We’re All Anabaptists Now, Part One

BATHROOM WARS AND THE THEOLOGY OF PIOUS RETREAT

Most of us have probably come across posts like this one on social media. Greg Gibson, creator of Veritas Press and lead planter for Veritas City Church in Washington, D.C., offers “eight reasons why [Christians] should not boycott Target, and why we should chill out a bit.” It’s characteristic of articles and posts I’ve seen from pastors, Christian friends, and hip millennial bloggers, all reacting to the transgender bathroom controversy with a resounding “meh.”

No doubt this outré attitude ingratiates these writers with their secular neighbors. It’s easy to accept pats on the back while looking down one’s nose at benighted culture warriors swinging the rusty cutlass of Jerry Falwell. But it’s a radical departure from how most Christians have always viewed our place in society—one reminiscent of another, very particular tradition. Knowing what I’m talking about could give you an insight on where we, as the church, are headed.

A piece in RELEVANT says it all: “Christians Shouldn’t Be Culture’s Morality Police.”

“We were never commissioned to demand that secular culture reflect biblical principles,” writes Cara Joyner. “We were commissioned to reflect biblical principles in the middle of secular culture, pointing to God’s redemptive story.”

Sentiments like hers are becoming more common with mounting pressure to conform to the new orthodoxy on sex and gender. Silently sitting out the bathroom wars and “pointing to God’s redemptive story” has an orthodox, “in-the-world-but-not-of-it” ring. In reality, of course, it’s a theology of retreat—one that betrays a profound shift in the American church’s understanding of its role in society. The new stance, what David French calls “the compassion trap,” differs sharply from both magisterial Protestantism and Roman Catholicism. It collapses Law and Gospel, abandons natural revelation, and raises questions about the permissibility of Christian magistrates, and even of participation in democracy.

It does line up with one Christian tradition, however: Anabaptism, a branch of the Radical Reformation historically represented by the Amish and Mennonites. These groups eschew political involvement, deny the right to self-defense, and emphasize the Gospel as the only appropriate means of influencing society. For centuries, Anabaptists were marginalized and often persecuted. But the impulse behind their theology seems to be enjoying a renaissance among American evangelicals anxious not to run afoul of the LGBT freight train.

Writing at National Review Online, French highlights a post from a Facebook friend that distills the Anabaptist impulse to a sudsy, antinomian brew:

“The Transgender bathroom issue is not a fight we are called to enter into. [It’s] a trap to separate people, to vilify people, to make enemies and distract us from the real heart issues that Christ demanded we pay the most attention to…We aren’t here to change society, we have never been called to point out behaviors of the unsaved that we don’t agree with. We are called to love, we are here to change hearts and let God change behavior where He feels best.”

And Gibson, who is an otherwise theologically conservative pastor, has eight theses of disputation for Christians who believe it’s our job to influence or change society for the better. Here are a few representative lines:

“Don’t expect lost people to act like saved people,” he writes.

“Don’t act like we don’t live in a fallen world. . . .

“Don’t use this argument about your children being in danger in public restrooms. . . .

“Don’t forget that Target is a business, not a Christian organization. . . .

“Don’t forget that Jesus spent almost all his time with lost people. . . .

“Don’t forget that transgender persons are humans, too, and made in the image of God. . . . Every person, Christian or not, deserves dignity, honor, and respect.

“Don’t forget that America is not a Christian nation anymore, and it probably never will be again. . . . Lost people, a non-Christian business, and non-Christian nation are not going to act with Christian morals.”

Whether or not it’s a good idea to boycott alphabet-soup-friendly businesses isn’t my concern right now. I’m much more interested in the theology behind what Gibson, Joyner, and French’s Facebook friend are saying, and why so many of my own evangelical friends are enthusiastically embracing the Anabaptist impulse.

Part 2 of this article will run next Monday. Image courtesy of jscreationzs at FreeDigitalPhoto.net.

G. Shane Morris is assistant editor of BreakPoint Radio.


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