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Evangelical inside baseball

I'm going to report here on a couple of dustups in the evangelical world, apropos of the issue of homosexuality. Whether you consider them "little dustups" depends on how important the evangelical world is to you.

The first such dustup concerns the relationship between InterVarsity Press and the Society for Biblical Literature. The SBL is an important organization that runs conferences at which evangelical authors sell their books, usually through their presses, which have tables at these conferences.

A couple of months ago, InterVarsity decided to make a rather feeble move to try to (maybe) purge its employee ranks of those who support homosexual "marriage." Exactly what it consisted in was unclear. The Atlantic reported that IVP was asking employees to read their statement on sexual matters and then to "out" themselves and leave the company if they disagreed and that involuntary termination would be triggered if they did not leave voluntarily. See also here. IVP said that this wasn't correct because they had no official position on employee views on civil marriage. Presumably that meant that employees were being asked to do this only if they thought that God approves of homosexual "marriage" and that it should be given religious sanction. (That's my best attempt to make a consistent position, though frankly, I think the whole brouhaha showed that there were various opinions among the higher-ups at IVP itself rather than a consistent position.) IVP also insisted that this applied only to its employees, not to the authors who published with the press. By the way, IVP had already published a book quite confused about and in that sense quite friendly to homosexuality, so they were hardly turning into a bunch of hard-liners on the issue.

The SBL then said that, for this extremely minimal move, they were seriously proposing to ban IVP from their conferences in 2017, which would of course have been quite bad not only for IVP but for all of its authors. This was, I repeat, the Society for Biblical Literature, planning to ban an ostensibly Christian press for the mildest attempt to bring about some sort of unanimity among their employees concerning God's alleged approval of sodomy and other forms of sexual immorality.

However, it all blew over. Suddenly, on November 2, the SBL and IVP were friends again after IVP issued the following statement:

InterVarsity Press has an historic commitment to peer-reviewed scholarship. This scholarship focuses on historical, textual, and theological subjects from multiple, competing, and even contradictory points of view—and IVP’s publications have done so in thoughtful and civil ways. IVP understands that SBL has expressed concern that our internal personnel policy might have an effect on the practice of critical scholarship and the expression of ideas. However, it should be understood that IVP remains committed to the free exchange of ideas in its books, even engagement with ideas that challenge IVCF as an organization. IVP also recognizes that participation in the SBL forum necessitates dialogic discourse. Indeed, IVP remains committed to the ongoing diversity of its program and to fostering the type of critical engagement that both affirms and challenges ideas.

Somewhere out there is someone who knows what the dickens this means as far as IVP's "internal personnel policy." The rest of us are left guessing. Did IVP abandon it? Did the SBL decide it didn't care about that policy after all? Did IVP promise SBL not actually to carry out the policy and to leave it just on paper? This would all be conjecture. But I will go waaay out on a limb and say that, somewhere, concessions were made and that this is why the SBL dropped its plan to ban IVP. Also, I'm betting that IVP called attention to its having published a somewhat "gay-friendly book." At the risk of being irresponsible and over-interpreting the statement, to me IVP's statement contains more than a whiff of a plan to publish more such books, and perhaps that calmed the SBL down. What will happen with employees of IVP who openly endorse homosexual "marriage"? I don't know for sure. But does anyone seriously believe that they will be involuntarily terminated?

This is a pretty serious example of internal bullying amongst Christians (or at least amongst allegedly Christian organizations) to try to make approval of homosexual relations de rigueur for self-consciously Christian entities, including publishing houses.

Here's the second dustup:

As Denny Burk explains, last year (just about exactly a year ago) he and Owen Strachan succeeded in getting the Evangelical Theological Society to pass a set of four resolutions affirming the reality of male and female as created by God and the essential nature of one-man-one-woman marriage. Here they are:

1. We affirm that all persons are created in the image and likeness of God and thus possess inherent dignity and worth.

2. We affirm that marriage is the covenantal union of one man and one woman, for life.

3. We affirm that Scripture teaches that sexual intimacy is reserved for marriage as defined above. This excludes all other forms of sexual intimacy.

