Dust and Smoke: A Tale of Progressive Hypocrisy

In the past few months I have been addressing the theme of the Bible and Christian ethics. I discussed some of the basic categories and concepts used in Christian ethics: the good, the right, moral law, divine commands, wisdom, the burden of proof, tradition, the concept of a “way of life,” and others. Since it is a burning contemporary issue that cannot be evaded, I have given special emphasis to how the Bible has been used in the contemporary debate over same-sex relationships. In a series of eleven essays I examined Karen Keen’s argument that evangelical churches should affirm loving, same-sex relationships as morally equal to traditional marriages between other-sex couples. I also reviewed Robert K. Gnuse’s argument against the usefulness of the traditional biblical proof texts for the contemporary debate. Gnuse is a progressive Lutheran supporter of mainline churches affirming same-sex relationships. Very soon I want to bring all these ideas to bear on a positive statement on the Christian ethical status of same-sex relationships and how the Bible may be properly used to support this traditional position. In preparation for this statement I want to take stock of where we stand.

Secular Progressives

It is important to keep in mind that the secular progressives do not care what the Bible says. They do not acknowledge its authority and may express great hostility toward it. They don’t mind hearing the Bible quoted as long as it echoes their views but will not accept any criticism of progressive morality based on the Bible. I am not speaking to this group in this series. This task would require a completely different approach. I am addressing people who for one reason or another claim to care what the Bible says. This group falls into two broad categories: traditionalist/conservative and progressive/liberal Christians.

Progressive versus Conservative

Not all progressive Christians are alike. Some reject or extensively revise the doctrines held dear by the historic tradition—the bodily resurrection of Jesus, the Trinity, the incarnation, and the call to conversion. I find it difficult to think of them as Christian at all. Some are less radical in their revisions. What they all have in common is that they feel compelled to revise traditional/biblical Christian doctrine and morals in view of “enlightened” modern culture. The dominant contemporary culture has given up all ethical principles by which it might condemn any behavior that does not involve coercion and lack of consent. The Enlightenment’s emphasis on individual freedom and autonomy, the Romantic Movement’s emphasis on the uniqueness of the individual’s inner self, and post-modernism’s debunking of objective truth have come together in contemporary culture to create a picture of each individual as a self-creating god who can do anything it wants as long as it does not do violence to other self-creating gods. And progressive Christians try to adjust their theology and ethics to this culture. They are as embarrassed by traditional Christian moral teaching as they would be if they suddenly found themselves naked at a Kennedy Center opera performance.

At times I wonder why progressive Christians even bother to appear to care what the Bible says. Traditionalists care what the Bible says because they place themselves under its authority and sincerely believe that God’s speaks through the Bible. They want to live in a community that lives according to the Bible’s teaching. When progressives engage in sophisticated exegesis and hermeneutics, such as that we find in Gnuse’s article, do they do this because they really care what the Bible says? Or, do they know already from the spirit of the times what the Bible should have said? I think some progressives work as hard as they do to reinterpret the Bible, not because they care what it teaches but because other less enlightened people care and stand in the way of moral progress. Progressive efforts seem designed to undermine the certainty of the traditional moral teaching while giving the appearance of sincere desire to understand the scriptures. In other words progressive writing on biblical exegesis and hermeneutics and theological ethics strikes the traditionalist as dissimulation and deception. And it will persuade only those who want to be persuaded.

Proof-Text Hypocrisy

As I outlined in the two previous essays, Robert K. Gnuse argues that the biblical proof texts most often quoted by traditionalists to condemn same-sex intercourse do not explicitly condemn all same-sex sexual relationships. They do not explicitly condemn loving, freely contracted same-sex relationships. These texts, progressives opine, are most likely directed to abusive relationships common in the culture of that day. And because they do not specifically target loving gay and lesbian relationships these passages are irrelevant to the contemporary question about the Christian legitimacy of same-sex relationships. We do not know what Paul would say about loving gay and lesbian relationships, progressives claim; we know only what he said about abusive same-sex relationships. Gnuse is not alone in adopting this line of argument. It is common among progressive Christian writers.

