Beyond that, I must say it does not seem those whom Smith suggests are “stretching” the markers of orthodoxy are “oddly selective,” as he claims. They are reactive to particular, current movements to normalize and sanction behaviors in the church that have been scandalous to it for 2,000 years. There may be a selectivity about it that is worth critiquing, given other scandals we may think are occurring without much notice. But there’s nothing unintelligible or suspicious about a widespread reaction to this issue, since on no other issue does there appear to be such a full-court press toward revision and acceptance in both society and the church.
What’s more, it doesn’t seem that the focus on sexual immorality is out of place, considering the focus it was given in the life of the early church. Consider the first church council, in Jerusalem (Acts 15). One of the first rules the apostles laid down for the Gentiles, in order that they be seen as Christians in good standing, was to abstain from “sexual immorality,” a term which, in first-century Judaism, was largely informed by Leviticus 18, including its proscription of same-sex intercourse. This indicates just how central sexual ethics was to the practice and understanding of the gospel in the first century.
Similarly, this focus continues in the writings of the Fathers. In fact, the Councils themselves had various canons attached to them which included much moral and ethical instruction beyond the specific definitions and creeds usually associated with them. For this reason, no less a theologian than Wolfhart Pannenberg thought churches who broadened their definitions of acceptable sexual behavior were formally schismatic, long before the recent wave of post-Obergefell anxieties.
Mountain or Molehill
Returning to the present moment, the danger most critics are reacting to is that if we don’t label something a matter of orthodoxy, it tends to become minimized to an adiaphora, an “agree to disagree” issue. Smith is not trying to do that. He says this linguistic change doesn’t signal that SSM is a matter of indifference. And yet there is a danger of doing just that when he asks this question:
Do you really want to claim that Christians who affirm all of the historic markers of orthodoxy but disagree with you on matters of sexual morality or nonviolence or women in office are heretics? So that someone can affirm the core, scandalous, supernatural tenets of the Gospel, and affirm the radicality of grace, and yet fall outside the parameters of your small-o “orthodox Christianity?”
There are couple of problems here. The first is lumping the issue of SSM together with issues like the ordination of women and nonviolence. The exegetical and traditional witness on women’s ordination is much more split than that on SSM. Even starker (at least in the tradition) is the difference on the matter of nonviolence and just war theory. The affirmation of SSM in Western, post-Enlightenment cultures in the late 20th century is a new thing for the faith. Putting these issues in the same category understates the difference between them and (unintentionally) suggests that they should all be treated the same way.