4. We affirm that God created men and women, imbued with the distinct traits of manhood and womanhood, and that each is an unchangeable gift of God that constitutes personal identity.

I do not know (perhaps someone can explain) exactly how such resolutions function, but it looks like nobody gets kicked out of the ETS for not agreeing with such resolutions. It's kind of a "sense of the community" statement. My impression is that these resolutions would have binding force to limit membership only if incorporated into the "doctrinal basis" of the ETS, which their passage as resolutions did not accomplish. That seems to be what Burk is saying here, this year, after the resolutions were passed last year:

Our policies allow for members to affirm gay marriage so long as they base their arguments on the Bible.

A state of affairs that Burk thinks is not good!

Significantly, Burk and Strachan offered the resolutions explicitly in the context of the Obergefell decision and explicitly required that they be voted up or down as a set, not separately. The resolutions passed by a vote of 104 to 48.

This year, in September, a past president of the ETS, theologian Stan Gundry, wrote an open letter criticizing the resolutions. Here is Gundry's letter. It's very long and tedious. It goes on for over six pages, single spaced. Gundry calls for a "repudiation" of the previous year's passage of the four resolutions and says that the future of the ETS depends on such a repudiation. He insinuates that there is a conspiracy (his word!) to make the ETS more committed to complementarianism rather than egalitarianism between men and women and even to exclude women from leadership positions in the ETS. "Egalitarianism" is the term in evangelical circles for a type of theological feminism, particularly for the view that women's ordination is fine. Usually I have found that evangelical egalitarians are not radical feminists, and some of them are even quite staunch against the homosexual agenda as well as pro-life.

Gundry's oddly trollish attack on the four resolutions tries to pick them apart and carp at details. For example, he implies that there is a problem with resolution #2 because there are disagreements in the evangelical community about whether and when divorce is allowable. He is even silly enough to snark at #3 because it's difficult to agree on how far unmarried heterosexual couples should go (is kissing okay?) prior to the day of their wedding. This nonsense pointedly ignores the fact that the whole point of the resolutions was to counter Obergefell and to condemn homosexual sexual relations and "marriage." Obviously it is perfectly consistent to hold that it's okay for a heterosexual engaged couple to have a romantic kiss but is never okay for a homosexual couple to do so or even to regard themselves as a couple. That just illustrates the reason why the four resolutions were proposed and voted upon as a package deal--to make clear the moral issues to which they were addressed. Gundry's objection on this point is the sheerest red herring.

After several tedious pages of conspiracy mongering and pontificating about the original purpose of the ETS, which Gundry himself says was to "foster conservative biblical scholarship" (emphasis added, cough cough), in literally the last sentence of his letter Gundry shows us where this is all going:

What better forum is there for collegial discussion and debate of complementarianism and egalitarianism, open theism and classical theism and all points in between, eschatology, the “new perspective” on Paul, and yes, even the question of whether same-sex “marriages” can be defended biblically, than a forum where we have agreed to appeal to the sole source of authority for Christian faith and practice, the Bible, God’s Word written? (emphasis added)

Got it. Okay. So the whole point of this is that the only way for ETS to avoid cooperating with a "complementarian conspiracy" to be mean to women, and the only way for ETS to be true to its original purpose, is...ta-da!...for ETS to be fully welcoming of those who assert that God is just fine with homosexual "marriage." Thanks for explaining that. As long as, of course, those who argue that way assert that they are doing so from a position of strongly respecting the authority of the Bible.

Years ago (I'm going to say about fifteen years ago) an article in First Things predicted exactly this concerning the ETS. I haven't been able to find the article on a quick search of FT's archives. The author predicted that the ETS's emphasis upon inerrancy alone would prove a bruised reed when it came to opposing the homosexual agenda and that the ETS would have to decide in the end whether to beef up its doctrinal statement to reject homosexual "marriage" or whether to accept those who claimed to defend it "biblically." That author (whoever he was) was a prophet, and that moment is upon the ETS now.

I have been unable to get absolute confirmation, but based on my Facebook feed from friends who were at the most recent ETS meeting, which just concluded, here is what it looks like happened: Nothing much.

