Everybody’s a Fundamentalist No. 13

Everybody’s a fundamentalist. Everybody’s a separatist. Everybody has a vision of the good that differs from the visions of others and ends up excluding others from their club.

Everybody limits academic freedom in the next breath after invoking it. Everybody has a conception of the academic enterprise that leaves certain viewpoints out of bounds, no matter how strenuously its representatives insist that those viewpoints count as “academic.”

At least biblical, orthodox Christians can publicly, explicitly, and self-consciously advertise the standards on which they found themselves, by which they separate, and through which they establish the boundaries of academic freedom. The pro-diversity forces have to persuade themselves that their list of acceptable viewpoints counts as “diversity,” that the width of their pluralism is as far as anyone need go to earn the label.

I’ll paraphrase Stanley Fish (my adjustments in bold; original quotation here):

What, after all, is the difference between a sectarian school which disallows challenges to the biblical vision for sexuality and a so-called pluralistic school which disallows discussion of the same question? In both contexts something goes without saying and something else cannot be said (homosexuality is immoral or it isn’t). There is of course a difference, not however between a closed environment and an open one but between environments that are differently closed. (156)

Is homosexuality moral or immoral? Issues of diversity and academic freedom (and consequent disinvitations of campus speakers) are impossible to sort out until we know how we can even answer that question—until we know what moral foundation we’re standing on, and who if anyone is going to keep us accountable for failing to standing on it.

The unified testimony of the Bible and of the church throughout history is that homosexual acts and desires are immoral—because all sexual acts and desires outside the bounds of heterosexual monogamy are sin (see Jesus in Matt 19). When Princeton students deny this, they actually take aim at the the gospel, or perhaps its flip-side, by virtue of delisting the human sins which make us need it. The Bible makes homosexuality (and sexual immorality, and idolatry, and adultery, and theft, and greed, and drunkenness, and reviling, and swindling) a sin that keeps people out of the kingdom of God. And I want you to know that just now as I read 1 Corinthians 6 I experienced a wave of genuine fear—fear of the Lord. I have been guilty of several of the sins on the list. I don’t aim this passage merely at others. I dare not justify my own (heterosexual) lustful thoughts, my own greed, etc., or anyone else’s, lest I alter the biblical terms by which I can be said to be a member of that divine kingdom. Thank God for the blood of Christ and the sanctifying power of the Spirit. I am not as I once was. God has granted me repentance.

The best brief book I know on the topic of homosexuality is still Kevin DeYoung’s What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality? And the best endorsement of that book I’ve seen comes from an Amazon reviewer who gave the book two stars:

I did not find this book as useful as I anticipated. It seemed to me to revert back to, “The Bible says it, so that settles it.”

Love Does Not Equal Tolerance of Whatever You Want to Do: A Prooftext

I like it when people think clearly enough to advert to their epistemological controls, their critical foundations. I think it’s a rare gift in a world in which most educated people seem to hold tightly to moral relativism and scientistic absolutism at the same time, but fail ever to look down at what they’re standing on. So when I got to the end of pro-gay biblical scholar and Yale religious studies professor Dale Martin’s essay arguing that ἀρσενοκοίτης (arsenokoites) in 1 Cor 6 and 1 Tim 1 refers to economic exploitation, probably via sex (rather than referring to homosexuality more generally or to the dominant partner in a homosexual encounter), I genuinely appreciated his clarity of thought:

My goal is to dispute appeals to “what the Bible says” as a foundation for Christian ethical arguments. It really is time to cut the Gordian knot of fundamentalism. And do not be fooled: any argument that tries to defend its ethical position by an appeal to “what the Bible says” without explicitly acknowledging the agency and contingency of the interpreter is fundamentalism, whether it comes from a right-wing Southern Baptist or a moderate Presbyterian. We must simply stop giving that kind of argument any credibility. Furthermore, we will not find the answers merely by becoming better historians or exegetes. The test for whether an interpretation is Christian or not does not hang on whether it is historically accurate or exegetically nuanced. The touchstone is not the historically reconstructed meaning in the past, nor is it the fancifully imagined, modernly constructed intentions of the biblical writers. Nor can any responsible Christian-after the revolutionary changes in Christian thought in the past twenty years, much less in the past three hundred-maintain that Christian interpretations are those conforming to Christian tradition. The traditions, all of them, have changed too much and are far too open to cynical manipulation to be taken as foundations for gauging the ethical value of a reading of scripture.

