When Being Affirming Isn’t Loving

When Being Affirming Isn’t Loving

Written by Carl R. Trueman |
Tuesday, October 17, 2023

The church has always had—and needed—prophets because she is a fallible institution made up of fallible people. And yes she has made some terrible mistakes, not least with the matter of slavery. But what is interesting today is the inverted role of the modern prophet. While Isaiah and his colleagues saw their task as calling the people away from the anthropology of the wider world and back to that of the covenant God, today’s prophets seem to see their task as being religious mouthpieces for the priorities of the wider culture, calling the church away from a Christian anthropology and toward that of the world around.

Two events of the last week witness to a significant shift in the times in which we live. The first is a sermon by megachurch evangelical pastor Andy Stanley that seemed to concede ground to gay partnerships within the church. The second is a worryingly ambiguous comment from Pope Francis on the possibility of blessing same-sex unions.

In his Sunday sermon at North Point Community Church, Stanley responded to criticism that he had held a conference that featured gay-affirming speakers. He stated that North Point continues to teach that marriage is between a man and a woman, but that if gay Christians choose to marry, in response, “we draw circles, we don’t draw lines.” In a letter published Monday, the pope reaffirmed that the Church does not recognize gay marriages, but added that “we cannot be judges who only deny, reject, and exclude,” and that “pastoral prudence must adequately discern whether there are forms of blessing, requested by one or more persons, that do not convey a mistaken concept of marriage.” While it is inappropriate to speculate on the motives in each case, one thing both Stanley and the pope appear to share is a commitment to the therapeutic anthropology that pervades modern Western society and the implicit assumption that any significant challenge to this from a traditional Christian perspective is unloving or bigoted. Affirming people in their sexual and gender identities seems to be the order of the day and, as with the pope and Andy Stanley, pastoral strategy must therefore be developed in isolation from (and, arguably, in opposition to) traditional Christian teaching. The ethic of “love as feeling” rather than “love as directing to the truth” is strong.

Two things stand out at this point. First, Stanley and the pope seem to have missed something very basic: Christian pastoral strategy cannot be developed in isolation from Christian anthropology. Both the question of sexual identity and the politics that surround it are not primarily concerned with sexual behavior. They are actually about what it means to be a human being. For Christians, far more is therefore at stake in this debate than the question of which sexual acts are moral and which are immoral. Once sex becomes recreation and once it is detached from the body’s own sexual script, what it means to be human has fundamentally changed. Sexual complementarity, the telos of marriage, and the analogy between Christ and the church all lose their significance.

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