in the middle

The January 26 issue of Time magazine contains an interesting article, “A Change of Heart: Inside the Evangelical War Over Gay Marriage” (p. 44-48). The essay often cites Russell Moore for the conservative side, including this gem. It’s still early, but this just might be the quote of the year. When asked whether evangelical views on marriage are out of step with the larger culture, Moore responded, “We believe even stranger things than that. We believe a previously dead man is going to arrive in the sky on a horse.”

More interesting was the link that TIME made between gay marriage and egalitarianism. Here’s the paragraph:

“And there is another, just as fundamental, obstacle. So far no Christian tradition has been able to embrace the LGBT community without first changing its views about women. The same reasoning that concludes that homosexuality is sin is also behind the traditional evangelical view that husbands are the spiritual leaders of marriages and men are the leaders in church. It is one reason gay men have an easier time as evangelical reformers. Lesbians face the double whammy—an evangelical world where leadership has long revolved around straight men has twice the trouble hearing men because they are both female and gay. ‘It is not an accident that the women’s-liberation movement preceded the gay-liberation movement,’ [Gene] Robinson says. ‘Discriminatory attitudes and treatment of LGBT people is rooted in patriarchy, and in order to embrace and affirm gays, evangelicals will have to address their own patriarchy and sexism, not just their condemnation of LGBT people’” (p. 47-48).

This paragraph does not say that egalitarianism inexorably leads to acceptance of homosexual practice, but it does remind us that both rely on similar hermeneutical moves. In his 2001 book, Slaves, Women and Homosexuals, William Webb argued that while the letter of the biblical text seems to support complementarianism, the spirit of the text (its “trajectory,” “progress,” “development,” and “redemptive movement”) leads to egalitarianism.

In a 2003 seminary chapel, I noted that Webb’s hermeneutic seems subjective. I asked, “Couldn’t anyone use this hermeneutic to ignore the plain words of Scripture and twist the Bible into saying whatever they want to hear? For instance, couldn’t proponents of homosexual practice claim that the spirit of the text supports acceptance of homosexual practice and so trumps Scripture’s direct words against it?”

I noted that Webb defends against this “wax nose” by arguing that when it comes to homosexuality, the spirit of the text is much the same as the words themselves. So while there is movement in Scripture on women, there is no similar movement on homosexual practice.

This is an argument that egalitarians may need to develop and press further. This is anecdotal, but I know of some prominent evangelical leaders who used Webb’s book to support their change to egalitarianism, and now, a few years later, openly endorse gay marriage. The slope really is slippery for some. And judging from the TIME article, it seems the culture isn’t buying it. They see a link between egalitarianism and homosexual practice, and fair or not, it’s something that evangelical egalitarians will want to break.

Image by Joe Philipson. Used with permission. Sourced via Flickr.

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