him?” I think it’s very difficult for anyone to orient their mind away from themselves, and that’s not a new phenomenon – just the expression of it is.
“We ask the Bible to tell us about ourselves, and all the while it is telling us about the ‘I AM’. We think if it would just tell us who we are and what we should do, then our insecurities, fears, and doubts would vanish. But our insecurities, fears, and doubts can never be banished by the knowledge of who we are. They can only be banished by the knowledge of the ‘I AM’.”
-Jen Wilkin, “Women of the Word”
I’ve heard this about sexuality and identity, not just from Foucault but even from Charles Taylor.
My question is why. Why sex and sexuality? You speak as if this discourse is a historically contingent development or aberration we need to get away from to return to true traditional Christian orthodoxy. And yet this development happened for a reason. Society “chose” sex to focus on. Was it purely arbitrary? Or is there something “natural” or at least inevitable about such a choice?
Yes, it was the pill that made it inevitable.
I don’t follow why answering the question “who are we?” gets the church in trouble. It is indeed a lesser question than “who is God?”. But worth asking. Very much so.
I wish I was a Foucault expert, or had even read anything of what he wrote. So maybe I’m not truly able to access this blog to its fullness, but I’m trying.
I think sometimes there has to be deconstruction and reconstruction of things that have been constructed wrongly in society or one’s life. This requires much wisdom, and cannot be governed by a political movement, but by the Lord, his church, his word and his spirit.
I’m happy to have conversations about the Virgin birth and resurrection be front and center, if we have people coming to our churches insisting that the church affirm their identity as “virgin birth deniers” or “Christ is dead” believers. Then THAT would be the conversation we would have. Maybe you have things like that in the Catholic church that you see ignored and I’m not aware of that.
But from what I see from the evangelical vantage point, we’re having this public sexual identity conversation for two reasons: the church has been sleeping while the issue came in the door, and the it is now in the middle of our living room, asking for directions to the bedroom. What should we then do? How should we then live?
And to use Jesus’ “who do you say that I am?” question is fair, but can you use that question to shut down question about ourselves? Jesus also asked “What do you want?” and “What are you looking for?” and those type questions as well.
Help me see what I’m missing. Are you just tired of the identity question and wanting some peace? or do you really think the church has no business continuing to speak clearly into the issue of sexual identity?
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I can’t say that I followed your point or argument too well, but I did laugh about the priest blessing the bones of Earth Mother. But if you’re trying to make the case that dissent on gay issues is not tolerated whereas heresies are overlooked, that’s not so. Dissent on gay issues is widespread — Jesuits, Paulists, nuns that wear blazers instead of veils.
I’m having trouble with this post and the reasoning behind it. None of the seminaries I’ve ever attended deferred to Foucault in any way, shape or form, understand the Biblical teaching on sexuaity. In fact, the traditional Church has always rejected Foucault as being anti-gospel (in many more ways that just his thoughts on sexuality). So, the accusations against the church for rejecting Spong, Robinson, and Ostendorf don’t seem to fit.
And surely there many other heretical things that Spong and Robinson (I’m not familiar with Ostendorf) have taught and are teaching than just those that deal with the topic of sexual identity. Correct?
There was a very widely discussed article in First Things last year, “Against Heterosexuality,” which pushed this idea and was picked up by many conservative Christian bloggers.
Regarding Spong, YES! he taught an enormous amount of heresy. As Aaron points out, he denied some of the most basic teachings in the creed. Yet conservative Episcopalians did not split because of his heresy, they split because of Gene Robinson. The point of these examples is that other forms of heresy are much less likely to result in discipline than homosexuality. This reflects twisted priorities that distort the Gospel.
