The Christian sexual ethic is going to be the dividing line — and not just because of Christians
Many Christian leaders have been warning for some time that the issue of Christianity’s sexual ethic is going to be a dividing line — that it would be a Reformation-like moment that would lead to dividing denominations, tearing asunder friendships and unity in its wake. That is no longer speculative.
On Sunday night, HBO aired an interview segment with ex-evangelical pastor Josh Harris. The focus of the interview was on Harris’ summer announcement that he was abandoning Christianity.
In the course of the interview, Axios co-founder and reporter Mike Allen brings up the question of Harris’ own sexuality, pointing specifically to an Instagram post of Harris participating in an LGBT pride event.
Harris refuses to answer a point-blank question about whether he has rethought his own sexuality, and only says he is “very comfortable” with his sexuality. He does not want to answer for fear that this answer will do more to label and categorize him than even the attention he brought to abandoning Christianity. (It is interesting to me that Harris can be so bold about his blasphemy, yet refuse to answer plainly about his sexuality.)
He goes on to answer:
“If the answer to the question of my sexuality puts me inside or outside of your circle, accepted or unaccepted, then I don’t want to be friends. F*** you and f*** your circles is how I feel. And so that’s why I don’t feel any need to answer that question.”
Those comments are as equally revealing about the state of our culture as they are profanely crude.
The focus of this short piece is not to address Harris’ sexuality. It is instead to look at how someone who has abandoned the faith understands the dire terms and impact of what it means to either believe or reject what Christianity teaches about sexuality. For this, Josh Harris’ intellectual honesty is even admirable. There is no hypocrisy and he’s not trying to exist in irreconcilable camps.
The dividing line
Many Christian leaders have been warning for some time that the issue of Christianity’s sexual ethic is going to be a dividing line — that it would be a Reformation-like moment that would lead to dividing denominations, tearing asunder friendships and unity in its wake. That is no longer speculative. News story after news story only confirms this is now the case, and Harris’ own words lay would bare that conclusion as well.
Sexual ethics have indeed become what many of us refer to as a status confessionisissue. A status confessionisissue is one that is essential to the church’s message. It means that issues arise of such importance in the life of the church that the church must make declarative proclamation that not to believe something that the church deems essential is to declare one’s self outside the bounds of faith. This means that to part ways with what the Bible and Christianity teach concerning the proper sexual relationships between men and women is to jettison the faith. Those may be strong words, but the implications are clear: The Christian sexual ethic is so intricately bound to creedal orthodoxy that to deny it is to forsake the faith altogether (1 Cor. 6:12-20).
This type of clarity or pronouncement about the grounds of relationship and membership in a community is not exclusive to Christianity. In many ways, a status confessionis issue is a modern form of ancient blasphemy laws that progressives now similarly use to declare who is acceptable and unacceptable. The message is increasingly clear: If you do not affirm the sexual revolution, you are unwelcome in polite society.
Who’s drawing the line?
So, who is drawing the line on what is acceptable or unacceptable? It means, in the least, that line drawing is not exclusive to Christianity. Secularism is doing it as well, for as we heard in Harris’ own voice: If you determine acceptance based on sexuality, he no longer wants to be your friend. The strong language of denouncement suggests you are now even an enemy. Harris is drawing a line. He’s being confessional.
The irony in all of this is that Christianity is — or ought to be — far more grace-giving and relationally gentle than what supposedly open-minded tolerance actually produces. The Christian sexual ethic balances truth and grace, balancing love with repentance and insisting that a person’s identity is not reducible to the sum total of their sexual proclivities. It’s why Christians can have friendships with LGBT people and not think of them as bad people. But you won’t often find this type of grace within the LGBT activism. We are expected to either be for them or against them. No amount of disagreement can be tolerated.
Beyond the meaning of his statements, it was sad to see how strained, unnatural, and peculiar it was for Harris to use deeply profane language. The whole interview is unspeakably sad. Evangelicalism ought to hold no rage at Josh Harris, only sadness. His story is a reminder that sin is creeping at every doorstep. At the same time, let’s not give up hope. We don’t know what the end of the story is for Josh Harris. Let’s pray that Josh will once again hear the shepherd’s voice and by God’s grace return to the flock he once loved.