During the last six months, the blog posts on the LGBTQ, other sexual issues and mission have been by and large well received. I have had many good conversations off blog and on blog. I started out the whole series of posts by saying, “Is it possible to “be Missional” among the gay/lesbian communities without a clear affirmative stance towards GLBT relations?… Many would flat out say “no.”” I said “I find myself at odds with many of the underlying assumptions that drive these conclusions.” I had seen several instances where Ed Stetzer and others were accused of being “non-missional” because they did not affirm gay/lesbian relations. I had also seen several instances where the lone engagement by the Neo-Reformed on these issues was to preach against something and believe that was sufficient to engage the issue in terms of mission. I was content with neither approaches. To me, what I called the post Emergent consensus approach to these questions as well as the traditional evangelical approach – and its offshoot – the New-Reformed were both inadequate.
Having said that, I was surprised that I got little push back from my post-Emergent coalescence friends. I expected push back from this side because I revealed my conviction that to be transformational in these issues of sexuality, one had to work from a place of redeemed sexuality which revealed that, for me, same sex relations (as well as other sorts of sexual relations) are non-normative for the Christian life. Instead I got the biggest push back from an evangelical – theologian Craig Carter at Tyndale University College in Toronto – who suggests I am sliding down the slippery slope to protestant liberalism. He wrote a full post on it here.
I think it might be helpful for clarifying my own position if I respond to Craig’s post item by item. I think it could clarify how and why traditional evangelical engagemnt on these issues is inadequate for the missional task.Here goes:
Craig says: “Fitch accepts the story that the pro-homosexual activists and their liberal Protestant fellow-travelers tell” regarding evangelicalism’s stance towards the LGBTQ peoples. Craig says that I agree with those who accuse evangelicalism as judgemental, lacking in compassion and understanding. Craig says “When Fitch writes this sort of stuff he sounds like he learned everything he knows about Evangelicals from reading books by John Spong and James Barr and by watching Kieth Olbermann on TV.”
Me: Craig is right. I think the approach of evangelicalism is flawed. And I think this is revealed in the ways our attitudes and approach have been typecast – for better or worse – as judgemental, lacking in compassion and duplicitous. In just the last decade, witness these NY Times best seller books, Mel White – Religion Gone Bad, Chris Hedges – American Fascists, Dan Gilgoff – The Jesus Machine, Sam Harris – Letter to a Christian Nation, Robert Lanham -Sinner’s Guide to the Evangelical Right, Randall Balmer – Thy Kingdom Come: How the Religious Right Distorts the Faith and Threatens America, Christopher Hitchens – God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. All these book caricature evangelicals and include the charge of duplicitous judgementalism on gay relations as part of the evidence. True this is a caricature – many times by angry atheists. But if that is not enough then look at LifeWay’s Research on what people think. Read InternetMonk’s great insights on evangelcials. The bottom line is that the huge public opinion on evangelicals must be looked at. When so many people are saying the same things eventually we have to look at ourselves and ask, why do so many people think we are this way? Even if this is a media conspiracy, you have to at least ask why? I think this judgmentalist characteristic is something inherent in our evangelical approach to theology which for me in some ways is illustrated by Craig himself. (I have a book coming out of all this in January – The End of Evangelicalism?) What do you think?
Craig asks: whether “Fitch really thinks that Reformed and Evangelical churches do not acknowledge and embody #1 – that We All Come Broken.” He asks whether I really think this is a new approach.
Me: I know that evangelicalism articulates a commitment “that we are all sinners.” However I think evangelicalism as a church generally DOES NOT inhabit this truth as a concrete posture in the world from which to engage the world. This is more than a problem of individuals in the church. This is a cultural issue inherent in the way we presume Christendom assumptions about our relation to culture. It is a theological problem. It is inherent to the way we articulate and practice salvation as I hope to show in my upcoming book The End of Evangelicalism?
Craig says: It is #2 (No Public Statements) that really sets off alarm bells. We are not to proclaim that sexual sin is sin? Or are we? This is rather unclear. Fitch clearly says that he does not accept homosexual behavior as compatible with redeemed Christian life . . . so why does he say we should make no such statements in public? He apparently thinks that somehow playing down our position on sexual morality until the outsider has come inside the Church will make it easier for the non-Christian to accept our view once we finally disclose it.
In relation to my call for not making public statements on GLBTQ, Craig thinks this “ is just weird because the first thing I thought of when I heard this was Robert Schuller and his approach to emphasizing the positive as his explanation for why he never preached on sin. The second thing I thought of was the seeker-sensitive approach to “re-branding” the church in a way that is less offensive to the secular person. And this is proposed as the way to be “Anabaptist” and “radical”? It is enough to make one’s head spin.”
