The other day, I posted a tweet critiquing Frank Turek. I thought the gist of the critique was rather obvious. Tom Gilson did not think so, apparently, and so he posted a perplexed response asking what I was trying to do and whether I was just being “sarcastic.”
What are you arguing for here, Randal? Obviously you're using sarcasm to make Turek look bad. Is that your entire point? Do you have anything positive to offer concerning the doctrines in question, or do you only mean to tear people down? Is this your orthopraxy over orthodoxy?
— Tom Gilson (@TomGilsonAuthor) April 22, 2023
It’s ironic that Tom seems to take offense at the apparent arcanity, subversiveness, and polemical edge of my tweet since these are all common characteristics of Jesus’ teaching style. But let’s set that aside and address his central question: what am I arguing here?
Well, contrary to Gilson, the point isn’t “to make Turek look bad.” But I am attempting to expose a deep hypocrisy within evangelicalism (as Jesus did at length to religious leaders in Matthew 23 … and with far saltier language, by the way!). And by doing so, I am presenting a dilemma for folk like Turek: either be consistent and conclude that citing Jesus’ teaching on divorce and remarriage constitutes the illegitimacy of all marriages which follow divorces for any reason other than marital unfaithfulness (porneia) as adultery or concede that the issue of gay marriage, like divorce and remarriage, is more complex than prooftexting a single verse.
Just in case it is still not clear, let’s unpack this a bit further. Let’s say you initially opt for the first horn of the dilemma: you conclude that those who remarry after divorcing for reasons other than marital unfaithfulness are in adultery. It then follows that a lot of people in evangelical churches are in adultery. For example, consider Ellen. You know her story, right? Married at 21. Left her husband a year later after he beat her for months and then tried to kill her. Married her current husband Dave a decade later while in seminary. Dave and Ellen have been happily married for thirty years in ministry together in the inner city where they raised three children who are all serving the Lord. But Jesus’ teaching was clear, right? So in the eyes of the Lord, Ellen and Dave were never married at all. Rather, they are adulterers. What Ellen should do is leave this adulterous sham and seek reconciliation with her only true husband who is currently doing time at the state penitentiary for killing a former girlfriend. And if she does not do this, the church should impose disciplinary measures to turn her and her unapologetic adulterous boyfriend out of their fellowship until she repents and returns to her husband.
But let’s say that you conclude this is the wrong response: indeed, it is crazy. Granted, Ellen did not leave her husband for marital unfaithfulness in sexual matters (porneia). However, surely a husband who is threatening to kill you is also a reason to leave the relationship. And anyway, shouldn’t there be grace for broken people in an imperfect world? And breaking up a happy marriage would not serve the cause of justice, would it?
What is now happening is the person is beginning to engage a hermeneutical spiral in which they consider the implications of a particular interpretation and application of a biblical passage on a wider spectrum of considerations. And then, based upon the results, they return to the text to reengage it again in an ongoing pursuit of reflective equilibrium as they seek the right interpretation.
When the evangelical realizes that we cannot cite a single verse from Matthew 19 to negage the marriage of Ellen and Dave, maybe they will begin to grasp why you others believe you cannot cite a single verse from Matthew 19 to negate the marriage of Allen and Dave. For further reading, see evangelical ethicist Lewis Smedes’ classic essay “Like the Wideness of the Sea” as well as this fifteen year retrospective.