Andrew Sullivan Says Forget the Church. That's Like Saying Forget Grace.
And when it comes to his so called simple ethics—well, if we dig just beneath the surface, we soon discover they are not so simple. And worse: They also lead to arguments and wars, as much as does theology!
For example, one could argue that nearly every war in the last two centuries has been fought over what it means to love one's neighbor. Many Southern Christians believed that "simple negroes" did not have the capability of taking on the full responsibilities of freedom and citizenship. They believed that love demanded that whites keep these "negroes" in slavery, for their own good. Northern Christians begged to differ, believing that love of neighbor demanded freedom for black Americans.
Or take another example: In the 1930s, many German Christians believed that the welfare of German citizens required absolute allegiance to the Führer, which included loyal support for his various policies toward the Jews and the surrounding nations. Other Christians believed that the love of the Aryan German neighbor did not preclude love for the Jewish German neighbor, and that the welfare of the German people hinged not on Hitler's preeminence but his downfall. Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Karl Barth were the two leading theologians who argued this with their pen and also with their lives, Bonhoeffer losing his in the cause.
Today, Christians debate how or whether to love the unborn child, or whether the life of the unborn child takes precedence over the welfare of the mother. Abortion ethics is all about neighbor love—who exactly constitutes the neighbor, and what it means to love that neighbor.
Or take our debates over sexual ethics. All Christians seem to agree that the biblical picture is clear: when we're talking about sex, we're talking about something core to our being. It's very much wrapped up in this business of being created in the image of God, for it is man and woman together who constitute the image of God according to Genesis 1. Sullivan, who is a devout Catholic and a practicing homosexual, argues, as do many others, that it is none of the church's business what goes on in the bedroom, nor whether what goes on is between people of the same sex or different sexes. Most Christians beg to differ, and argue that precisely because our sexual behavior should reflect the image of God in which we are made, God has a lot of interest in how we express it. Both parties, of course, ground their arguments in love of neighbor, but we disagree about what sexual love should look like, and what expressions really make for a flourishing human being.
I sure wish "the simple ethics of Jesus" were really simple, but they are decidedly not. And we often need a good dose of theology to sort out our competing ethical values.
These things can sometimes become personal and specific. In one church where I served on the board, a delicate situation came to my attention as we were preparing to elect a new slate of church officers. A woman who was living with a man outside of marriage had put her name in the hat as a candidate. I brought this up to the interim pastor, but he didn't have the constitution or theology to deal with an issue like this. He said to me, "If it bothers you, Mark, then you talk to her."
In "SoulWork," Mark Galli brings news, Christian theology, and spiritual direction together to explore what it means to be formed spiritually in the image of Jesus Christ.
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