--If Gundry was hoping for some kind of counter-resolution to pass to repudiate last year's resolutions, it looks like this didn't happen. (Someone please correct me if I'm wrong.)

--There was a session on "two views" of homosexuality, and reports are that even those defending the supposedly traditional view didn't do a very robust job of it. Hence, Gundry's wish for the ETS to be a forum in which support for homosexual "marriage" is not considered disqualifying and in which it is treated as a completely open option for conservative evangelicals seems to be the status quo in ETS, despite last year's resolutions.

--(This one I'm sure of, based on Burk's comments looking forward about two months before the meeting.) No attempt was made to incorporate opposition to homosexual "marriage" into the doctrinal basis of ETS, so it is still entirely possible to be a member of ETS while affirming homosexual relations.

Despite Gundry's silly worry that the ETS is in danger of becoming too much like the Family Research Council (God forbid), the future of the ETS is actually at stake in precisely the opposite direction. The de facto situation seems to be that support for homosexual "marriage" based upon faux "biblical" arguments is becoming quite acceptable in the ETS, despite its stated purpose to promote conservative biblical scholarship. That will apparently be the future of the ETS unless something unexpected happens to change it. This is an ominous development for the future of evangelical conservatism generally.

Comments (7)

Evangelical Christianity is heretical by nature; just as it has failed to uphold Christian doctrine, it has failed to uphold Christian morality. It possesses no ultimate authority over biblical interpretation, and everything unravels from there.

The history of Protestant theology is thus the history of the slow and steady perversion of Catholic doctrine. The most astute ecclesiastical historians realize this, hence they abandon Protestantism at a high rate (e.g., Jaroslav Pelikan, John Henry Newman, Robert Louis Wilken, etc.)

From one of the links you noted, the protest letter is quoted in part: "Being LGBTQI in InterVarsity has never been easy, even for those who agree with its traditional position, but this policy places additional burdens on our siblings in Christ who too often have been marginalized or outcast among Christian communities. Whatever our disagreements, InterVarsity can and must do better."

I wonder how many of those who are LGBTQI (Hello Q and I, nice to see you've joined the team!) and who affirm the traditional view of marriage and sexual relations would (1) want to be lumped together with others who don't or who would (2) even define themselves by their sexual attraction or perceived gender identity or who (3) felt greater burdens as a result of this.

It seems to me that those who wrote the above think that even they would be offended and burdened along with those who believe or act contrary to traditional moral thought on these issues. But how could that be? Are they enrolled, as it were, in the LGBTQI "community" and thus, since an affront was directed against that "community," also victims. (Not that I consider those who would be "burdened" as victims of trying to articulate and enforce some moral standard on sexuality; it just doesn't seem like something Paul would do.)

Of course, how one expresses moral teaching can be harmful - not that this is the case here with IVP - but it seems overall more harmful to not articulate or attempt to enforce such standards. So, even if they were burdened are harmed by other groups, the response is not to not even articulate and enforce a moral standard. (Or do they get a pass here, because of harm done them from others?) Yet, it seems people will be marginalized or burdened no matter what. It is as some think that by making any attempt to proclaim sound moral teaching constitutes some harm to fellow believers - to do so is not merely opposed in practice, but in principle.

I know that Paul speaks against wounding those for whom Christ died - for example, in regard to eating food sacrificed to idols if it will offend the conscience of another - but in that case, it is because, all things considered, "the good news means more than idols or food." Paul is the same one who says, "What do you not know? Neither will sexually immoral people, not idolaters, nor adulterers, nor those who practice homosexual acts, nor those who submit to homosexual acts will inherit God's kingdom." So it is unclear how promulgating and trying to enforce a moral standard constitutes harming a fellow believer. Hurting their feelings, sure, but isn't it written, "If the righteous strikes me on the head, it is oil to me that I my head would not want to refuse," and "the wounds of a friend are faithful?" This doesn't mean one can be callous or reckless in defining sin and correcting it, but it certainly shows that one can define it and correct it!