Frequently when I hear people speak this way, they fail to offer anything in the place of the fundamentalism against which they’re inveighing—which generally means they’re trying to misdirect your attention from the particular fundamentalism they’re trying to sneak in through the back door (a fundamentalism they themselves, again, don’t see). But Martin is too good a thinker to let this happen (yet):

The only recourse in our radical contingency is to accept our contingency and look for guidance within the discourse that we occupy and that forms our very selves. The best place to find criteria for talking about ethics and interpretation will be in Christian discourse itself, which includes scripture and tradition but not in a “foundational” sense. Nor do I mean that Christian discourse can itself furnish a stable base on which to secure ethical positions; it is merely the context in which those positions are formed and discussed. Conscious of this precarious contingency, and looking for guiding lights within the discourse, I take my stand with a quotation from an impeccably traditional witness, Augustine, who wrote: “Whoever, therefore, thinks that he understands the divine Scriptures or any part of them so that it does not build the double love of God and of our neighbor does not understand it at all” (Christian Doctrine 1.35.40).

This is pulpit-pounding, steel-backbone stuff! He’s aware of contingencies aplenty, but he still takes his stand! And who can complain when he takes his stand with Augustine and, by extension, with Jesus’ Great Commandments in Matthew 22? I, too, actually, take my stand with Augustine’s quote (and, more importantly, with Jesus). I’ve thought about Augustine’s famous words on hermeneutics here countless times. These are world-important words, because reading is a moral activity in which our loves for God and neighbor need to be right if we hope to read responsibly and faithfully. Making love one’s fundamental is good, not bad.

But Martin, having thus far thought carefully, still cannot help sneaking in a more expansive fundamentalism than the one he just adverted to. He assumes a very controvertible view of love:

By this light, any interpretation of scripture that hurts people, oppresses people, or destroys people cannot be the right interpretation, no matter how traditional, historical, or exegetically respectable. There can be no debate about the fact that the church’s stand on homosexuality has caused oppression, loneliness, self-hatred, violence, sickness, and suicide for millions of people. If the church wishes to continue with its traditional interpretation it must demonstrate, not just claim, that it is more loving to condemn homosexuality than to affirm homosexuals. Can the church show that same-sex loving relationships damage those involved in them? Can the church give compelling reasons to believe that it really would be better for all lesbian and gay Christians to live alone, without the joy of intimate touch, without hearing a lover’s voice when they go to sleep or awake? Is it really better for lesbian and gay teenagers to despise themselves and endlessly pray that their very personalities be reconstructed so that they may experience romance like their straight friends? Is it really more loving for the church to continue its worship of “heterosexual fulfillment” (a “nonbiblical” concept, by the way) while consigning thousands of its members to a life of either celibacy or endless psychological manipulations that masquerade as “healing”?

He’s got some points in there; “heterosexual fulfillment” is not the calling of every Christian, and there are indeed psychological manipulations which masquerade as healing. I also, along with all the serious evangelical writers on this topic, weep with those with weep: I feel the pain of the teenager who struggles against desires that part of him wishes he didn’t have. I have several friends who have lived Christian lives of celibacy for this reason, and they carry a heavy cross. And I think Christians ought to show very practical love to AIDS sufferers.

But Martin begs the question: what, indeed, counts as “hurt,” “oppression,” or “destruction”? Our society disagrees, so who decides? Sometimes the lizard on your shoulder whispering sweet, lustful nothings has to be killed—and boy does it hurt—in order for you to ride further up and further into Aslan’s kingdom. (Sorry for mixing up two C.S. Lewis stories; the images of heaven in The Great Divorce and Narnia are clearly related.) We’re a whole society of people who have decided not only to listen to the lizard and follow his dictates, but to let the lizard speak for us, to let him constitute our respective (“expressive-individualistic”) identities.

