The Pattern of Christians Believing Unchristian Things
Jen and Brandon Hatmaker are Christian speakers. Jen has a significant following online with a blog and several books. Recently they made statements supportive of gay marriage which represented a departure from their previous theology. In their own words: "Bottom line, we don’t believe a committed life-long monogamous same-sex marriage violates anything seen in scripture about God’s hopes for the marriage relationship." LifeWay press responded by pulling Jen's books from shelves. This is trending on social media and is alienating to the Hatmaker’s audience (not all of them) and is a polarizing issue.
The Hatmaker's situation is worth looking at because it could represent a pattern we may begin to see more frequently. Namely, the pattern of how people, particularly prominent Christians, go from believing the truth to following the spirit of our age. What does this pattern look like? Below is my description of how Christians end up believing unchristian things. Think of it as a hypothesis for how this journey takes place.
1. An inability to live with pain or see others in pain--The justification Brandon Hatmaker states for their migration to heterodoxy is the pain they witnessed in the LGBT community. In an explanatory Facebook post Brandon puts it this way: "We’ve seen so much pain among the LGBTQ community: Suicidal teenagers. Divided families. Split churches. So. Much. Pain." Indeed, there has been much pain in the LGBTQ community and some of it has unfortunately come from Christians. This should not be! All people deserve to be treated with respect and love. We can treat people with respect and love without having to change our beliefs. The solution to the pain is not to depart from the truth but to "weep with those who weep" (Romans 12:15). A Christian is a person who can lovingly interact with all kinds of sinners without condoning sin because we of all people know we are sinners too. We can be respectful and disagree at the same time. Mutual respect among those who are different and those who disagree--even about issues such as homosexuality--is a lost art these days. The false dichotomy of if you love someone you must accept their lifestyle choices or you are a bigoted, backwards, unloving, old fashioned, curmudgeon hampers true understanding and love between people who have different belief systems. Resolving the tension between those who disagree by changing belief systems, or sympathizing so much that truth must be compromised, is philosophically unnecessary.
2. A claim to having done much study--The pattern for leaving biblical Christianity these days includes a claim that a conclusion has been derived after much study. People who renig on biblically established Christian ethics appeal to some kind of authority that drives the decision making. They desire to position themselves as enlightened. They have gone to the mountain top, studied, and seen what the giants of 2000 years of church history missed! The claim to much study may be a way of establishing a preemptive defensible position for people who have weak arguments. Here are Brandon's words quoting again from his Facebook post: "We started with scripture (Again, please assume a ton of prayer). For more than a year we studied every version of every verse in the Bible that appeared to discuss 'homosexuality.' We studied the Greek. We studied the Hebrew. We read every commentary we could find related specifically to the related passages. As we would for any topic seeking truth, we did our best to look at each verse with fresh eyes. We applied all the rules to faithfully and ethically interpret scripture: We considered the type of literature, the context in which each was written, what other scriptures say about it giving clues to God’s intent, and viewed each through the lens of the Gospel." How can you convince someone who has already conducted a comprehensive study of a subject? You can't! Is this really a way of saying, "Don't try to change me or argue with me?" I think so.
3. Hermeneutical high jinks--In order to make the Bible say what it doesn't, deft slight of hand is employed. The Bible is inspired literature so our interpretive methods should conform to the principles of interpreting and understanding a written text. Here is where things get weird. You will find those who use the Bible to support homosexuality or gay marriage treat the Bible like they would no other book--and not in a good way. This usually involves some type of denying what is actually written in the text. It can also involve selectively ignoring part of the Bible in order to support a position. Brandon Hatmaker follows this pattern of ignoring what the Bible says about marriage (Mathew 19:4-6) in favor of using context to dismiss the Bible's condemnation of homosexual acts when he writes, "Every verse in the Bible that is used to condemn a 'homosexual' act is written in the context of rape, prostitution, idolatry, pederasty, military dominance, an affair, or adultery. It was always a destructive act. It was always a sin committed against a person. And each type of sexual interaction listed was an abuse of God’s gift of sex and completely against His dream for marriage to be a lifelong commitment of two individuals increasingly and completely giving themselves to one another as Christ did for the church. But not one of these scriptures was written in the context of marriage or civil union (which simply did not exist at this time). Each act mentioned in the Bible was sin, no doubt. In context, we believe the same today. Just like heterosexual sex outside of marriage is sin for obvious reasons, whether consensual or not, we still believe homosexual sex outside of marriage is a sin."
4. A self-declaration of being nuanced--In an attempt to look sophisticated and separate themselves from the hoi polloi, Christians who depart from Christian ethics claim their position is nuanced. This is like patting someone on the head and saying, "Its complicated, dear. You wouldn't understand." The claim of nuance is condescending. If you have a nuanced position, explain it. Show how the conclusion was arrived at. Define terms and provide evidence. Declaring a position as nuanced can be an attempt to bolster a theological position without adding anything substantive. In the absence of evidence a person can claim they don't have enough time or space to explain fully. Again, Brandon Hatmaker's own words, "The conversation about God’s dream for marriage is so incredibly nuanced. I’m not trying to define it in one quick post, There’s more to say about this, only to give you an insight to the many facets of our journey."
5. Claiming to be orthodox when you are not--After a Christian has changed their views about homosexuality, there sometimes follows the claim that they are still orthodox and still biblical. Logically this is impossible but people get away with it and it goes unchallenged. Something cannot be true and untrue at the same time. Yet, we are not trafficking in truth but subjectivity. Thus, nothing makes sense. When subjectivity is driving the bus, anything goes, including making the Bible say what it never has and making Christianity into something it never has been. Brandon Hatmaker articulates he still believes in the veracity of Scripture even though he has just denied the Scripture's teaching about homosexuality: "Take heart, our shift is not a departure from our everlasting love, dependency, and belief in the authority and infallibility of scripture. In fact, this is the exact opposite to a departure. We’ve always believed that the Bible holds up. No matter our question, fear, concern, or confusion, we can press into the Bible and we will find the truth. It has held for thousand of years without blemish. Still does today." If the Bible still holds up, why doesn't it hold up ethically with regards to homosexuality or same sex marriage? People are indeed free to believe what they want. What needs to stop is Christians irresponsibly using the Bible to support what the Bible condemns. That is non-sensical.
Conclusion-- Is there a pattern to Christians who change their beliefs about homosexuality and gay marriage? I believe there is. Illustrated above you will find a qualitative description of this pattern in one situation. If we keep our eyes out, we may be able to identify others and establish a trend. By recognizing this pattern we can enter into the conversation without fear. We can also challenge ourselves to be comfortable around those we disagree with and understand we don't need to resolve the tension by changing our beliefs. Love is the answer but it isn't a love that embraces sin, it is a love that embraces sinners while at the same time communicating rather than compromising the message of the gospel.