Here are some of the most prominent ways people find to support “Gay” Christianity with the Bible.
1) Re-translate the text.
See the following website for a treatment of the word physikos in Romans 1 where the writer claims that Paul is actually talking about people operating opposite to the way they were born. Thus, persons not born gay but engaging in homosexual activity are violating God’s law, suggesting to the writer that a gay person in relationship with another gay person is what God intends. All of this because the author claims that the word lying beneath “nature” or “natural” has been mis-translated.
“the Church itself is gonna have to come to grips with the fact that we have changed over the years, we have evolved, the law. We now admit divorce. Our Lord does not speak much about sexuality, but He’s very clear about divorce. It’s the only thing He’s really clear about. [As concerns sexuality?] And we have managed because out of compassion, and I certainly am for that change, out of compassion and out of common sense and out of a recognition that our times and ways of being are different from those. We have managed to get around the divorce issue and now even ordain divorced clergy, and that kind of thing. The same thing is going to happen with the gay issue. It’s in process.”
“Evangelicals have a hate problem when it comes to homosexuality. Period. I know that’s extreme language. But it’s true. We can disagree over an issue and still find common ground in aiding the very poor and disenfranchised. We can work side-by-side in the work of Christ and not agree on every single marginal issue. And homosexuality, as it relates to the Bible’s message and meaning, is marginal. There are 31,000 verses. Only around 8 or 9 can really be said to have anything to do with homosexuality. (None are actually about homosexuality — monogamous, committed relations — as we understand it.) That’s around 0.026% of Scripture. And yet that fraction of Scripture has become central to the public identity of evangelicalism. They have placed homophobia at the center of the Gospel”.
6) Lessen the importance of the texts by emphasizing love, poverty, acceptance.
“The way evangelicals treat LGBTQ+ people is wrong. It is extreme. It is sinful. It is hateful. And it is absolutely terrifying. In the past 24 hours, we just witnessed the extent evangelicals will go to keep LGBTQ+ people marginalized, to keep an organization from the simple thing of recognizing their already legal marriages. They will starve children. They will deprive impoverished communities of aid and help. So, no, I don’t blame World Vision. Its leaders did exactly what everyone urged them to do — both on the left and the right.They thought of how it would affect the children. Rather, I blame the far-right evangelicals who held World Vision hostage to their homophobic agenda. These evangelicals held a gun to the head of World Vision. They forced an organization to choose between aiding hungry children and offering a small step towards equality for gay and lesbian people who work for them. And no matter what World Vision chose, these evangelicals were always going to pull the trigger on one of the hostages.”
7) Re-direct attention from the texts by focusing on what Jesus did not say.
I follow your distinction between pre-marital sex and adultery: in adultery, the partners are betraying their spouses and children. But- when two women love each other, there are no victims like that. I would say that therefore, because there are no victims, the sin is less- or nonexistent. I am delighted that my church lobbied the UK government to allow church weddings for gay people, and the Government will allow that for any denomination which opts in. Many churches will.
“We always knew that the sides against same sex marriage and the sides for same sex marriage would never see eye-to-eye (fine, there’s room for both of us), but what we saw yesterday went one step further: it was declared that Evangelicals are not allowed to take a neutral position on the issue.That’s the key. No more neutrality allowed. It was declared that hiring a married homosexual shall now be considered as equally egregious to officiating the wedding yourself.”
This is part 3 of The Tickle Chronicles. Tickle, an extremely articulate and highly influential voice in the Emergence Christian movement, answered some of my questions via email and gave me permission to share her thoughts with you.
By Scott Fowler
“Actual” vs. “Factual”
I was riding the Splash Mountain ride at Disney World a few weeks ago, and a phrase written on the wall reminded me of Phyllis Tickle. The phrase derives from the lyrics of Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah (listen to the song below), a song from the censored Disney movie, Song of the South. In the song, Uncle Remus sings,
Mr. Bluebird on my shoulder. It’s the truth! It’s actual! Everything is satisfactual!
Ah! The simplicity of Disney in the 1940s and the naïve idea that things that were true were actual and factual!1
In the last article (Phyllis Tickle’s Dangerous Hermeneutic), I shared with you Tickle’s response to my question about her view of Biblical authority. When I suggested that she was part of the crowd that no longer sees the Bible as the final authority, she took exception:
NO! Now this one surprises me, for so far as I know I am not usually misunderstood or misquoted here. As an observant Anglican, I believe, and continue to believe, that authority rests in Scripture, reason and tradition. Like Emergence Christians, I believe that Scripture must be seen as “actually” true, rather than reduced to the confines and strictures of human “fact” or being “factually true” in the sense of Protestant Inerrancy, as that term is normally defined. It is one of the prime roles of the Holy Spirit to lead the believer to correct discernment of Scripture, and as Christians we read with and through the tutelage of the Spirit. The odd thing about this point’s being questioned is that I say a dozen times every lecturing day that if there were such a thing as an “average” Emergence Christian and an “average” Protestant or Roman Christian [which there is not, of course], it would be the Emergence Christian who exhibits the more radical and emphatic devotion to the ‘accuracy’ of Holy Writ and to believing in its absolute function as the Word of God Almighty, Now and Always. Of course, the Emergence would also be appalled by the need, esp. on the part of Protestantism, to reduce that same Scripture to non-paradoxical exegesis, to “acceptable” doctrine, to the kind of consistency human reason can perceive and approve of. The two, then…i.e., actuality vs. factuality… are entirely different approaches to Scripture, the Emergence being not only a more passionately persuaded one, but also a much, much humbler one. (Emphasis mine.)
