walter russell mead peter berger lilia shevtsova adam garfinkle andrew a. michta
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Published on: April 23, 2014
Gay Marriage And Protestantism
"I Didn’t Know We Had a Navy!"

A lesbian couple marked the first same-sex church wedding in England last week, a milestone which helps illuminate some of the debate ongoing among Protestants over the issue of same-sex marriage.

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  • Gary Novak

    Queer theology is easily discredited simply by reporting on its ideology. How many Christians can take seriously the idea that real Christian theology is based on the idea of “polyamory sexuality”? Queer theology digs its own grave when it insists on “the holiness of the gay club.” Americans will tolerate a lot simply to avoid being seen as intolerant, but there are limits. So, no, queer theology is not in tune with the Christian message. But if the progressive theologians at Harvard and Edinburgh are infinitely malleable, some homosexuals are not: they don’t want a homosexual church.

    Berger’s mention of the Dallas MCC that split from the denomination because it wasn’t attracting any heterosexuals indicates that some homosexuals understand that being a gay club is not a sufficient raison d’etre for a church. Only in the sight of a Queer God are there queer souls, and, while a Queer God can offer self-esteem enhancement and a focal point for political mobilization, he can’t offer salvation. What shall it profit a homosexual if he shall gain gay marriage and lose his soul? That is a question some homosexuals are wise enough to ask. As Berger puts it, they do not want to go to a gay church, wherever else they may want to express their sexual orientation. They want a plain vanilla theology, which is not defined by the condemnation of homosexuality but by the treatment of sexual orientation as a peripheral (not meaningless) issue.

    I think Berger is correct in saying that whereas blacks were forced to form their own churches, homosexuals today are welcome in many churches that are not in-your-face “welcoming.” Homosexuals need their own churches only if their goal is not to participate in the human recognition of the need for redemption in a fallen world but to advance their special interests with a tutti frutti theology.

    Berger quotes the Scotsman to explain why he enjoys writing this blog. If anyone had trouble making the connection, I would suggest replacing “queer” with “curiosity.” The whole world is a curiosity but me and thee. And sometimes you seem to be a curiosity too. At a time when scientific research carries such authority, we sometimes underestimate the importance of simple human testimony. We owe each other our testimony about what seems beautiful, holy, queer.

    • Jim__L

      I for one am mystified as to why anyone would want to be defined by their besetting temptations.

      How can they be both that and Christian? Doesn’t the blood of Christ wash that away?

      • Gary Novak

        Why do you assume that homosexuals WANT to be defined by their besetting temptations? I would agree that those who demand that Christianity endorse their “gay pride” are not likely candidates for plain vanilla Christianity, which does not have a high opinion of any pride. But surely it is possible to acknowledge a condition without defending it. As Luther points out in his preface to Paul’s epistle to the Romans, Paul described himself as a sinner. And the gift of Christ through God’s grace did not change that once and for all– because “both the gifts and the grace must be received by us daily; although even then they will be incomplete; for the old desires and sins linger in us, and strive against the spirit, as Paul says in Romans 7 and Galatians 5.” And, the wrangling between flesh and spirit “continues within us as long as we live; more in some, less in others, according as the flesh or spirit is the stronger.” “In chapter 8, Paul gives comfort to those engaged in the warfare, and says that the flesh shall not condemn them.” We are spiritual through the gift of the Holy Spirit, and that “assures us that, no matter how violently sin rages within us, we are the children of God as long as we obey the spirit and strive to put sin to death.” As the bumper sticker has it: “Christians aren’t perfect; just forgiven.”

        “Doesn’t the blood of Christ wash that away, for the repentant sinner?” Not for Paul or Luther. Keep those ink bottles handy.

        • Jim__L

          “as long as we obey the spirit and strive to put sin to death” … seems to be the crux of this passage.

          Even so… I have trouble believing that the repentant thief crucified next to Christ was a mere “thief” to God… or the woman caught in adultery, told to “go and sin no more” was a mere “adulteress”.

