David French’s recent opinion piece in the National Review—reacting to a New York Times article reporting on young, evangelical Christians’ faith and politics—illustrates why so many young, evangelical Christians are troubled by modern conservative politics and by modern evangelical leaders.  French himself lives in both worlds, frequently publishing religiously themed articles that support politically conservative policies and politicians.

In the piece, French equates “biblical” Christianity with “anti-gay theology,” insisting that when a young woman told her parents she was “rethinking the legitimacy of anti-gay theology” she told them she was “rethinking orthodox, biblical Christianity.”

He goes further, also equating rejecting anti-gay theology with “rejecting the authority of scripture.”

Well, Mom and Dad ….

Lots of practices have been declared unbiblical by conservative religious leaders that turn out to be biblical when people study the Bible rather than relying on the view of those leaders.  Examples include the abolition of slavery; women working outside the home, voting, and serving in the government; racial integration; and mixed-race marriages.

Certainly, when some young evangelicals told their parents back then that they were “re-thinking the legitimacy of pro-slavery theology” or “of anti-women’s suffrage theology” or “of anti-integration theology” or “of anti- miscegenation theology,” some religious leaders dismissed those young evangelicals’ views as “unbiblical” and “rejecting the authority of scripture,” just like French dismisses the young woman’s questioning of anti-gay theology.

Sometimes Evangelicals Disagree

Might one young evangelical study the Bible in depth and conclude that same-sex marriage is a sin?  Might they conclude that homosexual sex in any setting is a sin?  Of course.  Teaching along these lines is easily located.  Pew Research reports that 55% of evangelicals say homosexuality should be discouraged.

Does this young evangelical “reject the authority of scripture” by treating passages he or she sees as relevant to homosexuality as commands for all of us today while treating other Biblical passages as commands only for the particular audience to which the passage was originally directed?  Does this young evangelical “reject the authority of scripture” by interpreting scripture that says “nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” differently than those who disagree with his or her conclusion?

Might another young evangelical study the Bible in depth and conclude that same-sex marriage is not a sin?  Might they conclude that homosexual sex within a marriage relationship is not a sin?  Of course.  Matthew Vines, for example, in his book God and the Gay Christian outlines such a study and reaches these conclusions.  Pew Research reports that 36% of evangelicals say homosexuality should be accepted.

Does this other young evangelical “reject the authority of scripture” by treating passages he or she sees as relevant to homosexuality as commands only for the particular audience to which the passage was originally directed while treating other passages as commands for all of us today, for example?  Does this other young evangelical “reject the authority of scripture” by interpreting passages relevant to homosexuality differently than those who disagree with his or her conclusion?

Both these young evangelicals take the Bible seriously, want to follow God’s will, and view the Bible as conveying God’s word.  Presumably, the vast majority of both the 55% and the 36% of the evangelicals noted above do, too.  The question of who is right or most likely right is a different question.

The difference is mostly one of interpretation of scripture.

Yet, French dismisses one of their viewpoints as “rejecting the authority of scripture” and endorses the other (his own) as “biblical.”

And many young, evangelical Christians who view homosexual sex as a sin would never consider their Christianity “anti-gay” or consider “anti-gay” to be biblical, as French says.  The concept that being anti-gay—being opposed to or against a person solely due to their status as a homosexual person—is biblical is repulsive even to many who consider homosexual sex to be a sin.

Authentic Engagement, Not Dismissal

What is called for is an authentic conversation about the substance of what the Bible says, how those holding differing views interpret scripture, and engaging with one another on the subject.

Anecdotally, I have found that the vast majority of Christians, those holding views on either side of this issue, have never studied the issue for themselves in any depth, but instead rely on what someone else said about the matter, a quick read of one or two verses without considering context, or a feeling.  Very few have considered multiple viewpoints.

What is not called for is dismissing any Christian, young or old, as “rejecting the authority of scripture” based solely on their conclusion about homosexuality.

It is this dismissive theology—involving the constant or quick dismissal of those who differ simply because they differ while confidently citing the authority of God or the Bible and declaring the dismissed person’s lack of fidelity to God—that so many find most troubling.

 

 


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Sources and Notes

“French equates “biblical” Christianity with “anti-gay theology,” insisting that when a young woman told her parents she was “rethinking the legitimacy of anti-gay theology” she told them she was “rethinking orthodox, biblical Christianity. … He goes further, also equating rejecting anti-gay theology with “rejecting the authority of scripture.””:  French says “a young woman named Alexandria Beightol, says that she was “pulled out of Smith College” when she told her parents she was “rethinking the legitimacy of anti-gay theology.”  This is another way of saying that she is rethinking orthodox, biblical Christianity. It’s not that ideas like the definition of marriage are, say, more important from a political standpoint than immigration policy or police misconduct. It’s that rejecting the theology of Christian sexual teaching involves rejecting the authority of scripture, and that has massive implications for the church well beyond politics.  In other words, Beightol is considering whether to be Evangelical.”

Updated with last three paragraphs of next-to-last section.