So, here we encounter the concept of the Bible as actually true rather than factually true. I think Uncle Remus would be puzzled by this idea as many of us are! I am not sure if this concept originates with Tickle or not. Quoting David Sloan Wilson, Michael Dowd (someone who calls himself “America’s evolutionary evangelist) defines practical truth versus factual truth:
Practical truth is that which reliably produces personal wholeness and social coherence by motivating people to behave in ways that serve the wellbeing of the group. Factual truth is that which is measurably, scientifically real.
A very quick Google search did not yield much on the comparison either way. Nevertheless, Tickle stands by it. So, what is she really trying to get at here?
“Non-paradoxical Exegesis” or “Reason Trumps Truth”
We have to take account of Tickle’s entire statement and at this point pull in her reference to “non-paradoxical exegesis.”
the Emergence [Christian] would also be appalled by the need, esp. on the part of Protestantism, to reduce that same Scripture to non-paradoxical exegesis, to “acceptable” doctrine, to the kind of consistency human reason can perceive and approve of.
It sounds like Emergence Christians demand that the Bible not be reduced to straight forward truth but that it be allowed to be paradoxical. I think I can accept the reality that Scripture can be paradoxical. The grace of God is paradoxical. But does Tickle ever allow for Scripture to be factual, straight forward, literal, un-twistable? Is every doctrine of evangelicalism open to the kind of interpretation that somehow “paradoxically” turns the Bible’s prohibition against homosexuality into a celebration of it instead? If, as Gingerich reported,2 Tickle declares that the Bible does not support homosexuality, then how does one arrive at the “paradox” of gay Christianity as Tickle does?3
The last part of the quote above is curious as well and gives us the answer to how Tickle and the Emergence Christians who agree with her arrive at such beliefs. According to Tickle, Emergence Christians:
would . . . be appalled by the need . . . to reduce . . . Scripture . . . to the kind of consistency human reason can perceive and approve of.
Isn’t this what Tickle’s “actual-sans-factual” “paradoxical exegetical” approach does in the first place? The only way to embrace homosexuality while at the same time agreeing that Scripture prohibits it is through the constructs of and a mandate for a socially palatable human reasoning. In her interview with Andrew Marin, Tickle showcases her own use of human reasoning. Speaking of the various Scriptural prohibitions that she says the Church has “gotten over,” and of divorce in particular, Tickle said,
the Church itself is gonna have to come to grips with the fact that we have changed over the years, we have evolved, the law. We now admit divorce. Our Lord does not speak much about sexuality, but He’s very clear about divorce. It’s the only thing He’s really clear about. And we have managed because out of compassion, and I certainly am for that change, out of compassion and out of common sense and out of a recognition that our times and ways of being are different from those. We have managed to get around the divorce issue and now even ordain divorced clergy, and that kind of thing. The same thing is going to happen with the gay issue. It’s in process. (Emphasis mine.)
Ah! Human reasoning at its finest!
In her previous statement, Tickle must be referring only to Protestant human reasoning which one can only surmise is not as acceptable because, paradoxically speaking, it does not lead to doctrines acceptable to our present society. But in theory, Protestant human reasoning is that which has been influenced by a view of Scripture as “truth” and as “actual” as understood through their proper definitions. And, even though we are faced with difficult situations when our human reasonings collide with its truths, Protestants find the Bible to be, in the end, very “satisfactual!”
The Tutelage of the Spirit
As far as reading Scripture “through the tutelage of the Spirit” and “correctly discerning Scripture,” what can be assumed here but that Tickle has in mind what any of us would agree with: a belief that we come to Scripture by faith through the agency of the Holy Spirit and that He helps us to rightly divide the Word of truth? Words like these cause one to be almost persuaded that, indeed, Tickle is at last an evangelical! Then, we remind ourselves that when Tickle reads the prohibitions against homosexuality, acknowledges them, and yet embraces homosexuality and gay Christianity, we realize that either she is not an evangelical, or the definition of evangelical has changed.
Next Time: I asked Ms. Tickle a follow-up question concerning her stance on gay Christianity. Her response was passionate, reverent, and devotional, but was it Scriptural?
1 The word fact and the word satisfaction have in common the Latin facere “perform; do.” So, the word fact has its meaning in the idea of an event which has actually happened and which can be verified evidentially. The prefix satis means “enough,” so in the word satisfaction, a deed has actually been done enough.
This is part two of my series on Phyllis Tickle. Having been exposed to her through video and print, I ventured to ask her a few questions through email. She was remarkably accessible and gracious enough to allow me to share her responses with you.
Phyllis Tickle’s Dangerous Hermeneutic
By Scott Fowler
Though much could be said and discussed concerning Phyllis Tickle and her theology, my chief concern is her hermeneutic (the theory and methodology of interpretation). In this article I will begin to share the questions I asked Ms. Tickle, along with her responses, and explain my concerns.
The First Question: Gay Christianity
I asked Ms. Tickle the following question:
Based on your book The Great Emergence and a video interview with Andrew Marin, can we say that you are a supporter of Christianity among the LGBT community?
