The trick is that by limiting the scope of the kinds of sexual issues that Prodigal Christianity can addresses to those things that all persons—straight or gay—can agree upon, Fitch and Holsclaw are able to avoid having to deal with the real sexual controversies the church in North America is facing. The only thing more status quo within Evangelicalism than failing to address the matter of same-sex unions in the chapter about sexual relationships would be to come right out and say that you do not think they are normative for Christian life and practice—which, in fact, they do on the last page of the chapter (within a parenthetical note . . . wink). But we should have seen this coming: back in the preface the seed was already planted. Fitch there offers an anecdote to explain why the Neo-Reformed approach to missions did not sit well with him. As he was participating in an online missional network, one of the participants proclaimed that the Bible was clear that same-sex relations were against the will of God. Fitch writes:
This blogger, a member of the Neo-Reformed missional movement, illustrated for me what was lacking in this new version of missional engagement. Although I appreciated his serious commitment to theology and agreed with many of his positions, this leader did not understand the people we were seeking to engage. There was little sense of the cultural gap that lay between him and the people who know next to nothing of the redemption in Jesus Christ. He assumed that merely to verbalize a True position (with a capital “T”) on same-sex relations was enough to be a witness to the gospel that brings renewal to those hurt or confused within the sexual culture of our day. (xxii–xxiii)
Obviously just proclaiming the truth is not enough in the far country. Although, to be sure, there is no disagreement with the content of the message, Fitch was turned off by the approach. This is because, as both Fitch and Holsclaw know, if you want to be successful in the attempt to convert the poor, the sexually marginalized, the “lost,” you first need to lure people into a sense of genuine vulnerability, mutuality, and friendship. Then—once you are friends—you can let them know how they will need to change in order to become a normative part of Christian life and practice—to become like you. For the poor and for Evangelicals who identify as LGBTQ, it would be a cruel irony to call Prodigal Christianity “intensely radical.” But that is the conceit of much Evangelical missiology in general: in seeking to surpass the boundaries of Christendom, it fails to see how it still operates from of a posture of imperialism. The desire to enter into the lives of others and meet them where they are turns out to be a technique, guided by the presumption that the they are the “lost” who must ultimately become like us, the “found,” in order to find redemption. In this paradigm, friendship becomes another tool for conversion: “I have the truth you need to receive, and I am willing to adjust my means of making it attractive to you. What attracted your grandparents was doctrine; what attracted your parents were programs; what attracts you is friendship. I’m willing to enter into your life, to become your friend in order for you to become a normative Evangelical. I’m prodigal enough. Are you?”
Christian J. Amondson is a member of Church of the Servant King in Eugene, Oregon.