I was reading Robert Gagnon’s response to thinking like Martin’s, and he supplied the supreme proof text which needs to be ready on the lips of every Christian from now till our society picks a different self-destructive sin to lionize:

In contemporary society the command to love is often misconstrued as tolerance and acceptance. The concept is richer than that. True love “does not rejoice over unrighteousness but rejoices with the truth” (1 Cor 13: 6)

If you love God as he truly is and your neighbors as they truly are before God, you won’t rejoice in the sin that is killings those neighbors. If you rejoice in righteousness and truth for Bible reasons, you’ll also go around with the humility of a person who’s been forgiven a debt he could never pay.

An Admitteldy One-Sided Conversation on Theological Liberalism

A liberal Catholic with a PhD from a liberal Catholic institution saw my article in Answers Magazine critiquing one of the more famous put-downs Richard Dawkins has made of Christians; he liked the article and wanted to dialogue with me. I acquiesced, but soon found that he liked my article’s arguments for their apparent utility without really grasping their biblical origins. When it comes down to it, he rejects the authority of Scripture in what I take to be a more dangerous way than Dawkins does—because he still honors it with his lips. Any time its authority is pressed on him, he worms out of the way.

This is not my experience with all Roman Catholics—and it is my experience with certain Protestants! We are all tempted to squirm when God contradicts us. The only thing I can say for my conservative Protestant tribe is that we make it an article of faith that it’s our squirming and not God’s word that is the problem.

I don’t want to ask my liberal Catholic interlocutor for permission to publish his email remarks to me. And I won’t post them without permission. So you get, if you really want to, to listen to just one side of our conversation. I apologize for this indulgence, but perhaps persevering readers will find something of use in the following.

Here we go:

Dear X,

1) The idea you propose, namely that the Bible is culturally constrained, is often presented to me by non-evangelicals (Christians and non-Christians alike) as if it is likely to be brand new to me, and as if it is a recent (and rock-solid) conclusion of historical-critical scholarship.

But this idea is not a conclusion of historical-critical scholarship at all; it’s a premise of it, a presupposition, an article of faith in their creed. The Bible is for them, at most, a record of different people’s experiences with the divine, no more normative than any other ancient text—especially when the opinion polls go against it.

2) I like talking methodology, I really do. I think it’s extremely important. But one of the things I do to make sure my methodology doesn’t float away on clouds of subjectivism into the warm bath of secular approbation (borrowing a phrase that’s been echoing in my head all day from this fantastic article) is try to apply it to actual Bible statements and see what happens. So Micah says, “Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with your God.” I can’t find anybody who complains about that particular imperative, anybody who proposes allegorical or metaphorical interpretations of it. And what’s more, I can’t find anybody who says, “That’s time-bound—Micah meant that for the culture of his day, but we know better.” And I say, by what standard may we judge that Micah 6:8 is normative as it stands, but Gen 1–11 isn’t? Why accept “blessed are the poor in spirit” but not “whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery”? Why, indeed, accept what Paul clearly means to be a timeless statement—”All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith”—but then reject as culturally constrained what he says about homosexuality a few paragraphs earlier (“Paul didn’t know about stable, monogamous homosexual relationships”)?

Really, the question is easy to answer: people pick and choose which parts of the Bible to believe and which to reject because they accept an authoritative standard other than the Bible. The idea of cultural constraint is an ex post facto justification.

I’ve just been reading J.I. Packer’s first book “Fundamentalism” and the Word of God, and he demonstrates with citation after citation that Christ and the apostles viewed the Old Testament as authoritative. I won’t pretend that there are no difficulties in figuring out how to apply the entire Bible, especially the Old Testament, to the life of the Christian. But if revelation is ongoing and evolving, then I need some other standard by which to judge which parts of it are still valid and which aren’t. I’d rather have to study Jesus and Paul’s statements about the law (Matt. 5:17; Gal. 5; etc.) to discern the Bible’s own unity than adopt a model in which they cannot and need not be reconciled.

