The Greatest Danger for Evangelicals in the Same-Sex Debate image

The Greatest Danger for Evangelicals in the Same-Sex Debate

Holding firm to a ‘traditional’ view of human sexuality is becoming increasingly difficult. Yesterday the European Court of Human Rights ruled that a relationships councillor could not refuse to offer guidance to a gay couple, and that a registrar could not refuse to officiate in a same-sex civil partnership. At the same time, leading evangelical Steve Chalke has begun conducting services of blessing for gay couples in his church. (Thus hammering another nail into the coffin of the usefulness of the term ‘evangelical’.)

The increasing frequency of such incidents, and the relentless tide of accusations of bigotry against those who do not endorse same-sex relationships is wearying. I fear it is this weariness that is the biggest danger for those of us who would wish to hold the line on sexuality. In our culture romantic love and sexual freedom are valued as the greatest good, and as the meta-narrative that justifies all behaviour choices. (All of us who are pastors have had the experience of counselling those who are engaged in what we might label ‘sexual sin’ only to be met with the response, “But I love him/her” – as if that were justification for everything.) If the cultural value of romantic love is married to the biblical value of faithfulness in gay relationships it is much easier for the weary to say, “Oh, why not?” than to keep on explaining why not.

I believe this is a danger even for those of us who are well versed in the reasons – theological, sociological and philosophical – exactly why same-sex ‘marriage’ is a nonsense. There comes a point where it is just too tiring to keep on fighting. How much more difficult then, for those Christians who haven’t done the hard spade work of really working out a biblical sexual ethic to hold the line.

Steve Chalke’s shift in position on issues of sexuality is sad but not surprising. It is of a piece with his earlier theological shifts. The danger I fear is that more and more ‘evangelicals’ will make similar shifts – not because of seriously thought through theological reflection, but because it is too wearying to stand against the tide.

In such a day we would do well to take this instruction from the book of Hebrews to heart:

But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. (Heb 10:32-36)

When I was a boy, growing up in the 1970s, the great evangelical fear was that communism would take over Western Europe and we would lose our Christian freedoms as a result. How ironic that what is developing into the greatest source of potential coercion against us was born not in Moscow but from the Western culture we so valued. If we are to stand firm on the issue of sexuality we will have to learn to endure, and not give in to weariness.

Perhaps we need to start being less mealy-mouthed about it. After all, a consistent Christian sexual ethic does not only address gay relationships but all sexual practices. It claims that all sexual relationships outside marriage are wrong. It claims that the presumption is against remarriage following divorce. It says that romantic love and sexual freedom are not the highest human goods, and justify pretty much nothing. A thoroughgoing Christian sexual ethic does claim that sex is primarily about procreation (which is rather different from what is generally taught on Christian marriage enrichment courses). Our ethics are shockingly counter-cultural and out of step with the spirit of the age. To stand firm on them we are going to have to get used to being a minority of a minority and “publicly exposed to reproach and affliction.”

For many of us this could be the great test of the genuineness of our faith - it is by endurance, not weariness, that we will receive what God has promised.

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