There is so much that could be said in response to the progressive strategy. But I will limit myself to one observation. It seems to me quite hypocritical for a progressive to argue in such a legalistic way. Progressives are not known for being sticklers for the letter of the law. Are we really to believe that if the New Testament undeniably condemned all same-sex intercourse, even between loving people, that progressives would dutifully follow the New Testament in its condemnation? I do not think so. Progressives also have many strategies for rejecting any explicit New Testament teaching that conflicts with progressive culture. When clear New Testament teaching conflicts with progressive dogma, progressive writers complain that the New Testament authors were limited by their patriarchal, unscientific, homophobic, and sexist culture.

When progressives argue in this legalistic way it is not because they want to obey the Bible to the letter. No. They argue this way to take advantage of the fact that traditionalists want to obey the Bible to the letter. And insofar as traditionalists think that the Bible teaches moral truth only by means of explicit divine commands, they set themselves up for the progressive trap. If somehow the supposed clarity of the biblical proof texts can be obscured by whatever means, the traditionalist is left without recourse. Progressives by throwing exegetical dust into the air and blowing hermeneutical smoke in traditionalists’ eyes hide the rank hypocrisy of their argument. For they have no intention of practicing what they preach.

Next Time: The Plasticity of Principles

4 thoughts on “Dust and Smoke: A Tale of Progressive Hypocrisy

  1. paulsaruni

    Amen! They never seem to tire in labeling us and calling us hypocritical, homophobic, disingenuous and old fashion, so I am thankful that you are helping them to see that just maybe there is some hypocrisy on their side and, I would add that, in reality, they are only trying to keep the light off themselves by labeling others.


  2. ifaqtheology Post author

    I don’t wish to be mean or call people names, but I think it is needful to point out inconsistencies even if those inconsistencies have to be called “hypocrisy.” Also, I want to protect the innocent from being deceived by the “much speaking” and sophisticated vocabulary of progressive/liberal exegesis and theology. Thanks. Ron


    1. Dr Jonne Smalhouse

      Hello again Ron,
      I think i’m ok now thank you. I just fell over slightly when i read this last contribution of yours- “faint heart never one fair maid” eh?
      Yes, of course, great stuff if taken slowly and steadily; like the medicine we all must sometimes take in the reading of our scripture, sermons and reproachments.
      Taking the ‘mighty sequoia’ from my own eye, one feels like i need to be a “progressive traditionalist”, if only to try to satisfy your broadside bombardments! What?!^=÷$%$@&
      I’m sincerely hoping that you (dear christian fellow) can continue, but with some bible please… more specifically some apt words from our Lord Jesus. I know that i have preached the transfiguration before and though you may or may not be planning to do so; i would dearly love you to give all of us a paragraph on the “Transfiguration” ( and i don’t mean, for those progressives reading here, a debate on how we got the record of the mountain top blessing if no-one ever spoke of it).
      Lastly, with immense Christian humility Ron. I’d like to bring my biggest elephant into this conversation. Namely the element in the OT which i see as the ‘first’ and only really mind-numbingly significant ‘commandment’; often missed, and universally ignored by stoic traditionalists…
      ” …and the Lord gave to them, the gift of stewardship… over all of the earth (etc etc)”.
      There is little point in arguing the language, context, or translation of this first ‘commandment’. Is there? I call it an inverted comma commandment not for debate or sensationalism, but for due deferrence and respect of the second most mighty gift from God. It commands the utmost respect, and should always be thought of and treated as truly loving amazing gift! And it is with impossible sadness that i ask the moral and ethical question, what have we {all} done to this amazing and beautiful gift of God’s?
      It never ceases to surprise me how little humanity has learned over the millennia about preserving this world, and what a truer reflection of the pandemic of infected self-worship you will ever see. If we accept responsibility for our own actions, and have asked for true forgiveness, and follow in the footsteps of Christ in order that we are better equipped for our future with God; what have you (pl.) done lately to be a steward of earth- and if you believe you have, what evidence can you provide to God (not me) that you are worthy of “being made anew”.
      May the Lord make His face to shine upon all those christian readers, and fellow worshippers who truly love Him, and wish to learn how to enter into a perfect loving future with Him.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s