Exploring theological views and engaging others on LGBT issues, Brandan Robertson forges ahead on his own spiritual journey.
This is part of a series which I'm calling "Interesting Voices". You can see the whole series here. They run the spectrum from conservative to progressive, little known to well known. They may or may not already be familiar with mirror-reading. I may or may not agree with them theologically, but regardless, I think they are interesting voices speaking to the Christian community today. The purpose of the series is to both raise awareness of mirror-reading and to introduce you to these voices.
I first heard of Brandan when I was doing research for my RE2 podcast and came across some of his videos. At the time, he was attending Moody Bible Institute. For a full description of Brandan, go here. I'll just give you the short version. Bradan is a progressive Christian who considers himself an evangelical regardless of what others might think. He writes for a number of different online publications, and he's been featured on a number of different shows. He's a part of a number of different organizations, with perhaps most of his exposure coming from his work with Evangelicals for Marriage Equality. He's an outspoken voice on LBGT issues.
After becoming a Christian, Brandon started out as the fundamentalist variety while being a part of an independent baptist church. I too, grew up in an independent baptist church, so I can appreciate his journey out of that type of Christianity. The photo is from his fundy days
His fundamentalist ways started to tone down while at Moody. He interviewed a number of different Christian leaders while hosting a radio show at Moody. Here's a video of him interviewing David Platt:
With exposure to other Christian thinkers, he started to rethink a lot of doctrines, not surprisingly, Penal Substitution was one of them:
Brandon eventually moved to a Progressive Christianity. He also now identifies as queer - someone who's sexuality is "fluid". He landed a contract to write a book called "Nomad" but then lost it because of his stance on LBGT issues. The resulting publicity that resulted from the controversy was probably a blessing in disguise. TIME.com picked up on the story and published a piece on it. You can read Brandan's thoughts on the ordeal here and here.
Here's a very well done video featuring Brandan:
After starting Evangelicals for Marriage Equality, there was a backlash from the conservative side of Evangelicalism. Brandon responds:
Our mission is straightforward: Evangelicals for Marriage Equality exists to cultivate a new conversation on the issue of civil marriage equality, so that evangelicals understand that it's possible to be a faithful Christian and a supporter of same-sex marriage. It is because of our commitment to follow Jesus that we feel compelled to speak out for the equal treatment under the law for all people, whether or not they share our convictions.
What we didn't do in our statement is argue in favor changing the sacramental definition of marriage in the Church. So it's curious that some of our fiercest critics attributed that viewpoint to us.
Another criticism comes from Dr. Albert Mohler, the distinguished President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He argued in his morning podcast that there is no distinction between "the church's moral understanding of homosexuality" and "the government's recognition of marriage". (Walker makes a similar point in his op-ed, describing the man-woman relationship as "the basic social unit of civilization.")
But this attempt to brand the Christian definition of marriage as the prevailing definition used by the federal government is problematic. Marriage as recognized by the government represents a set of benefits and privileges that it makes little sense to offer to some couples but not others. Hospital visitation rights, for instance, or funeral planning -- these are benefits that share no particular gender or orientation distinction. The same could be said for tax treatment by the IRS.
You can read the whole thing here.
In the video below, Brandan takes on Kevin Boling and Evan Lenow. Again, Brandan is arguing for legal same-sex marriage and is not pushing a theological argument. Both sides of the debate were frustrated by the talking past each other and talking in circles. Brandan gets a little hot under the collar but keeps his composure. Each side is coming from a different paradigm, so communication is understandably difficult. The debate occurred before the SCOTUS decision, so some of what I write below should be taken in the past tense.
Brandan promotes the idea that marriage defined by the government should be theologically neutral. However, Boling and Lenow don't see morality and legality as mutually exclusive. The government's decision is going to be conducive to someone's morality, why not the Christian's?
Brandan balks at the idea that we should Christianize the nation. He thinks its not Christ-like, nor are Christians consistent when arguing that they should. If they were, they would seek to make drunkenness, adultery and lying illegal.
Brandan maintains that the government is not in the sacrament business. But they kind of are. Most Christians consider marriage to be a sacrament, the government regulates marriages, ergo, the government is in the sacrament business. Therefore, Christians feel like they need to push for their definition of marriage. Telling a conservative Christian that the government can take a theologically neutral stance on marriage is like saying the government could take a theologically neutral stance on baptism or the Lord's supper. It does not compute. If the government were to give benefits to those who were baptized or took the Lord's supper, then we would have the same issue with those sacraments. Therein lies the crux of the matter. What we need is a "third way" when dealing with marriage and the government. If government wasn't involved in marriage, this wouldn't be as much of an issue. Actually, Brandan would prefer that the government not be involved in marriage at all, but they are, so he's seeking to change change it's definition of it - to what he feels is a theological neutral one.
Our founding fathers set up this nation so that each citizen is a sovereign. We should think of America as an alliance of over 350 million itty bitty kingdoms, and the purpose of the government is to protect the persons and property of those kingdoms, nothing more. Going back to Brandan's point about drunkenness, adultery and lying: The government does take a stance on those issues when is comes to protecting the persons and property of others. Those in power always want a democracy mob rule, but those not in power always want the minority protecting republic. If most conservative Christians were honest, they would want to Christianize the nation, but since the SCOTUS decision they are finally starting to see the wisdom of getting the government out of the marriage business. It cuts both ways though, Progressive Christians want to Christianize the nation as well when is comes to helping the poor and access to free health-care. You will love your neighbor whether you want to or not.
