In March 2011 a website was covertly launched on the campus of one of our Christian universities, promoting the homosexual lifestyle. When the administration blocked the site on the university’s network, activists printed and distributed across campus a thirty-two page manifesto pushing their agenda. The school’s president then issued a public response during the chapel assembly the following day, respectfully but firmly denouncing the defiant initiative.1
How could such an alarming state of affairs surface on the campus of a Christian university affiliated with mainstream churches of Christ? While the gay rights movement has increasingly influenced and noticeably shaped secular society in the United States since the 1960s,2 religion has not been unaffected. In 1972 the United Church of Christ was the first mainline denomination in the USA to ordain openly gay clergy, and subsequent decades have witnessed practicing homosexuals unconditionally accepted and incorporated into numerous denominations and independent religious groups.3
Among churches of Christ, Dave Miller prophetically warned in 1996, “While the liberal element in the church has not been drawn into a wholesale endorsement of homosexuality, philosophically, the liberal mindset will inevitably relax its opposition to those who insist upon their right to engage in homosexuality” (Piloting the Strait 345). A few years later Phil Sanders observed that congregations sometimes fool themselves into thinking they are immune from the volatile mentality of the times, even though what “happens in the world has always profoundly affected the church; today is no different” (Adrift 14, 21).
The Rise and Influence of Postmodernism
As “both a broad cultural and sociological phenomenon and an ideology,” postmodernism is hard to define (Erickson 12). The term itself is descriptive of the changes in knowledge perception in popular culture, and it stands in stark contrast to the concept of modernism. At the risk of oversimplification, modernism can be characterized as the pursuit of truth, certainty and absolutism with linear thinking and rationalism. It seeks undisputed foundations and rigorous methodologies for attaining knowledge. Postmodernism, on the other hand, is a reaction to what is perceived as the inflexibility, arrogance and attempted control of modernistic thinking. It advocates “knowledge” as the product of cultural conditioning, shaped by emotions, experience, aesthetics, and environment. In the realm of religion, modernism is viewed as the rigid pursuit of truth versus error and right versus wrong, whereas postmodernism is a softer and more flexible approach that emphasizes love, relationships, tolerance, acceptance, authenticity, and relativism (Carson 26-34).
Postmodern secularism maintains that there is no universal or absolute truth with respect to morality. Religion, therefore, especially Christianity, is to be summarily dismissed because of its traditional stance against "secular values" (e.g. abortion and gay marriage). However, postmodernism has also made significant inroads into religion and into the contemporary Christian movement in particular (Erickson 59-69). “Notions of objective morality are among the first things to be questioned,” D. A. Carson observes, and professing Christians are increasingly changing their views on moral issues (101). According to recent studies by the Barna Group, a leading research organization focused on the relationship between faith and culture, only 34% of American adults believe that moral truth is absolute, while less than half of those claiming to be religiously “born again” (46%) believe in absolute moral truth.4 There was a time when affirming an openly homosexual lifestyle demanded the complete severing of ties with orthodox Christianity. But nowadays, thanks to postmodern rationalization, embracing same-sex relationships while claiming allegiance to biblical teaching is normative.
--Kevin L. Moore
1 See <www.arktimes.com/ArkansasBlog/archives/2011/03/04/harding-president-address-gay-website#readerComments>; also <www.youtube.com/watch?v=8qKNze-C3uk>.
2 Recent studies show that about 62% of the American public believes homosexuality should be accepted by society. See Pew Research Center, “Views on Religion, the Bible, Evolution and Social Issues,” 26 June 2014, <www.people-press.org/2014/06/26/section-5-views-on-religion-the-bible-evolution-and-social-issues/#>.
3 Jaweed Kaleem, “Unearthing the Surprising Religious History of American Gay Rights Activism,” in Huffington Post (28 June 2014), <www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/06/28/gay-religious-history_n_5538178.html>.
4 The Barna Group, “Barna Survey Examines Changes in Worldview Among Christians over the Past 13 Years,” 6 March 2009, <https://www.barna.org/barna-update/21-transformation/252-barna-survey-examines-changes-in-worldview-among-christians-over-the-past-13-years#.VFT3wN7SHFK>.
Carson, D. A. Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church: Understanding a Movement and Its Implications. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005.
Erickson, Millard J. The Postmodern World: Discerning the Times and the Spirit of Our Age. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2002.
Miller, Dave. Piloting the Strait: a Guidebook for Assessing Change in Churches of Christ. Bedford, TX: Sain Publications, 1996.
Sanders, Phil. Adrift: Postmodernism in the Church. Nashville, TN: Gospel Advocate, 2000.