I have just recently had a lively – and surprisingly irenic – discussion about same sex relationships and the church, on Facebook no less! Imagine that, a non-violent, non-abusive disagreement on social media? First up, thank you to my fellow participants.
What struck me most from the discussion was, that among the pro same-sex marriage side of the debate (and I mean those who would affirm same sex relationships as God-approved, rather than those, such as I, who are aware that in a secular context we are unable to impose a Christian ethic universally), there was a tendency to view the shift by the culture towards same sex marriage as an issue of cultural progress. There was an equal fear that the church may be being left behind by the culture on this one. Indeed one interlocutor said that perhaps the culture might be only just 1 % right on this one, and we risk being on the wrong side of history.
It struck me that the issue is not about sex, nor about individual rights, but first and foremost about one’s governing narrative of history. Progress is the language of the Enlightenment. Progress is the myth that the Enlightenment project is committed to. To fall on the wrong side of progress, in this view of the world, is to fall behind and risk ridicule and correction further down the line by the culture. A rap over the knuckles, if you like, for being so tardy.
But the church is not governed by the myth of Progress. The church is not shaped by the Enlightenment. The church is shaped by Eschatology. The church is governed by the reality of the Resurrection. And that makes all the difference.
From my discussions with people it appears odd that Christians most eager to point to Jesus’ loving example as the reason to permit same sex marriage (often citing the trajectory of the church in Acts as it broke down racial/religious barriers etc), are the same Christians who were in thrall to an idea that is so anti-Christian. To put it bluntly, the Eschatological understanding of the world does not see the modern Western culture as progressing, (if anything it is regressing to its pagan roots), but rather as dead and buried already! Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5 “If anyone is in Christ – new creation!” Paul spends most of his time telling the Corinthians (in both of the letters we have), that there are two realities for the world; the old age that is passing away, and the new age that has come about because of the Resurrection.
The myth of Progress is a denial of the reality of the Resurrection. To talk about the church needing to line up with the culture’s trajectory on issues such as sex etc, is to deny the reality of the new age. Paul asks pointedly, “Where is the wise man of this age.? Paul is not scorning wise men, but men (and women) whose wisdom is governed and shaped by an age that is dead and dying. Insofar as the church is worried that it may have fallen behind the culture on issues of sex, it has been captivated by the myth of progress and the Enlightenment Project.
I believe that in their attempt to align same sex marriage with a Christian sexual ethic, is not the malaise, but simply the symptom of a far greater problem, namely the caving in to the cultural myth of progress and the Enlightenment Project that promises a utopian new age minus a resurrection.