          Self-identifying as your besetting sin is despair… and engaging in same-sex “marriage” is to embrace damnation.

  • Anthony

    “It pertains to the perspective of marginality, of the outsider who yet is inside the society….” W.E.B. Dubois has used the description “living inside the veil” to imply similar meaning. On an equally serious note, essay brings to mind (as continuation from last essay) cross-wring between disgust and morality which sometimes lead good people to confuse visceral revulsion with sinfulness. Thus, the “current excitement in the churches concerning same-sex marriage” may revolve around reconciling principle of universality with both religious beliefs and respect for traditional family. In the meantime, Britain has moved quite a ways since both Oscar Wilde and Alan Turing.

    • Andrew Allison

      Are we, perhaps, dealing with a line between acceptance and celebration?

  • Jim__L

    An interesting point by CS Lewis about being “in love”… he points out that the kindness, attentiveness to the needs of another, and willingness to forgive faults that one feels while falling in love points to the way we ought to behave to everyone all the time.

    Bringing sex into it is where people go wrong. I love my father, my brother, and my sons. The fact that I am legally and morally discouraged from having sex with them does not detract from that love in the slightest.

    As far as the Reformation’s take on gay “marriage”, and sacrament change goes … “verbum Domini manet in aeternum”. And what does that Word say?

    “14 Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. 15 Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.” [16] [f]

    17 After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable. 18 “Are you so dull?” he asked. “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? 19 For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.)

    20 He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. 21 For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23 All these evils come from inside and defile a person.””

    Mark, 7:14-23.

    It’s pretty clear from Scripture — both in Levitical declarations (which there is no reason to believe Jesus disagreed with) and Pauline commentary — that homosexuality is one of those sins covered by “sexual immorality” or “lewdness” in this passage.

    Gay “marriage” is wrong, and the Protestant churches that are thriving — the Evangelical / Pentecostal ones — are the ones that recognize that the guidance God offers on that subject is as it has been for centuries.

  • Corlyss

    The mainline protestant Christian churches have become complete mush that stands for nothing except acceptance of anything and everything. Up next? Pedophilia. They are well on their way to irrelevance, so it’s okay with me if they decide to subvert their traditional teachings in an effort to remain relevant. Seeking to save their souls in a society that’s lost it’s ability to distinguish good from evil because now it lives in a fog of multiculti non-judgmental relativism, they lose the one thing they wanted most to gain, i.e., increasing enrollments. The churches that are growing the fastest are the ones that still have a few non-negotiable standards.

  • amoose1959

    The more I read Berger the more I come to the conclusion he
    is like a broken record: ‘There
    have been other cases in Christian history when oppressed ………” . The usual perjourative words to
    describe Christian history/ action: discrimination bourgeois culture,
    depressing, oppressive, sadistic , barbaric,
    unjust persecution, marginalized, etc. The usual platitudes for opposing
    forces: great, sharp, ironic sensibility, deservedly become an icon of gay martyrdom,
    etc . Cheap writing (e.g. “ forced by sadistic warden …”) from a
    man with an thinly veneered agenda that is – plain old Christian bashing. The secular
    elitist moguls of this web site have set him up (at least in his own mind) to
    be the Christian hatchet man.
    Predictable, boring and morally corrupt.

    If he pulls this same crap in his classroom he ought to be
    fired.

    • Jim__L

      I think you’re being a little harsh. Berger would do well to take your critique into consideration, though.

    • Monkish

      C.f. Christendom’s treatment of the Jews. Enough said.

  • Wayne Lusvardi

    There is a definite need for more sociological, not theological or Biblical, clarity about the contentious and divisive issue of same ex marriage.

    What the mainstream media mainly focuses on are same-sexmarriages for New Class professionals who are married to their professions first and have no time for children or even dating (except possibly until after
    they are established in their professions). They find other “homeless minded” partners like themselves through their professions. They want the same social status attributed to their marriage as they have in society as one of the elites in academia, journalism, or as Hollywood entertainers. This is called “status inconsistency”
    in sociology. It was sociologist MaxWeber who pointed out that social class was more than economic stratification and power: it also had a status dimension.