Actually, conservative evangelicals have long recognized that the Bible is a divine revelation that is progressively unfolded through a story. Paul spoke of “the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints,” and in his letter to the Ephesians he explains that this mystery was the way Christ would bring the Gentiles into one body with the Jews, namely the church. Conservatives are eager to recognize—indeed, it’s impossible to deny—that God used the personalities and experiences and even the literary proclivities of the biblical authors. What he did not do is tell Moses and Paul that homosexuality was against nature while silently adding “wrong for now, I mean—just wait till at least 1999 or so.”

Interestingly, I just saw that very Star Trek episode. I remember it well. I do not view the Bible, however, as having been dropped into civilization like the Klingon’s guns were dropped into that primitive culture. In 35 years in conservative Protestant circles I have a few times heard people talk about it that way (like as if “the paths of the seas” in Psalm 8 were a secret revelation of ocean currents, not discovered until centuries later—I abjure that approach).

Yes, Protestants split over scriptural interpretation. But don’t Catholics? How many different parties and sects are there within Catholicism? Do they all interpret the Bible or church tradition or the pope’s utterances the same way? It seems to me that having a magisterium has not saved them from division.

Also, I’ve read about Galileo’s story in a great little book by a guy at Johns Hopkins, Lawrence Principe, and I don’t accept the standard read of the story. I commend the book to you.

I really have trouble seeing the view of Scripture as culturally constrained as anything other than 1) a not-very-sophistic but rather pretty bald exercise in evading what God said and 2) a way to give our current culture hegemony over the Bible whenever the former says to the latter, “Shut up!”

Is God permitted to oppose the consensus view of science, of morality, of economics, of anything in contemporary Western society?

I also think you and I may have reached the sloganeering stage of the argument over biblical hermeneutics, so I’d like to see if we can focus on an individual scriptural text. And I’d like to zero in on one that deals with homosexuality, in particular, because the culture is definitely saying, “Shut up!” about that.

The Catholic tradition of which you’re a part has uniformly said homosexuality is wrong, and wrong intrinsically, for 2000 years. They based that judgment on Holy Scripture, as Protestants today do, and on natural law, as many Protestants actually do as well. (We, in turn, base natural law on Scripture, because without the Bible to tell us that the world is fallen, it is impossible to tell what is “natural,” i.e., created, and what is “unnatural,” i.e., fallen.)

No Christian tradition has ever said that sinners of any sort should be mercilessly mocked instead of offered help—because God doesn’t treat sinners that way in Scripture. I’m certainly glad God has not treated me and my sin this way.

But if the Bible is the culturally constrained record of past individuals’ experiences of the divine (is that a fair representation of your view? If not, please do correct me!), then it’s time we didn’t just treat homosexuals with grace but with complete acceptance. Acceptance of homosexual marriage seems like a perfect example of the kind of thing that we ought to recognize as new light from on high. And we’d better do it fast, before we have to pay any more price for our bigotry.

So, I ask, what did Paul mean when he wrote the following? “God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.”

I think I’m gathering that you personally oppose homosexual practice? But by what standard can we say that Paul is right if the culture, not the Bible, is our standard? I am not saying that we can interpret the Bible without regard for the cultural distance between us and the original writers and readers. But that distance is not always as great as people assume, because people are just as created, just as fallen, and just as in need of redemption as they were in Paul’s day. Illicit sex, gluttony, thievery, prevarication, and pride are pretty much the sins they were in the first century. Is “Humble yourselves before the mighty hand of God” culturally constrained? Is “Lie not one to another, seeing you have put off the old man with his deeds” culturally constrained? Is “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” culturally constrained? How about “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty”?

When you try to apply (what I take to be) your view to actual Bible statements, it simply doesn’t work. It looks like special pleading: find the stuff in the Bible you don’t like, and slap the label on it: “NO LONGER APPLICABLE DUE TO ANCIENT CULTURAL CONSTRAINTS.”

