News and reality are not always the same. Take the matter of marriage.
When a prominent evangelical leader, like Tony Campolo, announces his support for gay marriage, it’s likely to get reporters’ attention. It is indeed news, in that it is still unusual to hear an otherwise orthodox Christian announce heterodox views on sexuality. But in the case of Campolo, it may not be the kind of news that garners much attention. (One reason: His organization Red Letter Christians has argued for same-sex marriage several times.)
But we were surprised when former CT editor David Neff on Facebook praised Campolo’s move. As he put it in an email to me clarifying his comment, “I think the ethically responsible thing for gay and lesbian Christians to do is to form lasting, covenanted partnerships. I also believe that the church should help them in those partnerships in the same way the church should fortify traditional marriages.”
At CT, we’re saddened that David has come to this conclusion. Saddened because we firmly believe that the Bible teaches that God intends the most intimate of covenant relationships to be enjoyed exclusively by a man and a woman. We’ve stated this view explicitly in many editorials, and it is implicit but clear in many of our feature stories.
Still, many of our readers become alarmed when a prominent evangelical leader says otherwise. Add the changes of mind to the legal juggernaut sweeping through the land to legitimize gay marriage, and the orthodox can become demoralized. They fear that history will sweep all of us into this view eventually.
But it’s not at all certain that the rapid cultural shift in America on gay marriage will be mirrored in the Christian church. North American and European Christians who believe in gay marriage are a small minority in these regions, and churches that ascribe to a more liberal sexual ethic continue to wither. Meanwhile, poll Christians in Africa, Asia, and practically anywhere in the world, and you’ll hear a resounding “no” to gay marriage. Scan the history of the church for 2,000 years and you’ll have a hard time turning up any Christian who would support same-sex marriage. The church has been and remains overwhelmingly united. It’s undergoing stress, certainly. But the evidence doesn’t support a narrative of division and collapse on this point.
The reasons for this are many, but one that most commentators and same-sex marriage advocates fail to recognize is the profound theology that undergirds our ethics. That theology has been either assumed or articulated by the great theologians and Christian philosophers in the Protestant, Orthodox, and Catholic traditions—the most sophisticated recent effort being John Paul II's work on the theology of the body. (See our pages on homosexuality and same-sex marriage for more on what CT has said over the years.) It is not driven by an irrational prejudice of people living in the past, as the American zeitgeist assumes. It’s a consistent, nuanced, and, we believe, biblical working out of a theology of sexuality.
The unity and depth of Christian teaching on marriage may not be news. Neither are the hundreds of thousands of planes that land safely each day. It’s not novel. It’s not surprising or counterintuitive. But it is reality—and a reality that is not going away anytime soon. Any time at all, for that matter, because it is grounded in the deepest realities.
We at CT are sorry when fellow evangelicals modify their views to accord with the current secular thinking on this matter. And we’ll continue to be sorry, because over the next many years, there will be other evangelicals who similarly reverse themselves on sexual ethics.
We’ll be sad, but we won’t panic or despair. Neither will we feel compelled to condemn the converts and distance ourselves from them. But to be sure, they will be enlisting in a cause that we believe is ultimately destructive to society, to the church, and to relations between men and women.
So yes, another couple of prominent evangelicals have come out in support of gay sexual ethics. It’s disappointing, but no reason to react defensively or angrily. We plan to treat with charity and respect those with whom we disagree, while we continue to call for a sexual ethic that, by God’s design, is one of the key ways to foster human flourishing.
Mark Galli is editor of Christianity Today.