I believe before any discussion of the morality or legality of same-sex marriage can be had, a discussion needs to be had on the morality of whether each citizen can be a sovereign individual. Sadly, I think most Americans would say that there can't be and will continually try to enforce their values onto others. I recently listened to the "Should you impose your values on others?" episode on this podcast. On my RE2 podcast, we discussed Al Mohler's difficulties with libertarian ideas. Also, Ben Lewis has a nice article on the Kim Davis fiasco over at The Great Fiction.
Boling and Lenow try to get to Brandan's rational basis for his government definition of marriage, but they usually frame it in terms of polygamy or incest. This puts Brandan on the defensive, and he sees it as a straw-man and/or slippery slope argument. Boling and Lenow's point though, is not whether polygamy or incest would happen, but rather if they could be justified by using Brandan's rational framework. Brandan would say that it would not, but we don't get many details as to why.
Brandan gives aspects of his rational framework, but Boling and Lenow don't really pick up on it or pursue it. Incestuous marriages are "unhealthy" because of the genetic effects on offspring. But what if they don't have kid's, does that make it okay? Bestiality is "obviously" wrong. Well, it wasn't that long ago that homosexuality was "obviously" wrong. What's the basis? Brandan also argues that we should change the definition of marriage because the current definition harms people and causes them pain. Is the government expected to stop all harm and pain that can be experienced? My point is not to disagree with Brandan necessarily, but I would have liked to have seen his rational framework explored a bit more. His hermeneutical approach to the Bible may give us additional insight.
Duo Experiencia Et Communitas
Both experience and community (if my Latin is right) is what Brandon promotes in understanding the Bible. He is correct in noting that Protestants tend to get nervous whenever someone speaks of experience as their basis for understanding truth. TGC recently released a video on Sola Experiencia. But Brandan sees the Scriptures as evolving. He says the Old Testament view of God is not the same as the New Testament, and there are other differences as well. Brandan looks to experience instead of the propositional statements of the Bible, but he calls for the tempering of ones experience with community. One may feel God is telling them one thing, and another person feels God is telling them another, but it is within community that things like that can be sorted out. I'd like to hear some real world examples of that. Also, what if God is telling one community one thing and another community another thing. How do you sort that out? You can listen to Brandon talk about his thoughts on the Bible here.
Here's another debate on homosexuality, although it's not much of a debate. Brandan is much more focused here and stays tight on his talking points. He's reluctant to engage Dr. Michael Brown in debate, and I can't say that I blame him after watching Dr. Brown steamroll Matthew Vines (word of advice: don't using the Socratic method when debating Dr. Brown)
Brandan has been criticized for calling himself an Evangelical but he defends the designation repeatedly
But no one get’s to decided who is in and who is out based on theology or politics. Instead, evangelical is an ethos. A style of Christianity. Any theological system or political affiliation can fit within its borders. Because being an evangelical is less about a theology or worldview and more about how we chose to live those things out.
You can read the whole thing here.
In a recent article regarding The Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, I felt Brandan's anger saturated his writing. Nothing major, it was subtle, in the subtext, but still, he is usually so gracious, even with those he disagrees with. Read for yourself. My thoughts were confirmed in a recent tweet:
Note: Usually, I'm all for building bridges. But when real lives are on the line and you're pushing them to the edge, I have no patience.— Brandan Robertson (@BrandanJR) October 6, 2015
Brandon responded to the ACBC conference by launching the Imago Dei Summit. You can check it out here.
Brandan appears to be a big fan of Rob Bell. He's has numerous videos of his interviews with him. This seems to have exposed to him to Oprah, and he seems to have an affinity for her work. I also noticed some tweets about Deepak Chopra on Brandan's twitter. I wonder if he will start to move away from Christianity and embrace more of a spiritual or New Thought way of thinking (kind of like Joshua Tongol). His Project Awaken site seems to be moving in that direction. If not, then I'll be interested in seeing how he integrates it with his Christianity. His theological views over that past few years have been, well, fluid. Not that having changing views is bad, we all grow and evolve (hopefully), but Brandan hasn't shown any signs of settling into a theological framework anytime soon. I'm curious to see what's next for him, and how far he'll taking the boundaries of being an evangelical.
Brandan Robertson And Mirror-Reading
Brandan's not really one to do detailed exegesis in his speaking or writing. There are a few verses that I might encourage him to mirror-read: I think work can be done to have a better understanding of the situational context of Romans 1 and not just the historical context. I think mirror-reading Genesis would show that it has less to do with same-sex marriage than most think. Ultimately though, it doesn't matter to Brandan what those verses really mean, and they could be jettisoned if his experience and community allowed it. However, I'd rather have him jettison a verse after mirror-reading it and having a full understanding rather than doing so because of a misunderstanding of the text.
Questions For Brandan Robertson
I’ve listed a couple of open questions to Brandan below. I welcome a response from Brandan, whether as a guest post, a response on his own blog or simply in the comments below.
1. What are your thoughts on mirror-reading?
2. Do you want to respond to anything that I've written above?
Questions For My Readers
What do you think of Brandan? Do you agree with his take on things? Who else do you think is an "interesting voice"?