You ask a fair question about why the Church responds more to sexual behavior than blatant heretical teaching on the part of its leaders. I suspect that your answer is at least partly right. Although I will suggest that (on the Episcopal side of things, which is the only one I can speak to from personal experience) the breaking point only came for a lot of people when they hit a line at which they personally were asked to believe something, or act as if they believe something, or be under the direct spiritual authority of someone who openly advocates for something they do not believe. Almost all Episcopalians could say, well, I don’t agree with him, but Spong isn’t MY bishop. (This is an obviously problematic response, but let’s face it, many Episcopalians have a strong predisposition against rocking the boat, or saying things that sound not-very-nice. I know this because I was one for several years, and I share that predisposition. Although my time in the Episcopal Church actually started after the Gene Robinson thing, so maybe my perspective is a little different.) When a majority of bishops voted in favor of consecrating Robinson, a lot more people had to deal with what MY bishop apparently believes.
Thinking further about “who God is” and “who I am”… they have to come in that order, certainly. For Christians that is (or should be) non-negotiable.
At the same time, I’ve felt for a while that the question of what it means to be created “male and female” — i.e., questions of sexuality in the broader sense — may in fact be the major theological question of our day. Aspects of this question may be at play in discussions about social roles, about the ordination of women, about homosexuality, about “identity,” about gender dysphoria, and all sorts of things. Obviously our society isn’t sure how to sort all these things out (and comes to some mutually contradictory conclusions). But at some level, all of those are presenting issues. The more basic question seems to be — how does the sexed reality (male-and-female) of our created nature, as presented in Scripture, show forth God’s own nature (in Whose image and likeness we were created)? And — here’s the point — this is precisely a theological question, although it addresses theological anthropology rather than, say, Trinitarian theology. I’m quite certain that we can’t get the anthropology question right without a deepened understanding of and return to orthodox teaching on the Trinity and the nature of Christ…. But Christian anthropology is also theological.
Sexuality question(s) certainly COULD become a diversion from the more basic and (in fact) more essential questions of who God is. And, it’s true, both society and the Church within our society may be asking a lot of the wrong questions about sexuality. But I hope that doesn’t have to stop us from addressing, or at least attempting (however inadequately) to address, what may in fact be the major theological issue the Church is called to work through today.
In the fourth century, the Church had to struggle through to a deeper understanding of Jesus’ divinity — an understanding that was more Biblical and Apostolic, but also one addressed to the fourth-century context, which was asking a different set of questions than had been asked in the first. This took most of a century — some of the key figures didn’t survive to see how it all ultimately played out — and it was pretty messy and many of the proposed solutions/explanations proposed along the way were ultimately inadequate. But we wound up with something beautiful — not only the creed, but the theological thinking and spiritual resources that the creed represents. That’s what I hope the Church is headed toward in terms of theological anthropology… even if I don’t live to see it all fully sorted out.
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This is a great article!
Conservative Protestant theologian Carl Trueman once pointed out something key regarding the redefinition of marriage that made same-sex marriage possible. Trueman correctly noted that the relevant redefinition didn’t occur in the 1960s, but actually much earlier. Of the course of the last century, our culture has gradually come to embrace marriage as an expression of a couple’s heterosexual desire. Another conservative Protestant theologian, Peter Leithart, has referred to our current practice of marriage as “pornographic marriage,” so as to distinguish it from traditional marriage. Further, both os these theologians acknowledge that the Christian church–whether liberal or conservative–has largely embraced this drift. And, as Aaron notes here, this drift has been accompanied by a concomitant valorization of heterosexual desire as an essential element of Christian orthodoxy. This all happened somewhat unwittingly. But it’s happened nonetheless.
I do think that Foucauldian analysis can be helpful here for leading us out of this mess. But it can only help us if we’re willing to deconstruct the whole way that we have come to think about sexuality over the course of the past 100 years or so. It does no good to apply it selectively to deconstruct homosexuality, while leaving heterosexuality virtually unexamined. And that what seems to be occurring.
Sadly, I don’t see much interest within the church in deconstructing heterosexuality. The valorization of heterosexual desire has so marred our theological thinking and practice that it will likely take 4-5 generations to extirpate it. So, what are gay Christians to do in the here and now? How are we to live as Christians in a church that improperly accounts as modern-day lepers? Questions like these are slowly leading me to conclude that vowed same-sex relationships may well have a practical place within the church today, at least until the church can regain its theological moorings.