Me: These statements, to me, are a sign that Craig has become a thoroughly Christendom thinker, a shocking development given his excellent early work on Yoder in his academic career. He assumes that public statements a.) communicate what we believe about sexuality, b.) and somehow witness the gospel. Instead, I argue, in a post Chrsitendom world, amidst multiple sexualities of various cultures and communities, we really communicate NOTHING about who we are and what we believe God is doing among us redemptively in sexuality by making public statements that we are against “such and such.” We instead just distance ourselves over against anyone who does not already agree with us. Putting a sign out, protesting, and identifying ourselves as anti-gay, or pro gay for that matter does the very thing Craig accuses me of. It makes us into a place that attracts only the ones who agree already. It sets us up as a market niche pro-or anti gay church. It separates us from missional engagement with any number of sexual issues. And it does not communicate what cannot be communicated to those who don’t get what our sexual commitments are really about. Of course, internel to the community’s development, understanding who we are and why, and the thick languages of Christian sexuality, is all part of being a community of integrity. Within the communoity, we articulate these commitments, yet we hold these commitments incarnationally, we live them, and we witness to them, and invite people in who are seeking. This is part of being a minority post Christendom world. For those in Christendom, I say go ahead, put up a sign, protest and attract a crowd of people who believe the exact same things you do already. But don’t expect much mission.
Craig says: “The Neo-Reformed position (I criticize) actually is the position of the entire Christian tradition until the past few decades.”
Me: Uh? According to who? I know Craig spends a lot of time in patristic studies, as have I. I would find Craig’s position here to be highly disputed by not just a minority, but a majority of patristic scholars. I think he probably means some broader evangelical commitments in which case I still have to dispute him on some issues.
Craig claims: that I am trying to “go down the middle,” a “compromise position between two positions- liberal and evangelical.”
Me: I couldn’t disagree more. In fact the idea of a centrist way or an Hegelian third way makes me want to puke. In fact I don’t think there is a middle way between the two approaches I find satisfactory. I think both traditional evangelical (or Neo-Reformed) and the postEmergent positions are the same in their dependence ultimately on modern/Christendom constructs of epistemology and both assume a Christendom posture towards culture. I believe we need to leave these constructs behind and engage the world incarnationally, with the fullness of the wisdom of what we live in Christ in His history as the church and Scriptures. This kind of engagement happens when active living missionary communities inhabit places witnessing to the gospel in humble incarnate ways. You would think Craig, someone who once studied the great Anabaptists, would get this?
Craig claims: that I take “the the whole idea of sexual “orientations” as a given without being critical of the idea. That somehow I am not critical ( enough?) of the idea of a fixed orientation.
Me: Read this post here where I pose the question Can anyone enter the redemption of the new creation in Christ apart from submitting all desire to Christ for His purposes? Read the comments. You decide. Enough said.
Craig thinks: that “Fitch takes the issue of homosexuality far too seriously.” That I am “singling out of homosexuality from a vast array of other sexual sins as if there was something different about it that made it an exception to be troubling.”
Me: Hmmmm, read this post here. Read my lengthy descriptions throughouit these posts describing how LGBTQ must be put into the entire sphere of sexual brokenness the church faces among every person in its gathering. There are sometimes when I wonder what Craig was reading here? What am I missing?
Craig says: that “for a long time (over 20 years) I (Craig) thought it was unproblematic to accept women’s ordination and maintain the traditional position on homosexuality, but now I have changed my mind. I think that there is a good reason why these two issues have been linked right from the start of second wave feminism and the sexual revolution in the 1960s.”
Me: I think the two issues are linked due to the Western habit of thinking out of the political structures of Western liberalism of individual rights, autonomous authority etc. Once we escape that logic, which I think neither complementarians or egalitarians do, this problem goes away.
Craig says “I suggest that we take a long, hard look at John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.” I agree, it’s a great text, and
Me: I regularly draw on Roman Catholic theology. See this post here where contraception and procreation are talked about. Notice some of the comments.
Craig says: in his comment to me in his post that he’s most concerned for “those struggling with homosexual temptation who need pastors who love them without compromising the teaching of Scripture and encourage them to stand fast.”
Me: I think that Craig does not “get” that indeed I am trying to provide a place for that kind of sanctification. For me, Craig represents the ensconced Christendom habits of evangelicalism by the way he engages culture from a posture of power, presumed hegemony of language, and that we need not engage people relationally and try to understand the issues that go so much deeper than saying “You are wrong and must change your behavior.” I know he wouldn’t be this way in person. But his approach doesn’t deal with any nuances that are sadly missing in our traditional evangelcical account of cultural engagement. I have muy theories as to why this is a glaring blindspot for many evangelicals. That will have to be a post for another time. For now, I suggest that the passing of Christendom in many parts of the world demand we take an incarnational position in the world. This is what I have been trying to construct in our relation to sexual issues, sexual brokeness in the world. More than holding a Bible out in front of someone and declaring a few statements and then help that person “white knuckle” it, grit their teeth, and “hold fast,” I suggest sexual redemption comes from a true spiritual and bodily formation. Anyone who reads this post here should be able to get that eh?
All in all, I respect Craig Carter. In his career, he’s done a lot of work, work I have drawn upon. I love the school where he teaches and the world of Toronto and that part of Ontario. But I think Craig’s post on me was just not careful enough. I think it does clarify however some of issues we evangelicals face who have a heart for the victums, the hurting and the lost among the LGBTQ peoples among us. What do think of the differences between Craig’s position and mine? In what way does Craig represent the traditional evangelical stance on same-sex relations? Its positives? Its flaws? In light of the above, where does his criticism still hold? What am I missing?
Thanks Craig for interacting!