A number of high-profile authors and speakers today have embraced the Herculean task of reshaping the Christian faith into something that can coincide with the core tenets of the sexual revolution. We see this strange syncretism growing in the West, more slowly in adoption than its evangelists would hope, but more quickly in its abandonment of nearly every core tenet of Christian belief and practice. It’s fascinating to watch how nearly every leader who crosses over into “affirming” territory loses all authority (or desire) to uphold any other aspect of traditional Christian morality.
A good example is found in Brandan Robertson’s The Gospel of Inclusion: A Christian Case for LGBT+ Inclusion in the Church. I’d not yet read Robertson’s book when I wrote a column earlier this year on how “The Gospel of Inclusion Is Far Too Narrow,” but many of my points in that original article apply well to Brandan’s work. He has taken a key component of Christianity (Jesus’s inclusive call), used it as a sword to divide it from other key components (Jesus’s exclusive claims), and laid a foundation for another religion altogether.
The gist of Robertson’s book is a sped-up, expanded version of the trajectory hermeneutic, popularized by William Webb (who sees a trajectory regarding slavery and the treatment of women, but not homosexuality). From Genesis to Revelation, we chart the Bible’s movement away from its patriarchal context and toward more and more inclusion. Church history then continues the narrative, even though “large portions of Christianity have struggled to keep up” (1).
“The ethical trajectory of the Bible should lead Christians towards a position of greater inclusion and acceptance of those who have previously been considered ‘unclean,’ and that the New Testament imperative of Jesus is to listen to and rely on the ongoing revelation of the Holy Spirit to guide our faith and practice.” (3)
Robertson’s project takes the Enlightenment narrative of progress, applies it to sexual morality, and then calls the church to bend the knee to this rival eschatology and make it our own. Christianity’s old and outdated traditions of sexual morality have borne bad fruit, he says. But, I ask, what fruit does the “gospel of inclusion” bear? If Robertson’s book indicates where the revisionists are headed, then here is a sampling:
- We are to understand Scripture in its historical and cultural context, but then apply it in “a non-literalistic, non-inerrantist way,” which reads the text as a grand narrative of increasing inclusion (12).
- We are to admit that Paul as a first-century Jewish teacher was “homophobic” and would have condemned all “same-sex relationships, even modern ones,” yet we can dismiss his perspective because he viewed all sexual activity (apart from procreative purpose) as flawed and dangerous (30).
- We are to recast Jesus as something of an anti-Jew who disregards religious dogma from the Hebrew Bible and “consistently reinterprets ancient commands in a more inclusive manner” (40) because the Bible was a “living text, constantly evolving” (42). (Apparently, we are to overlook all the times Jesus does the opposite: intensifying the original commands—see divorce, for example—and claiming eternality for the Law, not evolution.)
- We are to recast today’s “fundamentalists” as the Pharisees in Jesus’s day—anyone “uncomfortable with the freedom Jesus expressed” in his interpreting the biblical texts “in order to strain towards inclusion and equality” (44). (Once again, we must wave away the times the Pharisees balked at the strictness of Jesus’s interpretations or bristled at his exclusive claims that would call them to repentance.)
- We are to read the last book of the Bible, Revelation, as proof that the “trajectory of history . . . is always toward inclusion and expansion, and that truth makes the gospel of Jesus Christ truly good news of great joy for absolutely all people” (48, 54). (We embrace the Lamb covered in his own blood, but dismiss the book’s picture of the warrior King.)
- We are to proclaim the gospel, which is all about subverting the oppressive patriarchal system of this world. Patriarchy is the “driving force of all oppression in our world today” (69). All!
- Taking up your cross means participating “in the deconstruction of oppressive systems and liberation of the oppressed in our world” (71). (In other words, taking up your cross means opposing the sexual ethic that past Christians who were actually crucified lived by.)
There’s something admirable in the stark manner in which Brandan Robertson draws lines. He half-heartedly advocates for the position that we can “agree to disagree” on sexual morality, but the book’s major thrust is that anyone who holds to Jesus’s exclusive claims or remains committed to Christianity’s sexual ethic has fallen for a “false gospel” (80). Exclusivism is a false gospel whose morality bears bitter fruit. To be like Jesus is to be a universalist who seeks “to amend and to raise the ethical standards of the Hebrew Bible” (77). (Reading charitably, I don’t believe Brandan intends for his writing to drip with such anti-Semitic condescension.)
Brandan Robertson is right about a trajectory, but it’s not the trajectory he sees in the Bible. It’s the troubling trajectory toward embracing any and all consensual sex as celebrated by God. We see it expressed by Nadia Bolz Weber in a cover story for the Christian Century, hardly a bastion of fundamentalism, which elicited indignant letters to the editor asking how her view of sexuality was distinctively Christian at all.
We see the same trajectory in Brandan’s writing here. He believes it is logically inconsistent to advocate for LGBT+ inclusion while holding to other elements of the Christian sexual ethic (such as reserving sex within marriage). Fornication is fine. Premarital sex can be positive.
“If premarital sex is a sin, I would invite us to reflect on whether premarital sex embodies love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. If for you it does then how could we call it sinful?” (94)
“If we believe the gospel is radically inclusive, we must seek to make space even for the smallest minority of people, and be willing to be in relationship with and think through our own beliefs and worldview in light of their experience.” (96)
Even polyamory falls into Paul’s category of adiaphora. The Bible says so little about sexual ethics anyway. (I do wonder why he never advocates for adult brother-sister relationships or marriages. A sad example of erasure of this “sexual minority”?)
Robertson’s interpretation of the Bible and early Christian history departs so radically from the work of serious historians (such as Kyle Harper) that one might think I’ve just been setting up a straw man.
In the end, what we have here is a book that suppresses anything in the Bible that smells of exclusivity, while trying to sell us a shrunken, narrow, de-Judaized version of sexual liberation in the name of Christ. The cross in all its multifaceted glory becomes a bat with which to beat the patriarchy. The ethical vision of the New Testament that blazed with such purity that it shocked the Romans gets reduced to the mere affirmation of people’s sexual desires.
The gospel of inclusion is too narrow to be true Christianity. It represents a weird resurrection of pseudo-Marcionism, now centered on sex. Here we see the corrosive acids of the sexual revolution eat away at the core of Christianity until all that remains is a neopagan sexual ethic with a smidge of biblical residue.