Beliefs Culture Ethics Institutions Jonathan Merritt: On Faith and Culture Opinion

Was ‘Christianity Today’ justified in rejecting this controversial ad?

Three Christian publications, including Christianity Today, rejected an advertisement by Evangelicals for Marriage Equality. Jonathan Merritt argues that they were justified in the decision. - Image credit: Evangelicals for Marriage Equality
Three Christian publications, including Christianity Today, rejected an advertisement by Evangelicals for Marriage Equality. Jonathan Merritt argues that they were justified in the decision. - Image credit: Evangelicals for Marriage Equality

Three Christian publications, including Christianity Today, rejected an advertisement by Evangelicals for Marriage Equality. Jonathan Merritt argues that they were justified in the decision. – (Image credit: Evangelicals for Marriage Equality)

When “Evangelicals for Marriage Equality” (EME) launched this week, they had one message: “you can be a devout, Bible-believing evangelical and support the right of same-sex couples to be recognized by the government as married.” Predictably, not everyone participated in the organization’s coming out party.

A leading evangelical magazine, Christianity Today, for example, rejected EME’s full-page advertisement (pictured below), which stated, “There are hundreds of verses in the Bible that talk about love. There aren’t any that talk about the civil definition of marriage.” According to the EME website, an editor for Christianity Today said, “the ad advocates for a position that we have editorialized against.”

The organization then submitted the ad to Relevant, and was also rejected because the publisher reportedly said, “the ad was not approved based on political issues.” Lastly, EME submitted the advertisement to World Magazine who also turned them down.

Were these publications justified in rejecting this advertisement?

The simple answer is “yes.” And it has nothing to do with the truthfulness of the ad’s message or the lack thereof. Rather, these are independent evangelical publications who hold to a particular view of marriage. They have audiences with expectations about what is and isn’t consistent with a Christian worldview. And they should be free to only publish content that is consistent with both.

One might think such an assertion is as clear as the nose on one’s face. But it isn’t. Several LGBT publications have reported on the rejection of this ad, and the EME website has devoted an entire webpage to the matter arguing that the situation illustrates “an evangelical culture that’s not currently conducive to frank conversations about a hot button topic like marriage equality.”

But does “frank conversation” mean obligating others to broadcast messages with which they disagree?

One might also recall when the progressive evangelical Sojourners magazine was criticized by some on the left for rejecting a pro-LGBT ad in May 2011. Organizations such as GLAAD and publications like Religion Dispatches excoriated Sojourners for their decision, though I’m sure neither of these organizations would have run an ad from Family Research Council. (Sojourners later accepted another ad with a similar message.)

We’re now facing a perennial issue where activists on both sides of this debate expect to be invited to every party and demand to be heard in whatever forum they choose. I’m sorry, but a conservative publication should not be shamed for rejecting an ad that flies in the face of their convictions and beliefs. And, similarly, a liberal organization committed to marriage equality should be free to rescind a speaker’s invitation when they learn the speaker holds to a divergent position.

Have we finally arrived at a moment where Christians of mutual goodwill attack their brothers and sisters not only for disagreeing with their position on sexuality, but also for not advertising it for them?

The Christian Church in the West is now facing the most important debate of our time. It threatens to shred the church by the seams and leave it in a tattered heap. And more importantly, it intimately involves people with feelings and emotions and dreams that have been socially marginalized and deserve to be respected, loved, and heard.

Those on the left must stop labeling anyone who holds to a traditional Christian sexual ethic a “bigot” or “hater.” Those on the right must quit claiming that everyone on the left is a “heretic” or “doesn’t believe the Bible.” [tweetable]It is critical that Christians on both sides of the sexuality debate make their cases with winsomeness and grace.[/tweetable]

As Moses Maimonides wrote in The Guide for the Perplexed, “Truth does not become true by virtue of the fact that the entire world agrees with it, nor less so even if the whole world disagrees with it.” The “truth” in this matter will not be established by mob rule, public shaming, and marginalization tactics. Instead, everyone must allow those who disagree with their positions to make their cases as they see fit, even as they do the same.

Credit: Evangelicals for Marriage Equality

Credit: Evangelicals for Marriage Equality

About the author

Jonathan Merritt

Jonathan Merritt is senior columnist for Religion News Service and a contributing writer for The Atlantic. He has published more than 2500 articles in outlets like USA Today, The Week, Buzzfeed and National Journal. Jonathan is author of "Jesus is Better Than You Imagined" and "A Faith of Our Own: Following Jesus Beyond the Culture Wars." He resides in Brooklyn, NY.

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