A few years ago, I posted a four-part review of Dr. Michael Brown’s book Can You Be Gay and Christian? A couple of weeks ago, on June 11th, Brown responded to my review on his nationally-syndicated radio show The Line of Fire. He later stipulated to me that he intends to offer a fuller response to my review in written form.
That said, I thought it worthwhile to devote some time responding to his points in response to my four-part review. In this article I provide an initial response to the first of Brown’s four-part commentary.
To begin with, as backup information, here is a link to the first installment of my four-part review for it is this article to which he is responding in the audio clip. Suffice it to say that in this article, I argue that Brown is susceptible to the charge of cherrypicking data in order to illustrate the moral debasedness of gay-affirming Christianity.
And here is Brown’s first response:
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Brown’s thesis is summarized well in these words: “something’s wrong with the tree. That’s why it’s producing bad fruit.”
That may be so. The examples that Brown provides of grossly sexualized and promiscuous interpretations of the Bible and Christian doctrine certainly reflect a troubling trend. The question is whether Brown establishes a necessary link between gay-affirming Christianity and this kind of result.
Brown responds to the cherry-picking charge by emphasizing that the data he marshalls is not simply a trend: rather, it is, in his words, “pervasive”.
However, I’m not so sure. For example, I recently read an essay in the National Post written by a gay man in support of newly elected conservative premier Doug Ford’s decision not to attend Toronto’s famed gay pride parade. Josh Dehaas writes:
“Some on the left have claimed Ford’s description of Pride as an event where “middle-aged men with pot bellies” run down the street “buck naked” was evidence of homophobia. I’d say that was just an accurate description of what goes on. Disturbingly, more and more parents are bringing young children to watch the parade, exposing them to provocative displays of sexuality that no child should witness. If a politician believes in family values, why would he or she want to be associated with such debauchery?”
Why, indeed? As a person who has long deplored the licentious sexual exhibitionism of many gay pride parades, I applaud Dehaas’ frank analysis. And I share his opinion: this is not indicative of family values.
But who says that the sexual exhibitionism of the gay pride parades defines the gay community, still less the gay-affirming Christian community? Brown anticipates the response and he counters as follows:
“Now it’s true that many conservative quote ‘gay Christians’ are embarassed by this material, but its pervasive nature cannot be denied.”
I’m not so sure.
The problem is that a critic could charge Brown with confirmation bias. In short, while his book ably summarizes instances of licentious and outrageous gay theology and culture, he does not enumerate the many instances of gay-affirming Christians who affirm the traditional commitment to monogamy and the limitation of sexual expression to a covenant marriage relationship, but who also allow for the possibility of same-sex covenant marriages.
For example, Justin Lee, one of the leaders of gay-affirming Christianity, begins an influential essay on same-sex marriage by writing:
“I’m fairly conservative in my theological views. I believe that the Bible is morally authoritative, that sex is for marriage, and that promiscuity is harmful to everyone involved.” (source)
If Brown had comprehensively documented all the Christians who hold views like Justin Lee, one suspects the trend toward licentious gay-affirming Christianity would not, in fact, be quite so pervasive.
But let’s set that point aside and grant, for the sake of argument, that the licentious position is indeed pervasive. We still face this question: how “pervasive” does a belief or behavior need to be within a particular community before one has established a necessary link between that belief/behavior and that community? Simply reiterating that the belief/behavior is pervasive does not establish a necessary link because that pervasiveness could arise from a range of incidental socio-historical causal factors.
Consider the following illustration to make the point. Two centuries ago American Christianity was shaped by deeply racist pro-slavery views. These views were defended by major Christian theologians, they were assumed by denominations, and they were written into the DNA of countless congregations and preachers. To put it bluntly, a sampling of American Christianity of the time would suggest a pervasive link between Christianity and a pro-slavery position.
Now imagine a critic of Christianity two centuries ago arguing that this pervasive relationship between American Christianity and the institution of slavery reveals a necessary connection such that any person who is consistently Christian will, eventually, also endorse slavery.
Clearly, this would be a faulty argument. Instead, we could identify a range of incidental socio-historical factors that led to a pervasive link at that place and time between Christianity and the pro-slavery position.
By the same token, if we grant a pervasive link between gay-affirming Christianity and licentious behavior/tendentious exegesis, it could nonetheless be the case that this link exists due to a range of socio-historical factors.
[For example, it is a well-known fact that reform and liberation movements often begin as more radical as they seek to challenge the status quo. But over time they gradually become more socially conservative and institutionalized. Those well-known social dynamics could explain at least some of the radical trends in the LGBT community as inconoclastic challenges to ‘heteronormativity’ which will soften over time.]
So here’s the question again: is gay-affirming theology necessarily linked to the kind of licentious and debauched behavior that Brown ably describes? Personally, I don’t know. My purpose here is not to claim that it isn’t. Rather, my purpose is simply to point out that Brown has not established that it is.
To sum up, while Brown has surely identified a troubling trend in contemporary gay-affirming Christianity, I don’t think he has adequately defended himself against the cherry-picking charge. Thus, he has not established that there is a necessary link between gay-affirming Christianity and licentious behavior/tendentious exegesis.