During my four decades plus in the pastoral ministry, the Christian church and western society have undergone profound transformation. The religious culture and theology rooted in the Scriptures which for generations had been entrusted to the mainline seminaries to pass on is no longer passed on. The reason is devastatingly simple: those charged with doing so no longer believe in it. Mainline denominational seminaries, beginning primarily in the 1970’s, have gradually transformed theological education into the replication of the faculty’s pet social\theological\political views. Those faculties, largely products of that adolescent dissension movement called the 1960’s, have deliberately set the traditional Christian inheritance at a distance from their students and, by extension, the congregations of the church.
What the latest crop of progressive theologians do believe in is, perhaps, no more evident than in their advocacy of gender and sexuality issues, which represent a radical departure from centuries of Christian thought and practice. The ever-widening definitions of gender and especially the redefining of the institution of marriage to include same-sex relations represents what may well be a fatal blow to the Christian anthropology of the west, the final fences to be pushed over in the quest to nullify all limitations and restrictions and make individual desire the focus of all authority and self-definition. Why members of the Christian church think this is a good idea is hard to understand.
Far from being restrictive, however, Christian marriage was revolutionary in the ancient world. Author Sarah Ruden, in her 2010 book Paul Among the People contends that it is profoundly ignorant to think of the Apostle Paul as a fussy Puritan descending upon happy-go-lucky pagans, ordering them to stop having fun. In fact, Paul’s teachings on sexual purity and marriage were adopted as liberating in the pornographic, sexually exploitative Greco-Roman culture of the time—exploitative especially of slaves and women, whose value to pagan males lay chiefly in their ability to produce children and provide sexual pleasure. (For example, given its population of ten thousand people, the Roman city of Pompeii had roughly one brothel for every 70 male citizens). Do the math across the entirety of the Roman empire and the implications are obvious.
It would be naive to claim that there ever was a golden age of Christianity where all of this fell neatly into place. But Christianity, as articulated by Paul, did work a cultural revolution, restraining and channeling male eros, elevating the status of both women and of the human body, and infusing marriage—and marital sexuality—with an ethic of ‘agape’ love and likening marriage to the loving, sacrificial relation between Jesus Christ and His Church.
In the light of the current state of our society It is well worth pondering that women in pagan Roman society came to recognize the Christian institution of marriage as liberating in contrast to the culture of pornographic exploitation into which they were born. Given the gender\sexuality mess liberal progressives have produced in the last half century, it may also be appropriate to ponder the fact that the abandonment of traditional Christian marriage, and the ethic of ‘agape’ love it embodied, has also resulted in the virtual mainstreaming of pornography, something the ancient pagan Romans would welcome and applaud. (Not to mention America’s export of the recent Super Bowl half time show with its raw depiction of sexuality viewed by millions, including children). All of this has contributed to the widespread confusion about who human beings are and what they are for. The ancient Christians understood that what people do with their sexuality cannot be separated from who they are.
The contemporary progressive church is rampant with examples of complicity in the wider progressive movement to trample down fences in the name of the secular gospel of radical inclusion and radical self-expression. Rather than teaching the Christian that our freedom in Christ is defined by how we limit ourselves for the sake of the self and the neighbor and their good, we are being taught that freedom is found in releasing ourselves from old restrictions on the path to self-transcendence, personal meaning and self-fulfillment. Which is a pretty good description of idolatry.
The late English philosopher Roger Scruton, writing of the petulant desire of the sixties generation (the authors of this current state of affairs) to break down the fences, stated it this way: “The abstract, unreal freedom of the liberal intellect was really nothing more than childish disobedience, amplified into anarchy.”
The so-called progressive church, therefore, is actually in the business (unwittingly or not) of dismantling the traditional Christian world view, the sacred order out of which came our concepts of human dignity and rights, by actually encouraging a re-paganizing of sensuality and sexual liberation. Given the high stakes and dire consequences one ought to be suspicious of why Christian progressives are so eager to do so. For they are not bringing about the kingdom of heaven with these ideas, they are aiding and abetting secular society in precipitating a crisis.