A Problem with McLaren’s Approach to Homosexuality: Not Everyone Can Wait

In late January, Brian McLaren had a post on Leadership Journal’s Out of Ur blog on the subject of homosexuality and the church. Like everything else that McLaren writes, it received both enthusiastic praise and scathing criticism. Some see McLaren as compassionate, others see him as just plain wishy-washy. I tend to think there’s merit to both allegations.

I don’t want to discuss his post in its entirety, just one paragraph of it. So much as been said about this, there’s not much to add. But there’s one thing that I haven’t heard said yet, that I think needs saying. Here’s the relevant McLaren paragraph.

Perhaps we need a five-year moratorium on making pronouncements. In the meantime, we’ll practice prayerful Christian dialogue, listening respectfully, disagreeing agreeably. When decisions need to be made, they’ll be admittedly provisional. We’ll keep our ears attuned to scholars in biblical studies, theology, ethics, psychology, genetics, sociology, and related fields. Then in five years, if we have clarity, we’ll speak; if not, we’ll set another five years for ongoing reflection. After all, many important issues in church history took centuries to figure out. Maybe this moratorium would help us resist the “winds of doctrine” blowing furiously from the left and right, so we can patiently wait for the wind of the Spirit to set our course.

Many question whether a church of full of McLarens could ever come to clarity on this or any other issue, and ask what reason there is to think that his epistemological situation will be much improved five, ten, or fifteen years down the road. I think they might be onto something, but in the interest of charity I’ll assume that five, ten, fifteen, or perhaps twenty years might do it, that it’s possible that McLaren’s moratorium could bear fruit.

My concern with McLaren’s approach is that he treats this issue as if were merely a matter of church policy…like specific bylaws or how often we do communion or what sort of music we sing in worship. For many believers, that’s all it is. It has no real bearing on their lives. There’s no problem with them taking any number of years to mull things over noncommittally. Best to take things slow and not get dogmatic, lest we turn anyone off unnecessarily. McLaren’s approach might actually make a little sense for the straight Christians who are worrying too much about this issue as it is.

But the problem is that it makes absolutely no sense for those Christians who are same-sex attracted. It seems that these are the people who fall out of McLaren’s calculation about the correct approach to take. He’s worried about straight Christians obsessing about something that doesn’t really concern them. He’s worried about offending the straight couple in his church who want to make sure their gay fathers will be welcome. Judging by other things he’s written, he’s worried about gay people outside the church who might be alienated from it. But for all his concern with being not just honest but “pastoral”, a pastoral concern for those to whom this issue matters most–Christians who are experiencing same-sex attraction–is strikingly absent from his discussion. (I’m not saying that he doesn’t have such concern, I’m saying that it doesn’t enter into this article, as far as I can see.)

These Christians can’t wait ten years, or five years, or one year, to make a decision about what to do regarding homosexuality. Even if they don’t have a conviction of absolute certainty, costly and difficult choices must be made about which path they will take. Does McLaren have a word for them, beyond “Check in with me in five years, and maybe I’ll be able to help?” If he’s not sure that it isn’t a sin, he undoubtedly realizes that there’s a great deal at stake here.

For straight postmodern Christians, homosexuality can be a fun topic of indefinite “conversations”. They can muse about it and dialogue about it and trade non-judgmental stories about it forever. It’s just another theological controversy of the sort that they love to play with open-endedly. They can wallow in the multiplied layers of confusion and murky complexity. But their same-sex attracted siblings cannot approach the matter in the same way. I would have appreciated some recognition of that fact from McLaren.

(Of course, I have my opinions about what McLaren should say, even if he’s unsure or unclear about what the Bible teaches. But for now I’ll just leave it at this.)

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