Friendly fire casualties in the culture war….

Friendly fire casualties in the culture war….

     I have seen the handwriting on the wall for several years over the “battle” or “struggle” to maintain the traditional definition for marriage, sexuality, and gender identity issues in our culture. Culturally, you might say the issue is dead but hasn’t been buried. While the majority of voters in most states upheld the traditional definition of marriage (one man and one woman) courts have sided against those voters. The Supreme Court (majority Republican appointed and Roman Catholic affiliated) endorsed this trend. However, I was surprised by the growing acceptance of marriage redefinition and postmodern sexuality by some evangelical churches and most Roman Catholics. Overlooking, or denying, the impact disordered/aberrant sexual behaviors have on the emotional, spiritual, familia, and cultural wellbeing appears to be common among Roman Catholics and growing among evangelicals. A 2014 Pew Research Center survey indicated 85% of self-identified US Catholics ages 18-29 and 57% of US Catholics ages 65 and older say homosexuality should be accepted by society.  Further, predominantly Roman Catholic Ireland recently endorsed same sex marriage by popular vote and the Roman Catholic leadership appears to accept the new sexuality by remaining silent or pressuring conservative leaders, such as Cardinal Burke, to remain silent.

     Jonathan Merritt, senior columnist for Religion News Service, recently wrote an article titled, “Evangelicals are shifting on same-sex marriage, but it’s no avalanche.” He writes,

“Evangelicals are among the most stalwart opponents to LGBT marriage, but a number of evangelical congregations have publicly shifted their stance in the last year. Among them are Seattle’s Eastlake Community Church, Nashville’s Grace Pointe Church, Portland’s Christ Church, and New Heart Community Church in La Mirada, California. Other prominent evangelical pastors tell me off-the-record that they are in the midst of similar conversations. Churches aren’t the only evangelical factions inching left on matters of sexuality. Popular Christian musicians and worship leaders have either come out of the closet or publicly voiced support of LGBT equality. And evangelical publishers have released a glut of books taking progressive positions on sexuality and marriage. These stories are part of an ongoing media narrative about shifting evangelical attitudes on LGBT issues.”

     It appears Roman Catholics have been accepting marriage redefinition and postmodern sexual norms for years (just under the ecclesiastical and catechismal surface). The laity have ignored or rejected the traditional paradigms and the leadership (with the exception of a small number of Cardinals and Bishops) fear alienating the laity by requiring agreement with Church teaching. Cardinal Dolan of New York is a classic example of the Roman Church’s current predicament. Even the once conservative Catholic television EWTN is a mere shadow of its former self when managed by a faithful and feisty nun, Mother Angelica. Mother Angelica would have called out Bishops and clergy by name for failing to uphold Church teaching.

     But the change among evangelical churches is more surprising and suspect. The timing of these changes among some evangelicals is dubious (and I suspect disingenuous). For years the “liberal” or “left” mainline denominations accepted or promoted progressive and postmodern perspectives of sexuality, gender, and marriage. Mainline denominations encountered splits and declining memberships while evangelical churches saw growth. Evangelicalism enjoyed some level of prestige and political support, remember the Reagan years?  But in step with the fiscal Darwinism of the political conservatives, evangelicalism, while decrying Darwinism as a creation paradigm, embraced a Darwinistic economic model (survival of the fittest). Evangelical churches adopted a corporate business model for growth. Wealth and prosperity became synonymous with evangelicalism. Evangelicalism grew….and grew. One only has to look at the amassing of wealth by Christian television networks and televangelists to see this.  The rise of entertainment driven Christian media over the last 30 years has permeated evangelical churches and ministries with the rise of mega churches where senior pastors function more as CEO’s than pastors. These mega churches now branch and form “campuses” at various locations in a region or in other states with the motto, “one church…several locations”…franchises. The Christian public largely consumes and consumes the product manufactured by corporate evangelicalism. And with any business corporate model approach there is a desire to protect the bottom line and maintain relevance in the market. Evangelical business is no different. And we live in a litigious era with risk management being a guiding principle. I admit I speculate with some level of cynicism. It appears the change among some evangelical churches and ministries is related to court rulings and political changes. The trend to embrace postmodern sexual norms, gender fluidity, and marriage redefinition appears to be a strategic survival strategy due to the shifting political and legal landscape. All good businesses have to protect their product and they will be “praising the Lord” the whole time. The Scriptures observe these patterns in the history of God’s people.

     I Samuel records, “Then Samuel said to the people, ‘Come, let us go to Gilgal and there renew the kingdom.’ So all the people went to Gilgal, and there they made Saul king before the face of the LORD in Gilgal. There they sacrificed a friendship offering before the face of the LORD, and there Saul and all the men of Israel had an abundance of gladness.”

It appears God’s people can disobey God and still offer worship and praise to Him with gladness. The consequences are unpleasant.

     I understand the traditional Biblical understanding of sexuality, gender, and marriage will continue to be condemned by the “liberal” side. However, I do worry about the friendly fire from corporate evangelicalism. I describe this trend as friendly fire. This is taken from combat language. One definition of friendly fire is, “weapon fire coming from one’s own side, especially fire that causes accidental injury or death to one’s own forces.” Friendly fire might sound a bit over dramatic for a description of this trend by corporate evangelicalism in this culture war. I suspect this shift within corporate evangelicalism will add additional pressure on “traditionalists” who attempt to follow Biblical norms. Marriage and traditional sexuality will be victims of the friendly fire from evangelical business that want to avoid becoming socially ostracized, irrelevant, fiscally liable, or even legally penalized.  However, I worry traditional marriage and sexual norms are not the only friendly fire casualties in the culture war. Corporate evangelicalism will continue to seek relevancy and sustainability at a level of comfort they have been accustomed to for years. The risk management survival strategy will be standard operating procedure.  So as social and moral resolve fade within corporate evangelicalism I fear the next friendly fire casualty in this culture war will be unborn persons.

-Unborn persons do not vote so they do not risk alienating politicians or political parties.

-We don’t have to look at unborn persons which makes their dehumanization easier in our culture and society.

-But more precarious for unborn persons is they do not tithe…and that makes them vulnerable to friendly fire from corporate evangelicalism.

Fr. Paul Moore, MS, LPC, LMFT, SoM