About a month ago, Albert Mohler of the Southern Baptist Convention wrote a blog post about how there is no “Third Way” for churches on same-sex marriage. You’re either for it or you’re against it, he argued. Your church either marries LGB people, or they don’t. Mohler, of course, is resolutely opposed to recognizing same-sex marriage. But he cited Tony Jones, a progressive theologian who is adamantly affirming of same-sex marriage, as someone he agreed in this with. He quoted a blog post by Tony who also said: There is No Third Way on Same-Sex Marriage.
“And the same goes for an individual congregation. At some point, every congregation in America will decide either, YES, same-sex marriages will take place in our sanctuary, performed by our clergy; or NO, same-sex marriages will not take place in our sanctuary, performed by our clergy. There is no third way on that. A church either allows same-sex marriages, or it doesn’t.”
It’s critical to key in on what, exactly, is being discussed here. Mohler and Jones are saying that when it comes to church policy, you either marry LGB people or you don’t. You do. You don’t. It’s as simple as it sounds. An either or decision. There is no gray to nestle yourself into. Your church either affirms, or it does not affirm.
This feels obvious to me…
But the agreement between two polarizing people proved to be an all too tempting opportunity for the Ecumenical crowd, and almost immediately, there were people writing, people shouting, people saying: “Hey! Hey! Look over at us! We’re in the Middle! We’re the Third Way Churches!” And what they were talking about was not a transitory, thinking-over-the-issue place. No, they were arguing that this position of theirs was static. Solid. They had found the Third Way.
The problem, obviously, is that when you apply the tiniest amount of pressure to these people, asking them what this Third Way looks like, how a church marriage policy could be crafted that way, how it would function, in real terms- the conversation gets convoluted. They meander into the abstract with zero evidence that all is right at the helm. Half the time you don’t know where it’s going. The word Nuance is said a lot. They give no answers, but they keep on saying it anyway: THIRD WAY. THIRD WAY. THIRD WAY.
But Same-Sex Marriage is not the kind of issue a church can possibly ride the fence on. This is a reality. A same-sex couple is going to go to one of these Churches and the church will either affirm their marriage or they won’t. Where is the Third Way? It’s a fair question that isn’t being answered.
Here’s why things like Third Way happen: The biggest temptation for the Post-Modern Christian is to look like the adult in the room without actually ever saying anything. Take an “objective” stance to every issue and wave the finger of accusation at “all sides.” Third Way folks plant themselves in the “middle” assuming that this location makes them moral.
Ironically, this echoes Fundamentalist thinking on persecution. If the world hates you, you’re doing something right! Third Way folks say, If the conservatives AND the liberals are upset, I’m doing something right!
But reconciliation is something beautiful and important and the road to reach it is difficult. But you can’t reduce it to that place of simply stepping into the “middle” and deriding “all sides.” You can’t make up a term like “Third Way” and call yourself a Reconciler.
Quite frankly, that’s just cowardice, that’s dishonest. I don’t know. Maybe it’s mostly about people pleasing and blog stats. Maybe it’s those who know where they’re convictions are but are too afraid to admit them. Maybe it’s those who don’t know where their convictions are and they too are too afraid. I don’t know what it is, but making up this Third Way stuff is not the answer.
Now, if this conversation were about how churches can better respect their LGB members- that would be something quite different. Third Way, in this scenario, could be the concrete ways churches are coming around their celibate gay members to bolster them and support them as a community. Or it could be a church that works to be more inclusive of its’ gay families, less gender segregated by “mothers” and “fathers”, but finding new ways to bring in parents as a whole. There are many Third Ways but whether or not a church conducts gay marriage is not one of them.
If you really a need a Third Way? I would suggest this.
Third Way should not be a permanent way. It should, instead, be a Way Station. A temporary place of tension. A place Tony Jones suggested only a few months ago after he argued for a schism regarding gender equality. He suggested Churches should spend time in prayer and community to discover where their Spirit is leading them. Then they should choose.
I think going into this “Way station” is one of the most critical parts of being a Christian. It is humbling to set down your brick wall of a World View and see what needs to be reformed, whether it needs to be reformed, all while keeping an ear to Jesus. That is a sacred place to be. That is a place I encourage all people to go. Ask questions! Defeat dogma and apathy, find out where you stand.
I also don’t think those that stand on the conservative side or hateful or bigoted. Take Jen Hatmaker’s awesome post awhile back where she unequivocally states her position, while respecting those who disagree with her. I respect that kind of conviction and courage and honesty.
And I do, oh, I do believe there is room to disagree. But the problem with Third Way is that it does not want disagreement, so much so that it has created its own Neutral Panic Room where no questions are asked and fingers stick into ears while everyone goes LALALALALA! That, unfortunately, isn’t really neutral, or helpful, at all.
In my opinion, to be “Third Way” is not much different than being “welcoming, but not affirming”. It shares roots with “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and “Separate, but Equal.” It is this morally relative place that shuts down conversations about justice and shalom and equality in favor of good manners.
All in all, it is a distraction from the actual conversation. Ignore it.