I firmly believe that Christians are called to one of two vocations: marriage or celibacy. And by “marriage,” I do mean opposite-sex marriage. But I mean more than that. I also mean an opposite-sex relationship that’s an expression of Christ’s grace rather than sexual desire, and which is fundamentally outward-facing to third parties rather than being inward-facing toward only other members of the nuclear arrangement. In like manner, celibacy too is not focused merely on the denial of sexual desire, but on the expression of Christ’s grace and the service to the broader church community. Sexual desire–either in its affirmation or in its denial–ought to play a rather minor role in the proper conception of both marriage and celibacy. And we can’t practice either of these by ourselves: We need a broader church community that supports such relationships and sustains other Christians in the same endeavors.
Whether one is liberal or conservative, Protestant or Catholic, we all find ourselves in a church that has fumbled the ball so badly on these issues that it is fairly difficult to live out either vocation with any degree of integrity. What we call “marriage” bears no resemblance to the institution that Paul commends to us. It is little more than a contract for sex and other benefits.
And what do you do if you feel called to marry, but are improperly disqualified from doing so because of a lack of heterosexual desire? Is celibacy the answer, especially where celibacy represents little more than one’s status of exclusion? Can such a celibacy really teach the church to recover traditional Christian marriage and traditional Christian celibacy? Or is it merely an acquiescence to a false gospel. If I accept my excluded status quietly, am I not seeming to give credence to the improper privileging of heterosexual desire that has overtaken the church? Might vowed same-sex relationships–where the excluded ones bind together–serve as a more powerful critique of the church’s false gospel of heterosexual desire?
Many conservatives suggest that same-sex relationships cross some line in the same beyond which there is no return. No-fault divorce got us close to the line, they suggest, but not over it. But when pressed to defend this arbitrary line-drawing, we only hear, “It just is”! I don’t believe that people make arbitrary decisions, at least not too often. In general, we draw lines in certain places because those lines correspond to a logic with which we agree. We may not be able to articulate that logic, but it governs us nonetheless. In that sense, drawing the line to include no-fault divorce but to exclude same-sex relationships is telling: It suggests that one indeed worships heterosexual desire. And that’s the church in which we find ourselves today–a church where the celebration of heterosexual desire means as much, if not more, to us than the death and Resurrection of Christ.
I see no good options in such a church. Whether we are straight or gay, any relationship we choose will depart markedly from the Christian ideal because we live under a compromised gospel and in a broken church community that cannot fulfill its duty. We simply have to make due as best we can, as we work to reform the church and ween it from its valorization of heterosexual desire. In some ways, we have to be pragmatic, and, in doing so, acknowledge that we are being pragmatic. By permitting vowed relationships beyond the traditional vocations of marriage and celibacy, I wonder if we don’t therefore force the church to acknowledge that it’s not today in a state where it can sustain those vocations in their traditional form. In that way, we goad the church to regain its footing, eschew its fixation on heterosexual desire, and become the kind of community where marriage and celibacy can be practiced as Christian vocations.
Up to this point, I have elected celibacy. But I’ve come to wonder whether there’s really any virtue in that? After all, in today’s church, my celibacy is nothing more than a badge of my excluded status from the “communion” of experiencing heterosexual desire. My celibacy looks nothing like the celibacy of ages past. Not at all. Worse yet, I wonder whether, by accepting that status, I don’t lend undue credence to the compromised gospel that has excluded me from full participatory life in the church. In that sense, in today’s church setting, it is impossible to live out celibacy in a virtuous, Christian way. You can only live it out in a pragmatic way because genuine Christian celibacy demands a church community that values that vocation rather than one that treats it as a sign of merited exclusion. But if we can do no better than pragmatism, I have a hard time seeing how vowed same-sex relationships or vowed opposite-sex (but not sex-focused) relationships can’t become part of the mix.