Yes . . . there is no question and never has been. I believe that the GLBT community can be/is as much a part of Christianity as is any other segment of society. This can be elaborated and a well-argued support be made, but that is probably not in any way required here, so the simple answer: Yes.
Not that surprising coming from a “lay Eucharistic minister and lector in the Episcopal Church.”1 It’s how Tickle arrives at her theology that concerns me. Let me explain.
Some who have arrived at their support of homosexuality have done so by twisting Scripture, either linguistically or contextually.2 One blogger from the UK, in her defense of homosexuality, declared, “Jesus said that if a man look at a woman with lust in his heart, he had already committed adultery. He did not say the same if a man look at a man.”3 There will always be those who are content to say that up is down and will surround themselves with people who agree.
Then there are those who simply choose not to follow what Scripture says. Again, not uncommon. Examples of people going against Scripture in support of their own preferences abound. Interestingly, Tickle belongs to this category but in a unique way. According to Bart Gingerich, Phyllis Tickle affirms that “the Bible is not in favor of homosexuality—it just isn’t. The approval is not there,” 4 and yet she supports it anyway, or has at least “gotten over it” as she is fond of saying.5 But Tickle does not feel that she is going against Scripture. Somehow, she arrives at her support of gay Christianity through a complex approach to God and Scripture that leaves her enlightened by the Holy Spirit and able to unapologetically to support what Scripture does not.
In order to begin to understand how Tickle approaches Scripture, we will have to examine her words very closely to try and peel back the artfully woven layers of her responses to my questions.
Next Question: The Authority of Scripture
Ms. Tickle is quite articulate, but at times I have wondered if she is not trying to say what she wants to say without any real proof that she has said it. It has left me with the impression that she wants to lead a revolution but does not want to offend anyone while she does it. I made the following statement to her:
I would like to know if we are reading you correctly or not. Many times I have gotten the impression that you are artfully parsing your words in order to not alienate anyone which leaves the impression that you are not committing to the things mentioned above but no one as articulate and as passionate as you are is without her convictions. I would like to speak rightly about you since you are strongly influencing the Church.
Tickle’s response was:
. . . careful as I try to be…and I do parse my words carefully and often repeat them, in fact…it is apparently very difficult for some listeners to separate what Phyllis Tickle believes from what she reports as descriptive of Emergence thinking. The two are not always the same and, when they differ, tend to differ rather sharply. Over and over again in speaking, I make the distinction not only in general, but also in particular points being made or about to be made. In religion and faith, however, the enormity of the issues and the passion surrounding them all too often obscure the caveats.
At first, this seemed to be the case in her words concerning Sola Scipture or Scripture only. In her book, The Great Emergence, in a significant section entitled “the Erosion of Sola Sciptura,” Tickles writes:
“When it is all resolved [‘the arguments and questions surrounding homosexuality’]—and it most surely will be—the Reformation’s understanding of Scripture as it had been taught by Protestantism for almost five centuries will be dead. . . . Of all the fights, the gay one must be—has to be—the bitterest, because once it is lost [and she means once the inerrant, Sola Sciptura, “factually true” crowd loses its battle against homosexuality in the church], there are no more fights to be had. It is finished. Where now is the authority?”6
One could say that maybe this is Phyllis Tickle the reporter rather than Phyllis Tickle herself. I believe she demonstrates her own view of Scripture by supporting homosexuality and gay Christianity.
Surprised at her stance and troubled by her claim that the end of Sola Scriptura is near, I asked Ms. Tickle the following question:
… it seems clear that you are aligned with those that [no] longer see Scripture as the final or ultimate authority in a Christian’s life. Is this accurate?
NO! Now this one surprises me, for so far as I know I am not usually misunderstood or misquoted here. As an observant Anglican, I believe, and continue to believe, that authority rests in Scripture, reason and tradition. Like Emergence Christians, I believe that Scripture must be seen as “actually” true, rather than reduced to the confines and strictures of human “fact” or being “factually true” in the sense of Protestant Inerrancy, as that term is normally defined. It is one of the prime roles of the Holy Spirit to lead the believer to correct discernment of Scripture, and as Christians we read with and through the tutelage of the Spirit. The odd thing about this point’s being questioned is that I say a dozen times every lecturing day that if there were such a thing as an “average” Emergence Christian and an “average” Protestant or Roman Christian [which there is not, of course], it would be the Emergence Christian who exhibits the more radical and emphatic devotion to the ‘accuracy’ of Holy Writ and to believing in its absolute function as the Word of God Almighty, Now and Always. Of course, the Emergence would also be appalled by the need, esp. on the part of Protestantism, to reduce that same Scripture to non-paradoxical exegesis, to “acceptable” doctrine, to the kind of consistency human reason can perceive and approve of. The two, then…i.e., actuality vs. factuality… are entirely different approaches to Scripture, the Emergence being not only a more passionately persuaded one, but also a much, much humbler one.
There are some serious implications in her response to my question concerning the authority of Scripture that we must sort through if we are to begin to decipher her meaning. First, the juxtaposition of her view of Scripture as “actually true” over against the Protestant, inerrancy view of Scripture as “factually true” is curious. Second, the phrase, “non-paradoxical exegesis” is intriguing. Third, the picture she draws of reading Scripture “through the tutelage of the Spirit” is worth investigating when compared to what she seems to have discerned. And finally, I have a question about what Tickle means by the phrase “correct discernment of Scripture”?