    T.S. Eliot once described the New Class to a tee: “The elites” consist “solely of individuals whose only common bond will be their professional interest; with no social cohesion, with no social continuity.”

    At the other end of the social class continuum, there is almost no media attention given to gays in the underclass often trapped in a chaotic and self-destructive world of their own making that has little to do
    with bigotry, discrimination, of denial of the legalization of same sex marriage. AIDS, drug abuse, serial
    sexual encounters, and emotional and economic instability are often rampant in the Gay male underclass, just as it is with the Straight male underclass.

    Then there is the gay male and female middle -class who, for the most part, remain “in the closet.” There are few economic or social incentives for them to move out of the closet. For the most part they want to be left alone and to their own private vices just as do non-gays. Sure, there are some middle class pedophiles
    that may use a middle class identity to infiltrate schools, churches, and families to gain access to children. But many middle class gays are conservative in their economic and even political views. This rarely, if ever, draws the attention of the media, let alone academic sociologists. Many male gays in both the gay middle and underclass just want access to other gays and don’t care about the legalization of gay marriage at all.

    The problem of discussing same sex marriage is often that religious conservatives have pedophiles or those in the gay underclass in mind when they see media images of gay marriages of those in the professional class.
    Conversely, those in the media, academia, and other professions seem to be sociologically blind to gays in the middle class or underclass. And many middle class gays don’t want any media attention at all.

    However, social observers such as Myron Magnet in his book “The Dream and the Nightmare: The Sixties Legacy to the Underclass” pointed out long ago that what works for elites often causes chaos to the underclass.

    In his new book “The Anxious Age: The Post Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of America,” Joseph Bottom makes a proposition borrowed from sociologist W. Bradford Wilcox:

    “If you are, say, a young, impoverished African American woman in the inner city, the single best thing you can do to improve your social condition is to join the strictest church you can find.”

    This proposition has been empirically validated by a number of studies originating with Dean M. Kelly’s 1972 book “Why Conservative Churches are Growing.” This sociological phenomenon is why African Americans who have emerged out of the underclass are the most unanimous in their opposition to same-sex marriage and the gay lifestyle, despite their liberal political leanings. The same “religious strictness proposition” would apply to all underclass gays.

    However, it wouldn’t apply to upper class gays in the New Class where the reverse proposition would likely apply:

    “If you are, say, a highly educated high-status New Class professional, the single best thing you can do to improve your social condition is to join the most liberal institution you can find to enjoy the sinecures of affirmative action and a legally protected status.

    Gay conversion therapy is often an attempt to use upper-middle class methods of secondary socialization and social control on upper status gays that would never work for gays in the underclass or even middle class.

    This suggests another proposition for the gay middle class:

    “If you are, say, a gay male or female in the middle class, probably the best thing you can do to maintain or improve your social conditions is to stay “in the closet” (despite strident claims that such a proposition is blatant discrimination,bigotry and homophobia).

    Here I am speaking empirically from a value-free perspective. Such gays want normality: not to the identified with deviancy. And there are economic and social status rewards for such normality as well.

    The religious conversation often going on in the media is where religious conservatives believe homosexuality should be socially deterred and stigmatized to keep those especially in the underclass from falling into
    social chaos. And there is a lot of empirical evidence to support such a sociological truism, liberal accusations
    of prejudice and homophobia aside. Conversely, those in the New Class want to feel a sense of moral superiority by protecting the rights of other New Class gays to be legally married. So the social conversation and vocabulary especially in conservative and liberal social circles is to talk past each other. What one group is talking about is not what the other is referring to. Andwhat the media wants to portray often has no connection to the real world of everyday life of most gays.

