(LifeSiteNews) — Earlier this month, conservative evangelical Denny Burk, pastor and professor at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, faced off on Twitter with progressive Kristin Kobes du Mez, whose book Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation has been the toast of the mainstream press for the past year. There is obviously much the two disagree on, and their back-and-forth on LGBT issues was an interesting exchange, with both penning blog posts to articulate their disagreements more clearly.
What struck me about this debate, however, is not that Denny Burk, a conservative Baptist and staunch pro-lifer, and Kristin Kobes du Mez, a progressive scholar who displayed thinly veiled contempt for pro-lifers through her recent book, have much to disagree on. It was du Mez’s implication that it was Burk’s theological views which were primarily shaped by culture rather than her own.
Now, to be fair, du Mez did not state that she has definitively concluded that she supports LGBT rights as such — although Jesus and John Wayne made it crystal clear where her sympathies lie. But she did state that she was re-evaluating her stance on sexuality, as is her denomination. Many churches, she pointed out, have been doing so over the past several decades. And she’s right — many major mainline Protestant denominations have abandoned the traditional biblical view of sexuality just before imploding.
But when liberal Christians claim that evangelicalism is primarily shaped by American culture, this seems an almost brazen projection. It is certainly true that churches are impacted by culture and vice versa, and it is also true that there is a peculiarly American version of masculinity that has been absorbed into certain strains of evangelicalism (I noted this in my review of her book earlier this year). But it is absurd for du Mez to imply that the denominations parting ways with 2,000 years of Christian consensus on homosexuality are somehow more thoughtful, compassionate, or theologically faithful than those who cling to the company of everyone from Augustine to the Reformers.
It has become the norm for mainstream media outlets to pay liberal Christians to excoriate their conservative counterparts on air and in print for “missing the point of the Gospel” by paying such close attention to what Scripture says. The example of Jesus, if you listen to the sorts of folks who have been praising Jesus and John Wayne to high heaven for the past year, compels us to support abortion, the redefinition of marriage, and any number of sexual sins that have been condemned by every significant religious figure in the history of the Church. Du Mez might not have made the switch just yet, but it looks to me like she’s already joined that tribe and it is only a matter of time.
Why are liberal Christians so certain that evangelical views on masculinity, feticide, the LGBT agenda, and any number of other issues are primarily “cultural,” shaped by John Wayne or frontier legends or politics or whatever, but the collapse of mainline denominations and the acceptance of the LGBT agenda and abortion etc. isn’t primarily culture, but rather the first truly Christian understanding of feticide and homosexuality in 2,000 years? It takes a lot of blind faith, deconstruction, historical revision, and academic gerrymandering to get there, but there are plenty of “public Christians” who earn their paychecks trashing people like Burk.
There’s a lot of cultural prestige to be had and available platforms to stand on if you’re willing to be the sort of Christian who assures non-Christians and their liberal Christian friends that conservative Christians are cruel and misogynist and that their views on sexuality and the sanctity of life can be dismissed. There is an enormous audience available for a message that tells the public that Jesus wants them to live just as they wish, with all the room in the world for abortions and sinful sexual relationships. But the worldview of these Christians is shaped not by Scriptural revelation, but the sexual revolution. These theological evolutions are borne not of a closer study of canon, but of culture.