The next installment of the Tickle Chronicles will address these issues.
So, how is it that I have become focused on Phyllis Tickle and, more specifically, her theology and approach to Scripture? Her claim to fame is that she is the founding editor of the Religion Department of PUBLISHERS WEEKLY. Her pedigree is long and you can read more about her on her website. But, more importantly for our interests, she is one of the very public representatives of emergence Christianity and it is in this capacity that she has made several statements that are of concern to me and, in my estimation, to the believing Church.
It was because of my concerns, and because I was beginning to write about her and reference her in my classes, that I decided to contact her through email, asking several pointed questions, to which she graciously and generously responded.
This article will chronicle my early exposure to Tickle’s theology, begin to share her answers to my questions, and thus begin a series of articles reflecting on Tickle, her theology (and more particularly her hermeneutical approach to Scripture), and emergence Christianity. She is quite prolific, having written many books and given many interviews, etc., and while I will not be able to master all of the material pertinent to my concerns, I believe we can get a genuine idea of where she stands and why her views might be of concern to those of us who have defined evangelical Christianity in a different way than she has.
I had heard about Phyllis Tickle a few years ago but only in passing. Then, a colleague showed me a video of her being interviewed by Gabe Lyons. It didn’t take me long to realize that Tickle was saying things that concerned me and that should be of concern to the believing Church. Lyons’ first question went like this:
Lyons: “Recently in the news we hear this discussion about Christian America somehow coming to an end. There’s been a lot of news articles even written about it called ‘The end of Christian America.’ What would be your perspective on even what this idea of Christian America really even is?”
Tickle: “Well, I think my perspective to some extent is, ‘How quickly can we hold the services?’”1
Tickle immediately admitted that her response was “perhaps not the right answer and maybe a smart one” as in smart aleck I think. It would seem she has quite a sense of humor. Still, her quip signaled to me that some kind of “deconstructionist” approach to the church was present and that it warranted further investigation.
In this interview, Tickle sounds very evangelical. In The Sinking Ship of Evangelicalism2 I claimed that she did not want to be called evangelical. I was apparently wrong about that. In my correspondence with her, I pointed out that I had been writing about her and invited her to read it and correct what she thought was wrong. She responded by saying,
“The web sites you sent me were, and are, interesting. Yours made me chuckle right off the bat when you defined me as not an evangelical. One of the things I routinely say to audiences by way of defining who and what I am before they commence listening to what I have to say, is that I am an evangelical Episcopalian. There really is such a thing, and I really am one.”3
While my statement was incorrect on its face, I was writing less from a perspective of a reporter and more from a deductive standpoint. If I were to reword my statement it might go something like this:
“Based on what I am hearing from Phyllis Tickle through her writings, her sermons, and her video interviews, she is obviously abandoning the title evangelical as well, if she ever thought of herself as one.”
To borrow a phrase coined by Tickle herself, I think my sentiments are actually true if not factually true. If I am allowed further opportunity to question Ms. Tickle, I would like to ask her to define evangelical. Perhaps we will be able to answer that question fairly accurately ourselves before we’re done here.
Some further statements in the interview added to my concerns. Asked about how the church should go about being effective in a post-Christendom American context, she said:
“Now we don’t have to say, ‘Please come to church with me.’ Yuck! You know, uh, we can say, ‘Let’s go have a beer, or let’s go have Starbucks, or let’s do something, and let’s talk and let me tell you [about God].’”4
For Tickle, this is a communal, more relational, more humble approach. She labeled it “missional,” “pub theology,” and “water cooler theology.” She also characterized this new way of doing church by saying, “Unscrew the pews, open the space, and let’s dance.”5
It’s not that I don’t see value in much of what Tickle said, and you have to remember, at this point I was unaware of her stance on Gay Christianity, or her unique hermeneutical approach to Scripture. I was just hearing someone I did not know speak in deconstructive terms about the Church and the pastor in me heard an alarm go off.
Part of my concern here is that I hear in her words strains of something that George Barna wrote years ago in his book Revolution. Though the book is replete with problems and what I consider to be troubling statements, three stand out from the rest and paint a picture of disdain for the local church.
Barna Statement #1
“Whether you become a Revolutionary immersed in, minimally involved in, or completely disassociated from a local church is irrelevant to me (and within boundaries, to God). What matters is not whom you associate with (i.e., a local church), but who you are.”6
Barna Statement #2
“But, as the research data clearly show, churches are not doing the job. If the local church is the hope of the world, then the world has no hope.”7
Barna Statement #3
“Ultimately, we expect to see believers choosing from a proliferation of options, weaving together a set of favored alternatives into a unique tapestry that constitutes the personal ‘church’ of the individual.”8
Now, Phyllis Tickle is not George Barna and, as far as I know, Barna does not figure into emergence Christianity in any official way. But, in general, I am leery of the “abandon the local church” model, which I did detect, wrong or right, in Tickle.
The Andrew Marin Interview
Next was an interview with Andrew Marin, the founder of The Marin Foundation, a not-for-profit organization whose purpose is to build bridges between the LGBT community and, among other groups, the Church. Here, we get an idea of Tickle’s hermeneutic. Two things stand out: her support of Gay Christianity and her view of absolute Sola Scriptura: Scripture only and only Scripture.