Interested in your thoughts. I kind of had to write with bluntness because of constraints of my own—not cultural ones but chronometric ones!

A Must-Read Article on Female Characters in Popular Culture

Excerpts from a lengthy, incisive, must-read from Alastair Roberts:

The supposed shallowness of pop culture is deceptive: It is a realm where brilliant and talented people go to try to shape minds at their most unguarded and impressionable. It is on the ground of entertainment media that the so-called culture wars have largely been lost.

On more recent Disney princesses:

Despite their likeableness and roundedness as characters, these new princesses betray some concerning anxieties about women’s place and agency within the world. Within the kickass princess trope lurks the implication that, to prove equality of dignity, worth, agency, and significance as a character, all of a woman’s resolve, wisdom, courage, love, kindness, self-sacrifice, and other traits simply aren’t enough—she must be capable of putting men in their place by outmatching them in endeavors and strengths that naturally favor them, or otherwise making them look weak or foolish.

What happens to women when you deny creational gender norms:

Were such characters rare or occasional exceptions, it could fairly be claimed that they serve to resist the closure of certain possibilities to women—a worthwhile end indeed. However, when they increasingly represent a norm among the most prominent female characters in popular culture, they cease to be a message of empowerment and become something closer to an indictment upon the natural strengths and tendencies of women relative to men as a sex.

What happens to women and men when you deny creational gender norms:

The recurring characterization problems with such Strong Female Characters arise in no small measure from the struggle to show that men and women are interchangeable and can compete and cooperate with each other on the same terms. As I have already noted, this falsehood serves no one. It sets women up for frustration and failure as they have to justify their agency on men’s terms and it produces an embarrassment about male strengths that should be celebrated rather than stifled.

What our fiction says about our impoverished vision for the sexes:

Fictional worlds are places in which we can explore possibilities for identity and agency. The fact that women’s stature as full agents is so consistently treated as contingent upon such things as their physical strength and combat skills, or upon the exaggerated weakness or their one-upping of the men that surround them, is a sign that, even though men may be increasingly stifled within it, women are operating in a realm that plays by men’s rules. The possibility of a world in which women are the weaker sex, yet can still attain to the stature and dignity of full agents and persons—the true counterparts and equals of men—seems to be, for the most part, beyond people’s imaginative grasp. This is a limitation of imagination with painful consequences for the real world, and is one of the causes of the high degree of ressentiment within the feminist movement.

Roberts ends his piece with a constructive vision of femininity and its rules and domain taken from Proverbs 31.

A must-read.

Robert Gagnon vs. J. Daniel Kirk on Homosexuality

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Note: You can download a 279MB audio version here.

Valley Presbyterian Church of Phoenix, Arizona, a congregation of the Presybterian Church (USA) is having a formal, church-wide discussion regarding whether or not active homosexual persons will be permitted to serve as leaders in the church. The booklet they put together to describe the process reads,

We, the sitting Elders on the Session of Valley Presbyterian Church, are seeking to discern God’s will and direction for our congregation on the issue of ordination standards for ruling and teaching Elders and Deacons.

They invited prominent voices on both sides of the issue to actually come to the church and give lectures and have debates. One session was a debate between Robert Gagnon of Pittsburgh Seminary, a well known opponent of the affirmation of homosexual practice; and J. Daniel Kirk, formerly of Fuller Seminary—I say “formerly,” because he is a recent convert to the view that we ought to grant full acceptance to practicing homosexuals in the Christian church.

gagnonThese two are heavy-hitters, especially Gagnon (because he has done a great deal of highly respected work in the field), and Valley is to be commended for going to some trouble and expense. They appear to expect their people to do some difficult mental work and time-consuming reading. I like that.

But take note of this statement in that official church booklet describing the series of lectures:

After a decision is made, we will remain a congregation of Christian disciples who have been blessed by God with many resources and talents to carry out Christ’s work in this world.

