By Jonathon Van Maren
Earlier this month, conservative evangelical Denny Burk, pastor and professor at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, faced off on Twitter with progressive Kristin Kobes du Mez, whose book Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation has been the toast of the mainstream press for the past year. There is obviously much the two disagree on, and their back-and-forth on LGBT issues was an interesting exchange, with both penning blog posts to articulate their disagreements more clearly.
What struck me about this debate, however, is not that Denny Burk, a conservative Baptist and staunch pro-lifer, and Kristin Kobes du Mez, a progressive scholar who displayed thinly veiled contempt for pro-lifers through her recent book, have much to disagree on. It was du Mez’s implication that it was Burk’s theological views which were primarily shaped by culture rather than her own.
Now, to be fair, du Mez did not state that she has definitively concluded that she supports LGBT rights as such — although Jesus and John Wayne made it crystal clear where her sympathies lie. But she did state that she was re-evaluating her stance on sexuality, as is her denomination. Many churches, she pointed out, have been doing so over the past several decades. And she’s right — many major mainline Protestant denominations have abandoned the traditional biblical view of sexuality just before imploding.
But when liberal Christians claim that evangelicalism is primarily shaped by American culture, this seems an almost brazen projection. It is certainly true that churches are impacted by culture and vice versa, and it is also true that there is a peculiarly American version of masculinity that has been absorbed into certain strains of evangelicalism (I noted this in my review of her book earlier this year). But it is absurd for du Mez to imply that the denominations parting ways with 2,000 years of Christian consensus on homosexuality are somehow more thoughtful, compassionate, or theologically faithful than those who cling to the company of everyone from Augustine to the Reformers.