Andrew Marin: “As a representative of the church, capital ‘C’ church here, what would you like to say to the broader church about the Gay or Lesbian community?”
Tickle: I would like to say first of all . . . yes I am Episcopalian . . .but my assignment . . . is the Holy Trinity Community Church, United Church of Christ Community Church, which is an all-inclusive, Bi, Gay, Trans, Lesbian church, and about 80% of our members are in that category and about 20% are not. So, I come with some personal experience and obviously, I’ve been a member of that communion for ten years now, and serve them as a Lector, Reader, and also as a lay Eucharistic minister. So, I’m not sure I can be called a representative of the Church capital ‘C’ without some prejudice . . . to it. But, the Church itself is gonna have to come to grips with the fact that we have changed over the years, we have evolved, the law. We now admit divorce. Our Lord does not speak much about sexuality, but He’s very clear about divorce. It’s the only thing He’s really clear about. [As concerns sexuality?] And we have managed because out of compassion, and I certainly am for that change, out of compassion and out of common sense and out of a recognition that our times and ways of being are different from those. We have managed to get around the divorce issue and now even ordain divorced clergy, and that kind of thing. The same thing is going to happen with the gay issue. It’s in process. But you can look right from the 1850’s you can see a progression of change. In the 1850’s Churches split over the slavery question and it was true, honest, it was religious difference, it was Scriptural differences of opinion. The Bible doesn’t say ‘Go own people,’ but it certainly recognizes slavery as a possibility and it even provides for it and sort of condones it if you will. We got over that cause it didn’t make sense. We got over feminism or we got over the need for equality of the genders. And again the Bible’s pretty clear, Paul is certainly clear about the role of the genders, and it didn’t work in our society. So, this is the last . . . and so there’s a sort of progression if you will of sociological shifts over the last hundred and fifty years, hundred and sixty years, and this is the last, I tell audiences, it’s the last puck in a deadly game, the last playing piece, if you will, in a deadly game, and if anybody on either side of the issue fails to understand what really is the issue and the issue really is absolute sola Scriptura, Scripture only and only Scripture. Did God put a period at the end of Revelation or did He put a comma? And once you understand that when we make this change, and we will make it, there’s no question, I mean it’s essentially a dead issue . . . . but the truth of it is we’re gonna get over this. We just have to understand that when we do, it’s the last, it is the last playing piece. It’s the last stance if you will for sola Scriptura . . . and you know if we’re bright we will recognize that divorce wasn’t the best thing that ever happened to the human race or to the human home but it was a necessary adjustment and we’ve paid a price for it but we probably would have paid a greater price if we’d not had it, I think the same thing is true here.”9
It still strikes me as odd to hear someone saying out loud what Tickle says in the Marin interview.
The Bart Gingerich Article
This article, written as a report of sorts on the national gathering of the proponents of emergence Christianity which happened earlier this year (Jan. 11-12 ) in Memphis, TN. The article reports Tickle as having “foretold a ‘coming age of the Spirit,’ in which dogmatic orthodoxy and claims to absolute truth (outdated artifacts from the ages of the Father and the Son) would melt before a loving communion of uncertainty.”
In the area of authority, Gingerich reported that Tickle said, “We need to address the authority issue, and we don’t know [sic] have that answer yet . . . . Scripture will play a part. The Holy Spirit will have a role in establishing authority in emergence Christianity . . . . Emergents . . . believe the Scripture is actually true. Most people in the pews want it to be factually true.”
Then, we get a glimpse into Tickle’s hermeneutic when, according to Gingerich, Tickle “commended the group for avoiding the ‘arrogance…that God can be trapped in our understanding,’ labeled the Bible as ‘patriarchal’ (‘only a fool’ would think otherwise), condemned the concept of a closed canon of Scripture, and still supports homosexuality even though ‘the Bible is not in favor of homosexuality—it just isn’t. The approval is not there.’”
Finally, as pertains to the Doctrine of the Atonement, Gingerich reports:
“The noted speaker also contended, ‘We need to devise a new doctrine of the atonement.’ Informing the audience that there are at least six kinds of atonement theory, she excoriated the penal substitutionary view of redemption. This ‘bloody sacrifice’ approach is the evangelical staple, teaching that Christ took upon God’s wrath against Law-breaking sinners upon himself as a substitute, thus purchasing grace and mercy for believers. ‘It won’t play anymore,’ Tickle stated. She traced this view back to the broader satisfaction theory of St. Anselm of Canterbury. According to her revision, after failing to stave off the First Crusade, Anselm decided to write his Cur Deos Homo to comfort soldiers doomed to die in the Holy Land. She audaciously analogized, ‘It was like the way some radical imams tell suicide bombers that, if they strap twenty grenades on and blow themselves up, they’ll get twenty virgins in paradise.’
These three sources launched me on an investigation of sorts, and ultimately led me to reach out to Ms. Tickle in an effort to hear from her directly on the issues raised in these sources.
In the next article, I will share the questions I asked Ms. Tickle and begin to share some of what she communicated back to me. After summarizing the sources for this article, I am even more interested to hear from Tickle her definition of evangelical.
