I’ve had a couple discussions following up on this past Sunday’s sermon. And I want to flesh out what a biblical consistent counter-factual would look like. The short version of that sermon was a confirmation of what the church teaches about marriage and sexuality. 1. All people are called to chastity. 2. Some are called to that within marriage while others are called to that being single. Being chaste is not being a prude, it is an act of love for God, for Christ and for your husband/wife or you community. It is an act of faithfulness and a statement of the hope that we have. 3. Without doing great harm to how the church has interpreted marriage and the chaste life, there is no way that same-sex marriage falls within those teachings.
The alternate universe sermon, or probably a sermon that did take place in this universe in a mainline denomination where the preacher still felt tied to grounded interpretation of the bible, would have been based on the first reading of the day Acts 10:34-48. The story is about St. Peter meeting the gentile Centurion Cornelius. Peter has been given a vision of formerly unclean food being made clean. He has made the journey and now finds that God has included the Gentiles. But even at that he would have been reluctant to baptize. It was the appearance of the Holy Spirit on the Gentiles talking in tongues (the Gentile Pentecost to the original Pentecost preacher) that moves Peter to baptize. God made this change abundantly clear to Peter, and Peter followed God.
This alternate universe Sermon would then jump to Paul and quote Paul in Gal 3:28 – neither jew nor greek, slave not free, male nor female. It would tie Peter to Paul and both of them to John, with some statement that the Holy Spirit is moving in regards the male/female portion and a further revealing of the truth.
That alternative universe sermon is candy on the ears, and even has the chance of being true. BUT, BUT, for it actually to be the case, this is what is needed. First you have to claim that the Holy Spirit is acting and He should be acting in a way that is completely undeniable. Peter sees the gentiles assembled speaking in tongues and extolling God (Acts 10:46). To give this alternate universe sermon the preacher would have to declare what are those acts today. Is anyone willing to standup and say such a thing? Second you really have to claim the prophetic mantle. Without Peter’s visions of the risen Lord showing him the unclean food and declaring it clean, this never would have happened. Jesus made it very clear. So, to change 2000 years of teaching on sexuality, the prophetic element would have to be equally dramatic. Again, is anyone willing to standup and say such a thing? And here is probably the bigger thing. Alternative universe Parson just doesn’t have the authority or calling. The vision and the experience went to Peter. It was Peter’s words in Acts 15 on the same matter that sways the Jerusalem Council. Paul could say that the gentiles were good, but who was Paul? [Think about that for a second, St. Paul was not enough Acts 15 makes clear.] The equivalent of Peter would have to have this kind of change. And I’m sorry ELCA or TEC, presiding Bishop Hanson is not Peter nor is Bishop Jeffers-Schiori. Now if Matthew Harrison (President of the LCMS) were to in the course of a week or so suddenly change his tune, I’d have to give that some attention. But even that wouldn’t be Peter. Even in Lutheran understanding, if only by human means, Peter was still the leader of the apostles. Even in a fractured church, nobody is going to call the LCMS president the leader of the churches/bishops.
One does not have to be a Roman Catholic believing that the bishop of Rome is the Vicar of Christ and the direct heir of that original Peter, to say that the closest we come today to a Peter is the pope. If Benedict XVI came out and did what Peter did – confirm a movement of the Spirit with clear examples – I’m sure many would go back to ‘whore of Babylon’ language immediately, but for me that would make that alternate universe sermon plausible.
That is what I think a biblically consistent counter-factual would look like. I think that is something of what Rod Dreher is onto in this piece. I also agree with him that I think this will cost the orthodox church significantly over the coming decades.
The Putnam-Campbell data suggest the real battle will not be over whether or not churches are going to embrace gay marriage. As I said, the churches that do aren’t benefiting from it, overall. The question is going to be whether or not young people remain Christian in any sense connected to the Great Tradition. Homosexuality is a clear, bright line. The Rachel Held Evanses need to ask themselves if they would be willing to follow Jesus Christ if in doing so, they would have to take a countercultural position on the issue. To embrace same-sex marriage from a Christian viewpoint is a radical shift, one that repudiates two millenia of Christian thought and teaching.
Are we really so sure that we 21st century Americans have this right, and everyone that came before us, including St. Paul, was wrong?
All of which is to say that I expect a severe winnowing in the ranks of Christians over the course of my lifetime.