The Yuck Factor

It is becoming clear that the logic of gay marriage was set years ago and was generally accepted by the church in practice if not always in theory

So why the bust up over homosexuality when the most important things have already been made matters over which we can institutionally agree to differ? I suspect the answer is the yuck factor. Homosexuality is, or perhaps better was, revolting to a certain generation. It disgusted them in a way that polite, educated men denying the faith did not. That generation is now rapidly passing away and a new one is rising, with a mindset shaped not only by knowing kind, civil, gay friends but also by a myriad pop culture images and an increasingly aggressive politicization of the issue. The yuck factor does not apply any more.

 
The yuck factor is a significant and deadly element of Christian thinking.

Take, for example, the various denominations currently tearing apart over the issue of homosexuality and gay marriage. Many, if not all, such denominations have routinely allowed men, and often women, who deny the resurrection, to occupy pulpits for many years with impunity. Denial of the resurrection is, according to Paul, lethal to any kind of gospel witness and utterly destructive of Christian hope, to the point that it not only denies the saving action of God but actually makes Christians the most pitiable of all people.

So why the bust up over homosexuality when the most important things have already been made matters over which we can institutionally agree to differ? I suspect the answer is the yuck factor. Homosexuality is, or perhaps better was, revolting to a certain generation. It disgusted them in a way that polite, educated men denying the faith did not. That generation is now rapidly passing away and a new one is rising, with a mindset shaped not only by knowing kind, civil, gay friends but also by a myriad pop culture images and an increasingly aggressive politicization of the issue. The yuck factor does not apply any more.

Only now, with the yuck factor vanishing for many, is it becoming clear that the logic of gay marriage was set years ago and was generally accepted by the church in practice if not always in theory. In the wider world, the transformation of marriage into an inward-directed bond, focused on personal satisfaction — sexual, emotional, financial — was the key move, ably assisted by the separation of sexual activity from the deeper soil of marriage, a message preached by just about every sitcom and soap opera made in the last twenty five years. Sex ceased to be the crowning seal on the marriage covenant and became something recreational, an end in itself or, even for many Christians, the purpose of marriage. The establishment of no-fault divorce was the legal recognition of this and redefined marriage in a far more fundamental way than any future applications or revisions of the law are likely to do. And when Pat Robertson told people they could divorce their incapacitated and senile spouses, he was operating with a fundamentally redefined notion of marriage as unbiblical, if not blasphemous (Eph. 5!) as anything you will ever hear.

The church accepted, by and large, the logic of no fault divorce. At least, nobody seemed to think that it was quite the apocalyptic moment presented by gay marriage. Why? My guess is that there was simply no real yuck factor involved. And if two people who had ‘fallen out of love’ (whatever that means) wanted to go back and start all over again, that seemed not ‘yucky’ but an aesthetically pleasing outcome in a world ruled by sentiment and truncated notions of personal satisfaction. The yuck factor – or lack of it – serves to cloud our thinking on too many issues.

The argument for gay marriage proceeds on the basis of a logic which society, and sadly many churches, accepted long ago. Do not fret about when marriage will be redefined. It was. Quite some time back.

Carl R Trueman is Professor of Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. He has an MA in Classics from the University of Cambridge and a PhD in Church History from the University of Aberdeen. This article is reprinted from the Reformation 21 blog and is used with permission.

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