Recently, I made an effort to contact Phyllis Tickle. In case you don’t know who she is, she is the founding editor of the Religion Department of Publishers Weekly, the author of several books, very visible on the web (just Google her), and for our interests here, one of the leading voices of a movement called Emergence Christianity. I wanted to contact her because I was (and still am) concerned about some things she has written and said. I had already some of my concerns in classes and in blog posts here at ccithink and I wanted to solicit her input and inform her that I have been and plan to continue discussing her theology. To my amazement, Ms. Tickle got back to me almost immediately. She was gracious and addressed my concerns
In an upcoming series of articles, I will share the questions I asked of Ms. Tickle, the answers she gave me, and the reasons for my ongoing concern. For these articles I will also draw on her many videos, articles, and interviews given as well as some of her books.
Upcoming In House Symposium on Gay Christianity
One of the challenges hurling toward the believing Church is the growing presence of gay Christianity. On a date still to be decided, the “fellows” of the Christ and Culture Initiative with gather to discuss the various questions and challenges facing the Church concerning this subject.
If you have well worked out thoughts on this subject, pro or con, or questions that you would like for us to consider, you are invited to submit those thoughts and questions by emailing them to email@example.com. The deadline for submissions is May 15, 2013.
According to Stanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon (Resident Aliens), Christendom, having begun with Constantine in 313 AD, ended in 1963.1 I can still remember the inner conflict I experienced the first time I heard that Christendom was dead or that we were living in a post-Christian era. It was well after 1963 when the news came to me. I was young and rather uninitiated into mainstream theological discussions, but even after I heard and understood those statements, I encountered many others who had not heard either. In fact, I am sure that I could still find many even today who do not understand what is meant by post-Christendom or for that matter what Christendom means. My point? The average evangelical normally runs at least twenty to forty years behind the times. With that said, there is another seismic shift happening in the church today. Perhaps it is more like an implosion or, better yet, a radiation accident that everyone is trying to escape before it gets lethal.
It is not often that one is afforded the opportunity to witness the end of an era. On November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall fell. Not all at once, to be sure, but it fell. Those of us alive at that time witnessed the end of an era. Today, we are witnessing the end of an era in the Church—the end of evangelicalism. But once again, most of us are late getting the message.
The seeds for the demise of evangelicalism have been in the sod for quite some time. I only began to be aware of it last year, though I have been cognizant of its problems for longer than that. For me, the concept of post-evangelicalism came when I recently heard an interview Phyllis Tickle gave to Gabe Lyons for the Next Christians video series. I was alarmed, did further research on Phyllis Tickle, and was yet more alarmed. So, I read her book, The Great Emergence. That’s when I realized that I did not want to be labeled by the word evangelical anymore.
Now, consequently, Phyllis Tickle doesn’t want to be called an evangelical either. In fact, it would seem that the term evangelical is being abandoned like a sinking ship leaving nothing but an empty hull behind. Where it gets interesting is deciding what we are abandoning evangelicalism for. But I’m getting ahead of myself . . .
Some are abandoning evangelicalism for political reasons. The fabled evangelical block of power failed conservatives in the last two major elections. Now, with evangelicals being more and more labeled as extremists, I expect to see the Republican Party begin moving away from evangelicals and moving to the left—at least far enough to get back in the game.2
Some are abandoning evangelicalism because they feel that they are part of a historically significant movement, namely emergence Christianity. Among two of the disturbing claims made by Tickle in her interviews and books is that the concept sola Scriptura (Scripture only as our final source of authority) is all but dead, and that the Church will “get over” its rejection of homosexuality and, presumably, will make room for gay Christianity (not a surprising perspective coming from a lay Eucharistic minister and lector in the Episcopal Church).3 Though Tickle has an uncanny ability to speak articulately and yet leave you wondering if she has answered the question, she nevertheless does not seem to be a reporter for the “sans-sola-Scriptura/pro-homosexual” brand of emergence Christianity but rather a strong advocate for and participant in it. All of this is coupled with a staunch reinvigoration within emergence Christianity of a bottom-up, social gospel.
Some are abandoning evangelicalism by virtue of their errant doctrines as can be witnessed at biologos.org where there is strong advocacy for embracing theistic evolution by self-proclaimed Bible-believing, Christians. The issue here is not a quibbling over age/day theories, but whether or not humanity sprung from one original mated pair (Adam and Eve), etc.
The Antagonistic “Insiders”
Some are abandoning evangelicalism by virtue of their rejection of its tenets. In other words, their complaints about evangelicals seem to have led them into being something else, though they do not admit it. In many ways these could be characterized as “bullies” who have an “insider’s” axe to grind against evangelicals. These people present themselves (and in some cases are represented by the media) as evangelicals, but when they speak they don’t sound like evangelicals.4 At least they don’t sound like we used to. So, the Church gets saddled with “experts” who seem more like Trojan horses than true arbiters of wisdom coming from within genuine evangelical spirituality.
