the peculiar gnosticism of Andy Crouch
Last year, Andy Crouch (executive editor of Christianity Today) published an article called Sex Without Bodies (non-paywall), where he publicly mused on the “LGBTQIA coalition” and the “challenges [it presents] for the church.” In his post, after clearly rhetorically demarcating “the church” as an entity entirely separate from its “LGBTQIA neighbors,” Crouch pointedly levels the charge of gnosticism against queer people and those of us who believe that same sex relationships can be blessed by God. According to Crouch, members of this camp are not faithfully attempting to revisit scripture in light of new anthropological evidence, but instead simply embracing a very old heresy – ideological detachment from the physical world.
Before I address how valid his particular charge is, it’s worth noting that Crouch’s argument here isn’t at all surprising; by his own admission, LGBTQ individuals are gaining societal ground, an influence which certainly extends to the church. The unspoken aim of his article, then, seems to be to galvanize his fellow nonaffirming Christians, urging them to resist and continue to stand strong against ever rethinking their theology and sexual ethics. Crouch’s clarion call comes across loud and clear to conservative readers: even when the ground beneath their strongest biblical arguments falls away, “the church” must still disapprove of homosexuality because unlike those people, we believe that bodies matter.
What this rhetorical shift here should signify is a trend that has long been operating in many evangelical circles – as careful biblical scholarship continues to erode at the traditional ways in which nuanced scriptural passages have been unilaterally weaponized against an entire class of people, nonaffirming Christians are forced to increasingly rely on extra-biblical arguments. Okay, they concede, the Sodom and Gomorrah story isn’t actually about gay people. And maybe the Levitical purity codes don’t apply to Christians in the slightest. And sure, it’s also increasingly questionable how relevant Pauline New Testament condemnations of licentious, selfish same-sex behavior are to a conversation about consensual, committed, Christ-centered unions.
But, injects Crouch, even if we can no longer responsibly make the case that the Bible unambiguously denies queer sexual and gender identity (not to mention intersex people, who do not fit into neat male and female categories) the Man/Woman bond is obviously established in our bodies and is therefore universally demanded by God.
This move away from the Bible is disheartening, but not entirely surprising considering Crouch’s entire argument consists of vaguely appealing to hazy, inexact notions of “male–female complementarity” to cement his unique commitment to excluding LGBTQ bodies from the body of Christ.
If asked what specific aspect it is about Christ-centered same sex relationships that violates any established biblical precept or command, Crouch’s answer would probably include the hallowed words “gender roles.” And yet as Bible scholar James Brownson has pointed out, nonaffirming Christians often mean very different things when they roughly gesture at the Bible and slap the “gender roles” sticker on the queer Christians in their midst. Rather than ending all dissent, this move often signals the beginning of a very confusing conversation. (Update: I just discovered that Professor Brownson has actually written a post where he addresses Crouch in part here – and does so far more elegantly than I could ever hope to.)
For example, when Crouch affirms “embodied sexual differentiation” – invoking a form of the old Adam-and-Eve-not-Adam-and-Steve argument to condemn LGBT relationships and identity – is his reasoning truly physical anatomical complementarity? Is homosexuality a sin because of what scholar Robert Gagnon calls “the glovelike physical fit of the penis and vagina“?
Or when he singularly promotes “normative sexuality” and calls an entire swath of the church disordered, is Andy Crouch talking about procreative potential? That is, is he affirming the Catholic church’s commitment to “Natural Law” and subsequently labeling all non-procreative couples as “distorted“? And when Crouch refuses to define imprecise phrases like “the significance of male-and-female creation,” is he writing off gay couples because of their inability to sexually reproduce(?), or because the union of their bodies somehow violates the hierarchical Husband/Wife corollary extrapolated from St. Paul’s Christ/Church metaphor in Ephesians 5?
I think you understand my point. Simply, the position that Mr. Crouch is doubling down to defend is not nearly as united as he would presume. The fact is, Christians have opposed same-sex (as well as non-procreative heterosexual) acts for many disparate reasons throughout the centuries – because of claims that same-sex acts are the result of not orientation but sexual excess, worries about the future reproductive success of the species, myths regarding sterility, concerns that any man could be “turned gay;” because of an aversion to violating culturally-established gender norms, a fear of disrupting “honorable” patriarchal commitments; because of supposed demonic possession, or beliefs LGBTQ people are purposefully choosing their attractions and to embrace a harmful “lifestyle.”
Crouch’s proof-texted thesis that the Church must Continue to Defend God’s Unchanging Truth™ on human sexuality – supposedly calcified throughout thousands of years of static ecclesiastical history – is really much less coherent than one might expect.
Finally, Crouch’s invocation of the heresy of gnosticism is an interesting one given the author’s own stance on this particular issue. Gnosticism, as we know, is the ancient philosophical school that proved itself heretical by rejecting the good gifts of our created, physical world in favor of embracing an ethereal, spiritual, ascetic, and supposedly more enlightened existence. The gnostics were the ones telling the early Christians that sex and sexuality, marriage and the sacramentality of bodies, was unimportant and should be struggled against and transcended. In short, they rejected life, beauty, joy, flesh, incarnation, and the sacred Christian teaching that “matter matters.”
Halfway through an article full of uncharitable mischaracterizations of LGBTQ relationships and individuals, Crouch levels against LGBTQ people and their allies our apparent commitment to “the irrelevance of bodies.” He blatantly asserts that our camp callously dismisses incarnated realities in favor of embracing nonphysical ideals, remarking that we have a “gnostic distaste for embodiment in general.”
But to suggest that LGBTQ people (including queer Christians and queer theologians!) do not care about the importance of corporeality is perhaps the most ignorant accusation one could ever make of the LGBT community. The hypocrisy of Crouch’s own position is striking.
Really, let’s think about this: one side in this debate is affirming the good spiritual fruits found in the embodied, other-centered romantic relationships that numerous believers are seeking to sanctify under God. The other side is openly denying the validity of real human experiences, ignoring or dismissing as unimportant or illusory an entire group of peoples’ deep spiritual longings to sacramentalize their carnality and bodily desires through flesh-and-blood covenantal bonds.
One side says bodies and loving incarnated relationships are essentially good. The other says they are inherently shameful if abstract conditions of undefined epistemological “complementarity” are not met.
Tell me, which of these sounds more like gnosticism to you?