Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Future of Homosexuals in the Churches of Christ

I wonder sometimes if and how the Churches of Christ will resist the incorporation of homosexuality into their churches. It seems to me almost completely self-evident that the counter-movement in American culture which has resisted the full enfranchisement of homosexuals is doomed to failure (and reasonably so, as far as I'm concerned). In a generation, I do not doubt that our children will look back on our parents as backward, foolish bigots. Gay marriage will become a reality, even a norm in American society, and, I am convinced, anyone who opposes it is fighting a self-deluded and futile battle against the dominant forces which drive our society.

I do not, however, really care what the American government decides on the issue of homosexuality. I have no problem admitting in the same breath that to deny civil rights to homosexuals is fundamentally un-American and that to deny that those "rights" are sinful is un-Christian. As I am an American by an accident of birth and a Christian by conviction of conscience and by the grace of God, I am inevitably only bothered with the latter of those two assertions. Thus, given what I consider to be the inevitable state of affairs in the secular world, I wonder what will become of the Churches of Christ? Will they accept homosexuality as acceptable? Will they put homosexuals in their pulpits?

I don't worry so much for Christendom as a whole. The majority of Christians belong to denominations with the kind of ecclesiastical machinery to combat social forces should that be their desire. More importantly, the Catholic and Orthodox churches (representing roughly 1.5 of the 2 billion Christians) are geographically diverse enough - and thus sufficiently divorced from any dependence on American culture - that whatever direction American goes, they may gladly continue on whatever course seems best to them.

Churches of Christ, however, have no ecclesiastical machinery through which to combat social forces. Thus, the history of the churches of Christ has long been characterized by a defense of the social status quo. When the social norms change, Churches of Christ are almost always somewhat slowly following right behind. Churches of Christ are, more significantly, very thoroughly American. They were founded in American, rooted in American values. It is a church that fosters patriotism as much as piety, and one that has long courted respectability in the American religious culture.

So what will happen when that culture adapts to incorporate homosexuality into its accepted worldview? Will it be, as it has been with so many other issues, that support will begin with a few dissenting voices (as perhaps it already has). Those voices may appear to be squashed by an overwhelming flood of criticism on the part of conservatives, but slowly the idea will take hold. With the younger generations, with the educated elite, will the church slowly conform itself yet again to cultural norms until the whole body has largely forgotten what it stood for to begin with?

The experience of the church with civil rights provides a good example of the metamorphosis that Churches of Christ can undergo in a generation, riding into the future on the coattails of dominant culture. Since the Civil War, Churches of Christ had largely capitulated to the social pressure for segregation. At the advent of the civil rights movement, the largely southern church championed the racist agenda of most southern whites. Only after the death of Martin Luther King, when the battle had already been won (at least in principle) did dissent from the party line begin. Less than thirty years later, that dissent has become the party line. (The purpose here is of course not to lament that the church eventually abandoned its racism. Clearly that was a positive outcome. My point is merely to demonstrate the tendency of the Churches of Christ to allow themselves to be shaped so thoroughly by the dominant mores of society.)

On the other hand, the Churches of Christ have resisted the move to "ordain" women with surprising vigor. There have certainly been capitulations. The early twentieth century saw the defection of churches who refused to allow Sunday School because they would need to staff women to teach them. In recent times, women have found positions as "ministers" in the church, but those roles are almost exclusively for ministering to women, children, and youth. The churches have resisted any incursion of women into the eldership or the pulpit of most congregations. While the ordination of women has largely become the assumed norm, at least in Protestantism, Churches of Christ have managed to resist the temptation to incorporate women more fully into their unofficial power structure.

So I wonder which path homosexuality will take. Will Churches of Christ change with culture, modify their moral code, admit their "bigotry," and incorporate homosexuals openly into their fellowship? Or will they resist change and represent a last counter-cultural stronghold against homosexuality in Christianity? For my part, I imagine that the former will be the case. As long as Churches of Christ identify themselves so readily with American culture, as long as they put their faith in the American government to be a "Christian government," and as long as they falsely conflate permitting something socially and supporting it ethically the force of cultural change will be irresistible.

1 comment:

  1. Sean, I am glad to have stumbled across your blog once again.

    I suspect that you are right, that Churches of Christ will resist change and, should our culture fully incorporate homosexuality into its civic and moral graces, our movement will lag behind and only reluctantly embrace the homosexual.

    I am, however, not as certain as you seem to be that our society will become so resolutely committed to the acceptability of the homosexual lifestyle. Of course on this, only time will tell.