Reports of the Collapse Have Perhaps Been Exaggerated -- But Only Temporarily
The other evening over dinner, a young Roman Catholic friend asked me if I thought evangelicalism would hold firm on gay marriage. I told him I thought a major collapse in the consensus was imminent and also speculated that he would see a similar thing occurring among un-catechized Roman Catholics. Well, now, a report in Time alleges a significant shift among younger evangelicals towards favouring gay marriage. Like all statistics, these can be debated. Further, the terms of the question are complicated by the contested definition of evangelicalism: Does coming to favour gay marriage indicate a departure from the evangelical camp or an expansion of the evangelical camp?
Yet, however one debates the above matters, the statistics are plausible. It would indeed seem that a major collapse in the evangelical Protestant consensus is imminent, paralleling that in wider society and, as in that case, probably along generational lines. There are various reasons for this. For example, the traditional consensus has likely not had solid foundations for many years. Many evangelicals long ago accepted the idea of no-fault divorce which involved the implicit redefinition of marriage as a sentimental partnership for self-fulfillment. Once that move was made, the necessity for the partners in marriage to be one male and one female was distinctly weakened. Throw into the mix the authority of experience and feelings in many branches of evangelicalism, and the problem is simply compounded. Then, faced with a generation brought up on post-Will and Grace narratives, the aesthetics of niceness, and a positive rhetoric of freedom, love, and rights which has been almost entirely co-opted by the LGBTQ movement, evangelical churches have little with which to persuade their people of the traditional position on marriage and sexuality.
The future does not look bright for traditionalists. But the danger is not simply from past marriage precedents and present sitcom storylines. World Magazine recently reported on Wheaton College where, for whatever reason, there seems to be a serious lack of clarity on the issue of the politics of sexual identity. Carl Lentz, who has been remarkably vague on this matter, has shared the platform with mainstream evangelical leaders. Yet the public silence of the big beasts of Big Eva on these incidents is astounding. It is also misguided: if they really believe that nuance and the language of compassion will save them and their platforms from the sans culottes of sexuality, they are sadly mistaken.
All of this has to be disheartening to people in the pews who every day face work environments made increasingly hostile by this issue. They need clear, coherent, and truly compassionate leadership. If the Top Men will only speak out on the most egregious examples which take place safely outside of their camp and will not address the inconsistencies on divorce, the experiential sentimentality, and the weak leadership of their own elite corps, they should not expect their church members to stand firm in the wider world. Why on earth should they?
A major change on this issue is sad but to be expected. External forces and internal evangelical politics seem to be conspiring to make it so.