I grieve for you that you are not embraced by your church. We all need so much the friendships that look beyond what we struggle with, and how we do family vs singleness.
I see what you are saying, but I also wonder if there is a different path than lamenting so much the heterosexism that you see. I am fully aware that I MIGHT have it easier than my single brothers with our issue, by virtue of the fact that I’m married. Could it be that I am spared what you are experiencing because people see me as a married man – a “fixed” man, a “such were some of you” man? Even though I’m open in my church about my sexual struggles, maybe so. But I regularly hear my friends and other men in the church talk about struggles with sexual lust with looking at women, and I don’t feel excluded or judged or marginalized. And I’m not pretending to be straight or cured with them. I’m just not bothered by that.
If I would let myself, I have many agonies of my own that I could spend my days lamenting about. All the ways I feel I don’t fit in, all the things I’m not good at (sports of any kind) all the pressures I feel to be a certain way with certain people, and so forth. Not to mention the temptation of loneliness at times while lying in bed next to my wife.
But at the end of the day, I am called to simply follow Christ; to love Him and love His church, and to love my wife as Christ loved the church. I don’t know that I am called to say to the church “Hey! You’re not meeting my needs. Stop having small groups that talk about raising kids. Stop preaching your sermon on the family if you don’t say ‘and singles’.”
Let’s affirm that God designed man to desire woman and woman to desire man, and that to celebrate that love–even that desire–is a good thing; and also affirm that being willing to let go of pursuing earthly marriage and dedicating oneself to a life of service to Christ is a beautiful thing. It’s both/and. It won’t likely take 4-5 generations; maybe just one! The church needs us to be resilient and not easily offended.
What say ye?
I’ll offer a brief response.
1. Relationships. There is an absence of solid relationships within the evangelical church. Traditionally, men and women often had solid relationships with others of the same sex that existed in parallel with their marital relationship. Marriage fit into a larger social fabric, and, as traditionally practiced, had little meaning outside of that fabric. In that sense, the “nuclear family” is not biblical. Rather, it’s a Freudian concept that a consumerist church has adopted rather uncritically. So, once one has adopted the “nuclear family” model of marriage, one has already departed from God’s design for man and woman, and opted for a pragmatic substitute.
2. Lamenting. I agree that there’s no value in wallowing in sorrow. But I think we need to lament over the impoverished state of community life in evangelical churches. Survey after survey indicates that married couples feel isolated within the church. In general, fellowship within evangelical communities is highly conditional on one’s success at appearing “normal,” which is generally judged in terms of conformity to Freudian notions of marriage and family.
3. Simply Following Christ. Actually, you are not called simply to follow Christ. Rather, you are called to bring yourself into communion with Christ’s bride, the Church, outside of which there is ordinarily no salvation. There is generally no such thing as a churchless Christianity. We follow Christ my partaking of the means of grace with other Christians within the community of visible church. But when that community is more concerned with reaching its “target demographic market” and with “combatting liberalism” than with preaching Christ, it’s a problem. In effect, it means that the church is placing unnecessary political and social conditions on its dispensing of the means of grace. That’s a huge problem because it makes following Christ conditional on satisfying social and political litmus tests that have nothing to do with the Gospel. The church is not simply to be a safe place for middle-income families who lack the resources to buy country club memberships. Sadly, that’s what it’s become in most instances.
4. God’s Design. God’s design for men and women is that they glorify Him and desire Him above all else. The notion that heterosexual desire is part of God’s design is nothing short of modernist psychological bunk. Paul’s references to heterosexual desire are universally negative. In Paul’s view, marriage is an institution for the restraint of that desire, not for the expression or celebration of it. That’s why, in Paul’s view, celibacy is a higher calling than marriage. Our modernist view of marriage, i.e., what Leithart calls “pornographic marriage,” bears little resemblance to anything Paul would have envisioned.