Along with a reinvigorated secular push towards the nation-wide acceptance of same-sex marriage (helped along in no small way by the fact that, in his second inaugural address, President Barrack Obama decided to elevate a bar fight in New York City to the same level as the fight for racial equality when he mentioned Seneca Falls, Selma, and Stonewall all in the same breath),5 there is an astonishing tide of momentum gathering behind the idea of gay Christianity. As mentioned above, proponents from the orthonomic branch of emergence Christianity6 are helping to lead the way. But, other lesser known influences are cropping up all over the place. Sandra Turnbull,7 a Assemblies of God-raised and educated8 lesbian pastor of the Glory Tabernacle Christian Center, has written a book titled God’s Gay Agenda in which she declares,
Today, I know who I am. I am a eunuch born this way from my mother’s womb. I have a destiny in God. I have a high-calling that I am pursuing along with my life partner. Love fills my life. I have a wonderful family and a great Church. And to think that all of this was made possible because my life was turned upside down many years ago when I found myself in the eye of a storm— a storm about my sexuality.9
Turnbull is not alone. A perusal of Rachel Held Evans’ blog site (an author published by Thomas Nelson) reveals her support of gay Christianity as this quote, written concerning the infamous Chick-Fil-A boycott:
I am especially sorry to my LGBT friends who have been bullied in the name of Christ—many of you as Christians yourself—and I long for the Church to become a more welcoming home to all who want to follow Jesus, regardless of race, gender, socio-economic status, or sexual orientation. . . . As Christians—conservative and progressive, gay and straight, activists and slacktivists—we must direct our efforts instead toward bridging this divide, which is going to take a lot of hard work, a lot of disappointment, a lot of tears, a lot of compromise, a lot of honesty, a lot of mistakes, a lot of apologies, a lot of listening, a lot of forgiveness, a lot of meal sharing, a lot of gospel.10
The personal opinions and political views expressed by an author are theirs alone and do not necessarily reflect that of the company. Thomas Nelson publishes products written from a Christian worldview, and we respect our author’s right to express their personal opinion. We cannot comment on anything concerning Ms. Evans other than the book that she has published through us.11
There are so many more examples like the recent article in the Atlantic, Being Gay at Jerry Falwell’s University. Forgetting for now the question of how any Christian should respond when put in the situation of the author’s professors at Liberty University, you can’t help but anticipate the coming battle when you read,
Eventually, though, I decided that if Jesus met me some time, and if he got to know me, and hear my ideas, and listen to me laugh, then he would like me. What made me come to that conclusion? Meeting people like Dr. Prior and Dr. Reeves. All these people—including Jerry Falwell—helped teach me about Jesus, and I figured that if they liked me, then maybe Jesus might, too. Gandhi once said that he liked Christ, but not Christians because they were so unlike their leader. But the people I met at Liberty… well, Gandhi would have liked them.12
Well, it’s nice to be liked. Jesus more than likes us, He loves us with an everlasting love (Psalm 100:5; John 3:16). But what does that mean to the author? If Jesus “likes” you does that mean He accepts you? Does that mean that you were created to be a homosexual? Sandra Turnbull thinks so.
What about the youth pastor from Texas who writes in his blog,
I have homosexuals who come to my youth ministry regularly. Some of them passionately love Jesus. I have seen their lives and their hearts, and I know that they have a real relationships with God. Do homosexuals who loves [sic] God go to heaven? I know it. Do they have real relationships with God? Undeniably. . . . If you are a homosexual (teen) and have felt judged, criticized and hurt by church, come to [my youth group]. If you’re afraid to step into church because you’ve experienced alienation in the past… come to [my youth group].
I hope I am wrong about this young pastor, but I think he just planted the seeds for a gay church!
The Believing Church
Evangelical doesn’t seem to mean what it used to mean. More accurately, it is being co-opted by many groups that do not hold to what used to be known as traditional evangelical values. OK. I am not married to the term evangelical but I am concerned that the believing Church identify itself in an ever-changing atmosphere of heresy and compromise.
1 This is a tongue-in-cheek general reference by H & W.
2 In the lapse of time since this was written several articles have been written documenting the movement of Republicans towards the left of center for the sake of remaining viable politically, particularly on the subject of gay marriage. To be clear, my main issue with public support of same-sex marriage is that it places homosexuality in the category of normal behavior and as a Bible believing Christian I cannot endorse that. The question of human rights is a separate issue. For that reason, I do not say to the LGBT community that they cannot practice whatever sexual behavior they may desire. I don’t agree with it and I reserve the right to say so and to warn against such behavior. But asking me to endorse it, support it, normalize it, even Christianize it goes beyond what the true meaning of tolerance calls for.
4 Simply read the writings of Mark Noll, Rob Bell, Rachel Held Evans, Jonathan Dudley and others.
5 Selma, Alabama played a key role in the Civil Rights movement, Seneca Falls was the birthplace of the Women’s Rights movement, and Stonewall is a Greenwich Village gay bar in Manhattan where it is said “gay pride began.”
6 In her book The Great Emergence (pages 149-150), Phyllis Tickle describes two approaches or views of authority happening within emergence Christianity. One is “orthonomy” which is “the tendency . . . [to allow] aesthetic response and/or emotionally or spiritually moving experience to become bases for authority. The other is “theonomy” meaning that “only God can be the source of perfection in action and thought.” Now, presumably this means using the Bible as the final authority. Tickle, however, says “neither is sufficient by itself.”
8 The Amazon site for her book contains a short bio of Turnbull which claims she was educated at Evangel College and Claremont School of theology. Her website mentions her Assemblies of God missionary parents. I confess that I am assuming that Evangel College must refer to what is today called Evangel University, an Assemblies of God school which began as Evangel College in 1955 (see previous footnote for these websites).
