A few days ago I shared a series of Twitter posts – properly dubbed a tweet storm, I’m told – by my friend, theologian David Congdon.

In fact, I actually shared two tweet storms by Congdon.

The first had to do with the authoritarian nature of evangelicalism in the United States and  it looked at how threatening challenges to both strict views of biblical inerrancy and exclusionary models of salvation prove to be for establishment evangelical structures of authority.

The content of these posts is excellent and I hope to write about them in greater detail at a future juncture.

But it’s the second tweet storm, labeled “Evangelicalism, Sexuality, and Christ, that I want to take a closer look at today, as it fits nicely alongside the broader examination of LGBTQ communities and the Church that has been my blogs focal point of late.

I would encourage anyone reading this blog to first take a look at Congdon’s full series of tweets. If you haven’t already clicked one of the links to the tweets above, you can do so at the link below:

Evangelicalism, Sexuality, and Christ

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For the remainder of this post I will be posting pieces of Congdon’s larger argument and unpacking them as I go.

What I intend to illustrate is how Congdon presents an authentically Christ-centered argument for full LGBTQ affirmation, and does so on the biblical basis I looked to establish in my earlier series of posts on biblical interpretation.

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To set his argument up, Congdon begins by noting that many (I’d suggest most) evangelical institutions argue that the historical Church (big ‘C’) has always held a uniform position on human marriage and sexuality.

I hear this argument a lot, usually coupled with the charge that so-called progressive Christians are merely caving to the cultural pressures of secular society in their embrace of the LGBTQ community (among other things).

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In contrast to the historically constant view of sexuality that evangelicalism uncritically presumes, Congdon then notes that up until the 17th century, a radically different view was seen as normative.

Rather than categorizing men and women as two distinct but complimentary sexes as we do today, humanity was seen as having a single sex separated by form and degree with maleness, largely, being seen as superior. Some form of this would have been the dominant view in ancient times as well.

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Historically speaking, both medical (scientific) and philosophical work led society away from the 1-sex model, a move that categorically, at least implicitly, has no room for intersex, transgender, or non-heterosexual identities.

It’s important here to note that these were secular advances, not grounded in the work of the Church or in scriptural analysis and interpretation (although there was a time when those things were one in the same).

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Congdon then describes how evangelicalism as a unique movement has its roots in this cultural moment. He notes that some historians go so far as to identify a foundational impetus for the rise of evangelicalism with these shifting views of human sexuality.

The result – and here is where things begin to relate to some of my previous posting on biblical interpretation – is the marriage of biblical authority with a particular historically bounded cultural expression.

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Congdon’s aim here is to demonstrate that evangelicalism is uniquely vulnerable to the mistake of conflating the gospel with culture.

Whereas Confessional (Mainline) Protestantism, Roman Catholicism, and Eastern Orthodoxy, broadly speaking, intentionally conflate divine revelation with particular cultural expressions, namely those of the early and patristic church, evangelicals presume naively that God somehow cancels out or transcends cultural particularity in speaking to humanity.

This has been a crucial point in some of the pushback I’ve received, both with regards to my views of biblical interpretation, as well as my arguments concerning LGBTQ inclusion.

The assumption here is that God’s truth somehow exceeds any and all cultural limitations, thereby providing a universal norm for truth expression that is equally applicable for all times and places.

Mainline Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox Christians usually recognize the unique cultural expression that bounds both the Bible and Creedal Christianity.

They simply argue that the tradition is meant to be normative and if that means that missional efforts in our own time must necessarily be imperialistic, then so be it.

The best of them allow for self-awareness and a degree of adaptability on this point, but the colonizing impulse remains foundational. The Church is a culture that exists in competition with or isolation from all other cultural expressions.

To be saved is to be part of this culture as opposed to the others.

Evangelicalism, by contrast, embraces this construct naively. In doing so they leave no space for ongoing dialogue about the way Christ transcends culture by being translatable across all cultures.

Note here that I’m contrasting Christ (and the Gospel) as transcendent of culture over and against the Bible as transcendent as such.

What I mean is that the Bible constitutes culturally bound witness to the culturally transcendent Word of God (Jesus) which can never be identified directly with a particular cultural expression but must always be translated to each and every cultural moment.

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And so as a result of the cultural naivety that has characterized evangelicalism from its inception, modern evangelicals are often unable to see how many of their assumptions regarding biblically authoritative norms are conditioned by cultural bound expectations.

This leaves them subsequently unable to see the way that Christ transcends the historically situated (Old Creation) categories and presents us with a new, unified, eschatological (New Creation) humanity.

This has profound implications for so-called biblical sexual ethics.

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I realize this post was on the headier side. So if you made it this far and you’re scratching your head, allow me to summarize.

  • Most conservatives belief that their position on sexual ethics represents the historic, universal position of the Church.
  • What they – especially evangelicals – fail to realize, is how culturally bound and influenced (i.e. ancient) many of our assumptions about gender and sexuality actually are.
  • They make the mistake of equating witness to divine revelation (which is culturally mediated) with revelation itself (which transcends culture but is translatable within it).
  • More traditional branches of Christianity do this consciously. But evangelicalism tends to do it naively.
  • In doing so they are unable to see the way that God in Christ redefines human categories, uniting them in and under the reign of Christ by the Spirit.
  • This frees us to embrace the LGBTQ community because true humanity is defined by and in Christ and not according to culturally or historically bound markers.

The implications of this way of thinking are vast and far exceed the scope of this blog in general and the discussion over LGBTQ inclusion in particular. My point in sharing was largely to push readers into these new categories of through, while reminding them that the crux of these arguments remains deeply biblical.

There is an irony here.

Many who hold to the traditional perspective argue that more open or progressive Christians are embracing a secular or (hu)man centered view.

In reality they are ignorant of the degree to which (this form of the) progressive view in fact seeks to preserve the transcendence of God’s revelation to us and it is, in fact, the traditional view, that is deeply influenced by earthly (i.e. cultural) things.

Grace and Peace.