    This leads to another sociological proposition:

    The vocabulary we use and how we converse about the same-sex marriage issue is often framed by New Class elites in journalism, academia, and entertainment and has little, or nothing, to do with the reality of everyday life of gays or straights.

    As sociologist Peter Berger has stated: “In trying to understand the weight of class, then, we are not only looking at another aspect of social control but are beginning to catch a glimpse of the way in which society
    penetrates the insides of our consciousness…”

    The elevate the religious conversation about same-sex marriage a starting point might be in understanding the dynamics of social class and that same sex marriage is seen only through the narrow minded and self-serving social lens of the New Class.

    • Andrew Allison

      The post is only peripherally about same sex marriage, which is perfectly legal in both the US and UK, but the demand by homosexuals that their sexual preference be celebrated rather than simply tolerated.

      • Wayne Lusvardi

        Andrew, the point of my above comment is that there are multiple realities about same sex marriage or homosexuality. I am not espousing relativism by saying that there are many layers of meaning about the topics. To qualify your statement: radical gay activists want homosexuality celebrated. As someone who is sociologically trained, I have found that many gays want to remain “in the closet” because, like many Straight people. they want privacy. They don’t want to celebrate homosexuality. But those voices are never heard because of such privacy of their lives.

        • Jim__L

          To force a baker to cater a homosexual “wedding” is to force him to celebrate. To force a florist to provide flowers is to force him to celebrate.

          This is deeply wrong, and violates the First Amendment directly.

    • Jim__L

      Support for heteronormative marriage is theological, to Christians. Leviticus and the Epistles make that explicitly clear. When Christ talks about what might be an adjustment to the law, there is always an exception the makes it clear that sexual mores have not changed.

      Support for same-sex “marriage” is sociological, if that’s that’s how you’d like to characterize the “wisdom of this world”.

      • Wayne Lusvardi

        I know exactly where you are coming from. However that is not what the issue of same sex marriage is about in a secular or nondenominational government and pluralistic culture. What many Christians want is a return to a Christian culture especially in what are normative mores. But with the decline of Protestantism and its infiltration and appropriation by the New Knowledge Class that is not going to happen.

        As many theologians have argued the Protestant Ethic is now relegated to a subculture. Nobody is taking the normativeness of heterosexual marriage away from Christians (yet).

        Using the law to make every private business and non-profit organization a public utility that has to not only accommodate the same-sex married but give them paramount rights over others is another issue. In California they are already making it illegal to be a judge and a member of the Boy Scouts.

        To put this into sociological perspective, the political Left wants to reduce or eliminate the division into the public and private spheres in a modern society. The Left are the alienated as Marx described them who want every institution to be a public institution, churches included.

        But once the public and private sectors are merged into a public sector only, then modern society ceases to exist. It will be more like living in Saudi Arabia only instead of an Islamic Theocracy society will be run by a secular, totalitarian Nanny State.

        In such a state, however, individuals will be able to smoke weed, drop out, change genders, marry their dog or a 10-year old girl, have as many out of wedlock children or abortions on demand in a society where mores will be du jour, have free medical care, etc.. Anyone who dissents against this will be punished by the IRS or by the courts. In this social order all institutions will be public but all rights will be private to do as you please as to lifestyle. Mediating institutions such as families, churches, unions, lodges, youth organizations, will have no rights thus must be stamped out. Without the mediating institutions there is no way to mediate the cultural conflicts. Thus, culture wars.

        Again, back to Peter Berger’s statement that social cohesion forms around what citizens in a state are willing to die for. Will people be willing to die for pot smoking, polyamory, and transgenderism?

        In 1998, Peter Berger edited a book The Limits of Social Cohesion where he asked: “how much cultural diversity can the nation-state accommodate? In France, there are “Two Frances” — one Catholic and conservative the other secular and bureaucratic.

        Pluralism affects national identity There still are strong ties of religion and national identify in America. “Pluralism makes it much more difficult to live together” says Berger.