It seems to me that a decision has already been made. When it comes to an issue like the affirmation of homosexual practice, the decision to view it as a viable Christian position over which we should not divide is itself a judgment, a decision. Whatever decision is made, they will “remain a congregation of Christian disciples”? Is it not possible that one of the two available decisions will, in fact, take them out of that category? Would they debate the Trinity, the historicity of Jesus Christ, the resurrection? Or pick other moral issues: would they debate slavery, pedophilia, polyamory, or plain old grand theft auto? Which debates in the Christian church are healthy, reflective of God’s choice not to give direct answers to all our questions on a given topic; and which are themselves signs of ill health, or of wolves entering the flock (Acts 20:28–31)?

Kirk feels that the issue shouldn’t be divisive, that instead debates over it are threatening the unity of Christ’s body. “We have not handled this situation, this controversy, in such a way as to promote unity in the church,” he said. “We’ve handled it in such a way that we’re splitting and dividing as we’re so prone to do.” He opens his talk by admitting that the Bible doesn’t permit homosexual practice, but he believes the Spirit is speaking anew—similar to the way the Spirit led the early church to full inclusion of Gentiles.

Gagnon, of course, disagrees (and I’d like to point out that Gentile inclusion was one of God’s original stated purposes for the Abrahamic covenant; it wasn’t an innovation). After many minutes of intensely careful biblical exposition and theological reasoning, Gagnon ends in a particular blend of scholarly acumen and righteously angry fulmination that you don’t hear very often. I was so struck by some of his final comments that I transcribed them. (If you’re pressed for time, skip to the bolded paragraphs.)

You Judge When You Exonerate

After the debate there were questions from the floor. The first was, “Do you feel that [someone] engaging in an active homosexual relationship can be eligible to be ordained as an elder or deacon?”

Gagnon said,

No, I hope it’s clear from everything that I said that that would not be possible. Just as a person that’s involved in an active adult-consensual incestuous relationship would not be allowed, just as a person who is involved in an active consensual polyamorous relationship would not be allowed to be ordained—because such persons, according to 1 Corinthians 6, and certainly implied in other places, are at great risk of not inheriting the kingdom of God. And when you think of the case of the incestuous man of 1 Corinthians 5, which is the closest parallel, what’s Paul’s relationship to the incestuous man? The Corinthians pride themselves in their ability to tolerate that relationship. Paul says, “You’ve become inflated with pride and arrogance over your ability to tolerate. You know what you should’ve been doing instead? You should’ve been mourning.”

Why? Where do you mourn? You mourn at a funeral. That person, that offender, is at high risk of being excluded from the kingdom. I love him, Paul says, more than you do, and I love him enough to be able to say this, that there must be temporary remedial discipline to hopefully bring him back into the community of faith. Because everything is at risk for him, and if he doesn’t come back he is likely to be excluded.

Now that’s not passing judgment in any sort of negative way. That’s simply applying the standards that Jesus and God give us in the witness of Scripture. You judge when you exonerate somebody; when you give somebody a pass for a reform of behavior that God and Christ do not give a pass to. You can just as much judge doing that as you can making up a condemnation that God or Jesus don’t give.

So we actually must simply reiterate the witness of God and Jesus in Scripture. If my children, when they were young, were going to touch a hot stove, and I said, “There, there. Knock yourself out and experiment,” [do] you know that state social services would not regard that as love? They would regard that as parental abuse, and they would take the children out of the home—because I do nothing while they’re engaged in behavior injurious to themselves; I don’t warn them. It’s not love in the church when you don’t warn persons engaged in behavior injurious to themselves and others.

Stop with the Pretense

Another question from the floor was, “With all the problems in the world, you really think Jesus cares about this issue.”

Gagnon replied with some frustration,

Wow, to have that question asked makes you feel like, “Gee, I am the world’s worst communicator!” Because I think I pretty clearly showed that Jesus regarded a male-female requirement as foundational for sexual ethics, that Jesus said that if your eye or foot should threaten your downfall, because it’s better to go into heaven maimed than to be thrown into hell full-bodied, and he said that in the context of sexual purity issues.

