Monday, August 9, 2010

Carl Trueman on Gay Marriage

In a recent article at Ref21 Carl Trueman points out the uncomfortable reality that for Americans under the age of 35, "gay marriage is not even an issue." As much as I would like for that not to be true, it is inescapable. Trueman also observes that for those of his generation opposition to gay marriage usually has more to do with being weirded out (my own technical phrase) by homosexuality than zeal for biblical sexual ethics. The "generational divide," Trueman writes, "indicate clear challenges to come. The list of such is no doubt long but here are a few:

1. We can no longer assume our children will just agree with us on this issue; they are going to want arguments for holding that homosexual practice is wrong. We need to go back to scripture and sharpen our swords, so to speak, as we can no longer assume that the cultural bias will play our tune anyway.

2. The impossibility of criticising gay culture without being labeled a homophobe means that a whole heap of other cultural traits will fly in under the radar, a point made in a recent Spectator article about the arrival of cell phones `apps' to facilitate cruising and anonymous sexual encounters -- a technological development welcomed by leading gay figures and the media at large. As the gay community prides itself on promiscuity and camp outrage, so any criticism of it on this score is anti-gay. But what of heterosexual promiscuity and outrageous behaviour? It too gets a pass as the behaviour of the gay community stands above criticism and comes to set the cultural agenda.

3. Churches that have sold the pass on other issues -- most notably women's ordination -- are going to find themselves skewered by the need to oppose homosexual practice with a consistent hermeneutic rather than the appearance of arbitrariness based on simple bigotry. I suspect many evangelicals were able to live with women's ordination because, hey, they liked women; women's ordination may have been wrong, but it was not distasteful in the way that two men in bed together is distasteful; they never in their wildest dreams imagined what was coming round the next corner, even though enough people pointed it out to them. Now, if they stand against homosexuality, they look like homophobes. Better to look like an outdated fundie than a bigot. Churches that have held the line on women's ordination can at least say `Nothing personal against homosexuals; we simply follow scriptural criteria' when asked by a practising homosexual why he should not be ordained.

4. Those evangelical leaders, academics and evangelical institutions that prize their place at the table and their invitations to appear on `serious' television programs, and who enjoy being asked to offer their opinion to the wider culture had better be prepared to make a choice. As I have said before in this column, we are not far from the place where to oppose homosexuality will be regarded as in the same moral bracket as white supremacy. Those types only appear on Jerry Springer; and Jerry generally doesn't typically ask them their opinion on the ethics of medical research, the solution to the national debt, or the importance of poetry to a rounded education.

Carl will be relieved to know that I could not agree more. The conclusion he draws in point number 3 is vital. Churches that have practiced a compromised hermeneutic will find it increasingly difficult to oppose homosexuality in an environment where a growing number of people within the church will view such opposition as bigotry. And do not dismiss the connection he makes with the ordination of women. Clearly not all those who favor the ordination of women favor the blessing of homosexual unions. However, once compromises are made with the biblical text in one arena it becomes increasingly difficult to construct boundaries in another. Such attempts appear arbitrary (which, of course, they are).


Mike said...

Can't believe I agree with Trueman about anything...but I do agree with his vision of where we as a society are going on this issue. For our kids (evangelical christian or not) it is not an issue...they don't see what the big deal is, as Trueman himself states, inescapable.

Todd Pruitt said...


But based upon other interactions with you on this blog is seems clear that you don't agree at all with what Trueman is ultimately saying. What he says about those under 35 is not at all an endorsement of their apathy concerning biblical sexual ethics.

mrs.fitz said...

Wow, disheartening, but I feel exhorted to know my Bible, know it well, and teach it to my children. I have already begun to explain marriage to my son as being for only a man and a woman, knowing that there will be some even in his kindergarten class that will tell him differently.

Todd Pruitt said...


Indeed. The culture will be glad to teach your children that biblical sexual ethics are inherently biggoted. What is needed is for parents and churches to not only teach the facts of sexual ethics but the rationale behind those ethics which is grounded in our being image bearers of God.

medmom said...

Really enjoy your blog-

With a busy family and pediatric practice (yes I work outside the home,and imagine this- I do have a happy marriage of 20 years and have children who are firmly committed to Christ- even with a job); I typically have to sit and read the blog when I have a good amount of time. So I almost spit my coffee all over my laptop when I went to Ref21 and read Carl's article. Not being a theologian but in the medical profession- please bear with my non-theological perspective

So gay marriage is significantly correlated with women's ordination? Oh please-this is like me, as a health professional saying to a family their child is obese because of one issue: genetics only, and ignoring the multifactorial nature of the diagnosis.

As much as I do not agree with women's ordination I cannot believe that he failed to point out ALL the multiple reasons why a denomination gets to the point of endorsing gay marriage: that overwhelmingly, denominations that ordain women have almost simultaneously come to support abortion, homosexuality, and deny the inerrancy of scripture.
It is a multitude of issues that has lead to the overwhelming decay of these denominations, and to propose there is a direct correlation with women's ordiantion alone (his key words there "most notably")is,I believe, wrong.

In fact I would say denying inerrancy of scripture is the one and only factor that has led to the cultural tsunami that has engulfed us.

Todd Pruitt said...


I agree that the denial of inerrancy is the key doctrinal issue that has led to the embrace of homosexuality.

It seems to me however that Carl is not saying that the ordination of women is a direct corollary to the embrace of homosexuality or gay marriage. He is making a larger point about selective hermeneutics. Churches that compromise on one issue (the ordination of women) should not be surprised if the next generation expects them to compromise on another issue (gay marriage).

It seems to me his "most notably" is simply a way to point to a very prominent example of this hermeneutical accomodationism. I think the example is particularly helpful because there are many churches and denominations which ordain women who would in no way want to bless gay marriage. The problem, as Carl points out, is that they will not be able to adequately justify their stance on homosexuality to those who have come to expect certain accomodations with the biblical text.

Inerrancy is certainly the bigger and broader issue. Ordination of women is symptomatic of that problem. That's the way I read Carl's article.

Mike said...

I am not saying I agree with his idea of where the christian stance should be on this issue...just his assessment of where we are headed.