        The secular Left has infiltrated and appropriated much of what was mainline Protestantism in order to capture the mediation process and steer the normative conflicts in the direction they wish. Peter Berger has been discussing this co-optation of Protestant Christianity on this website (see his article on Katharine Jefforts Schori, presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church).

        • amoose1959

          “However that is not what the issue of same sex marriage is about in a secular or nondenominational government and pluralistic culture” – funny, actual Christian human beings don’t exist or don’t count.

          “But with the decline of Protestantism and its infiltration and appropriation by the New Knowledge Class that is not going to happen.” funny, actual Christian human beings are rare, will become extinct and don’t count.

          “As many theologians have argued the Protestant Ethic is now relegated to a subculture. “, funny actual Christian human beings are rare and don’t count.

          “ Nobody is taking the normativeness of heterosexual marriage away from Christians (yet)” funny Christians don’t have any influence and will be defeated.

          “ What many Christians want is a return to a Christian culture especially in what are normative mores.” funny some secularist knows what Christians want.

          It is obvious to me, a Christian for nearly 65 years, that you really do not know the essence of Christianity. Our religion is one of a personal relationship with
          the Lord Jesus Christ, certainly not one of trying to mold a country’s culture.This is not the forum to get into Christian theology but what Christians don’t want
          is laws enacted that condone what we consider sin. In all the years I have been
          going to church, homosexuality was rarely mentioned and was considered, with many others actions, a sin. We didn’t start this fight.

          Me thinkest that the death of Christianity is
          grossly overrated. Your steamrolling shtick is eerily similar to Berger’s tone. Your trying to shift this into a social issue is disingenuous to Christians. Also, your trying to promote the death or influence of Christian thinking is a devious way to try and minimize its
          validity in this issue.

          Maybe I missed it, but what is your stance on same-sex marriage and why?

          • Wayne Lusvardi

            I don’t attend any Christian church that endorses same sex marriage. On the other hand, I have no objection to the state issuing licenses for civil unions.

            Christianity is not dead – far from it. Mainline Protestantism is dead and dying (see Joseph Bottum’s book “An Anxious Age”).

            Nobody wrote that Christians don’t count except you.

            Good point that Christians “didn’t start this fight.” But secularists are exploiting Christians as bigots and that their institutions should be banished.

            I have commented that without some ethic higher than giving individuals rights to live libertine “stoner” lifestyles that social cohesion will erode.

            Once again, Berger’s article and most of the comments that followed are not about Christianity’s stance toward homosexuality or same-sex marriage per se. It is about normative value conflicts in society and what is the essence of Christianity. Keep the essence of Christianity within the Church but in the outside postmodern world, pluralism is the norm.

          • Jim__L

            The government of California does its level best to make sure Christian votes don’t count.

            Secularists are anti-religious bigots, plain and simple. This will be discovered sooner or later, and civil society will begin to heal.

          • amoose1959

            You didn’t state why support
            same-sex marriage.

            “ But secularists are EXPLOITING ( my emphasis) Christians as bigots …” That is a very
            interesting word you used. It means “taking advantage of the fact that” . It tells me that you actually think
            Christians are bigots!

            “ Keep the essence of Christianity within the Church..” Amazing, I should be a Christian on Sunday but the rest of the week I should chuck my beliefs and become a postmodern pluralist. I should have no convictions except
            when attending church. Seems that you are for “Christians without Convictions”.

            Either you honestly do not know the essence of
            Christianity or you’re a plain old Christian basher in the Berger tradition.

  • qet

    A modest counter-suggestion: The people who should be meditating about marriage being removed from the sacraments are gays themselves. The truth of the gay marriage movement is alluded to in Berger’s remarks on the “mythical LGBT community” and their legion of attorneys: the goal is nothing, the movement is everything.

  • Andrew Allison

    Robert Owen was Welsh.

  • surellin

    My father had a variant of your Scottish joke. The old Amish man is praying, “Lord, everyone is crazy but me and thee, and sometimes I wonder about thee!”.

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