Paul, whenever he dealt with his converts, [the] first thing he dealt with was the issue of idolatry. And after that was squared away, what was issue number two for Paul, in all his letters, where he recounts what he told them previously? Sexual purity [was] number 2.

Where do we get this notion that this isn’t important? You see how much society devotes itself to getting sex? The way it wants to have it? We’re obsessed with it. It grabs us holistically. It affects the whole being, such that Paul could even give the example of a man having sex with a prostitute, which you’d think would just be a commercial exchange of funds and would have no investment of the person’s life. And he says, “Even when you do that, you become one flesh with the person. While you’ve joined to Jesus in one spirit, you’re now going to take this body in a holistic way and join it in an immoral sexual union with another? And you think that that doesn’t matter to God?” Would you want to substitute in that question, you know, “Why would God—there’s so many problems in the world—why get worked up about the fact that a man is sleeping with his sister and it’s a consensual, adult relationship? Why get worried about the fact that you have a ‘throuple‘ here? Or you have five persons, where they’re all having sex with each other on a regular basis—they’re committed, they’re loving, they’re consensual—what is the big deal? Stop getting so hung up on the tired old principle of monogamy.” But I don’t hear people make those kinds of statements, because they would be laughed at if they made them.

This is more serious still. We have leap-frogged over the issue of polyamory and adult consensual incest to approve something that in Scripture is regarded as a more foundational violation than even those two. We’re now going to have to go back and do a mopping up operation and now be more consistently disobedient to the will of God.

If you think that homosexual practice makes no difference, I don’t know why you’re not promoting polyamory in the church. You ought to be, because the basis for limiting the number of persons in a sexual union to two is the duality of the sexes—which you now say doesn’t make any difference, despite the fact that Jesus called it foundational.

If Jesus is that wrong about sexual ethics, something that he regarded as the very foundation of sexual ethics and sexual purity—if he is wrong about that, I don’t know why you even bother listening to him. Because he then ceases to be your Lord in any meaningful sense. Either when he means it—and he bucks the entire culture when he says it—he means business and this is central and we get with the program, or stop with the pretense that somehow Jesus is our Lord.

It Isn’t Really Jesus Who Is Lord; You’re Lord

And there was more, in Gagnon’s final remarks:

When you regard something that is regarded in Scripture from Genesis to Revelation as foundational for all sexual ethics as something that we can subvert at will in the church, irrespective of Jesus’s view, and irrespective of the priority that Jesus places on it, I think we have done damage not only to the specific issue of how we deal with the question of homosexual practice, but any issue—any issue in ethics, any issue in doctrine. We simply don’t care about the authority of Scripture. This has been the source of our problems to begin with, right? Historically, when the church has wrestled with questions about what we should believe and how we should behave, this has always been determined with Scripture having the top priority, not just being in first place above a list, but way over everything else. And the degree to which something in Scripture is regarded as a core value is the degree to which you really have a tough case to override it or claim that the Spirit is working at cross purposes with something that is clearly viewed as a core value from the beginning to the end of Scripture and emphasized by Jesus and the apostolic witness to him….

That’s what this discussion is about that you’re having in this church. You’re having a discussion about whether what Jesus thinks takes priority is to be given priority. You’re [in] a discussion about whether what Scripture as a whole…regards as essential is to be viewed as essential anymore in the church. And if you don’t think it is, then stop playing the game. Stop playing the game with Scripture. Stop making the pretense about the affirmation of Christ as Lord, because it isn’t really Jesus who is Lord. You’re lord. And you’ve used Jesus as a cipher into which you impute your own ideological meaning and make him say, like a marionette puppet, whatever you want him to say. But I suggest to you, that is not a good look for the church. And when the church does that it ceases in any meaningful way to be a representative of the body of Christ in the world. And there are warnings in Revelation 2–3 by the risen Christ to such churches. You do not want to go down that route. Thank you.

I can only pray—and I am praying as I write—that the regenerated people in that church will heed his richly biblical words.