Stanley Hauerwas is a very influential theologian among contemporary evangelicals. His theology is rooted in the Anabaptist tradition (He’s a Neo-Anabaptist), and he’s had a huge influence on the thinking of many writers and thinkers.
He’s a professor at Duke University, a Methodist (originally), and far from a fundamentalist. He has some challenging things to say about modern Christian notions of sexuality. This is from Duke Magazine (Jan. – Feb. 2002). (I found the following thanks to “With and Against the Grain,” by Branson Parler.)
The problem with debates about homosexuality is they have been devoid of any linguistic discipline that might give you some indication what is at stake. Methodism, for example, is more concerned with being inclusive than being the church. We do not have the slightest idea what we mean by being inclusive other than some vague idea that inclusivity has something to do with being accepting and loving. Inclusivity is, of course, a necessary strategy for survival in what is religiously a buyers’ market. Even worse, the inclusive church is captured by romantic notions of marriage. Combine inclusivity and romanticism and you have no reason to deny marriage between gay people.
When couples come to ministers to talk about their marriage ceremonies, ministers think it’s interesting to ask if they love one another. What a stupid question! How would they know? A Christian marriage isn’t about whether you’re in love. Christian marriage is giving you the practice of fidelity over a lifetime in which you can look back upon the marriage and call it love. It is a hard discipline over many years.
The difficulty, therefore, is that Christians, when they approach this issue, no longer know what marriage is. For centuries, Christians married people who didn’t know one another until the marriage ceremony, and we knew they were going to have sex that night. They didn’t know one another. Where does all this love stuff come from? They could have sex because they were married.
Now, when marriage becomes a mutually enhancing arrangement until something goes wrong, then it makes no sense at all to oppose homosexual marriages. If marriage is a calling that makes promises of lifelong monogamous fidelity in which children are welcomed, then we’ve got a problem. But we can’t even get to a discussion there, because Christians no longer practice Christian marriage.
What has made it particularly hard is that the divorce culture has made it impossible for us to talk about these matters–and many of you know, I’m divorced and remarried. It has made it impossible for us to talk about these matters with an honesty and candor that is required if you are not to indulge in self-deceptive, sentimental lies.
For gay Christians who I know and love, I wish we as Christians could come up with some way to help them, like we need to help one another, to avoid the sexual wilderness in which we live. That’s a worthy task. I probably sound like a conservative on these matters, not because I’ve got some deep animosity toward gay people, but because I don’t know how to go forward given the current marriage practices of our culture.
In short, our culture is so debased, so removed from God, that to merely critique homosexuality without simultaneously critiquing heterosexual marriage as we practice it would be to avoid the truly hard questions. That is, if marriage is simply about being with someone who makes you happy so long as they make you happy, why bother speaking about Christian values at all, when our marriages are so far removed from Christian values?
This is not to conclude that, therefore, gay marriage is just fine because we’re all sinners, but to allow the gay challenge to our practices to force a fresh, serious re-study of what we believe about marriage and sex.
I should point out that Hauerwas later came out in favor of treating homosexuality the same as heterosexuality, arguing that the test is one of faithfulness, not design or Genesis 2. I can find no place where he explains how he reconciles his views with the scriptures I’ve previously cited.
I think he was much closer to right in 2002, when he spoke the quoted words above. It’s entirely fair and healthy to criticize modern understandings of Christian marriage, but pointing out the sins of the heterosexual community hardly justifies the sins of the homosexual community. Rather, the correct view is surely to call both communities to greater submission to the scriptures.
But what I find helpful in Hauerwas’ comments is his contention that marriage and sexual behavior have an impact on society and can be fairly critiqued on that basis. If marriage is reduced to a mere convenience, a way of fulfilling oneself or obtain certain legal protections, then society suffers — which means people suffer.