The Church and the Challenge of Homosexuality
- Thursday, January 05, 2006
An evangelical perspective must recognize that such a revolution is itself a direct challenge to the foundations of gender, family, sexuality, and morality, which are some of the central issues of a Christian worldview lived out in the world. Thus, this is a challenge evangelicals cannot fail to meet with both courage and grace.
The homosexual movement did not spring from a vacuum. Indeed, this challenge has emerged from within the context of a culture shift which has transformed Western societies during the twentieth century. The term "culture shift" points to a pattern of fundamental changes which shapes every level of social and cultural life. A culture shift is nothing less than a fundamental re-ordering of the entire society from top to bottom--ideologies, worldviews, morality, and patterns of knowledge. The culture shift from modernity to postmodernity has affected every community's understanding of meaning. More importantly, it has radically reordered how Americans consider the issue of truth itself.
If nothing else, the last half of the twentieth century has demonstrated that the left wing of the Enlightenment has finally won the day. Whereas most pre-Enlightenment persons understood truth to be an objective reality to which they must submit, modern Americans view truth as a private commodity to be shaped, accepted, or rejected in accord with personal preference, taste, or communal decision. Americans are now a nation of over 250 million moral relativists. The vast majority reject the very notion of absolute truth and consider all matters of faith and morality to be no more than expressions of private preference. It is not that we believe something to be true, but that we believe something to be true for us.
This all-embracing, undiluted individualism underlies our current cultural confusion. The progressive shift in the locus of truth and the locus of authority from the Christian worldview to the state, to the mass market and eventually to the isolated individual, leaves the American public unarmed for authentic moral discourse.
An opening came for the homosexual movement in a shift which Mary Ann Glendon of Harvard Law School calls the transfer to "rights talk." At some point in the last thirty or forty years, the American civic discourse changed from a matter of debate over right and wrong to a debate over rights--my rights, our rights, your rights, and their rights. According to this perspective, it is not only the right, but fundamentally the responsibility of every self-defined interest group to claim its rights and to exercise those rights in the public square.
"Rights talk" is a fundamental shift in the way a society envisions its own order, its own priorities, and what issues are genuinely at stake. As a result we really can not talk anymore about ordering a society in terms of a category like "righteousness," a word the nation's Founders used rather naturally.
As the church confronts moral issues, it must quickly determine the relative importance of these issues as each relates to biblical revelation and the core truths of the Christian faith. One of the problems is that the church often does not know the difference between saying that something is unimportant and saying that it is of less importance. Our moral debate is very often clouded by such confusions, and when the world listens to us from the outside it often seems as if we believe every issue is of the same moral weight.
In traditional Christian moral theory there has been an understanding that there is a hierarchy of goods and a hierarchy of issues. The closer one gets to the most basic issues of life, as revealed in Scripture, the more important the moral issue of debate. That of course raises the question, "Where in a hierarchy of goods does the issue of homosexuality fall?"
There is no moral issue more fundamental than our sexual ordering, our gendered identity--the role of men and women and the institution marriage. Thus, the issue of homosexuality is a first order theological issue. Unfortunately, even that is a matter of debate among moral theologians. Some simply do not accept that it is a first order issue, but it most certainly is, because fundamental truths, essential to the Christian faith, are at stake in this confrontation. These truths range from basic issues of theism to biblical authority, the nature of human beings, God's purpose in creation, sin, salvation, sanctification and, by extension, the entire body of divinity. To put this case bluntly, if the claims advanced by the homosexual movement are true and valid, the entire system of Christian faith is compromised, and some essential doctrines will fall.
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