With the recent decisions regarding DOMA still punctuating media, I’ve done a lot of thinking about same-sex marriage, church, and my role as a pastor. In my role, I have to think about this. I’ll often sit down with people after they have visited our church a few times in a “get to know you” session where I learn about them and they learn about me and the church. Inevitably, there will come a point in the conversation where I am asked about my stance on homosexuality.
Frankly, in this day and age and at this time in history, we have to think about this. It is one of the most pressing questions our society is facing. How do we respond to LGBT individuals desiring to be in long-term, committed relationship with the full rights as a heterosexual couple? As Christians we are called to give an account of what we believe. First and foremost that applies to the gospel and the question of who Jesus is, but I think it also applies to issues like this.
So I have thought about this. I’ve prayed about it. I’ve read about it. And honestly, I hate how the conversation is framed . It seems Evangelical culture is forcing a person into one of two camps. Either I am for same-sex marriages and don’t take the Bible, truth, and the gospel seriously; or I am against same-sex marriage and don’t take the words of Jesus, grace, and the gospel seriously.
Really? Those are my options? Can’t there be a third choice?
This was the genius of Jesus. He had an uncanny ability at finding the third way. Confronted with the woman caught in adultery, Jesus avoided harshly condemning the pawn in the plot while at the same time avoiding being accused of ignoring the law. He found the third way.
Might there be a third way for us?
In order for us to find that third way we will have to be creative and imaginative. Therein lies the problem. The system of evangelical Christianity is too anxious to be creative.
At this time, Evangelical Christianity is an anxious system. Culture is rapidly changing around us. As these changes occur, our influence is diminishing. Christendom is crumbling around the church. Morality is shifting. Church buildings are emptying. Anxiety is high. Imagination is low.
When people become anxious they begin doing things they wouldn’t normally do. Reactivity rises. Conflict becomes normal. People give up their most deeply held beliefs to try and “keep the peace.” As emotions run high, our ability to think rationally, and imaginatively, drops. Edwin Friedman, in a Failure of Nerve, writes that, “In order to imagine the unimaginable, people must be able to separate themselves from surrounding emotional processes before they can even begin to see (or hear) things differently.” If we want to find a third way, then we have to shift the emotional processes driving our decision making. More learning will not help. Developing better processes will not make a difference. Conferences will be a waste of money. Breaking our imaginative gridlock will happen only if we can step outside of the emotional anxiety surrounding us .
But if you do that you “don’t care,” “need to pick a side,” “don’t understand the importance of the issue,” and “aren’t willing to take a stand.”
In other words, our ability to find a third way is being threatened.
Quite simply, this is an anxious response. The anxiousness in Evangelical Christianity has led to a reactive response that Friedman refers to as “herding.” At its simplest, herding is surrounding ourselves with people who think like us and requiring others to think like us.
It literally is a “Think like us or get out” reaction. The goal of this action is to alleviate the source of anxiety.
Anybody else see that at work in the evangelical cultural of today?
Friedman elaborates on this herding force by saying,
It is more a stuck-togetherness, similar to the kind of oneness that is characteristic of cult. The chronically anxious, herding family (or system) almost seems to develop a “self” of its own to which everyone is expected to adapt…feelings are more important than ideas, peace will be valued over progress, comfort over novelty, and cloistered virtues over adventure. Problems are formulated in rigid either/or, black-and-white, all-or-nothing categories.
Pick your issue: homosexuality, gender roles, modesty, politics, the Bible, atonement, hell, or Tim Tebow. Herding is a very present force. On all sides. The rigid thinking that is characteristic of anxious herding is crippling our ability to imagine a third way.
Which makes me dread getting into conversations about homosexuality. It isn’t that I don’t think it is an important conversation. Quite the contrary. I believe it is an extremely important conversation to have. But that’s just it. I believe it should be a conversation. In our current state, where herding is modus operandi, you can’t have a conversation. You simply get pressure to join the exercise in group think.
Herding isn’t just present in Evangelical culture. It is present in American culture. It’s the reason our politics have become so polarized. The gridlock in congress is a result of herding. The church is not operating any different than the surrounding culture. We are losing our prophetic voice by not modeling a different way of dealing with our differences.
We have to fight both the pressure to force others to think like us, and the pressure to think like others. The beauty of the church is found in its diversity. We cannot lose this. So we have to be more than our anxiety. It’s the only hope to finding a creative, God-honoring, graced-filled third way when it comes to dealing with same-sex marriage, or any other divisive issue that comes before us. It is the only hope we have to fulfill Jesus last prayer for unity and loving our Christian brothers and sisters in such a way as to display the manifold wisdom of God through the church.