Here’s the takeaway: Even though most of the online attention is directed toward the well-known individual who changes positions, the institution that reaffirms or clarifies the traditional position will have the bigger impact in the coming decades…. I do find it fascinating to see organizations and institutions quietly but firmly restating their views on marriage and treating them as a core doctrine.
The biggest debate in evangelical circles these days is not over same-sex marriage. It’s whether or not male-female marriage is a “core commitment” or an issue we can “agree to disagree” on. And more and more institutions and organizations are making it clear that marriage is the first, not the second.
That means, institutions are rejecting the “moderate” position among evangelicals, which I’ve summed up this way:
“One’s position on homosexuality or gay marriage is not an essential point of theology. There are faithful Christians who disagree on these matters, just as faithful Christians disagree on baptism, the Holy Spirit, church structure, etc. The gospel is not at stake in whichever position you take. What is at stake is our unity before the world and how we love each other. We can agree to disagree on these issues and still partner in missions and relief work.”
In 2014, I predicted the moderate position would not last:
The Moderates hold to an unsustainable position. They uphold a traditional understanding of marriage and sexual ethics, and yet they downplay the significance of these issues by taking the “agree to disagree” posture or a quiet agnosticism (“since people disagree on this, who can really know?”). I sympathize with those who feel like the culture has thrust upon us an issue we didn’t ask for and those who are weary of the constant cultural clashes between evangelicals and revisionists. That said, this category will shrink the fastest. The revisionists will challenge moderates to stop linking arms with people who affirm traditional marriage because they are “hateful” and “bigoted.” The evangelicals will challenge moderates to recognize the underlying authority of Scripture issues that accompany this debate. Moderates today will be forced to choose sides tomorrow.
I still stand by that assessment.
A Quiet, But Significant Development
Every few months or so, we see an evangelical leader or celebrity go from the moderate position to the revisionist view on marriage. And every time a Christian singer or thinker or pastor moves in this direction, we see numerous news stories, along with commentaries that applaud the courage of their decision. Activists on social media declare, “Being LGBT-affirming is the future of the church!”
But if you look beyond the headlines, you’ll see that there is a quieter movement taking place, one that will have a much greater impact in coming years. It directly counters the popular narrative that evangelicals are moving quickly to embrace revisionist teachings on marriage.
Look at the Institutions
When you look at how institutions and organizations respond to newly invented views of marriage, you get a more accurate picture of what is taking place. Ed Stetzer pointed out a number of examples yesterday, and to follow up, I’m going to dig into the actual language these organizations are using, which shows that more and more institutions are rejecting the moderate position.
Here’s the takeaway: Even though most of the online attention is directed toward the well-known individual who changes positions, the institution that reaffirms or clarifies the traditional position will have the bigger impact in the coming decades.