Martin Marty, from the University of Chicago Divinity School, may be retired but he’s not retiring. In the always interesting column Sightings he reflects on how evangelicals (who overlap with fundamentalists but aren’t the same) have been criticized for selective literalism.

These Protestants “once spoke with horror and judgment against divorce and the divorced,” but are now “blithely settling for possible presidential candidates who have divorced repeatedly.” Of course, they also used to speak strongly in favor of Sunday closing laws and Prohibition. On much thinner scriptural warrant, many of them now speak strongly against gay sex.

Marty lists three evangelical scholars — David Instone-Brewer, Craig Keener, and William Heth — who reportedly have found ways around Jesus’s and Paul’s firm-sounding strictures against divorce. They now think Jesus and Paul were really only against no-fault divorce.

I haven’t read any of these scholars, life being short, but I’d be happy to hear from those who have. From outside, it seems like a remarkable coincidence that the scholarship comes along just as we learn that evangelicals and fundamentalists divorce at the same rate as the general population. Isn’t their scholarship the tail being wagged by the dog? Hasn’t Christian morality been made more just and humane by continued exposure to a secular culture that respects freedom and women more than anyone could 2000+ years ago? (If you want to turn these rhetorical questions into real ones, i.e. blow my argument to bits, find an evangelical/fundamentalist Christian proposing this lenient interpretation prior to, say, 1907.)

Once enough evangelicals started shopping on Sundays, drinking in moderation, and divorcing for reasons they found sufficient, the church and the scholars followed. Perhaps the moral is that Christians need fewer scholars and more self-sacrificing witnesses: more gays to come out of the closet in their churches of birth, more women in those churches to stand up and say, yes, I had an abortion, it was my choice and it was right.

Having grown up in a small town, I don’t make this suggestion lightly, but how else is change for the better going to happen?