5. Love for the Church. We are not called to love the church unconditionally, especially when it is as compromised as today’s evangelical church is. In that sense, it is my place to call the church out for its embrace of Freud over Paul, for its embrace of marketing over ministry, etc. A few years ago I left my mid-sized Reformed evangelical church (PCA) for an evangelical mega-church. Since doing that, I’ve come to see why mega-churches are so popular. Mid-sized (and smaller) evangelical churches have largely become socio-economically homogeneous clubs that cater only to the predominant demographic in any geographic space. If you’re too wealthy or too poor, you’re out. If you’re too educated or not educated enough, you’re out. If you’re single or divorced, you’re out. And the list goes on. I don’t love that kind of church. By contrast, mega-churches are big enough to absorb a large cross-section of the population, while permitting like-minded people to connect without the need to form their own church. I can find other childless, well educated, high-income single professionals with demanding work schedules. They become my church within the church. I’m not really sure that I love this church either; it’s more like a pragmatic make-do that’s forced upon me because there are few better options. I often wonder whether loving the church doesn’t mean hating the way that we’ve come to “do church” in the post-WWII era.
Thanks for such a detailed and thoughtful reply. I’ll try my best to reply to your points as well.
1. Relationships. “There is an absence of solid relationships within the evangelical church” – somewhat agreed. We each observe what we observe. I have a circle of male friends in my church that is quite solid. I cannot bear to think what my life would be like without those. But I see the dearth of relationship depth in the church in general and know what you mean.
Your whole painting of the “nuclear family” as Freudian is completely new to me. Not sure I ever use that phrase anyway, but never thought of it as so polarizing. I will consider it.
2. Lamenting. “I think we need to lament over the impoverished state of community life in evangelical churches.” Agreed, I think. Again, I myself feel rich in my friendships and fellowship within my church. I’m not an evangelical anthropologist, so I don’t know what the norm is.
3. Simply following Christ. “Actually, you are not called simply to follow Christ. Rather, you are called to bring yourself into communion with Christ’s bride, the Church, outside of which there is ordinarily no salvation. There is generally no such thing as a churchless Christianity.”
Actually, we ARE called to simply follow Christ. It’s verbatim from the words of our Savior, see Mark 16:24 “Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.'”
I get what you are saying, and completely agree there is no such thing as churchless Christianity. But hopefully you would agree we are all called to simply follow Christ (by simply, not meaning independently, but fully and purely)
4. God’s design. “God’s design for men and women is that they glorify Him and desire Him above all else. The notion that heterosexual desire is part of God’s design is nothing short of modernist psychological bunk.”
Agree with the first statement; and as for the second, what in the world?? Are you saying that within the creation narrative, Adam and Eve would have had no sexual desire for each other? That God had to institute marriage as a corrective for sexual desire rather than as a primary good? That the Biblical concept of marriage as the primary metaphor of Christ and the church’s relationship is off-base?
Celibacy is elevated by Paul not because being single is more holy than being married, but because the one who is celibate has acknowledged that he has the freedom and gift of God to marry, but instead has let go of that freedom and the earthly commitments it involves and instead gives himself and his time fully to the Lord for kingdom service.
Sure, there is no marriage in heaven. There will be no need for it. It’s purpose appears to be only earthly from what I can tell. But do you believe that marriage is for the weak and celibacy is for the strong?
5. Love for the church. That would indeed be tough to feel demographically isolated in the smaller local church. But extrapolating to make a megachurch normative seems a weak solution. It has its own issues that can inhibit faithful discipleship for many people.
I would propose and challenge each of us if possible not to leave our churches over not feeling like our needs are being met, and instead offer outselves and our giftedness to God in service and love to Him to create a loving place for others to belong within our church.
Oh Wow Jim! You are into something!
(I hit the Post Comment button before I was done)
Jim, I particularly like your last two paragraphs and the last sentence:
“The church needs us to be resilient and not easily offended.”
I would add not easily scandalized.
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