Wednesday, 16 January 2013
Chalke decided to use the analogy of slave ownership to show how Christians have changed their mind about certain ethical issues - perhaps unwisely given that it was bound to result in people thinking he was comparing those who believe homosexual sex is immoral to those who believe slavery was just fine!
If I might push that analogy a little... In our culture the dominant positions of power are held by those who think homosexual activity is OK and who are so outraged by the protests of those who believe it to be immoral that they are willing to resort to expensive legal process to silence them. In other words Chalke is not championing the persecuted at all: if anything he is taking the culturally dominant side of the argument - the contemporary equivalent of the slave-owners and traders.
Like all the apologists within the church for the legitimacy of sexually active gay relationships Chalke presents this as an issue of compassion - how can we deny the blessings of physical intimacy to those gay people not granted the gift of singleness he asks? This, of course, merely begs the question. If someone finds themselves only sexually attracted to children would the same argument apply? What about all the people who are heterosexual but cannot find anyone who will marry them - is it OK for them to seek a temporary but monogamous sexual relationship in the meantime?
It is certain that gay people have been terribly persecuted in our country over the centuries and evangelical Christians need to be vigilant against the homophobia that I think is sometimes seen amongst us (as I have written elsewhere). But the intensely pro-gay nature of our public authorities and power structures means we should be much more suspicious than Chalke is of the continuing claims of widespread persecution by the gay lobby. It seems to me that gay people and evangelical Christians are both prone to the same persecution hyper-sensitivity and need to recognise that in a diverse society we need to be rather more think-skinned (see here).
Chalke argues that persecution can still be demonstrated, even in our liberal society, by the higher suicide rate amongst homosexuals, especially young male homosexuals. Suicide rates are highest amongst young men of all sexualities, but in any case this argument proves nothing about either persecution or morality. Suicide rates are also high amongst vets and murderers which doesn't prove that vets are persecuted or that we should change our minds about the morality of murder. Every suicide is both wicked and tragic. But Chalke needs to remember that it suits the gay community's self-identity to see the suicide of its young men as the result of straight persecution rather than, for example, the shallow and exploitative way in which many members of the gay community treat their (especially younger) partners and its well-documented promiscuity. There is no evidence for his assertion that suicide rates amongst gay people in C21st Britain are drived by social stigma.
Chalke's arguments from the biblical texts about homosexual practice and why they don't mean what they seem to mean are nothing more than shallow re-treads of well-worn interpretations that were comprehensively demolished by Thomas Schmidt in Straight and Narrow 16 years ago.
But in the end it doesn't actually matter for Chalke whether the Bible texts are opposed to the kind of monogamous gay relationships he has in mind. The most disturbing in Chalke's article is his central argument: that there is a message of the Bible which doesn't simply transcend the actual text of the Bible but which is contradictory to the text. Thus he reasons: "it is thoughtful conformity to Christ 0 not unthinking conformity to either culture of textual prohibitions - that should be our unchanging reference point."
Chalke is not arguing here that there are texts that, legitimately understood in their context, have a limited application. Rather he creates a much more radical division between exegesis and hermeneutics. He believes that, properly understood, the Bible text may well have a permanent prohibition on some things (like women being church leaders or homosexual sex). Nevertheless, he teaches, our hermeneutics means we have a responsibility to allow those things because there is a deeper law of love and compassion at work.
Chalke says that people will accuse him of no longer being evangelical. Well I do say that. He has become a liberal because he has adopted the central belief of liberal Christianity. Liberalism's heart and soul is the idea that we can access the truth about God and what it means to love and how we should live through something other than his revelation in the Scripture and that to do this we can elevate some parts of Scripture as more true than others.* Chalke has decided that where his reasoning about the ethics of an issue on the "principle" of love leads him to a different conclusion from the plainly stated and properly understood words of the Bible he is going to go with his reasoning from principle. That is exactly the teaching of theological liberalism and exactly the thing evangelicalism has always opposed.
In the end then Chalke is playing God; not seeking to faithfully interpret the Scriptures according to the intention of the author but setting himself over God's revelation in the Scriptures as arbiter of what he finds acceptable there and what he must reject to maintain the ethical principle he has decided is most important.
That challenge? Those of us who take the Bible seriously as God's Word need to reject Chalke's reasoning utterly. But we must also show proper compassion to the 100% of people in our community who struggle with their sexuality in one way or another and offer to them the glorious, kind, generous, inclusive gospel that calls all of us to forgiveness and all of us to repentance and change.
*not more directly applicable or clearer - those are perfectly legitimate categories. The liberal position (which is what Chalke has adopted, though his language is somewhat hedged about) is that some texts which claim to represent the character or will of God for today actually don't - they are erroneous.