If that is the case, I think there are many Christians who could immediately relate to his circumstance. It is very difficult when one has a close friend or family member who is gay and who differs with what the Bible teaches about sexual norms.
The news that Brian McLaren has taken part in the same-sex commitment ceremony of his son has already received comment in the evangelical world. Denny Burk’s piece is particularly helpful.
Brian McLaren caused quite a stir in 2010 when he announced in his book A New Kind of Christianity that he no longer believes that homosexuality is a sin. Many people were surprised by the news simply because he himself had called on evangelicals in 2006 to observe a five year moratorium on making moral pronouncements about homosexuality (see here). Yet in the book, McLaren not only made a moral pronouncement, he also chastised conservative evangelicals for their views on the matter.
At the time, it appeared that McLaren’s revisionist views were merely a part of his emerging theological outlook—a postmodern slouch toward theological liberalism. No doubt it was that, as his writings make perfectly clear. But could there have been more to it than that?
The New York Times reports that McLaren recently presided over his own son’s same-sex commitment ceremony. This would seem to imply that from the time McLaren called a “moratorium” to the time that he wrote A New Kind of Christianity, McLaren was dealing with the issue not merely as a detached observer but as one with a deeply personal stake in the matter. I don’t pretend to account for all of the influences over McLaren’s thinking, but it’s hard to imagine that his son’s situation would not have had some sort of an impact on McLaren’s theological revisions.
If that is the case, I think there are many Christians who could immediately relate to his circumstance. It is very difficult when one has a close friend or family member who is gay and who differs with what the Bible teaches about sexual norms. There is an incredible cultural pressure for the Christian to break the relational impasse by revising Christianity’s teaching on human sexuality. No one wants to alienate love ones. Also, no one wants to be labeled a bigot. The desire to avoid pariah status is why many people are simply moving away from a traditional view of marriage. People do not want to offend their gay friends, neighbors, and family members. (Read More)
It is a reminder that familial ties and relations are powerful and impact the way we think and act. While many orthodox Protestants dismiss Erik Erikson’s thesis about Luther’s problems with God being really about his problems with his earthly father, I have always considered the argument plausible to some extent. One cannot reduce Luther’s theology to mere psychological projection but to deny that his disrupted relationship with his father had no impact on his thinking would seem to require him to be less than human.
Family ties are one thing. We have no choice over them. But there are other ties that bind that can be equally damaging. The feudal ties of voluntary confederations and personal friendships can be just as powerful and have negative effects that seem less excusable precisely because water is, as they say, not as thick as blood. How many of us have kept quiet on issues because of the fear of offending a friend? Or because of the potential for upsetting the big names on whom some rely for public profile and media access? How often have friendships which should provide a context for plain speaking actually proved to be the reason for cowardly silence? Bad company corrupts morals, as somebody once said.
You cannot choose your relatives but you can choose those with whom you join together in voluntary alliance. McLaren’s actions are certainly worthy of scrutiny and criticism; but so are those of us who keep quiet because of much shallower relationships than that between a father and a son. And some of those silences could prove far more damaging in the long run than the domestic arrangements of the McLaren household.
Carl R Trueman is Professor of Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. He has an MA in Classics from the University of Cambridge and a PhD in Church History from the University of Aberdeen. This article is reprinted from the Reformation 21 blog and is used with their permission.