it’s not me, it’s you

That didn’t take long. Two weeks ago evangelical Christians were debating whether a Christian florist should violate her conscience and festoon a chapel for a gay wedding. Suddenly we are debating whether the happy couple should be employed in a Christian parachurch organization.

One day after World Vision announced it opposed sexual immorality but not gay marriage, the “evangelical” world seems decidedly split. I don’t know what the percentages are, but I’ve seen a fair amount of passionate posts on both sides. Neither side can quite believe the other. I think World Vision’s decision is an obvious case of theological liberalism, and said liberals respond that my side obviously doesn’t care about people. I think this charge is preposterous, and they think it’s preposterous that I think it’s preposterous. There’s no persuading the other.

So why try. The evangelical church is rapidly dividing along liberal (or progressive, if you prefer) and conservative lines, just as it did in the first decades of the twentieth century. We have different views of Scripture, authority, humanity, sin, salvation, and Jesus, and there is no bridging this divide. It’s out in the open now, both sides are dug in, and there’s no getting along.

So let’s separate. Let’s agree that we can’t agree on enough essentials of the Christian faith to do gospel ministry together, and bid each other goodbye. We conservatives will focus on living as exiles in Babylon, and the progressives can enjoy whatever cultural favor they can obtain. They can have their own churches and aid organizations run their way, and we can run ours in the way we think is right.

The downside of giving up is that we sacrifice the hope for unity in the body of Christ, which is a tragedy and a scandal. But seeing how neither side thinks the other is thinking or acting Christianly, we’ve implicitly already crossed that bridge. The upside of giving up is that we may be able to call a truce. If we acknowledge that we really are promoting different gospels, then we might feel less inclined to urgently post “Can you believe what (famous Christian leader) just said!” on our blogs. I’m not optimistic, as some celebs seem to make a good living by criticizing the leaders on the other side. But if their base gets tired of constantly haranguing people who are too far away to count, then maybe they’ll run out of steam and be forced to come up with more original ideas.

This truce may lead to a cooling off period, which may eventually lead to both sides talking again. So unity might one day be possible, just not now, no how. The one thing we can agree on is that the breakup is the other’s fault. It’s not me, it’s definitely you.


8 responses to “it’s not me, it’s you”

  1. David

    “I’m not optimistic, as some celebs seem to make a good living by criticizing the leaders on the other side. ” — this may be the real problem. The majority of these “celeb” types seem to either be pastors with no accountability structures or author/speaker/bloggerish people who outright scorn the dated idea of fellowshipping with a local church. Perhaps if everyone was willing to submit themselves to others within the body, the name calling and marginalizing would be minimized.

    Of course, it’s not my side that does this. It’s the other group.

  2. mikewittmer

    Yep, it’s definitely them.

  3. joshbishop

    It’s easy, I think, to tell denominations and churches on opposite sides of the gulf to go sit in different corners. Much more difficult—at least when it comes to a separation like this—are those churches (nondenoms? outliers in a particular tradition?) that congregants on both sides of the gulf. I worship every week with plenty of people who want to put me in the naughty seat, and who I try to put in the naughty seat as often as possible. Sure, we’ll eventually see these “big tent” churches fall one way or the other as they realize they can’t put a thumb in both pies at once, but in the meantime: Who gets custody of the kids?

  4. While we’re on the relationship metaphor, I would describe the relationship between the two sides as “it’s complicated.” The split between conservative/liberals seems pretty clear in some areas (Christian response to gay marriage) but in other areas the lines aren’t drawn on “traditional” liberal/conservative lines. For instance, there are people who have a “conservative” view of the atonement, the resurrection, and miracles but who have a “liberal” position in other areas. I think joshbishop makes a good point above. What’s going to happen to these Christians? Maybe a new mix of churches isn’t going to grow out of this schism?

  5. mikewittmer

    Josh: You’re right. Even some of our churches will experience division over these issues. Colleagues will realize they can no longer minister together.

    Steve: What might these other areas be where one is a “liberal”? Nothing comes readily to mind. Can you help? E.g., I can’t think of anyone who believes in penal substitution who would also favor gay marriage. It’s not impossible, but it would be a surprise.

  6. Here’s an example of what I mean:
    I know someone who believes in the atonement but also posted articles on FB about how the florists were wrong (wicked even) in the recent gay marriage case. I’m not sure I would describe this person as pro gay marriage per se, but they were definitely posting contrary to the standard “conservative” line. In that regard they are more “liberal”.

  7. mikewittmer

    Good point, Steve. I’m willing to say serving a gay wedding is a matter of conscience, mostly because I trust these conservative friends who say they’d have no qualms in doing it. I’m still not convinced they can maintain that position without implying that the wedding isn’t all that wicked, so they’re on a slope which has been oiled up pretty good.

  8. Note that World Vision’s original decision did not take sides on gay marriage. It reflected the different views present among churches whose parishioners support World Vision. The topic has not historically been labeled an essential. The original reasoning was sound.

    There are all sorts of different combinations of beliefs out there. Paul warned several times in his letters against letting differences of views on some things divide the church.

    Isn’t it a shame that differences on this issue should materially affect helping the needy of the world? Shouldn’t Christians with the whole range of views on same-sex relationships be able to agree that Jesus was sent to proclaim good news to the poor, freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free; and see that Christians with various doctrinal positions should unite in carrying out that mission? That was the whole point of the original, carefully considered decision reversed due to the firestorm of those making a particular doctrinal position more important than the work of the Gospel.

    Remember that doctrines are not the Truth. According to our Lord and Savior, He is the Truth. Shouldn’t the mark of a Christian be living a life the way Jesus called us to live, not adherence to some set of man-made doctrinal positions?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: