A news report from Washington, D.C. tells the story of vestigial Christianity unhinged from biblical authority. Religion News Service [RNS] reports that many pastors in the nation's capital are struggling with just how they can go about the wedding of same-sex couples now that gay marriage is legal in the District of Columbia.
"As gay rights spread through civil society, an increasing number of clergy are...caught by conflicting loyalties, forced to choose between church law and civil law in pastoring to their gay and lesbian congregants," the news service reports.
Amy Butler, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, is one minister who plans to move ahead with same-sex weddings. Of her colleagues caught between church policy and the same intention, she says: "My heart breaks for them because they do not know what to do."
Pastor Jeffrey Krehbiel of the Church of the Pilgrims, a Presbyterian Church (USA) church that has already performed "services of holy union" for same-sex couples, sees uncertainty ahead. "You are taking a risk if you publicly perform gay marriages because you don't know the consequences."
Mary Kay Totty, a United Methodist pastor, intends to defy her church on the issue. "The institutional church has for so many years oppressed and excluded and harmed our (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) sisters and brothers.... We have to say, `Enough already. These are people's lives and loves that we continue to exclude from the fullness of life in the church.'" RNS reports that nineteen other "current and former" UMC clergy have signed a statement supporting Totty and her congregation.
The United Church of Christ [UCC], the most liberal of the historic old-line Protestant denominations, allows ministers to perform same-sex marriages and unions. Denominations that seem determined to follow that lead include the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America [ELCA], the PCUSA, and the Episcopal Church [ECUSA]. The United Methodist Church's direction is less clear, with some pastors clearly determined to perform same-sex marriages, but the church's General Conference is taking a more conservative course, at least partly due to the influence of delegates from African congregations.
A clear pattern is evident in this report and in the larger context -- the churches and denominations that are supporting, recognizing, and conducting same-sex marriages are those that have adopted very liberal stances on other theological issues. This should not be surprising, since any approval of same-sex marriage requires a rejection of clear biblical teachings. Churches that accept and approve same-sex marriage must first find some way to subvert or neutralize the authority of the Bible and to revise the Gospel.
This brings to mind a recent essay by Mary Eberstadt. In "Christianity Lite," published in the journal First Things, Eberstadt argues: "Rewriting the rules about sex does not, historically speaking, end with sex. Time and again, that rewriting has coincided with departures from traditional teaching in other areas too."
As she explains:
Even in the hands of its ablest defenders, Christianity Lite has proven time and again to be incapable of limiting itself to the rules about sex alone. Once traditional sexual morality is dispensed with in whole or in part, it is hard, apparently, to keep the rest of Church teaching off the chopping block. To switch metaphors, which came first, the egg of dissent over sex—or the chicken of dissent over other doctrinal issues? We do not need to know the answer to grasp the point: History shows that Christianity Lite cannot seem to have one without the other.
"Christianity Lite" is a new religion that presents itself as an updated and modernized Christianity. But the effort to reject Christianity's understanding of biblical sexuality goes hand-in-hand with the rejection of an entire range of biblical doctrines. Nothing less will sustain their effort. You cannot leave a biblical conception of sin and salvation in place if you are determined to deny the sinfulness of a behavior condemned in the Bible.
As Eberstadt concludes:
Christianity Lite has left enough evidence in its wake for us to judge the final outcome of that great experiment: It is a failure. The effort to throw out the unwanted bathwater of the sexual code has taken the baby—the rest of Christian practice and belief—along with it.
A project of theological revisionism is easy to start, but hard to stop. Like a spreading acid, theological liberalism moves from one doctrine to the next, developing patterns of argument that arise over and over again. It is no accident that the very churches and denominations now determined to ordain unrepentant homosexuals are the same churches and denominations that were determined to ordain women to the pastorate. The arguments used to get around, over, and under clear biblical teaching are the same.
The Religion News Service report states that many pastors are now caught "between church law and civil law" on the issue of same-sex marriage. They are really caught between the Bible and sexual revolution. The choice for any true minister of the Gospel is clear.
Before long, we will see all too clearly just who will show up to represent Christianity, and who will show up to represent "Christianity Lite." A quick look at the church's wedding policy will tell the whole story.
Daniel Burke, "D.C. Churches Torn on Defying Gay Marriage Rules," Religion News Service, Tuesday, March 23, 2010.
Mary Eberstadt, "Christianity Lite," First Things, February, 2010.