11 My concern at the time was that Evans is being presented as an evangelical Christian and being endorsed by a leading evangelical Christian publishing house, yet holding views that are inconsistent with an evangelical Christian worldview. Thomas Nelson’s claim that they publish products written from a Christian worldview while showing no interest in any personal opinion expressed outside of what was being published reflects either that Thomas Nelson thinks gay Christianity is part of the Christian worldview or that somehow it is excusable to compartmentalize what we sell separately from what we say or think personally. My view is that one’s everyday worldview needs to agree with our “sales pitch.”
Last year I read H. Richard Niebuhr’s classic text, Christ and Culture. For years I had been meaning to read it but, truthfully, it is not the easiest read. But last year, it came alive! Not so much because of Niebuhr’s insights1 but because it so eloquently raises the question: What is to be done about the problem of Christ and culture?2 The question is profoundly important and constantly addressed—either consciously or subconsciously—by Christians and non-Christians alike; by religious and non-religious persons alike; by pop stars and prominent atheists, by actors and professors, by scientists and, of course, preachers of every ilk. My concern for the believing Church and an American culture increasingly hostile towards it,3 prompts my entry into this fray.
And so, for some time now, my question has been, Who do we look to for solutions to the complexities that arise where Christ and culture intersect? It is not hard to anticipate some of the potential answers to that question. For example, someone might suggest that we look to the Holy Spirit for our answers—sort of the “you do not need anyone to teach you” approach from 1 John 2:27. A respectable answer as long as that text is balanced with other texts. For example, in 1 Corinthians 12:28 and Ephesians 4:11, we see that God has appointed and gifted some to be teachers. So, as we balance these texts with one another we can clearly see that we have an anointing from the Holy Spirit that enables us to discern between falsehood and truth and even to discern the content that would come from teachers. But we don’t observe a prescribed ethos of individualism that sees all Christians simply listening to their own voices.
Another response to the above question of Who do we look to? Might be, We look to our pastors! And so we do. But not every is pastor equipped and gifted at surveying the spiritual/cultural landscape and helping the Church and the culture at large to know what it should do, though we should expect to find that some are. But what happens when insightful pastors are not widely known or are simply not as good at communicating their insights as those are who tend toward heresy? Similarly, we might also expect that the professors in our Christian universities and seminaries would help in this area, and of course many have, but not all of them. In fact, some of the most egregious attacks against the believing Church are coming from inside evangelicalism.4
In 1 Chronicles 12:32 we learn about the men of Issachar “who understood the times and knew what Israel should do.” Who are the modern “men of Issachar”? Chuck Colson, who died last year, was one of those men. He cultivated an awareness of the relevant issues where Christ intersects with culture, did his due diligence at researching and thinking through the issues from all sides, and fostered meaningful dialogue within and between the Church and the culture in an effort to help them know what they should do. Surely there are many men and women whom God can use in this perilous hour to fill this need for modern men and women of Issachar?!
Sadly, there are many inside the Church who are leading the believing Church astray. Men and women whom we have otherwise trusted are calling for the end of Scripture as the Church’s final authority and the end of an orthodox view of the atonement, calling it a “bloody sacrifice” that “no longer plays.”5 They are leading an assault on the Church’s understanding of Genesis 1-3, even removing our confidence in Adam and Eve and humanity as God’s special creation, bringing into question what we believe about original sin, the fall, and the need for the sacrificial death of Jesus.6 Some are saying that the Church might as well accept same-sex marriage and homosexuality as normal and open its arms to gay Christianity, saying the Church will simply “get over it.”7
The Christ and Culture Initiative is an effort to call together qualified men and women “of Issachar,” either through electronic means such as this blog or in actual convocation, who have been gifted and anointed by God to think through the complex issues that arise where Christ and culture intersect, to dialogue with one another and even with opposing voices through interviews and print concerning these issues, and to thoughtfully, lovingly, yet truthfully and firmly, inspire and challenge the Church and the culture through response.
1 I don’t agree with all of his conclusions but he does offer some important insights; I think the text is frequently misunderstood by modern readers.
2 Niebuhr calls this the enduring problem.
3 I actually mean two things here. I am concerned that the American culture is growing in its hostility toward the believing Church, but I am also concerned for American culture.
4 The believing Church must now of necessity begin to see itself as post-evangelical due to the marring of its true meaning by those who are peddling heresy from inside the Church and due to a media that either cannot or will not make the distinction between what used to be genuine evangelicalism and what now is not.
5 See Bart Gingerich’s coverage of the National Conversation on Emergence Christianity, in Emergence Christianity Comes to Memphis, http://juicyecumenism.com/2013/01/18/emergence-christianity-comes-to-memphis/ quoting Phyllis tickle. When I wrote Ms. Tickle, asking for transcripts, recordings, or video of the event, she replied: “There was no video taken . . . there was an audio which was taken for archival purposes only and will not be released. These decisions were made, I believe, in the interest of being sure that all who wished to speak or make comments or explore issues within the conversation could do so without concern for any post-conference continuations out of context.” See also Phyllis Tickle, The Great Emergence, pages 98-101.
6 See the many articles found on the biologos.org website. See also Gingerich’s article.
7 Watch a 2009 Andrew Marin interview with Phyllis Tickle where Tickle says, “The truth of it is we’re going to get over this.” Andrew Marin, by the way, is the founder of The Marin Foundation, a not-for-profit organization whose purpose is to build bridges between the LGBT community and, among other groups, the Church. Google the “I’m sorry campaign.”