There is no “orthodox view” of sexuality (or gay marriage)

Last week Time magazine released an article saying that the Christian college ministry, InterVarsity, had made a decision to fire any of their staff who are pro-gay marriage.

InterVarsity responded on Twitter by saying, first of all, that they do not have a policy on employee views of civil marriage.

However, InterVarsity has created an in-house document which is their theological summary of human sexuality (you can read it here), and then let their staff know that if they disagreed with the statement they should move along to a different organization (the statement does not address gay marriage, so the Time headline is misleading, but the basic concept is there). InterVarsity has continued to repeat that they see LGBTQI persons as image bearers of God and people worthy of respect and honor.

InterVarsity has said that this decision is an issue of orthodoxy. “We hold to an orthodox view of sexuality and Christian marriage” they said on Twitter, and similar statements were made in interviews.

There’s only one problem with this.

There’s no such thing as an orthodox position on sexuality and marriage. There’s not an orthodox position related to the LGBTQI community. There’s not an orthodox answer to the question, “Is homosexuality a sin?”

In theological circles, “orthodoxy” has an extremely specific definition. While the Greek word itself means “right opinion,” over time the word gained a more narrow definition: “conforming to the Christian faith as represented in the creeds of the early church.”

So orthodoxy has to do with (1) what it means to be Christian and (2) sticking to certain historical doctrines of the church.

If someone is teaching something that is not orthodox, we say that thing is “heterodox” or (much more commonly) “heretical.” So someone who doesn’t believe what is orthodox is a heretic: one whose beliefs are at odds with the Christian faith.

So for InterVarsity to say they hold to an “orthodox view” of marriage and sexuality implies that they believe this is “THE Christian view” and that it is historical, correct, and central to the definition of being a follower of Jesus.

Here’s the catch: the ancient creeds of the church (which are definitional to orthodoxy) have nothing to say on these topics.

Here’s the apostle’s creed (our earliest reference to it is in 390, but our earliest version is from the 700s):

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

This is the core of the Christian faith. To disagree with it is indeed to be un-orthodox, or heretical. Notice that it doesn’t talk about many issues Christians may find important, focusing instead on the person and character of God. It does not mention gay marriage, or marriage at all. It doesn’t mention sexuality. It doesn’t include a list of sins that are universally recognized by the church.

You can support gay marriage AND believe everything listed in the creed above. You can be an orthodox follower of Jesus and disagree with InterVarsity’s statement on human sexuality.

But wait, you say, maybe we should look at another creed?

Sure. Here’s the Nicene Creed (originally written in 325). In fact, here’s the longer version (from the amended version written in 381):

We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.

For us and for our salvation
he came down from
heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.

For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Fath
er and the Son.
With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come.

Amen.

Rocky is orthodox because he believes in Creed.

Rocky is orthodox because he believes in Creed.

Notice, again, that the creed is focused on the person and attributes of God. There is very little about the church or the Bible, what is and is not a sin, the nature of humanity and there is certainly no definition of marriage or discussion of sexuality.

If you like you can also check out the Chalcedonian creed and the Athanasian creed. They are largely the same.

Christian friends, your beliefs about human sexuality, gay marriage, the LGBTQI community, how gay believers should best follow Jesus and so on are not issues of orthodoxy. We can disagree with one another and still follow Jesus, still be Christian, still be orthodox.

There is pressure for conformity on this topic rather than an emphasis on community. We must move from a group of people who demand conformity to a group of people who embrace community. I can strongly disagree with you on this topic and still worship with you, embrace you, work with you, partner with you, and serve with you.

InterVarsity can make agreeing with their statement a condition of employment, but they can’t make it an issue of orthodoxy. Denominations can take a stand on what they, corporately, believe to be correct, but they cannot in good faith tell others that their way is Christian and the way of others is heretical. Individual believers can build their life around their understanding of this issue, but they cannot tell other believers who disagree that they are heretics.

This is an important issue. A vital issue. But it is not a central issue[1]. It’s not definitional to the Christian faith. You can be a true follower of Christ, an orthodox believer, and fall in a broad spectrum of beliefs related to this question.

So, please, let’s stop saying this is an orthodox position, or the traditional position of the church for the last 2,000 years and so on (it’s not… gay marriage simply wasn’t a concept that existed… the church didn’t have a position on it any more than it had a position on helicopters or the internet or genetic testing). Those sorts of (false) statements shut down conversation and shut out brothers and sisters.

Whatever side you fall on this question: We need to learn to listen to one another. We must figure out a way to be in this together, and discuss our differing opinions without judging one another. We must engage in love and live in community.

Luther and Zwingli did, however, agree on hats.

Luther and Zwingli did, however, agree on hats.

I’m reminded of a story from church history, of two men who cared deeply about the church and right theology. One was named Martin Luther, and the other Ulrich Zwingli. Brought together by a devout Lutheran who wanted to show that the Protestants were unified, Luther and Zwingli worked through fifteen doctrinal topics. They agreed on fourteen. But they couldn’t come to consensus on how communion worked. Luther believed that Jesus was “present” in the elements of communion, and Zwingli believed communion to be symbolic, and that Jesus was at the right hand of God. There was a great deal of theology and Bible quoting and hard words exchanged between them. At the end of the meeting, Zwingli rose to shake hands with Luther. Luther refused.

How tragic when the people of God cannot remain in community despite such disagreements. Let’s sit at the table together, live and work together, listen to one another and when we disagree let us still embrace one another with warmth and true love.

Disclaimer: I am not speaking for the company which employs me, or InterVarsity, or my church, or anyone other than myself in this post.

[1] This is not to imply that it can’t be central for an individual in their faith journey, but rather that Christianity or being a Christian is not defined by taking a certain position on this question.

ETA: I’ve closed the comments thread and deleted the comments that were there. You’re not missing anything, as none of the comments had much to do with this article and were, I think, a distraction from what is being said here. You’re welcome to contact me personally if you have a question or comment.

Author: Matt Mikalatos

Matt Mikalatos is a writer not a fighter.

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