Isn't that what Jude says to do? "To rescue those in the fire, even while you hate the garment stained by the flesh?" Aren't there numerous such commands and admonitions? "You brothers with spiritual qualifications, correct sin, yet be careful that you aren't tempted?" No? Am I mistaken?

"Not that I consider those who would be "burdened" as victims of trying to articulate and enforce some moral standard on sexuality; it just doesn't seem like something Paul would do."

I mean: Not that I would considered those who would be "burdened" by articulation of and enforcement of a traditional moral standard as victims; it just doesn't seem how Paul would describe them.

Sean, you have a good point. For those who have been committing sins who are corrected by their brethren, and by the church, they can either feel the censure implicit in the correction as proper and due shame, and resolve to turn away from their sin, or they can rebel against correction and double down by insisting "no, that's not really sinful". The latter is the way of pride, not humble Christianity. Of these latter, Christ says to treat them like an unbeliever and a tax collector.

To call correction "being burdened" is of course to turn language around and (as Satan loves) to generate lies, falsehoods, corruption of the mind. One who feels "burdened" by the truth is one who wants to adhere to falsehood, he wants Truth not to be true. They would pray, if they were going to pray at all, "Oh, God, please change things so that this unfaithfulness and impurity which I desire is OK with You." Which is to not want the God that is, but to want a god made like to human degeneracy (like, say the Greek gods). Making victimization out of being corrected is to not just resist the good, but to go on the offensive against Christianity and do Satan's own work.

I've just been re-reading the passages about not wounding his brother for whom Christ died with respect to eating meat offered to idols. I would say the nearest comparison in this context would be *affirming* or *seeming to affirm* homosexuality. For Paul's point in the context is that his brother is wounded when his conscience is harmed by being led to think that idolatry is permissible. So it is wrong to say to your brother, recently converted from idolatry, with a wink and a nod, "I bought this meat offered to idols at a cheap rate, but *we* aren't so stodgy as to think *that's* a problem, are we?" Paul seems to be envisaging a situation in which the previously idolatrous brother will be led into thinking that it's okay to participate in idolatry because he still thinks of eating the meat in that way.

Similarly, to say, "Well, Joe is LGBTQ and we both work for Intervarsity, but nobody thinks *that's* a problem. They're not a fundamentalist company or anything" gives the strong impression that it's perfectly fine to "be LGBTQ," meaning to be *actively* such.

"I would say the nearest comparison in this context would be *affirming* or *seeming to affirm* homosexuality." Yeah, it is "strange" that a man like Paul (and God who inspired him), who is so keen on liberating people from sin, would find burdensome intentionally or recklessly causing others to sin.

Though, I don't know if the passage about meat offered to idols is something those who wrote the protest letter drew on when they talk about burdening and marginalizing those who "are" homosexual (however broadly they want to construe that). In fact, I wonder if they've even read that passage, or the Bible more generally.

When the apostles and elders met in Acts 15, they dealt with a doctrinal dispute.

Having dealt with it, they considered the matter settled, authoritatively. (Only a group who thought that what they bound on earth was bound in heaven would introduce their decision by simply asserting, "It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us...!")

The example is instructive: When a matter has been decided authoritatively and for all time, then it ought to be Really Settled, with any further discussion being a dead letter.

So why isn't it that way?

Why isn't it that way, on the topic of homosexual acts (and their institutionalization in the form of gay "marriage")?

(Or, for that matter, the ordination of female priests or bishops?)

Folks, whether you decide that the Catholic "The Petrine Office is the fulfillment of the Al Bayith" solution is the correct one, or perhaps the Orthodox "conciliar" approach, or whether you think it's something else.... Regardless of your proposed solution to the problem, I think you have to agree: There is a big problem!

Something is wrong with how Christians perceive the idea of authority. We need crap that's absurdly radioactively wrong to be just known to be so.

If Jesus is God, He would give us a way to just objectively know this. To not have done so is simply to "leave us orphans."

Without that, who among us can claim to be "obedient to Jesus Christ" instead of "obedient to my own best guesses and suppositions about what I think Jesus wants me to do?"

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