Broken Fences: in the Valley of Brokeback Mountain
Is it possible for men to hug other men, or young boys without the suspicion of being gay? It is a serious, if offensive question, raised by the "pansexualist" agenda foisted upon the culture by Hollywood. We are reaching a point where almost no communication is free from sexual connotation of some kind. Unthinkable, then, that Tolkien could write today of Sam Gamgee cradling Frodo's head in a cell in Mordor and saying, "Frodo! Mr. Frodo, my dear" without raising the suspicion of a gay theme.
Our culture is unable to understand the bonds of friendship between David and Jonathan without suggesting a sub-text of homosexuality. Westminster John Knox Press, back in 1978 (!), published Jonathan Loved David: Homosexuality in Bible Times by Thomas Marland Horner as just such an attempt, and the more recent (2002) work by ex-Bob Jones graduate, Jeff Miner, pastor of Jesus Metropolitan Community Church in Indianapolis, Indiana, The Children are Free: Re-examining the Biblical Evidence on Same-sex Relationships (published by Jesus Metropolitan Community Church) continues this trend.
The Agenda of Tolerance
Gayness is part of a wider agenda of tolerance. Take the very word itself, 'Gay.' It used to mean, 'Given to cheerfulness and lighthearted excitement, merry,' but try saying, "I'm feeling gay" and see the response! Language, as Wittgenstein, Foucault, Derrida, et. al. have all asserted one way or another, is a social phenomenon--an evolutionary movement from grunts and groans to expressions of social convention but with no objective meaning. Applied to the language of Scripture, this philosophy of reductionism has proved fatal to any assertion of biblical inerrancy. Maintaining clarion calls to the objective nature of truth in verbal communication from God has been the conservative evangelical response: God has spoken in words that carry definite and precise meaning--witness the fact that Jesus, God incarnate, spoke in Aramaic and signaled the objective authority of the words of the Hebrew Old Testament.
But words do change their meaning over time according to social conventions requiring careful analysis of the context in which these words were employed. 'Gay' in our time, invariably means a sexual relationship between individuals of the same gender. And in successfully accommodating this word in this way, those who now regard homosexuality as morally unacceptable are by default opposed to happiness. Thus Al Mohler was constantly badgered by Larry King on a recent interview on CNN by the question, "Why don't you want people to be happy?" irrespective of the fact that when Dr. Hannibal Lector said (of a census taker that called at his house), "I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti," he looked exquisitely happy! King seemed to personify H. L. Mencken's quip that Puritanism is the fear that someone, somewhere may be happy and Mohler was obviously a Puritan--yet, another word that has suffered the Hollywood make-over!
What are some of the consequences of the acceptance of same-sex relationships in our culture? There are many.
First, we are facing the obliteration of acceptable norms of social and sexual behavior. If gay sex is a way of expressing love in physical terms why should sex be limited to marriage? One of the answers to this used to be the possibility of pregnancy. Illegitimate children are to be avoided and the best way to ensure this is to limit sex to the marriage bed. But ask any youth minister what teenagers regard as acceptable and you will get a very different response. Not surprisingly perhaps from teenagers! But what is surprising is the tolerant attitude of Christian parents--better to ensure that they are not gay by allowing them to taste the fruits of heterosexual sex (with condoms, of course--the fear of HIV has brought this issue to the surface). The church is facing a pandemic of sexual confusion fostered by confused and sometimes paranoid parental fear. The need for counter-cultural sexual standards was never more acute. And the age at which we invoke the aspiration of purity is younger than we dare think. Christian advocates of homosexuality will never suggest that sexual activity must be reserved for some kind of civil union. It goes without saying (or does it?) that promiscuous sexual activity has to be "learned" before any civil union can be entertained. If this is so, teenage heterosexual behavior will mimic it even within the bounds of the church.
Second, revisionism (like the poor) will always be with us. The role of the moral law in shaping Christian lifestyle is a perpetual cause of disagreement within the church, now as much as in the past. Calvin's tertius usus legis (third use of the law) is as controversial in today's church as it was in the middle of the sixteenth century when he first gave voice to it. But there is more than one way to descend the slippery slide of antinomianism and our culture's distaste for moral absolutes tends to dilute our message lest we appear intolerant, bigoted and jihadist. It is all too easy to lose our winsomeness when condemning the behavior of the world, especially when the charge of hypocrisy is too close for comfort. Roy Clements, for example, suggests that theologians like Mohler are "fundamentalists" and pro-gay "thoughtful" Baptists are "reformers."
It is probably impossible to win this war. To the world in its current state, Christians with convictions will always appear harsh and unyielding, intolerant, even un-American. Interestingly, in a recent radio interview with an Emergent Church planter, my colleague asked him did they employ terms like "church" and "evangelical". He replied saying that they preferred to use instead some of the language of Jesus. In a pause, I interjected, "Like the statement about fastening a millstone about the neck and casting into the sea?" He smiled, but the point was made. Jesus, he thought, spoke with softer notes than the rest of the Bible into a hostile culture. This creeping revisionism, pitting one section of the Bible against another, is the illegitimate offspring of a rebellious child.
Third, our sexually confused culture reaps a harvest in our sexually confused teenagers. Boys can be cruel (and cruelty is often a camouflage for guilt) in their treatment of one another. If you like Schubert you must be a sissy was about as mean as it got in the 60s for me (I did like Schubert!). But today's playground taunts are raunchier and meaner. The pressure to prove one's sexuality is strong--as much among grown men as young boys. In order to ensure straightness men are tempted to promote a macho persona. But many teenagers are confused about sexuality: confused by the world's messages of experimentation and orientation (hermeneutical devices to mollify ethical objectivity) as much as by hormonal and psychological issues. It is not easy growing up sexually in our world and parents need to teach their children well. The need for nurturing and mentoring seems as necessary as ever. Boys will always experiment, as much in their minds as in their bodies and without the guidance and direction of good mentoring the world's agenda will prevail. I grew up without ever using the word 'homosexual'. I recall using the word 'promiscuous' in an English literature class discussion on the poetry of Sir John Betjeman and to this day my face reddens at the response of the teacher! But those days are long gone and the church, but more especially parents, need to take charge of the sexual agenda.